In verse 21 Saul gave an amazing statement. He said, "I have played the fool and erred exceedingly." Now, that wouldn't have been amazing for a Christian who was walking in the Spirit, but for Saul that was a rare moment of honesty. And he was absolutely right. He had played the fool by breaking his promises. You do that enough times and no one will trust you. He had played the fool surrounding himself with self-serving men and driving away the one man who loved him and would have served him well. He played the fool by not seeing who the real enemy was. How many times have I told married partners, "You are not each other's enemy? Satan is your enemy, and you need to focus your battles on him. He is the one that is dividing and conquering." But sometimes they are still willing to play the fool. Saul played the fool by making himself the cause rather than pursuing God as his chief cause. He had played the fool by alienating virtually everyone in his family. He had played the fool with his temper, his revenge, and his paranoia. He had played the fool by killing all the pastors and their families in the city of Nob. That's not a good way to win friends and influence people. There were so many ways in which he had played the fool that it is easy to be sympathetic to Abishai when he offered to kill Saul in verse 8. But we saw last week that David saw the bigger picture and through self-controlled leadership did the right thing despite the fact that his decision was not popular. But you can certainly sympathize with Abishai.
Well, we come now to David's rebuke of this man who had played the fool. Doesn't that contradict Proverbs 9? Proverbs 9 uses scoffer and fool as synonyms, and in verses 7-8 says,
Proverbs 9:7 "He who corrects a scoffer gets shame for himself,"
"And he who rebukes a wicked man only harms himself."
Proverbs 9:8 Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you;"
"Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you."
Those verses would seem to indicate that Abishai had the better idea, and that there was no point in trying to rebuke Saul. Rebuke will only make Saul hate you the more. It will only bring further harm. Here are a couple of other Scriptures that seem to contradict my thesis this morning:
Proverbs 15:12 "A scoffer does not love one who corrects him,"
"Nor will he go to the wise."
Proverbs 16:22 "Understanding is a wellspring of life to him who has it."
"But the correction of fools is folly."
It is saying, "Don't even try." But those four verses only give us the first half of the equation. It is true that there are people that you just leave alone. You don't bother to correct them. They are unwilling to learn. They don't care about the truth. You are just going to give them more ammo to use against you.
But there are hints in these verses that David was not bringing these rebukes for Saul's sake alone. By this time David was utterly skeptical of any repentance that Saul might give. That's why he stays a long ways away in verse 13 and that's why David doesn't come back to the camp in verse 25 when Saul invited him to do so. No way. He knows that Saul is still a fool. He is obeying the sentiment of those verses I've just read from Proverbs. He doesn't have any illusion that a simple rebuke is going to change Saul. Instead, I believe that David was bringing this rebuke to leave a solid testimony to the 3000 soldiers of his innocence and of their complicity in crime. He was setting the stage for his work in the next chapter when he would be seeking to win the hearts of the noblemen in Israel to his cause. This was a calculated rebuke that was similar to admonitions given later in Proverbs. For example:
Proverbs 19:25 "Strike a scoffer, and the simple will become wary;"
That's not a contradiction. It doesn't say that the scoffer or the fool will become wary. You are not reproving the scoffer for the sake of the scoffer. The text says that he will still be a scoffer. But it says, "strike a scoffer, and the simple will become wary." As those 3000 soldiers who had been duped by Saul saw the foolishness of the fool, his influence was diminished. Here's another passage:
Proverbs 26:4 "Do not answer a fool according to his folly,"
"Lest you also be like him." [That's the first half of the equation. The next verse gives the second half.]
Proverbs 26:5 "Answer a fool according to his folly,"
"Lest he be wise in his own eyes."
So there is a place for answering a fool. That passage indicates that as you correct a scoffer and show the utter irrationality of his position, a valuable thing is achieved. Others recognize him to be a fool. They begin to realize that he doesn't have a leg to stand on. What David did in this chapter was incredibly effective. Once and for all he demolished Saul's credibility. Even Saul admitted that he was a fool who had erred exceedingly. David demonstrated to all of those soldiers his innocence, his courage, his integrity, and even his kingly manner. It was not a wasted rebuke any more than John the Baptist's rebuke of Herod was a wasted rebuke. So let's take a look at how David effectively rebukes a fool.
Rebuking the accomplice to the fool (vv. 13-16) – I am looking out for Saul's welfare more than you are!
He used caution (v. 13)
The first thing he does is to cover his tracks and to be cautious. He knows the danger involved in rebuking a fool. Verse 13:
1Samuel 26:13 "Now David went over to the other side, and stood on the top of a hill afar off, a great distance being between them."
He made sure that none of those soldiers would be able to catch them. David was not stupid. It was precisely because of the dangers of rebuking a fool that he was cautious. But at the same time, as a good leader, David was looking at the bigger picture, and seeing some of the benefits that could be achieved. He might temporarily stop Saul's madness, but he could for sure win the affections of other people.
I've got to tell you a story about Abraham Lincoln. This occurred early in his law practice. He had been approached by a man who was extremely bitter against a neighbor. The neighbor had borrowed $2.50, had later become impoverished, and couldn't pay it back. By the way, according to the Federal Reserve's own conservative estimates of inflation since the Federal Reserve was created, $2.50 back then would be about $69.60 today. Still, it wasn't a lot of money, and Lincoln tried to discourage him from bringing a lawsuit. But the man was bent on revenge. So Lincoln agreed to take on his case and asked for a legal fee of $10. So already you can see that this doesn't make sense. But the plaintiff gladly paid it. Lincoln took the $10, visited the defendant and gave him half. The defendant took half of what Lincoln gave him, admitted to his guilt and paid the plaintiff his $2.50. So the defendant was $2.50 ahead, Lincoln was $5 ahead without any work. And the weird thing about it was that the plaintiff was happy because he had forced the man to admit to his guilt. Whatever. It's sort of like the irrationality of what Saul was doing.
But I give that story to illustrate that ignoring fools is not always necessary. We can benefit and others can benefit from our interactions with them. But as those proverbs commanded, we should be cautious in our dealings with spiritual fools just as David was.
He made sure that he had witnesses (v. 14)
One of the cautions that David took was to make sure there would be plenty of witnesses to his dialogue. Verse 14:
1Samuel 26:14 "And David called out to the *people" [Notice that; he is calling to all the people.] "and to Abner the son of Ner, saying, "Do you not answer, Abner?" Then Abner answered and said, "Who are you, calling out to the king?"
Abner knew that whoever was calling, was calling for the benefit of the king as well. So this verse makes clear that the king, Abner, and the people were all in view. David wanted to make sure that there were witnesses to this dialogue. The reason for this is that Saul had already had a reputation of lying. David was covering his tracks.
He appealed to the good that was in Abner (v. 15a) and used that to show Abner his sin (vv. 15b-16)
The third thing we see is that David used an apologetic tactic of recognizing the good that was in Abner (and that everyone would recognize in Abner) and then using that to show Abner his sin.
1Samuel 26:15 "So David said to Abner, "Are you not a man? And who is like you in Israel?"
This is a complement. You're the man Abner. Everybody knows that there isn't anyone who compares to you. In fact, you have the greatest responsibility as a result. But then he presses that against Abner so that Abner will not interrupt while he talks to the king. He kind of takes the wind out of Abner's sails, because now Saul is going to be upset with Abner. Abner is not going to argue with David. He's got his own mess now to deal with. He says,
"Why then have you not guarded your lord the king? For one of the people came in to destroy your lord the king."
1Samuel 26:16* "This thing that you have done is not good. As the LORD lives, you deserve to die" [and that was no doubt a reference to Saul's martial law that falling asleep when on guard was a capital crime – "you deserve to die"], "because you have not guarded your master, the LORD'S anointed. And now see where the king's spear is, and the jug of water that was by his head."
He is waving these objects and showing that he has them in his hands in the moonlight. Of course, that gets Saul's attention. In fact, it probably gets everyone's attention. They are all nervous. Saul was going to be upset with them too. They were all guilty of not guarding the king's life, as David himself has done. So David clearly demonstrates that he has been looking out for Saul's welfare more than Abner or any of the soldiers has. This makes Saul more predisposed to listen to David.
Rebuking the fool (vv. 17-20)
Respect (v. 17). There is no verbal dissonance between his protestation of innocence and his respectful language.
So let's take a look at how David rebukes the fool. Rather than fiercely lashing out at the idiocy of Saul's policies, we find no verbal dissonance between David's assertions that he has always been loyal and his way of addressing Saul. Verse 17:
1Samuel 26:17 "Then Saul knew David's voice, and said, "Is that your voice, my son David?" David said, "It is my voice, my lord, O king."
And in being so respectful, David stands as a rebuke to us. At least he stands as a rebuke to me. He addresses Saul respectfully as "my lord, O king." We've already seen that God didn't think that Saul was qualified to be king (de jure - or legally) but he was a king (de facto - by the choice of the people). If David could address Saul respectfully under those dire circumstances, then surely we can be more respectful of officers in government who are there de facto but probably should not be there de jure. If David could acknowledge his kingship when God Himself had said that Saul was disqualified, it ought to caution us in the disrespect we have toward rulers. You can prove me wrong, but I found this to be a rebuke to me. 1 Peter 2:17 says,
"Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king."
Of course there is a balance here. It doesn't mean that David trusts the king, or will obey the king's command to come into the camp. But David sets a wonderful precedent of caution and respect.
Why? (v. 18a)
But then comes a withering series of questions and statements that expose the bankruptcy of Saul's position. And to me this illustrates that respect does not have to mean agreement. It doesn't mean that you can't be opposed to the president or criticize his policies. And we won't take a lot of time to look at each statement, but in verse 18 he begins by asking a question: "Why does my lord thus pursue his servant?" By asking a question, he throws the ball into Saul's lap. Of course, there is no good answer to that question, and those who are onlookers begin to realize that David is not the ogre that the propaganda machine has made him out to be. "Why are you pursuing me?" They know the answer, because Saul has told them. But it doesn't compute with the actions that David has just taken. David is in effect implying with that question, "I've demonstrated today that I'm your servant who is looking out for your interests. I'm not a danger to you. I'm confused as to why you are pursuing me."
What? (v. 18b)
The next question is, "For what have I done?" Surely you've got a good reason for killing me. What is it? Tell your men what I have done.
What? (v. 18c)
The next question is, "or what evil is in my hand?" Saul had probably convinced these men that David was a dangerous terrorist. And by sparing Saul's life and taking these two articles (the spear which represents his power, and the jug which represents life sustaining resources) David showed what a lie all the propaganda was. He could have taken the throne, and he could have taken Saul's life (what those two things represented), but he did not. If he was the dangerous criminal that Saul made him out to be, Saul would dead. So he asked Saul to tell his men even one good reason why he was hunting David. And Saul's inability to give a good answer would have been humiliating. Any reason he had already given in his propaganda campaign he can't repeat now because it would look ludicrous.
And as a side note I should point out that you can expose the weakness of your opponent's position by asking a few well placed why and what questions. It is a very important part of apologetics. If the opposition is groundless, those questions in effect carry with them their own answers. If it's a legitimate opposition, they will be able to give an answer and you can deal with it.
Please (v. 19a)
Of course, David doesn't do his apologetics rudely. Even though his speech was embarrassing to Saul and pulled the rug out from under Saul's feet, it was still polite. Verse 19: "Now therefore, please, let my lord the king hear the words of his servant." David doesn't have to be mean, angry, or hostile for his words to take effect. When you are shooting the Gospel gun, you don't have to yell for the Gospel to be effective. It is God who brings conviction anyway. In many ways, his words had more impact on the crowd precisely because David was so calm and in control of his spirit. He was polite. "Please, listen to what I have to say." This is showing David to be a reasonable man. And 1 Peter 3 tells us that such politeness and gentleness should always accompany our apologetics.
If (v. 19b)
But next David takes the second side of apologetics and assumes for a moment that Saul has a legitimate beef, and that he had a right to pursue David. And then he disposes of that reason. Here is his strategy: if even the best argument that Saul could bring up to his men later on is not a sufficient reason to continue to hunt David, then further confrontation is undermined. And so verse 19 continues with David saying, "If the LORD has stirred you up against me, let Him accept an offering." In other words, if you can show some sin in me, let me confess it before the Lord and offer a sacrifice on the altar. I'm perfectly willing to confess my sins. That's a disarming statement. By being willing to have sin exposed in his life he brought the whole discussion into the realm of God's grace. God's grace demands forgiveness and reconciliation from all true believers. "So, what is my sin? If it is there, let's deal with it."
And this too is a wonderful way to confront problems with fellow believers who are unwilling to forgive. If you can show yourself to be quite ready to repent of any sin that is shown, you are throwing the ball into Saul's hands, aren't you? And if Saul says, "I'm not going to forgive you; I don't care about the sacrifice of Jesus," he is not going to look very good or very gracious in the eyes of his people. It would expose the real Saul for who he was. If David had said this one-on-one to Saul, Saul probably wouldn't have cared. But in front of these witnesses it was an entirely different question.
But here is the point - exposing your sins before God is not a dangerous thing to do. It is running to the security of God's grace and forgiveness. Jesus says that these people aren't even saved if they are not willing to grant forgiveness when confession and a plea for forgiveness are given. And so, whether Saul could legitimately show David to be guilty of sin or not, either way, this was a perfect place to go because it would force Saul to either forgive David or to demonstrate that he wasn't a Christian. It's a very effective apologetic. It takes the steam out of Saul's hatred. But of course, it's not just an apologetic, is it? It's the Gospel David doesn't think he has sinned, but if sin can be shown, he wants to run to the Gospel and deal with it. And going to the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ is what we should always do with our sins against each other. Bitterness keeps us from the cross. So David really points the way for every one of us to apply God's grace in our conflicts.
If (v. 19b)
Verse 19 gives a second if. "But if it is the children of men, may they be cursed before the LORD…" If it is God who led you to attack me, then there is grace. Let's deal with the sin and move on. But if God has not authorized your pursuit, and if it is men who have slandered me, may they be cursed. David isn't saying it explicitly, but this is pronouncing the curse of God upon both Saul and anyone else there who has slandered his name and is continuing to pursue them. It's forcing everyone to think through what they are doing rather than blindly following Saul's orders. And it may explain why more and more soldiers defected to David's ranks in the next chapters. They had begun to realize that they might have believed total lies about David. They don't want God's curse. So David disarms Saul by boldly pursuing the only two possible reasons he can think of as to why Saul would be pursuing him.
The injustice of his having to flee (v. 19c)
David continues: "for they have driven me out this day from sharing in the inheritance of the LORD, saying, ‘Go and serve other gods." David couldn't attend worship in the local synagogues and he couldn't worship God at the temple. He wanted everyone to know that he wasn't leaving Israel in the next chapter because of lack of faithfulness to God or lack of commitment to Israel. He was being driven away against his will by a man who had shown himself to be a liar and a fool. In reality they were the ones who weren't living by grace and were responsible for the broken relationship. David is in effect showing the inconsistency of what Saul is doing. They are the bad guys trying to drive people away from the grace of God.
Bloodshed (v. 20a)
He then appeals to the seriousness of what they were doing in pursuing him. "So now, do not let my blood fall to the earth before the face of the LORD." If they succeed in killing him, they need to be thinking about what God thinks of shedding innocent blood. He was again throwing the ball into the lap of all 3000 men. If you are going to take a life, you had better be sure that God wants you to do it, because God will not hold anyone guiltless of murder just because he is following orders. Genesis 9 made that clear: "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man." He was making it crystal clear that they would be accountable before God if they spilled his blood. They would be guilty of murder. Now, Saul in his worse moments may not have cared. But David is giving this speech for the benefit of the whole army. This is his apologetic. And based on the huge number of soldiers that start to defect to him in later chapters, it appears that this may have been the turning point. It was worth his while.
Humility – flea, partridge (v. 20b)
David gives one more argument in verse 20. His argument shows not only humility, but it is a subtle argument that Saul is irresponsibly committing vast resources to an insignificant cause, when those resources could be better spent fighting the Philistines. This would probably play very significantly into the minds of the 3000. They had signed up to defend Israel. This is sort of what Ron Paul does when he asks why we are spending trillions of dollars to protect the borders of third world countries that aren't much threat to us and we aren't protecting our own borders. It's a misallocation of resources. In fact, the resources that Saul has already misallocated to pursuing David are far more disproportionate than the $10 that man paid Abraham Lincoln in order to collect $2.50. It doesn't make sense. He says in effect, "You are paying 3000 soldiers to find a flea?"
Look at the second part of verse 20: "For the king of Israel has come out to seek a flea, as when one hunts a partridge in the mountains." There is a play on words in the Hebrew. When Abner yelled in verse 14, "Who are you, calling out to the king?" the word for calling out is the same word as partridge. You see, in Hebrew a partridge is a calling bird. And David says, "Yes, I am calling out. But I am just a partridge; I'm a flea. I'm nothing. What are you coming out to seek? It doesn't make sense that you would commit so many resources to me. This shows irrational bitterness. This isn't for the safety of the nation. This is a personal vendetta." I think these words would have registered powerfully with those 3000 men.
Receiving Saul's repentance with caution (vv. 21-25)
Admission of guilt (v. 21a)
And David's words are so convincing that (perhaps even to David's amazement) Saul repents. At least there is an outward repentance. Saul has been caught as a bold-faced liar. His propaganda had proved to be totally false. No one could find any weapons of mass destruction. And in front of all of these witnesses, it would be pretty hard to deny the truth of what David had just said. And so here comes Saul's repentance. First, he admits sin. That is better than most pagans will do. "Then Saul said, ‘I have sinned."
But lest you think that is genuine repentance, remember that Judas threw the betrayal money into the temple and told the priests that he had sinned as well. But in any case, this is a more far-reaching repentance than Saul gave in chapter 24.
Attempt to gain the moral high ground (v. 21b)
But he still attempts to gain some moral high ground by inviting David back into the camp, and when David refuses to be able to say, "See? There's something suspicious about him. He won't come back into our army. There is something sinister about that." Saul says, "Return, my son David. For I will harm you no more, because my life was precious in your eyes this day." We've heard that before haven't we? But as Robert Bergan says in his commentary,
David, who knew Saul better than Saul knew himself, accepted the king's words for what they were – sincere, deadly lies. Accordingly, David tacitly turned down the invitation to return.
There is a big difference between God-centered repentance and a hallow repentance that a public leader gives simply because he doesn't have a choice - because his fingers have been caught in the cookie jar, and everybody knows it. With this shocking revelation that Saul's propaganda had manipulated them, the soldiers were probably not too happy with him, and Saul figured that he better put on a good show. And almost all commentators say that it was a good show because of Saul's later actions that showed no change of heart.
Admission of foolishness (v. 21c)
But it is still humiliating for Saul and rewarding for David to hear the words in verse 21 – "Indeed I have played the fool and erred exceedingly." Like Bill Clinton, he confessed when he was forced by the evidence to confess. And a Christian republic forgives and forgets. And it's amazing how quickly Americans forgive and move on. We are an incredibly patient society. And that might be a charitable way to read the way Saul's soldiers overlooked his fault. Maybe they have thought, "He's confessed; let's move on."
Tokens of David's high ground (v. 22)
Well, David is not quite that naïve. He doesn't come back into the camp. Verse 22:
1Samuel 26:22 "And David answered and said, "Here is the king's spear. Let one of the young men come over and get it."
I'm not coming over there. One of you guys can come over here and get these things. Of course, mushy-livered Christians of today will criticize David for being skeptical of Saul's repentance. What's the matter David? He said he repented; you need to believe him." The problem is that Saul showed no restitution. True repentance always has restitution. These mushy Christians will be satisfied with a politician's rhetoric. But when it comes to public office, "I'm sorry" is not enough. "Please forgive me" is not enough. God wanted Saul to step down from office all the way back in chapter 16, and if he were truly repentant he would have stepped down from office right here.
You see, forgiveness does not mean that you trust a person to public office. Yes, he can be forgiven just like any other person, but as a leader he is disqualified and still potentially dangerous. And we've got to distinguish between forgiveness and reconciliation in our private relationships (where we live with the judgment of charity, believing the best as 1 Corinthians 13 commands us to do -distinguish between that in our personal relations), and our dealings with public officials like elders, judges, congressmen, and presidents. How you handle their sins is quite different. Public officers are held to higher standard, and David has no obligation to trust Saul as king. If he steps down, that's great. There can be forgiveness, and he won't be a second-class citizen in the church. But he shouldn't be king.
Actions speak louder than words; in the meantime, David will trust himself to God's providence, and will pray for the law of spiritual sowing and reaping to take place (v. 23)
We will try to finish up the chapter quickly. In verses 23-24 David basically says that actions speak louder than words, and in the meantime he is planning to trust himself to God's providence and to pray that God would bring about the laws of harvest (or the laws of sowing and reaping). He says,
1Samuel 26:23 "May the LORD repay every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness; for the LORD delivered you into my hand today, but I would not stretch out my hand against the LORD'S anointed."
1Samuel 26:24 "And indeed, as your life was valued much this day in my eyes, so let my life be valued much in the eyes of the LORD, and let Him deliver me out of all tribulation."
This was a fantastic way for David to end his speech and put questions into the minds of all of Saul's men. You will reap what you sow. If you continue to go along with the kinds of compromises that Saul lives for, you will reap what you sow. So it was a good way to end the whole conversation. But God did one better.
Saul's acknowledgment (v. 25a)
For some reason God put another rare moment of honesty into Saul's mouth and Saul acknowledged David's right to the throne. It really is remarkable. "Then Saul said to David, ‘May you be blessed, my son David! You shall both do great things and also still prevail." The last words, "and also still prevail" shows that Saul saw David as an enemy yet. But in any case, he unwittingly prepared the way for Israel to recognize the legitimacy of David's reign. And they parted, never again to see each other.
Saul and David part for the last time (v. 25b)
Verse 25 goes on to say, "So David went on his way, and Saul returned to his place."
Is there a time to rebuke a fool? Yes. Ordinarily we should leave fools to their foolishness and not rebuke them. If they reject God's word over and over again, Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount told us to quit throwing pearls to swine and to quit giving the children's bread to dogs. They will turn on you and attack you. But this passage illustrates that there are exceptions to that rule. We have already seen that Proverbs describes those exceptions. And the New Testament does as well.
Titus 1 commands elders to be ready to debate fools who are destroying a congregation. He says, "whose mouths must be stopped" (v. 11). There are dangerous books out there written by so-called Christians that are attacking virtually every fundamental doctrine of Christianity. I would rather not have to even answer them. But because Christians are being deceived by those books, we must stop their mouths. In Luke 21:15 Jesus said that He would give his apostles "a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist." He is saying that there is a place for elders to rebuke fools. Acts 18:28 shows that the apostle Paul was engaged in vigorously refuting the Judaizers publically, even though they had showed themselves to be fools. But he did it for the sake of the elect.
Let me end by reading an article from the Denver Post. It says,
"Like many sheep ranchers in the West, Lexy Fowler has tried just about everything to stop crafty coyotes from killing her sheep. She has used odor sprays, electric fences, and [other products.] But [still] the southern Montana rancher…lost scores of lambs—fifty [in one] year alone. Then she discovered the llama—the aggressive, funny-looking, afraid-of-nothing llama..."
"Llamas don't appear to be afraid of anything," she said. "When they see something, they put their head up and walk straight toward it. That is aggressive behavior as far as the coyote is concerned, and they won't have anything to do with that... Coyotes are opportunists, and llamas take that opportunity away."
Brothers and sisters, there are going to be times when God calls you to be a llama and to boldly confront and rebuke the Saul's of this world. You are going to do it for the sake of the sheep. You are going to do it for God's glory. John the Baptist did it; Jesus did it; the apostles did it.
It's obviously appropriate to take the cautions that David did. It's also appropriate to be polite. But when we live in dangerous times such as David did, we must look for opportunities to speak to the proverbial 3000 who are witnesses to our rebuke of a fool - even if that fool is in public office. The fool may not change, but the 3000 may. And that's my prayer - that God would turn the tide in our nation as he did in the upcoming chapters of 1 and 2 Samuel. Amen.
Daily Bread, May 22, 1992. ↩