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1 Samuel 26:21–25

Then Saul said, “I have sinned…. Indeed I have played the fool and erred exceedingly” (v. 21).

As before, Saul is abashed and sorrowful upon hearing David’s words, but this time his response seems to indicate a deeper connection. When David spared his life in the wilderness cave, Saul made no direct admission of wrongdoing, saying only “You are more righteous than I” and ” ‘I have rewarded you with evil’ ” (24:17). Now he declares, “I have sinned.” At last Saul admits that his murderous pursuit of David is evil in God’s eyes. He also goes on to say, “I have played the fool” and “I have … erred exceedingly.” He certainly seems to have grasped the error of his ways. And he even goes so far as to promise that he will not harm David.

But David doesn’t buy it. Perhaps he knows of Saul’s equally pious-sounding words after Samuel confronted him about his disobedience in his battle with the Amalekites: “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord” (15:24). Unfortunately, despite the penitent sound of those words, Samuel did not accept that confession and Saul never changed his willful ways. Certainly David knows of the questionable value of Saul’s promises, for the king once swore an oath that David would not be killed, only to break it in no time at all (19:6–11). And so he puts his trust not in Saul but in God. First, he signifies his refusal to return by asking Saul to send someone over to fetch his spear and water jug. Second, he expresses the hope that God will reward him for his faithfulness and his righteousness in sparing Saul’s life. He refused to strike down the man God had anointed for the throne, thereby bowing to God’s will, as Israel’s king ought to do. In making note of this, David gives Saul an oblique warning to do the same. Third, he appeals to God for ongoing protection from harm and for an end, a real resolution, to the persecution he is passing through at Saul’s hands. He doesn’t believe Saul is at all ready to give up his animosity.

When David is finished speaking, Saul adds his prayer to David’s, asking that God will bless him. He then predicts, speaking prophetically (although that is not his intention), that David will do great things and will come to the throne at last. The two men then part, David back to the wilderness and Saul to his home in Gibeah, and apparently never meet again.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Believers are to be forgiving. But within certain contexts, pious-sounding words of repentance are not enough—a true change of heart must be demonstrated by a new pattern of behavior. Church leaders are often called upon to judge the veracity of repentance. Pray for your elders, that they would be both loving and as wise as David.

For Further Study
  • Luke 3:8
  • Rom. 6:21–22
  • 2 Cor. 7:9–10

Warnings for Saul

Resting and Working

Keep Reading The Sanctity of Work: A Biblical Perspective on Labor

From the July 2003 Issue
Jul 2003 Issue