Unit: History of Israel (1 Samuel & 1 Chronicles)
Theme: A New King
Lesson Text: 1 Samuel 24:1-20
Supplemental Texts: Zechariah 7:8-10; Matthew 5:3-9; 9:13
Aim: Offer mercy in humility.
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Download a PDF of this week’s lesson material (the Study by Mark Scott, Application by David Faust, and Discovery Questions by Michael C. Mack): LOOKOUT_May23_2021
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By Mark Scott
In his book Between Two Worlds, John R.W. Stott combined four important qualities for preachers into two chapters: courage and humility, sincerity and earnestness. Last week’s lesson and this week’s lesson do the same thing with King David. He showed courage and heart but also mercy and humility.
Since we left David last (1 Samuel 17), his and Jonathan’s friendship have grown while his and Saul’s friendship have shrunk—significantly. (If someone throws a spear at you, it diminishes the relationship.) Most of the previous literary context showed a cat-and-mouse game between Saul and David; fighting the Philistines remained a sidebar. Through everything, God protected David from Saul’s pursuits.
The Action of Mercy and Humility
1 Samuel 24:1-4
The Philistines had derailed Saul’s pursuit of David (1 Samuel 23:27-29). After that battle, Saul learned from his military informants that David was in the Desert of En Gedi. The Israelis have now made this desert oasis into a national park. It is located on the west-central side of the Dead Sea, near Qumran (think Dead Sea Scrolls). Fed by two springs, it provided excellent hiding places. The hills look like Swiss cheese or a honeycomb—lots of holes.
Saul and 3,000 soldiers came to this area in pursuit of David. Saul went into one of those caves (den or hole) to relieve himself (literally, to cover his feet). Ironically enough, David and his men were far back in that same cave. David’s men looked at this as providence. God had delivered the enemy into their hands. David was indeed tempted. But mercy and humility took over. David crept up unnoticed (by stealth or secretly) and cut off a corner (extreme parts or feathers) of Saul’s robe.
The Ambivalence of Mercy and Humility
1 Samuel 24:5-7
By law, David was more than justified to do what he did—in fact, he acted compassionately. But sometimes even doing what is right does not feel very good. David was conscience-stricken (smitten) that he had treated the Lord’s anointed (the word for “messiah,” used three times in this text, and see 1 Samuel 10:1) in this way.
Even though Saul had compromised his kingship, David still had respect for the office. Evidently David’s men were arguing with him about his mercy and humility because David sharply rebuked (persuaded or split and divided) them and kept them from attacking Saul and his army.
The Angst of Mercy and Humility
1 Samuel 24:8-20
Ambivalence can erode to angst. When Saul was a safe distance from the cave, David went to its mouth and called out to Saul. Assuming a reverent posture (bowing and laying prostrate) and using the mountains for his public address system, David pleaded his innocence. His mountaintop speech consisted of six parts. First, “Do not be misled by others.” David did not want to harm (do “evil” to) Saul. Second, “The Lord delivered you into my hand.” (Saul admitted as much in v. 18.) Third, “I did not kill you.” David’s men urged him to, but David spared (took pity upon or showed compassion to) Saul. The motivation for this grace was David’s respect for the Lord’s anointed.
Fourth, the corner of the robe was evidence of David’s mercy and humility. He was not guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion (transgression). Even though Saul had hunted down David, David had not wronged (sinned against) Saul. Fifth, David pleaded for God to be the judge. Since vengeance belongs to the Lord, David essentially said, “Let’s let the Lord handle this.” Notice the covenantal wish, “May the Lord judge. . . .” People who are truly merciful and humble allow the Lord to be their justification. David knew the difference between being right and being righteous. Finally, David provided a glimpse of his own sense of self-esteem. In comparison to the Lord’s anointed, David thought of himself as a dead dog or flea.
Saul’s repentance ultimately was short-lived (1 Samuel 26), but for the moment he seemed contrite (cf. 2 Corinthians 7:10). Saul wept aloud (wailed). He affirmed David’s character—being righteous, treating him well, and not killing him. Saul acknowledged that what David had done did not fit life in this world as people know it (secular proverbial wisdom). And Saul acquiesced by admitting that David would be king.
“Blessed are the merciful,” said Jesus, “for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7).