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Bible Search
The Strange Case of the Missing Spear
From the Sheep Pen to the Palace
The Strange Case of the Missing Spear
I Samuel 26
 
One of my favorite things to do when I was a boy and teenager was read.  I especially liked mysteries and of all the mysteries, my favorite was "The Hardy Boys".  I read a lot of Nancy Drew also, but nothing beat the stories that revolved around Frank and Joe Hardy. 
 
They lived in the city of Bayport with their father, Fenton hardy, who was a detective, their mother, Laura, and their Aunt Gertrude.  Their lives were filled with solving mysteries.  Sometimes their father would ask them to help on a case he was working on and other times they would stumble upon villains and incidents that are connected to his cases.
 
The Hardy Boys were constantly involved in adventure and action. And as someone observed, they lived in an atmosphere of mystery and intrigue: "Never were so many assorted felonies committed in a simple American small town. Murder, drug peddling, race horse kidnapping, diamond smuggling, medical malpractice, big-time auto theft, the hijacking of strategic materials and espionage, all were conducted with Bayport as a nucleus."
 
And apparently these teenagers in high school had plenty of money.  They traveled to Mexico and Scotland.  They show up in Iceland and Egypt and Kenya.  They traveled by motorcycle and motor boat and iceboat and train and airplane, as well as their own car.
 
But what always captured my attention about the Hardy Boys was the title of their books.  There was
The Mystery of Cabin Island and Footprints Under the Window.  They had cases like The Twisted Claw and The Disappearing Floor. The Secret of Skull Mountain,  The Mystery of the Spiral Bridge, The Bombay Boomerang, Danger on Vampire Trail, The Masked Monkey, The Clue of the Hissing Serpent, on and on they went. 
 
We didn't have anything like that going on in the oil patch around Dillard, Oklahoma and those stories came to life in my bedroom as I spent hours upon hours reading the adventures of The Hardy Boys. I've always enjoyed a good mystery.
 
Maybe that's why the 26th chapter of 1 Samuel is so intriguing to me, because in true Hardy Boys form, there we discover The Strange Case of the Missing Spear.
 
The chapter tells the story of how David spared Saul’s life. And if you've been traveling with us from the sheep pen to the palace, and you have a good memory, you may be saying to yourself, “I’ve heard this before.” And if you think that, you are almost right because two weeks ago we talked about a similar episode in I Samuel 24.
 
So what we see here in chapter 26 is actually not the first time, but the second time that David spares the life of King Saul and therein lies the fascination of this chapter. It seems at first glance to be very similar to the story of David and Saul in the cave in En Gedi.
When you consider that these two stories occur two chapters apart—one in chapter 24 and this one in chapter 26—you wonder what the writer is up to.
 
In fact, some speculate that because these two stories seem so similar and so close together, they are simply two versions of the same episode. Those who believe that suggest that David actually only spared Saul’s life once but somehow when the book was compiled, the proofreader goofed and included both versions.
 
There are at least two reasons to doubt that hypothesis:
 
First, it’s not unlikely that this situation would happen twice. After all, Saul spent many years chasing David in the relatively small region of southern Judah. I can very easily imagine that David had more than one chance to ambush Saul and be rid of him forever.
 
The other reason is even more basic: The two stories are actually very different. One takes place in a cave at En Gedi, the other in an armed camp on the hill Hakilah. In one, David cuts off a bit of Saul’s robe; in the other he takes a spear and a water jug. In one, he speaks to Saul directly; in the other he speaks first to Abner.
 
There is one other difference that is more important than the rest: In chapter 24 David is hiding in a cave when Saul just happens to drop by. In chapter 26 David initiates a nighttime penetration of Saul’s camp.
 
And that difference actually turns out to be crucial in understanding why 1 Samuel includes two stories of David sparing Saul’s life.  And hopefully you will see that as we make our way through it. 
 
Let me begin by telling you the object lesson of the story.  It is a lesson about the New Testament command to love your enemies. And it is not about loving your enemies in a general way like praying for the Muslims or being concerned about the people of North Korea. 
 
It is about how love finds a way and takes a risk on behalf of those who will never say thanks.
 
The story is presented to us through a series of encounters that David has.  The first on is
 
1.  David and Abishai
 
verses 1-4
 
Just a bit of background to help us with the setting:  Jeshimon was the name for the desolate wilderness in the far southern reaches of Judah. There was a desert in that place called the Desert of Ziph and the Bedouins who lived there were called Ziphites. They were pro-Saul and anti-David. In fact, this wasn’t the first time they had turned David in.  We have seen that already back in chapter 23. 
 
For years David and his men have been on the run, burning up by day, freezing by night, climbing on the rocks like goats, fighting, running, hiding, always staying one step ahead of Saul. Now he comes after them again.
This time he takes the standing army of 3,000 men and begins combing the desert for David. At length he camps beside the road on the hill called Hakilah.
 
Verse 4 tells us that when David heard Saul had come after him, he sent out scouts to find Saul’s exact location.
 
The drama begins to unfold in
 
verse 5
 
Just like a scene from an old Western movie, they have circled the wagons and put the women and children in the middle, with the men on guard outside, except in this case, it is the army that is encamped in concentric circles with the king in the middle.
 
It’s midnight, maybe a little past, when David pokes his head above the rocks. He is on the hill overlooking the camp. Ten thousand stars fill the desert sky. Down below he can see Saul’s army spread out before him: 3,000 men, their supplies, their donkeys, their wagons all carefully arranged.
 
In the very middle of the sleeping bodies, he spots something unusual.  There is a spear stuck into the ground. That would be Saul’s spear. It was like a scepter; it said “Here sleeps the king.” Nearby was a water jug in case the king got thirsty. Next to him was Abner, his number one general.
 
Not a sound arises from the camp. Everything is quiet, peaceful, serene when suddenly an idea hits David’s mind. He’s going to try to enter the camp. It’s an insane idea, a suicide mission.
One man against 3,000. David turns to the two men with him—Abishai and Ahimelech—and says, “Who will go with me?” In the army you learn very quickly never to volunteer for anything, but Abishai lets his loyalty get the best of his common sense, and says, “I’ll go.”
 
They make their way down side of the ravine to where the army is camped.  Ironically, no one is standing guard.  No one is even awake.  Later on we learn that God himself put them to sleep. 
 
Eventually, David and Abishai are able to make their way all the way to where Saul is sleeping, and sure enough, there is his spear stuck in the ground!  What an opportunity!  Verse 8 tells us how Abishai reacted when he saw Saul fast asleep.
 
verse 8
 
All it will take is one thrust and I will nail his hide to the ground!  God has put it all together!  All we have to do is take advantage of the opportunity He's given. Abishai's is the most natural response in the world!  “Do unto others before they do unto you."  After all, we've been out here for years, running and hiding and barely getting by, and it's all because of Saul!  Do him in while you have the chance!
 
And if you think about it, David had at least five good reasons to kill Saul. First, he has the motive. Second, he has the opportunity. Third, he has the weapon. Fourth, he has the encouragement. Fifth, he has the track record—he has already killed Goliath. Everything argues in favor of letting Abishai do the dirty deed and then hightailing it out of there. No one would blame him if he did.
But he didn’t. And that’s where this story gets interesting. In verses 9-11, David gives two reasons why he didn’t kill Saul. And we've heard them both before. 
 
First, it wasn’t his place.
        
verse 9
 
Short answer?  Nobody! Even though Saul was a moral degenerate, he was still God’s man and it wasn’t right for David to seek personal revenge against him.
 
Second, it wasn’t the right time.
 
verse 10
 
That's why the Bible forbids seeking personal revenge even though we have been greatly and repeatedly wronged. It’s not our place to seek revenge. And we can’t be sure the right time has come. God is perfectly able to take care of righting the wrongs done to us—but in his own time and in his own way.
 
There is one other little detail. Verse 12 says that before they left, they took with them the spear and the water jug as an unmistakable sign to Saul that they had been there.
 
So back they go through the lines, no doubt with Abishai muttering under his breath, “Come out here in the middle of the night, nearly break my neck on the rocks, risk my life, and for what? A spear and a lousy thermos jug of water!”
 
Next the scene shifts to
 
2. David and Abner
 
verses 13-14
 
David and Abishai cross back over the ravine and climb to the top of the hill. Then David starts shouting at the top of his voice “Abner, O Abner. Wake up, sleeping beauty. Time to rise and shine.” David’s voice echoes off the hillside and down into the camp. The soldiers begin to stir, Abner hears his name, mutters a few things I can’t repeat here, and then yells back, “Who are you and what do you want?”
 
David’s reply in verses 15-16 is one of the great pieces of sarcasm in the Old Testament.
 
verses 15-16
 
He basically tells Abner, “You are a lousy guard. You fell asleep when you were supposed to be protecting the king. Where were you when I was there? You and all your men deserve to die. And if you don’t believe I was there, just look around. Where is the king’s spear? Where is his water jug?”
 
What a slam it was on Abner and his men. And the message it sent was unmistakable: So far from being a threat to Saul, David was the most faithful defender of his life, more faithful than his own soldiers.
 
Scene #3 is
 
 
3. David and Saul
 
verses 17-18
 
This brings us to the heart of the chapter. After all these years, David still doesn’t understand why Saul has chased him up and down the land. It makes no sense. David has done him no wrong, yet Saul seeks his life.
 
How often is that the case!  You do your best and things don’t work out right. You turn the other cheek only to be hit with a right hook. You go the second mile and people hate you more than before. You try and people question your motives. You say, “Lord, it’s in your hands,” and things promptly get worse. Finally you say, “Lord, why is this happening to me?”
 
When David asks that question, only two answers come to mind. Either he is actually guilty of some sin and God is using Saul to punish him, or evil men are inciting Saul to turn on David.
 
Look at how David puts it in
 
verses 19-20
 
Somehow it all begins to get to Saul. Evidently, there is still some kindness buried inside. I think in his better moments he still likes David.
 
verse 21
 
Was he sincere? Yes. Did he mean it? Yes. Should David go back? Let’s put it this way, would you go back under those circumstances? Neither would David.
But he was willing to send the spear back. After all, the spear was the symbol of the throne and David would not keep it out of respect for Saul’s position.
 
Verse 23 explains the secret of David’s attitude toward Saul.
 
verse 23
 
In the moment of crisis, it all comes down to this: Either you believe in God or you don’t. If you believe  in God and trust Him, you’ll respond one way and if you don’t believe in God, you’ll do something else. It’s as simple and profound as that. That’s why revenge, at its core, is a demonstration of a lack of faith.  Those who seek revenge are those who don’t believe in God.
 
For if you don’t believe there is a God who rewards righteousness and faithfulness, what motive is there for being righteous and faithful? Why be good if being good is never rewarded?
 
If you've been under my preaching very much at all, you've heard me say on more than one occasion that when you don't understand anything else about what is going on in your life, you can always come back to two fundamental realities. 
 
#1 - There is a God and it's not you!, and
#2 - He is Good.
 
Once you decide that God is God and that He is good and just and righteous, then you can step back and let him handle revenge and getting even and paying back your enemies.
But as long as you play God, you’re on your own, which means you’ve got to seek revenge because you can’t trust God to take up your cause.
 
David believed in God and that made all the difference. If a man believes in God, it changes the whole picture. He doesn’t have to take matters in his own hands; he can wait for God to work out his situation.
 
Here are the final words of Saul, strangely prophetic and stranger still coming from Saul’s lips.
 
verse 25
 
Basically he says, “David, you are a better man than I, and you are going to win in the end.”
 
And with that they parted and went their separate ways and never saw each other again. It was the last time David would see Saul alive.
 
So the story comes to an end with only one loose end that needs to be tied up. 
 
So why does 1 Samuel include two stories of David sparing Saul’s life? On the surface, they are very similar.  In fact, they use some of the same language, particularly in David's response to the opportunity to kill Saul.
 
As I said earlier, the key difference between the two stories is how they came about. In chapter 24, David is hiding in a cave when Saul just happens to come in. It was an unplanned encounter.
 
 
In chapter 26, David finds out where Saul is and goes out of his way to enter Saul’s camp. What he did, he did on purpose. He infiltrated Saul’s camp intentionally, deliberately, purposefully, and in that decision we get an insight into why there are two stories.
 
Think about it this way:
 
In the cave at En Gedi, God was teaching David the importance of sparing his enemies. To put it in New Testament terms, David was learning a negative lesson that we touched on last week, 
 
Listen to it again.  It's found in Romans 12:17
 
"Don’t return evil for evil."  That’s a crucial lesson of the spiritual life and one we all need to learn.
 
But that doesn't explain why David, at great personal risk, slips into Saul’s camp, takes the spear, slips back out, calls out to Saul, and eventually returns the spear. It doesn’t make sense to do all that just to make the same point he made in the cave—that he won’t kill Saul, that he is not going to return evil for evil.
 
So why did David go out of his way to create an opportunity to spare Saul’s life a second time? I think the answer to the question is found in the very last thing David says to Saul in verse 24. 
 
In so many words, he said, “I valued your life today.”
 
Someone might say, "Well that was just David's way of saying, 'I didn’t kill you when I had the chance.'"
That's true, but David didn’t have to go to all that trouble just to prove that. He already proved it in the cave at En Gedi.
 
When David says, “I valued your life today,” he is explaining why he risked his life in the first place.
To put it simply, David did what he did because he was concerned for Saul. He cared about what was happening to him. David went into the camp not to kill him but to turn him back to God.
 
No matter how it might appear to us, taking the spear was not some teenage stunt or some smart aleck seeing what he could get away with. It was David’s way of saying, “Saul, God made you king and gave you the right to have this spear but you have turned away from God.” It was a picture of what had happened in Saul’s life.
 
And the great and final irony of this story is that despite all that Saul had done, David still loved him, and he was willing to risk his life to prove it.
 
Do you remember what Abishai called Saul early in the chapter?  It's easy to read right by it and get to the main thrust of the story, but notice, what he called him:
 
verse 8
 
“Your enemy.”
 
Then notice, what did Saul call David in verse 17? He called him “my son.”
 
 
There's a great insight in those four words.  We may think of our enemies as the terrorists from the Middle East or communists in China, but in the biblical sense those evil men are not my personal enemies.
 
My enemies are much more likely to be people close to me. Most of my enemies will come from my own family, from my circle of close friends, my fellow church members, my buddies at work, the people who know me best.
 
Which brings us to what this story is really all about.  Remember what I said as we began?  This is a story about loving your enemies.
 
Saul, a man David loved, a man to who he was very close, had become his enemy. And even though Saul tried to kill him, David loved Saul anyway and in this final encounter, after everything that has happened, he still places great value on his life.
 
So in New Testament terms, if the first time David spared Saul he was demonstrating the negative lesson of Romans 12:17 and not returning evil for evil, in the second, he was demonstrating the positive lesson of Romans 12:21, which is
 
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
 
And that explains why there are two stories of David sparing Saul. David, as well as we, have two lessons to learn. First, he had to learn to spare his enemies (chapter 24). Second, he had to learn to love his enemies (chapter 26).
 
We often wonder what it means to love our enemies. That seems such a hard thing to do. If it means that we have to feel affection for them, most of us can never do it. But love is more than just an emotional feeling.
 
In this case, loving our enemies means seeing a good opportunity and putting ourselves at personal risk to help someone who doesn’t like us.  The truth is, most of us would be perfectly happy if we didn’t have to mess with our enemies at all. Just leave them alone, and they leave us alone. How neat, how tidy, how convenient.
 
But this story is in the Bible so that we will know that option is not open to us. Loving our enemies means more than putting them in some airtight, hermetically-sealed compartment where they won’t bother us anymore. It means more than saying, “Good riddance.” If we are going to love our enemies, then we are going to have to take some risks, to go into the camp at midnight, and lay it on the line for the sake of those who are trying to hurt us.
 
That might mean some phone calls we don’t want to make, it might mean some letters we don’t want to write. It might mean some face-to-face confrontations we would rather avoid. It will certainly mean some difficult moments.
 
But that is what God is calling us to do. And to be honest, I cannot guarantee you success because I cannot guarantee how your enemies will respond. But I do guarantee that God will bless you when you dare to obey his Word. Jesus never said, “Love your enemies as long as they love you back.”
He simply said, “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44). Period. No strings attached.
 
As with others times, we once again get to see the Gospel in the story.  It’s right there in plain sight.
 
This time it is Saul, the bitter, angry man, that  represents all of us apart from God. He lives to get even, hatred guides his every step, and envy has rotted his bones. When confronted with his evil deeds, he can only say, “I have sinned.”
 
David is a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ. When he said, “I valued your life today,” he was really saying, “I risked my life for you.” That sounds a lot like what Jesus said in the Upper Room: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
 
But Saul was no friend of David, you say. True, and neither were we when Jesus died for us.
 
Romans 5:10 says, “When we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son.” Here is the wonder of the Gospel: Through the death of Jesus Christ, God takes his enemies and makes them his friends.
 
I’m sure many of us need to take some definite steps in response to this message. It may be that you’ve cut someone out of your life because they hurt you and God is saying, “You need to take care of some unfinished business.”
 
Maybe you’ve gloated while your enemies have suffered and now God is saying, “You need to reach out to them.” It may be that you need to begin praying for a good opportunity to show love to someone who has turned against you.
 
And most of us don’t need to look very far. Our closest enemies come from our family and closest friends: a husband, a wife, an ex-husband, an ex-wife, our children, our in-laws, our parents, a relative who turned against us, a friend who let us down, a fellow Christian who made a false accusation, and so on.
 
This is where we need to begin in taking an inventory of our enemies. They are usually people we loved who hurt us in one way or another. Deep inside, we still love them, and yet they are truly enemies because we are not reconciled.
 
The decision about what to do will be different for each of us. Some of us know exactly who we need to see and what we need to say. Is there someone in your life you need to talk to? Someone who would be easier to simply leave alone? If the answer is yes, then the question God is asking is, What are you going to do about it?
 
Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” It won’t be easy, but we have no other choice. And if we love them, who knows? Some day they may become our friends once again.
 
Let's pray.
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