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From the Sheep Pen to the Palace
How To Behave in a Cave
I Samuel 24
 
The focus of our study for the last several weeks has been a young Jewish boy named David.  When first we met, he was nothing more than a teenage shepherd.  Yet God sent his servant Samuel to anoint him as the future king of Israel. 
 
That experience began a time of preparation that will  groom him to ascend the throne, but it is not the kind of preparation we would have expected.  Instead of being pampered and educated and trained by the servants of royalty, he is living as a fugitive out in the wilderness. 
 
His primary adversary is the man he will succeed, the present King of Israel, Saul.  Even though they once enjoyed a close relationship and the king's son, Jonathon is David's closest friend, Saul is convinced David is out to destroy him.  So he pursues him intending to remove the threat. 
 
When we come to chapter 24 of 1 Samuel, David and his men, some 600 of them, are on the run again.  In the opening verse of the chapter, we discover, along with King Saul, that David and his men are at the Wilderness of En Gedi.
 
En Gedi is an oasis on the western shore of the Dead Sea. There the barren mountains rise almost straight up from the shore. The mountains are limestone, laced with steep ravines, honeycombed with caverns. It was made to order for a man running from the law.
David and his men have found a cave large enough for all 600 of them to hide. They are hiding in the angles and passageways back from the entrance.
 
We pick up the story in
 
verses 2-3
 
Saul going in to "attend to his needs" is just a polite way of saying that even kings have to go to the bathroom, so Saul hears the call of nature and steps inside the nearest cave. Little does he know that the man he seeks, along with 600 of his allies, are just a few yards away, hidden by the rocks and by the darkness.
 
That means while Saul is tending to his business, 601 pairs of eyes are watching from the darkness. A whisper spreads though the men. This is the moment David has been waiting for.
 
Now here’s a good test. Ask your friends what you should do the next time you have an opportunity to get even with you enemy while their pants are pulled down and they are vulnerable. Unless your friends are very unusual, they will say, “Take advantage of the opportunity while you have it!  Stick it to him. Get him while you have the chance.”
 
And that’s what David’s men do. Only they cover their desire for revenge with a thick coat of religious varnish.
 
1 Samuel 24:4
 
 
They believe it is God’s will for David to kill Saul. After all, Saul’s been trying to kill David so now David can take all the trouble out of it and do God a favor by killing him right now. 
 
Instead, David did something very unusual.  For those watching it may have seemed like a practical joke.  Maybe they thought David was losing his mind like Saul.  But while Saul was preoccupied, David crept up and cut off the corner of his robe.
 
But as we see in verse 5, David immediately regrets what he has done.
 
1 Samuel 24:5-6
 
It was wrong because it made the king look bad. It was wrong because it showed a lack of respect. It was wrong because it wasn’t David’s place to get even. It was wrong because cutting his robe was the first step to murder. It was wrong because Saul was still the Lord’s anointed. Cutting off a corner of the royal robe was an act of physical and spiritual vandalism. It was an attack on Saul and on Saul’s right to be king.
 
And David feels regret and remorse because he shouldn’t have done it. His men are mad because they wanted him to kill Saul. Meanwhile Saul leaves the cave to rejoin his men. He doesn’t have a clue that anything unusual has happened.
 
The rest of 1 Samuel 24 contains two speeches—one by David in verses 8-15 and one by Saul in verses 16-21. We'll look at those in a moment.
 
 
Then the chapter ends in verse 22 with these words,
 
1 Samuel 24:22
 
Now, even though I've left out quite a few details, I've told you enough to give you the most important fact in the story which is David refusing to kill Saul when he had a golden opportunity.  But that raises a crucial question: Why didn’t David get revenge while he had the chance?
 
In his sermon on this passage, Chuck Swindoll calls revenge “Life’s Most Subtle Temptation,” and indeed it is. For who among us has not felt the sting of unfair criticism? Who here has not been surprised sometime in your life by the conduct of your friends? Who here has not been disappointed by someone close to you?
 
It may have been at work when you were denied a promotion for which you were clearly qualified. It may have been a coach who passed you over for a starting role even though you know you deserved it. It may have been when your husband or wife walked out on you. It may have been when people you thought were friends turned on you.  It may have been a preacher that disappointed and embarrassed you. 
 
We have no control over things like that. We wish we did, we wish no one would ever let us down, no one would ever disappoint us, no one would ever turn against us, but unfortunately, it happens. And it happens to all of us. That’s a fact. We just don’t know when the hammer is going to fall.
 
And because it happens to all of us, I want to remind you of something: 
 
We have no control over how people treat us, what they say and what they do. But we do have complete control over how we respond.
 
We’ll never stop people from attacking us. We’ll never stop people from breaking their word. We'll never be able to avoid people breaking our heart.  That’s a fact of life, no matter who you are. 
 
So the question as a Christian I must ask myself is, "How do I respond when I’ve been hurt? Your choices are very limited.  In fact, there are only two options. 
 
Either we can try to get even or we can do what David did in I Samuel 24. From the first part of I Samuel 24, we know what David did—or more specifically we know what David didn’t do. When he had the chance to kill Saul, he didn’t take it.
 
What we don’t know is why. David’s speech in verses 8-15 gives us three reasons why he didn’t take revenge.
 
Reason #1: David did not seek revenge because he respected Saul’s authority over him.
 
Notice verse 8
 
 David calls Saul “My lord the king.” He recognized that Saul was still the king no matter what he did or how he did it. It was not an issue of whether or not Saul treated him right. As long as Saul was the king, he deserved respect by virtue of his position.
In particular, that meant that David was not free to get even or to take revenge in any form even though Saul mistreated him.
 
From time to time we need to be reminded that regardless of who the president of the United States is, we are to respect the office.  You may have political and social and moral differences on virtually everything, but it doesn't change the fact that he is the president of the United States and the office is worthy of respect.
 
In the army they a say “you don’t salute the man, you salute the rank.” The colonel may be an absolute jerk but that doesn’t matter. You salute him by virtue of his position.
 
That’s precisely the principle here. David owed Saul his respect by virtue of Saul’s position as king, which by the way, was an honor given him by God, which is what we read in
 
verse 10
 
God chose Saul to be king.  Therefore, he occupies the throne of Israel by the authority of God Himself.  Therefore, to attack Saul is to indirectly attack God himself. If a man is God’s anointed—good or bad—he is not to be touched.
 
Please understand. David had every reason to get even with Saul. The man was a killer, a psycho on the throne, a desperate madman whose fits of rage and paranoia drove him over the edge. David would be doing the world a favor and no one would ever blame him.
But still he didn’t do it. Why? Because he recognized God's authority over Saul and therefore, Saul's authority over him.
 
Reason #2: David did not seek revenge because he was willing to wait for God to vindicate him.
 
verses 11b-12
 
There are two interesting facts here: The first is that David was not shy about pointing out the truth.
 
He plainly says that Saul has wronged him. Sometimes in our hurry to reconcile we overlook the fact that wrong has been done. It’s rarely true that “we’re both right and we’re both wrong.” That implies a kind of neutrality that cancels the need to make moral judgments.
 
By the way, that is generally the way it is in a fantasy world, not the real world.  In the real world, someone is right and someone is wrong.  In this case, Saul was wrong, David knew he was wrong, and he plainly says so.
 
But David also understood a second fact that many of us never grasp. When it comes to revenge, God is much better at it than we are.
 
That’s because he looks down from heaven and sees all sides of every issue. He knows who is right and he knows who is wrong. So often our perspective is clouded and our judgment faulty. We see our side and only our side. But God knows. And he will not forget to avenge the wrongs done to his children.
 
James Russell Lowell wrote these famous words: “Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne. Yet that scaffold sways the future and behind the dim unknown, Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.”
 
That’s the way it often seems these days: Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne. In this topsy-turvy world, the bad guys seem to keep on winning. But it is true—and you can count on it—God stands in the shadows keeping watch above his own.
 
David understood that God was ready, willing, and able to take care of him. And whenever God got ready, Saul would be out of the way and David would ascend to the throne. If God wants Saul removed, there are 10,000 ways he can do it. God didn’t need David’s help. Even when David was clearly the better man, even when Saul had gone nuts, even when God had rejected Saul, he still didn’t need David‘s help.
 
How many sins are committed because we are in a hurry, because under pressure we give in to our passions, because in the crunch we cut corners we would never cut otherwise. How many stupid decisions we make because we aren’t willing to wait for God.
 
I take great personal comfort in knowing God never forgets His children.  And when we suffer for doing what is right, God sees and he remembers. That’s a promise you can take to the bank.
 
 
 
Reason #3: David did not seek revenge because he did not want to descend to Saul’s level.
 
verse 13
 
This sounds like something your mother used to tell you. David is saying, “If I attack him, I’m only sinking down to his level.” I’ve heard it said this way: Never wrestle with a pig. You’re bound to get dirty, and the pig loves it. There are times when you need to walk away from an argument because if you open your mouth, you’ll soon be wrestling with a pig.
 
The saddest part about trying to get even is it makes you the victim of the person you hate. Revenge makes you go through the hurt over and over again.
 
Jesus told a parable in Matthew 18 about a king who was owed a tremendous amount of money by a servant.  But in a gracious gesture of generosity, the king forgave the entire debt. 
 
In the meantime, this man who has had his debt forgiven goes and finds a guy that owes him a few dollars, and he grabs him by the neck and begins to choke him, demanding he be paid what he owes. 
 
Well, some folks see what happened and they told the king who delivers the guy to the torturers until he paid everything he owed. 
 
That's what it's like to try and get revenge.  You are the one who winds up in torment, and you never get over it. You live in debt to the other person.  They owe you an apology and until they do, you can never be happy.
Ultimately, it drags you down to the sewer where your enemies dwell. And the moral filth that covers them soon covers you as well.
 
And while you are staying up late at night stewing in your juices and drinking Maalox, they are out on a yacht in the Gulf of Mexico having a party. When you give in to the temptation to get even, your enemies have won twice: When they hurt you the first time and now when you can’t get it out of your mind.
 
So let me repeat what I said earlier: We cannot control what people say about us or do to us. In this world we’re going to be hurt again and again. People are going to fail us, some will misunderstand us, others will doubt our integrity, and some will judge us a threat.
 
For every David, there’s a Saul lurking somewhere in the shadows. Since we can’t do anything about our enemies, the one thing we ought to concentrate on is how we respond. That makes all the difference in the world.
 
So how should we respond to mistreatment and the temptation to get even? Here are three practical suggestions.  First,
 
- Shut Up
 
When you are hurt or angry, you need to watch your words.  And let me quickly insert, you need to watch what you say in person and what you post on social media and splatter all over Face Book.  Angry people say and write things they later regret.
Under pressure we may blurt out something that will end a friendship forever. Or we may say words that wound all out of proportion to the original offense.
Or we may escalate the problem until it blows up in front of us. You will rarely regret the things you don’t say, but you will often regret the things you do say. When you are angry, take to heart the words of Proverbs 10:19, “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.”
 
Second,
 
- Look Up
 
The place to put your focus is on Jesus.  We are called to be like our Master who, to quote Luke 23:34, "when he was reviled, reviled not again, when he was cursed, cursed not in return, when he was abused, refused to repay in kind, when he was mocked, he did not retaliate, who when he hung between two thieves, crucified for crimes he did not commit, prayed for those who killed him, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”
 
Of all people, He had every right to seek revenge, but he chose instead to submit to the Father’s will. So when you feel tempted to give in to anger and bitterness, remember the words of I Peter 2:21, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”  Finally,
 
- Lighten Up
 
Sooner or later you have to lay down arms and stop fighting the battle.
And unfortunately, a lot of people are chained to the past because they will not let go of remembered hurts. In the end the desire for revenge hurts you more than it hurts anyone else. Listen:  seeking revenge is like drinking poison and praying for the other person to die. It’s an all-consuming emotion that destroys you from the inside out.
 
I read a story about a wise older monk and his young apprentice who were walking together along a forest trail. Their monastery had a rule forbidding all contact with women. Coming to a river with a fast-flowing current, they saw an old woman weeping near the shoreline.
 
She asked for help, saying that she couldn’t cross the river on her own. Without a word, the older monk picked up the woman and carried her to the other side. She went on her way while he and his young colleague continued on their journey. Two and a half hours passed without a word being spoken, but the young monk was seething on the inside.
 
When he could contain himself no longer, he blurted out, “My Lord, why did you carry that woman across the river? You know that we are not supposed to touch a woman.” The wise older monk looked down at the young man and said, “I put her down hours ago. Why are you still carrying her?”
 
Good question. Why are you still carrying the burdens from the past? Isn’t it time to put them down once and for all?  I understand it isn't easy to return good for evil or refuse to retaliate.  It’s not easy or natural. But we are not called to react naturally.  We are to react supernaturally. 
 
Some of us are walking around with a heavy load of bitterness and frustration and it affects every decision you make and every reaction you have.
 
And I will tell you, it is time to unload that burden.   It’s time to lay that burden down. God never meant for you to carry it around like you do. Maybe it’s resentment toward your parents or toward your employer.
 
Maybe there’s someone who has done you wrong and it’s been eating your lunch. Day and night you dream of a chance to get even. Maybe it’s a friend who let you down in a big way. Maybe it’s someone you trusted who walked all over you. Whatever it is, it’s time to lay that burden down.
 
Some of you will recognize the name of Tom Elliff.  For several years, he was pastor at First Southern in Del City.  His brother Bill was a pastor as well as his brother-in-law, Bailey Smith.  His dad was also a longtime pastor.
 
Tom tells a story of how his dad entered a time of what he called spiritual dementia. He said we three preacher boys and his daughter listened as this man who had been a soul winner and preacher of God's Word said to our mother , "I don't love you anymore" and "I'm leaving".
 
Tom said that began a time of trying to help his parents reconcile and finally, at Christmas time, just before Tom and his wife were to leave for Africa, they were all together and it was just like old times.
 
 
Tom said a few days later, as we were walking down the ramp to ge ton the plane, he decided to call his mom, and when she answered, she said, "He's gone."  He said I got on that plane with my heart in my shoes.
 
They flew back as often as they could, trying to locate hid sad to no avail.  He eventually filed for divorce, and Tom said he watched the rejection set in on his 65 year old mother whose husband was now divorcing her after 43 years of marriage. 
 
Then in May of 1985, his mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease and over the next year, she steadily declined.  Then in July of '86 she suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage and the doctors said there was no way she could survive.  The word wnet out for family to come if they wanted to see her alive. 
 
But she dug in.  A week passed, then 2 weeks and still the doctors said she would die any day.  Then she went into a coma, not speaking or eating or responding.
 
But at the end of the 2nd week, she moaned.  And Bill, who was at her side said, "Momma, what do you want?"

She said, "Want, want, want."
 
Do you want ice, a pillow, some water? 
 
She said, "forgive, forgive, forgive", almost lifeless, reaching out to someone who wasn't there.
 
 
The next day, the family gathered around her.  They were singing and holding hands at her bedside when the phone rant and it was daddy. They hadn't heard his voice in 2 and 1/2 years.
 
He said, "Tommy, can I talk to momma?'
 
Dad, she's dying!  She can't hear you! 
 
Tommy, put the phone to her ear.  And when she heard his voice, her eyes opened and the tears flowed down her cheeks and she said, "I forgive you."
 
For the next 24 hours she was alert and awake and wasn't it wonderful that dad called? 
 
And Tom said, "I thought of the poem that said, 'He drew a circle that shut me out, vaunted rebel a thing to flaunt.  But love and I had the wit to win.  We drew a circle that shut him in!'"
 
Six weeks went by.  His daddy came home and shortly after, his mother went home to heaven. 
 
After he finished that story, Tom said, "I want you to know it just does something for you to forgive and it does something for the person you are forgiving."
 
You may say, "Well, Brother Terry, are you saying it will always work out okay?  I wish I could, but I can't.  Read what Saul said in the closing verses of this chapter, and you will discover he said all the right things, but he still wanted to kill Saul. 
 
But what you do is not about your enemy.  It is about your relationship with God. 
So here's what I'd like to ask you to do:  Right now, I want you to focus on the one person you want to get even with. I want you to think about a particular person and get a name fixed in your mind. Most of us won’t have any problem thinking of the one person we’d most like to get even with.
 
And I want you to ask God to release you from your bondage to that person.  It’s time to let go and let God take over. It’s time to be set free from bitterness.  Now the key to the release is this: You have to call it what God calls it, and that is sin. If you are willing to do that, then you can be set free.
 
Unfortunately, most of the time we want to concentrate on the other person's sin and ignore our own.  But your sin is just as serious in the eyes of God as theirs.  And if you will ever be free, you've got to confess your sin, not theirs.  So here's a simple prayer that might help you lay your burden down.  
 
Heavenly Father, I thank you that Jesus Christ took my sins when he didn’t deserve them. I confess to you that I am resentful toward ________________. Even though Jesus Christ died for my sins, I am angry because of what ___________________ has done.
 
So Father, I ask you to do what you think is best in this situation. Please forgive me for harboring anger and bitterness. Set me free from this bondage and please keep me from it for the rest of my life. Teach me to forgive as Jesus did. I pray this in the name of Jesus who forgave me all my sins, Amen.
 
Let's pray.
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