And David cried to the people and to Abner the son of Ner, saying, Answerest thou not, Abner? Then Abner answered and said, Who art thou that criest to the king?
And David said to Abner, Art not thou a valiant man? and who is like to thee in Israel? wherefore then hast thou not kept thy lord the king? for there came one of the people in to destroy the king thy lord.
This thing is not good that thou hast done. As the Lord liveth, ye are worthy to die, because ye have not kept your master, the Lord’s anointed. And know see where the king’s spear is, and the cruse of water that was at his bolster.
And Saul knew David’s voice, and said, Is this thy voice, my son David? And David said, It is my voice, my lord, O king.
For a time it seemed that David’s life had passed its most severe crisis and that things would be a little easier for him now. After David had spared Saul’s life in that cave at Engedi, Saul had withdrawn his forces and no threatening gestures had been met from him for many months. Furthermore, after Abigail dissuaded him from wreaking his vengeance upon her husband Nabal, God took his part and smote Nabal so that he died. Admiring Abigail as an extremely sensible woman, David soon took her to be his wife, affording him a companionship such as he had not had since fleeing from his home in the royal city. Yet, in itself we cannot but conclude that David’s action here was a grievous mistake. He was already a married man, whether his wife Michal presently lived with him or not, and to take to himself another wife was only to act contrary to the original ordinance of marriage and to lay the ground work for what was to become the greatest misery in his later life, and in his children’s lives also. Very soon the fruits of his action began to reveal themselves. Having two wives, he was not yet satisfied and married a third, Ahimolam of Jezreel. Meanwhile, Saul, hearing of his polygamy and being dissatisfied, took his daughter Michal, David’s first wife, and gave her to another. It was surely the beginning of the most bitter page in David’s life.
At the same time, although Saul had refrained from further pursuit of David, it did not mean that his hatred for David had been overcome. In fact, through the years of David’s banishment, there had arisen within the royal court a group of men who were determined not to let it be so. These were ambitious men who saw in the displacing of David an opportunity for them to vie for the position of importance he had filled. Furthermore, even Jonathan, Saul’s own son, was drawing more and more into the background. His father no longer trusted him, and he no longer had any heart for the policies his father was following. This left an even higher goal for which the ambitious of the court might aim.
Months went by in which Saul refrained from all overt acts in opposition to David. His last shameful departure from the cave of Engedi had been too embarrassing for him to allow it to be repeated. But with the ambitious men of Saul’s court, the pursuit of David had become a passion. They loved to spend lengthy days together devising plans by which David might be captured or killed; and they were constantly exerting pressure upon Saul to put them into practice. Moreover, Saul’s own heart was basically in sympathy with this all. He knew now full well that God had ordained that David should receive the throne of Israel after him. His own son Jonathan had long acknowledged this and advocated it as a good thing. But to Saul the thought was bitter, and he could not escape the conviction that, if only something could be done to destroy David, even these plans of Israel’s God would have to come to naught.
Thus it was that after a time, Saul once again gathered his forces together to resume the pursuit of David. Once again it was occasioned by the Ziphites. They remembered how close they had come to earning the royal favor by preparing a trap for David in the wood of Hachilah. Now once again David had come into their territory, and they were quick to try to repeat the same trick. Quickly they sent the message to Saul, “Doth not David hide himself in the hill of Hachilah, which is before Jeshimon?”
Neither had Saul forgotten that place. It was the closest he had ever come to capturing David; and the temptation to try to repeat it was too great. He must try it once more. David, however, was much too clever a strategist to allow himself to be caught twice in the same trap. Long before Saul and his army came near, he had his spies out following his every move. Thus by the time Saul came to Hachilah, David’s men had withdrawn to another portion of the wilderness. But all of the time David’s spies were watching the camp of Saul, and he knew exactly what Saul was about. He had his plan also. David remembered how effective his previous encounter with Saul had been when he had spared Saul’s life at the cave of Engedi, and he was determined to repeat the same move once again.
Thus it was that, no sooner had Saul set up his base camp at Hachilah, than David with two of his men, Ahimelech the Hittite and Abishai the brother of Joab, came personally to examine the camp. From the hilltop overlooking the camp they were able to examine its whole outlay while keeping themselves completely hidden. This he did, taking particular note of the tent in which Saul slept and the position of Abner, the long time captain of Saul’s army. David knew Abner well, often he had fought with him, and it hurt him to think that Abner would cooperate with Saul in pursuing him now. It was when night was finally beginning to fall that David turned to his two companions to ask of them which would go down with him into the very camp itself and which one would remain behind to watch from the hillside. It was Abishai that volunteered to go along. There was something unusually quiet about the camp of Saul when David and Abishai approached it. God was with them, and He had caused a deep sleep to fall upon the army just as He had done for Gideon years before under similar circumstances. The guards who should have been watching the camp were all dozing heavily at their posts. Even the lightest sleeper and insomniac had no trouble sleeping that night. The whole camp was perfectly quiet and still. Carefully and without notice David and Abishai made their way into the very heart of the camp, where were the tents of Saul and Abner. Into the tent of Saul they entered.
Once they had entered the tent, the sight of the sleeping king was too much for Abishai. He knew David’s attitude and intentions full well; but the impulse was almost irresistible. Earnestly he turned to David and whispered, “God hath delivered thine enemy into thine hand this day; now therefore let me smite him, I pray thee, with the spear even to the earth at once, and I will not smite him the second time.” But David would have none of it. Through long hours of prayer and meditation he had come to the firm conviction that he should do nothing himself that would ever serve to inflict harm upon the king which God had anointed; and from this he was not about to be moved. Quickly he whispered back, “Destroy him not: for who can stretch forth his hand against the Lord’s anointed, and be guiltless? As the Lord liveth, the Lord shall smite him; or his day shall come to die; or he shall descend into battle, and perish. The Lord forbid that I should stretch forth mine hand against the Lord’s anointed; but, I pray thee, take thou now the spear that is at his bolster, and the cruse of water, and let us go.” This was David’s only desire — to prove to Saul that he had been there and that there was not bitterness or hatred or desire to hurt the king in his heart.
The departure from the camp went even more easily and swiftly than their entrance. Soon Abishai and David were back with Ahimelech on the ridge overlooking the camp. Patiently David waited until the first rays of dawn were lighting the sky, and then he stepped forth and began to speak with all of the power of his voice. The morning air was still and clear so that every word he spoke carried clearly into the very heart of the camp. Now the men were sleepy no longer. At the very first sound of David’s voice, it seemed that the whole camp was awake and out of their tents waiting to hear what this voice had to say. It was strange, almost mystical, and an awesome chill of fear seemed to pass through the camp as they detected the note of ridicule and scorn that the voice seemed to convey. The voice was addressed to them, but even more to their king and to Abner their captain, calling him by name and tauntingly asking, “Answerest thou not, Abner?”
It was an embarrassment to Abner, first awakened and then singled out by this early morning voice that he did not recognize or understand. But it seemed that there was nothing else to do but to answer it; and so, seeking to turn attention away from himself he answered “Who art thou that criest to the king?”
But now the voice was ready. This was what it was waiting for. Loudly and clearly it began to speak, addressing itself still primarily to Abner but plainly desiring everyone to hear. “Art not thou a valiant man,” it tauntingly went on, “And who is like to thee in Israel? wherefore then hast thou not kept thy lord the king? for there came one of the people in to destroy the king thy lord. This thing is not good that thou hast done. And the Lord liveth, ye are worthy to die, because ye have not kept your master, the Lord’s anointed. And now see where the king’s spear is, and the cruse of water that was at his bolster.”
To Abner and the people it was all still a mystery, accusing them of something they did not clearly understand. It was Saul who first recognized the voice, and its sound struck into his heart with a new flood of guilt and humiliation. With an anguished, almost despairing voice, he stepped forward to cry out and answer, “Is this thy voice, my son David?”
These words struck home, and now suddenly the taunt was gone from the voice. Still clearly, but with a new tone of meekness and sadness, it answered back, “It is my voice, my lord, O king.” And then after a painful pause, “Wherefore doth my lord thus pursue after his servant? for what have I done? or what evil is in mine hand? Now therefore, I pray thee, let my lord the king hear the words of his servant. If the Lord have stirred thee up against me, let him accept an offering; but if they be the children of men, cursed be they before the Lord; for they have driven me out this day from abiding in the inheritance of the Lord, saying, Go, serve other gods. Now therefore, let not my blood fall to the earth before the face of the Lord: for the king of Israel is come out to seek a flea, as when one doth hunt a partridge in the mountains.”
The words beat like a hammer upon the head of the king causing him to cry out in admission of that which his whole nature didn’t want to admit. There was anguish written all over his face as he answered back, “I have sinned: return, my son David: for I will no more do thee harm, because my soul was precious in thine eyes this day: behold, I have played the fool, and have erred exceedingly.”
These words must surely have pulled at David’s heart, for there was nothing that he could have desired more than to return to the joy of serving Saul as he had in former years. But he knew the changeableness of Saul’s nature too well to yield to even such an appeal. There was a new calmness in his voice as he only answered, “Behold the king’s spear! and let one of the young men come over and fetch it. The Lord render to every man his righteousness and his faithfulness: for the Lord delivered thee into my hand to day, but I would not stretch forth mine hand against the Lord’s anointed. And, behold, as thy life was much set by this day in mine eyes, so let my life be much set by in the eyes of the Lord, and let him deliver me out of all tribulation.”
The answering words of Saul were the last that David would ever hear from those lips, and they sounded as a final seal upon his life, coming as they did from the lips of his most hateful enemy. Saul’s parting words were these, “Blessed be thou, my son David: thou shalt both do great things, and also shalt still prevail.” It was not what he wanted to say. To his dying day he would himself refuse to believe them. But such was the power of God that his lips were forced to speak it.