Remember in your classes in school, you had minor tests and major tests; you had quizzes that had just a small impact on your grade and then you had the midterm and the final exam that really determined whether you passed or failed the course. And you had little assignments, like take home worksheets, that were a small percentage of your grade, but then you also had major assignments, like a book report, that was a large percentage of your grade. Well, discipleship, this training course we’re in to become like Jesus, is a course like that. There are minor tests and major tests. There are less significant assignments and more significant assignments. Jesus got on to the Pharisees for thinking they could pass the course with God by just doing well on the little assignments and quizzes without concerning themselves with the mid-term and final, the big things. Matthew 23:23 He said to them, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.”
From Jesus’ words there and elsewhere we find that the weightier matters, the big tests/assignments are not church attendance or contribution into the plate or Bible study. Those things should not be neglected, but they’re like the quizzes and worksheets that prepare us for the bigger assignments and tests. What much more determines whether we pass or fail is the way we treat other people, and not just some people. Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount.” (Luke 6:32-34; Matthew 5:46-47). If you’re just a half-way normal human being, you’re cordial and kind and helpful to those who are good to you, you don’t have to be a follower of Jesus to do that. The big test, to see how we’re doing in this course of discipleship, to see how we’re progressing in becoming like Jesus, is not how we treat our friends and the people who are nice to us.
In Luke 6, Jesus said to His disciples, in essence, here’s the sort of questions you may find on the midterm and final that are the big determiners of your grade. What are you going to do with a person who hates you? I mean despises you, would call down fire from heaven upon you if he could. What are you going to do with a person who so hates you he curses you, says to you, “May you burn in hell”? What are you going to do with someone who mistreats you, who keys your car, eggs your house, draws horns and a mustache on your pictures, makes their fun at your expense? What are you going to do with someone who hits you in the face? What are you going to do with someone who’s never done anything for you, but has the nerve to ask you to give them what belongs to you? What are you going to do with someone who doesn’t even ask, but who just takes what belongs to you?
In Matthew 5, Jesus adds a few more potential, big test questions. What are you going to do with someone who wants to sue you? You’ve not intentionally hurt them, but they got themselves hurt on your property and now they think they can take advantage of the situation and take what you’ve worked for. For the people in His day, Jesus said this may be on the big test for them: What are going to do about that Roman soldier who drops his baggage in front of you, demands that you stop what you’re doing, pick it up and carry it a mile down the road for him? Those are the sort of big test questions that reveal how we’re doing in our discipleship.
And of course those are just “for instances”. We could add many more potential big test questions. What are you going to do with those people you find obnoxious? Maybe their dress, hairdo, makeup, piercings, and tattoos, you find ridiculous. Maybe they’re the really loud, arrogant, talk-about-themselves-all-the-time type, the sort of people, if you played hide and seek with them, nobody would go looking for them, they’re not fun to be around. Or what are you going to do with people who hold political opinions on the other end of the spectrum from your own, or people who hold very different theological views, who, it seems to you, distort the Scriptures? What are you going to do with people you find gross? I think of this guy in college, who you always knew if he’d been in a room recently because he had about a 10 minute odor trail that followed him everywhere he went. I think of this gross looking guy a few summers ago who parked his truck in front of my house one evening. I went out to see what he was up to. He was probably drunk. He didn’t seem to be all there. He smelled horrible. And he had a piece of gum stuck in one of his nostrils and partially in his mustache that I later had to help him get out with a tissue. He just wanted to sleep in his truck there because he was going to be working on one of the nearby houses the next day. Said he was comfortable in his truck. So I just said “okay” and locked the doors that night. What are you going to do with people you find gross because of sins their involved in? What are you going to do with people who disappoint you, with an employer who promised you something and didn’t come through, with a friend you entrusted with some very intimate information who decided to share it with others, with a mate who walked away when you needed him or her most? What are you going to do with somebody who used you or abused you?
I need to remember, I forget sometimes, that the way I respond and the way I am toward those difficult people is not an inconsequential quiz question. Jesus said it is of such consequence, is such a big part of our grade, if you will, that we can expect God ultimately to deal with us in accord with how we ultimately deal with those difficult people. Now, that’s not saying if we’ve failed the big tests before that there’s no hope for us. We have a very patient and forgiving teacher and we can retake the tests. But we’re going to have to start getting passing grades on those big tests.
In Matthew 6 He said to His disciples, “If you’re one who forgives others of their transgressions, then your heavenly Father will also forgive you. If you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive you” (Matthew 6:14-15). See, that’s “make it or break it”. That’s pass or fail. That’s not a quiz. That’s a biggie. In Luke 6 He said, “Love your enemies and do good and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return” (Luke 6:37-38).
Well, that opens my eyes to the importance of the section we’re at in our study of the life of David in I Samuel. In I Samuel 24, 25, and 26 David is handed three big tests, one in each chapter, and we see how he dealt with them and what he learned through them, and we can gain some insight from these that should help us with our own big tests.
In big test number one, I Samuel 24, David finds himself in a situation where his enemy, king Saul, is vulnerable before him and David can do what he wants with him.
Big Test 1: I Samuel 24, Saul Vulnerable Before Him
You may have someone who is really ugly to you in your life, but unless you’ve managed to really anger the Russian Mafia and they’re after you or something like that, you’ve probably never had an enemy like Saul was to David. Here, Saul has made several attempts to kill David, as we’ve seen. And at this time, with an army of 3000 soldiers, Saul is hunting David in the wilderness. For several months, maybe even years, David has been on the run from Saul, trying to stay off the grid and constantly looking over his shoulder. David has accumulated a band of about 600 men by this time, who have chosen to side with him. In I Samuel 24 David and his men are hiding deep in a cave because Saul is in the area. Apparently, from verse 4 here, not too long before this occasion David got a message from God. I don’t know if it was in a dream or through a prophet or what, but David received this message from God that said, “Behold, I am about to give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it seems good to you.” That’s the big test, your enemy is in a vulnerable position and you can get your revenge if you want. Well, this is the day God was talking about.
As Saul and his army are passing by, nature calls for Saul. He goes into this cave to do his business. He can’t see David and his men in the darkness, deep in the cave. But they can see him in the light of the entrance. He crouches down there in the cave, I suspect facing the opening with his back turned to them. David’s men whisper to him, “This is the day the Lord told you about. Here’s your chance! Kill him, so we don’t have to run anymore, and you can take your throne.” David sneaks up close to Saul, knife in hand, and quietly just cuts off an edge of his robe and sneaks back to his men. The text says his conscience bothered him because he cut off the edge of Saul’s robe. It was a nice robe, I’m sure. So his conscience bothered him that he sliced off a chunk of the king’s robe. But his men cannot believe he’s letting this moment pass without killing his enemy. David has to restrain them from going after Saul themselves.
Look at what David says about why he’s letting Saul go. 24:6, “So he said to his men, ‘Far be it from me because of the Lord that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, since he is the Lord’s anointed.’” The stuff that is used by a very special, famous, exalted person becomes very special stuff. For example, there was an auction held in 1996 for various possessions that belonged to president Kennedy. President Kennedy’s rocking chair sold for almost a half a million dollars, his golf clubs a little over three quarters of a million dollars, his desk sold for 1.43 million. Now, you could probably find a used chair, golf clubs, and a desk of equal quality, physically indistinguishable, all for probably under a grand. But it’s because they were used by president Kennedy that they were very special stuff. I heard that a pair of Michael Jackson’s underwear sold for a million dollars one time. Well, stuff that God, who is infinitely greater than any famous person, has used and touched in big ways becomes very special stuff. I think that’s why when God came to Moses in the burning bush: Moses was told, “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the ground on which you are standing is holy ground.” This is holy, special dirt. You treat this dirt with the highest respect. Now, it wasn’t really any different from any other dirt. But it’s because God appeared on and touched it in a special way that this dirt was made into special dirt. Well, David feels like Saul is special stuff, not to be treated as any other man, because out of all the men of Israel God chose Saul to be king and God anointed him with His Spirit for the task, symbolized by Samuel anointing him with oil. God has especially touched and been very active with Saul, so Saul is special stuff. And God is to be given such respect that we treat the things and people associated with Him, with the greatest degree of care. And folks, we should see the very same thing about one another. The NT tells us that everyone who has become a disciple of Jesus is someone that God has called to himself and been at work in and has anointed with His Spirit. We are to see one another as sacred, as God’s special people. Paul put it this way for the Corinthians, who were finding one another to be kind of difficult and were having some strife, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are” (I Corinthians 3:16-17). If you think of people as rocks, most people are just rocks in the hills, but fellow Christians are the stones that make up God’s temple. We must especially be careful about the way we deal with one another.
So I Samuel 24:7, “David persuaded his men with these words and did not allow them to rise up against Saul. And Saul arose, left the cave, and went on his way. 8 Now afterward David arose and went out of the cave and called after Saul, saying, “My lord the king!” And when Saul looked behind him, David bowed with his face to the ground and prostrated himself. 9 David said to Saul, “Why do you listen to the words of men, saying, ‘Behold, David seeks to harm you’? 10 Behold, this day your eyes have seen that the Lord had given you today into my hand in the cave, and some said to kill you, but my eye had pity on you; and I said, ‘I will not stretch out my hand against my lord, for he is the Lord’s anointed.’ 11 Now, my father, see! Indeed, see the edge of your robe in my hand! For in that I cut off the edge of your robe and did not kill you, know and perceive that there is no evil or rebellion in my hands, and I have not sinned against you, though you are lying in wait for my life to take it. 12 May the Lord judge between you and me, and may the Lord avenge me on you; but my hand shall not be against you. 13 As the proverb of the ancients says, ‘Out of the wicked comes forth wickedness’; but my hand shall not be against you. 14 After whom has the king of Israel come out? Whom are you pursuing? A dead dog, a single flea? [In other words, “I’m that harmless to you. And this is as trivial for you as it would be to go hunt a flea.”]15 The Lord therefore be judge and decide between you and me; and may He see and plead my cause and deliver me from your hand.” [And look at what happens.] “16 When David had finished speaking these words to Saul, Saul said, ‘Is this your voice, my son David?’ Then Saul lifted up his voice and wept. 17 He said to David, ‘You are more righteous than I; for you have dealt well with me, while I have dealt wickedly with you. 18 You have declared today that you have done good to me, that the Lord delivered me into your hand and yet you did not kill me.‘“ I think that’s the very thing Proverbs 25:21-22 is talking about, which says, “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For you will heap burning coals on his head, And the Lord will reward you.” The burning coals on the head I think represent the shame and regret your enemy will feel over how they’ve treated you when you deal kindly with them. And it may bring them to repentance. Then Saul says, “19 For if a man finds his enemy, will he let him go away safely?” [In other words, “This unheard of, David. Who does this kind of thing?” The answer is God, and men and women after God’s own heart.] “May the Lord therefore reward you with good in return for what you have done to me this day.” Then he asks David for a favor. In those days, when a royal family was overthrown by another, the new family in power would often exterminate everyone in the old family. So Saul says, “20 Now, behold, I know that you will surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hand. 21 So now swear to me by the Lord that you will not cut off my descendants after me and that you will not destroy my name from my father’s household.” 22 David swore to Saul. And Saul went to his home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold.
So he passes big test number one. Here’s big test number two.
Big Test 2: I Samuel 25, Nabal’s Scorning
Despite Saul’s confession of wrong and appearance of repentance, David and his men still don’t trust him enough to resume life as normal. They stay out in the wilderness. And they stay in a place where there are also some shepherds and their flocks. These shepherds work for a very, very rich man named Nabal. And David and his men are a real blessing to them and in effect also to Nabal, their employer. It was a dangerous time. Philistines would take any chance they found to kill Israelites and take their possessions. So shepherds, out by themselves with flocks of valuable sheep, were at high risk. But David and his men protected these shepherds and were just friendly and kind to him. I imagine David, being a shepherd himself, gave them some tips and help with the sheep on occasion.
Well, it came time for the shepherds to take the flocks back to Nabal for shearing. And David and his men are hungry. And Nabal is super wealthy. And David and his men have done a great service for this man. He may not have all these sheep and all this wool if it weren’t for them. So it’d be expected and it’d be nothing for Nabal to tip them with a little food. So David sends some young men to Nabal in his name to say, “6 Have a long life, peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have. 7 Now I have heard that you have shearers; now your shepherds have been with us and we have not insulted them, nor have they missed anything all the days they were in Carmel. 8 Ask your young men and they will tell you. Therefore let my young men find favor in your eyes, for we have come on a festive day. Please give whatever you find at hand to your servants and to your son David.’” But Nabal not only refuses to give David anything, but he sends a very insulting message back to David. David is furious at this rich snob’s ingratitude and selfishness and disrespect. He’s just been handed big test number two. And at first David doesn’t handle it well. He says to his men “Get your swords and let’s go pay Nabal a visit.” He’s on track to fail the test. But then he gets some help in this test and it comes through Nabal’s much better half, a woman named Abigail. A young man tells her about what her husband has done and that David and his men are on their way. She quickly loads up a huge gift of food and wine on donkeys and heads out to meet David. “23 When Abigail saw David, she hurried and dismounted from her donkey, and fell on her face before David and bowed herself to the ground. 24 She fell at his feet and said, ‘On me alone, my lord, be the blame. And please let your maidservant speak to you, and listen to the words of your maidservant. 25 Please do not let my lord pay attention to this worthless man, Nabal, for as his name is, so is he. [Nabal in Hebrew means stupid or fool. I don’t know what he did as a kid to get a name like that.] Nabal is his name and folly is with him; but I your maidservant did not see the young men of my lord whom you sent.‘“ And what she says to David next is exactly what we need to remember next time we have a Nabal in our life that we want to put in his place. “26 Now therefore, my lord, as the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, since the Lord has restrained you from shedding blood, and from avenging yourself by your own hand, now then let your enemies and those who seek evil against my lord, be as Nabal. 27 Now let this gift which your maidservant has brought to my lord be given to the young men who accompany my lord. 28 Please forgive the transgression of your maidservant; for the Lord will certainly make for my lord an enduring house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the Lord, and evil will not be found in you all your days. 29 Should anyone rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, then the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living with the Lord your God; but the lives of your enemies He will sling out as from the hollow of a sling. 30 And when the Lord does for my lord according to all the good that He has spoken concerning you, and appoints you ruler over Israel, 31 this will not cause grief or a troubled heart to my lord, both by having shed blood without cause and by my lord having avenged himself. When the Lord deals well with my lord, then remember your maidservant.” Three points in her words are also true for us, all very simple, but we can’t forget them. Number one, God is so going to reward you as you pass the test. The reward will make whatever unfairness and hurt you’re experiencing seem as nothing. Number two, God is going to avenge you. God sees the Nabal in your life. God’s not ignoring his wickedness. In his own time God is going to sling them out as out of the hollow of a sling. Number three (verse 31), you avenge yourself and you will have to live with evil on your conscience. You can’t undo it. And when your anger subsides, you won’t have peace, you will have a grieved, troubled heart.
“32 Then David said to Abigail, ‘Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me, [David believed that God works in quiet, behind-the-scenes sort of ways to help his servants pass their tests. And His help may come in the form of somebody who reminds us of the truths we’ve forgotten.]33 and blessed be your discernment, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodshed and from avenging myself by my own hand. 34 Nevertheless, as the Lord God of Israel lives, who has restrained me from harming you, unless you had come quickly to meet me, surely there would not have been left to Nabal until the morning light as much as one male.’ 35 So David received from her hand what she had brought him and said to her, ‘Go up to your house in peace. See, I have listened to you and granted your request.‘”
Then watch what happens because David accepted correction, repented, and chose not to strike his enemy. “36 Then Abigail came to Nabal, and behold, he was holding a feast in his house, like the feast of a king. And Nabal’s heart was merry within him, for he was very drunk; so she did not tell him anything at all until the morning light. 37 But in the morning, when the wine had gone out of Nabal, his wife told him these things, and his heart died within him so that he became as a stone. [That may mean he had a stroke.] 38 About ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal and he died. [Because David did not strike him, the Lord struck Nabal!]39 When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Blessed be the Lord, who has pleaded the cause of my reproach from the hand of Nabal and has kept back His servant from evil. The Lord has also returned the evildoing of Nabal on his own head.’ Then David sent a proposal to Abigail, to take her as his wife.” She was thrilled and accepted. So God, as He often does in Scripture, turns this negative into a positive, this trouble with Nabal, this big test, God uses to impress on David’s heart the truth that God will avenge His servants; God will return the evildoing of fools on their own head. We don’t need to concern ourselves with vengeance. And God uses this occasion to bless David with this awesome woman as a wife when he passes the test. So that difficult person in your life may actually be a surprising channel through which God is going to bless you. As you pass the test, do God’s will in relation to that person, I suspect you’ll find results that will make you (perhaps) glad for that difficult person in your life.
Big Test 3: I Samuel 26, Saul Vulnerable Before Him Again
Unbelievably Saul is after David again. Again he’s got his 3000 soldiers, and they’re looking for David in the wilderness. Have you ever had anybody in your life that you’ve already forgiven in times past, you’ve given them second and third chances before, and yet they still haven’t changed? How many times do you forgive someone? Where do you draw the line and say “That’s enough,” and let them have what they deserve? I think somebody asked Jesus that question, didn’t they? Something like, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother, up to 7 times?” He said, “More like 70 x 7, like God has forgiven you” (Matthew 18:21ff). So that’s 490 times. If you want to keep track up to 490, be my guest, but it will be easier to just decide not to keep a record of wrongs.
So David is faced with big test number three here when Saul is after him again, and again Saul finds himself at David’s mercy. David and some men find Saul’s camp one night. David takes a comrade, Abishai, with him and sneaks down in the camp. He actually walks through the sleeping soldiers to the center of the camp, where Saul is sleeping with his spear stuck in the ground next to his head. Abishai says, “David, look God’s given him into your hands. God clearly wants you to kill him, because He’s making it so easy for you. Let me just stick his spear a foot to the right and we’ll be done running and hiding.” “9 But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can stretch out his hand against the Lord’s anointed and be without guilt?” 10 David also said [and I think he learned this from the incident with Nabal], “As the Lord lives, surely the Lord will strike him, or his day will come that he dies, or he will go down into battle and perish. [And that’s exactly what soon happened, I Samuel 31.] 11 The Lord forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the Lord’s anointed; but now please take the spear that is at his head and the jug of water, and let us go.” 12 So David took the spear and the jug of water from beside Saul’s head, and they went away, but no one saw or knew it, nor did any awake, for they were all asleep, because a sound sleep from the Lord had fallen on them.” I imagine soon after Saul woke up he thought, “Hey, where’s my spear? And where’s my water? Who took my stuff?” Then from up on the nearby mountain he hears David calling out to his soldiers, “Some protectors of your king you all are! You all should be put to death, for you didn’t guard your king! Look who has his spear and his water!” And the same thing happened as before, Saul feels those burning coals on his head again. He says, “I have played the fool, David. I’m sorry. I will not come after you again.”
Then we’ll close here with verses 23-24, another reason David gives why we leave vengeance to God and we just love our enemies. “The Lord will repay each man for his righteousness and his faithfulness; for the Lord delivered you into my hand today, but I refused to stretch out my hand against the Lord’s anointed. 24 Now behold, as your life was highly valued in my sight this day, so may my life be highly valued in the sight of the Lord, and may He deliver me from all distress.” Sounds a lot like how Jesus taught us to pray, “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). “As his life was highly valued in my sight, may my life be highly valued in your sight, Lord.” Jesus said that’s how it will be. “By your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return” (Luke 6:38). God is watching how we deal with our difficult people and He will deal with us accordingly.
I pray that you and I will see and not forget that the way we deal with those difficult people in our lives is a not a little quiz that we can afford to disregard. It’s like a big chunk of our mid-term and final exams in this course of discipleship. It’s a biggie that reveals how we’re coming along in becoming like Jesus.
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others [including the difficult ones] the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same” (Luke 6:27-33).
May God keep us from avenging ourselves, as He did for David. May He send us people to remind us when we forget these things. May He help us to become more like Him, fit for His new creation.
– James Williams