If we have learned anything from David we have learned that the choices we make in life determine the character of our hearts. Like termites in a house, compromises will eat away at our character until there is a complete collapse. Faithfulness in our everyday choices strengthen our character like threads combining to form a rope.
We will see this negatively illustrated in David’s life in the story of Bathsheba. This morning we see the positive side. In 1 Samuel 24 David made three choices that deepened his character and made him more of a man after God’s own heart.
Before we get to those choices, let’s paint the scene. At the end of 1 Samuel 23 there is a dramatic scene in Saul’s pursuit of David. Saul was on one side of the mountain and David was on the other. Saul had divided his men and they were coming around the mountain from both sides in what might be called a “pincher” maneuver. David and his men may not have known it, but they were in deep trouble. We are told “As Saul and his forces were closing in on David and his men to capture them, a messenger came to Saul, saying, “Come quickly!” (1 Samuel 23:26) Saul quickly gathered the troops and headed off to fight the Philistines.
David and his men headed to the caves and hills of En Gedi. The elevation, the fresh water, and the rocky terrain made this a good place to hide.
As we move to chapter 24, Saul and the army after they defeated the Philistines in battle. Once again their attention turned to David. When they learned David and his men were in En Gedi, Saul gathered 3000 men and headed off in pursuit.
What happened next is one of those passages in Scripture you don’t expect,
“3 He (Saul) came to the sheep pens along the way; a cave was there, and Saul went in to relieve himself. David and his men were far back in the cave.”
The Hebrew actually says Saul went in to “cover his feet” but that is a euphemism pointing to his clothing being at his feet while he was “doing his business.”
So, David and his men are hiding in a cave (obviously a BIG cave. These caves were often large enough to put an entire sheepfold in there for protection). As “coincidence would have it” (we both know it wasn’t coincidence) Saul came into the same cave to answer the call of nature.
The Law of Moses gave specific instructions,
12 Designate a place outside the camp where you can go to relieve yourself. 13 As part of your equipment have something to dig with, and when you relieve yourself, dig a hole and cover up your excrement.
If Saul was following the Law, it meant Saul was most certainly separated from his men. He had gone off by himself (he thought). He was therefore very vulnerable.
In 1 Samuel 26 there is a very similar situation. In that account David crept into camp and took Saul’s water jug and spear (finally!) while the soldiers slept. Both accounts demonstrate the same thing: David’s lack of aggression toward Saul. I you to see three decisions David made that developed and revealed his character.
Submissive Character over Selfish Expediency
Our text tells us that there was a difference of opinion in the cave. David’s men interpreted the circumstances as God’s deliverance of Saul into David’s hand. The men in the cave believed God had delivered Saul, if you will, on a silver (or maybe a better figure would be porcelain) platter. The chase, the hiding, the exile and the waiting would be over. The men encouraged David to strike down his enemy.
David saw the incident differently. To David this was a test. The question was: would David overlook the fact that Saul was God’s anointed so he could exploit the situation for his own purposes. It was a character defining moment.
Soldiers are taught that they salute the rank rather than the man. They may dislike or even hate the man but they are to respect the position the man holds. This is the issue David faces. The question was: “Would David respect Saul in his office as King even though Saul was making his life miserable?”
David crept toward Saul. When he reached Saul he quietly cut off a piece of Saul’s robe (had Saul put it aside when came into the cave?) We are told that David was conscious stricken. I suspect David believed he was symbolically rebelling against the King. David knew that any rebellion was wrong . . . even if it was just minor. David understood that his actions were sending a message (and setting a precedent for those who would follow him) about how a King should be treated.
Apparently the men continued to urge David to strike. He said,
“The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, or lift my hand against him; for he is the anointed of the LORD.” 7 With these words David rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul.”
The words in Hebrew stress the forcefulness of David’s rebuke. David showed respect to earthly authority because he respected God’s divine authority. In Romans 13:1-2 Paul writes to Christians,
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
Paul does not limit his words to Christian authorities . . . he is writing about all authorities. The principle is simple: we are always to respect and honor the office of those who are over us. We can disagree with authorities but we should do so in a respectful way.
We can apply this principle in several ways: first, in government. Our leaders have given us many reasons to be cynical. They have done many things that justify our frustration . . . however, we still should show respect for the office. No matter what side of the political aisle your desk sits on we should honor and pray for our President and our elected officials. We can debate policies but should still show respect to the office and the person who occupies that office. The political divide in our country is great and Christian people should handle the situation differently than all others. We should do so because God has established the authorities over us.
Second, we can apply this in marriage. Husbands and wives should honor each other. They should speak to each other in respectful ways . . . even when they are frustrated. They should speak about each other in ways that put their spouse in a positive light. Paul tells wives to respectfully encourage their husbands to take a leadership role in the home.
Third, there is family life. Children should honor their parents no matter how old they are! This is so important that it is even part of the Ten Commandments. Honoring parents is a way of showing our respect for God. Children show honor by the way they talk to their parents and by the way they obey their parents.
Fourth, we can apply this to school. Students should treat their teachers with respect and honor.
Finally, we can apply this in our place of employment. God has established a system where people submit to the authority of others. You may not like your boss. You may think you know more than your boss. You may actually know more than your boss . . . but you are still to show respect and honor to that person.
God has established authorities to keep order in our society. God tells us to trust His wisdom. We may not like those who are in authority over us . . . it doesn’t matter. Our job is to show honor and respect to the office of the person because we respect and honor the Lord.
Respect and Love Over Hate
The second choice David made was the choice to respect (or love) over hate. David had every right (from an earthly perspective) to hate Saul. David chose to show love and mercy to the King. When Saul had departed the cave (we don’t know how far away from the cave he had gotten.) David came out of the cave and called to the King,
“My lord the king!” When Saul looked behind him, David bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. 9 He said to Saul, “Why do you listen when men say, ‘David is bent on harming you’? 10 This day you have seen with your own eyes how the LORDdelivered you into my hands in the cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you; I said, ‘I will not lift my hand against my master, because he is the LORD’s anointed.’ 11 See, my father, look at this piece of your robe in my hand! I cut off the corner of your robe but did not kill you. Now understand and recognize that I am not guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion. I have not wronged you, but you are hunting me down to take my life. 12 May the LORD judge between you and me. And may the LORD avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you. 13 As the old saying goes, ‘From evildoers come evil deeds,’ so my hand will not touch you.
14 “Against whom has the king of Israel come out? Whom are you pursuing? A dead dog? A flea? 15 May the LORD be our judge and decide between us. May he consider my cause and uphold it; may he vindicate me by delivering me from your hand.”
Notice what David does.
- He called Saul lord and acknowledged him as King
- He bowed and prostrated himself a sign of respect and honor
- He showed Saul the evidence that he could have killed him . . . but didn’t
- He declared his own innocence
David honored the King publicly. He showed mercy and grace to his enemy. This is the same thing Jesus did. He prayed for those who put Him on the cross. He spoke with grace to the man crucified next to Him. Paul reminds us that when Jesus died on the cross He was dying for us and we were at the time God’s enemies.
Jesus instructed us to act in this way toward all our enemies,
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)
It is natural for us to hate our enemy. Jesus does not want us to take the natural course. He wants us to follow His example. I think Henry Longfellow was right when he wrote, “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility” (Henry W. Longfellow, “Driftwood”).
The point is that most people who hurt others are acting in response to a hurt in their own lives. Jesus wants us to see and respond to our enemies pain, not their offense.
Is there someone in your life where you need to look past your own hurt and anger and see the ache in the heart of your enemy? Jesus knows that we win only when we have conquered hatred with love. He knows we will know joy only when we have let go of our need to punish and destroy, and choose to love people in His strength.
Think for a minute. What kinds of people have made the greatest impact on the world? Those who are angry and run over others? No. They may gain wealth for a period but they don’t make a life-changing impact. The people who make an impact are people like Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., in addition to Christian martyrs like the disciples, Stephen, Joan of Arc, and of course Jesus made the biggest impact of all. All these people have the same thing in common. They chose to love rather than hate. We can do the same.
Patient Trust Over Hasty Action
The final choice is one that is evident but not explicitly stated. David chose to wait on God’s perfect timing rather than try to do things on his own.
Shoplifting is a big problem in our country. People see what they want and simply take it. Sometimes they don’t even want the item; they want the thrill of doing what is wrong (sin does bring fleeting pleasure). Shoplifters give no thought to people who make their living by the sale of these items. They give no thought to the potential long-term consequence of an arrest. They certainly don’t give any thought to the way such actions are eroding their character.
Many people live their lives this way. They see a way to get what they want and simply grab it. It may be
- A night of passion
- A few dollars from the cash register
- The chance to strike a vulnerable rival with hurtful words
- Stealing copyrighted software or music
- Cheating on a test or handing in someone else’s assignment
- A few drinks to impress your friends
- Under-reporting your income
- Padding an expense account
- Taking a performance enhancing drug
God had promised David would be King. The promise seemed to be held up by Saul. David chose to wait for God to bring the promise to pass in His timing. David understood God’s delays are never because He can’t do something. God’s delays are because the timing is not right. When we push the issue we mess things up.
Solomon gave us the proper philosophy for life,
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight”. [Prov. 3:5-6]
David demonstrated this kind of trust. He remained in the waiting room of God even though he could have broken out. David knew God’s way and God’s blessing was worth the wait.
A person’s impact in life is determined by their character. Their character is formed by the decisions they make every day.
- Where you choose to spend your money
- What gets priority in your time and attention
- How you choose to respond to frustrations, disappointments and anger in life. Whether you choose anxiety, aggression, bitterness, or trust and love.
- How diligently you choose to work, guard, and develop your relationships
- Times you must choose between doing what God says and doing what you want to do or what your friends want you to do.
- Every morning when you decide whether you will make time for God or whether you are to busy with more important things.
- When you have the choice between doing what is right and doing what is easy.
- Choosing between whether you will focus on yourself or on the needs of someone else.
We make these decisions hundreds of times every week. Most of the time we don’t realize these things are choices we are making. However, each of these decisions either strengthens our character or erodes that character. They reveal our faithfulness or our lack thereof. You too will face the decision
- To Submit to Authority or Pursue Selfish Expediency
- To Show Respect and Love or Hate and Resentment
- To Patient Truth God or make Impulsive Decisions
When all is said and done God is not going to measure us by the words we profess. He will not measure us by information we have mastered. He will look at the character of our heart. For it is our heart, that hidden part of us that determines our character, that will disclose who really trusts Him and those who doesn’t. Our heart, our character, our faithfulness is determined one decision at a time.
I encourage you today to choose Christ. Choose to believe Him. Choose to follow Him. Choose to rest in Him again and again and again . . . then get up tomorrow and do the same thing again.