A man’s character is more clearly revealed by the manner in which he treats his enemies than by the way he treats his friends.
The divine instruction on how to treat those who are personal enemies is found in Luke 6:27, 28. Jesus said, “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.” We live in a world where many people, by their feelings or actions say, “He has slugged me once, I’ll slug him twice!” But Jesus said to love them and do good to those who hate you.
The apostle Paul, writing about this same subject gave this advice: “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Therefore, ‘If your enemy is hungery, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink, for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:17–21.
This is often hard counsel for most to apply. It is far easier to pay back. After all, don’t they deserve it? Or at least, walk away and stay out of their lives, but return good for evil—that is way too hard! This world would be a much different place than it is today if there were more people trying to follow this counsel.
There have been men in the past who have lived by this rule. Many stories in the Bible tell of men who developed the ability to refrain from avenging themselves and, in return for evil, give good. One of those men who had developed this trait in an eminent degree was the man David. David is usually remembered by many other prominent things he did during his life—as a young teenager, fighting the giant Goliath, and later in his life committing that terrible sin against one of his mighty men of valor, Uriah the Hittite, as well as other things. He is not often considered for the tremendous patience that he developed during the many years of trial and suffering he experienced while being hunted for his life because of the insane jealousy of King Saul. Many times Saul attempted to kill him. In fact, once he took several thousand people with him to chase David and his men, who numbered only a few hundred, in order that he might kill him.
Something to think about is what you would do or how you would react if the person that was trying to kill you was all of a sudden in your power and you had the opportunity to kill that person if you so desired. In the book of I Samuel 24 we find a story about this same thing. It says, “Now it happened, when Saul had returned from following the Philistines, that it was told him, saying, ‘Take note! David is in the wilderness of En Gedi.’ Then Saul took three thousand chosen men from all Israel, and went to seek David and his men on the Rocks of the Wild Goats. So he came to the sheepfolds by the road, where there was a cave; and Saul went in to attend to his needs. (David and his men were staying in the recesses of the cave.) Then the men of David said to him, ‘This is the day of which the Lord said to you, “Behold, I will deliver your enemy into your hand, that you may do to him as it seems good to you.” ’ And David arose and secretly cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. Now it happened afterward that David’s heart troubled him because he had cut Saul’s robe. And he said to his men, ‘The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord.’ So David restrained his servants with these words, and did not allow them to rise against Saul. And Saul got up from the cave and went on his way.” Verses 1–7.
And then here’s what happened. “David also arose afterward, went out of the cave, and called out to Saul, saying, ‘My lord the king!’ And when Saul looked behind him, David stooped with his face to the earth, and bowed down. And David said to Saul: ‘Why do you listen to the words of men who say, “Indeed David seeks your harm”? Look, this day your eyes have seen that the Lord delivered you today into my hand in the cave, and someone urged me to kill you. But my eye spared you, and I said, “I will not stretch out my hand against my lord, for he is the Lord’s anointed.” Moreover, my father, see! Yes, see the corner of your robe in my hand! For in that I cut off the corner of your robe, and did not kill you, know and see that there is neither evil nor rebellion in my hand, and I have not sinned against you. Yet you hunt my life to take it. Let the Lord judge between you and me, and let the Lord avenge me on you. But my hand shall not be against you.’ ” Verses 8–12.
When Saul saw the corner of his robe in David’s hand he realized that David and his men had been back in the darkness of the cave, right there where he had been sleeping. He realized that his life had been spared, that David could easily have taken a sword and killed him while he slept, but he did not do it. Saul was humbled. He realized that David had returned to him good for evil. “So it was, when David had finished speaking these words to Saul, that Saul said, ‘Is this your voice, my son David?’ And Saul lifted up his voice and wept. Then he said to David: ‘You are more righteous than I; for you have rewarded me with good, whereas I have rewarded you with evil.’ ” Verses 16, 17.
O friend, there it is. David was being hunted. Saul was going to kill him, to take his life. David had an opportunity to take Saul’s life. How easy it is for the Lord God of heaven to switch circumstances around so that everything is up-side down and those that apparently are on the defensive and do not have the resources, those that are on the weaker side end up having the advantage. Saul, with his vast army, had the advantage against David and his small band of men, but David, when the tables turned, spared Saul’s life and proved to him that he had no intention to do him any harm. Saul left and let David go, but this was just a temporary relief and David was still afraid because of everything that Saul had done. He would not venture to put himself in the hands of Saul. After Saul left it appeared that David would be left alone for a while, but it was during this period of time that David had another interesting experience.
After the prophet Samuel died, David felt less secure than he had before. The life of Samuel had been a positive influence on the whole nation. When a leader is godly, he has an influence on the whole nation that he leads. However, when a leader is wicked, the Bible says, “The righteous take cover.” David felt less secure knowing that Saul would feel a freedom to wreak vengeance upon him without Samuel being around.
During this time while David was in the forest and in the wild country around Carmel, near the little village of Maon, there was a very wealthy man who lived there who was a descendant of Caleb. He had 3,000 sheep, 1,000 goats, and other livestock and large possessions, and of course, he had shepherds who took care of his livestock. Whenever David’s men were around where Nabal’s shepherds were, they took care of Nabal’s sheep. David was a shepherd and knew all about sheep and livestock, and he had his men take care that nothing happened to Nabal’s sheep while they were nearby.
In fact, the Bible records that the shepherds appreciated this help very much. As long as David and his men were around, they didn’t lose any stock. David heard that Nabal was shearing his sheep and thought that since they had done all of this service for him maybe he would help with some provisions, so he sent ten young men to Nabal with the following instructions:
“Go up to Carmel, go to Nabal, and greet him in my name. And thus you shall say to him who lives in prosperity: ‘Peace be to you, peace to your house, and peace to all that you have! Now I have heard that you have shearers. Your shepherds were with us, and we did not hurt them, nor was there anything missing from them all the while they were in Carmel. Ask your young men, and they will tell you. Therefore let my young men find favor in your eyes, for we come on a feast day. Please give whatever comes to your hand to your servants and to your son David.’ ” I Samuel 25:5–8. When David’s men went with this request to Nabal, they received a terrible response. It says, “Then Nabal answered David’s servants, and said, ‘Who is David, and who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants nowadays who break away each one from his master. Shall I then take my bread and my water and my meat that I have killed for my shearers, and give it to men when I do not know where they are from?’ So David’s young men turned on their heels and went back; and they came and told him all these words.” Verses 10–12.
When they told him all these things, David became indignant; in fact, he became outraged that Nabal was returning him evil for good. David was human; he had not yet learned all the lessons in patience that God’s children must learn if they are going to enter the kingdom of heaven. “Then David said to his men, ‘Every man gird on his sword.’ … And about four hundred men went with David, and two hundred stayed with the supplies.” Verse 13. There was no question as to what was going to happen to Nabal and his houshold. However, there was a person who intervened. What happened next shows how God intervenes in the lives of His children when they are about to make a terrible mistake.
One of Nabal’s servants, recognizing they were in a dangerous situation and that David could destroy the entire household in order to get what he needed, if he so chose, went and told Nabal’s wife Abigail what had happened. “Now one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, saying, ‘Look, David sent messengers from the wilderness to greet our master; and he reviled them. But the men were very good to us, and we were not hurt, nor did we miss anything as long as we accompanied them, when we were in the fields. They were a wall to us both by night and day, all the time we were with them keeping the sheep. Now therefore, know and consider what you will do, for harm is determined against our master and against all his household. For he is such a scoundrel that one cannot speak to him.’ Then Abigail made haste, and took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five sheep already dressed, five seahs of roasted grain, one hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs, and loaded them on donkeys. And she said to her servants, ‘Go on before me; see, I am coming after you.’ But she did not tell her husband Nabal.” Verses 14–19.
“Now when Abigail saw David, she hastened to dismount from the donkey, fell on her face before David, and bowed down to the ground. So she fell at his feet and said: ‘On me, my lord, on me let this iniquity be! And please let your maidservant speak in your ears, and hear the words of your maidservant. Please, let not my lord regard this scoundrel Nabal. For as his name is, so is he: Nabal is his name, and folly is with him. But I, your maidservant, did not see the young men of my lord whom you sent. Now therefore, my lord, as the Lord lives and as your soul lives, since the Lord has held you back from coming to bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hand, now then, let your enemies and those who seek harm for my lord be as Nabal. And now this present which your maidservant has brought to my lord, let it be given to the young men who follow my lord. Please forgive the trespass of your maidservant. For the Lord will certainly make for my lord an enduring house, because my lord fights the battles of the Lord, and evil is not found in you throughout your days.
“ ‘Yet a man has risen to pursue you and seek your life, but the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living with the Lord your God; and the lives of your enemies He shall sling out, as from the pocket of a sling. And it shall come to pass, when the Lord has done for my lord according to all the good that He has spoken concerning you, and has appointed you ruler over Israel, that this will be no grief to you, nor offense of heart to my lord, either that you have shed blood without cause, or that my lord has avenged himself. But when the Lord has dealt well with my lord, then remember your maidservant.’ ” Verses 23–31.
In this speech from Abigail is seen a man who was irritated and a woman who had wisdom to speak words that would be soothing and calm the wounded spirit. She addressed David with as much reverence as if she were speaking to a crowned monarch. She gave him kind words to soothe his irritated feelings and pled with him on behalf of her husband. We see in this woman a person who is full of wisdom and the love of God. She was what Jesus referred to as a peacemaker. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Matthew 5:9. Abigail was full of kindness and peace and she shed upon David and his men a heavenly influence soothing their irritated feelings which prevented them from committing a rash impulse. If there were more people like Abigail, much evil in the world could be stopped. When David listened to this gentle, kind reproof, he accepted it with a humble heart. Later he wrote, “Let the righteous strike me; it shall be a kindness. And let him rebuke me; it shall be as excellent oil.” Psalm 141:5.
David gave thanks and blessings because she had advised him righteously. He said, “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me! And blessed is your advice and blessed are you, because you have kept me this day from coming to bloodshed and from avenging myself with my own hand.” I Samuel 25:32, 33. So many people refuse to receive a rebuke well, and some, if they are reproved, and do receive the rebuke without becoming impatient, think that they have done something wonderful. But how few there are who take a rebuke with gratitude of heart and thanksgiving, blessing those who seek to save them from pursuing an evil course.
This was a second time where David showed an unusual characteristic, the ability not only to receive a rebuke but to thank the one who was rebuking him for keeping him from doing something he should not do.
The world needs more people like Abigail, more peacemakers, more people who have wisdom to soothe the feelings of those that have become irritated, to stop the evil consequences. The Bible says that the person who has love in his heart does not become irritated. (See I Corinthians 13.)
There was still another time when David demonstrated that the way a man treats his enemies reveals more clearly his character than the way he treats his friends. The Bible records that after Samuel died, Saul arose and he went into the wilderness of Zif with 3,000 men, having decided again that he was going to kill David. Remember, David had already had an opportunity to kill him in the cave and he had not done it. At that time Saul was humbled and wept saying he was sorry. But now, some time later, his jealousy and envy again got the best of him. The Bible says, “Who can stand in front of envy?” Saul decided again to go after David. David sent out spies to find out what Saul was doing. “So David arose and came to the place where Saul had encamped. And David saw the place where Saul lay, and Abner the son of Ner, the commander of his army. Now Saul lay within the camp, with the people encamped all around him.” I Samuel 26:5.
It’s interesting how easy it is for the Lord to turn upside-down the counsels of men so that the strongest are weak, and the most prudent and the wise do not have the skill that they thought they had. Saul and his army were out to kill David again. David finds out where they are and sneaks up there with his men in the dark and sees, of all things, that there were no watchmen. Even in ancient times armies had night watchmen that were supposed to watch over the army, but the whole of Saul’s army was asleep; there wasn’t anybody awake or watching. David said, “I’m going to go down there. Will one of you go with me?” And Abishai said, “Yes, I’ll go with you.”
So they went down into the camp. It says, “Then Abishai said to David, ‘God has delivered your enemy into your hand this day. Now therefore, please, let me strike him at once with the spear, right to the earth; and I will not have to strike him a second time!’ ” I Samuel 26:8. Here was the second opportunity for David, if he had wanted, to kill the one who was seeking to kill him.
It is a natural reaction to think that if you try to kill me, I’ll kill you first. Many murders have been committed because of that reasoning. Twice David had the opportunity to kill the person that was trying to kill him. “But David said to Abishai, ‘Do not destroy him; for who can stretch out his hand against the Lord’s anointed, and be guiltless?’ David said furthermore, ‘As the Lord lives, the Lord shall strike him, or his day shall come to die, or he shall go out to battle and perish. The Lord forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the Lord’s anointed. But please, take now the spear and the jug of water that are by his head, and let us go.’ ” Verses 9–11.
So they took the spear that was stuck in the ground right by Saul, and they took the cruse of water, the jar of water, which was right by it and they slipped out silently just as they had come. And when they got on a hill, a sufficient distance away, so that they could not easily be chased and over run, David cried out to Abner and said: “ ‘This thing that you have done is not good. As the Lord lives, you deserve to die, because you have not guarded your master, the Lord’s anointed. And now see where the king’s spear is, and the jug of water that was by his head.’ Then Saul knew David’s voice, and said, ‘Is that your voice, my son David?’ ” Verses 16, 17. David suggests that one of Saul’s men come and fetch those things that David had taken. This time Saul was more impressed than he was the time before, saying, “I have sinned. Return, my son David. For I will harm you no more.” Verse 21. However, David knew better than to trust himself with Saul, so he left.
David, the man described as the man after God’s own heart, demonstrated the principle of “do good to those who hate you.” How is it with you? Jesus said, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” Matthew 5:44. The apostle Paul said, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21. That is the rule we must follow if we are to reflect the character of Jesus.
(Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church of Free Seventh-day Adventists in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: email@example.com, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.