[Saul] came to the sheepfolds along the way; a cave was there, and Saul went in to relieve himself. David and his men were far back in the cave. The men said, ‘This is the day the Lord spoke of when he said to you, “I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.”’ Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe.
Afterwards, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe. He said to his men, ‘The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the Lord.’
1 Samuel 24:2-6
The story so far: God, having rejected Saul as king, sent Samuel to anoint David as king instead. And David waited.
At first it seemed clear that God was in control. He orchestrated events so that this young shepherd boy would be brought into the corridors of power, from where he could presumably learn the craft of kingship (and how not to do it). But then Saul turned against him and repeatedly tried to kill him, resulting in David fleeing his presence and living a life on the run, surrounded by the distressed, discontented and debtors (see 22:2).
And then, one day, God delivered Saul into David’s hands; a sitting target. It must have seemed like this was David’s moment; all his men were urging him on, and yet…
There is no record of God ever promising David ‘I will give your enemy into your hands’ as his warrior band claimed. Without a direct mandate, David wasn’t going to harm the current king, even though it seemed that the position was rightly his. He was humble enough not to think God needed a helping hand from a mere mortal.
Throughout this episode, David remains a model of heroic hope when it must often have seemed that hope was futile. From the Psalms written during this period (e.g. 57, 142) we can see that David was often desperately afraid. Yet still he waited, and praised God despite his distress.
It’s all too easy, when God makes promises to us, or people notice a particular gift or calling of ours, to expect immediate results. But there are often long years of waiting and faithfully serving – perhaps even serving a less competent, less worthy leader – before God opens the door to what he has planned.
Whether we’re hoping for greater recognition at work, the chance to get back into the workforce after an illness or career break, or for someone to see the light and publish our novel, God often says ‘wait’. In the waiting, David could do nothing but throw himself on God’s mercy and beg him to sustain him.
Which he did, of course. David’s season of deferred hope was not wasted, but led to a depth and richness of relationship with God that still encourages others today. And we can expect to see similar fruit growing from the fertile soil of our faithful obedience in hope.
For Further Reflection
- David’s story reminds us that delayed answers to prayer do not necessarily mean we have done anything wrong. There’s no sense that David needed to read the scriptures more or be more prayerful before God would fulfil his promise. How far have you ever been tempted to think that an unanswered prayer – yours or someone else’s – is due to human inadequacy?
- What do your prayers in the midst of waiting look like? Read Psalm 57. Could you write out a prayer that follows similar themes, both expressing your need and your requests and praising and glorifying God?