Respect for the office and the Lord
[David’s] 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.’” … He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the Lord.” With these words David sharply rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul.
- from 1 Samuel 24:3-7
David refused to stab Saul in the back. Why?
It wasn’t because David avoided violence. He gained a reputation as a fierce warrior despite his poetic sensibilities. The people of Israel sang about his military triumphs.
It wasn’t because David feared Saul. David would emerge from the cave and confront Saul directly. He showed the traditional respect to Saul by “prostrating himself with his face to the ground” (v. 8), which would render him vulnerable and exposed to attack.
It wasn’t because David didn’t want to be king. Later in the passage, David prays for vindication and, later, promises not to slaughter Saul’s descendants once the kingship is transferred over to the Davidic dynasty. David fully intends to be king one day.
Then, why? Why didn’t David kill Saul when the Lord had placed him “into [his] hands?”
Two reasons stand out from today’s text:
- Respect for the office of the king
- Respect for the Lord
You can respect the office even if you don’t respect the person in that office. In his book Letters and Papers from Prison,Dietrich Bonhoeffer made this point in a reflection on marriage, one spouse may show respect to the office of husband or wife even if the person in that office isn’t, in that moment, acting in a way that’s worthy of respect. This same principle applies in politics, in the workplace, in schools … can you see it?
That kind of respect for the office, for David, stemmed directly from his respect for the Lord. The Lord’s anointing made David refuse to raise his hand against the king. To do so, in David’s mind, would be to reject something of the Lord.
In this way, David’s story comes full-circle to a narrative started early in 1 Samuel 8. The people of Israel decided that they wanted to be like all the other nations and have a king of their own. In so doing, they rejected the Lord’s kingship. The office of king stood as a marker (and often an echo) of their choice. But here’s David, the future king, deferring to the Lord and benefitting from the Lord’s guidance (as we’ll see tomorrow).
What does it look like for you to show respect to an office? What does it look like when you show respect to the Lord? How can you grow in these in healthy ways today?