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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Learning Restraint From a Giant Killer

When you find yourself on the receiving end of persecution, ridicule and aggression, what should your Christian response be? I think the Old Testament character David is an unlikely source of wisdom for us here. I say unlikely, because when he wanted to build his God a house to live in - for, he was conscience stricken that he should be living in a cedar panelled palace whilst God had only a tent - God told him he wasn't the one to build it. And the reason God gave, was that David was a man of blood-shed. David had been a successful warrior and he had spilt much blood in his conquests. Rather, it would be his son Solomon, a man of comparative peace who would build it. So, it is perhaps surprising to think that bloody David might be the one to help us turn away from vengeance.

1 Samuel 18 and 19 (and subsequent chapters too) narrate a period in David's life when he was under near constant provocation. Saul's jealousy had risen to new heights as he had heard the people shouting that Saul had killed his thousands but David his tens of thousands - what a dagger to his heart that was. What more could David take from him now, but the very kingdom?

Not once but twice, Saul descended into such a rage that he tried to spear David to the wall. And when Saul found out his daughter Michal was in love with David, he designed a heinous plan to get David killed at the hands of the Philistines. When he pursued David to his house and Michal covered for David saying that he was sick, even then Saul ordered he be brought on his sick bed to him so that Saul could kill him. And when three consecutive bands of assassins were sent by Saul to kill him at Ramah, even though each in turn was supernaturally detained by the Holy Spirit of God, Saul did not desist, but took the task into his own hands, only to fall foul of the same powerful deterrent.

Yet in all this provocation, David does not react. He does not defend himself. He does not lay a hand on his pursuer. And yet some consideration of David's position makes that a very odd response. David has the opportunity, he has the grounds and he has the skill to dispatch Saul. David was, after all, part of the King's court; he played the harp for him in his personal chambers. His adversary was at his mercy, yet he did not turn the spear on his attacker. David was after all a skilled soldier; killing his tens of thousands and defeating the dreaded giant Goliath. His enemy was at his mercy, yet he did not hurl the spear back and pin Saul to the wall, even though he was young enough and capable enough. And David was, after all, God's anointed. He was the chosen one to replace Saul. What better grounds for preserving his own life - wasn't that surely his God-given responsibility? Yet he did not use his anointing as justification for laying a hand on Saul.

So, the question is, what power restrained David? Most people with the access, the means and the justification would not have thought twice. The answer is, the fear of the Lord constrained him. We get a glimpse of it later when David finds himself in the same cave that Saul had entered to relieve himself. Unbeknown's to Saul, David lurked silently in the shadows. And we hear David's men drawing exactly the conclusion we would all draw - 'this, David, is your opportunity':

The men said, “This is the day the Lord spoke of when he said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.’” Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe (1 Samuel 24:4).

David did not do what they had in mind. What restraint, when we factor in the word of the Lord, as his men did. Yet watch David's response:

Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe. He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the Lord.” With these words David sharply rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul. And Saul left the cave and went his way. (1 Samuel 24:5-7).

The governing thought that restrained David constantly was that the Lord his God had chosen and anointed Saul as king and it was not his right to take the life of the Lord's anointed into his own hands. David feared the Lord too much to disobey him - too much to lay a hand on Saul.

And so David's example is wisdom for us when we are being pursued by an adversary, or persecuted by an enemy. Our fear of the Lord must function to kerb our rash inclinations even when we might have the means, the skill and the grounds for demolishing our adversary. Jesus instructs us to love our enemies, and to pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44) - not to pin them with the spear. He told us to do good to those who hate us (Luke 6:27) not to lay a hand on them.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom (Psalm 111:10) and David had it in spades. It became the driving force behind his responses under Saul's intense provocation. And it kept him from laying a hand on the Lord's anointed. So we need the fear of the Lord that causes us to walk in step with his statutes, even when it costs us to do so. It could have cost David his life. It's not surprising that Jesus should say, 'whoever loses their life for me will save it'.

To paraphrase Jesus, 'it's better to enter heaven wounded, maligned, despised, rejected, scorned and mocked than to have vengeance now, and be thrown into hell'.


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