This Monday blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
British Telecom implicated in USA Drones programme
1 Samuel 24:1-22
New English Translation (NET)
David Spares Saul’s Life
24 (24:2) When Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, they told him, “Look, David is in the desert of En Gedi.” 2 So Saul took three thousand select men from all Israel and went to find David and his men in the region of the rocks of the mountain goats. 3 He came to the sheepfolds by the road, where there was a cave. Saul went into it to relieve himself.
Now David and his men were sitting in the recesses of the cave. 4 David’s men said to him, “This is the day about which the Lord said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hand, and you can do to him whatever seems appropriate to you.’” So David got up and quietly cut off an edge of Saul’s robe. 5 Afterward David’s conscience bothered him because he had cut off an edge of Saul’s robe. 6 He said to his men, “May the Lord keep me far away from doing such a thing to my lord, who is the Lord’s chosen one, by extending my hand against him. After all, he is the Lord’s chosen one.” 7 David restrained his men with these words and did not allow them to rise up against Saul. Then Saul left the cave and started down the road.
8 Afterward David got up and went out of the cave. He called out after Saul, “My lord, O king!” When Saul looked behind him, David kneeled down and bowed with his face to the ground. 9 David said to Saul, “Why do you pay attention when men say, ‘David is seeking to do you harm’? 10 Today your own eyes see how the Lord delivered you—this very day—into my hands in the cave. Some told me to kill you, but I had pity on you and said, ‘I will not extend my hand against my lord, for he is the Lord’s chosen one.’ 11 Look, my father, and see the edge of your robe in my hand! When I cut off the edge of your robe, I didn’t kill you. So realize and understand that I am not planning evil or rebellion. Even though I have not sinned against you, you are waiting in ambush to take my life. 12 May the Lord judge between the two of us, and may the Lord vindicate me over you, but my hand will not be against you. 13 It’s like the old proverb says: ‘From evil people evil proceeds.’ But my hand will not be against you. 14 Who has the king of Israel come out after? Who is it that you are pursuing? A dead dog? A single flea? 15 May the Lord be our judge and arbiter. May he see and arbitrate my case and deliver me from your hands!”
16 When David finished speaking these words to Saul, Saul said, “Is that your voice, my son David?” Then Saul wept loudly. 17 He said to David, “You are more innocent than I, for you have treated me well, even though I have tried to harm you! 18 You have explained today how you have treated me well. The Lord delivered me into your hand, but you did not kill me. 19 Now if a man finds his enemy, does he send him on his way in good shape? May the Lord repay you with good this day for what you have done to me. 20 Now look, I realize that you will in fact be king and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hand. 21 So now swear to me in the Lord’s name that you will not kill my descendants after me or destroy my name from the house of my father.”
22 David promised Saul this on oath. Then Saul went to his house, and David and his men went up to the stronghold.
You have to ask, “Is David merciful?” At first the answer the seems to be yes. After all, Saul thinks so. Caught in the undignified and vulnerable activity of having a dump in a cave, he is grateful his life has been spared. But consider. If David had killed him, he would have been immediately hunted by Saul’s men, and he would have been known through Israel as the man who had murdered the King, the one anointed by God. He might have escaped the immediate danger, but his long-term ambition would have been damaged. Instead, by sparing Saul he weakens the kings resistance to him, and gains the reputation for being a man of honour. What’s not to like in the daring young rebel who shows such gallant mercy to his more powerful enemy?
The author means the reader to know that Saul stands no chance against the subtle and far-thinking David, anymore than Goliath did. This aspect of David’s character is linked to God’s blessing, so that even as we notice his eye for self-advancement, we don’t doubt that his courage and kindness are real. The author does not deny greatness of heart to Saul either, whose tears and confession of his own wrongness reveal his true nature. Even in the midst of civil strife, self-control and decency are more effective ways to stable power than casual brutality, for as Andrew Marvell noted in his great poem about the English civil war, ” the same arts that did gain / a power, must it maintain.” The revolution that sweeps to power by violence will probably have to rule with violence. David is content to wait for the right moment when the people are eager for his rule.
Demonising the enemy, ruthless violence, accepting civilian casualties, use of torture, these and other similar strategies damage the users as much as those against whom they are used. Already, many centuries before Christ, the author of the Samuel books knows this sober truth.
And he gives us a great story as well.