The cat and mouse game continues. The Ziphites won’t stay neutral, but again they tell Saul where David is. David in turn finds out where Saul is, and goes under cover of darkness to investigate. Evading the guards he finds himself looking through the darkness at Saul himself, sleeping and completely vulnerable (vv.1-7). What should he do? For his commander Abishai, this isn’t even a question: “God has given your enemy into your hands” (v.8). Abishai realises that David might have reservations about doing the killing himself, so he offers himself for the task (v.8). David’s response stuns Abishai: for all of Saul’s demented wickedness, he is still “the Lord’s Anointed”, and to kill him would be to incur guilt (v.9). The two men with David must have felt shocked, and probably very angry, as they leave Saul and the camp, with only proofs that they’d been, and that they could have killed Saul (v.12).
Sometimes our self-control looks to all the world like weakness. Why don’t we retaliate? Why don’t we get even? Why don’t we right wrongs, if it’s in our power to do so? Do you remember how the disciples asked, Abishai-like, “Master, do you want us to call fire down from heaven?’, as Jesus as His band faced Samaritan opposition? And His response? “He turned and rebuked them” (Luke 9.54-55). The world can call it weakness, and the church might, too, but there are times when Jesus walks away from the justice we feel He should give out; and there are times when He calls us to do the same, too. “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord” (Romans 12.19).
Even if our friends do not always grasp our motives in refraining from anger, the Lord knows, and sometimes our enemies do, too. David calls from his safe position to Saul’s chief-of-staff Abner, explaining what has just happened, and what he chose not to do to Saul (vv.13-16). And then Saul is woken (v.17). This was probably David’s intention, all along: now he has another chance to protest his innocence, and to challenge Saul to leave him alone. Again, Saul is broken over his behaviour, and asks for David’s forgiveness (vv.17-24). Saul’s final words have a prophet’s ring to them: “you will do great things and surely triumph” (v.25). He will. And by the power of God, he is doing them already. There is greatness, as well as victory, in self-control, and mercy. Pray for it. Practice it. It may well be your greatness, as it was Jesus’s.