Then the Ziphites came to Saul at Gibeah, saying, “Is not David hiding himself on the hill of Hachilah, which is on the east of Jeshimon?” So Saul arose and went down to the wilderness of Ziph with three thousand chosen men of Israel to seek David in the wilderness of Ziph. And Saul encamped on the hill of Hachilah, which is beside the road on the east of Jeshimon. But David remained in the wilderness. When he saw that Saul came after him into the wilderness, David sent out spies and learned that Saul had indeed come. Then David rose and came to the place where Saul had encamped. And David saw the place where Saul lay, with Abner the son of Ner, the commander of his army. Saul was lying within the encampment, while the army was encamped around him.
Then David said to Ahimelech the Hittite, and to Joab’s brother Abishai the son of Zeruiah, “Who will go down with me into the camp to Saul?” And Abishai said, “I will go down with you.” So David and Abishai went to the army by night. And there lay Saul sleeping within the encampment, with his spear stuck in the ground at his head, and Abner and the army lay around him. Then Abishai said to David, “God has given your enemy into your hand this day. Now please let me pin him to the earth with one stroke of the spear, and I will not strike him twice.” But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can put out his hand against the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless?” And David said, “As the Lord lives, the Lord will strike him, or his day will come to die, or he will go down into battle and perish. The Lord forbid that I should put out my hand against the Lord’s anointed. But take now the spear that is at his head and the jar of water, and let us go.” So David took the spear and the jar of water from Saul’s head, and they went away. No man saw it or knew it, nor did any awake, for they were all asleep, because a deep sleep from the Lord had fallen upon them. – 1 Samuel 26:1-12 ESV
Chapter 25 provided us with a brief respite from the ongoing conflict between Saul and David. But chapter 26 picks up where chapter 24 left off. When we last left Saul, he was headed home after his near-death encounter with David. He had unknowingly walked right into an ambush, choosing to relieve himself in a cave where David and his men had been hiding. But David had spared Saul’s life, choosing instead to confront him face-to-face and assure Saul that he posed no threat to his kingdom. He was not going to lift his hand against Saul. And we’re told that “Saul went home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold” (1 Samuel 24:22 ESV).
Chapter 25 introduced us to a new character, Nabal, who displayed all the classic characteristics of a biblical fool and whose unwise actions almost caused the unnecessary deaths of everyone associated with him. But Abigail, his wife, had intervened and prevented David from doing something he would long regret. Nabal’s rashness and ungodliness were going to be the death of him – literally. This fool would die a fool’s death. But while David had been able to walk away from Nabal with his integrity intact, he would soon discover that there another fool in his life who had not gone anywhere. Saul may have gone home, but he wouldn’t stay there for long. While he had shown signs of remorse in his last encounter with David, he had not given up his quest to see David put to death. And when the Ziphites betrayed David to Saul a second time (1 Samuel 23:19), informing Saul of his whereabouts, he mustered 3,000 soldiers to hunt him down.
Verse three tells us, “Saul encamped on the hill of Hachilah, which is beside the road on the east of Jeshimon.” Saul’s stubborn refusal to give up the hunt is truly remarkable. His remorse-filled words, spoken to David during their conversation outside the cave had sounded so sincere.
“You are a better man than I am, for you have repaid me good for evil. Yes, you have been amazingly kind to me today, for when the Lord put me in a place where you could have killed me, you didn’t do it. Who else would let his enemy get away when he had him in his power? May the Lord reward you well for the kindness you have shown me today. And now I realize that you are surely going to be king, and that the kingdom of Israel will flourish under your rule.” – 1 Samuel 24:17-20 NLT
But Saul was a fool. It’s interesting to note that the name of the fool in the last chapter, Nabal, actually meant “fool”. It refers to a particular type of fool, one who is overly self-confident and particularly close-minded. He tends to act as his own god and freely gratifies his own sin nature. This type of fool is the worst kind and can only be reproved by God Himself. The prophet Isaiah describes this type of fool (nabal):
For fools speak foolishness
and make evil plans.
They practice ungodliness
and spread false teachings about the Lord.
They deprive the hungry of food
and give no water to the thirsty. – Isaiah 32:6 NLT
This kind of fool is typically godless in nature. It is not that they don’t believe in God, but that they act as if God does not exist. This was Saul’s problem. He kept pursuing David in spite of the fact that God had clearly ordained him to be Saul’s replacement. Saul refused to accept God’s will and was willing to risk anything and everything in his attempt to circumvent God’s divine authority. He was so busy chasing David, that he had no time to meet the needs of his nation or its citizens. David had become much more than a distraction, he was an obsession.
So, Saul and his troops set up camp on the hill of Hachilah. He foolishly thought he was in the right. He foolishly considered himself safe, falling asleep that night, surrounded by his 3,000 well-trained soldiers. But David and Abishai, his nephew, snuck into the camp that night and crept right up to Saul as he and his crack troops lay fast asleep. Samuel goes on to qualify that their heavy sleep was God’s doing: “a deep sleep from the Lord had fallen upon them” (1 Samuel 26:12 ESV). Once again, David found himself in a tempting situation where his arch-enemy was seemingly handed to him on a silver platter. Even Abishai recognized a golden opportunity when he saw one, begging for permission to put Saul to death right then and there. But David’s response was firm and and crystal clear:
“No!” David said. “Don’t kill him. For who can remain innocent after attacking the Lord’s anointed one? Surely the Lord will strike Saul down someday, or he will die of old age or in battle. The Lord forbid that I should kill the one he has anointed! But take his spear and that jug of water beside his head, and then let’s get out of here!” – 1 Samuel 26:9-11 NLT
David had learned a lot from his encounter with Nabal and Abigail. While the timing seemed perfect and his justification for killing Saul seemed plausible, he knew that he had been given no green light from God to take the life of the king. If vengeance was necessary, that was up to God. If Saul was meant to die an untimely death, that too was up to God. David refused to make evil plans or practice ungodliness. In other words, he refused to act like a fool. He wasn’t going to lower himself to the same level as Nabal or Saul. He chose to do the godly thing. He determined to leave his own destiny and the fate of his enemies in God’s hands. We find in the Proverbs a number of verses that provide apt descriptions of David’s actions:
One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil,
but a fool is reckless and careless. – Proverbs 14:16 ESV
The anger of the king is a deadly threat;
the wise will try to appease it. – Proverbs 16:14 NLT
Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom.
Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil. – Proverbs 3:7 NLT
But the Scriptures also provide us with insights into the nature of Saul’s perplexing behavior.
Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes?
There is more hope for a fool than for him. – Proverbs 26:12 ESV
Wisdom is better than foolishness, just as light is better than darkness. For the wise can see where they are going, but fools walk in the dark. – Ecclesiastes 2:13-14 NLT
Two men stood on a hill. One was a fool, the other was wise. Both knew God. Both had been appointed and anointed by God. But one was living his life as if God didn’t exist, the quintessential trademark of a fool. As this chapter unfolds, we will continue to see a stark contrast between these two men. Their lives were inseparably linked, but the outcome of their lives would prove to be radically divergent. Wisdom and folly. Two ways of life that lead to two very different outcomes.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.