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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[1 Kings 23–26; 31; 2 Kings 1]

DAVID seeing that he could no longer live in safety near Saul, fled to the mountains of Juda. Even there death threatened him on every side, but his courage never forsook him. He consoled himself with the thought that he who places himself under the protection of God, is in safety everywhere, and has nothing to fear. His trust in God was rewarded.

Now the men of Ziph came to Saul and said: “Behold, David is hid in the hill which is over against the wilderness.” Immediately Saul arose, having with him three thousand chosen men, and encamped in the way of the wilderness. As soon as David had heard that Saul had come after him, he sent out spies to see where the king had pitched his tents. David, on learning where Saul was, arose and came secretly to the camp of his enemy.

And David said to his followers: “Who will go down with me into the camp of Saul?” Abisai answered: “I will go with thee.” So David and Abisai came upon the tents by night, and found Saul sleeping on his couch, and his spear fixed in the ground near his head. Moreover all the soldiers were sleeping about. And Abisai said to David: “Now then, I will run thy enemy through with my spear, and there shall be no need of a second time.” But David answered: “Kill him not; for who shall put forth his hand against the Lord’s anointed, and remain guiltless? But now take the spear which is at his head, and the cup of water, and let us go.”

So they took the spear and the cup of water and went away. And no man knew it, or saw it, or awoke; for a deep sleep from the Lord was fallen upon them. They both went on till they came to the other side, and stood on a hill afar off. Then David called aloud to Abner, the captain of Saul’s army, and said: “Wilt thou not answer, Abner? Art thou not a man? Why then hast thou not kept thy lord the king? And now where is the king’s spear, and the cup of water which was at his head?”

At these words Saul awoke from his sleep and cried out: “Is this thy voice, my son David?” And David answered: “It is my voice, my lord the king. Wherefore doth my lord persecute his servant? What have I done?” Saul, feeling his own injustice, exclaimed: “I have sinned; return, my son David, for I will no more do thee harm, because my life has been precious in thy eyes this day. Blessed art thou, my son David.” Then they parted in peace.

A short time after this there was a battle fought between the Israelites and the Philistines on Mount Gelboe. A great number of the Israelites were slain, and amongst them the three sons of Saul. At last the whole weight of the fight turned upon Saul; the archers overtook him and grievously wounded him.

Seeing himself surrounded by the enemy, who wished to take him alive, he drew his sword and fell upon it. David was thus delivered from his mortal enemy; yet so far from rejoicing at his death, when he heard the sad news he wept, and forgetting all the injuries he had received, he remembered only the good qualities of the king.

Filled with sorrow, he even rent his garments and wept, and cursed the mountain of Gelboe whereon the king and his three sons had met their death. Then he lamented and made a dirge over Saul and Jonathan: “How are the valiant fallen! Tell it not in Geth; publish it not in the streets of Ascalon. They were swifter than eagles, stronger than lions. I grieve for thee, my brother Jonathan, exceeding amiable. As the mother loveth her only son, so I did love thee.”

The Justice of God. God protected the innocent David and enabled him to escape from the snares of the bloodthirsty king. But He humbled the sin-laden Saul by subjecting him to a humiliating defeat and a premature and dishonourable death.

The Wisdom of God decreed that many troubles should overtake David, in order that he might be exercised in virtue and prepared for his high position. By the persecutions and privations to which he was subjected, David was confirmed in humility and confidence in God, and experienced for himself how much harm is caused by evil-doing. He saw from which faults a ruler should be free, and was thus fitted for the high dignity for which God had destined him.

The Fifth Commandment. The story we have just heard is well suited to explain and impress upon us the precepts taught by the fifth Commandment. David observed this Commandment most conscientiously when he would not allow his mortal enemy, Saul, to be killed, although he was in his power. The armour-bearer, Abisai, on the other hand, did sin against the fifth Commandment, because he had the desire to murder Saul in his sleep, and would have carried out his wicked project, had David given his consent. By this sinful intention Abisai also sinned against the fourth Commandment; for Saul, the anointed of the Lord, was the representative of God. But it was Saul who sinned most grievously against the fifth Commandment. He allowed his anger against David to grow till it turned to hatred, and from this to bloodthirstiness, which passion Saul cherished in his heart for a long time, and tried to satisfy by his untiring persecution of David. Each fresh desire to get rid of David, and each new pursuit of him for that object was a grievous sin.

Suicide was Saul’s crowning sin. He saw that the enemy was pressing on him in overwhelming numbers, and that he could not escape; therefore, so as not to fall into the hands of the Philistines, he killed himself. This was a terrible sin, for on no account may a man take away his own life, as he did not give it to himself. God is Lord of life and death, and he who kills himself robs the divine Majesty of His rights. But it might be argued, Saul could not anyhow have had long to live, for most likely the Philistines would have killed him on the field of battle. True, but if Saul had, by God’s permission, been killed by his enemies, he would have died the death of a hero, in defence of his religion, his people and his country. Very likely, however, the Philistines would not have killed him at once, but would have taken him prisoner, and would later have put him to death. Saul would in this way have had to endure humiliations and tortures, but he would have had time to repent of his many sins, and if he had offered his sufferings to God in the spirit of true penance, his soul would have been saved, and he would have died the death of a martyr to faith in the one true God. By his suicide he not only killed his body, but also his soul; for his last act on earth was one of mortal sin, and the very nature of the act made repentance impossible. Every voluntary suicide is a suicide of the soul which can in no way be expiated; and it is in this that lies the horror of this sin. Cowardice, moreover, lies at the root of every suicide, as we have seen was the case with Saul. He shrank from humiliation and degradation, and to avoid them put an end to his life. The suicide is too cowardly to endure such temporal evils as poverty, sickness, or shame, and therefore puts an end to his life, never considering that he thereby subjects himself to the everlasting torments of hell. Suicide is the most foolish of all sins and crimes; for in order to escape a passing evil he who commits it exposes himself to eternal suffering.

Humility and love of our enemies. There are many beautiful virtues to admire in David. He remained humble in spite of the adulation of the world; he did not glory in being chosen by God to be king; he bore no grudge in his heart against the unjust, ungrateful Saul; he did not rise up against him, but honoured him as “his lord and king”, called himself his servant, forgave him from his heart, and spared his life when the opportunity of revenge was given him. David had a most noble and magnanimous heart; he did not return evil for evil, but really loved his mortal enemy, and bitterly bewailed his sad end. Thus David gives us a splendid example of love of our enemies, which teaches us that we should never take vengeance on them. St. Paul writes (Rom. 12:19): “Do not revenge yourselves, but give place unto wrath (i. e. leave vengeance to God), for it is written: ‘Revenge to me, I will repay, saith the Lord.’ ” By this noble virtue of love of his enemy David won a victory over himself (over anger and the desire of revenge) which was far greater and more worthy of renown than his victory over Goliath. St. Chrysostom says of him: “Women did not come to meet him, singing the praises of this victory, but the choirs of angels, full of admiration, sang the praises of his magnanimity.” Learn then how beautiful and praiseworthy it is to overcome yourself and forgive those who have injured you.

Love until death. David loved Saul and Jonathan till they died, and bitterly mourned their death. True love lasts beyond the grave, and we should preserve our love for those dear unto us after they are dead. You should pray for the souls of your departed parents, friends and relations.

Resistance to grace. Learn from the case of Saul how low a man can fall when he forsakes God, resists grace and gives himself over to his passions. If you give the devil one finger, he will want to have your whole hand and your whole self. Saul was originally humble, and God was with him and gave him many graces; but his victories made him proud and disobedient to God. His pride could not endure that David should be so highly honoured and esteemed, and therefore he was envious and jealous of him. Envy embittered his life and made him ungrateful towards David, and this led further to hatred of him and desire for his death. Thus Saul became more and more unworthy of the divine assistance. Quite forsaken by God, he was defeated by the Philistines in spite of his valour, and ended his life by suicide. What a sad end for a man chosen out by God from among all men!

APPLICATION. What do you do when anyone injures you by word or deed? Do you cherish a grudge against him in your heart? Do you wish evil to any of your companions? Do you speak evil of him to others? “Forgive and forget!”








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