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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
Title:Principles versus Pragmatism
Text:1 Samuel 24:20 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Faith Tested

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Liturgy from 1984 Book of Praise.

Psalm 56:1,2,3

Psalm 40:2

Psalm 142:1,4,5,6

Psalm 37:2,3,16

Psalm 56:4,5

Read:  1 Samuel 24; Hebrews 5:1-11

Text:  1 Samuel 24:20.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It is a good thing to have principles, but at what point of time do we say that our principles should give way to pragmatism?  At what point of time do we look at our present circumstances, weigh them up against our values and beliefs and conclude that in this instance we need to put those values and beliefs to the side in order to follow the ways of our heart, and to find our own way out of the difficulties we are in? 

There are times when things become unbearable.  In a marriage, for instance.  In a family relationship.  In a conflict with people inside or outside the church.  In fulfilling a contract for a business client.  In sorting through the taxes and the red tape the government imposes on us.  We know what the Bible says we should do, but what if God’s way does not seem right?  What if God’s way does not seem to work?

And then what if an opportunity presented itself, an opportunity that would so easily and so permanently resolve your “impossible” problem that you conclude it must have come from God – even though you would have to bend your biblical principles to do it?

In 1 Samuel 24 David was faced with such a dilemma.  A number of years before, when he was still a boy, David had been anointed to be king of Israel.  From there he had gone to the court of King Saul to play the harp, he had killed Goliath and he had married into the king’s family.  But now he was running for his life.  Now he was a fugitive in his own land.  Now he was fleeing from one dark cave to the next.  And it was all because of Saul.  And in 1 Samuel 24, David was faced with a choice:  should he wait for the LORD, or should he take the clear way out and kill Saul when he had the chance?

The way of pragmatism and common sense tells us that when an opportunity presents itself as the solution to your impossible problem, you take the chance and seize that opportunity with both hands.  You do what you have to do, you follow the desires of your heart and you choose pragmatism over principles.  You decide that the end justifies the means.

But David did not do that.  When he had the seemingly God-given opportunity to plunge his sword into Saul’s side, he would not touch the LORD’s anointed.  And in this refusal to touch the LORD’s anointed, we see how different David’s heart was from the heart of Saul.  

Back in 1 Samuel 13, Saul had failed to follow God’s way and instead took things into his own hands.  In that chapter, Saul did not wait for Samuel to bring the sacrifice, and so Samuel had told him that his kingdom would not continue but that the LORD had sought for Himself a man after His own heart.  (1 Samuel 13:14)  And now in 1 Samuel 24 Saul learned how such a “man after God’s own heart” responded when he had the opportunity to take things in his own hands instead of wait for the LORD and do His will.  Saul saw a righteousness in David that he did not see in himself, and then he knew with certainty that David would be the next king.  And so I preach to you the Word of the LORD under the following theme:

The LORD confirms His choice of David as king after His own heart.

1. God’s path to the kingship.

2. God’s assurance of the kingship.


1. God’s path to the kingship.

In 1 Samuel 24, David and his men were holed up in a cave, hiding from king Saul.  The last number of months had been brutal.  Following the killing of the priests of Nob in chapter 22, David and his men had been on the run, with Saul seeking to kill David every day.  After fleeing the village of Keilah, David hid in the mountains of Ziph.  He was then betrayed and he was almost caught in the wilderness of Maon.  And now David was in the strongholds of En Gedi, a steep and rocky wilderness, not far from the Dead Sea.  A hot and harsh land, better suited to mountain goats than people.  But it was a good place to hide for there was water at En Gedi and caves in the hills nearby.  And so here was David, the man anointed to be king, being hunted down by a ruthless enemy and driven from one cave to the next. Foxes might have holes and birds of the air might have nests, but David did not know where his next hiding place would be.

And it was all the fault of Saul.  David had not lifted a finger against Saul nor said anything out of turn.  He had respected him as his king and father-in-law and he had obeyed Saul’s commands.  On many occasions David had shown his allegiance to Saul, placing his own life in danger both on the battle ground and when playing the harp to calm Saul’s troubled spirit.  But all he got in return was inexplicable hatred and the life of a fugitive in the caves of En Gedi.  And now Saul was at it again.  With an army of three thousand men, Saul was leaving no stone unturned in his hunt for David.  Saul was zeroing in on the kill, and David’s days appeared to be numbered.

But then, at a moment when the tension for David and his men must have been reaching breaking point, an amazing opportunity opened up for David.  Saul was experiencing the “call of nature”  and so he entered a near-by cave.

You can imagine what happened.  Assuming he was safe and completely on his own,   Saul went in to the entrance of the cave and, more likely than not, he took his robe off and either slung it over a rock or lay it down beside him.  And as he crouched down, he most likely turned his face to the cave entrance, making sure that no one would approach him from there.  But little did he know that in the darkness beyond were the eyes of David and his men.  And so here was Saul, on his own and in a vulnerable position.   And you can just imagine the faces of those who were hidden in the darkness.  They would have been grinning, and they must have almost laughed out loud at their good fortune.  Yes!! This was it!  This was a chance that was better than they would have hoped for in their wildest dreams!  You could never have planned for such an opportunity!  You could never have anticipated just how easy this would be.  One man creeping in the dark, one hand raised, and one slice with the sword . . . and it would all be over!  “The king is dead!!  The throne belongs to David!  Long live the king!”

And so David’s men encouraged him saying:

“This is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘Behold, I will deliver your enemy into your hand, that you may do to him as it seems good to you.’ ”

This is it, David!  This is your chance!  Don’t blow it now!  We’re all behind you – you know that!  And even God is behind you:  this comes from Him, you know! 

Now don’t forget that Saul entering the cave in this manner was not in the script; this had not been anticipated.  This was a sudden and unexpected turn of events that had not been planned in advance.  A door of opportunity had suddenly been flung open, through which David was urged to run.  And with the adrenaline pumping, the warrior instinct aroused and the law of the jungle  - kill or be killed – roaring in David’s ears, David had little time to think.  He would either have to take the chance, or listen to what his heart was telling him to do.

David crept forward to the place where Saul was occupied.  And as he crept forwards, the eyes of his men were upon him.  The tension was building.  Careful, now!  Just one cough, one whooping war cry, one undisciplined soldier, and Saul would be leaping from the cave like a mountain goat, and it would all be over.

Quietly and with great stealth, David crept closer and closer to Saul.  His knife was in his hand, and all the men in the darkness behind him would have drawn in their breath expecting now to be the moment!

But then came the unexpected.  The hand that held David’s knife came down, but it did not come down upon Saul’s back.  Instead it quietly moved to Saul’s robe.  And then David cut off a small piece of that robe, he turned around, and made his way back to his men.

And we can all imagine the stunned looks, the shock, even the incredulous anger that would have welled up in the hearts of David’s men.  What?  David, are you out of your mind?  Have you lost your nerve?  What did you do that for?  This is no time for collecting souvenirs, a little scrap of cloth!  Kill the man!  That’s the way a real king would act!  That’s what everyone else would do.  That’s what Saul would have done to you!

But for David, even the cutting of Saul’s robe was going too far.  Saul’s robe was the mark of his kingship and by cutting a piece of that robe, David was claiming that Saul would be cut off from the kingship and that one day the kingship would be his.  (I draw this connection from texts such as 1 Samuel 15, where Samuel’s robe was torn as a sign that the kingdom would be torn from Saul, and from 1 Kings 11 where the prophet Ahijah tore a new garment in 12 pieces and gave 10 to Jereboam as a promise that he would be king of the 10 Tribes.)  And then David was troubled and he said to his men,

“The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord.” (1 Samuel 24:6)

“The LORD forbid!”  David knew that the advice of his men, even their insistence that this was God’s answer to his problems, was wrong.  He knew that although he was promised the throne, he had no right to take it by force and to kill the man whom God had made king.  Only God could remove Saul from being king, and until that happened, David knew that he had to wait.

And David was right.  Pragmatism may never take the place of principle.  The end never justifies the means.  God’s path to the kingship was not by David taking matters into his own hands, but by committing his way to the LORD and waiting on Him.  And in this manner David showed what it was to be a man after God’s own heart.  In the pressure cooker of that cave in En Gedi, David refused to lift his hand against the LORD’s anointed but insisted on waiting for the LORD and walking in His path alone.

That is not the way of the world.  Saul would never have done this, and nor would the kings of the nations.  But when David did this, he showed how a king after God’s heart would act.  And as man after God’s own heart, he pointed forwards to another Man, to his greatest descendant, who was also born to be king.  In that cave in En Gedi, David’s less-than-perfect obedience pointed to the perfect obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ, the One who was always obedient, following God’s path to the Kingship to the very end.


Jesus Christ, even more than David, was not like any other king.  When He began His public ministry, He knew the road of suffering that lay ahead of Him.  But when Satan offered Him the opportunity of a shared kingdom without any pain, Christ rejected this opportunity, saying

“Away with you, Satan!  For it is written, “You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.”  (Matthew 4:10)

Later, in John 6, after Jesus had fed the 5000, the Jews were so excited that they made plans to come and take Him by force to make Him king.  For Jesus, should he want to be a king like the nations around him, here was His chance!  Riding the wave of popularity and mustering an army around Him, he could proclaim himself king and thunder into Jerusalem on a stallion.  But He did not.  He knew that this was not the pathway to the kingship that His Father had planned, and so He turned and departed to a mountain where he could be alone with His Father in heaven.


Then, towards the end of His life, when He was in the garden of Gethsemane and about to be arrested, Jesus did not run away from the path the LORD had set before Him.  And at that time, when Simon Peter took out his sword and cut the right ear off the servant of the high priest, Jesus said to Peter,

“Put your sword into the sheath.  Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?”  (John 18:11)

And Jesus did drink from that cup, to the very end.  Hebrews 5:8 says,

“Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.”

Jesus learned obedience by the things which He suffered, following God’s path to the kingship all the way.  And He did this for us and for our salvation.  And therefore it is in Jesus Christ that we too receive both the example and the strength to trust in the Lord, to submit our ways to Him and to walk in His paths even when we are tempted to find our own way out of the situation we find ourselves in.  And as we follow that path, we may look to Jesus Christ for our help and comfort.  For He experienced what it means to be obedient in the face of severe trials and temptations.  Jesus knows what it is like to be holed up in a cave with many bodies of scared, sweaty men pressed around you.  Jesus knows what it is like to not have a place to lay your head.  Jesus knows what it is like to be hounded and harassed – even by those who are supposed to support and defend you.  And Jesus knows what it is like to have the chance to stick the knife in and give it an extra twist – but not to do it because it is not God’s way.  Jesus Christ has been through the experience of what it means to be human.  He knows what we must go through and He can relate to it.  And He says, “Trust Me.  Follow Me.  I am the author of your eternal salvation (Heb. 5:9).  In Me your Savior, you too can walk in the pathways of the LORD.  And those ways will lead you to a good place.  They will lead you to the very arms of God.  You will inherit the earth, and you will reign as kings with Me forever.”


2. God’s assurance of the Kingship.


Having done what he entered the cave to do, Saul got up and walked back into the sunshine, none the wiser that David and his men had been in that cave with him, nor that his life had almost come to an abrupt end.  But then out came David, and he called out to Saul, saying, “My lord the king!” 


And I don’t know about you, but if I was Saul and I turned around and saw David at the entrance of the cave that I’d just been squatting in, my heart would have stopped, my knees would have turned to jelly, and I would have been stunned.


“Wow!  When I was up there in that cave, David was there too?  When I was up there in that cave, David’s held his knife just inches from my back?  When I was up there in that cave, I was that close to death?  And yet, when he had the chance, David did not kill me, I did not die?  Wow!  He is more righteous than I!  He rewarded me with good whereas I had rewarded him with evil.”


And here we see the striking contrast between Saul, a king like the nations around Israel, and David, a man to be king after God’s heart.  David had reminded Saul of the proverb that “wickedness proceeds from the wicked” and in this instance Saul was clearly wicked but David had shown himself to be righteous.  And Saul saw this with such devastating clarity that he understood the consequences of it.  He said in verse 24,

“And now I know indeed that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand.”

And then Saul went on to plead that David would show mercy not just to himself but to his whole house.  And David solemnly promised that he would not kill all who were in Saul’s house.


And so the story came to an end. 


But let’s just think for a moment: what if it had not gone this way?  What if David had stuck his knife into Saul, that Saul had died and David became king?  What if David concluded that the end justifies the means, that principles must sometimes give way to pragmatism?  If David had killed Saul in that cave, he may well have become king, and it would have saved him months, even years of suffering and heartache.


He would have been king, but he would have been an illegitimate king.  Everyone would have known that David was king because he killed Saul. 


But this was not the case.  The writer of 1 and 2 Samuel went to great lengths to make it very clear that in no way was David complicit in the death of Saul.  Not only did David refuse to kill Saul when he had the chance – not once, but twice – but he also killed the Amalekite who claimed to have killed him.  And when Saul died, David wept and called all Israel to weep with him.  In no way was David responsible for the death of Saul.


But years later, Shimei, a descendant of Saul, claimed that he was.  Years later, when David was fleeing from his son Absalom, Shimei cursed him and threw stones at him and shouted in 2 Samuel 16:7,8

“Come out! Come out! You bloodthirsty man, you rogue! 8 The Lord has brought upon you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned; and the Lord has delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom your son. So now you are caught in your own evil, because you are a bloodthirsty man!”


It was not true.  The blood of the house of Saul was not brought upon the head of David.  But what if it was?  What if David had killed Saul? 


The truth is that if David had killed Saul, there would then have been no confidence in David’s kingship, no confirmation that he was indeed the king whom God had set over his people.  If David had killed Saul, this deed would have caught up with him and David’s kingship would have been doomed.


And a similar point is made concerning the Great King after God’s own heart, Jesus Christ, in Hebrews 5.  Jesus did nothing of his own accord, and he lay claim to nothing that the Father had not given to Him.  Hebrews 5:4 says,


“No man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was.”


Jesus Christ was called by God the Father, and He followed the path marked out by God the Father.  He took the road of suffering and of waiting for the Lord, of doing His will to the very end.  And therefore we can assured that He is our legitimate King.  We can be confident that He truly is the author of our salvation, for He our King is the Great King after God’s own heart.


And so we now walk in the footsteps of our King.  No, we do not look to David and walk in his ways, for he was not always obedient, nor is he able to help us to be obedient.  He was just a shadow of the One who was to come.  We walk in the footsteps of David’s Great Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  And looking to Him for all things, we will follow Him always, in every situation.  We will not allow our godly principles to give way to pragmatism.  We will not find our own way, outside of God’s will, to resolve the struggles that we face in this life.  But we will do all things in the name of the Lord.  And we will look to Christ the King not just for guidance but also for help.  For He has compassion on us and on our weaknesses, and He promises to be with us and to strengthen us even in our darkest days.  He will shelter us in times of stress and preserve us by His strength and power.  And His chosen paths will bring us in to His eternal Kingdom. And in His kingdom we too shall reign forever and ever.  Amen.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2011, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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