David Spares Saul Again
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David Spares Saul Again

1 Samuel 26:1–25  (ID: 3440)

After Saul yet again moved against him, David infiltrated the king’s camp and found him sleeping and helpless. But David was a man of conviction, not convenience. Instead of slaying his enemy, he spared Saul’s life for a second time. As Alistair Begg reminds us, though, David’s faithfulness would eventually crumble in the face of temptation. Only Jesus fulfills all righteousness, which He imparts to all who place their trust in Him.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in 1 and 2 Samuel, Volume 4

Whose Reign Is This? 1 Samuel 21:1–31:13 Series ID: 109014

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to turn with me and follow along as I read from 1 Samuel and chapter 26. The heading in our text is “David Spares Saul Again.”

“Then the Ziphites came to Saul at Gibeah, saying, ‘Is not David hiding himself on the hill of Hachilah, which is on the east of Jeshimon?’ So Saul arose and went down to the wilderness of Ziph with three thousand chosen men of Israel to seek David in the wilderness of Ziph. And Saul encamped on the hill of Hachilah, which is beside the road on the east of Jeshimon. But David remained in the wilderness. When he saw that Saul came after him into the wilderness, David sent out spies and learned that Saul had indeed come. Then David rose and came to the place where Saul had encamped. And David saw the place where Saul lay, with Abner the son of Ner, the commander of his army. Saul was lying within the encampment, while the army was encamped around him.

“Then David said to Ahimelech the Hittite, and to Joab’s brother Abishai the son of Zeruiah, ‘Who will go down with me into the camp to Saul?’ And Abishai said, ‘I will go down with you.’ So David and Abishai went to the army by night. And there lay Saul sleeping within the encampment, with his spear stuck in the ground at his head, and Abner and the army lay around him. Then Abishai said to David, ‘God has given your enemy into your hand this day. Now please let me pin him to the earth with one stroke of the spear, and I will not strike him twice.’ But David said to Abishai, ‘Do not destroy him, for who can put out his hand against the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless?’ And David said, ‘As the Lord lives, the Lord will strike him, or his day will come to die, or he will go down into battle and perish. The Lord forbid that I should put out my hand against the Lord’s anointed. But [now] take … the spear that is at his head and the jar of water, and let us go.’ So David took the spear and the jar of water from Saul’s head, and they went away. No man saw it or knew it, nor did any awake, for they were all asleep, because a deep sleep from the Lord had fallen upon them.

“Then David went over to the other side and stood far off on the top of the hill, with a great space between them. And David called to the army, and to Abner the son of Ner, saying, ‘Will you not answer, Abner?’ Then Abner answered, ‘Who are you who calls to the king?’ And David said to Abner, ‘Are you not a man? Who is like you in Israel? Why then have you not kept watch over your lord the king? For one of the people came in to destroy the king your lord. This thing that you have done is not good. As the Lord lives, you deserve to die, because you have not kept watch over your lord, the Lord’s anointed. And now see where the king’s spear is and the jar of water that was at his head.’

“Saul recognized David’s voice and said, ‘Is this your voice, my son David?’ And David said, ‘It is my voice, my lord, O king.’ And he said, ‘Why does my lord pursue after his servant? For what have I done? What evil is on my hands? Now therefore let my lord the king hear the words of his servant. If it is the Lord who has stirred you up against me, may he accept an offering, but if it is men, may they be cursed before the Lord, for they have driven me out this day that I should have no share in the heritage of the Lord, saying, “Go, serve other gods.” Now therefore, let not my blood fall to the earth away from the presence of the Lord, for the king of Israel has come out to seek a single flea like one who hunts a partridge in the mountains.’

“Then Saul said, ‘I have sinned. Return, my son David, for I will no more do you harm, because my life was precious in your eyes this day. Behold, I have acted foolishly, and have made a great mistake.’ And David answered and said, ‘Here is the spear, O king! Let one of the young men come over and take it. The Lord rewards every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness, for the Lord gave you into my hand today, and I would not put out my hand against the Lord’s anointed. Behold, as your life was precious this day in my sight, so may my life be precious in the sight of the Lord, and may he deliver me out of all tribulation.’ Then Saul said to David, ‘Blessed be you, my son David! You will do many things and will succeed in them.’ So David went his way, and Saul returned to his place.”


So, as we come to the Bible, gracious Father, thank you for the song we’ve sung. We have pled the help of the Holy Spirit, and we believe now that you will illumine your Word to us so that we might be transformed into the likeness of Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

Well, as we come to the twenty-sixth chapter, you may have found yourselves saying, if you’ve read ahead, “But haven’t we already read this?” And that is because it is remarkably similar to the event that is recorded for us in chapter 24. In chapter 24, Saul has gone into David’s camp, and here, in chapter 26, David and his nephew Abishai go down into Saul’s camp. Some liberal scholars suggest that this is just two attempts at dealing with the same story. But although the chapters are remarkably similar, they are sufficiently different to dispense with the idea that we are actually dealing with just two versions of one story.

So, under the heading “David Spares Saul Again.” We could have, I suppose, had as a heading, “Play It Again, Saul,” that misquote from Casablanca, because in many ways we are going down the same pathway. And despite the way things ended in chapter 24, remember, in the cave in Engedi, and the affirmations that were made there—“May the Lord reward you with [all] good for what you have done … this day,”[1] and that very magnanimous response of Saul to David—it would seem, when we got to the end of chapter 24, that everything was now resolved, when in actual fact, we turn to 26, and we realize that the hostility of Saul is as strong as ever, and that as the events unfold once again, David finds himself in a position to be able to make a grab for that which only God is to give.

Although David is the king, he is only a shadow of the one to whom he points.

The real question is—because we had chapter 25 in between—has David learned anything from this incident involving Nabal? Has it changed his thinking? The fact that he’s been through this before, does it make it easier for him to handle?

Well, we’ve already seen that success in chapter 24 gave way to his wrongdoing, or his potential disaster, in 25. And if your Bible is open like mine and you can look down to the opening verse of chapter 27—to which we’ll come next time, all being well—you can see how quickly victory, success, gives way to fear and in turn to failure.

It’s important that we don’t lose sight of the foundational blocks upon which we’re building in this series. Remember, we have made sure that we understand what is meant by the phrase that David was a man after God’s own heart[2]—that that was not a statement about the place that God had in David’s heart, but rather, it was the place that David had in God’s heart, and that God has determined that he is his anointed and he will reign on his throne.

But it would seem that the journey to the throne is certainly no cakewalk, and that there are episodes in his life—more still to come—where it becomes very obvious to us as readers that although he is the king, he is only a shadow of the one to whom he points. All the way through the narrative of the Old Testament, when we see the prophet emerging, when we see the king emerging, when we see the priesthood unfolding, they are all pointing forward to the Lord Jesus Christ himself.

The Scene Is Set

Now, in the first five verses, the scene is set for us. We needn’t delay on it. The Ziphites, true to form—we saw them back in chapter 23—the informers, they have some interest in currying favor with Saul. And so, as before, they come to Saul, and they tell him that they know where David is.

It’s quite interesting that it immediately says, on the basis of this information, that “Saul arose and went down to the wilderness of Ziph,” and he took with him his three thousand men. Well, why is it interesting? Well, because, again, at the end of 24, he seemed to be somewhat reconciled to the circumstances. He knows now that David is actually going to be the king.[3] But apparently this was all it took to coax him back into this same evil pursuit. He can’t restrain his impulse to destroy his rival, because jealousy is a powerful force. And when they come and they say, “We know where David is,” they are appealing to this latent hostility in him. And it only takes a little spark, and once again, there he goes. Remember what James says: where you find jealousy and selfish ambition, you will find disorder and evil of every kind.[4]

Now, as you look at that little scene-setting in the first five verses, you will notice that for him to amass his troops again, the three thousand, his movements could not then be disguised. And I think that’s the significance of what we’re told: that although they told Saul that he would find David here, David actually was in the wilderness. David was in a position to see this large force emerging. He then sends his men, verse 4, on a reconnaissance mission to confirm the fact that this is none other than Saul, and clearly, he’s back up to his old tricks. That’s the first five verses.

The Camp Is Infiltrated

Then, in verses 6 and following, we discover that the camp of Saul is infiltrated. You remember in Ecclesiastes, in a passage that is often used in a wedding service: two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work; if one falls down, the other one can pick him up.[5] And so David decides he’s going to go down into the camp, but he’s not just going to do it by himself. And so we’re told that opportunity knocks for this man Ahimelech the Hittite. And if you’ve never heard of him before, relax, because you will never hear of him again. And this is his only visit into the Bible. He’s one of the band of disaffected adventure seekers, these freebooters and wanderers that make up this band of followers of David himself. We would have known more about him if he had chosen to accept the invitation. But as it falls, we discover that Abishai, the son of Zeruiah, whom we will meet again, is one of David’s nephews, and he volunteers for the opportunity.

They’re going to make a nighttime visit. If you know your Bible well enough, you will read this, and you will say, “This has hints of another nighttime visit in the previous book,” or in the record, not in Ruth but in Judges, where you will recall that Gideon and his servant Purah go down into the camp of the Midianites during the night in the assurance that the Lord has given the camp into their hands.[6] I leave you to read that story on your own; it’s in Judges chapter 7. And we know what happened there.

Now, we also know what had already happened in chapter 24 here, when David had gone into the cave. Remember—I hope you do—that he found Saul, as it were, in the bathroom. And now we come into chapter 26, and he’s going to find him in the bedroom.

And it’s an amazing picture here, an understandable picture. They went down to do this reconnaissance, because they had already identified where the encampment was, and also where Saul could be found within that encampment. And the picture that is given us here is a sort of tranquil picture, isn’t it? Verse 7: “So David and Abishai went to the army by night. And there lay Saul sleeping within the encampment, with his spear stuck in the ground at his head, and Abner,” his commander, “and the army lay around him.” We have these are amazing pictures of Saul and his spear. It keeps coming back as a picture of his supposed strength. You remember back in 22:6. There, Saul is sitting under the tamarisk tree, and the spear is in his hand. Well, here, he is sleeping, with his spear stuck in the ground at his head, and he doesn’t realize how close he is to having the spear being stuck in his head rather than stuck in the ground. David is very familiar with this spear, because we know that he dodged it on a couple of occasions.

And as soon as Abishai comes on this, he reacts in a very similar way to what the people had said in 24—remember, when Saul had come into the cave, and David’s followers said, “Oh, this is the Lord’s doing; it’s obvious he has been brought in here so that you can bump him off.” Well, on this occasion Abishai takes it in a different direction. He doesn’t suggest to Saul that he does it but rather that he will do it himself. Verse 8: “God has given your enemy into your hand this day. [So] let me pin him to the earth with one stroke of the spear, and I will not strike him twice.” “It won’t take me two shots to deal with this.”

Now, I wonder if there was a pause between his volunteering and David’s responding in verse 9. Did he pause for a moment and begin to say to himself, “Well, you know, there is some value in this. After all, he has come against me again with a massive force. He had suggested to me that he wasn’t going to do this anymore.” He might have said, “You know, it can’t be coincidence that we found his camp.” And then he would say to himself, “It is peculiar, at least, that he is lying here apparently comatose. And after all, I’m the one anointed to be the king. Perhaps we should seize this moment.” It would be surprising if these thoughts were not somewhere in his thinking.

But you will notice, verse 9: “But David said to Abishai, ‘Do not destroy him, for who can put out his hand against the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless?’” Notice, and notice carefully: what determines his response to the suggestion of Abishai is not his circumstances, which are set up to do just such a deed, but rather his conviction. His conviction. He is a man of conviction. Think Daniel. Think Joseph. Think Eric Liddell. “Do not destroy him. It is wrong.” It is wrong. He doesn’t say, “Don’t destroy him, because I still have a forlorn hope that he might change and become a better person.” No: “Do not destroy him.”

You see, here’s a matter that ought to be apparent to us. Sometimes, in a trivial way, when temptation comes… Let’s say that you’re trying your best not to eat poorly. And you’ve gone out, and you’ve had a magnificent meal at a friend’s house, and they come around with the most enticing dessert you’ve ever seen in your entire life. But out of a deep sense of conviction, you say, “Oh, no, no, it would be wrong for me to do this in light of what I’m doing.” And then you sit back in your chair, and you feel smug as other people succumb to the temptation. And then the almost inevitable happens: the hostess comes again and says, “Will you not change your mind?” And in that moment, in the full flush of the success of having said no once, the temptation is even greater, it seems to me, to say yes the second time. In other words, “I’ll reward myself for having got through the first five minutes. Why don’t I just succumb in the next five?”

Now, you see, that could have happened here easily. David says to himself, “Well, I was successful in 24, so I perhaps could be free now in chapter 26.” But no. This isn’t situational ethics. This isn’t. He said, “No. It’s wrong to do.” And furthermore, notice, he says, “As the Lord lives…” God can be trusted to deal with Saul. Now, we asked the question: Do you think he learned anything from the incident with Nabal? Yes, I think he did. Because remember, God deals with Nabal without the intervention of David. You remember that he was struck, and he died, that he became stone dead when he received the information that came from Abigail, his wife.[7]

And so, now, applying the same logic, David says, “Here’s what may well happen. There’s a number of ways in which God may choose to take him out. He may strike him.” That’s along the lines of what happened to Nabal. “He may die of natural causes”—that is, “or his day will come to die.” “Or he may go down into the battle and perish.” Well, of course, that was exactly what was going to happen.

There’s no discovery that ever comes in the world that is unknown to God.

But notice verse 11: “The Lord forbid that I should put out my hand against the Lord’s anointed.” “We’re not, Abishai, going to take his life. But what we are going to take—we’re going to take his spear, and we’re going to take his water jar.” Now, you can imagine Abishai thinking, “Goodness me, if I had known that was the only reason I was coming down here, just to pick up the spear and the water jar, I might have let Ahimelech the Hittite go in my place. I thought it was going to be far more fun than this.” Well, what they were doing was they were removing the instrument that spoke of his power or of his aggression, and they were removing the water jar, which was a means of his sustenance. Not only today do we have a glass of water by our bed once we’re of a certain vintage, but they had a water jar in those days too.

So, “[Go and take] the spear that is at his head and the jar of water, and let us go.” And then notice verse 12 says, “So David took the spear and the jar of water.” Well, I wonder what happened? Maybe it’s this: maybe he says, “Now, you go and get the spear and the jar of water,” and then he says, “No, no, wait a minute. Let me take them. I’m worried about what you might do if you get ahold of that spear, given your earlier request.” So Abishai doesn’t protest. He doesn’t ask what David plans to do with the two articles.

And then we discover why it is that they’ve been able to go through this whole exercise, and no one saw, no one knew, no one woke up. Because they were all asleep! “I get that, but that is some kind of sleep.” Yes, but it was a special kind of sleep, “because a deep sleep from the Lord had fallen upon them.” There’s no discovery that ever comes in the world that is unknown to God. He was a master of anesthetics long before we discovered the capacity for anesthesia.

The deep sleep is not something new that pops up here. Remember, it was used by God in the case of Adam when one of his ribs was removed in the creation of Eve.[8] It was used in that great encounter concerning those smoking pots with Abram in Genesis 15.[9] And it is used as an expression of judgment in Isaiah the prophet when in chapter 29—and I hope it’s 29, ’cause I’m going there right now—and in 29:

Astonish yourselves and be astonished;
 blind yourselves and be blind!
Be drunk, but not with wine;
 stagger, but not with strong drink!

Here we go: “For the Lord has poured out upon you a spirit of deep sleep.”[10] The deep sleep that makes Saul vulnerable is the sleep that keeps David safe. “If God be for us, who can be against us?”[11]

Abner’s Failure

Now, in verses 13–16 we have this little dialogue. And incidentally, as we go through this narrative, when we’re reading the descriptive passages, we’re waiting, as it were, for these conversations to give to us much of the understanding of what’s taking place. And we have that here.

Abner fails. Abner’s failure is a failure to do what as a commander he should be doing. And so “David went over to the other side and stood far off on the top of the hill, with a great space between them.” This was not simply social distancing. This was in order to protect himself. And so, once he’s in position—and remember, this is taking place under darkness. Everybody is asleep. So David is actually providing the alarm clock, if you like. He’s providing the wakeup call on this particular morning. He’s far enough away to be safe, and he’s close enough in order to be heard.

And so he calls out to the sleeping army, and he names Abner, who somehow or another looks like the stronger party in this whole encounter: “Hey, Abner, how long do I have to stand here shouting before you wake up and answer me?” Abner’s response is somewhat defiant—a little like, remember, Nabal’s response back in chapter 25: “Who does David think he is, asking for this stuff?”[12] Abner’s response is pretty similar: “Will you not answer, Abner?”—and Abner said, “Well, who are you who calls to the king? You think you can just come up here in the early hours of the morning and shout like this?”

David doesn’t take it on as a challenge. Instead, he says to him, “But I thought you were the main man, Abner. And if you are the man main, Abner, and if your job is to do what you’re supposed to do, then you failed at your job.” And we won’t delay on this, but in a matter of a few sentences he reduces Abner to silence. When Abner was asleep, he couldn’t hear, and now that he’s awake, he can’t even speak.

Now, David in his conversation has given Saul his place. He’s referred to him as “the lord your king”: “the king your lord,” in verse 15. There’s nothing dismissive about his approach here: “Why [didn’t] you [keep] watch over your lord the king? For one of the people came in to destroy the king your lord.” So he’s taken Abner seriously, he’s acknowledged the place of Saul, and yet, at the same time, he has masterfully ridiculed him. And I think if you read verse 16 like this, it will come across: “This thing you have done is not good. As the Lord lives, you deserve to die, because you have not kept watch over your lord, the Lord’s anointed. And by the way, you might want to look at what I’ve got here,” and he holds up, across from the other side of the hill, he holds up the sword, and he holds the water jar—the very things that were right at the head of Saul, and Abner’s supposed to be there to protect him. “You’ve been completely uncovered. And so has Saul.”

David’s Dialogue with Saul

Well, now we get to Saul. Wakey, wakey! “Saul recognized David’s voice.” “What is all this hullabaloo?” he says to himself as he begins to stir in the morning hour. And his inquiry is as his inquiry before: “Is this your voice, my son David?” I can’t help but to think there’s something kind of pathetic about Saul in this circumstance. Abner is the one who should be there; he’s not there. Now Saul, dreamily seeing into the darkness, hearing the voice…

David says, “Well, it is my voice, my lord, O king.” And then he has these questions for him: “Why do you pursue me? What have I done? What evil is on my hands?” “Why do you pursue me? What have I done? And what evil is on my hands?” He’s guiltless. He’s more guiltless than Saul knows in this incident, because Saul has been asleep when this drama has unfolded. David, when Jonathan spoke in his defense, was pronounced guiltless back in chapter 19.[13]

And his question here is a fair question. “Help me figure this out,” he says. “If what has happened here is because the Lord has stirred you up against me, then may we come to him, and he will accept an offering. But if it is men, then the men who have done this should be cursed before the Lord, because look at what they’ve done: they’ve driven me out this day, I have no share in the heritage of the Lord, and essentially what they’re saying to me is ‘Go and serve other gods.’”

Now, we can’t jump forward to chapter 27, but it’s almost prophetic, as we will see when we arrive there. And so he says, “[Here’s my deal: don’t let] my blood fall to the earth away from the presence of the Lord, for the king of Israel has come out to seek a single flea like one who hunts a partridge in the mountains.” Same old, same old. “We’ve had this conversation before, Saul. Power is on your side. It was three thousand to six hundred, and then it was three thousand to two. And I represent as much of a threat as a flea or as a partridge that calls out in the mountains.”

Now, he’s giving two alternative explanations for the actions of Saul. This is expert diplomacy here, you see, on the part of David. Expert. Expert. He says, “If it is God who’s responsible or if it is men who are responsible, then let’s settle the matter.” But he leaves it up to Saul to acknowledge that Saul is the problem. And you have that in 21 to the end: “Then Saul said, ‘I have sinned.’” Down in the same verse: “I have acted foolishly, [I] have made a great mistake.” “I have sinned. … I have acted foolishly.”

Now, when Saul says that, it would be virtually impossible for him not to hear the words of Samuel ringing in his ears, back in chapter 13, when Samuel says to him, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, for if you had, then the Lord would have established your kingdom forever.”[14] And I remember when we studied that in 13, somebody came to me afterwards and said, you know, “How can that possibly be—‘if he had done this, then that’?” I said, “Let the story unfold. It will become apparent.”

And so this confession on the part of Saul comes with an invitation: “I’ve done this. I’ve sinned. Return, my son David, for I will no more do you harm.” Oh! Are you gonna buy this line, David? Ralph Davis remarks, “Just because Saul has been a fool, there is no reason for David to be one.”[15]

And David essentially says, “I am not coming back. But if you send one of your young men, you can have your spear back. Here is the spear, O king.” “Here is the spear, O king!” With a phrase he drives home the point. He knew that Saul had twice used this spear to try and pin him to the wall. He has taken that spear from the head of Saul when he could have used it to have it driven into Saul’s head, and he is now offering ignominiously for Saul to dispatch one of his young men to come back and pick up his spear and take it there.

David Summation

And then, in verses 23–25, you have the summation by David. So you have the failure of Abner… If you weren’t following me, you have the setting of the scene; and you have the infiltration of the camp; you have the failure of Abner; and you have the dialogue with Saul, his confession; and then these concluding words.

“The Lord rewards,” says David, “every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness, for the Lord gave you into my hand today.” It’s virtually impossible not to see here a veiled reference to David. And basically, what David is saying is, “The Lord helping me, I have done the right thing today.” After all, he wrote the poem, Psalm 11:

For the Lord is righteous;
 he loves righteous deeds;
 the upright shall behold his face.[16]

He writes Psalm 89: “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.”[17] “The Lord gave you into my hand today”—and then he says, “And I look to the Lord,” verse 24, “to deliver me out of all tribulation.” Psalm 31 again:

But I trust in you, O Lord;
 I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hand[s].[18]

That’s Psalm 31. David actually believes this.

And yet, even with this affirmation, and even in light of Saul’s benediction, if we can refer to it in that way—“Well then,” Saul said to David, “blessed be you, my son David! You will do many things and will succeed in them.” And then it says, “[And] so David went his way, and Saul returned to his place.” It’s the last encounter between the two of them. This is the end of their dialogue.

A Vital Recognition

And as we end, it’s important that we recognize something—vitally recognize something: the righteousness and the faithfulness that has been displayed in the actions of David is actually going to crumble, quite dramatically in chapter 27, and then eventually, when we get to 2 Samuel, in chapter 11, if we ever do, all his righteousness and his faithfulness crumbles in the face of a bathing beauty.

David is not the hero of the story, no more than Daniel is, no more than Joseph is. God is the hero, always.

So what are we to understand in this? Well, we understand a number of things. One is that David is not the hero of the story, no more than Daniel is, no more than Joseph is. God is the hero, always. We’re to recognize this: that these kings, no matter how good they were, were eventually going to come to a halt, and there would be a longing for another King who would come. That King, when he came, would come in the unfolding of the prophecies in the Old Testament: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall … deal wisely, and … execute justice and righteousness in the [Lord].”[19] Well, where is this King? Well, Jesus stands on the waters of the Jordan, and John the Baptist says to him, “I think that you should be baptizing me rather than me baptizing you.” And what does Jesus say? “Thus it is fitting to fulfill all righteousness.”[20] “To fulfill all righteousness.”

You see, the story of the Bible makes perfectly clear that none of us is righteous, “no, not one”[21]—that if we were left to try and produce a righteousness and a faithfulness of our own, it would be a disaster. But the story of the Bible is that by the grace of God, the righteousness of Jesus Christ is granted to those who are united to Christ by faith.

Our time is gone, but let me just drive this home, if I may, by pointing you just to one section of Romans chapter 3, and you can ponder this on your own as the day unfolds.

Paul has been writing about how the whole world is accountable before God, and that by works of the law, by our endeavors, none of us will be justified in his sight, because the more we realize how the law of God unfolds, the more we’re conscious of our sin. So is it a hopeless situation? No. “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law … the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood”—that’s what we were singing about: “The wrath of God [is] satisfied”[22]—“to be received by faith.”[23] “To be received by faith.”

I went to an event this week. You had to have an armband, a wristband. If you didn’t have a wristband, you couldn’t go in. How do you get the wristband? What do you have to do? Do you have to be a certain kind of person? Do you have to have a certain amount of money? What do you have to do? Well, mercifully, I didn’t meet any of the requirements at all; I was able to get a wristband because of what someone else had done for me.

Paul Simon has a song, actually, called “Wristband.” It’s on his Stranger to Stranger album, and it’s based on the fact that as the performer, he walks out of the building that he’s going to perform in, and the door locks behind him, and when he tries to get back in, the man at the door says, “You can’t get back in without a wristband. I don’t care who you are.” And some people have got the idea that somehow or another, if we can only produce the correct wristband—if we can only, by our perfect lives or by our honest endeavors—we’ll be able to get in through the door.

When the question is asked, “What are you doing here?”—what are you going to say? When they say to you, “Where’s your wristband”—what are you gonna say? “I was a pastor. I was a good person. I tried my best. I was…” No! The only answer is to be able to say not simply “I’m with him”—i.e., Jesus, who is our perfect righteousness—but actually, “I’m in him”: united—by grace, through faith—all who believe.

So the story of David, in all of his wonders and in all of his imperfections, as with the rest of the Bible, points us inevitably and wonderfully to the one who is the King, who will come and reign in your heart and in your life as you turn to him in repentance and in faith.

Father, we thank you that the story of the Bible is a story of how, despite our rebellion against you, disinterest in you, that in the wonder of your love you have come and sought us out. You provided prophets in order that people might hear your voice. You provided priests in order that there may be a way of sacrifice. You provided kings in order that the objections and rebellions might be subdued. But eventually it was all left hanging. It was like a dangling conversation—until suddenly, from across the other side of the river, came the cry of the Baptist: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”[24] So that in this wonder, our acceptance before you could never be on account of who we are or what we’ve done. All of our best endeavors are no good. We need a “perfect, spotless righteousness,”[25] which you have provided to all who believe in the wonderful gift of your Son, in whose name we pray. Amen.

[1] 1 Samuel 24:19 (ESV).

[2] See 1 Samuel 13:14.

[3] See 1 Samuel 24:20.

[4] See James 3:16.

[5] See Ecclesiastes 4:9–10.

[6] See Judges 7:9–11.

[7] See 1 Samuel 25:37–38.

[8] See Genesis 2:21.

[9] See Genesis 15:12.

[10] Isaiah 29:9–10 (ESV).

[11] Romans 8:31 (KJV).

[12] 1 Samuel 25:10–11 (paraphrased).

[13] See 1 Samuel 19:6.

[14] 1 Samuel 13:13 (paraphrased).

[15] Dale Ralph Davis, 1 Samuel: Looking on the Heart (1988; repr., Fearn: Christian Focus, 2000), 223.

[16] Psalm 11:7 (ESV).

[17] Psalm 89:14 (ESV).

[18] Psalm 31:14–15 (ESV).

[19] Jeremiah 23:5 (ESV).

[20] See Matthew 3:13–15.

[21] Romans 3:10 (ESV).

[22] Stuart Townend, “In Christ Alone” (2001).

[23] Romans 3:21–25 (ESV).

[24] John 1:29 (ESV).

[25] Charitie L. Bancroft, “Before the Throne of God Above” (1863).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.