By Al R. Hodges
Retired IMB Missionary
Although hated and abused by King Saul, David maintained his respect for Saul and for the Lord who had anointed him king. It is a story of the old king, still reigning but fading, and the new king in waiting, also anointed but not yet in power. David could have taken matters into his own hands and hastened the demise of Saul thus securing the kingdom for himself. That he did not do so is a tribute to his faith in and respect for God’s ultimate sovereignty. Earlier, Saul went into a cave not knowing David and his men were hiding deep inside. David could have killed him then, but did not do it (I Samuel 24:1-22).
Our focal passage demonstrates David’s commitment to God, as he turns down yet another opportunity to take action and assume kingship (I Samuel 26:7-8). Time had passed and Saul had returned to Gibeah. Again new reports came of David hiding out in the wilderness. Mobilizing 3,000 men, Saul went there. David watched from hiding as Saul’s army set up camp for the night. Saul was in the middle, with his top general Abner and other elite guards bedded down around him (I Samuel 26:5).
When the camp was asleep, David seized opportunity to again prove his loyalty to Saul (ch. 26:7-8). He and Abishai, (see also I Chronicles 18:12) stole into the camp where Saul lay. Abishai urged David to allow him to slay Saul on the spot (v. 8) but David declined (v. 9) saying, “… who can lift a hand against the Lord’s anointed and be blameless?” David firmly believed that everything was in God’s hands, and God had anointed Saul as king. David had no right to move against what God had done. God Himself, in His timing, must remove Saul from his royal position; David would not do it (v. 10). Instead, David took Saul’s spear and water jug, both placed by Saul’s head (v. 11). They made their way out of the camp, and no one awoke because the Lord made them sleep (v. 12). That David and Abishai could move through the camp, could whisper together while standing over Saul and Abner without awakening anyone, is proof that God had intervened.
In the morning, and from a safe distance, David called out to Saul’s camp. He accused Abner of failing to take good care of his king (vv. 13-16). He showed Saul’s water jug and spear, revealing that he had been within striking distance of the king, yet had spared his life. Saul recognized David, and again recognized David’s compassion and loyalty. He was filled with remorse, and acknowledged his sin and that he had acted like a fool (v. 21).
David returned to Saul his water jug and spear (vv. 22-25), demonstrating his respect for the king and his trust in God. David literally gave Saul his life, and symbolically in returning the spear (used as the king’s scepter) he gave him his kingdom. Both Saul and David acknowledged God’s sovereignty. Both went their separate ways to await God’s timing and God’s will. They never saw each other again. Soon, Saul would be killed in battle, and David would become king. It was God’s timing, and God’s initiative to act according to His will.