The Smitten Heart
Preacher James Tan

“And the men of David said unto him, Behold the day of which the LORD said unto thee, Behold, I will deliver thine enemy into thine hand, that thou mayest do to him as it shall seem good unto thee. Then David arose, and cut off the skirt of Saul’s robe privily. And it came to pass afterward, that David’s heart smote him, because he had cut off Saul’s skirt.” (1 Sam 24:4-5)

During David’s years as a fugitive, he hid in the caves of Engedi (1 Sam 24:1). Not by any chance, Saul who was hunting down David, used the very same cave David and his men were hiding in to relieve himself.

David’s men observed their advantageous situation well (v.4). King Saul, the source of their troubles, was all alone and vulnerable. They did not plan an ambush, but they took it as a God-given opportunity to tactically finish off their enemy in one stroke, and even stated that it was a fulfilment of God’s promise to David to deliver him from his enemy! However, no such promise was ever recorded as being given to David. God had never appointed Saul to be killed by David’s hand.

In response, David went, and cut off a portion of Saul’s garment without him noticing (v.4b). He was truly unable to carry out the killing of Saul as he would express later on to Saul himself:

“Behold, this day thine eyes have seen how that the LORD had delivered thee to day into mine hand in the cave: and some bade me kill thee: but mine eye spared thee; and I said, I will not put forth mine hand against my lord; for he is the LORD’S anointed.” (1 Sam 24:10)

The word “spared” in 1 Sam 24:10, here means to look upon with com-passion and pity. David’s conscience and the Spirit would not allow him take Saul’s life. Even though just cutting off a part of Saul’s clothes seemed to be a rather harmless act, the very fact that he even thought about raising a hand against Saul, was enough to cause him grief: “David’s heart smote him” (v.5).

He immediately testified to his men as his conscience was pricked, and he was convicted of his sin:

“And he said unto his men, The LORD forbid that I should do this thing unto my master, the LORD’S anointed, to stretch forth mine hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the LORD.” (1 Sam 24:6)

Our hearts must be soft and sensitive to the judgments and will of God. There is often great pleasure to be found when we do what we want to do, in our desires, and in our sins. David did as his men said to do “as it shall seem good unto thee” (v.4b). Just because someone uses the name of the LORD as a “rubber stamp”, as David’s men did, it does not mean that it is right either!

How often have some claimed that a school, a career, a life partner, an opportunity, was God’s answer for their prayers, lives and problems, but have proven to be otherwise detrimental to their testimony or spiritual state?

David, the man after God’s own heart, was quick to perceive he had sinned. The intention alone, was sin enough. King Saul was still “the anointed of the LORD” (v.6b), even though he had been rejected (1 Sam 15:11, 26), and by no means a good character at all! He could have self-justified that he was the next anointed king, and could remove the previous king. However, David understood that to move against the Lord’s anointed was to disregard the Lord’s will and choice. David cannot be the one who decides when and how Saul should be removed, or even killed! If he had assumed that this was God’s will and went ahead to kill Saul, he would have been no better than Saul who followed his own will.

In a future incident, during David’s night raid with Abishai (1 Sam 26), he faced a similar “opportunity” to kill Saul, but he passed the test quickly this time:

“Then said Abishai to David, God hath delivered thine enemy into thine hand this day: now therefore let me smite him, I pray thee, with the spear even to the earth at once, and I will not smite him the second time. And David said to Abishai, Destroy him not: for who can stretch forth his hand against the LORD’S anointed, and be guiltless? David said furthermore, As the LORD liveth, the LORD shall smite him; or his day shall come to die; or he shall descend into battle, and perish.” (1 Sam 26:8-10)

Abishai’s persuasion was similar to David’s men in Engedi, but David’s immediate response showed he had learnt his lesson. David’s guilt from the previous sin pricked his heart and reminded him.

The world can remain cold and rock-hearted to any form of morality, or immorality, but the Christian cannot. Our hearts must be smitten upon the realization of our sins, the burning of guilt and shame within that chastises the inner man. The very fact that we have sinned at all in the slightest possible way, even in thought or intention that can be so private ought to strike us deeply. Even if we regard our words or actions as inconsequential, sin remains as sin in God’s sight.

Our hearts must be very sensitive to sin. Just as God is all-holy and righteous, and intolerant of the slightest sin, we likewise have to be “…holy as I am holy” (1 Pet 1:16). David did not blame his men for misleading him, but he recognized his individual responsibility in his sin. This was the huge contrast between David, the man after God’s own heart, and Saul, who was quick to deflect sin.

We can be very quick at times to deflect the blame of sin to others. In-stead of bearing the pain and guilt of sin in our own hearts, we find that it is easier to pass the burden of it onto anything or anyone else. Over time, we can easily build up a hardened heart and a seared conscience. We decide what sins we are willing to accept, and what can be tolerated, or blamed on others.

The lack of personal fervour and zeal can be blamed upon the church. Our unwillingness to learn and submit to the Word, can be blamed upon the preaching. Our lack of prayer, blamed upon the lack of time or energy. The sins of the backslider are blamed upon the church. There are endless targets for us to “pass” our sins to, and over time, there is a self-righteousness and pride built up, and an unwillingness to accept our spiritual state.

On top of that, we add hypocrisy, by having a fervour and zeal for the material things, a willingness to learn the ways of the world, and finding the time and energy to murmur, complain and gossip. It is not a strange thing to find professing Christians maintaining a shell of holiness outwardly, yet unwilling to accept the deep-rooted problems within.

May we learn to have a heart sensitive to the Word and to the Spirit. May our conscience, words, and deeds be bound by the Truth. When was the last time that our hearts were truly smitten and convicted by the Lord?