Fighting Fire with Grace

1 Samuel 26 (See Bible for most of text)

So David and Abishai went to the army by night, and there was Saul, lying asleep inside the camp with his spear stuck in the ground near his head. Abner and the soldiers were lying around him.  Abishai said to David, “Today God has delivered your enemy into your hands. Now let me pin him to the ground with one thrust of my spear; I won’t strike him twice.”

Corrie Ten Boom was a Holocaust survivor who tells a pretty unbelievable tale.  She tells of a time when a man walked up to her, whom she immediately recognized.  He was one of Corrie’s torturers in a death camp.  Corrie said, “I remembered the leather crop swing from his belt.  I was face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood froze.”  And then that man – her torturer from a death camp in which her sister died – asked something of Corrie.  He asked, “Will you forgive me?”

Corrie’s story with its high, high drama is pretty unique.  What’s not unique is that a person is being asked to consider what he or she might do with a person who has harmed them deeply.  What do you do with that high school classmate who made your life miserable for four years? What do you do with that boyfriend who devastated you when you found out he was cheating? What do you do with the bully at work, the in-laws that look down on you, or the ex who knows just how to needle you? We all know that when we’re hurting those questions takes on a whole new dimension.

And let me tell you.  David can relate.  Here’s how bad it was.  It was so bad that David had developed this mantra: “Duck, roll, and run.” It was actually the same thought he was having in that very moment.  It was David’s version of stop, drop, and roll.  The difference was that David wasn’t fighting fire with that mantra.  He was dodging spears.  David actually was a pretty good harpist so King Saul would call him in when he was in a bad mood.  And this is what would happen: David would watch King Saul’s face get darker and darker until he knew it was time.  “Duck, roll, and run,” he’d say to himself as he raced as far and as fast from that sad, angry King as he could.  That’s what David was thinking about as he crept toward a sleeping Saul and he spotted that spear that had whizzed by his head far too many times before.

Actually, there was a whole lot more history between Saul and David than that.  There was the history of King Saul the slick politician hoping to kill David in absentia when he said; “You’ve got to kill some Philistines if you want to marry my daughter.”  There was the moment when Saul said, “Find David in his bed and bring him to me,” so he could kill him.  And now there were the manhunts.  People would tell Saul, “David’s hiding by us.” And off Saul would go to sniff him out and try to kill him off.  

How did David end up so near a sleeping, vulnerable King Saul?  Saul got word again that David was in a certain location.  Off he goes on his manhunt again.  Then David gets intel that Saul is once again on his tail.  That’s when David hatches a plot to end this manhunt once and for all.  He goes back to his main guys and he says, “Who’s coming with me? We’re going to Saul’s camp.” Two of them go.  Abishai and David.  They sneak into the camp, as everyone is sound asleep.  And the moment comes.  There it is to seize.  Right there.  Then.  An opportunity to end the violence and hate against David.  Abishai sees the moment.  He thinks, “We are within striking distance of a sleeping King Saul.”  With shining eyes and a heart beating out of his chest he whispers to David, “Today God has delivered your enemy into your hands. Now let me pin him to the ground with one thrust of my spear; I won’t strike him twice.” What would David do with this murderous, hateful man who wanted to harm him so badly? Hurt people generally hurt back.

It makes me think of a scene from Downton Abbey.  Yup, I admit it.  I watch the show too.  If you’re a fan, you know what’s been going on.  Anna, one of the favorite characters, who doesn’t seem to have a bad bone, was suddenly raped.  It devastated everyone who watches the show.  In fact, a number of fans stopped watching because it upset them so much.  It only got worse if you stayed tuned too.  Anna pulled away from her husband, Mr. Bates, because of her fear and shame.  And we began to ask ourselves, “Will the marriage survive?” Honestly, it was really hard to watch their beautiful romance struggle so much.  It was especially grating to see the rapist come around scot-free and grinning like a devil.

Then Mr. Bates found out who it was.  Next thing we know he takes a day trip and the rapist turns up dead.  I believe Lady Mary was meant to help the audience wrestle through the moral confusion that presented when she got involved with this conversation: “‘If you thought a man was involved in a crime, or an incident, but you didn’t blame him – in fact, you believe him in the right, what would you do?’ ‘You don’t believe he was wrong?’ ‘No.’  ‘I suppose I would do nothing.’” And you know what? In that moment, I agreed with her.

That’s not a whole lot different than the justice I allowed myself to feel when I’d punch my ten-year-old twin brother just as hard as he punched me or mutually didn’t like people who didn’t like me while in high school.  Hurt people hurt back.  It’s what we do.  Think of your dealings with your difficult co-worker(s), ex, or in-laws.  Sometimes we get so comfortable fighting fire with fire that we don’t even realize how morally compromised we really are when we do that.  That is until Jesus comes along and says, “You may want to believe that you’re justified in treating someone that way.  I tell you that it’s God’s law to love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you.” The truth of the matter is that my agreement with Lady Mary, my verbal attacks, or my nasty feelings toward someone else – however great I think my justification may be – are no better than sanctioned murder in God’s court.  

I think that’s why it’s such a surprise to see David behave so differently.  When David had the perfect opportunity to bring the spear plunging down he stayed it.  In fact, that was his plan all along.  He had never been on a mission of revenge.  He was there on a mission of reconciliation.  Here’s what the Scripture says, “David said to Abishai, ‘But the Lord forbid that I should lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed.  Now get the spear and water jug that are near his head, and let’s go.” And that’s exactly what they did.  They took the king’s spear and water jug and off they went.  And why? Because David would not fight fire with fire.  He would end the cycle of violence and hate.  In its place he would attempt a masterful reconciliation.  And it worked aided and abetted by God himself, the ultimate lover of reconciliation.  See, Abishai was only half right.  This was a God-given moment.  Just not for more violence.  It was a God-given moment for reconciliation and healing.  I want to prove it to you.  Here’s verse 12 of the chapter, “So David took the spear and water jug near Saul’s head, and they left.  No one saw or knew about it, nor did anyone wake up.  They were all sleeping, (and now comes arguably the most important words of the chapter) because the Lord had put them into a deep sleep.”

David’s plan worked.  Here’s how it played out: David woke up the sleeping camp in essence shouting to them, “Saul, why are you chasing me? What’s incited you? I’m not out for you. Here’s the proof that I just spared your life.” And you know what? When Saul saw that he had been spared, it melted Saul’s heart.  David’s plan actually worked.  Saul said things like and I’m quoting, “I sinned… I have acted like a fool… may you be blessed, David my son.” David did not fight fire with fire.  He fought fire with grace.

That brings up an important question for us.  Where did David find the power to make a magnificent choice like that? I found a pretty strong opinion on that question at a website called sermon central.  It’s a website I check out sometimes when I write sermons.  I like to see what other pastors do with texts I’m handling.  It was fascinating to find out that like I said before they all pretty much agreed.  They said, “Look at what David did.  He’s such a hero.  We need to be more like him.” In other words, they’re saying, “Dig deeper.  It doesn’t matter if you’re hurt.  Do what’s right.” The trouble with that approach is that it’s not God’s.  God’s not here in 1 Samuel 26 telling us to get a better moral backbone.  He’s here to bring us the gospel.

Let me say it another way.  It is so, so tempting to see in David here a hero that God wants us to be more like.  But that’s not why this Scripture is here.  It’s not here to tell us to be more moral.  It’s here to forgive us when we’ve been immoral.  Truly, that’s why.  David here isn’t our example.  He’s here to show us our future Messiah.  We even have a name for this.  We call David here a type of Christ.  He is hinting at or foreshadowing a more perfect and more complete work that we finally see in Jesus Christ.  When we read this chapter God wants us to be thinking, “Wow, I can see in David a smaller, more imperfect version of the Christ who will spare not just Saul, but us all.  He’ll meet every spear that has been thrown with grace.”

How badly does God want us to know this? Here’s something fascinating: This isn’t the first time David did something like this in 1 Samuel.  The first time Saul had gone to relieve himself in the same cave that David and his men were hiding in.  David had the perfect chance to take out Saul while he was vulnerable.  He didn’t.  He spared him there too.  Understand something.  God doesn’t tell similar stories twice on accident.  God really, really, really wants us to see David sparing Saul.  And it’s not primarily – as so many think – so that we can learn some moral lesson better.  It’s primarily because he wants us to believe that David’s Son, Jesus, will never turn a spear that we’ve tossed back our way.

Think about it.  Think of all the metaphorical spears and actual spears people have tossed at each other in world history.  We’ve all hurt each other so deeply.  God had the final and ultimate answer to all of that pain and hurt: bear it.  Bear it.  He didn’t fight pain and hurt with more hurt.  He could’ve.  He could’ve brought the metaphorical spear plunging down on us.  He could’ve tossed us all into a pot of boiling oil.  He would’ve had every right to do that, but he didn’t.  He bore it.  He ended the cycle of violence, pain, and hurt absorbing it all on the cross.  In point of fact, he ended all the violence and hate by allowing the most heinous act of violence in world history to be carried out against himself.  And why did he do this?  So that Abishai’s spear and Mr. Bates’ murder and every human story of vengeance and pain could get nailed to his cross and paid for with his life.

Do you see that? I can think of times when I’ve been hurt and have lashed out in the worst of ways against people I thought were my enemies.  I’ll bet you can too.  I’m here to tell you something today.  Those moments were nailed to Jesus’ cross and paid for with his life.  They’re all done away with in the ultimate and final sacrifice of David’s greater Son, Jesus Christ.  Jesus absorbed it all.  That’s what the Holy Spirit is after today.  That’s what he wants you to know and think about and finally believe.  He wants you to see in the stayed spear God’s stayed hand over you.  He wants you to see in David and Saul’s reconciliation your reconciliation with God.  1 Samuel 26 isn’t a moral lesson to be applied and done.  1 Samuel 26 is a gospel truth to be applied and believed.  David’s greater Son has poured out his grace on us.

See, now we’ve arrived.  That’s where the power is.  It’s not in a stronger backbone.  It’s not in a clearer moral vision.  It’s in the gospel.  It’s in faith.  The truth is that cornered, threatened dogs lash out.  And hurt, scared people do too.  I’ve seen that happen my whole life.  That won’t change.  The difference is that when we know and understand what David’s Son did for us, we’re not damaged anymore.  We’re whole.  When we know and believe that Jesus became the ultimate victim, we become conquerors.  When we trust that Jesus absorbs our losses, we also trust that we have received eternal gains.  And that changes the game.

Corrie Ten Boom, finally, thought about what God had done for her as she stood there in that moment before her former torturer.  She describes what happened next: And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me.  And as I did, an incredible thing took place.  The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands.  And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.  “I forgive you, brother,” I cried. “With all my heart!”  For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner.  I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then.”  

And now it’s your turn.  People will hurt you.  They will bully, steal, think, and say things.  Sometimes they’ll feel like much more than metaphorical spears crashing in your heart.  In those moments, you’ll be faced the same question that David, Mr. Bates, and Corrie Ten Boom all faced.  What will I do in my pain? God is here in 1 Samuel 26 to give you real, healing power.  God himself absorbed the loss, accepted the pain, and died for it.  That’s not a moral vision.  That’s a gospel truth that we see in David, a man who showed us what the Christ would come to do in the highest and best way.  Amen.