CHAPTER TWENTY

His Chastening

1 Samuel 26


Some of our readers may wonder why we have given to the present chapter such a title, and what bearing it has upon the contents of 1 Samuel 26; if so, we would ask them to thoughtfully ponder the closing verses of the preceding chapter. Much is lost by many readers of the Bible through failing to observe the connection between the ending of one chapter and the beginning of another; even when incidents which are totally distinct and different follow each other, a spiritual eye may often discern an intimate moral relation between them, and therein many valuable lessons may be learned. Such is the case here. At first glance there appears to be no logical link uniting the further uncalled-for attack of Saul upon David, and his having taken unto himself a wife a little before; but the two things are related as is effect to cause, and here is to be found the key which opens to us the Divine significance of what is now to be before us.

"The way of transgressors is hard" (Prov. 13:15). No doubt the primary reference in these words is to the wicked, yet the principle of them unquestionably holds good in the case of the redeemed. In the keeping of Godís commandments there is "great reward" (Ps. 19:11), in this life (1 Tim. 4;8) as well as in that which is to come; but in the breaking of Godís commandments bitter chastening is sure to follow. Wisdomís ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace (Prov. 3:17), but he who departs from Wisdomís ways and follows a course of self-will, must expect to smart for it. So it was now in the experience of David. It is true that in case of marital infidelity the Mosaic law permitted the innocent one to obtain a divorce and marry again; but it made no provision for a plurality of wives, and that was what David was now guilty of; and for his sin he was sorely chastised.

Ah, my reader, let this truth sink deep into thine heart: God is exercising a moral government over the believer as well as the unbeliever, and He will no more wink at the sins of the one than He will of the other. David was saved by grace through faith apart from any good works as tile meritorious cause, as truly as we are; but he was also called to be holy in all manner of conversation or behavior, as we are. Grace does not set aside the requirements of Divine holiness, instead, it reigns "through righteousness" (Rom. 5:21). And when one who has been saved by grace fails to deny "ungodliness and worldly lusts" (Titus 2: 12), then the chastening rod of God falls upon him, that he may be a "partaker of His holiness" (Heb. 12:10). And this, be it noted, is not only a part of the Fatherís dealings with His children, but it is also a part of his ways with His subjects as the Moral Ruler of this world.

As we suggested in the seventh chapter of this hook, it was Davidís being united in marriage to the unbelieving Michal which accounts for the painful experiences he passed through while a member of Saulís household. Trials do not come upon us haphazardly; no, they come from the hand of God. Nor does He act capriciously, but according to the righteous principles of His government. In an earlier chapter we saw how that God graciously protected David when the devil-driven king sought his life, and how that He moved him to return home. Why, then, should His restraining hand be removed, and Saul allowed to go forth again on a blood-thirsty mission? Why should the brief respite David had enjoyed now be so rudely broken? The answer is that God was again using his enemy to chasten David for his recent sin, that he might, by painful experience, learn anew that the way of transgressors is hard.

"O that thou hadst hearkened to My commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea" (Isa. 48:18). What a difference it makes whether the ways of a Christian please or displease the Ruler of this world: it is the difference of having God for, or having Him against usónot in the absolute sense, not in the eternal sense, but in His governmental dealings with us. When the heart be right with God, then He shows Himself strong on our behalf (2 Chron. 16:9). When our ways please Him, then He makes even our enemies to be at peace with us (Prov. 16:7). Then how diligently should we guard our hearts and ponder the path of our feet (Prov. 4:23, 26). Carelessness invites disaster; disobedience ensures chastening; sinning will withhold good things from us (Jer. 5:25).

It is very important to see that while the penal and eternal consequences of the Christianís sins have been remitted by God, because atoned for by Christ, yet the disciplinary and temporal effects thereof are not cancelledóotherwise the saints would never be sick or die. It is not God in His absolute character, acting according to His ineffably holy nature, but God in His official character, acting according to the principles of His righteous government, which deals with the present conduct of His people, rewarding them for their obedience and chastening for disobedience. Hence, when God makes use of the devil and his agents to scourge His people, it is not unto their ultimate destruction, but unto their present plaguing and disciplining. And this is exactly what we see in our present lesson: Saul was allowed to disturb Davidís rest, but not to take his life. In like manner, the devil is often permitted to whip us, but never to devour us.

"And the Ziphites came unto Saul to Gibeah, saying, Doth not David hide himself in the hills of Hachilah, which is before Jeshimon?" (1 Sam. 26:1). The reader may remember that the Ziphites had shown themselves unfriendly towards David on a former occasion. Was it not then a hazardous thing for him to return unto those parts! How are we to account for his acting so injudiciously, and thus courting danger? Ah, let us recall what was pointed out under 21: 1 in Chapter 8 of this book. When the soul is out of touch with God, when fellowship with Him has been broken by giving way to the lusts of the flesh, the judgment is dulled, and imprudent conduct is sure to be the effect. It is not without reason that godliness is so often designated "wisdom" (i.e. Ps. 90:12), and that a course of evil doing is termed "folly."

David had acted imprudently in marrying Abigail; he had committed a grave sin in taking unto wife Ahinoam. We say he had acted "imprudently" in marrying Abigail. The time was not propitious for that. He was then a homeless wanderer, and in no condition to give unto a wife the care and devotion to which she is entitled. Holy Scripture declares, "to everything there is a season" (Eccl. 3:1). While on this point, let it be said that, in the judgment of the writer, young men who are out of work and have no good prospects of soon obtaining any, are acting imprudently, yea, rashly, in getting married. Let them possess their souls in patience (Luke 21:19) and wait a more favorable season, and not tempt God.

"And the Ziphites came unto Saul of Gibeah, saying, Doth not David hide himself in the hills of Hachilah, which is before Jeshimon?" If we venture upon the enemyís territory we must expect to be harassed by him. It is probable these Ziphites were fearful that should David succeed Saul on the throne, then he would avenge himself upon them for their previous perfidy: if so, they were now the more anxious that he should be captured and slain. Afraid to tackle him themselves, they sent word to the king of Davidís present whereabouts. Their message presented a temptation for Saul to return again unto that evil course which he had abandoned, temporarily at least: thus does one evil-doer encourage another in wickedness.

"Then Saul arose, and went down to the wilderness of Ziph, having three thousand chosen men of Israel with him, to seek David in the wilderness of Ziph" (v. 2). Poor Saul, his goodness was as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it vanished away. "How soon do unsanctified hearts lose the good impressions which their convictions have made upon them, and return with the dog to their vomit" (Matthew Henry). O what need has even the Christian to pray earnestly unto God, that since he still has so much of the tinder of corruption left within, the sparks of temptation may be kept far from him, lest when they come together they are "set on fire of hell" (James 3:6). The providential restraint of God in causing Saul to leave off pursuing David because the Philistines were invading his territory, had wrought no change within him: his evil disposition towards Godís anointed was the same as ever; and now that the favorable opportunity to seize David presented itself, he gladly made the most of it.

The action of Saul here provides a solemn illustration of a well known principle: if sin be not dethroned and mortified, it will soon recover its strength, and when a suitable temptation is presented, break out again with renewed force. How often do the servants of God witness souls under deep conviction, followed by a marked reformation, which leads them to believe that a genuine work of grace has taken place within them; only to see them, a little later, return to their sins and become worse than ever. So here: upon receiving word from the Ziphites, Saulís enmity and malice revived, and, like Pharaoh of old, he again hardened his heart, and determined to make another effort to remove his rival. And thus it is with many a one who has been sobered and awed by the Word: after a brief season, Satan and his agents suggest such thoughts as tend to rekindle the smothered flame, and then the lusts of the flesh are again allowed free play. O my reader, beg God to deepen your convictions and write His law on your heart.

"And Saul pitched in the hill Hachilah, which is before Jeshimon, by the way. But David abode in the wilderness, and he saw that Saul came after him into the wilderness. David therefore sent out spies, and understood that Saul was come in very deed" (vv. 3,4). "David neither fled, nor went out to meet Saul, when he was fully certified that he was actually come forth to destroy him! Had a much greater army of uncircumcised Philistines marched against him, he would doubtless have forced them with his small company, and trusted in God for the event; but he would not fight against the ĎLordís anointedí" (Thomas Scott).

"David therefore sent out spies, and understood that Saul was come in very deed." From the previous verse it would seem David had perceived that some large force was advancing into that part of the country where he and his men were now quartered. Though not certain as to who was at the head of the approaching army, he probably suspected that it was none other than Saul, and therefore did he now send out spies to make sure. He would not fully believe that the king had again dealt so basely with him, till he had the clearest proof of it: thereby does he set us an example not to believe the worst of our enemies till we are really forced to do so by incontestable evidence.

"And David arose, and came to the place where Saul had pitched; and David beheld the place where Saul lay, and Abner the son of Net, the captain of his hosts; and Saul lay in the trench, and the people pitched round about him" (v. 5). Most likely it was in the dusk of the evening that David now went forward to reconnoiter, surveying from close range the order of Saulís camp and the strength of its entrenchments. Though he knew the Lord was his Protector, yet he deemed it necessary to be upon his guard and make use of means for his safety. Well for us when we act as wisely as serpents, but as harmless as doves. It is to be noted that David did not entrust this critical task unto any of his underlings, but performed it in person. The leader ought always to take the lead in the most difficult and dangerous tasks.

"Then answered David and said to Ahimelech the Hittite, and to Abishai the son of Zeruiah, brother to Joab, saying, Who will go down with me to Saul to the camp? And Abishai said, I will go down with thee" (v. 6). David now addressed himself unto two of those who were, most likely, his closest attendants, asking who was bold enough to volunteer in accompanying him on an exceedingly dangerous enterpriseóthat of two men entering a camp of three thousand soldiers. There is little room for doubt that David was prompted by the Spirit to act thus, from whom he probably received assurance of divine protection: thereby he would be afforded another opportunity of demonstrating to Saul and Israel his innocency. Ahimelech was probably a proselyted Hittite, and not having that faith in the God of Israel which such a severe testing called for, held back, but Abishai, who was Davidís own nephew (1 Chron. 2: 15, 16), readily agreed to accompany David.

"So David and Abishai came to the people by night: and, behold, Saul lay sleeping within the trench, and his spear stuck in the ground at his bolster: but Abner and the people lay around about him" (v. 7). What an extraordinary situation now presented itself before the eyes of David and his lone companion? Where was the guard? Had the watchmen failed at their point of duty? There was none to sound an alarm: the entire camp was wrapped in slumber so profound that, though the two uninvited visitors walked and talked in their midst, none was aroused. Ah, how easily can God render impotent an entire host of enemies! All the forces of nature are under His immediate control: He can awaken from the sleep of death, and He can put the living into such a heavy sleep that none can awaken them. There was Saul and all his forces as helpless as though they were in fetters of iron.

"Then said Abishai to David, God hath delivered thine enemy into thine hand this day: now therefore let me smite him, I pray thee, with the spear even to the earth at once, and I will not smite him the second time" (v. 8). In view of what had transpired in the cave (24:4-6), no doubt Abishai thought that though David scrupled to kill Saul with his own hand, yet he would allow one of his officers to slay him: thus would an end be put to the difficulties and dangers unto himself and his adherents, by cutting off at one blow their inveterate persecutor; the more so, since Providence had again placed Saul in their power, apparently for this very purpose. This illustrates the fact that often it requires as much godly resolution to restrain the excesses of zealous but unspiritual friends, as it does to stand firm against the rage of incensed enemies.

A powerful temptation was here set before David. Had their positions been reversed, would Saul hesitate to slay him? Why, then, should David allow sentiment to prevail? Moreover, did it not look as though God had arranged things to this very end? The previous opportunity was not nearly so strongly marked as this one: Saul had, as it were, accidentally wandered into the cave, but here was something extraordinaryóthe entire camp was wrapped in a supernatural slumber. Furthermore, his attendant urges upon him that it was the will of God to now take things into his own hand. But David was not to be moved from his loyalty to the throne. First, he told Abishai that it would be sinful to lay violent hands upon one whose person was sacred (v. 10), for Saul had been appointed by God and anointed for his office. Second, he declared it was unnecessary: God would, sooner or later, cut him off (vv. 10, 11). Remembering how the Lord had just before smitten Nabal, he left it to Him to avenge his cause.

"So David took the spear and the cruse of water from Saulís bolster; and they gat them away, and no man saw it, nor knew it, neither awaked; for they were all asleep; because a deep sleep from the Lord was fallen upon them" (v. 12). Here we see David as a type of Christ in His wonderful forbearance toward His enemies, and in His faith in God: 1 Peter 2:23. Davidís procedure was an effective method of convincing Saul that he could have slain him. And what a proof to the king that the Lord had departed from him, and was protecting David! "Thus do we lose our strength and comfort when we are careless and secure, and off our watch" (Matthew Henry), gives the practical lesson for us in Saulís losing his spear and cruse of water.