Powerful Promises

1 Samuel 24:1-7

1After Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, “David is in the Desert of En Gedi.” 2 So Saul took three thousand able young men from all Israel and set out to look for David and his men near the Crags of the Wild Goats.

3 He came to the sheep pens along the way; a cave was there, and Saul went in to relieve himself. David and his men were far back in the cave. 4 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.

5 Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe. 6 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.” 7 With these words David sharply rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul. And Saul left the cave and went his way.

There are times when things just come together and you have to admit that God had something to do with it. I sometimes think the things that people credit God for doing are just coincidences. But this is a God thing.

Today we are beginning a drive to collect a much-needed item for the Valley Mission, our local homeless shelter. We have collected this item before because it is something we all need and it is easy to pick up a little extra when you go to the store. Today we are starting our second toilet paper drive. Could there be a better day to start this endeavor than on the day we talk about Saul going into a cave to poop?

Seriously, folks. I could not have planned it like this.

We are continuing our series on the life of David as we look to see how David was a “man after God’s own heart.” We know that David was not perfect, but there were some aspects of David’s life that obviously reflected the personhood and heart of God. So to better identify these areas we are juxtaposing the lives of David and Jesus, the one who did show us exactly how God is.

Our text for today has been called a turning point in the story of Saul and David. Ever since David returned from killing Goliath and Saul heard the chants of the people, cheering on David, Saul has looked for ways to have David killed. David is seen as a threat to Saul’s role as king, so Saul seeks to eliminate this threat.

There are times when Saul attempts to have David killed in battle by offering David his daughter’s hand in marriage at the price of 100 Philistine foreskins. There are other times when Saul is a little less secretive in his assassination attempt, such as in 1 Samuel 18 when Saul throws a spear at David while David is playing the lyre. Not once, but twice.

It is no wonder that from chapter 18 through chapter 23 we find David running for his life. He barely escapes Saul’s men when they are sent to kill him in his own home. David eludes Saul in the wilderness. He flees from town to town.

But something a little out of place happens in chapter 18. In 1 Samuel 18 we read that David, in the midst of running from Saul, made a covenant with Jonathan. Covenant is just a churchy word for promise or agreement. So here David is, out of breath from running for his life, and he stops to make a promise to Jonathan. But chapter 18 doesn’t really spell out what this covenant is. Thankfully, this is a theme that comes up a number of times throughout the next few chapters.

Chapter 20:14-16a quotes Jonathan saying, “‘But show me unfailing kindness like the Lord’s kindness as long as I live, so that I may not be killed, and do not ever cut off your kindness from my family—not even when the Lord has cut off every one of David’s enemies from the face of the earth.’ So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David”

Jonathan knew that David would be the king, not him. So he and David made an agreement that David would show kindness to Jonathan and his family. Please don’t cut off my family, even when the Lord has cut off your enemies. It is interesting to me that Jonathan places his family and David’s enemies in the same breath. He must know that David isn’t too fond of having spears thrown at him.

For all of you Hebrew nerds out there, remember that the word we translate as “made” when we read about making a covenant in the Hebrew Bible is literally the word “cut.” Jonathan literally says, Please don’t cut off my family when the Lord cuts off your enemies. Instead, let’s cut a covenant. So they did.

But really, what did David have to lose? Saul is the big powerful king; David is the little shepherd boy. Saul seems to have an endless supply of spears and access to an entire army; David has a slingshot. So David says, Sure, Jonathan, I’ll make a promise to you that I won’t hurt you and your family. Who am I to threaten the king?

But something is happening as David runs. As he goes from town to town looking to stay one step in front of Saul, David is building a following; David is gaining power. Remember that David is reaching out and caring for society’s rejects, and he is building up a bit of an entourage. By chapter 22, David is said to have 400 followers. I don’t even have that many friends on Facebook.

So we come to today’s passage, and we begin to see the first signs of a role reversal. The powerful King Saul is chasing after this lowly shepherd boy in the wilderness of En-gedi. David and his men are hiding in a deep, dark cave, and I can only assume that not all 400 of his followers were in the same cave. As they are standing in the shadows, trying to not make a sound, in walks Saul.

Saul is simply looking for some privacy to do what comes naturally, and yes, he is doing exactly what you think he is doing. This must have been a pretty large cave because there is some conversation going on and Saul doesn’t hear it. In this conversation David’s men are encouraging him to kill Saul while he is in a very vulnerable position.

But David isn’t about to kill Saul. Instead he takes his knife and cuts off a corner of Saul’s robe. I assume that Saul had taken off his outer robe and laid it aside as he went to do his business. And just cutting off a piece of Saul’s robe made David feel guilty! Why was that?

One reason can be found in verse 6: “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.”

David obviously had respect for Saul. He knew that God had chosen Saul for the role of king. And even though Saul was out to get David, David wasn’t going to repay evil for evil just to save his own skin, which also sounds a lot like Jesus.

But there is more. You see, David was a man of his word. He had made a promise to Jonathan not to harm Jonathan’s family. Saul might be the biggest threat to David right now, but he is also Jonathan’s father. And now, even though the roles have been reversed and David has the upper hand and all of the power, he still keeps his promise to Jonathan.

It is indeed easy to make a promise when you have nothing to lose. The challenge is in keeping a promise when you have nothing to gain.

I don’t think we need to go into all of the times that God makes covenants in the Old Testament, as the word “covenant” is used 295 times in that part of the Bible. But I found it interesting that the New Testament only records Jesus using the word “covenant” once. There are many times that he makes promises, and assures people by saying “verily, verily, I say unto you” in the KJV. Such phrases are really the same thing as making a covenant. But the only time that Jesus uses the word covenant is at the Last Supper.

Matthew 26:27-28, “Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

The covenant that Jesus introduces here is for the forgiveness of sins. With that in mind, as we consider the covenant between David and Jonathan, I wonder, wasn’t that covenant also for the forgiveness of sins?

David promised not to harm Jonathan and his family, but why would Jonathan be worried that David might do such a thing? Because Jonathan knew that David had been wronged by Saul. For David to make a covenant to not hurt Saul, David was making a promise to forgive Saul. David, like the God revealed to us through Jesus, is a keeper of promises.

Promises are made all of the time. Far too often, they are not kept. During the election season we hear all kinds of promises which are quickly forgotten when an official is in office. A child may promise to clean their room when they want a new toy at the store, but they are quick to forget when they get home. I thought I sold my Volkswagen the other day and had to tell a potential buyer that someone else had promised to come back with the money on Saturday if only I would hold it for him. Promises are made, and promises are broken.

It is indeed easy to make a promise when you have nothing to lose. The challenge is in keeping a promise when you have nothing to gain.

We hear the laments of people that say “I remember the day when a person’s word meant something” and “It used to be that a handshake was a binding agreement.” Now even a contract doesn’t hold up in court unless you have it notarized with an official, raised-seal embossment.

We need to do better. If we are to be the hands and feet of Jesus, if people are to see us as the living embodiment of our Lord, we need to be people who keep our promises.

Matthew 5:35-37 invites us to be the kind of people who keep our promises. Don’t swear an oath, but yet your yes be yes and your no be no. You shouldn’t have to swear an oath and you shouldn’t have to have a contract notarized. If you say you are going to do something, do it. If you say that you are not going to do something, don’t do it!

I remember walking with a friend of mine through the local city yard sales when we were in the seventh grade. This was one of the biggest events of the year in that little town. I remember coming up to the house of my friend’s sister. She was quite a bit older, married, and had children of her own.

When we got to her house we saw that she had parked her car on the street where many people were walking past, going from one yard sale to the next. And I remember seeing something sitting on top of her car. She had set her wallet on top of the car and forgot about it as she got her children out of their car seats.

So I grabbed that wallet, checked it for money (just kidding), and went to find her. When we did find her she was so appreciative that she promised me right then and there before God and all the yard sale-ers to bake me a dozen of my favorite cookies. Again, I was in the seventh grade.

I soon forgot about those cookies, and I assumed that she did as well. I didn’t see her very much over the next few years, especially as my friend and I kind of grew apart. But on my graduation day, five years after making that promise, she gave me a dozen chocolate chip cookies. It was indeed a good day.

She kept her promise and I respected her so much because I knew, even then, that not everyone does.

I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a really easy way to keep from ever breaking your promises: don’t make any. If you don’t make any promises, how can you not keep them? However, I don’t think that is good advice. Unfortunately I find myself hesitating to make promises all of the time, not because I don’t think that I can keep them, but because I don’t want to have to keep them.

But if we are truly following Jesus, who is truly the full revelation of God, and if David was truly a man after God’s own heart, I have to think that we aren’t supposed to not make promises just so we don’t have to worry about breaking them (triple negative?). We serve a God who made promises and we too need to make promises. We need to be proactive in guaranteeing people that we will see through the things that we have been called to do as a witness to the kingdom of God.

That is why I am hoping that today we can make a promise. Last year we gave 800 rolls of toilet paper to the Valley Mission. That was pretty impressive! They were very thankful and you can rest assured that each roll was put to good use. This year I want to go into quadruple digits. If we sent 800 rolls last year, why not try for 1,000 this year?

Sending 1,000 rolls of toilet paper to the Valley Mission is a good goal. But we aren’t talking about goals today. We are talking about covenants; we are talking about promises. A goal is good, but if you fail to reach your goal, no biggie. Let’s make a promise. Let’s promise the Valley Mission that we will send 1,000 rolls of toilet paper by Memorial Day.

I invite you to bring your toilet paper and stack it up front and fill the platform. Make some obstacles for me to weave around as I pace back and forth. Having the toilet paper stacked up front will do more than just provide a tripping hazard for me each week. It will serve as a reminder, a reminder of the promise that we have made.

When David makes this promise to Jonathan, it isn’t just assumed that David is going to always remember. It comes up time and time again. Chapter 18, 20, and 26 are all reminders of the promise that David made to his friend Jonathan to show kindness and mercy to his family.

Then we get all the way to 2 Samuel chapter nine where David is well established as the king. He has united the kingdom and they have continued to be a strong nation. In verse 1 we read, “David asked, ‘Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?’”

How many years later and David is still keeping his promise to Jonathan, a man who has long since passed away. He has gone from a poor little shepherd boy with nothing to lose to a big powerful king with nothing to gain. David kept his promise, but he needed reminders.

When Jesus made the new covenant with his disciples, he invited them to participate in an act of remembrance as well. “Every time you eat this bread and drink of the cup, remember me.”

I’m still in surprised that my friend’s sister remembered the cookies that she had promised me five years earlier, especially because I had forgotten and sure hadn’t given her any reminders. As followers of Jesus, we are called to be people of our word, people who make promises and follow through with them. We make covenants because we serve a covenant-making God.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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