1 Samuel 24:1-22 – Mistreatment and retaliation



1 Samuel 24:1-22.




Something that every person has to deal with in life is conflict with other people / or opposition from other people  / or being the victim of someone else’s aggression.


It starts from an early age –

ILLUS.: – you only have to come to the toddlers group on a Tuesday morning to see that even at that age there is aggression and conflict – over a toy or who goes down the slide first.

When as an adult you see one child striking out at another and you intervene and try to resolve the situation and find out what caused the problem … “What is a very common response from one or both?”  — “She started it!!”


The implication being – though the child would not articulate it is this way – “Because So-and-so hurt me in some way I therefore have the right to retaliate!”


If you hurt me I am going to hurt you back – very often with interest!


We see it in homes – children/ teenager are hurt by their parent – intentionally or not – the child feels aggrieved – is cheeky/ misbehaves etc…  {Parents are not always responsible for a child’s misbehaviour!! – often comes naturally with no provocation!}


At school you may have been told off by a teacher or put down in front of the class and you carry a grudge against that teacher / bad-mouth him at every opportunity / you might even like to damage his car if you could do it and not get caught!!

Because you feel hurt by that teacher you feel you have the right to retaliate!


At work a colleague may stab you in the back – Do you respond in like manner with the reasoning “I am only doing to her what she did to me!”


May be you trusted a friend with some intimate details of your life and he spreads it around. “Are you justified in responding in kind?”


Even in the Church family you get hurt because of what someone says or does. Do we file it away for future revenge.


We may pride ourselves that WE would not do anything by way of retaliation BUT if something bad happens to that person or they are hurt by another we are secretly delighted – they deserve what they  got because of what they did to me.


We ease our consciences by saying “Well, he got what was coming to him – he deserved it!”



David —

I do not know anyone personally who has been the target of a murderous plot. Someone who is on a hit list without the benefit of a democratic trial by jury.

David was in such a position… as we have seen over the past weeks. King Saul was out to get him — David was being victimized — Is there justification for righteous retaliation?




1.1. The situation.


Saul is relentless in his pursuit of David … not only Saul but his whole army with him… 1 Samuel 23:14

14 David stayed in the desert strongholds and in the hills of the Desert of Ziph. Day after day Saul searched for him, but God did not give David into his hands. …………………

1 Samuel 24:2 2 So Saul took three thousand chosen men from all Israel and set out to look for David and his men near the Crags of the Wild Goats. (NIV)


David and his men are fugitives hiding in the Wilderness of En-Gedi .. last week we saw how rugged the country is … so while is was a harsh place to live it was also a good place to hide because it was full of crags and cliffs and caves.


1.2. The Opportunity.

1 Samuel 24:3-4

3 He [SAUL] came to the sheep pens along the way; a cave was there, and Saul went in to relieve himself. David and his men were far back in the cave. 4 The men said, “This is the day the LORD spoke of when he said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.’ ”


The Bible is a very down to earth book – Saul is chasing David and as nature would have it Saul needs to go to the loo. Well what better place than a cave when you are in the country – it is sheltered and private.

Well Saul thought it was private … little did he know that David and his men were hiding in the very cave he chose. Talk about being vulnerable.

It is bad enough the king being seen at that delicate moment but in the very presence of the enemy … what an opportunity for David. … If he killed Saul not only would he be able to stop running BUT he would also become King in the place of Saul … What a temptation for David! What a test!!


David’s men are convinced that this is a God-given opportunity … by human logic it seemed so obvious didn’t it.

An opportunity presents itself for retaliation should David not take it.


You are in the office and the one who stabbed you in the back is being criticise it is so easy to just turn the knife … add your voice to the character assassination.

Or be economical with the truth to show that person in a bad light.


David and his men have been trained to fight and here is there enemy at his most vulnerable moment . “Go for it David! This is it!”


1.3. The Action.

Picture the scene … David creeps up behind Saul, dagger in hand ready to plunge it into Saul’s back. You can almost heard the men’s silence applause!


And what does David do … he becomes a tailor for a moment and redesigns the kings robe!


1.4. The Reaction.

… from the men.

We are not told what the reaction of David’s men is but we can guess.

“David you are a fool, you had him at your mercy and you let him slip away! David he was trying to kill you, you have every right to protect yourself!”


… from David.

David’s reaction is quite different. He doesn’t chastise himself for missing an opportunity … BUT rather his conscience bothers him for what he did.

His men are baffled … and David has to persuade them with strong words of rebuke!


1 Samuel 24:5-7

5 Afterwards, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe. 6 He said to his men, “The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, or lift my hand against him; for he is the anointed of the LORD.” 7 With these words David rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul. And Saul left the cave and went his way. (NIV)


David had learned many lessons in the wilderness … during that time he had been in close contact with God … he was learning to think the way God wanted him to think … he had learnt that God was his refuge / his protection / and he didn’t need to play God … in fact he had learned that it is wrong to play God. Thus to raise his hand against the one God anointed, even if he was being victimised, was not his right … God would deal with Saul in his own time.


It is so easy to justify retaliation / revenge / getting even … we can rationalize when we yield to temptation. “I didn’t kill anyone, it was just a snip!”

“I didn’t have a stand up argument, it was just a little dig!” / and unkind remark /a hurtful retort /…. it is so easy to justify! He does it to me doesn’t he?

BUT those small things are small steps along the path of retaliation and revenge. And even a small step in that direction is a wrong step.


Our society /or our friends might consider steps along that path perfectly justifiable /even commendable – as David’s men no doubt did – but ultimately we have to deal with God and he wants us to have a tender conscience.


You see if we really want to walk with God we have to deal with the little things / the details as well as the big things.


Even for a snippet of the king’s robe David says “That wasn’t right!” It bothered him.


David learned a principle which he teaches his men.

Had Saul been in the wrong? YES! no question.

Was it David’s job to make it right? NO! that was God’s job.





1 Samuel 24:8-9

8 Then David went out of the cave and called out to Saul, “My lord the king!” When Saul looked behind him, David bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. 9 He said to Saul, “Why do you listen when men say, ‘David is bent on harming you’? (NIV)

… and he goes on to tell Saul that he is wrong in his assessment of David.


2.1. Humility.

NB first that David doesn’t rub Saul’s nose in it. He treats Saul with the respect that is due to a king.

ILLUS.: When I was in the army we were taught that we were to respect a persons rank. You saluted an officer irrespective of whether or not you like him. You had to respect the rank conferred on him by the Military Authority.


That is what David is doing here – he knows that Saul was anointed king by God and so out of respect for God and his chosen king he treats Saul with the dignity deserving of kings.


He shows his humility by treating Saul with respect … BUT also by not parading his own righteousness.

He presents the truth … he does not polish his own ego.

It is so easy when you know you are in the right to become very self-righteous and patronising to the one you wronged you.


2.2. Honesty.


David does something very important here – wrong is being done against him and it is necessary for him to declare the truth.

We have a tendency very often to leave things alone. “Oh, just leave it, it will all work out!”   If it is a trivial matter and what we are defending is our own pride and ego then, yes, it is better left alone!   If, however, it is an important principle then we need to declare the truth.

David – “King Saul, people are telling lies about me and you are listening to false counsel. — here is the proof, I could have killed you but I didn’t!”


He now reiterates the principle he had explained to his men. “God is judge and we have no right to usurp his role!” … 1 Samuel 24:15 15 May the LORD be our judge and decide between us. May he consider my cause and uphold it; may he vindicate me by delivering me from your hand.” (NIV)


Our judgement is not always true – it is much safer to leave matters in God’s hands.



2.3. Reality.


Saul’s response is one of remorse … 1 Samuel 24:16-17

16 When David finished saying this, Saul asked, “Is that your voice, David my son?” And he wept aloud. 17 “You are more righteous than I,” he said. “You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly. (NIV)

… he goes on to acknowledge that David will one day be king.

Then he goes away and leaves David alone. BUT what does David do… “Does he rush back to the palace?”  NO! 1 Samuel 24:22

22 … Then Saul returned home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold. (NIV)

David is not naive, he knows Saul too well, and he was right as before long he was again hunting David.


Saul is a sorrowful character … he appears he to have repented, he is sorry for hunting David BUT it doesn’t last. He was sorry for the moment but there is no follow through. He is not truly repentant BUT rather feeling rather foolish for being show up by a better man than he.


It is easy to become emotional and feel sorry for ourselves rather than sorry for our sin before God. What is the benefit of having our hearts stirred, of being emotionally upset  if it doesn’t lead to a heart for God. Appropriate emotion is good and right – and maybe we need more of it – but if it stops there and doesn’t lead to action then is may only serve to lead us deeper into sin and rebellion.


How many have come face to face with the love of God and their hearts are stirred and yet they have silenced that holy emotion and gone out to live in disobedience to God’s principles.

Saul came so close to true repentance at the impact of David’s love BUT it did not last, sadly!


David’s non-retaliatory response to Saul’s aggression did produce a favourable response in Saul, at least for a time … a good example of the proverb … “When a man’s ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies be at peace with him”


The reality of life is that the “enemy” – whoever you happen to be at odds with – will not always see the error of his ways. You may not get a quick acknowledgment that you are right and that he/she is sorry. What you might well get is another load of abuse and aggression!

As Christians we are to act in a kind, loving truthful way … but we are not to be naive and gullible … rather  “… as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves…”


But we are responsible for declaring the truth — we are not responsible for the reaction it produces — let me remind you though that we need to do it in a humble and honest way — not rubbing the other person’s nose in it NOR rubbing our own pride!




What can we learn from this incident in David’s life.


3.1. People aren’t perfect so expect to be wronged.

The same nature that was in King Saul is in every person, including you and me.

If we are guilty of treating others badly we need to come to terms with it, acknowledge and call it what God calls it — Sin… and then repent!


3.2. Being wronged is inevitable so expect feelings of revenge.

I am not saying retaliate … but we will feel like retaliating and getting even. These feeling will surely come.

Handle mistreatment is not easy and doing it God’s way does not come naturally.

That is why what Jesus taught was so revolutionary .. Luke 6:31 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. (NIV) -.. .. “NOT as they DO to you!!”

It is very rare for a person not to retaliate, or at least not want to.


3.3. Feelings of revenge are predictable so accept God’s help.

David’s men wanted David to kill Saul and he almost did .. but he stopped and he put right even the small thing he did do.


Are you resentful because of the way someone has treated you … holding a grudge … hoping for an opportunity to get back.

It stirs you up,…. maybe you can sleep at night thinking about it … the desire for revenge is a very subtle temptation because we find it easy to justify and even our friends and society may commend us for ‘standing up for ourselves’.


So what about that friend who has broken your confidence … that teacher who told you off … that boss who treated you unfairly … that colleague who stabbed you in the back … or even you spouse who has let you down?


You can allow feeling of resentment, anger and bitterness to eat you up inside … or you can learn to forgive! Ask for God’s help to forgive through Jesus Christ.

We need to ask forgiveness for ourselves for allowing roots of bitterness and resentment to have built up in our hearts.

Yes we may have been wronged — even very badly hurt – and it is not right what the other person did — they are wrong … and we maybe feel justified in retaliating … BUT God calls it something else …

Romans 12:18-21 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. ………       21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (NIV)


How often are we to take revenge? “Never”, says God, … Not sometimes! Not even occasionally!

We are not talking about standing up for what is right in public — or defending a just cause.

What we are talking about is personal offense .. when harm is done to us and we don’t like it and we want to get even … and we fan the flames by refusing to forgive.


ILLUS.: Years ago Janet and I resigned from an organisation we had worked with for some time – we had little choice at the time – as things were said about us that were not truth – a letter was then circulated giving false reasons  as to why we left. To try and counter the accusations would have meant dragging others into the situation and would have brought God’s name into disrepute amongst some who were not Christians. It was extremely difficult not to retaliate and defend ourselves BUT we felt it was right. Years later we have been amazed how God has brought out the truth in other ways and we have been vindicated – not with everyone involved but with many.

19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath – God has a way of being the truth to light — and if not in this life certainly at the judgement – let’s leave it to him.


If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone – you can’t change the other person BUT you can handle your part, to forgive, with God’s help.


If anyone ever had a right to retaliate and to defend his rights it was Jesus … Falsely accused … convicted and put to death on trumpt up charges yet responded .. “Father, forgive them …”  Let’s learn from David and from Jesus that forgiveness is better than revenge. It may help the one who committed the wrong to realise their error and put it right BUT even if not it is to our benefit and to God’s glory when we leave vengeance to him.



1 Samuel 24:1-22



The Situation

The Opportunity

The Action

The Reaction

                … from David’s men

                … from David himself








People aren’t perfect …                                       so expect to be wronged

Being wronged is inevitable …                           so expect  feelings of revenge

Feelings of revenge are predictable …             so accept God’s help


Jesus – “LOVE  YOUR   ENEMIES”    Matthew 5:44



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