In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, because they will be shown mercy” (Matt 5:7). The life of David illustrates Jesus’ statement. Despite David’s kindness to his kinsmen, many attempted to hand him over to Saul, who was willing to search for him throughout Palestine. Nevertheless, when David happened upon the chance to kill the king, he resisted the urge of revenge.
While running for his life, David’s magnanimous spirit prompted him to deliver Keilah from the Philistines (1 Sam 23:1-14). David’s character stands out when considered in light of the trepidation of his men. Upon hearing that the Lord had given David the opportunity to attack the Philistines, they replied, “Look, we’re afraid here in Judah; how much more if we go to Keilah against the Philistine forces!” (1 Sam 23:3). David again inquired of the Lord, who assured him, “I will hand the Philistines over to you” (1 Sam 23:4). David and his troops “inflicted heavy losses on them” (1 Sam 23:5) and delivered Israel. Saul, the commander-in-chief of Israel, was unmoved at the deliverance David had accomplished for the people. Upon hearing of David’s location, Saul sent men after him (1 Sam 23:7-14). David again inquired of the Lord and learned that Saul’s pursuit would be successful and that the men of Keilah would turn him over to Saul, despite the deliverance David earned for them. He was forced to flee once again, staying in the wilderness strongholds and the Wilderness of Ziph.
During this ebb in David’s strength, Jonathan sought him out and encouraged him in his faith in God (1 Sam 23:16). Jonathan’s words must have fortified David’s spirit when he said: “Don’t be afraid, for my father Saul will never lay a hand on you. You yourself will be king over Israel, and I’ll be your second-in-command. Even my father Saul knows it is true” (1 Sam 23:17). While David escaped the potential threat from the men of Keilah, the Ziphites were much more aggressive, even seeking out Saul and strategizing as to how they might apprehend David for him (1 Sam 23:19-26). During this time, David wrote Psalm 54 as a petition to the Lord for deliverance.
But the Philistines proved only a temporary distraction. As soon as Saul heard of David’s location, the king chased after him (1 Sam 24:2). As providence would have it, David and his troops had concealed themselves in the back of a cave, where David penned Psalm 57. The cave seemed a suitable spot for Saul to rest (1 Sam 24:3-4). While David’s men recognized Saul’s entry into the cave as an opportunity to execute King Saul, their best rhetoric could only persuade David to cut off a corner of Saul’s robe, and even that panged his conscience (1 Sam 24:5; see Psalm 26). David was so bothered that he confessed his sin against “the LORD’s anointed” (1 Sam 24:6). The flow of 1 Samuel 24 reveals several demonstrations of David’s merciful disposition. Once Saul was a safe distance away, David called out to him, “My lord the king!” and bowed to the ground in homage (1 Sam 24:8). David confronted Saul with the reality that he could have killed him in the cave. In Saul’s hearing, David asked the Lord to plead his case (1 Sam 24:12-15). The remainder of 1 Samuel 24 records Saul’s repentance. Nevertheless, the author did not attempt to minimize the rift that existed between Saul and David, and the two parted ways without contact or specific plans for reconciliation.
David’s prayers of vengeance display God’s justice against those who oppose Him and His people. For example, notice his utterance against the Ziphites, “God is my helper; the Lord is the sustainer of my life. He will repay my adversaries for their evil. Because of Your faithfulness, annihilate them” (Ps 54:4-5). God’s expressed anger against His foes becomes even more pointed as the storyline of Scripture progresses. Since God has revealed Himself so plainly in Christ, any who reject the final revelation of the Son (see Col 1:15-18; Heb 1:1-4) deserve to suffer the more severe consequences of their choice. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “It is righteous for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to reward with rest you who are afflicted, along with us” (2 Thess 1:6-7a; see also 2 Pet 3:7-13; Rev 18).