Then Saul said, “I have sinned. Return, my son David, for I will not harm you again because my life was precious in your sight this day. Behold, I have played the fool and have committed a serious error.” David replied, “Behold the spear of the king! Now let one of the young men come over and take it. The Lord will repay each man for his righteousness and his faithfulness; for the Lord delivered you into my hand today, but I refused to stretch out my hand against the Lord’s anointed. Now behold, as your life was highly valued in my sight this day, so may my life be highly valued in the sight of the Lord, and may He deliver me from all distress.” Then Saul said to David, “Blessed are you, my son David; you will both accomplish much and surely prevail.” So David went on his way, and Saul returned to his place. (1 Samuel 26:21-25)
King Saul was right to call David “my son.” David had multiple covenant ties to Saul.
First and foremost David was an Israelite, a loyal subject of the kingdom over which Saul ruled by sacred covenant. As heir to Abraham’s covenant with God, David understood that God had appointed Saul to be king over Israel, and often referred to Saul as “The Lord’s Anointed.”
David truly was the son of King Saul in all ways except direct bloodline.
Yet, Saul sought to kill David.
David had done nothing to harm Saul, in any way. Rather, he had done much to help and bless Saul. Yet, out of jealousy, Saul became obsessed with killing David. He made multiple personal attempts on David’s life, with a spear, and led his army in multiple campaigns to pursue David.
Saul was confronted, several times, with his sinful behavior. He was confronted by David, by Jonathan, and by others. Sometimes Saul responded to the confrontations in anger. Other times he responded in apparent repentance, weeping, apologizing, asking for forgiveness, and swearing solemn vows to bless David and honor his covenants.
Yet, after each emotional confession, Saul changed his mind and again attempted to kill David.
Does this scenario sound familiar to you?
It’s a classic case of abuse against a covenant partner. Rather than honoring the covenant vows to love, honor, cherish and bless, the abuser takes advantage of the relationship to repeatedly wound their covenant partner, in direct violation of their sacred oath.
If you (or someone you love) have ever been in an abusive relationship, you’ve seen the same symptoms. The confrontations, the apparent repentance, the tears, the asking forgiveness, the promises…all to be soon replaced with a return to the abusive behavior.
David never fought back, never attempted to harm Saul, never even defended himself from physical attack. David simply fled from Saul’s presence, to preserve his own life without harming Saul.
Upon multiple occasions, David had ample opportunity to kill Saul, yet chose not to harm him. The above passage is one of those occasions.
While pursuing David with his army, Saul had camped for the night. David slipped into the camp and took Saul’s spear and water jug from beside the sleeping king. David could have easily taken advantage of the opportunity to rid himself of a sworn enemy. Instead, he used it as an opportunity to once again confront Saul with the obvious fact that David was innocent of any wrongful intent against Saul.
Then Saul said, “I have sinned. Return, my son David, for I will not harm you again because my life was precious in your sight this day. Behold, I have played the fool and have committed a serious error.”
Saul expressed words of repentance, confessed his sin, declared his love for David, directed David to return with him, and promised not to harm him again.
David replied, “Behold the spear of the king! Now let one of the young men come over and take it. The Lord will repay each man for his righteousness and his faithfulness; for the Lord delivered you into my hand today, but I refused to stretch out my hand against the Lord’s anointed. Now behold, as your life was highly valued in my sight this day, so may my life be highly valued in the sight of the Lord, and may He deliver me from all distress.”
David responded with forgiveness. Although Saul had repeatedly attempted to kill him, David was quick to forgive. He declared his love for Saul, returned Saul’s weapon to him, and did not seek vengeance against Saul.
But look at what David did not do…
So David went on his way, and Saul returned to his place.
Confession and forgiveness were followed not by reconciliation, but, rather, by each going their own way.
David freely forgave Saul. In fact he clearly forgave him before Saul even asked forgiveness, as he refused to take advantage of the opportunity to kill a sworn enemy in the field of battle, or even to engage him in self-defense.
Yet David did not return with Saul as commanded. In fact, he required an intermediary to even return Saul’s belongings. David forgave Saul, but he did not reconcile with him. He did not attempt to renew fellowship with Saul. He did not even allow Saul to come close to him.
Why? Because he did not trust Saul. Given Saul’s track record, it would have been foolish to trust him. Saul had repeatedly proven himself to be untrustworthy.
David freely forgave Saul. Yet he carefully guarded himself against being put in a position of vulnerability to Saul. David maintained healthy boundaries in his relationship with Saul…and in this case healthy boundaries meant keeping Saul further than spear-throwing-distance away.
Forgiveness of deep wounds does not require trust, vulnerability, or renewal of fellowship.
As Christians, we are compelled to forgive. Forgiveness is given freely. Trust must be earned.
Have you ever had a situation like David’s, where forgiveness could not include trust or renewal of fellowship?