• The Bible Studies for Life lesson for Oct. 20 focuses on 1 Samuel 24:1-15.
Early in our ministry, my husband and I had to ask an individual not to return to our student fellowship. In response, he slandered us, made threats, demanded money, and harassed us and our coworkers through email and phone calls. I felt the tension in my shoulders every time I opened my email. I wanted to defend myself and make sure everyone knew we were fully justified in what we had done. The thought of revenge was a sweet temptation.
For us, the crisis only lasted a few weeks. Saul’s pursuit of David lasted much longer. After Saul willfully disobeyed God, God rejected Saul as king and appointed David to take his place. Saul initially favored David but grew increasingly jealous of David’s military success and popularity. Eventually, he tried to kill David. When David fled the palace, Saul led the Israelite army on a manhunt.
A conflict with the Philistines distracted Saul for a short time. After he had dealt with the Philistine threat, Saul immediately returned to pursuing David. When Saul and his men stopped to make camp, Saul went into a nearby cave to relieve himself. Ironically, it was the very cave in which David and his men were hiding (v. 3).
We can picture the scene. David’s lookouts must have spotted Saul and his men working their way through the hills. David and his men took shelter in one of the many caves that dotted the region. When Saul walked in, their hands probably gripped their swords as they braced themselves for a fight.
Instead, they quickly realized Saul was alone. Saul wasn’t looking for them; he needed a place to use the bathroom. David’s men saw it as a divinely appointed opportunity. Surely God had allowed this moment so David could execute the sinful king (v. 4).
Instead of killing Saul, David crept forward and cut off the corner of Saul’s robe. Saul left the cave without realizing how close he had come to death. As David sat with his trophy in hand, his conscience kicked in (v. 5).
Cutting off the corner of Saul’s robe had profound implications. Old Testament law commanded Israelite men to wear tassels on the corners of their robes (Numbers 15:38-39; Deuteronomy 22:12). In the Ancient Near East the size and placement of tassels on robes also indicated rank for the military, the king and his royal advisors. Cutting off the corner of Saul’s robe made this visible symbol of his reign invalid under Old Testament law.
It also had a deeper significance. Earlier in 1 Samuel, the tearing of Samuel’s robe symbolized the kingdom would be torn from Saul (1 Samuel 15:26-29). Cutting the corner of Saul’s robe was a prophetic and symbolic declaration the kingdom would pass from Saul to David.
David had every right to execute Saul. In addition to his crimes against David, Saul had slaughtered a community of priests in cold blood (1 Samuel 22:17-18). Yet David recognized Saul still was God’s anointed king. In the Old Testament, anointing symbolized God had given authority and legitimacy to a person to carry out a specific task.
David believed since God had anointed Saul as king, it was God’s responsibility to remove him from that role. Raising his hand to strike God’s anointed was an insult to God himself. Although David knew God had chosen him as Saul’s successor, David would not seize the kingdom for himself. Even though Saul did not deserve honor, David chose to honor what Saul represented—God’s rightful rule over his people.
A critical choice
Like David, there will come a day when we find ourselves in the perfect position to get revenge. We may even have a chorus in the background urging us on: “He’s got it coming. Hit him where it hurts.” At such times, we have a choice. People in our lives will not always act with honor. Can we choose to honor the destiny God has chosen for them even when they are not living it out?
Consider Paul’s instructions to the church at Rome: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:17-19).
Revenge is tempting, but it also has consequences. If David had seized the kingdom by killing Saul, it would have ignited a civil war. Israel would have been torn apart in the crossfire between the house of Saul and the house of David. Isn’t it the same today? Satan laughs when families and churches tear themselves apart in the unending cycle of conflict and revenge.
God calls us to be peacemakers, not revenge takers. We can’t control what others do, but we can choose to put our own weapons down. David couldn’t make Saul stop chasing him, but he could refuse to seek retaliation.
Like David, we can choose to seek peace instead of revenge. We can choose to bless instead of curse and to return good in place of evil. We can choose to treat our enemies with honor. When we do, we aren’t just imitating David. We reflect the character of God.