Then David went over to the other side and stood far off on the top of the hill, with a great space between them. And David called to the army, and to Abner the son of Ner, saying, “Will you not answer, Abner?” Then Abner answered, “Who are you who calls to the king?” And David said to Abner, “Are you not a man? Who is like you in Israel? Why then have you not kept watch over your lord the king? For one of the people came in to destroy the king your lord. This thing that you have done is not good. As the Lord lives, you deserve to die, because you have not kept watch over your lord, the Lord’s anointed. And now see where the king’s spear is and the jar of water that was at his head.”
Saul recognized David’s voice and said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” And David said, “It is my voice, my lord, O king.” And he said, “Why does my lord pursue after his servant? For what have I done? What evil is on my hands? Now therefore let my lord the king hear the words of his servant. If it is the Lord who has stirred you up against me, may he accept an offering, but if it is men, may they be cursed before the Lord, for they have driven me out this day that I should have no share in the heritage of the Lord, saying, ‘Go, serve other gods.’ Now therefore, let not my blood fall to the earth away from the presence of the Lord, for the king of Israel has come out to seek a single flea like one who hunts a partridge in the mountains.”
Then Saul said, “I have sinned. Return, my son David, for I will no more do you harm, because my life was precious in your eyes this day. Behold, I have acted foolishly, and have made a great mistake.” And David answered and said, “Here is the spear, O king! Let one of the young men come over and take it. The Lord rewards every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness, for the Lord gave you into my hand today, and I would not put out my hand against the Lord’s anointed. Behold, as your life was precious this day in my sight, so may my life be precious in the sight of the Lord, and may he deliver me out of all tribulation.” Then Saul said to David, “Blessed be you, my son David! You will do many things and will succeed in them.” So David went his way, and Saul returned to his place. – 1 Samuel 26:13-25 ESV
Once again, David had found himself with a prime opportunity to take the life of Saul and end his nightmarish existence as a fugitive. He and Abishai had made their way into the camp of Saul as he and his troops slept. They stood over Saul’s sleeping form and Abishai begged David for permission to take his life. But just as before, David refused to take the life of the Lord’s anointed. But he did take Saul’s spear and water jug.
Now, David stood a safe distance away and gave Abner, Saul’s commander, an unexpected wake-up call. David yelled across the valley, accusing Abner and his troops of dereliction of duty. He informs them that while they slept, someone had snuck into their camp and could have killed their king, because they had failed to do their jobs. And David held up Saul’s spear and water jug as proof. This was not only an assault on Abner, but a clear statement to Saul that David had more respect for the Lord’s anointed than Saul’s own men did. When Saul’s men had failed to provide the king with protection, David had been the one to prevent Abishai from taking his life. David was still a faithful servant of the king.
Not only that, there was no proof that he had done anything to deserve the treatment he had received from the hand of Saul. He even asked Saul to provide evidence. If Saul could provide David with a specific crime he had committed that was in violation of the law of Moses, David was willing to do the appropriate thing and offer a sacrifice as atonement. But if, as David seems to suspect, Saul’s actions against him were based on nothing more than the bad advice of men, then David calls down a curse from God on them. Why? Because David had not only become persona non grata in the kingdom of Israel, he had no access to the tabernacle. That meant he was not able to offer sacrifice for sins and receive forgiveness. David’s despair over this matter was clearly evident in his words to Saul:
“For they have driven me from my home, so I can no longer live among the Lord’s people, and they have said, ‘Go, worship pagan gods.’ Must I die on foreign soil, far from the presence of the Lord?” – 1 Samuel 26:19-20 NLT
The tabernacle was where the presence of God dwelt. The Israelites were the people of God. By being forced to live apart from the people and without access to the tabernacle, David was effectively being forced to seek another god to worship. And the thought of that was too much for him to bear. David craved restoration with the people of God and restored access to the tabernacle of God. This is reflected in one of the psalms he wrote during his days in the wilderness.
O God, you are my God;
I earnestly search for you.
My soul thirsts for you;
my whole body longs for you
in this parched and weary land
where there is no water.
I have seen you in your sanctuary
and gazed upon your power and glory.
Your unfailing love is better than life itself;
how I praise you! – Psalm 63:1-3 NLT
I lie awake thinking of you,
meditating on you through the night.
Because you are my helper,
I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings. – Psalm 63:6-7 NLT
And David’s passion-filled words to seem to get a compassionate reaction from Saul. Just as he had before, Saul appears to see the error of his way and confesses, “I have sinned. Come back home, my son, and I will no longer try to harm you, for you valued my life today. I have been a fool and very, very wrong” (1 Samuel 26:21 NLT). But David was no fool. He knew better than to trust the words of Saul. He had heard this speech before and had learned that “The mouths of fools are their ruin; they trap themselves with their lips” (Proverbs 18:7 NLT). Saul had no intention of calling off his hunt for David, and David knew it. Which is why, after their conversation ended, “David went his way, and Saul returned to his place” (1 Samuel 26:25 ESV).
David’s exile would continue. His longing for the presence of God would increase. His desire to be with the people of God would grow with each passing day. But during those dark days of the soul, God would be with David. He would guide him, protect him, teach him and mold him into the kind of king He desired David to be. Taking Saul’s life would not have put an end to David’s problems. To do so would have simply created bigger issues for him. He would have been in violation of God’s law. He would have been guilty of taking matters into his own hands and trying to accomplish God’s will his own way. So, David returned to the wilderness. But he was going to learn that he was not alone. Contrary to what David and the people of Israel believed, God was not restricted to the tabernacle. His presence was not bound to a building. He was right beside David every step he took in the wilderness. He was with David as he sought sanctuary in the caves. He was watching over David as he slept under the stars. He was David’s constant companion, ever-watching protector, wise counselor, and faithful guide. It was David’s experiences in the wilderness that would lead him to pen the words of his most famous psalm:
The Lord is my shepherd;
I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
forever. – Psalm 23 NLT
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.