5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
7 Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD and shun evil.
8 This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.
–Proverbs 3.5-8 (NIV)
1 After Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, “David is in the Desert of En Gedi.” 2So Saul took three thousand able young men from all Israel and set out to look for David and his men near the Crags of the Wild Goats. 3 He 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. 4 The men said, “This is the day the LORD spoke of when he said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.’” Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. 5 Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe. 6 He said to his men, “The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the LORD.” 7 With these words David sharply rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul. And Saul left the cave and went his way. 8 Then David went out of the cave and called out to Saul, “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 LORD delivered you into my hands in the cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you; I said, ‘I will not lay my hand on my lord, 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. See that there is nothing in my hand to indicate that I am 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? Who 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.”
–1 Samuel 24.1-15 (NIV)
If you like earthy stories, you will love today’s lesson. First, some background. Saul, God’s anointed king but who by his disobedience to God has been rejected by God, is in hot pursuit of God’s replacement for him, David. David and his men have fled to the wilderness to escape Saul’s murderous attempts and have been on the run, narrowly escaping Saul’s clutches. This is the immediate context for today’s lesson.
As the writer continues the story, Saul stops to “relieve himself” in a cave and it just happens to be the cave in which David and his men are hiding. David’s men see this as a clear sign that God has delivered Saul into David’s hands and encourage David to finish him off while Saul is relieving himself. So much for the idea that God does not get his hands dirty in the midst of brokenness of his creatures!
But there is a greater lesson to today’s story. Chapters 24-26 are really about the temptations David faced in the wilderness. Unlike Saul, will David pass the tests God places before him in the wilderness, thus validating Samuel’s anointing of him as God’s appointed future king? As with the sacrifice of Isaac it seems that events have to play themselves out before the truth can be known, at least by us finite humans.
As we think about David facing temptations in the wilderness, our minds immediately go back to Israel’s tempting in the desert after God delivered them from their slavery in Egypt and we lament that Israel failed to pass the test. Many failed to trust God’s good will and power and wanted to return to their former slavery, despite having witnessed God’s mighty deliverance of them. Yes, it seems that we can be that stupid and myopic.
We also think about Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness, but this time the story has a happy ending. Jesus did not give in to his temptations. He passed the test. As we look at today’s story, the first of David’s temptations, what will he do? The temptation, of course, is to take matters into his own hands and kill Saul in a moment of great vulnerability. The writer makes clear that Saul and David did not end up in the same cave by accident. This opportunity (or depending on how you look at it, temptation) was not serendipitous. God had purposely manipulated events to test David and David passed the test.
Clearly David came close to killing Saul and as we get to know David, we know that the desire to kill likely was his proclivity. But in this time of testing, David passed the test. He realized that Saul was still the Lord’s anointed king, even though Saul had fallen out of God’s favor. David rightly decided that Saul’s removal was God’s problem, not his. David’s job was to continue to flee from Saul’s murderous attempts until God decided to act.
Don’t let the distance of time cause you to miss how hard this must have been for David. Think of the times you were tempted to take matters into your own hands only to discover later that you should not have done so. For you see, depending on context, sometimes when we take matters into our own hands it betrays a lack of trust and faith in God’s good will and great love for us. Something inside us wants to act on God’s behalf without taking the matter up fully with God. In David’s case, the issue was pretty straightforward–murder was (and is) strictly prohibited by God and David rightly deferred and effectively put Saul into God’s hands.
Yet there are other circumstances in our life that are less clear cut. Should we act or refrain from acting? God does not intend for us to sit around and act snotty while we wait for him to do everything for us. It just doesn’t work like that. But God also does not want us to go around acting willy-nilly based on our own wants, needs, and desires because we are fallen creatures and we never act out of pure or entirely good motives–even the best of us.
And so we are called to wait on God and listen. We are called to trust God in any and every circumstance, something that is impossible if we do not know the character of God. Similarly, we are called to learn the kind of character God desires and work on developing that character–with the help of the Spirit, of course. This will help us ascertain whether to act or refrain from acting in times of testing and we will see how far along in our relationship with God we are (or aren’t). God desires us to rely wholly on him and not put our ultimate trust in our own wisdom (cf. Proverbs 3, especially verses 5-8). Sadly, we sometimes, if not often, refuse to do this. We would prefer to play God instead of being content to be God’s creatures.
But it is to the glory of God that he remains faithful to us, even when we fail the test on occasion. We know this, in part, if we are familiar with God’s rescue plan for his sinful creatures, a story that culminates in Jesus of Nazareth. God does not give us an infinite number of chances to come to our senses and allow him to be our God, but he gives us a massive amount of chances–certainly more than we deserve–and will continue to do so, especially when he sees our heart and sees that our motives are essentially good, even if the execution of our motives is not always perfect. We know this because God has become human so that he could condemn sin in the flesh in himself so that we have a chance to really live.
Like it or not, we often face tests in our lives and many of those tests apparently come from God. This fact in itself gives us a further chance to decide if we love and trust God enough to remain faithful to him and put our whole hope and trust in him. In other words, can we learn to trust a God who tests us? To do that, of course, requires that we trust God and believe he has our best interests at heart and knows better than we do how to help us achieve his interests and will for us. We know this again because we have seen his cross and have experienced his risen Presence in our lives. And with each test that we pass, we can have greater confidence in God’s good providence for our lives. This, in turn, gives us real power for living life with meaning, purpose, and joy, even in the midst of our difficulties and suffering.
Do you enjoy this kind of power? If not, what are you waiting for? You’ll surely have to pass some tests along the way but in doing so, you will find yourself submitting to the God of the universe who loves you and gave himself for you, and that is surely a good thing. And even when you fail on occasion (or maybe frequently at first), you will also discover that God really is faithful to you, even when you do not reciprocate. For you see, God created you to have a relationship with you, not to destroy you, and you can really learn to see the breathtaking love and grace of God in the midst of your failures. That is a God worth loving and trusting with our whole being!