The biographies of David and Saul reveal sharp contrasts. David was God’s man, while Saul was Satan’s. David was a man after God’s own heart, while Saul was a man after the people’s heart. David was God’s choice for king, while the people chose Saul – and God granted them their wish. When Samuel anointed David, “the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward ... But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a distressing spirit from the Lord troubled him” (1 Sam. 16:13-14). We read that “David behaved wisely in all his ways, and the Lord was with him” (1 Sam. 18:14). This is never said of Saul. The Lord rejected Saul from being king because of his repeated disobedience and stubbornness. But the Lord established David’s kingdom and made a covenant with him intimating that a descendant of David would sit on his throne forever – a reference to our Lord Jesus (2 Sam. 7:16).
David was a man of prayer who praised God continually with his whole heart (Ps. 34:1; 9:1). We read that Saul only prayed twice. Whenever David wanted to know the Lord’s will, he repeatedly inquired of the Lord who answered. Saul inquired of the Lord twice, and was refused twice (1 Sam. 14:37; 28:6).
When Saul was a humble servant, God gave him the kingdom. But when Saul began to be proud, he lost his kingdom. Pride is the sin that caused Saul to lose his character, crown and life. Humility is the grace that made David a king and got him his kingdom. This is also how Christ secured His kingdom (Phil. 2:8-9).
David always looked upon Saul as the Lord’s anointed and respected his office. He spared Saul’s life twice (1 Sam. 24,26). On the other hand, Saul knew that David was God’s choice for king, but made repeated attempts to kill him.
David loved his rebellious son, Absalom, even after he revolted and forced his father into exile. During the civil war between them, David told his commanders to deal gently with Absalom. Though Absalom thirsted for his father’s blood, David did not do likewise. In stark contrast, Saul tried to slay his son Jonathan twice: first, when he unknowingly disobeyed the king’s command (1 Sam. 14:44); and second when Jonathan helped David escape (1 Sam. 20:33).
Saul’s last actions are identified with darkness: “Saul disguised himself … and they came to the woman by night … Then they rose and went away that night” (1 Sam. 28:8,25). But David’s last days are identified with light: “David … shall be like the light of the morning when the sun rises, a morning without clouds” (2 Sam. 23:1,4). Saul’s life was one masquerade after another, climaxing in his visit to the witch’s cave (1 Sam. 28). In the duplicity of his heart, Saul fled to a cave and discovered that God had forsaken him. In the integrity of his heart, David had fled to a cave and there found God’s help (1 Sam. 24).
Contrasting the deaths of David and Saul is instructive: David confidently directed his kingdom up to the end of his life, including appointing Solomon to succeed him (1 Ki. 1:30); Saul staggered in defeat having no control over himself or his kingdom. He died in battle with the Philistines, but David “rested with his fathers, and was buried in the City of David” (1 Sam. 31; 1 Ki. 2:10).
Saul Tried To Kill David
The apostate king could not hide the fact that his passion was to destroy David. Although Saul knew that David was God’s choice to be king, he still sought to slay him. He personally made two attempts to slay David with a spear when a “distressing spirit from God” came while David was playing music to soothe him. But David slipped away (1 Sam. 18:11; 19:9). From the time David killed Goliath, Saul was jealous because the people praised him. He gave his daughter Michal as a wife to David to put him in the family so that she might “be a snare to him, and that the hand of the Philistines might be against him” (1 Sam. 18:21). He wanted David to fight the Philistines hoping he would die in battle: “Let my hand not be against him, but let the hand of the Philistines be against him” (1 Sam. 18:17). Instead of a dowry from David, Saul only wanted “100 foreskins of the Philistines,” hoping David might fall by their hand (1 Sam. 18:25). Finally, Saul gave orders to his son Jonathan and all his servants to kill David (1 Sam. 19:1). He even sent his men to David, saying, “Bring him up to me … that I may kill him” (1 Sam. 19:15).
David Went Into Exile
David’s life was in jeopardy until Saul’s death. He fled Saul’s wrath and hid in forests and caves. During his 10 to 14 years of exile, David described himself as a hunted animal: “They have prepared a net for my steps … They have dug a pit before me” (1 Sam. 26:20; Ps. 57:4; 102:6; 57:6).
During these years, David was in the school of God who trained him to wait upon Him and trust Him. Moses was in God’s school for 40 years, one third of his life. God had to teach patience and trust to every man He has ever used. David graduated from God’s school changed from a shepherd boy into Israel’s greatest king and a man after God’s heart. Many of David’s psalms were written during this exile period.
David foreshadowed the true King, Jesus Christ, the Son of David (Mt. 1:1). Everywhere in the life of David we discover most blessed types of Christ. Because this king after God’s own heart gives a typical vision of the coming true King, David had to pass through many years of suffering before he could receive the kingdom and its glory. Peter speaks about “the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (1 Pet. 1:11). This is the path appointed by God for David, for Christ, and for every saint, including us.
David Spared Saul’s Life
In 1 Samuel 24, David was still on the run from Saul, hiding in the rugged wilderness of Engedi. Saul went looking for him with an army of 3000 while David had only 600. Saul entered the cave where David was hiding and went to sleep. Saul’s soldiers were on guard outside. The apostate king of Israel was asleep in the very place where he was at the mercy of the man he sought. David’s men saw their advantage: “This is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘Behold, I will deliver your enemy into your hand, that you may do to him as it seems good to you’” (1 Sam. 24:4). A golden opportunity presented itself to David. One stroke of the sword would rid him of his bitter foe, remove the only man between him and the throne and end the life of being hunted.
This was a critical moment in David’s life. Would he take matters into his own hands or wait on God to handle his enemy? Would he avenge himself or leave the vengeance to God? David knew that vengeance belonged to God (Dt. 32:35; Ps. 94:1). David knew he had been anointed by Samuel to be king. Had his time come to get rid of his enemy and ascend the throne? David had cried to God for deliverance (Ps. 54:1-2). Had that time now arrived?
God was testing David’s faith. God had said, “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13). Would David obey this command? God was testing David who wrote, “On You I wait all the day … Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for You” (Ps. 25:5,21). He also wrote, “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him” (Ps. 37:7). Would he wait for God’s time?
There is a lesson here for us. We need to be very cautious what conclusions we draw from the events of providence. We are prone to mistake the opportunity of following our own inclinations for God’s approbation of our own conduct. God tries our hearts to manifest what is in them. When we take things into our own hands we are no longer waiting on Him and walking by faith. In fact what we say is, “Lord, I can’t trust You to handle this matter my way, so I am going to do it myself.”
How did David react to the test? Spirit triumphed over flesh. He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord” (1 Sam. 24:6). God-sustained faith always looks for God’s hand. In his response to his soldiers, David mentioned the Lord three times. He saw Saul not as an enemy wanting to slay him, but as the Lord’s anointed. David “restrained his servants … and did not allow them to rise against Saul” (1 Sam. 24:7).
David did not slay Saul, but he “secretly cut off a corner of Saul’s robe” (1 Sam. 24:4). But even that troubled his conscience. He regretted his rash action; he had sinned. His tender conscience was troubled, a mark of real spirituality.
David Spared Saul’s Life Again
In 1 Samuel 26, David had a second opportunity to slay Saul, but the man after God’s own heart again spared him. David fled into the wilderness, and Saul went after him again with 3000 men (1 Sam. 26:2). David and his nephew Abishai entered Saul’s camp and found him sleeping in a trench, surrounded by his men who also slept. His spear was stuck in the ground nearby. Abishai asked David’s permission to strike Saul one time with his own spear. He thought that while David refused to kill Saul himself, he might allow one of his men to do so.
Once more David had the opportunity to slay Saul. Had their positions been reversed, Saul would certainly have killed David. Abishai suggested that God had delivered his enemy into David’s hand, and sent a deep sleep to Saul and his men. But as before, he told Abishai that it would be sinful to kill Saul for he had been appointed by God. He let God deal with Saul. But he did take the spear and the jug of water which lay near Saul.
Lessons For Today
Since all the Old Testament stories “were written for our learning” (Rom. 15:4), we can glean the following lessons from the above:
1. We should not let seemingly favorable circumstances cause us to disobey God. It looked as though God had arranged things so David might slay Saul. But God said, “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13) and David would not disobey God.
2. We should not allow the counsel of a fellow saint to move us to disobey.
3. We should not seek vengeance. God repeatedly said vengeance was His (Dt. 32:35; Ps. 94:1; Rom. 12:19; Heb.10:30). David knew this, so he left Saul in God’s hands. He was able to let God avenge his cause (Rom. 12:19).
4. Peter exhorts us to follow the steps of Christ (1 Pet. 2:21). David is a type of Christ in His forbearance toward His enemies, and in His faith in God. “When He was reviled, He did not revile in return: when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Pet. 2:23).
5. Like David, we should “let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (Jas. 1:4).
David’s Final Words With Saul
David withdrew but did not go back to his men. Instead he went to the top of a hill where he could easily escape. In his last talk with Saul, David asked politely: “Why does my lord thus pursue his servant? For what have I done, or what evil is in my hand?” (26:18). What crime did David commit? David here was a type of Christ who challenged His enemies: “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike Me?” (Jn. 18:23).
David continued his speech to Saul: “Let … the king hear the words of his servant: If the Lord has stirred you up against me, let Him accept an offering” (26:19). David suggests that maybe the Lord was using Saul to chastise him for some fault. This possibility should always exercise our conscience, for the Lord “does not afflict willingly” (Lam. 3:33). Chastening could be spared “if we would judge ourselves” (1 Cor. 11:31). It is always wise to ask with Job, “Show me why You contend with me” (Job 10:2).
David completed his address to Saul saying, “Do not let my blood fall to the earth before the face of the Lord. For the king of Israel has come out to seek a flea, as when one hunts a partridge in the mountains” (26:20). First, David warned that if Saul shed his blood, it would fall before the Lord’s face, and He would hold him guilty. Second, David argued that it was beneath the king’s dignity to chase the son of Jesse, whom he likens to “a flea” – an insignificant, worthless thing. Third, David appeals to Saul’s conscience by comparing him to men hunting a “partridge” – a harmless bird, which flies away when attacked.
Saul’s reply to David’s speech was, “I have sinned … I will harm you no more, … I have played the fool and erred exceedingly” (26:21). Most likely the demon-possessed king was not sincere in his lament, having neither true sense of his wickedness nor genuine repentance. His confession was similar to Judas’ remorseful cry: “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood” (Mt. 27:4).
Saul’s final words to David were, “May you be blessed, my son David! You shall both do great things and also still prevail” (26:25). Saul recognized a glorious future for David. He knew that God favored David, yet that did not check his downward course. Saul went to his awful doom (1 Sam. 31), and David waited God’s time to ascend the throne.
By Maurice Bassali
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org