David has two opportunities to strike down Saul stealthily, and in (1 Samuel 24), we read about the first of those two opportunities. Here, Saul enters a cave to relieve himself, but he chooses the very cave where David and his men are hiding from him (1 Sam. 24:3). As Saul does his business, David’s men prompt him to kill Saul, but David refuses to do as they say, and David’s actions here are helpful as we strategize how to fight our own temptations to sin.
Most importantly, David refuses to listen to justifications for sin by recognizing that they are merely half-truths. David’s men quote him Yahweh’s own promises to David, urging him to kill Saul by saying, “Here is the day of which the LORD said to you, ‘Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it shall seem good to you’” (1 Sam. 24:4). Certainly, Yahweh had given David’s enemies into his hand again and again, but David knows that Saul is still the rightful king of Israel. Yes, David had been anointed as the next king of Israel (1 Sam. 16:13), but Saul had also been anointed: “The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the LORD’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the LORD’s anointed” (1 Sam. 24:6). Even something as innocent as cutting off a corner of Saul’s robe strikes David’s conscience afterward, since it represents an attack on Yahweh’s anointed one (1 Sam. 24:5).
Similarly, we can appropriate David’s logic to fight temptations to mistreat other people when we remember that they are created in the image of God. David fought his own temptations by preaching to himself the reality that Saul was the anointed king of Israel, so to sin against Saul would be to sin against the one who had anointed him—Yahweh himself. When we sin against other people, we also sin against Yahweh, the one who made those people in his own image.
Remarkably, God uses David’s mercy to bring Saul to repentance—not a lasting repentance, as we will see, but nevertheless Saul acknowledges his own sin here and praises David’s righteousness in sparing his life (1 Sam. 24:16–22). In the same way, we should remember the way that God brought us to repentance—not through threats and vengeance, but through mercy, as Jesus Christ came not to kill but to be killed in our place for our sin—so that we might become the righteousness of God. For this reason, Paul urges us not to be quarrelsome but kind and gentle to the people who persecute us in the hopes that “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25).
How might you love your enemies better?