King Saul was granted the privilege of being the first human king to rule over the nation of Israel. The message of 1 Samuel 18 shows how the relationship between Saul and a young man named David was soured. When Saul heard some in Israel praising David more than they praised the king himself, he was extremely upset. Saul was angry, he was afraid of David, he kept his eye on him, he counted David as an enemy, and more than once he tried to kill him. To put it mildly, in his dealings with David, Saul was not a very nice person.

Now let us fast-forward to the twenty-fourth chapter of 1 Samuel. What is recorded in this chapter shows a clear distinction between the character of Saul and David, whom God chose to succeed Saul as king. We read that Saul took three thousand chosen men of Israel to seek David and the band of outcasts who accompanied him (1 Samuel 24:2). Things did not turn out as Saul had imagined, however. Instead of Saul being in a position to take David’s life, just the opposite scenario developed. David had the opportunity to put Saul to death, and those with David urged him to kill the monarch, but David refused to do so. On that occasion, David demonstrated great strength of character. What lessons can we learn from this memorable piece of history found in 1 Samuel 24:1-22?

David had great respect for Saul’s position and authority. In fact, after David cut off a corner of Saul’s robe, his heart immediately troubled him for having done so. David 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” (24:6). We, too, should have respect for the Lord’s anointed One, who is Jesus the Christ. The Father wants us to honor His Son in the same way we honor Him (John 5:23). Let us speak of and approach the anointed of God with reverence.

In other instances, David showed signs of weakness, but in this case he practiced self-control. Rather than lash out at Saul in anger with a vengeful spirit, he spared him. David verbalized his thinking to Saul, telling the king, “. . . the LORD delivered you today into my hand in the cave, and someone urged me to kill you. But my eye spared you, and I said, ‘I will not stretch out my hand against my lord, for he is the LORD’s anointed’” (24:10). Christians also need to be people who practice self-control (Galatians 5:22,23), and David’s example reminds us that it is possible for any person to control his speech and action. The challenge is to do so consistently!

Just because two people are at odds with one another, that does not necessarily mean that both persons are acting sinfully. David did not sin in his dealings with Saul, as he reminded the king: “. . . know and see that there is neither evil nor rebellion in my hand, and I have not sinned against you. Yet you hunt my life to take it” (24:11).

 Rather than try to get even with Saul by using carnal maneuvers, David left matters in God’s hands to carry out His will. David told Saul, “Therefore let the LORD be judge, and judge between you and me, and see and plead my case . . .” (24:15). When we have been wronged, rather than lash out at the one who has injured us, let us recall what Paul quoted to the saints in Rome: “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

Saul admitted David’s gracious treatment of him, saying, “You are more righteous than I; for you have rewarded me with good, whereas I have rewarded you with evil” (24:17). David’s behavior really hits home with us when we struggle to overcome hard feelings against those who have wronged us. David’s example says, “Yes, it really is possible to reward good for evil.” In truth, that is what our Lord expects from all of us (Romans 12:17,21).

Unlike Saul, David never counted Saul as a personal adversary. After David spared Saul’s life, the king observed, “For if a man finds his enemy, will he let him get away safely?” (24:19). Saul confessed that David did not perceive him as an enemy. David suffered as an innocent man at the hands of the king. David had not wronged Saul, yet Saul wanted to destroy him. If we receive such unfair treatment, let us not grow weary in doing what is right. And let us strive to treat others with kindness, regardless of how they treat us.

David promised Saul that he would not destroy Saul’s offspring (24:20-22). It has been a common practice throughout history for conquerors to wipe out the offspring of the rulers whom they overthrown. Why? To prevent them from trying to come back into power. David had no such fears and pledged he would not hold Saul’s personal wrongs done toward David against Saul’s descendants.

The biblical record makes it plain that David was far from being a perfect person. Yet, from the manner in which he willfully spared Saul’s life and held no malice against him (1 Samuel 24:1-22), we can see a number of practical lessons. May each one of us imitate the spirit of Jesus, whose intent each day was to do the Father’s will, not His own (John 6:38).

— Roger D. Campbell