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Seven Strategies for Handling Hostile People

April 26, 2018

In 1 Samuel 13, we read how Samuel the prophet anointed David to be King Saul’s successor. David worked for Saul first as a musician, and then as a military commander. David gave the best and the most loyal service, but Saul was not pleased with anything he did. And David was also Saul’s son-in-law.

But Saul was jealous of David and became increasingly obsessed with destroying him.

Think about the Saul in your life—someone who has been antagonistic or hostile towards you. They make accusations against you. They are always on your case.

How should you handle a hostile person?

The Robe

We hear in 1 Samuel 24 that one day, David had a chance to put an end to all that he had endured from Saul. And this happened not once but twice.

Saul gathered an army of 3,000 men to hunt for David. He came to “the sheepfolds by the way, where there was a cave, and Saul went in to relieve himself” (1 Samuel 24:3). Most likely, Saul would have taken off his robe and thrown it behind him, not realizing that further back in this vast cavern were David and his mighty men.

The men said to David, “Here is the day of which the LORD said to you, ‘Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand’” (1 Samuel 24:4). This must have been a great temptation for David. One thrust of the sword, and David’s whole life would be changed.  

But God says, “You shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13)  So, David refused to do anything to harm Saul. Instead, he creeps forward and cuts off a corner of Saul’s robe.

So Saul finishes his business, and has no idea of the grace, kindness, and the sheer loyalty that has just been shown, until David comes out of the cave holding the corner of his robe in his hand.

The Spear

Saul did not change, even after David showed him this grace. In 1 Samuel 26, Saul is back to hunting for David again.

Chapter 26 tells us the story of how David found the camp where Saul and his 3,000 men were sleeping.

Here is Saul sound asleep. His spear that twice he has thrown at David is stuck in the ground beside his head (1 Samuel 26:7). One stroke of the spear and it’s all over. And Abishai said to David, “God has given your enemy into your hand this day” (1 Samuel 26:8).

David responds just as he did in the cave: “The Lord forbid that I should put out my hand against the Lord’s anointed” (1 Samuel 26:11).

So David takes the spear, and when he is a safe distance from the camp he shouts out. Saul wakes up and sees David standing on the hillside with the spear, and again Saul sees the evidence of grace.  

How to Handle a Hostile Person

This story is given to us so that we’ll know how to live the Christian life. This is an amazing story of grace, and I want to learn how to handle a hostile person from the example of David.

1. Practice restraint.

Saul had done David so much harm, but David holds back the natural desire to pay him back.

In this he gives us a marvelous picture of God’s restraining grace. God does not treat us as our sins deserve (Psalm 103:10). If God treated any of us as our sins deserved, our lives would be hell on earth.

If you’re a Christian, you’re going to do what David is doing here, which is what? Love your enemies as God has loved you.

2. Show appropriate respect.

Afterward David also arose and went out of the cave, and called after Saul, “My lord the king!” And when Saul looked behind him, David bowed with his face to the earth and paid homage. (1 Samuel 24:8)

The Bible is really clear on this principle: Give honor to whom honor is due (Romans 13:7). This is very important if you have a dysfunctional parent: “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12).

Peter says, “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:17). What kind of emperor did they have when Peter was writing? A dreadful one.  

Show respect to other people, and especially to those people God has placed in authority over you.

3. Make the kindest assumption.

David said to Saul, “Why do you listen to the words of men who say, ‘Behold, David seeks your harm?’” (1 Samuel 24:9)

This was the kindest assumption. We saw last time that Saul was absolutely convinced that David was out to get him. David lifts the burden from Saul and points to the role of his advisers. “Why do you listen of the words of men who say, ‘David seeks your harm’?”

A.W. Pink speaks about the method to follow when seeking to subdue the malice of those who hate us:

Proceed on the assumption that it is not the individual’s own enmity against us, but that it has been unjustly stirred up by others…due allowance should be made for their having been ill-informed by others. (The Life of David)

4. Demonstrate grace.

“Behold, this day your eyes have seen how the LORD gave you today into my hand in the cave. And some told me to kill you, but I spared you. I said, ‘I will not put out my hand against my lord, for he is the LORD‘s anointed.’” (1 Samuel 24:10)

David holds the corner of Saul’s robe in his hand as the evidence of grace. He had the opportunity to hurt Saul, but he would not do it. This is demonstrated, not only in his words, but in his actions. He shows grace and mercy.

5. Appeal to the relationship at its best.

See, my father, see the corner of your robe in my hand. (1 Samuel 24:11)

David married Saul’s daughter, Michal, so that would make Saul David’s father-in-law. David might have said “See, my enemy, the corner of your robe,” or “See, my king, the corner of your robe.” But David appeals to the relationship at its best.  

W. Pink points out that when Judas came into the garden of Gethsemane and kissed Jesus, our Lord did not say, “Traitor, do what you came to do,” or “Betrayer, do what you came to do.” Jesus said, “Friend, do what you came to do” (Matthew 26:50).

David calls Saul, who wants to destroy him, his father. And Jesus calls Judas, who betrays him, his friend. If David could do that with Saul, and Jesus could do this with Judas, you can do the same with the person who is hostile towards you.

6. Do good without expecting it in return.

“Swear to me therefore by the LORD that you will not cut off my offspring after me, and that you will not destroy my name out of my father’s house.” And David swore this to Saul. (1 Samuel 24:21-22)

If David were a good negotiator, he would’ve said “Call off this manhunt, and I’ll make this promise to you.” David made a commitment to Saul, but he did not ask for a commitment in return. There is no negotiation here. David does not ask for what Saul would be unable to give.

7. Trust God for your vindication.

“May the LORD therefore be judge and give sentence between me and you, and see to it and plead my cause and deliver me from your hand.” (1 Samuel 24:15)

It’s not easy to live under a barrage of false accusation, and people assuming the worst about you. Jesus said to his disciples, “People will say all kind of evil against you” (Matthew 5:11).

When this happens, remember this is what they did to the prophets who were before you. All kinds of evil was said about our Lord Jesus. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return. What did he do? He trusted his Heavenly Father and looked to him for his vindication (1 Peter 2:23).   

Evidence of Grace

David showed Saul the robe and the spear. They were the evidence of grace. David was saying to Saul, “You think I am against you. You think I am out to harm you. But I am for you, and here is the proof.”

God holds before you today, not a robe or a spear, but a cross: “Here is the proof that I am not out to harm you. I am for you.” Even though you have been resisting him and sinning against him: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

The tragedy of Saul’s life was that when grace was displayed he kept pushing it away. Don’t let that be the story of your life. Today, if you hear his voice, don’t harden your heart. Come to Christ in faith and repentance. Come to him in confession.

Why would you not want to be reconciled to this Christ who is for you and who offers himself to you today?

[This article is adapted from Pastor Colin’s sermon “The Robe and the Spear: Showing Patience; Extending Grace” from his series A Tale of Two Kings.]
[Photo Credit: Unsplash]

The Author
Colin Smith

Colin Smith is the senior pastor of The Orchard Evangelical Free Church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. He has authored a number of books, including Heaven, How I Got Here and Heaven, So Near - So Far. Colin is the president and teacher for Unlocking the Bible. Follow him on Twitter.



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