It is very unpleasant to have an occasional dispute with another person, especially if the other individual is hostile. Sometimes the antagonism can be very strong, yet at least the person being opposed knows it will soon be over. But what does it feel like to have a persistent enemy, who never gives up but keeps on returning with the intention to harm? This is the situation in which David found himself with regard to Saul.
During all this experience David was being tested by God and being prepared by God for his future role as king of Israel. Sometimes it was easy for David to work out what he should do with regard to Saul's attempts. Usually all he had to do was merely to move on and keep away from Saul. But what would he do if things were not that straightforward?
In this chapter, the author describes a situation in which Saul the pursuer found himself unwittingly in a possible place of danger from David. Saul, with his 3000 men, was searching carefully for David and was drawing close to finding him. In fact, he seems to have David surrounded and was probably anticipating success soon. Maybe David was wondering how he would escape from Saul. Perhaps he and his men were even having a prayer meeting in the cave.
This story tells us that God can change a situation very quickly. Almost in a moment Saul the pursuer became entrapped by his intended victim. Despite his men being close at hand Saul found himself alone with his hated rival. How would David react here?
David's friends were quick to read this providence as indicating God had put Saul into David's hands. David, however, instead of harming Saul cut off a piece of his clothes. He did this because a higher principle told him how to read providence. It would be wrong for David to harm the king because he was still the Lord's anointed. He knew that biblical principles govern providence, and not the other way round.
So sensitive was David that he was disturbed by even his little action against Saul. Sensitivity is always appropriate regarding how our actions affect others, even if they are against us. The sensitivity is connected to what God thinks of our actions, because sensitive people in this sense are aware that God is testing them.
It would have been possible for David to have said nothing about the incident to Saul. But such silence would not have been right. If he had kept quiet Saul would not have known how graciously God had dealt with him through his servant David. Nevertheless David spoke about his actions in a humble manner, describing himself as little more than a dead dog or a flea. He also reminded Saul that he also faced divine assessment and judgement.
David 's actions and words spoke powerfully to Saul. His behaviour convinced Saul that David was the man whom God had blessed and he even asked David to be kind to his descendants. Did David's mercy when he was on the run convince Saul that David would be merciful when he reached the throne? There is no doubt that what we are when things are against us reveals the kind of persons we are.
David passed the test on that occasion. Mercy is normally the attitude to show towards those who are against us. In doing so, we are like God.