Psalm 55, 1 Samuel 24: 1 – 25: 1 and Colossians 1: 1 – 23
Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved. Psalm 55: 22
May the Lord therefore be judge, and give sentence between me and you. May he see to it, and plead my cause, and vindicate me against you. 1 Samuel 24: 15
May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father. Colossians 1: 11 and 12a
Before thinking about our reading from 1 Samuel 24, we have to look back over the intervening chapters after David had killed Goliath in chapter 17. In 1 Samuel 18 we see the first signs of the jealousy and paranoia that Saul quickly developed. It all started on the journey home from the battle, where the womenfolk from the towns and villages cried out, ‘Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands’. Saul is reported as being very angry and would keep a close watch on David from then on. What complicated matters was that Saul’s son, Jonathan, developed a close bond of friendship with David. Additionally, David’s skills as a musician, meant he was in demand to sooth the troubled mind of Saul with harp music. Saul came to have a love-hate relationship with David, as he could see God’s favour on David and increasingly sensed he was a threat to his throne, yet he could not do without his harp-playing. Saul came up with a plot to offer his daughter Michal in marriage to David, on condition he went off and killed a hundred Philistines. This was meant as a trap to rid him of David, but true to his gallant form, back came David having done as he was commanded.
By the time we reach this evening’s reading from 1 Samuel 24, David has had a spear thrown at him by Saul and realises his life is in danger. The chapter begins with Saul and an army of 3,000 going in pursuit of the outlaw David and his small band of supporters who have hidden in a cave. Reading the passage, you will understand how Saul came to enter the cave and how David could so easily have killed him. But David respected the office of king, even if he did not like the person occupying the position, and he surreptitiously cut off a piece of Saul’s cloak as proof of the nearness to death he had been.
This leads to a rapprochement of sorts, when Saul realises David’s integrity and that he has the qualities of kingship he himself was lacking. David endured much hardship and injustice during this period as an outlaw, being pursued by the jealous and paranoid Saul. He bided his time, trusting in God to vindicate his cause and fulfil his purposes at the right time.
Patience is described as being a virtue, especially if it is felt one is the wronged party and the natural response is to pay back in the same kind. It was particularly difficult for the first Christians, who were often ostracised and disadvantaged, or even subject to imprisonment and physical harm. They could lose their status in society, be cast out of professional guilds, become unemployed or homeless, all because they had espoused the new faith in Jesus. Paul writes to the Christians in Colossae to encourage them to stand firm and to live lives worthy of the Lord, being known for their good works. Instead of retaliating with force, Christians were to become known for turning the other cheek and going the extra mile, following the self-sacrificial way of life taught by Jesus. Just as David gave honour to Saul as the anointed king, Christians were instructed by Paul to be good citizens and respect the Emperor. In building the Kingdom of Heaven they would show love instead of hatred. They were now citizens of the kingdom of God’s beloved Son, sharing in the inheritance of the saints in the light. Whatever hardships they faced in the present, they knew they would enjoy an eternity in God’s presence.
We can draw encouragement from the fortitude of these early Christians, and praise God in the words of Colossians 1: 15 to 20 – which reads like a credal hymn – remembering that it is Jesus who has reconciled everything to himself through shedding his blood on the cross.