June 27, 2021
One of my favorite things about learning is when I come across something I only had a vague idea about, and I get the chance to really explore it deeply. Uncovering this mystery of the world that’s always been there, but was just outside of my view, is like opening my eyes to a completely new world. And there are quite a few of those things in the Bible, like this story we heard about David.
Last week, y’all remember, we talked about the best-known story about David. Just a boy with a sling, he faced down the Philistine Goliath and defeated him by being smart about how he fought. Then this week, we hear this story of David getting news of the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, and singing a song of lament—a song voicing his grief—and I imagine most of us feel at a loss about what all happened between those two events. Most of us don’t take a keen interest in reading through 1 Samuel. But so much of that book gives us a picture of who David was—and why he was the kind of king everyone down to Jesus’ disciples longed for again.
Shortly after defeating Goliath, David became a well-known figure in Israel. He led armies alongside King Saul, and he was really good at it. People liked him. David and Jonathan, Saul’s eldest son, immediately hit it off and became as close as two men could be. David married Saul’s daughter, Michal, bringing him even closer to the royal family. And King Saul, tragically caught up in his own paranoia, was convinced that it was just a matter of time before David tried to seize the throne. He was so convinced, in fact, that he tried to kill David in the throne room! After David fled to hide in the wilderness, Saul sent armies after him, trying for years to track down the boy wonder and snuff out his would-be rival.
David, however, didn’t do what maybe we would expect him to do. Rather than seize on his popularity to bring people to his side, raising an army and defeating Saul who had clearly shown his more tyrannical tendencies, David kept declaring his loyalty. He never raised a rebellion, and he kept doing things to prove to Saul that he had no interest in taking the throne from him. God had anointed Saul, David kept repeating, and he had no right to take the throne away from God’s anointed. It was only a few months before the battle that would kill both Saul and his heir, Jonathan, that he and David had started to reconcile.
So when news got to him that the king who had spent most of his time knowing David trying to have him killed had died in battle, it might have made sense for him to have at least breathed a sigh of relief. This was a man who had spent years attempting to murder him, and now he was gone. He wouldn’t even be out of bounds to have celebrated—“ding dong the witch is dead!” After all, that’s what we do when we get bad news about an enemy. It’s good riddance, sayonara, got what was coming to you! But he didn’t. He didn’t, and the way he responded to the death of his enemy is really one of David’s best moments.
He put together a song of praise for the late king and his son. He praised their good qualities, how they never turned back from the Philistines, how they always stood by each other’s side. It’s this beautiful eulogy that tells the people to remember how Saul was a good king who did good things for the people. It was a song that grieved the death of God’s anointed. And he didn’t just sing this song for his own sake—David sent messengers out with instructions to teach everyone in Judah how to sing this song and remember King Saul, the king that wanted him dead for so long.
What this episode in David’s life teaches us is that we are called to trust in God’s timing. David, who was anointed by Samuel way back when Samuel had visited his father’s farm, was also God’s anointed, destined to be king. But he waited for God to give him the throne, rather than trying to take it from Saul. He kept supporting Saul and honoring the image of God in him. How often do we get impatient for things we believe are our right to have, rather than trust in God’s time to bring those things to us?
But maybe more than that is that David showed us that Jesus’ commandment to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us is actually possible. I’ll be the first to admit, it is one of the hardest commandments we have, but here we see that David actually did it. Saul was the textbook enemy of David, and yet David refused to take any chance to treat Saul the way that Saul treated David. He showed that “enemy” is a designation that comes from misunderstanding—hate only appears when we fail to know each other, when we rely on our assumptions rather than hear the truth. He had no interest in stealing the throne, despite what Saul thought. And when David had the chance to do to Saul what Saul had been doing to him, he didn’t take it.
It was during that time when David was on the run, and Saul was leading armies to hunt him down. One evening after searching the area for David and his gang, Saul stepped into a cave to attend to some business, when David (who happened to be in the cave) snuck up behind him and cut off the corner of Saul’s robe. And after Saul left the cave, David came out and showed that corner of his robe, proving that even when he had the chance to fight back, to kill the one who wanted to kill him, he chose the route of mercy. David, who we will see was a deeply flawed man, still managed to love his enemy.
And that’s what this song he wrote represents. The world is primed to believe that the only way to operate in a cutthroat, competitive world is to be more cutthroat and competitive than anyone else. You have to do to others before they’ll do to you. You have to cut your rival off at the knees. You have to outmaneuver your competition, take advantage of every weakness, exploit every loophole, and do everything you can to get ahead, because no one else is going to do it for you.
But then you hear David’s song, praising the man who wanted him dead. You see the life of David who chose to love his enemy, trusting more in God’s guidance and timing than in his own guile and strength. You see the example of how David tried to live by God’s own ethics rather than falling into the ways of the world. David put his whole trust in God, because he believed that God would make things happen when they were supposed to happen. At least in this, we Christians should imitate David, and trust in God too.
Because when we do that, we show the world that there is a different way of operating in the world. We’ll show the world that you really can love your enemies when you trust in God. We’ll lift up that hatred has no place because God calls us to love. And we may look crazy, we may be ridiculed for showing mercy rather than exacting revenge, but when we do that we make God’s kingdom known in the world.
So follow a cue from David. Show mercy and love to all. Strive to understand others, rather than lumping them into the category of “enemies.” Love those who you’ve been taught to despise, and pray for those that the world pushes you to fight. The world doesn’t have to be this way, and God doesn’t want it this way. So be like David, and trust in God enough to be the person God calls you to be.
Thanks be to God. Amen.