1 Samuel 26:1-12
Writing as often as I do, one of the modern features on my phone or computer that I appreciate as I prepare to send a text, type an email, or craft something longer – like a sermon or a bible study is the “Undo” function.
If I accidentally delete a word, a sentence, a paragraph – or sometimes even the whole message, I can make the text reappear – I can correct for my mistake with a simple keystroke – in a matter of seconds.
Sometimes I think, things would be so much better if life worked that way? Right?
If we could just “undo” and take back that stupid comment we blurted out without thinking.
If we could only “undo” and completely erase that argument we started, that thoughtless and hurtful action we took, that bad idea or ill-conceived plan that we started – that blew up in our face.
Remember when you were a kid and you’d be playing with your friends – something would go wrong – not according to the script – and all everyone had to do was shout, “Do over!” and then you’d just reset and restart as if whatever just occurred never happened?
Despite our childlike imaginations, there are no “undos” or “do-overs” in life.
All actions have consequences – and we have to live with them. But that doesn’t mean our lives have to be defined by them.
It doesn’t mean we can’t learn from them – if we rely on the grace of God – the God of second chances.
That’s the focus of our passage today as we return to 1 Samuel, chapter 26.
Entering into the next part of David’s journey, we will experience something of a case of déjà vu.
Very quickly – as this chapter unfolds – everything about the situation David is in as well as how it resolves – will sound very familiar – like we’ve been here before.
This has led some to believe that what we’re about to hear is a story we’ve already heard before – different versions of the same event.
But as we’ll soon discover, while there are a lot of similarities, this isn’t the same event being retold.
What we have here is something of a replay – a divinely orchestrated second chance – not just for David but also for Saul to learn and grow from their past mistakes.
Let’s listen to 1 Samuel 26.
And keep those Bibles open because the full story of chapter 26 goes beyond what we’re about to hear.
See what I mean? If you’ve been with us throughout the story of 1 Samuel, what we read here in chapter 26 sounds an awful lot like the events we heard about in chapter 24.
But as we’ll soon learn there are important differences between these two episodes.
As this chapter opens, David is still on the run from the threat of King Saul.
David continues hiding in the wilderness area west of the Dead Sea – moving from place to place.
He had not moved all that far away, probably because the hilly terrain of that region was dotted with an abundance – almost a maze of caves, providing many ideal hiding places for him and his men.
David, however, soon finds himself in an all too familiar situation as the residents of a village in that region – the Ziphites once again alert King Saul to David’s geographical location.
“The Ziphites went to Saul at Gibeah and said, “Is not David hiding on the hill of Hakilah, which faces Jeshimon?” – 1 Samuel 26:1
The last time the Ziphites informed the king of David’s location, it forced David and his men to pack their bags and move on.
No doubt the Ziphites, perceiving David’s presence as both a threat and a nuisance, are counting on the same outcome as they again offer King Saul this valuable intelligence.
Now, the last time the Ziphites gave away David’s location, King Saul already was in their neighborhood – on the hunt and in hot pursuit of David.
But this time around, it is the Ziphites who come to the king.
Because Saul is at home in Gibeah, apparently having given up his pursuit of David.
And this makes sense if we recall the last time that we encountered King Saul back in chapter 24. After a chance encounter, where unbeknownst to Saul, David had the means and the opportunity to take him out but instead spared his life, the king had tearfully confessed he had wrongfully accused David – that surely David was God’s anointed and worthy to become king.
King Saul then departed peacefully – seemingly ending his pursuit of David – finally putting a stop to his obsessive quest to eliminate his perceived rival.
But as the saying goes, old habits die hard.
Whatever we become obsessed with ends up dictating all we ever think about and do.
And when the Ziphites come to the king and inform him a second time as to where David is hiding, it doesn’t take long for the king to forget all he said previously.
It doesn’t take much for the king to rationalize the renewal of his campaign against David – something he’s already acknowledged as wrong and unjust.
Saul can’t resist pursuing David.
“So Saul went down to the Desert of Ziph, with his three thousand select Israelite troops, to search there for David.” – 1 Samuel 26:2
Immediately taking 3,000 of his best soldiers with him, King Saul makes the 25 mile trek south, from Gibeah to the wilderness of Ziph – to where David is hiding.
Saul and his troops then pitch their camp for the night on a hillside close to the road they’ve been traveling on to get there.
David, for his part, remains in the more remote part of the wilderness.
Becoming aware of Saul’s presence in the area, David does a little recon – some surveillance – to ascertain the exact location of the king and his forces.
The last time David and King Saul met in this wilderness – David was retreating as Saul was advancing.
But this time, the tables are turned.
David takes the initiative and pursues Saul.
“Then David set out and went to the place where Saul had camped. He saw where Saul and Abner son of Ner, the commander of the army, had lain down. Saul was lying inside the camp, with the army encamped around him.” – 1 Samuel 26:5
As David approaches with his men, he looks down and spies the king asleep in the center of the camp – easily identified by his size as well as his armor – and his spear.
Next to Saul lies his cousin, Abner, who also happens to be the commander of the king’s army.
The rest of King Saul’s troops are encamped around both of them.
Waiting for an opportune moment, David asks who will join him in going down into the heart of the king’s camp.
David’s nephew, Abishai, volunteers to accompany him in sneaking behind enemy lines under the cover of nightfall.
The last time David had the opportunity to sneak up on Saul it was the result of an unexpected encounter with the king in a cave.
But this time, the situation is very different as David knowingly, deliberately heads out to the king’s location.
David comes across Saul not by chance, but by choice.
Why is David doing this?
Has David like Saul forgotten the lessons of his past?
Is David failing to learn from his previous mistakes and thus seeks to penetrate the king’s camp in order to once and for all take him out?
These are questions that will be answered shortly. For now, let us picture this scene.
The king has carefully positioned himself at the innermost part of the camp.
Abner, a fierce warrior, is lying right next to the king serving as his bodyguard.
From Saul and Abner in the center radiate the king’s 3,000 soldiers, looking something like the concentric ripples when a rock is thrown into a calm pool of water.
As with any given troop deployment, there also would be sentinels standing watch over the encampment.
David and Abishai begin their encroachment by having to first get past these guards.
Then they both needed to carefully step their way through a literal maze of human bodies. One wrong move, one ill-placed step and they will awaken the army that surrounds them.
Actually successfully making it all the way to King Saul looks to be impossible – never mind the fact that if they make it there – they will then face the challenge of being able to get back out without being noticed.
But the narrator of this story informs us of how David and Abishai were able to pull this off – to get to the heart of the camp – to find themselves standing over, looking down at the king sleeping peacefully before them.
This was not just skillful maneuvering on their part. This was more than just a stroke of luck.
No, it is God who has caused a deep slumber to come upon Saul and his troops.
“No one saw or knew about it, nor did anyone wake up. They were all sleeping, because the Lord had put them into a deep sleep.” -1 Samuel 26:12
It is the Lord who has induced such a soundness of sleep that normally highly alert warriors who would stir at the snap of stick now find themselves oblivious as David and Abishai have unrestricted access to the king’s campsite.
Even though David and Abishai aren’t explicitly told that God had done this for them, both of them clearly sense this miracle is the Lord’s work.
Abishai even goes so far as to presume why God has done this.
He perceives divine intervention as indicating divine intention as he confidently informs David,
“Abishai said to David, “Today God has delivered your enemy into your hands. Now let me pin him to the ground with one thrust of the spear; I won’t strike him twice.” – 1 Samuel 26:8
Now where has David heard that one before?
Oh yeah – back in that fateful moment in the cave when Saul inadvertently walked right into where David and his men were hiding.
But notice, Abishai, who was likely there, seemingly remembers the incident – how David hesitated in killing the king.
Abishai, therefore here, whispers to David, “You don’t have to kill Saul. Let me do it. It’ll only take one blow and the blood will be on my hands – not yours.”
It’s a tempting offer. It’s only logical to Abishai.
God provided this opportunity – yet again – for you to take out your self-declared enemy – someone who has gone back on his word to you more than once, someone who isn’t going to stop pursuing you until you’re dead.
Isn’t that why you brought me down here, David? So I could take care of this for you?
Isn’t this the reason we were able to noiselessly tiptoe around 3,000 troops without them stirring – because the Lord wants us finally to put an end to all this fighting and violence?
Oh, how easily we can assign causality to correlation – especially when we perceive the Lord’s movement in our midst.
Beware of putting words in God’s mouth that the Lord hasn’t spoken.
Take care not to presume to know the will of God just because the Spirit has offered you some direction.
How quickly we can go from following Jesus to getting ahead of him.
Let me repeat again, something we learned back in chapter 24, that every golden opportunity is not necessarily a sign from God to do whatever we want to do.
Sometimes God allows us to be tested – putting before us the very thing we believe, we are convinced we want – in order for us to learn and understand the key to life – living the way God intended – living a life marked by peace, joy, and contentment – is not about getting and taking everything we want; it is about waiting and relying on the Lord to provide everything we need – all that He has promised to us.
David appears to be making some headway in learning this lesson as he resists the natural inclination to read this situation as some sort of God-given license to take matters into his own hands.
Instead, David stays Abishai’s hand – forbidding him to kill King Saul – essentially providing the same reasons as he did back in the cave the last time when he rebuked his men.
But notice, David (v 10) goes beyond what he has said before.
“But David said to Abishai, “Don’t destroy him! Who can lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless? As surely as the Lord lives,” he said, “the Lord himself will strike him, or his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish.” – 1 Samuel 26:9-10
In other words, David trusts – he assures Abishai – the Lord will remove King Saul from power – so David not only doesn’t have to do so but therefore, shouldn’t get in the way of whatever God is doing.
David refuses to take Saul’s life, but he does take both the king’s spear and his water jug —items symbolic of Saul’s strength and sustenance.
“So David took the spear and water jug near Saul’s head, and they left.” – 1 Samuel 26:12
Having taken hold of these items, as David instructs Abishai to come back with him, it’s not hard to imagine Abishai shaking his head as they slip back into the safety of darkness, weaving their way through the maze of bodies surrounding the king – muttering under his breath – “We did all this – a suicide mission – only to grab a spear and a water jug!”
What was the point of all this?
If David recognizes the Lord did not orchestrate this moment so that he could take King Saul out, what then does David see that God is allowing him to do?
We soon find out as David, establishing himself on top of a hill far from Saul’s reach, makes his presence known not just to the king but his entire camp.
Still in the dark of night, or perhaps in the dimly lit early morning hours, bleary eyed soldiers awaken to the sound of David specifically calling out not to Saul but to Abner – their general, their commander.
Exuding unrestrained sarcasm, David openly questions how the king’s highest officer and best warrior – let alone 3,000 of his best troops – have allowed an intruder to breach their security and protection?
“David said, “You’re a man, aren’t you? And who is like you in Israel? Why didn’t you guard your lord the king? Someone came to destroy your lord the king. What you have done is not good.” – 1 Samuel 26:15-16
How is it, David continues, a possible, would-be assassin, was able to penetrate their forces – to get so close to Saul – to be standing over the king, able to murder him in an instant, and none of them – including Abner – were ever even aware of it?
If anyone doubted David’s claim, he then holds up the king’s spear and personal water jug as proof of his accusation.
“Look around you. Where are the king’s spear and water jug that were near his head?” – 1 Samuel 26:16
Can we envision the embarrassment of Abner and the humiliation of all the king’s men as they look at the ground inches from Saul’s head and see the imprints from where the spear and jug once rested – and then as they turn and visibly see a pair of footprints leading both all the way into the heart of their camp and back out?
At this point, King Saul awakens amid all the shouting and confusion.
Hearing a familiar voice, he asks if it is David.
David confirms his presence and immediately tones down his sarcasm.
Holding up the king’s spear, David’s intentions in his perplexing invasion of Saul’s camp becomes clear.
“The Lord rewards everyone for their righteousness and faithfulness. The Lord delivered you into my hands today, but I would not lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed. 24 As surely as I valued your life today, so may the Lord value my life and deliver me from all trouble.” – 1 Samuel 26:23-24
He took the risk not to harm the king but to make the repeated case for his innocence.
David demonstrated his loyalty in guarding Saul from harm – in saving his life yet again – even as Abner, his bodyguard, and all his troops failed.
David makes it clear he did not go down into the king’s camp frivolously, as a kind of spur-of-the-moment prank.
He had a plan – to once again prove that he is Saul’s advocate and not his enemy.
As David does not use the king’s spear against him, Saul gets the point.
Saul recognizes his wrongdoing.
Acknowledging David has proven his loyalty by sparing his life again, the king pleads with David to come home, promising not to harm him further.
Then Saul said, “I have sinned. Come back, David my son. Because you considered my life precious today, I will not try to harm you again. Surely I have acted like a fool and have been terribly wrong.” – 1 Samuel 26:21
But David is not so naïve as to trust promises King Saul already has broken many times in the past.
Instead, David invites the king’s detail to send a man up to retrieve Saul’s spear.
And once again, King Saul and David part company peacefully.
They will never see each other again because the time is quickly arriving when Saul’s reckoning will come not by David’s hand but the Lord’s.
So as I mentioned at the start of this message, what we have in this chapter is something of a reprise of a previous encounter between David and King Saul.
Some of the details are very different but the overall gist of the situation remains the same.
David finds himself with yet another opportunity to eliminate Saul – another window seemingly opened by God for just that purpose – at least according to his closest friends.
And once again King Saul ends up confronting in a very tangible and unsettling way that David is not his enemy – that the person he is persecuting is, in fact, his best asset, his strongest protector.
Both David and Saul receive in this moment a divinely orchestrated second chance to learn and grow from their past mistakes.
First, let’s consider David.
Previously, the first time David found himself with the opportunity to kill Saul, goaded on by others, he nearly took matters into his own hands and did violence against the king.
It was only at the very last minute that David pulled back his sword and instead of killing Saul – executed a power move shaming the king by cutting off a section of his royal robe.
A lesser offense than taking Saul’s life to be sure – but still a great wrongdoing which in the aftermath David openly confesses his guilt.
Just before this episode, not in an encounter with King Saul – but someone who is basically Saul’s alter-ego – someone just as foolish as Saul has been – in a momentary dispute with a wealthy landowner named Nabal, David nearly makes the same mistake as he prepares not only to enact vengeance on Nabal but everyone who works for him.
It is only thanks to the intercession of a woman named Abigail, Nabal’s wife, who emboldened by the Lord, comes between David and his desire for retribution – cautioning him not to play God – that a devastating national tragedy is averted.
So here David is, not actually the second but the third time around, in a situation where he is tempted to take matters into his own hands.
This time around – there is no need for speculation about God’s involvement in this chain of events.
Clearly, the Lord enables David to get close to King Saul – close enough to take his life.
And this time around, the situation becomes even more enticing as David doesn’t have to get any blood on his hands.
He can look the other way. He just has to step aside and let Abishai do his dirty work for him.
David has been wrongfully accused, violently attacked, continuously persecuted, and lied to again and again by King Saul.
What would we do?
What do we do – when someone wrongs us – not just once – but again and again – lies to us repeatedly even as they keep hurting us?
Don’t we believe in that circumstance, we have permission to strike back?
Isn’t it conventional wisdom in such a situation to get them before they get you?
But David finally begins to learn a different lesson than the one we’re so often taught.
David, trusting the Lord will – in His timing and in His own way, defend and strengthen him – David puts his life in God’s hands rather than taking Saul’s life into his own.
David, long before Jesus commands us to do so, turns the other cheek.
David loves his self-declared enemy enough to value his life rather than to take it.
In doing all this, David doesn’t subject himself to further harm.
David keeps protesting his innocence and seeking justice from Saul – but David puts his faith – not in whatever Saul promises or whatever Saul does or doesn’t do.
David puts his faith in the Lord’s deliverance.
Whereas David learns from the chances the Lord provides to him, King Saul repeatedly doesn’t.
How many times already has Saul, by the grace of God, been given the opportunity to recognize the error of his ways – to learn from his mistakes and grow from them in the Spirit?
Again and again, Saul will cry and confess that he’s done wrong, that he’s acting foolishly, that he is fighting a losing battle.
Again and again, Saul will promise to make peace, to stop inflicting pain on others, to work towards reconciliation with David.
And yet everytime Saul never actually learns anything – never yields to the Lord’s grace and allows himself – his heart, his mind, his actions to be changed by God.
Saul knows how to say the right things.
Saul may even believe he means what he says – because he truly feels bad and remorseful in the moment.
Saul may regret what he’s doing. Saul may even recognize what he is doing is wrong.
But Saul refuses to live according to what he knows is true -through abiding in the Spirit, trusting in the Lord.
Instead, Saul lives according to what he wants to be true – to what he insists he deserves.
David, on the other hand, wrestles with what he wants to be true – what he believes he deserves – and ultimately responds by trusting in what the Lord has revealed as true versus acting out of his own desires and wisdom.
David’s not perfect – but at least he’s learning – he’s growing through the grace God is giving him.
In both David and Saul, we see two reflections of our humanity – two postures we can take in response to the grace God gives us.
And the good news of the Gospel we see here is that we worship the God of second chances.
Now let’s be clear what I mean and don’t mean by this.
In proclaiming “God gives second chances,” I am not suggesting the Lord has forgiven us in Christ and the rest is up to us.
There is a huge difference between advancing a second-chance gospel and declaring we worship a God of second chances.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is much more than giving us a clean slate of forgiveness when it comes to our brokenness – our sin.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not, we’re forgiven so that we’ve got a second chance to get things right.
The very reason we need Christ is because we can’t ever get anything right on our own – no matter how many chances we get.
The gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims we don’t need a second chance to get things right on our own, we need a Savior who gets it right the first time for all time – for every single one of us.
We don’t earn our salvation through the gift of a series of unlimited, fresh chances.
We are saved, we are forgiven by grace alone and nothing we do or don’t do.
We are made righteous by Jesus, so that we can freely and fully grow by the grace of God into who were created to be in Christ.
The God we worship is not only the God of second chances; He is the God of another chance – more grace than we imagine.
The repeated chances given by God have nothing to do with earning or deserving anything from the Lord.
All the chances we get are repeated opportunities secured by the work of Christ that come through the leading and power of the Spirit and the truth of God’s word.
Every chance we get is a gift from God to learn and grow in this grace we have been given – to become all that we were meant to be.
And this is good news because we are all works in progress – still learning, still growing, still maturing into who we are in Christ.
The key, the invitation, is to follow Jesus and learn from Him – to yield to the leading of the Spirit, to abide in the wisdom of God’s word rather than to go our own way, live by our own truth, or try to control and craft our own lives.
The Lord gives us grace. The Lord gives us faith. The Lord gives us His Word and His Spirit.
The Lord will give us every chance we need to grow and to be changed for the better through His presence and work in our lives.
But we have to be willing to learn – to be discipled.
We have to functionally and tangibly live out of all that we are given – not for our glory but for God’s – not advancing our agendas but seeking first the Kingdom.
Saul professes to be God’s man – the Lord’s king – but Saul’s actions reveal otherwise.
Saul possesses a lot of knowledge about God – intellectually he has assented on more than one occasion that the Lord is in control on his life, that he, Saul, recognizes what the Lord’s will is – and yet Saul keeps living – not learning from God and growing in the Lord – but still trying to build his own kingdom.
David, relying on the grace of God, through the repetitive work of the Spirit, is, learning – not always the first time, not always easily – but still growing – for now – into becoming the person, the king God desires for him to be.
Becoming who we can be in Christ is not a one-time prayer – the end result of asking Jesus to come into our heart.
Learning and maturing in this new, abundant life we have been given by Jesus is not simply a matter of making a decision for Christ.
It is choosing to follow Jesus with every step we take and in each decision we make.
The Christian life is not a profession of faith; it is a journey of faith.
It is life-long learning that comes by submitting to and growing out of the grace of God one step at a time, day by day.
It always coming back to Jesus – especially when we find ourselves starting to get ahead of Him.
Every day, every single moment is another chance for us to learn – to grow – to mature – to be changed in Christ.
Are we recognizing and taking every chance we get by the grace of God to think, to feel, to speak, and to act – differently – to become the best version of ourselves?
What could happen, what might change, how would our relationships improve, how will our perspective shift, our capacity to persevere enlarge, our ability to generously give rather than to simply take expand, if we became not just professed believers but actual students of our Master – our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ?
Let us make the most of the opportunities we continue to receive by the grace of God.
Let us give thanks to the Lord that He is a God of second chances.