Sermon on 1 Samuel 24:1-22 – “Vengeance is Not Yours”

Sermon on 1 Samuel 24:1-22 – “Vengeance is Not Yours”

Sermon for Sunday morning, July 7, 2024 at Unionville Presbyterian Church, BPC


Sermon for Sunday evening, July 7, 2024 at Hudson Valley, URC

Old Testament reading:

[1Sa 23:15-29 ESV] 15 David saw that Saul had come out to seek his life. David was in the wilderness of Ziph at Horesh. 16 And Jonathan, Saul’s son, rose and went to David at Horesh, and strengthened his hand in God. 17 And he said to him, “Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Saul my father also knows this.” 18 And the two of them made a covenant before the LORD. David remained at Horesh, and Jonathan went home. 19 Then the Ziphites went up to Saul at Gibeah, saying, “Is not David hiding among us in the strongholds at Horesh, on the hill of Hachilah, which is south of Jeshimon? 20 Now come down, O king, according to all your heart’s desire to come down, and our part shall be to surrender him into the king’s hand.” 21 And Saul said, “May you be blessed by the LORD, for you have had compassion on me. 22 Go, make yet more sure. Know and see the place where his foot is, and who has seen him there, for it is told me that he is very cunning. 23 See therefore and take note of all the lurking places where he hides, and come back to me with sure information. Then I will go with you. And if he is in the land, I will search him out among all the thousands of Judah.” 24 And they arose and went to Ziph ahead of Saul. Now David and his men were in the wilderness of Maon, in the Arabah to the south of Jeshimon. 25 And Saul and his men went to seek him. And David was told, so he went down to the rock and lived in the wilderness of Maon. And when Saul heard that, he pursued after David in the wilderness of Maon. 26 Saul went on one side of the mountain, and David and his men on the other side of the mountain. And David was hurrying to get away from Saul. As Saul and his men were closing in on David and his men to capture them, 27 a messenger came to Saul, saying, “Hurry and come, for the Philistines have made a raid against the land.” 28 So Saul returned from pursuing after David and went against the Philistines. Therefore that place was called the Rock of Escape. 29 And David went up from there and lived in the strongholds of Engedi.

New Testament reading:

[Rom 12:14-21 ESV] 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Gospel reading:

[Mat 5:43-47 ESV] 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

Scripture reading:

[1Sa 24:1-22 ESV] 1 When Saul returned from following the Philistines, he was told, “Behold, David is in the wilderness of Engedi.” 2 Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel and went to seek David and his men in front of the Wildgoats’ Rocks. 3 And he came to the sheepfolds by the way, where there was a cave, and Saul went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were sitting in the innermost parts of the cave. 4 And the men of David said to him, “Here is the day of which the LORD said to you, ‘Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it shall seem good to you.'” Then David arose and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. 5 And afterward David’s heart struck him, because he had cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. 6 He said to his men, “The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the LORD’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the LORD’s anointed.” 7 So David persuaded his men with these words and did not permit them to attack Saul. And Saul rose up and left the cave and went on his way. 8 Afterward David also arose and went out of the cave, and called after Saul, “My lord the king!” And when Saul looked behind him, David bowed with his face to the earth and paid homage. 9 And David said to Saul, “Why do you listen to the words of men who say, ‘Behold, David seeks your harm’? 10 Behold, this day your eyes have seen how the LORD gave you today into my hand in the cave. And some told me to kill you, but I spared you. I said, ‘I will not put out my hand against my lord, for he is the LORD’s anointed.’ 11 See, my father, see the corner of your robe in my hand. For by the fact that I cut off the corner of your robe and did not kill you, you may know and see that there is no wrong or treason in my hands. I have not sinned against you, though you hunt my life to take it. 12 May the LORD judge between me and you, may the LORD avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you. 13 As the proverb of the ancients says, ‘Out of the wicked comes wickedness.’ But my hand shall not be against you. 14 After whom has the king of Israel come out? After whom do you pursue? After a dead dog! After a flea! 15 May the LORD therefore be judge and give sentence between me and you, and see to it and plead my cause and deliver me from your hand.” 16 As soon as David had finished speaking these words to Saul, Saul said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” And Saul lifted up his voice and wept. 17 He said to David, “You are more righteous than I, for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil. 18 And you have declared this day how you have dealt well with me, in that you did not kill me when the LORD put me into your hands. 19 For if a man finds his enemy, will he let him go away safe? So may the LORD reward you with good for what you have done to me this day. 20 And now, behold, I know that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand. 21 Swear to me therefore by the LORD that you will not cut off my offspring after me, and that you will not destroy my name out of my father’s house.” 22 And David swore this to Saul. Then Saul went home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold.


I have made a very simply outline for this passage. So simple that you might think it uninspiring. But we’ll use this headers as waypoints to look deeper into the theology of the passage.

I. Saul goes into a cave. (v. 1-3)
II. Saul comes out of a cave. (vs. 4-7)
III. David speaks to Saul (v. 8-15)
IV. Saul speaks to David (v. 16-22)


I. Saul goes into a cave. (v. 1-3)

First, we have “Saul goes into a cave.” Of course this would not be notable in the least, except for one fact—David and his 600 men are already in the cave!

In the previous chapter DAVID had defeated the Philistines at Keilah, but the people there betrayed him and sided with Saul. They were probably concerned that Saul would kill them if they were found to be on David’s side. And they had good reason to think this: Saul had killed Ahimelech and the priests at Nob because he thought they were working with David.

Then there was a second Philistine incursion—a raid—and Saul took a break from pursuing David in order to fight the Philistines. So David was saved for a moment.

But quickly Saul is back on the warpath against David. He’s got a single-minded objective: find and kill David.

He takes three thousand men with him to search for David, and following a tip he goes to the wilderness of Engedi (near the Dead Sea) to capture David. These are craggy rocks and inaccessible places. The fact that Saul would go there shows how infatuated he is with his goal of killing David.

Then it is said “Saul went in to the cave to relieve himself.” Many older commentaries say this was Saul resting with a nap in the heat of the day. But the more modern consensus is that Saul was visiting the men’s room.

And there is debate on the subject. If Saul was sleeping the cutting of his robe might have been more easily done. But the fact that he goes into the cave alone seems to imply he needed privacy.

Ultimately, the purpose of Saul’s visit to the cave is incidental to the story. It is not where the focus lies.

II. Saul comes out of a cave. (vs. 4-7)
So Saul went into a cave.
And Saul came out of a cave!

This alone does not make for much of a thriller of a story.
I’ve gone into a cave and out again.
But I’ve never come so close to death., with 600 men saying “let’s kill him.”

You see, the cave that Saul went into … well David and his men were already in there too. And they heard and saw Saul.

It was a perfect opportunity, they thought, to kill Saul.

And David’s men said,

“Here is the day of which the LORD said to you, ‘Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it shall seem good to you.'”

It is like they are saying “God has given you carte blanche to do what you want.”

Only there is a problem. A BIG problem. God never said this. He never said “do to him as it shall seem good to you.” At least, that is not recorded in the Scriptures. Most likely, David’s men have invented this saying.

But it is 600 to 1. David’s men want to kill Saul, but David wants to spare him. And it is good here that David is in charge and there isn’t a pure democracy. You know in our nation we have a representative democracy. A pure democracy —where everyone votes on everything and 50%+1 wins, that would be total chaos.

And here David knows better than his soldiers.

So what does David do?

He doesn’t kill Saul, he “stealthily cuts off a corner of Saul’s robe.” And EVEN THAT proves too much for David. His conscience tells him, EVEN THAT was wrong. “David’s heart struck him.” And David says:

6 “The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the LORD’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the LORD’s anointed.”

There are a few things gong on here. A few reasons why David doesn’t kill Saul. That really is the big question of this chapter. Why doesn’t David kill Saul? Well, let’s look at three reasons.

1. David gives respect to the king chosen of God.

2. David doesn’t let circumstances overturn God’s commands.

3. David recognizes that it is God’s place to remove Saul, not his own.

1. David gives respect to the king chosen of God.

David gives respect to Saul even calling him “my father” in verse 11.

Saul is the King, after all. And God has made Saul to be king. And even if Saul has proven to be a sinful king, this doesn’t give David the right to kill him.

Although Saul is unworthy, God has brought him into that role as king. And its a bit like marriage; what God has brought together, let not man separate.

So we come upon this phrase in verse 6 and again in verse 10, to the effect that David won’t put his hand against the Lord’s anointed. We find the phrase in the Psalms too: “touch not the Lord’s anointed.” And this phrase is horribly misuses in pentecostal and charismatic churches today who say you can’t challenge the teaching of the pastor. But that is not the meaning of the text. Of course there are times when a pastor can and should be challenged. Paul, for example, tells Timothy (in 1 Timothy 5:19-20) to “rebuke elders who are in sin.” And the Bereans did the right thing, searching the Scriptures,.

The “anointed” in the context is the king, not any preacher, and no New Testament apostle ever use the phrase “touch not God’s anointed” for himself. That would be exactly the opposite of the humility they should have, and a misunderstanding that they (rather than the Scripture) are the authority.

Now, a second reason why David doesn’t kill Saul:

2. David doesn’t let circumstances overturn God’s commands.

REPEAT: David doesn’t let circumstances overturn God’s commands.]


I gave some sermons a while ago now on various Biblical virtues. Patience, Modesty, Peace, Gentleness, Prudence, Verity, and Humility. But there are many other virtues. Restraint is one of them.

And “restraint” has fallen on hard times.

We are all taught in this world to “stand up for ourselves” and to “have a voice.”

Well, all to often we speak too quickly. We act hastily. We need restraint.

Especially do we need restrain with anger and with anything that is evil.

We need to hold back, to restrain ourselves from doing that which we should not.

David has mostly restrained himself. He doesn’t kill Saul, but he did cut off part of his robe.

He doesn’t let circumstances overturn God’s commands.

His people point out “this is a good opportunity.” “Now is the god-ordained time to get Saul.”

But circumstances don’t TELL us anything.

We cannot read into circumstances.

We must obey the clear Word of God. THOU SHALL NOT MURDER.

So we should learn restraint.

And we have a “RESTRAINER.” That is, the word of God.

If something comes up to us and it is against the word of God, we are not to do it.

We must chose the word of God over the circumstances that come to us.

This is the old “peer pressure” you were always warned about in school. Don’t bow to peer pressure.

So what do you do? Go against God when you have a good opportunity? Or stay with God always?
But the Lord is telling me …” Or maybe he isn’t. You simply can’t read into the circumstances. If David did that, then he would kill Saul. “The Lord has brought Saul into my hand.s … therefore, I should kill him.” Or maybe there is another option. “The Lord has brought him into my hands … so I will learn restraint.”

Titus 2:12 tells us that the grace of God “trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions.” So there is Biblical support for the virtue of restraint.

Application: Examples of Restraint to Emulate
A. Not saying out loud every thought that comes to your mind. I’ve had it a number of times in recent months where I’m about to say something, but am interrupted, and then thinking over what I was going to say I realize it was good that I was interrupted. We need restraint on our speech.
B. Another example of restraint. Don’t kick someone when they’re down. You may have seen the presidential debate a couple weeks ago. Not President Biden’s best moment. And former President Trump did a light kick while Biden was down. Trump said “I don’t know what he said at the end of that sentence.” You might critique Trump for that, or you might credit him for not kicking harder. Well, let us learn to not kick someone when they’re down.

Fortunately, David’s restraint not only held himself back but held his men back as well. And so Saul “rose up and left the cave and went on his way.”

So a third reason why David does not kill Saul:

3. David recognizes that it is God’s place to remove Saul, not his own.

Though Saul had thrown a spear at David three times previously, vengeance is not David’s.

So I’ve titled this sermon “Vengeance is Not Yours.”
Rather, we know God says “Vengeance is Mine.” (Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19)

Why is this? Why are WE not to take vengeance, but leave it to the Lord.

Well, there’s a number of reasons:

– you don’t have the right to break the law
– you might not know all the facts
– a person might turn from evil and believer in Christ
– God reserves vengeance for himself. Only he brings perfect justice.

III. David speaks to Saul (v. 8-15)

Only after Saul leaves the cave, do we find David speaking to him.

And there are two messages that David seeks to get across.

1. I am not your enemy.
2. God will get his vengeance.

To prove that David is not Saul’s enemy he says:
“Behold, this day your eyes have seen how the LORD gave you today into my hand in the cave. And some told me to kill you, but I spared you. “
And he has evidence of this truth: “I cut off the corner of your robe and did not kill you, you may know and see that there is no wrong or treason in my hands.”

It is as if he saying “Look, all along, I’ve not been your enemy.” You may see ME as YOUR enemy, but I do not return that view. And there is no good cause for your opposition to me.

But, David says, you don’t have to watch over your shoulder for me, but you better take warning of the judgment of God.
He says: “12 May the LORD judge between me and you, may the LORD avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you. “
And again, “15 May the LORD therefore be judge and give sentence between me and you, and see to it and plead my cause and deliver me from your hand.”

While vengeance is the Lord’s, David does pray for God’s vengeance, His wrath, His justice to be done.

And think this is where we often struggle to understand the Scriptures.

David’s prayers of vengeance are called “imprecatory prayers” or “imprecatory psalms.”

And the struggle is that, as the New Testament teaches us, we are to pray for our enemies! And we are to pray for their conversion. And leave vengeance to God. But then, regarding all who do not repent and regarding the evil that remains in the world, we pray for God’s justice. We pray for the end of evil. That is Nahum’s prayer when comfort Judah telling them that God will destroy evil Nineveh, and your enemy will no longer threaten you.

Your enemy will no longer threaten you. That is the promise of the Lord.
David doesn’t take it into his own hands to end Saul.
And neither should we seek our own vengeance. But we are to leave it to the Lord.

This doesn’t mean we can’t pursue justice. We’re just not to be vigilantes.
We may use the police, the courts, the law, the governing authorities that God has established in order to find justice.

We learn in Romans 13 that the governing authorities are instituted by God, they are “servants of God, avengers who carry out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” (Romans 13:4)

And militaries are likewise called at times to fight against evil. David, for example, was wiling to fight the Philistines. He was not a pacifist.

So we see that God has given means for justice in This world.
But ultimate justice comes at the end of the world, and is brought down by God upon evil.

IV. Saul speaks to David (v. 16-22)

Finally we have Saul speaking to David a the end of the chapter.

Here he praises David for being more righteous than him.

This idea that Saul presents, that David is MORE righteous than him, it is a distraction from the truth. The true is NOT that David is MORE righteous than Saul. The truth is that David IS righteous and Saul is not. But that is a very hard truth for a person like Saul to accept.

And that’s what you’ll see almost always with unbelievers. “I’m not so bad.” You might be a little more righteous than me, but I’m not a MURDERER.
Funny enough, Christians take the opposition approach. I am only righteous by virtue of Christ’s work for me; otherwise I deserve the wrath of God like any murderer or thief.

In fact, our conscience tells us regularly that we are sinners, against God. David had it in his conscience not to kill Saul. And we too, by the conscience and knowledge of the Word of God know right from wrong, and we know that we are sinners.

In fact,

Truth: Your conscience as a Christian will grow as you are sanctified. The things you once thought we OK, you will now be bothered by. Things you didn’t even know were wrong, things you were unaware of, now will be on your conscience, for your good to prevent you from those sins. Restraint through conscience.


But however “righteous” one is. Even for David, we must remember the truth “Vengeance is Not Yours.”

What are we to think then of vengeance and justice?

The Scriptures have “imprecatory prayers” in the psalms given against people who are evil. And yet we are told in the New Testament to “pray for our enemies.” How do we reconcile these two things?

We are to pray both.

Pray for your enemies. Pray that they will be converted. That is what the imprecatory Psalms first do: there is the prayer for repentance.
But when and where God’s grace does not come and change a man to have faith in Christ, the only other alternative is God’s wrath. And so we are to pray that evil will cease; either by grace or by wrath.

It is not wrong to desire justice. It is not wrong to desire that the speeder on the road gets pulled over and ticketed.

Whenever we pray “Lord come quickly,” or “Thy Kingdom Come” we are praying an imprecation of God’s wrath upon His enemies.

But it is wrong to take justice into your own hands. We are to rely on the “governing authorities” which God has established, and ultimately upon his vengeance to end evil. Let us have restrain and pray to God knowing that His justice will prevail.

Let us pray.