Saturday, 19 November 2016

Never take revenge!

David and Abishai went to the army by night, and there was Saul, lying asleep inside the camp with his spear stuck in the ground… Abishai said to David, ‘Today God has given your enemy into your hands! Now let me pin him to the ground with one thrust of my spear; I won’t strike twice.’ But David said to Abishai, ‘Don’t destroy him!…’ 1 Samuel 26:7-9

If anyone hurts or upsets us, I suspect most of us feel the wish to get our own back. We probably wouldn’t admit it to anyone, but the thought is there, gnarling away at our insides.

Revenge… it can be a powerful motivation. You hear of people who nurse it for years, allowing it to dominate their whole lives. “Vengeance is sweet,” goes the saying; well, so it may be. But it leaves a bad and bitter after-taste.

Saul, king of Israel, is obsessively jealous of the young man David. He senses that David will succeed him as king, and he is determined not to let that happen. So he gets his soldiers together and starts hunting him to death. David and his men are forced to run away into the wilderness.

There comes a day when David creeps into Saul’s camp and finds the king and his bodyguard fast asleep. What an opportunity to get his own back! His lieutenant Abishai gets really excited: “This is the moment we’ve been waiting for! God has delivered Saul into your hands! Just say the word and I’ll pin him to the ground with one stroke of my spear!”

And David says… “No – don’t do it.”

This is impressive. Saul and David lived in a world where life was cheap, and where showing mercy to your enemies was out of the question. To let Abishai carry out his wish must have been massively tempting, and there were few people who would have blamed him if he had done so – even though Saul was God’s anointed king (verses 9-11).

But no – he prefers to try and win Saul’s respect and love. A similar thing has already happened (look back at chapter 24). Saul was deeply moved then: “… he wept aloud. ‘You are more righteous than I… You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly’”. But sadly it didn’t last. But that doesn’t stop David from giving it another try.

Of course, if we found we had an “enemy” at our mercy, so to speak, we wouldn’t (I hope!) be tempted to treat them with violence – certainly not to stick a spear into them.

But there are all sorts of ways we might get our own back: a snidey remark, perhaps, seemingly innocent but guaranteed to cause pain or embarrassment; a morsel of spiteful gossip dropped in someone else’s ear; using a bit of influence we have in order to prevent them achieving some aim.

Oh yes, let’s be honest, if you’re cunning enough (I nearly wrote “if you’re nasty enough”), there are plenty of ways of putting the boot in even with a big friendly smile on your face. What horrible hypocrites we can be!

David lived roughly one thousand years before Jesus spoke those wonderful words, “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44). Wonderful words indeed – and also staggeringly revolutionary, in our day as much as in his.

They trip easily off our tongues, as if they were the most ordinary words in the world. Perhaps the only way we can really appreciate them is if we think what Jesus might have said, but didn’t…

He might have said, “Avoid your enemies” – just keep out of their way, and hope that they’ll keep out of yours. In time the whole business will be forgotten and life can go on. But no: bad and ugly thoughts can’t be tossed in the rubbish and wheeled away by the bin-men. Their poison lingers.

He might have said, “Tolerate your enemies” – all right, put up with them, give them a frosty smile if you happen to meet them, be civil, shake their hand if you have to. But no: that might be quite good in this world’s eyes, but something infinitely better is expected of Jesus’ people.

No – love them! Love them! Wish them well. Look for opportunities to do them good. Pray for them. Be prepared to suffer for their sakes. Do for them what David did for Saul. Do for them… what Jesus did for you, and for the whole world.

Picture the scene: Saul lies snoring on the ground; David and Abishai stand looking down on him; Abishai pleads with David to grab his revenge; and David shakes his head, actually loving the enemy helpless at his feet. One thousand years before Christ; yet surely here was the true spirit of Christ.

Well, what about us – two thousand years later?

Lord Jesus Christ, by your Holy Spirit please drain my soul of every drop of spite, malice, jealousy and revenge, even towards those who have hurt me badly. Teach me to love, as you have first loved me. Amen.

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