June 6, 2021
Alright, you all, we’re going to start this morning with a little quiz of sorts. I’m going to say the first part of a popular phrase and when I point to you I want you to finish it for me. Here’s the first:
As a way of saying that someone has done too little and acted too late, you might say they were a day late and a dollar short.”
If someone doesn’t want to lose something of value that they already have, you might say that "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."
If you’ve ever lost something important, you may have, in a bit of panic, “run around like a chicken with its head cut off.”
If someone wants to communicate that next the decision belongs to you, then they might say, “the ball is in your court.”
For the person who jumps out of bed each morning excited and ready to go, they might be described as being bright eyed and bushy tailed.
And last one here, let’s see if you all can go 6 for 6, if you want to encourage someone to experience the sweetness of revenge, you might tell them, “Don’t get mad, get even.” That’s right. Don’t get mad, get even.
In our story today, David finds himself with the perfect opportunity to exact revenge on King Saul, to get even, to finish him off once and for all, yet in the end, chooses not to.
We’re in the middle of a sermon series on the Life of King David, we’re just past the halfway point of our series at this point. And the last couple weeks, we’ve seen how King Saul is on a mission to see that David be put to death. Having defeated Goliath and having succeeded at just about everything that’s been thrown his way, Saul sees David as a threat, a challenge to his royal throne, and so he tries to kill David, initially starting with a couple attempts to pin him to the wall with a spear in the king’s court, to what has now become a full scale manhunt.
Our story today picks things up as Saul and his three thousand men are on a mission to kill David, and yet, due to an odd set of circumstances, Saul taking a bathroom break in cave, David, who happens to be hiding in that very same cave now has the opportunity finish off Saul once and for all and save himself.
You can imagine the men who were with David, saying to him, “C’mon, this is your moment. This is your chance to finish off. This is your chance to get even.”
And yet, for reasons we’ll see in just a minute or two, David chooses against taking revenge and chooses instead to spare Saul’s life.
Instead, David does a noble and shocking and ultimately beautiful thing: He shows grace toward his enemy.
And in the conversation between David and Saul that takes place after this incident, Saul himself is taken aback by all of this, saying: 19 For who has ever found an enemy, and sent the enemy safely away?
Even more, Saul is keenly aware that he is getting far, far better than he deserves on this one. He is being shown grace like never before, and in addition, he’s in awe of David’s incredible character too.
Saul says to David: “You are more righteous than I; for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil.
In the end, David and Saul serve as mirror opposites of one another. Saul had no reason to attack David, but did. David had good reason to attack Saul, this would have effectively been an act of self-defense, an act of self-preservation. David had good reason to attack Saul, but yet didn’t.
Instead, David does a noble and shocking and ultimately beautiful thing: He shows grace toward his enemy.
Now, for our purposes today, let’s consider what exactly you and I are to do with this story. In so many ways, this story has almost no connection or resemblance to our everyday life.
After all, how many of you have ever wanted to exact revenge on your enemy and had the perfect opportunity to do so while they were going to the bathroom? Yeah, me neither. This is, like many Old Testament stories, one of those stranger than fiction kinds of stories.
However, for today, I want us to notice why David chooses to show grace towards his enemy in Saul. Truth is, there’s so much to be learned from David’s reasons why. Why does he let Saul go? It’s by seeing why David showed grace to his enemy that we can better understand why we should show grace to our present day enemies as well.
So with all that said, I want to give you two reasons why David does, and why we should show grace to our enemies. Here’s the first:
David shows grace to his enemy because he recognizes that Saul is the Lord’s anointed.
It’s a little unclear exactly what was going through David’s head at every moment of this story. It seems as though David for a moment approached Saul with the intent to kill him, then had a change of heart at the last moment and then instead did the curious thing of cutting off a piece of Saul’s robe … and how exactly David was able to do this without Saul noticing is something that just kind of baffles me.
Anyway, as to why David ultimately decided to spare Saul’s life, David mentions twice that he did so in part because Saul was the Lord’s anointed. Saying this first to his men:
“The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to raise my hand against him; for he is the Lord’s anointed.” Then again later in his confrontation with Saul: 10 This very day your eyes have seen how the Lord gave you into my hand in the cave … but I said, ‘I will not raise my hand against my lord; for he is the Lord’s anointed.’
In David’s response, we see a deep respect for authority, as David shows respect for God’s appointment and choosing of Saul long ago to be Israel’s King. Here David seems to be saying, “I will not strike down someone who has been chosen by God to be our king, a king who has been placed in this leadership position and appointed by God himself.”
And this brings us to an uncomfortable, yet biblical truth: God appoints human authorities and we are to therefore obey them for God’s sake.
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul, instructs, that “every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”
Respect for an authority in our lives is a respect for God, who ordains and commissions all authorities and part of why I say this is an uncomfortable truth is that it means we are to respect those in authority, yes even the deeply flawed ones that we may not agree with.
And this truth has all sorts of implications and applications, whether it be how we think about and relate to our politicians, our parents, church leadership, and yet, let’s briefly consider one area where this principle works itself out. How about in the area of work?
Friends, have you ever had a boss or someone that you worked under who you deemed as unqualified or unfit for the role they had, or was unjust or unfair in their dealings with you as an employee? Someone who you may not necessarily consider as your enemy, but someone who, let’s just say, won’t go down as your favorite person in the world? Many of us have worked under someone like this.
Pastor Dan Doriani shares this funny, yet sad story about his experience working under a difficult boss. He says he worked at a resort hotel one summer, and worked under a man named George, who supervised food operations. He says George could be loud and critical, wore polyester, and he played favorites. The baker on staff was an enemy of his and nothing she did was up to his standard.
One day she made apple cinnamon pancakes. George sent Dan to get a taste of the batter so he could approve it. He took a spoonful. “Not sweet enough,” he thundered. “Send it back.” I hustled the batter to the baker, then brought a taste of the sweetened concoction to him. “Too sweet,” he fumed. “Send it back.”
Dan says, this time, the baker got an idea. She noisily shook empty containers over the batter, waved her spoon around, and returned the batter unchanged. The boss sampled it again. “Perfect,” he said, then snidely saying, “That woman wouldn’t do anything right if I didn’t keep my eye on her.”
Many of us have worked for a George or a Saul, either in the past or present. So what do we do in that situation?
Here again the Apostle Paul says, 23 Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters, 24 since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ.
Maybe this looks like following the old adage: Praise in public, admonish in private. Maybe it’s in choosing not to gossip to new employees and where appropriate letting them form their own opinions about their new boss. But above all, what seems to be most important is in reframing who we truly and ultimately work for and work under, not our employers, but God himself.
Those we work under the authorities that are above us deserve our respect. if not for their merits, then out of reverence for God, who placed them in their role.
That’s reason one. Here’s reason two:
David shows grace to his enemy because he trusts that ultimately God is judge.
So David cuts off a portion of Saul’s cloak, immediately regrets it, and as he follows Saul out of the cave, he reveals himself and all that has just happened. Saying in effect, this cloak is evidence, evidence that I could have taken your life, I was that close to you, but yet, I didn’t.
And David’s speech here is interesting: David is not saying, “No big deal, let’s just move on and forget like any of this has happened,” as if they has just finished some elaborate and cute game of hide and seek.
There is none of that. Instead he says this: 12 May the Lord judge between me and you! May the Lord avenge me on you; but my hand shall not be against you.
It’s an interesting and sobering thing David is saying here, “I will not judge you by taking your life, I trust that the Lord will judge you for what you have done.”
Author and theologian Miroslav Volf writes that ‘The practice of non-violence requires a belief in divine vengeance, in God’s judgment.”
The idea is this: if we believe we live in a world where there is no ultimate justice, where there is no ultimate right or wrong, where evil will not be dealt with, where there is no God who will judge, then our human tendency is to take things into our hands, seek our own revenge. We think to ourselves, “They need to pay for what they’ve done, and I must be the one to make they pay, I must be the one to get even.” Which only leads to more violence, more revenge, more damage, and more evil.
But yet, when we remember that God is the ultimate judge, we can rest, trusting that God will judge justly and that we can trust him to make all things right in the end.
Desmond Tutu is a bishop in South Africa who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work against apartheid. In the aftermath and devastation of apartheid, leaders like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu wrestled with this question: How does a country with so much pain and violence and division in its past move forward? He and others established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a way forward. The goal was for those who had committed atrocities in the past to come forward and tell the truth and then to work to bring reconciliation and forgiveness—to break the cycle of hatred so the entire country could move forward.
In one chapter of the book, Tutu recounts the testimony of one family in particular. This woman’s husband had been an advocate for black South Africans in rural communities. Because of his work, he'd been arrested, detained, and tortured and later murdered by the police.
And this woman and her daughter pleaded with the commission to discover who had killed her father. But yet they were not crying out because she wanted vengeance or justice. Instead she said to the commission, "We want to forgive, but we don't know whom to forgive."
Eventually members of the police confessed to the crime. Rather than continue the endless cycle of hatred, this woman and her daughter forgave the men who killed their husband and father — because that's what Christ's people do.
David doesn’t excuse Saul’s behavior. He doesn’t give it a free pass. But yet, he doesn’t take matters into his own hands. He trusted, like this family who had lost their husband and father that God will judge and that our job in the meantime, as agents of his kingdom on earth, is to break the cycles of hate - forgiving others just as God, in Christ, has forgiven us.
Though it may seem counterintuitive, we can show grace to our enemies when we trust that ultimately God is judge.
And I’ll finish with this: This is the ultimate of understatements, but it’s worth acknowledging: Showing grace to our enemies is not easy. Loving our enemies is not something that comes naturally to us. In a world that says, “Don’t get mad, get even,” showing grace to our enemies is not our initial instinct and it often runs against our basic intuition.
And yet, as followers of Jesus, it is something that we’re called to do, both embodied by David in our passage today and through the very words of Jesus himself.
And with that in mind, how do we get the power and ability to love the enemies around us?
Well, you know what they say: It takes one to know one. Yes, once upon a time, we were enemies too: In Romans, Paul says, 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.
Through our disobedience and distrust towards God, we made ourselves our enemy, and to some extent our enmity towards him still lingers when we fail to surrender and submit to his leading and authority in our lives. Heck, even our strong and maybe visceral opposition to Jesus’s command to “love your enemies,” is an example of our opposition and hostility towards God.
And yet, through Jesus’s unbelievable love, through his amazing grace, through his incredible sacrifice, we move from being an enemy of God to a friend.
Friends, do you struggle to love your enemy, to show grace toward enemy? Remember the love and grace that God has shown towards you time and time again. The more we remember that, the more and more, we can show grace toward our enemy too.