The One Who Judges Justly
Preached by Ben Bechtel
If there is one thing that I have learned about the human race in my short 23 years of life it is this: we are great at finding an excuse to quit something. Let that sink in for a second. Think about your own life. Even though you may not act upon your thoughts or desires to quit, there is always a temptation to run away when things get hard or any type of challenge pops up. We are one flakey bunch.
I have a friend, who some of you in here may know, that illustrates this point well. This friend of mine was on the baseball team with me in high school for all 4 years . . . and only finished one full season. He had different reasons for quitting every year but my personal favorite was the year when after a post-game chewing out my friend decided to take our coach up on the offer of, “if you don’t want to be here then just quit.” My friend did this. He followed the family motto adopted by Scott Elder: it is never too late to quit.
In 1 Samuel chapters 24-26 we will see David do more than simply not quit when things get hard. In these three chapters this morning we will see that, albeit imperfectly, David obeys God and actively waits on His plan and timing in the face of great adversity. As has been done the last two weeks, we again are covering three chapters today so I will not be reading the entirety of the Scripture for today. However, let me give you a brief summary of our passage.
If you recall Jason’s sermons from the last two weeks, you will remember that David is now fully on the run from Saul. David continues to wait patiently for the time when he will get to be king while a crazy, spear wielding maniac named Saul is watching his every move. Chapters 24 and 26 record two very similar accounts. In both chapters David stumbles upon Saul in a vulnerable position with the chance to kill him. And in both instances David refrains from killing Saul because he recognizes it is not God’s timing. In the middle of these two accounts we have a fascinating story about a wealthy man named Nabal, whose name means fool, and his courageous wife Abigail. David and his men, famished from being on the run, come to Nabal and request food in exchange for how they have taken care of his flocks without him asking. Nabal then laughs them out of the room and disdains them as simple homeless men. In response David vows to kill his whole family and all of his servants. However, Abigail sneaks out and convinces David that it would be a sin against Yahweh to take vengeance into his own hands and David relents from this bloodthirsty response.
So this morning, we will see David in the midst of his suffering and waiting, display imperfect faith in a perfect God and how we are called to do the same. But before we do that, let’s go before God in prayer.
I want to approach these three chapters by looking at three different traits of David: the patience of David, the repentance of David, and the hope of David.
1. The Patience of David
It is hard to speak about patience in a culture like ours, a culture of fast food, Google, instant mashed potatoes, and expressways. Ours is a culture in which the word “slow” almost always has a negative connotation. Ours is a culture where we get upset when PokemonGo doesn’t load right away on our iPhones. We do not know how to wait for hardly anything let alone to wait for something patiently. And that is why the patience of David in this passage shines bright into our own cultural blind spot. In both chapters 24 and 26 David exercises incredible patience. Let’s just look at the account in chapter 26. Saul’s army sets up camp for the night right near David and his men. David and one of his men Abishai go down to the camp and find everyone fast asleep, including Saul. This is what happens starting at verse 8:
8 Then Abishai said to David, “God has given your enemy into your hand this day. Now please let me pin him to the earth with one stroke of the spear . . . But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can put out his hand against the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless?” 10 And David said, “As the Lord lives, the Lord will strike him, or his day will come to die, or he will go down into battle and perish. 11 The Lord forbid that I should put out my hand against the Lord’s anointed . . .
This is the perfect chance to kill him! When I read this text I thought to myself, “why didn’t you just kill him while you had the chance?! God put him right in front of you with a spear laying on the ground!” However, this is not the way David was to become king. David was not simply waiting until he had a strategic moment to kill his rival and take the kingdom by force. Rather, David was waiting for the moment when God would give him the kingdom of Israel. David knew that God’s will had to come about in God’s way and God’s timing.1
Let’s pause here for a second and think of the incredible similarity between David and Jesus. Jesus endured suffering and patiently waited for God to give Him his kingdom, just as David did. Jesus withstood temptation in the wilderness. Jesus was beaten, mocked, tortured, and executed. And through all of this Jesus waited patiently, not taking matters into His own hands in a way that was contrary to God’s will. Rather, He submitted Himself to the will of His Father. We see this clearly explained in 1 Peter 2:23:
23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten . . .
Jesus was the true King, who patiently heeded the Father’s plan and waited for His time to inherit the kingdom. He stayed faithful and obedient to God in the midst of great suffering. He is the true and perfect example of doing God’s will in God’s way and God’s timing.2
Friends, this too is how we inherit the kingdom of God. Do we think that somehow we get to avoid what Jesus and David had to go through? In this life we will have to wait patiently on God’s will to be done in the face of opposition and suffering. We will have to follow Jesus in patience through the confusion that is life sometimes. Just like David in this passage, we do not know what exactly God in His providence is doing in the situations in our lives but we do know what it is that He requires of us in those situations. And even sometimes those situations which can look so providential can be deceiving (like having your rival show up on your doorstep twice in a row!).
So, I would ask us, is our posture the same as David and Jesus? Are we patiently waiting while actively obeying? Are we putting aside the easy, expedient thing to do the hard, obedient thing? Are we looking to a simple 3 step plan or trick to do away with our sin rather than living a life of patient, day in/day out obedience to Jesus? Do we respond to reviling with reviling? Do we gossip in return when someone else gossips about us? Do we return hate with hate? Or do we, as people patiently waiting on God, do His will and respond with love, grace, and peace. Let’s be people who roll our sleeves up and get ready to follow Jesus on the hard, patient, long path of obedience and love.
2. The Repentance of David
One thing that I have realized in our study of the book of 1 Samuel is how I am always seeking to justify David’s actions. Is anybody else with me on this? I almost always assume, unless it’s the story of Bathsheba or him counting the men when he wasn’t supposed to, that he is doing the right thing or has the right motives. But that is not the picture that the Bible or these 3 chapters paint of David. Chapters 24 and 25 especially show us that David, though he is God’s anointed and is called a man after God’s own heart, is still just a man like all of us. And just like all of us he is capable of incredible evil if left to himself.
We see David’s more explicit evil in chapter 25. After the fool Nabal refuses to give him and his men food David says (25:13,22):
13 Every man strap on his sword . . . 22 God do so to the enemies of David and more also, if by morning I leave so much as one male of all who belong to him.
David’s gut reaction? This guy didn’t give me what I want now I’m going to slaughter all of his family and servants! Not exactly what we’d expect from the man after God’s own heart.
David also, in chapter 24, although he does not kill Saul and take the throne, does not have as pure a motive as we may think. Look at verses 4-6:
4 And the men of David said to him, “Here is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it shall seem good to you.’” Then David arose and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. 5 And afterward David’s heart struck him, because he had cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. 6 He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the Lord’s anointed.”
Now why would David be so torn about cutting off a piece of cloth? It seems like a pretty minor thing to do. But actually, two other passages in 1 Samuel tell us that this was actually a bigger deal than it may seem. Remember back in chapter 18 when Jonathan gave David his robe? This isn’t just two friends sharing a wardrobe. Jonathan was symbolically giving David the kingship that was rightfully his. The robe was symbolic of royalty. Then in 1 Samuel 15, right after Samuel tells Saul that God has rejected him as king we read:
27 As Samuel turned to go away, Saul seized the skirt of his robe, and it tore. 28 And Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day . . .
We see here that tearing off a piece of robe was a symbol for the tearing of the kingdom from Saul. In the same vein, when David cuts off a piece of Saul’s robe he is not only saying that the kingdom has been taken from Saul but he is also claiming the kingdom for himself. This action is to say, “I’m taking what is rightfully mine.” This explains why immediately after David’s “heart struck him.” He did not seek to kill Saul, but his intention, in a much more subtle fashion, was to take matters into his own hands and lay claim to the kingship of Israel.
At this moment it is important to ask, what makes David so different from Saul? Both are human kings who have evil desires and intentions, who at times desire to establish their own kingdoms rather than God’s. What distinguishes them? I think this passage and the whole of the book of 1 Samuel would say that what distinguishes them is how they respond after they sin—David’s heartfelt repentance is in direct contrast to Saul’s fake it ‘til you make it response to sin.
Let me further illustrate what I think this passage is teaching us. In college, every year we would have a special chapel service on Veteran’s Day. This was usually a very somber time where we would honor various service men and women in our student body, hear from some type of military speaker, and honor those who have fallen in battle. As well, we would always have an ROTC student lead us in the pledge of allegiance. One year, the ROTC student gets up and forgets the pledge of allegiance. I am not kidding! He got halfway through, froze, and just walked off the stage! However, this is a redemptive story. He got up and led the pledge of allegiance at a later chapel service, they made really big prompt cards, everyone laughed, and everything was good.
But, what if that same guy would have gotten up a later chapel service and botched the pledge again? And then he did it a third time? By that point everyone would be like, “does this guy even know the pledge of allegiance? Or does he even care?” We would say that he didn’t have a repentant attitude towards his messing up the pledge. Why? Because he doesn’t seem to care enough to sit down and make sure he learns and knows the pledge before attempting to recite it. His “sin” of not knowing the pledge doesn’t seem to affect his actions.
The progression of this passage shows us this very fact. In 24:16 we see Saul weeping over his sin and yet in chapter 26 he goes right back and tries to kill David again! And this spiral of false repentance and continual sin follows Saul the whole way to his demise. His actions show his repentance to be a farce. David however, repents of his sin. And we see in chapter 26 that his interactions with Saul are pure in motive as he trusts God’s plan and timing. David’s progression shows that he is growing in his faith in God.
In the same way, true repentance in our lives isn’t simply feeling sorry for our sins. Saul did that all the time! He even sheds tears! Rather, true repentance is replacing what our heart worships. It is not simply feeling bad for what our heart worships but the actual act of changing our heart’s trajectory from things to God. And this refocusing of our heart is reflected in our behavior.
So church, who are we like in this regard? Are we like Saul? Do we simply feel bad for a time about our sin but still remain comfortable with keeping that as the center of our affections? Is our default posture to defend ourselves and our kingdom rather than crucifying our desires and acknowledging that Jesus is Lord? May we be a church of people like David! May we have the humility to recognize the evil in our hearts and turn from it to worship King Jesus. May we be the quickest people in the world to say “I was wrong” and flee from our sin.
One more lesson I think we can learn from this part of our passage is how God uses other people to check sin in our lives. Let’s look at what David says to Abigail in 25:32-34 after she pleads with him to spare Nabal’s people:
32 . . . “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me! 33 Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt and from working salvation with my own hand! 34 For as surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, who has restrained me from hurting you, unless you had hurried and come to meet me, truly by morning there had not been left to Nabal so much as one male.”
Notice how David gives credit both to God and Abigail for stopping him from killing those people. David recognizes that it was both Abigail and God who kept him from this great evil. God is in the business of providentially placing people in our lives for His good purposes. People are a manifestation of providence.
Friends, consider through whom God has worked and is working to keep you from evil and growing in His grace. Think about who those people are. Who are the people in your life that know you who could call you out on sin? Who are the people in your life who you actively go to in order to confess sin and talk about your struggles? Who are the people in your life who you can rejoice and laugh with, who make you glad in God? These very people are the providence of God in your life! Do not take them for granted but hold them close, cherish them, and love them. Make full use of their friendship for your continual joy in God and growth in His grace.
As well, like Abigail let’s be people who humbly but boldly speak God’s truth into the lives of others for their good. Let’s allow God to use us in His providence in other people’s lives. This is the great blessing and mystery of Christian community.
I would also pause here to say that if you don’t have people like that in your life, you need them. People are a primary way of how God works in our lives! We must see our own propensity for wickedness left to ourselves and run to other brothers and sisters in Christ. If you do not have people like this actively in your life right now I would implore you to seek them out. Get involved in a small group. Start serving with a new ministry here at church. Invite someone out to coffee. Place yourself in a position to meet people. And then when you do, don’t hide but open yourself up to others! Christian community is a catalyst in the providence of God for faith, hope, love, and joy in God. Let’s be a community like that.
3. The Hope of David
The question that arises from the text at this point is: why was David able to patiently wait on God’s timing and repent rather than taking matters into his own hands? To say it another way, what hope did David have that allowed him to wait and not seek vengeance on Saul and Nabal? I think this is a good summary of his hope: David’s hope was in God as the King and Judge of the world to bring justice to his situation and show him to be the true king. Look at 24:15 and 26:23-24 with me:
15May the Lord therefore be judge and give sentence between me and you, and see to it and plead my cause and deliver me from your hand.”
23 The Lord rewards every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness, for the Lord gave you into my hand today, and I would not put out my hand against the Lord’s anointed. 24 Behold, as your life was precious this day in my sight, so may my life be precious in the sight of the Lord, and may he deliver me out of all tribulation.”
David realized that he didn’t have to take his kingdom into his own hands because he had faith in a bigger kingdom and a better King. He recognized that God would judge Saul and he would be made king. It was precisely because of his faith in God’s promises to him that David, who had the spear in hand, ready to crush Saul, willingly gave up that power and chose to follow God’s will. He knows that justice is God’s and not his to seek, so he in faith, willingly follows God’s will.
This was not just the hope of king David but also another King. When I read that verse from 1 Peter 2 earlier, I intentionally didn’t read the whole thing. Here is the entirety of that verse:
23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
Jesus has his hope in the same place as David: God the Judge and King. Jesus through all of his life, suffering, and death held onto the hope that God would raise Him from the dead and prove Him to be the true King. The resurrection is where Jesus is shown to be in the right as God’s true King. Jesus goes through His whole life, making claims to be the Messiah, the coming king who would save Israel from her sin and the oppression of surrounding nations. But then, in a shocking turn of events He is murdered on a Roman cross. It looks as if all of his claims were false and that He was just another false messiah. But then, just at the time things looked the darkest, just at the time it looked like death and sin had won, Jesus is raised from the dead! His resurrection shows Him to be God’s true Messiah and shows that sin and death are judged and defeated!
Jesus withstood the temptation in the wilderness because of this hope. Jesus did not call down legions of angels because of this hope. Jesus did not get down from the cross and slaughter all of his executioners because of this hope. Jesus is the true King, who not only lays down the spear instead of killing his enemies but also allows a spear to be plunged into his side by his enemies, for the sake of his enemies because of this great hope.
Christian, our hope is in a crucified and resurrected King! We trust that in Jesus Christ’s work on the cross our sin and all the sin of those who place their faith in Him was judged and in Jesus Christ’s resurrection that same sin was defeated once and for all. On the other hand, we also hope in a coming King for justice for the whole world. We trust that justice will not be done on this earth in this age but will be done on the day of Christ’s return. People will wrong us, hurt us, mock us, and for some of our brothers and sisters in Christ, try to kill us but it is not up to us to seek justice and vengeance. We endure suffering, just as Jesus and David did, knowing that one day God will bring justice to the whole earth. This is the meaty, concrete hope that we have in Christ!
My question to us in light of all of this is, where is our hope? Is our hope in the crucified and resurrected King who judged our sin on the cross? Is our hope in the coming King Jesus who will bring justice to the world or are we seeking to take justice into our own hands? How is this hope reflected in our lives? Do we harbor bitterness and resentment towards someone? Are there people, if we’re being honest with ourselves, we wish we could see undone or ruined because of what they have done to us? If someone wrongs us, do we return evil with evil? Is our hope in seeing people who have wronged us “get what they deserve” in our lifetime?
Friends, this type of thinking has no place among God’s people. How can us “nabals,” us fools, who have been given the grace of having our sin judged in Jesus Christ turn around and seek to judge fellow “nabals!” The only response for one whose hope is in God as judge, is to pray and seek that people turn to Jesus and find their sin judged on the cross while humbly trusting that justice will come to everyone at Jesus’ coming. We respond with love and grace all the while praying “how long o Lord?” It is only when we hope like this that we can truly love our enemies, have grace with harsh people, respond to cursing with blessing, and be humble in a world full of pride. We recognize that we were at one time these very same people but that justice for our sin was served on the cross of Jesus and we pray the same be true for others! But we also hold fast that all wrongs will be made right at the second coming of Jesus in judgment. This allows us to be patient, humble people in the present who live for the kingdom of God by faith in our King, Jesus.