Unlikely Hero Part Three: "Incident At En Gedi"

This week I am continuing the sermon series on the life of David, entitled, "Unlikely Hero."  The passage of scripture we'll be exploring contains an interesting story that teaches us what it means to truly forgive those who have wronged us.  This is a story of how David was being pursued by Saul who wanted to kill him and how David spared Saul's life...

Let me begin by asking you a couple of questions... you don't have to answer them right away---at least out loud.

"What's the worst thing that has ever been done to you by another human being?"  I know it's not the easiest thing in the world to think about that kind of stuff---especially on a Sunday morning when you're supposed to be feeling all warm and fuzzy in church.  But try to think about it anyway.

Then ponder this question...

"Did you ever really forgive them?"

No... I mean really forgive them.

Read 1 Samuel 24.  

It's too long to cut and paste into this blog, but not too long that I won't be reading the whole thing on Sunday when I preach.

Let's set the scene if...

David is hiding in a place called En Gedi, which means "Place of the Goats." There is a reason why this particular oasis has this particular name:  it's full of goats--or ibex to be precise.

This is an ibex.  I took this photo at En Gedi National Park, the very location where the story we are studying took place.  This ibex posed regally while standing on top of a shed, which I cropped out of the photo---'cause that's how I roll.

So this should blow your mind.  There have been wild goats living in this oasis for like four thousand years or more.  It blew my mind when I realized it, but then again... that doesn't take much.

So at the outset of this story we discover that David is hiding in the caves near En Gedi.  There is actually a particular cave that is believed to be the traditional site where this story took place.  Here is a photo of the waterfall that flows from the spring that supplies water to the oasis:

Purty, isn't it?  This is David's Waterfall, and I know it's hard to imagine, but there used to be a huge cave that surrounded this waterfall on all sides---a cave big enough for a whole bunch of men to hide inside without being found.

This is in fact the traditional site where David encountered Saul when he went inside the cave to "relieve himself."

Listen, just so you know... the Hebrew version of "relieve himself" is pretty straightforward.  Basically, Saul was about as vulnerable as a fellow can get.

Let's backtrack a tad, though.  Saul gathers three thousand men for a posse, and is chasing David with the intention of killing him.  Saul tracks David all the way to an oasis overlooking the Dead Sea.  As we mentioned, he decides to take a "rest stop" at which point David has an opportunity to kill the man who wants to kill him.  His men actually encourage him to do something---even though they fall short of telling David to kill Saul, it's implied that's what they are hoping he will do.

But David refuses to touch the man he calls "The Lord's Anointed."

Interestingly enough, David himself is also "The Lord's Anointed," and probably didn't want to set a precedent where the Lord's Anointed was able to be executed at the drop of a hat.  Instead, David cuts off a corner of Saul's robe, which was a highly symbolic move, considering that the king's robe was... well, the king's robe.  Up to this point, most of us are with David.  We get why he wouldn't want to kill Saul outright, and we understand that he wants to make a point by cutting off a corner of Saul's robe to prove that point at some other time.

Then he does something absolutely bizarre.  He comes out of hiding and throws himself on the ground before Saul, declaring his love, his loyalty and then showing the corner of the robe to Saul as proof that he could have killed him.

He calls himself a "dead dog," and then goes even further by saying that he's no better than a flea on said dead dog.  Then David says something so unbelievable that it defies imagination considering his circumstances:  "judge me from your own hand," he tells Saul.

At this point Saul could have easily called his troops back, laid siege to the cave and smoked David out of it to his death.  David totally laid himself bare to Saul---just as Saul had been laid bare (ahem) to David.

Then Saul responds and his response is heartbreaking.

Haqholkha zeh beni, Dawid? He asks in tears.  "Is that you, David my son?"

Saul then goes on to profess his affection for David and to declare in front of everyone that David's actions were more kingly, more deserving of the throne than Saul's.

For the moment, at least, David was completely and thoroughly vindicated and in the eyes of all who were present was lifted up as the true anointed one.

There is a quote that is attributed to Ghandi that I particularly like, and that I would like to insert here as we transition a bit:  "When you forgive your enemies, you confound them."  I read a different version of this on my Facebook feed the other day: "When you forgive your enemies, it messes with their head."  I rather like that as well.

Here's my own version of that mashed up with my impressions of this story and what it means to us:

When you forgive your enemies, you not only mess with their head, you give God the chance to mess with their heart.

So how does the story of David and Saul at En Gedi teach us this?

First, we learn that vengeance isn't what it's cracked up to be.  There is this moment when you just know that David wanted to listen to his men.  His enemy was right in front of him, vulnerable and easy to kill.  But what if he had listened?  Would that have been the end of things?  Weren't there 3,000 men outside the cave?  Killing Saul might have solved an immediate problem and made David feel a whole lot better in the moment, but it would have caused an even bigger problem later.

The fact that David respected God's boundaries---remember the whole thing about the Lord's Anointed?---was not a sign of weakness.  His men might have wondered what was wrong with him, but he stuck to his principles, leaving the whole vengeance thing to God, which took infinitely more strength.

Second, we learn from this story that forgiveness is risky behavior.  David literally throws himself at Saul's feet.  He moves from a place of safety to one of danger and vulnerability.  This could have ended badly, to be sure.  But what David knew was that the only chance that he ever had for true, lasting peace was to be the "bigger man," so to speak, even if it meant giving up his safety and security.

Which brings us to this:  Reconciliation happens when we give up our notions of what is fair.  This particular moment of reconciliation happened because the injured party forgave the injury.  It wasn't fair that David put his life at risk to try to find peace with Saul.  It wasn't fair that he was the one that had to be the bigger man, when he was the one who was being unjustly accused and hunted like an animal.

As a wise man once told me, "The Fair comes to town once a year..."  David was the one who needed an apology, not Saul.  But what was fair, would not have produced reconciliation at this point.

Let's get back to those original questions that we asked... The worst thing that has ever been done to you... do you remember it?  And did you ever really forgive the person who did it to you?  Because to forgive them---really forgive them---means that you give up your notions of vengeance, even if it manifests itself as a desire for evil to befall the person in question.  It means that you are willing to risk the safety of your position, the security of your need to be right.  It means that even if you are the one who has been wronged, that you are willing to humble yourself regarding what's fair and do what is necessary to be reconciled.

I read this story once about an old woman who died and as her children went through her belongings after she was buried, they discovered something interesting.  She had kept a scrapbook filled with the obituaries of every single person who had ever wronged her, done her ill, betrayed her or wounded her in any way.... all her enemies.

Ironically, the last obituary that should have fit in that bitter book should have been the woman's herself.

There is this moment in the classic book Les Miserables where Jean Valjean beats and robs a priest who had taken him in off the streets.  When he is caught with the stolen silver by the police, he is returned to the priest who is asked to identify him.  Valjean told the police that the priest had given him the silver.  In a moment of astounding grace, the priest affirms that he had indeed given the silver to Valjean, and further astounds him by giving him even more.  As Valjean departs the priest pulls him close and essentially says, "With this silver, I have bought you, and given you your freedom...and now I give you back to God."

Now I give you back to God...

What does that even mean?

Maybe this will help.  Here are three examples of postcards that were sent to the website PostSecret, a place where people publicly and anonymously confess their sins, fears, doubts and desires.

Example #1 - “As A Gift To Myself I Will Never Forgive You.”
Sounds kind of terrible doesn't it?  A little like the old woman with the scrapbook, perhaps.  Do you think that this person will ever truly feel peace? 

Example #2 - “My ex-girlfriend has hurt me more than anyone else in my life. Ever.  And when my phone rings, I still have a little hope that it’s her.
Now this just sounds pathetic, doesn't it?  This is the kind of person who just keeps coming back to the well---even when the well is bitter.  This is a person who doesn't understand forgiveness, but totally seems to understand self-destruction.  

Example #3 - “In High School I was bullied.  A year later he died! I never got to forgive him.”
But this one is different.  What's different about the desire expressed in this post card?  "I never got to forgive him..."  Those are not really the sort of words you would expect to hear after the first two sentences, right?  Maybe, "he got what he deserved..."  or "Like God always says, 'vengeance is mine."  God doesn't in fact always say that.  It only appears once, as a matter of fact.  

The last card gets it.  It's not about vengeance... even thoughts of vengeance... after the fact... way after the fact.

There's something risky about forgiving someone who beat you up in school, right?  What if they did it again?

And I love the last line.  "I never got to forgive..."  Like they're not worried at all about the fairness of the thing.  Notice they don't say, "He never got the chance to tell me he was sorry..."  They say, "I never got to forgive... I never got the chance to humble myself... I never got to the chance to throw out the fairness rulebook...  I never got the chance to show that vengeance has a way of coming back on you...

It's kind of like saying... "Now, I give you back to God."

Imagine saying that to the person who has hurt you more than you have ever been hurt before by anyone in the history of Ever.

Now I give you back to God.

What you did... what you are doing... what you might do... it has no power over me, over my thoughts, my future.  I forgive you.  I release you.  I give you back to God.

Man, that will totally mess with their head, won't it?  And maybe, just maybe a little crack will open up in their heart just big enough for the Holy Spirit to absolutely bust right through and transform them completely.

Because when you forgive your enemies, you not only mess with their head, you give God the chance to mess with their heart.  

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