The next three chapters of this book, 1 Samuel 24-26, present the three temptations of the anointed one, David. David is going to be put to the test where he will be tested in many areas. The messianic lens is very strong at this point. We are going to see David, as the anointed, going into the wilderness and experiencing three temptations. In our lesson tonight, we are going to look at the first temptation. The first temptation will be a test of humility. Humility is hard. Humility is hard to even get our minds around. If we think we are humble, are we really humble? But we are going to see a wonderful mindset displayed by the Lord’s anointed that shows us the struggle of humility and how to grow in humility.
The Opportunity (24:1-7)
Saul had David surrounded and it looked like all hope was gone. But the Lord has the Philistines start attacking so that Saul must leave his pursuit of David. David and his men take refuge in the strongholds of Engedi (23:29). Engedi is in the tribe of Judah near the Dead Sea. When Saul finishes with the Philistines, someone informs him that David is in Engedi. So Saul takes 3000 men to go look for David and his men. As they are searching about the area, Saul needs to use the bathroom. So he finds a cave to go in to take care of his business. It just so happens that this is the cave where David and his men are hiding (24:3). These caves are not just small holes in the side of a hill. These caves can be quite deep and vast. Now the text tries to explain the Hebrew a bit which can cause us to miss what Saul is doing. The text says that Saul covered his legs. So Saul needs to sit down and take a little bit of time. David’s men see this as a sign from God. This is God giving David an opportunity. They tell David that this is the day the Lord has said, giving your enemy into your hand for you to do as you want (24:4). Now I want us to think back in our study of David. Have we seen anyone prophesy to David that the Lord will give Saul into his hand and he can do whatever he wants to him? We have not seen any prophecy of this kind so we are right to be a little skeptical about what his men are telling him. But David acts on their words. He creeps us silently behind Saul and cuts off a corner of Saul’s robe.
But after cutting his robe, David is immediately filled with regret. His conscience bothers him because he cut his robe. Now it is important to understand that David is not upset because he has altered Saul’s robe. Also, it is important to understand that David is not merely playing a game with Saul. In ancient Near Eastern thinking, the cutting of a robe symbolized disloyalty and rebellion. Further, remember that in this book we have seen that the robe represents the king and his kingdom. When Saul tore Samuel’s robe this represented the kingdom being torn away from Saul. When Jonathan gave his robe, clothing, and weapons to David it represented Jonathan acknowledging that the kingdom will be given to David. When the Spirit of the Lord caused Saul to take off his robe before Samuel it represented God forcibly removing the kingdom from Saul. Now David cuts Saul’s robe as if David is going to be disloyal to Saul take the kingdom from Saul. This is why David is upset by what he has done.
We see this in verses 6-7. David tells his men that he must not put out his hand against the Lord’s anointed. David stops himself for seizing this moment that his followers encouraged him to take. The ESV reads that David persuaded his men with these words. The Hebrew word has a meaning of “divide, tear apart.” So I think the NRSV has the picture a little better when it reads in verse 7, “So David scolded his men severely and did not permit them to attack Saul.” The NIV reads that David “sharply rebuked his men.” David verbally tore these men apart for having this idea that he should go up against Saul at this moment.
The Confrontation (24:8-15)
When Saul finishes his business and leaves the cave, David comes out of the cave and calls to Saul. When Saul turns around he sees David on the ground bowing to Saul and paying him homage. While on the ground he asks Saul why he is listening to people who are telling him that he’s trying to do you harm. You need to see how the Lord gave you into my hands and some of my men told me to kill you. But I did not do it because you are the Lord’s anointed. I have a corner of your robe in my hand which shows that I could have killed you. I have not sinned against you even though you are hunting me down (24:9-11). Listen to verse 12. “May the Lord avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you.” David even tells Saul that evil deeds come from evil people. So I am not going to harm you because I am not an evil person. I am a nobody (24:14) and you are chasing a nobody. So let the Lord consider my cause and deliver me from your hand (24:15). David has repaid good to Saul for the evil he has received from his (cf. Romans 12:21).
The Truce (24:16-22)
Saul responds to David crying out and in tears. “Is this your voice, my son David?” Saul acknowledges that David has treated him well while Saul has treated him with evil. The Lord put me in your hands but you did not kill me. If I was your enemy, you would not have let me go (24:19). Now listen to what Saul confesses in verse 20. “And now, behold, I know that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand.” Saul knows this to be true. Saul knows this is the will of the Lord. So Saul asks David to make an oath to not kill his offspring or wipe out his name from his family. So David makes an oath to not wipe out Saul’s family nor Saul’s descendants. Saul returns home and David and his men when back to their stronghold in the wilderness.
The Temptation of the Anointed
The pictures of the anointed are rich and vast in this text. What we see David experience is another picture of what will happen with Jesus when he comes as the Lord’s anointed. First, we see the temptations of the anointed. David is tempted to seize the kingdom for himself. Jesus will be repeatedly tempted to seize the kingdom for himself. For example, in John 6:15 we read that the multitudes came to Jesus to make him king, but Jesus withdrew from them. Jesus does not take this opportunity for himself. Again we see another opportunity given to Jesus while Jesus is in the wilderness. The devil takes Jesus to a very high mountain and shows him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. Now here is the temptation: “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me” (Matthew 4:9). Here it is. You can take the kingdoms of the world for yourself. You can avoid the suffering of the cross and establish your kingdom now. But Jesus rejects this opportunity. Jesus rejects this temptation. David’s temptation is to seize the kingdom for himself and ascend to the throne. End this path of suffering and take your rightful place on the throne. This is also the same temptation that Jesus repeatedly faces. Jesus will pass the test in the wilderness just as David passes the test in the wilderness.
Second, the anointed will be tempted by his own men. David’s men tempt him to seize the opportunity against Saul. They tell him that it is God’s will for him to take this moment and kill Saul. God wants you to do this! This is also the temptation Jesus faced from his own disciples. Look at Matthew 16:21-23.
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:21–23 ESV)
Carefully consider what is happening in this moment to understand why Jesus must sharply rebuke Peter. The path to the throne is through the suffering. Peter tells Jesus that this is not the way it will be. It is a temptation from his own men. The path to the kingdom is through the cross and to go any other way will be to seize the kingdom for himself. This is why Jesus must verbally tear Peter apart, calling him Satan in this moment. His own men will tempt him away from doing the will of the Father.
Third, the anointed will entrust his life to the Father. David tells Saul that he has done nothing wrong. He has not done evil toward Saul even though Saul has done evil toward him. David’s words are important in verse 12. “May the Lord judge between me and you, may the Lord avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you.” The apostle Peter makes it clear that Jesus as the Lord’s anointed took the same path.
He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:22–23 ESV)
These are the pictures that we see in David as a shadow of our great Savior, Jesus, the Lord’s anointed. He will not succumb to the temptation to seize the kingdom while he is in the wilderness. He will pass the tests, overcome the temptations, and be free from the charge of wickedness. He will entrust his life to the Father who judges justly.
So what is the message for us? First, we must see that opportunities do not equal divine approval. David as an opportunity to kill Saul. But that is not divine approval. It was not God’s will for David to avenge himself against Saul for all he had done. David’s men were telling him that this was the will of God. But it was not. Jesus has an opportunity to accept Satan’s offer to avoid the suffering and take the kingdoms of the earth for himself. But that was not divine approval. Jesus’ own disciples would tell him to avoid the suffering that was coming. Satan quotes the scriptures to make it look like it was God’s will for Jesus to take the kingdom for himself. Opportunities can be temptations. Opportunities can be opportunities to sin. Opportunities still require spiritual discernment. We need to seek the will of the Lord and know the will of the Lord when opportunities arise. The open door may be a path to spiritual destruction. The opportunity may be a path to sin. So many Christians see opportunities as divine approval. So then they commit sins because the opportunity must mean it is God’s will. In fact, you can surround yourself with people who will tell you it is God’s will to do what you are doing. But they can be wrong, just like David’s men were wrong and Jesus’ disciples were wrong. Your Christian friends can be dead wrong in what they advise you to do. So we see people who claim to be Christians make decisions that are disastrous for their family and for their souls because they were presented with an opportunity or their Christian friends encourage the decision. We can never equate opportunity with divine approval. We cannot equate people’s advice as the right path to take. We will see this truth emphasized in the next two chapters also. We must have the humility to not seize opportunities just because those opportunities are what we want to do. Instead, we must be humble to seek the will of God.
Second, do not take the shortcut. It is easy to find the shortcut to avoid suffering. It is easy to find the shortcut in sin. In fact, sin is taking a shortcut from the path God wants us to take. Every temptation is Satan trying to tell us to take the shortcut. Sin is trying to get what we want now rather than waiting for the way God has prescribed for our joy to be complete. Lying is a shortcut. Anger is a shortcut. Sexual immorality is a shortcut. Satan is always offering us shortcuts to happiness which circumvent what God is trying to give us and do for us. The path for us to obtain the crown that is promised is not by shortcutting our faith or shortcutting the process. David was not to shortcut this process on his way to the throne. Jesus was not to shortcut the process on the way to the throne. We must not shortcut the process on the way to eternal glory. Caving into our desires is not the way to follow Jesus or enjoy the promised rest. Satan makes us the same offer that he made to Jesus. You can have all that you desire and you can have what you are longing for if you will simply give in and do what Satan says. Satan will offer exactly what he want. But he cannot give what we truly need and truly want. May we pray for wisdom to see past the shortcut. Pray that we will have our spiritual eyes matured so that we can see the way to the Lord rather than the shortcut the devil puts in front of us.