“If David did it, does that make it okay?”

From our daily Bible reading: 1 Samuel 21-24
April 2, 2019

 

We’re caught up on our readings now as we discuss 1 Samuel 21-24 today, where we pick up with David fleeing from Saul after the king has given into a building sense of paranoia and guilt, watching David increase in popularity and in success, all the while knowing that Samuel had already told him that the kingdom would be taken away from him and given to someone else.

And it’s interesting to watch David as he is thrown out from the presence of a king that he has supported fully. Through this narrative, it’s clear that David never would have raised his hand in rebellion against Saul, and possibly this is divine providence working God’s will in that Saul essentially forces David to distance himself from the king and his armies. It leaves David in a precarious position, clearly fearing for his life to the extent that he makes a number of bad decisions.

Daniel in chapter 21 not only lies to the high priest of Israel – which later results in the death of his entire family save one man – but then convinces him to allow him to eat of the showbread, which was set aside for the priests and the priests alone. Ahimelech makes a compromise by insisting that the men must be sexually pure. It’s possible that the priest could have inquired of God and received permission, but that’s not included in this story.

To make matters worse, David then flees to the Philistines for refuge, before becoming afraid for his own safety and feigning insanity so that he can leave again.

David and “Situation Ethics”

It’s worth noting here that the historical books of the Bible typically state these acts without judgment or evaluation, unless that is a core point of the story. It would be a mistake to look at David’s actions and say that the Bible here is excusing lying for a good cause, or that it was OK for David to eat the hallowed bread from the sanctuary, or for him to attempt to ally with foreign nations when the law clearly forbid all three of these things.

But by the same token, Jesus uses this story to make a point about the way that we look at and evaluate other people’s actions. In Matthew 12, when the Pharisees were criticizing the disciples for plucking grain on the sabbath – and act they considered to be work and in violation of the law – Jesus refers back to David eating the showbread and says:

“Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” Matthew 12:3-8

This isn’t a case of “situation ethics” – Jesus doesn’t excuse David’s actions here. Jesus seems to be making the point not that what David did was lawful – he clearly says it was not. He seems to be pointing out the hypocrisy of nitpicking in areas that are nebulous while overlooking something clearly in violation of the law and making excuses for those transgressions.

How do we judge David, and each other?

The attitude of having mercy and not sacrifice, as Jesus says, helps us to judge others in a way that doesn’t cause us to impose a level of righteousness that we would not expect of ourselves or those with whom we associate. And in the case of the disciples, Jesus adds that they were “guiltless,” meaning that the only violation taking place were violations of human tradition and interpretation.

Let’s always make sure that when we are talking about lines of fellowship or preparing to rebuke someone for sin, that we’re doing so with an eye toward mercy and understanding of the circumstances at hand and how we ourselves would wish to be judged – not overlooking sin – but also realizing that all of us do transgress. David, a man after God’s own heart, made decisions and did things during this time in his life that  violated God’s law, but those are not the actions that define him. While we strive to be more godly, we have to bear in mind that if we’re walking after the spirit, then we don’t have to be defined by the times we fall short.

Next reading: 1 Samuel 13-16

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