I will not put out my hand against my lord, for he is the LORD’s anointed. (1 Sam. 24:10)
Please open your Bible at 1 Samuel 24. We’re following this tale of two kings: Saul and David. Saul was a religious man. He believed in God but in his heart he was all about himself. David was a regenerated man. God had given him a new heart—a heart after God.
As the story progresses, the difference between these two men is becoming increasingly obvious—different character that flows from a different heart. We saw how Saul became a destroyer, wiping out the town of Nob. And David became a deliverer, setting free the town of Keilah.
Saul was the king, but David had been anointed by Samuel the prophet to be his successor. David was the future king, the king in waiting. He was loyal to Saul and never did anything to harm him. But Saul was jealous of David and became increasingly obsessed with destroying him.
Now I want you to 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.
It may be someone in your workplace or at school. 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.
It may be someone in your family. David had married Michal, the daughter of Saul. David was Saul’s son-in-law. So this is a story that speaks into tensions, divisions in a family, when one person becomes hostile within the family and it tears everyone else apart.
The question before us today is a very simple one: How should you handle a hostile person? How do you deal with the relentless antagonism? What about the person who is always against you? Or the person for whom nothing you do is ever right?
You don’t need me to tell you that our culture is becoming more hostile towards Christians. We should not be surprised to find ourselves in the same position as David, where people assume that we are the problem, that we are up to no good, and that we are not to be trusted. So we need to learn how to live with this and how to handle this with grace.
One day David had a chance to put an end to all that he had endured from Saul. The man who had caused so much trouble for him was at his mercy. And this happened not once but twice, first in the story of the robe, and second, in the story of the spear.
Let me remind you of these stories, and then I want us to focus in on what we can learn from them about how to handle a hostile person.
Saul gathered an army of 3,000 men to hunt for David. David had a much smaller group of men who had pledged their loyalty to him, and he was constantly on the move, hiding in forests and in caves.
Saul came to “the sheepfolds by the way, where there was a cave, and Saul went in to relieve himself” (1 Sam. 24:3). There are no restrooms in the wilderness, and so Saul goes into the cave. Most likely, he 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 Sam. 24:4). This must have been a great temptation for David. One thrust of the sword, and David’s whole life would be changed.
This relentless antagonism that had dominated his life for years would be over. His grueling life in the wilderness would be over and he could return to his home. And perhaps most tempting of all: One stroke of the sword and David would be king.
The arguments for seizing the moment were overwhelming to David’s men. Saul had become a tyrant. The nation was on a road to ruin. “Take the sword, David, and put an end to Saul. Here’s your opportunity. The end justifies the means, David, and thousands all over the country will be glad that you did it.”
The argument was overwhelming, except for one thing: God said, “You shall not kill.” Saul was a bad king. He was a king in rebellion against God. But he was still the king. David refused to do anything to harm Saul. Instead, he creeps forward and cuts off a corner of Saul’s robe.
David’s men can hardly believe that David is passing up this unique opportunity to put an end to Saul. If the roles were reversed, Saul would have finished off David in a moment. David’s men were saying, in effect, “David, if you won’t do it, we will.” But David did not permit his men to attack Saul (1 Sam. 24:7). He held them back.
So Saul finishes his business, comes out from the cave, 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.
We will come to what David says to Saul and what we can learn from that in a moment, but I want you to notice that David spared Saul’s life not once, but twice. The second story is in chapter 26—the story of the spear.
The significance of this second story is that Saul did not change, even after he was shown grace by David in the story of the robe. In chapter 26, Saul is back to hunting for David again. Even after Saul tasted grace, it did not change him. He remained the same.
Chapter 26 tells us the story of how David found the camp where Saul and his 3,000 men were sleeping: “David rose and came to the place where Saul had encamped. And David saw the place where Saul lay, with Abner the son of Ner, the commander of his army. Saul was lying within the encampment, while the army was encamped around him” (1 Sam. 26:5).
David went into the camp at night when all were asleep: “David and Abishai went to the army by night. And there lay Saul sleeping within the encampment, with his spear stuck in the ground at his head, and Abner and the army lay around him” (1 Sam. 26:7).
Here is Saul sound asleep. His spear that twice he has thrown at David is stuck in the ground beside his head. 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 Sam. 26:8).
David responds just as he did in the cave: “As the LORD lives, the LORD will strike him, or his day will come to die, or he will go down into battle and perish. The Lord forbid that I should put out my hand against the Lord’s anointed” (1 Sam. 26:10-11).
So David takes the spear, and when he is a safe distance from the camp he shouts out and wakens Abner, who was supposedly responsible for protecting the king, but he was literally asleep on the job. Saul wakens up and sees David standing on the hillside with the spear, and again Saul sees the evidence of grace.
Twice Saul, the destroyer, tried to take the life of David by throwing his spear. Twice David, the deliverer, spares the life of Saul by restraining the sword and the spear.
This story is given to us, not so that we’ll know interesting things about David’s life, but so that we’ll know how to live the Christian life. This is an amazing story of grace, and I want to learn from the example of David how to handle a hostile person.
Grace Displayed: How to Handle a Hostile Person
Think of a person who is antagonistic towards you. They assume a bad motive in all you do. Nothing you do is ever right. David gives us an example of how to deal with that person in a way that shows grace and honors the Lord. Here is a picture of what grace looks like in real life.
1. Practice restraint
David holds back the desire to get even in the cave and then in the camp when Saul is asleep. 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 (Ps. 103:10). If God treated any of us as our sins deserved, our lives would be hell on earth.
But God holds back what would otherwise come to us. That’s restraining grace, and in this David reflects the character of God: “Do not say, ‘I will do to him as he has done to me; I will pay the man back for what he has done’” (Prov. 24:29).
The principle of “eye for an eye” that was enshrined in the law, was a statute of limitation (Ex. 21:24). The point of the law was to ensure that a settlement would be in proportion to the crime, and that there should not be an escalation of revenge.
But even in the Old Testament, God’s people are called not simply to live according to the law, but according to grace, because grace is the character of God. If you’re a Christian, you’re going to do what David is doing here, which is what? Love your enemies.
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 Sam. 24:8)
The Bible is really clear on this principle: Give honor to whom honor is due (Rom. 13:7). This is very important if you have a dysfunctional parent: “Honor your father and your mother” (Ex. 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 people God has placed in authority over you. David doesn’t say, “He’s lost my respect. Saul is no longer worthy of respect.” Why? Because David is a man of grace. He doesn’t want to escalate. He wants to be a peacemaker.
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 Sam. 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. 
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 Sam. 24:10)
David holds the corner of Saul’s robe in his hand as the evidence of grace: “See, my father, see the corner of your robe in my hand. For by the fact that I cut off the corner of your robe and did not kill you, you may know and see that there is no wrong or treason in my hands. I have not sinned against you, though you hunt my life to take it” (1 Sam. 24:11).
David 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. He shows love to his enemy and does him good.
5. Appeal to the relationship at its best
See, my father, see the corner of your robe in my hand. (1 Sam. 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.
David was saying, “Saul, we belong to the same family. I’m never going to hurt you.” This is helpful in dealing with a hostile person, “We’re on the same team. We’re part of the same family.”
- W. Pink, who is really helpful here, 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” (Matt. 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
“And now, behold, I know that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand. 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 Sam. 24:20-22)
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 Sam. 24:15)
Notice David did not go back with Saul. After all the kindness he’s shown, he does not assume Saul will change.
It’s not easy to live under a barrage of false accusation, people assuming the worst about you. Jesus said to his disciples, “People will say all kind of evil against you” (Matt. 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).
Grace Declined: The Tragedy of Saul’s Hardened Heart
What came of this? The tragedy of Saul is that although David offered kindness and extended grace, Saul never changed.
1. He weeps, but he does not repent
Saul lifted up his voice and wept. (1 Sam. 24:16)
Saul weeps, but in chapter 26 he is back hunting for David again. There’s regret here, but not repentance. Saul weeps, but he does not change.
2. He concedes, but he does not confess
He said to David, “You are more righteous than I, for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil.” (1 Sam. 24:17)
Saul concedes, but he does not confess. Matthew Henry says:
Bad men will commonly go no farther than this in their confessions; they will own they are not as good as some others are; there are those that are better than they, and more righteous.
3. He asks, but he does not commit
Swear to me therefore by the Lord that you will not cut off my offspring after me. (1 Sam. 24:21)
There is no commitment from Saul to call off his relentless antagonism toward David. Saul is near to eternity, and he is sorting out his will, making sure that he is doing all that he can to provide for his children. But he is not thinking about his own soul.
Saul does not change! The discipline of God does not break him. The kindness of God does not melt him. This man, who has a hardened heart, is consumed with himself.
How Will You Respond?
Some of us need to hear this story from the perspective of David, and some of us need to hear it from the perspective of Saul. Let me describe your position: You’re in a conflict with God, as Saul was with David.
- You know the truth
Saul knew that God had anointed David to be king. He didn’t like it, and he kept pushing it away, but in his heart he knew that this was true. 
In the same way, you know the truth that there is God in heaven who by right lays claim to be the sovereign Lord of your life. You don’t like this. You keep pushing this truth away. But you know that it is true: “Although they knew God, they did not honor him…” (Rom. 1:21).
- You have believed the lie
Saul knew God had anointed David to be king after him, but the men who had Saul’s ear told him a lie, “David is out to destroy you,” and Saul believed the lie.
In the same way, you have believed the great lie, and the reason you have not committed yourself to him is that you believe God is out to get you. You believe that life will be better if it is in your hands than if it is in his: “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever” (Rom. 1:25)!
iii. You have seen the 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” (Rom. 5:8).
The tragedy of Saul’s life was that when grace was displayed he just 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?
 A. W. Pink, “The Life of David,” (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House), 1981
 See 1 Samuel 18:8, 20:31, 23:17, and 24:20
© Colin S. Smith
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