David’s actions—or more precisely, his lack of action due to his great restraint—must have been shocking to Saul. What would he have done had the situation been reversed? In that moment of being confronted by David’s act of mercy, Saul experienced a moment of clarity. He recognized that God’s hand was surely on David, and he left him in peace (though this would not last; see 1 Sam. 26).
This is the power of God working in and through His people. God has called us to live counterculturally, to live differently and express the fragrance of Christ in a world permeated by the stench of sin and death. What we do—or rather, what God does through us—reinforces the truth of the gospel message we share. Does the gospel need our actions for it to be effective? By no means! But when we live in such a way that shows that the gospel is not merely academic, that it transforms us to live like Christ, we display the beauty of the message we proclaim.
In what ways is God changing you? In what ways do you see the need for Him to continue to change you?
Saul and his army were chasing David and his band of men so that the rejected king of Israel could rid himself of whom he considered to be his arch-nemesis. But then, in a moment when the tables were turned and the two ended up in the same cave, David could have been the only one to walk out alive. But he refused to lift his hand against Saul. No matter how Saul was treating him, he was God’s anointed. For David to turn on Saul would require David to turn on God. That he would not do, no matter the risk.
Saul had done nothing to deserve David’s mercy and respect. He was a failed leader. He was rejected by God. He was plagued by an evil spirit and was progressively growing paranoid. Yet David understood that it was not a matter of who Saul was or what he had or had not done; it was a matter of what God had declared about Saul. We would be wise to remember this. There will be times when we disagree with others—even leaders over us—and many of those times our points of disagreement will be valid. But we can never forget our need to extend grace and mercy to others, in the same way God has extended grace and mercy to us.
How can you support and encourage those in leadership positions over you?
It was hard to miss. David’s men saw it. Even David did. Saul had been delivered over to David and his men in what was obviously a work of God. There were numerous caves in that area. Surely God had led Saul into that specific cave for a specific purpose—for David to vanquish his opponent. But had He?
There are times when an opportunity or situation looks to be from God and we respond like David’s men in the cave: Surely this is of the Lord! But we need to be careful because the situation may not be what it seems. Sometimes a situation seems too good to be true because it is. Sometimes what appears to be a gift before us is actually a test, and sometimes what seems to be a test is actually a gift. How will we know the difference? Only by seeking the face of the Lord and trusting in His guidance in accord with His revelation and not our own perceptions.
When have you experienced something you thought was good only to discover it was not? How about the opposite? What was God doing in those situations?
We see an interesting contrast between Saul and David in this chapter. Saul was growing increasingly paranoid (see 1 Sam. 22) and continued to pursue David, the hero turned fugitive. Meanwhile, we also see David in pursuit, but not of Saul in retaliation or even of safety primarily. David was in pursuit of God. When David heard the Philistines were fighting against Keilah, he went to the Lord and asked if he should go to their defense. This was not the posture of a man who was running for his life; this was the posture of a man who was running after God, the One in whose hands he had placed his life.
In fear, Saul had turned away from God in disobedience, which had brought about his downfall. Now we see that he was a man driven by his jealousy and anger. David no doubt feared Saul, but he feared God in a greater way. David’s fear of the Lord led him to seek to obey God continually at all costs, even if that cost placed himself in harm’s way. The same was true, but in a greater way, of one of David’s descendants—Jesus—who stepped into the world in full obedience to God and not only risked His life but laid it down on behalf of the very world that had rejected Him.
Do you tend to pursue God in times of fear or do you tend to turn inward instead? Why?
King Saul had been in quite the bind. His forces had been stuck in their tracks against the Philistines, all while listening to the giant Goliath taunting them and God. But then God provided His deliverance in the unlikely form of the shepherd David. David squared off against Goliath and defeated him soundly, giving the Israelite forces the courage to charge ahead in victory. The result was a slaughter, not of the Israelites, as it had appeared, but of the Philistines.
Saul kept David with him from that day forward, and his son Jonathan and David became close friends. It was the perfect ending to the story, a Hollywood script brought to life. Except it didn’t end there.
Word spread quickly of David’s victory over Goliath. When Saul returned from the battle in victory, the women of the land came out to greet him with singing and dancing. Only they sang a song Saul did not like: Saul had killed thousands, but David had killed tens of thousands.
In that moment, the storybook ending unraveled. Saul became furious, and from this point forward, he looked upon David not with gratitude but with jealousy.
David had bailed out Saul, but that was put aside. More importantly, David had defended the honor of God and brought Him glory, but that too was forgotten. Saul should have joined in the singing of the women’s song. He should have been grateful for God’s provision in his life. But his selfishness and pride wouldn’t let him, so his downfall would continue.
How prone are you to celebrate and be thankful for someone else, even if it comes at your expense in some way? Why?
The battle had been won. Goliath, the feared adversary, lay dead on the ground, his head severed from his body. The Philistines had looked on in horror and then turned and fled for their lives. Then, and only then, did the Israelites shout a battle cry and charge. They chased after the Philistines and slaughtered them, not to win the victory but in victory.
We cannot miss that point. If God is providing a picture of how Jesus defeated sin and death in this true account of David and Goliath, and if we are meant to relate with the Israelite army, we see, then, how we are to live today. We don’t strap on our spiritual armor and pick up our spiritual weapons to win the victory; Christ has gone before us and already secured it. Instead, like the Israelite army, we charge forward in victory, not for it. That is liberating, isn’t it? We are already victorious, more than conquerors in Christ. The battle is won, the victory is secure, the foe defeated. That is our battle cry.
What battles are you facing in which you need to remember Christ has already gone before you and won the victory?
While none of Israel’s soldiers could muster the courage to face Goliath, even after hearing his taunts day after day, it only took David hearing him once before he was ready to face the giant. An unlikely hero stepped forward to face the enemy of God’s people. But as we know, David would not face Goliath by himself. Sure, he was the only one Goliath saw walking into the valley to face him, but David was not the only one there. In fact, he wasn’t even the primary one there: God was.
If we read ourselves into this story as David, at this point we will be prone to identify our need to live with courage, dependent on God. And there is nothing wrong with that, but if we do, we miss the greater lesson here for us. If, instead, we see ourselves as the Israelites and David as a hero outside of ourselves, we see the beauty of the gospel. Jesus is the greater David. Jesus was the unlikely hero who stepped forward to face off against the enemy of sin and death and defeated them in the power of God. He did all this while we looked on as He fought in our place.
How might you attempt to fight in your own power instead of resting in God to fight for you? Why?
So there they were: the Israelite army on one hill and the Philistine forces on another hill with a valley in between. It was a stalemate; neither army seemed inclined to leave its fortified position on the high ground to charge at its enemy. The only action either army saw was a Philistine giant named Goliath walking out into no man’s land day after day to taunt the Israelites. All the Israelites had to do was to send one warrior to face him. If that man won, the Israelites would win the battle.
We have to let this picture of the Israelites cowering in fear crystallize in our minds and hearts as we continue reading this account, because in the Israelite soldiers, we are to see ourselves. Yes, we also would have been in fear of Goliath on that day, but more important than that, we have been rendered powerless before another giant, a greater enemy—that of sin and death. Just like the Israelites, we were out of the fight, dead in our sins, sitting by helplessly, waiting for our champion to enter the fray, which He did in a manger in Bethlehem.
Why is it important to identify more with the Israelite soldiers in this passage than with David?
Verse 14 is straightforward enough to understand, but it is much more challenging to grasp. The Lord’s Spirit left Saul, and in His place God sent an evil spirit to plague the rejected king. The transaction is clear, but God’s purposes behind it are cloudy. Why did God send an evil spirit? Why not just remove His Spirit from Saul? We have two options.
First, God may have sent this evil spirit to bring Saul to repentance. Perhaps this was God’s tool to break Saul of his pride and force him to depend on his God instead. Second, God may have sent the spirit as an act of judgment against Saul, much like He hardened Pharaoh’s heart in the exodus account.
While we cannot know God’s specific purpose in sending this evil spirit, we can know our holy God’s ultimate purpose: God’s desire was, and always is, to bring glory to Himself and work all things together for the good of His people. God will never fail to bring this end to pass, even if the means might be hard for us to understand.
What are some ways God was glorified through sending this evil spirit to Saul? How has God been glorified through adversity in your life?
It’s hard to blame Samuel. After all, he only fell into the same trap as Israel had before. We aren’t told what Eliab looked like, but he must have looked like a king straight out of Hollywood’s Central Casting. So when the prophet saw him, he thought surely he was God’s chosen one to replace Saul. But in that moment, Samuel made the same critical mistake Israel had made with Saul, and that Saul had made with himself: relying on worldly appearances and abilities. Saul too had looked the part of the ideal king—tall and handsome. But his rule was unraveling rapidly because he took matters into his own hands instead of relying on God.
God quickly corrected his messenger Samuel: He does not look at the externals like His people were doing; He looks at the heart (v. 7). In this we see an important axiom for how God worked throughout Scripture and how He still works today. God delights in taking those who are outwardly unspectacular but inwardly humble and reliant on Him and doing amazing things through them for His glory.
What internal qualities do you believe God looks for? How can you grow in each of these areas?