That day the Lord showed me that opportunity does not equal mandate. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean it’s the Lord’s will that you should.
A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
This was the lowest period of my life. Saul was hunting me without reason and had just killed 85 priests simply because one of them had showed kindness to me. I was a fugitive in the very country where I was supposed to become King! The one good thing is that the Lord was drawing me closer, and I found myself seeking His direction constantly. I wrote Psalm 27 to recall my feelings then.
I heard that the Philistines were harassing the people at Keliah and looting their threshing floors, so I asked the Lord if we should attack them. When the answer came back yes, I got the men together, but they expressed concern about going. I asked the Lord again and He again told me to go, saying He had given the Philistines into our hands. So we went and were victorious, just as the Lord had promised.
But Saul found out we were there and immediately came after us. He thought he saw a great opportunity. Keliah is a gated, walled city and he figured he could trap us inside and finish us off like sitting ducks. When I heard he was coming, I inquired of the Lord again. He told me to get my men out of there because the people of Keliah were going to betray us even though we had just saved them! I couldn’t win for losing.
But while it seemed that men constantly betrayed us, we still had the Lord on our side, and He is always faithful. Since we had honored Him by obeying His command to go, He wasn’t going to dishonor us by letting Saul capture us. We left immediately and escaped into the surrounding hills.
Saul was never far behind. One time we were on one side of a mountain while he and his army were on the other side. They would have caught us that day if the Philistines hadn’t attacked a village in the area, diverting Saul’s army from chasing us. Later I saw this as one of many examples in my life of a promise the Apostle Paul would one day make for you in yours: God is working everything together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28).
We hid out for a time in En Gedi. It’s a lush oasis in the desert just west of the Dead Sea. Today there’s a Nature Reserve there where you can hike up a narrow canyon beside a flowing stream. At the top there’s a waterfall that looks like it’s coming right out of the sky to form a beautiful pool with greenery all around. It’s a natural fortress and a refuge and it served me well. Later, when I wrote Psalm 32, I remembered En Gedi as my hiding place where the Lord filled my heart with songs of deliverance.
One day we were hiding in the back of a deep cave there when who should walk in but King Saul himself. He was looking for a cool place to take a nap and didn’t know we were there. While he slept my men tried to convince me to kill him, but I refused. I stole up to him and cut off a corner of his robe instead.
After he got up and left I went after him and shouted for him to stop. When he did, I showed him the corner of his robe and told him I could have killed him but didn’t out of respect for him and his position. I said I had never done anything against him, nor would I, so why was he after me? “Who are you hunting,” I said, “A dead dog … or a flea?” (A dead dog is helpless against attack and a flea is so insignificant as to be of no consequence.)
Saul admitted I was right and thanked me for not killing him. He said he knew I would be king of Israel some day, and asked me to promise not to harm his family when that happened. I promised.
That day the Lord showed me that opportunity does not equal mandate. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean it’s the Lord’s will that you should. For me to have killed Saul in his sleep would have taken events out of God’s hands and destroyed my chances to maintain the moral high ground in my ongoing dispute with Saul. I believed that when the Lord decided to take Saul out, He would do so in a way that wouldn’t cloud my integrity, and until then even though Saul was determined to kill me, he was still my King and deserved my respect. Over 1000 years later, the Lord’s brother would say the same thing about Satan. (Jude 8-9)
My encounter with Nabal was a different matter entirely. Here was a man whose very name meant fool. How he wound up married to a woman like Abigail is anybody’s guess. He was a rich man with huge flocks and herds so maybe that’s what made him attractive. After voluntarily protecting him, his family, and his herds from the Philistines for some time, I sent 10 men to see if he would return the favor by giving us something to eat, since we were out of food. He turned them down flat, insulting me in the process.
“Well,” I declared, “Nobody treats me like that. Especially after all we’ve done for him.” I told the men to buckle on their swords and we set out to have a little “chat” with Nabal, thinking to make an example of him for repaying good with evil. I took 400 men with me and left 200 behind to guard our camp.
When his wife Abigail heard what Nabal had done, she knew right away what a huge mistake he had made, and what the likely consequences would be. Hurrying to gather up a large amount of food, she loaded several donkeys and set out to intercept us.
When she saw us coming she dismounted and bowed low before me. She told me she knew what her husband had done, and took complete responsibility for it herself. She asked me to please accept the food she had brought and forgive her husband for his foolishness. He was just living up to his name.
Then she said that she knew God was with me and would build me up into a lasting dynasty because I was fighting His battles. “Let no wrongdoing be found in you as long as you live,” she admonished me. “When the Lord has given you all the good things He’s promised, you don’t want to have on your conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged yourself. It’s best to leave these things in the Lord’s hands.”
Abigail was a sensitive, intelligent woman and her whole demeanor touched me deeply. I thanked her sincerely for her sound advice and for helping me avoid what would have been a terrible mistake. Then I accepted the food she had brought us and sent her home in peace.
When Abigail got home her husband was in the middle of a drunken party so it was the next morning before she told him what she’d done for us. He had a heart attack right on the spot and 10 days later was dead.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been stopped before taking matters into your own hands, but I’ll bet there’s been more than one occasion in your life when you haven’t been, and have charged ahead on your own only to make a terrible fool of yourself. I had almost done the same thing myself.
“Vengeance is mine,” says the Lord, “It is mine to repay.” (Hebr. 10:30) Again I learned the wisdom of separating opportunity from mandate. Had Abigail not warned me off, I would have deprived the Lord of a golden opportunity to show His favor toward me in the sight of those around me. I sent for the newly widowed Abigail and asked her to marry me, and she agreed.
Much later, the Apostle Paul would confirm the Lord’s desire that His people live in peace to whatever extent possible, and not to take revenge but leave room for God’s wrath (Romans 12:18-19). It’s so important for us to remember that the Lord has already marked our enemies for defeat, so the victory is ours. We need only live up to that which we’ve already attained (Phil. 3:16) by showing them the same mercy and grace He has shown us. (Romans 12:20-21)
Shortly after the episode with Nabal and Abigail, My men and I were staying in the Desert of Ziph, south of Hebron. Someone from there reported this to Saul, who immediately gathered 3000 men to hunt us down. He camped near the road to Jeshimon so we stayed out in the desert.
One night I spied on Saul’s camp from a nearby hillside and located the place in the center of camp where he and Abner, his commander in chief, were sleeping. I hurried back to our camp and got Abishal to join me. Together we crept into Saul’s camp right up to where he and Abner lay sound asleep. Abishal wanted to kill Saul but again I refused, telling him to steal Saul’s spear and a water jug, both of which had been placed right near Saul’s head. I told Ashibal that Saul’s life was in the Lord’s hands, to either end early or not as He saw fit.
We took the spear and water bottle and slipped away up the hill above the camp. The Lord had kept Saul and his men asleep while we were in their camp, but now I hollered out to Abner and woke him up, chiding him for not protecting the king. As proof of my accusation I told Abner to look around for the king’s spear and water bottle.
By now Saul was awake too, and again I told him I could have killed him and didn’t, out of respect for the Lord’s anointed. Again I asked why he was after me, and again he thanked me for sparing him and admitted that his hunt for me was a mistake. He asked me to join him in the camp, but I refused, knowing it was a trick to try and capture me. Instead I had him send a messenger up to retrieve his spear as final proof that I could have killed him.
“The Lord delivered you into my hands today, but I would not harm His anointed,” I said. “As surely as I valued your life today, so may the Lord value my life and deliver me from all trouble.”
Then Saul blessed me, predicted I would do great things and we went our separate ways. Psalm 54 is my tribute to the Lord for protecting me there.
These three events contained powerful lessons for me. As I mentioned earlier, they taught me that opportunity does not equal mandate. But they also showed me how different God’s ways are from ours. By nature we’re impatient, self-centered, and task oriented. We’re always jumping the gun on God’s timing, thinking that He needs our help to get things done.
We have the examples of Abraham and Moses to show us the folly of that kind of thinking. Abraham grew tired of waiting for God to deliver on His promise of a son. When Sarah suggested using Hagar as a surrogate wife, He agreed and helped create a problem that still results in daily bloodshed in your time. (Genesis 16) When Moses single handedly undertook the rescue of God’s people from their bondage in Egypt by killing an Egyptian soldier, he set God’s plan back 40 years and caused a whole generation of our people to suffer and die in slavery. (Exodus 2:11-25)
Both these men were acting on promises God had made to them but grew impatient, as if they thought He had forgotten about them or needed their help to get the job done. Showing me that Saul was His problem, not mine, gave the Lord more time to prepare me for my role as the leader of His people. I would have deprived Him of that time had I acted out of my human nature.
I already knew that He would protect me every moment of every day in the interim. (As Peter would later say, He knows how to rescue Godly men from trials while holding the wicked for judgment. 2 Peter 2:9) So I didn’t waste any time by waiting for the Lord, and I wouldn’t have saved any by moving out ahead of Him. These lessons that were so true for me in my situation are just as true for you in yours, for our Lord is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebr. 13:8) See you next time. 04-03-05