Folly or faithfulness

Chatswood Baptist Church

1 Samuel 26

Lesson learnt

Sometimes it takes a near disaster to properly learn a lesson. When I was about 22 years of age I had a car accident in my four-wheel drive. I managed to write off the vehicle but the whole thing could have been much worse than it was. I came out of the experience extremely grateful that it wasn’t and for the lesson that I learnt. At the time there were at least 8 others in the car with me. We had just finished football and I had a lot of the football team in the back. I was acting foolishly at the time mucking around and driving too fast. I came around a corner into a very narrow street and hit a telegraph pole. The guys in the back didn’t have seat belts on. There were no seat belts in the back. We hit the pole so hard that it bent the chassis of the vehicle and wrote of the 4WD, but incredibly no one was hurt. At the time, I came close enough to disaster to resolve I would never again be foolish and reckless behind the wheel of a car. I came away having learnt my lesson.

In the story in chapter 26 of 1 Samuel we get to see whether Saul and David had learnt the lessons that God had been teaching them. Saul and David had both recently escaped their own near disasters. Each of them had acted foolishly but the Lord had spared them. In chapter 24 Saul had taken three thousand men into the Desert of En Gedi to hunt David down and kill him. He foolishly believed that he could stand against the Lord and his anointed, but the Lord had delivered Saul into David hands. David could have killed him, but he spared Saul’s life. In chapter 25 it was David who acted foolishly when he took 400 men to avenge himself on Nabal. On that occasion, a near disaster was averted by the wisdom of Abigail. Now in chapter 26 both Saul and David are put to the test again. The book of Proverbs tells us that the wise person listens and add to their learning (see Prov. 1:5). They learn from their mistakes. But the fool doesn’t. It is the fool who repeats their folly.

Proverbs 26:11

As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.[1]

It is a very graphic picture isn’t it, dogs licking up their own vomit. But it makes a very important point. Fools repeat their folly with the same disastrous results.

Saul repeats his folly

The story begins in chapter 26 and it sounds very much like the one that was told in chapter 24. It begins with a report coming to Saul as it did in chapter 24 as to the whereabouts of David and what we see is Saul reacting exactly the same way.

  • He searched again for David

Saul in verses 1 to 3 sets out once again to search for David. When the Ziphites went to Saul at Gibeah and told him where David was hiding Saul didn’t sit them down and tell them what the Lord had taught him last time that he’d gone out hunting David. He didn’t tell them how he’d admitted that David was innocent and more righteous than himself. He didn’t tell them who David had spared his life. He didn’t tell them that the Lord was on David’s side and how he’d declared that David would surely be king (24:20). Rather, he decided again to try and hold on to what he had and went out again searching to get rid of David.  Saul should have known better, but he couldn’t let go off what he had.

  • He took three thousand chosen men again

So, he did exactly what he did before. Again, he took three thousand chosen men with him. He believed or hoped that with five times the number of men that David had that they would give him the advantage and they would be able to protect him. But Saul should have known better. When the Lord is with the other guy, having three thousand men on your side is no help whatsoever.[2] They can’t protect you.

  • Saul surrounded himself with his men

Saul gathered together 3000 chosen men thinking that somehow, they will make the difference. This time he surrounded himself with them. We are told that when David went out to see where Saul had camped, that he saw Saul and Abner the commander of the army lying down inside the camp. Listen to how the scene is then described in the last part of verse 5….

“Saul was lying inside the camp with the army encamped around him.”

Saul again was hoping that these three thousand men strategically encircling him would protect him from David. But he should have learnt that it doesn’t matter how many you have on your side they can’t protect you when the Lord is on the other fellow’s side[3]. It was folly for Saul’s to think that with his 3000 men all sleeping around him that he can settle down safe and snug for the night. But David soon highlighted the folly of such a notion as well as proving his innocence all over again.

  • The fool repeats his folly

At the end of chapter 24 after the first time David spared Saul, it looked like Saul might have learnt his lesson. But Saul never really had a change of heart. He did not learn to trust the Lord. He was still doing his own thing relying on himself. Like a fool he did exactly the same thing just hoping that somehow doing the same thing would work out better the next time he did it. Like a dog returning to its vomit, the fool repeats his folly. This is the foolishness that comes with refusing to listen to the Lord and trust him.

The fool repeats their mistakes over and over again without learning from them. A guy leaves his wife for another woman thinking that he is leaving all his troubles behind and life will be better with someone else and everyone will be happier. He thinks that if only he can find the one that understands him and appreciates him the way that he feels he ought to be appreciated he will be happier. But of course, he soon finds the same sort of troubles in the next relationship, but does he learn? He often doesn’t. It is surprising how often he just repeats the same pattern all over again and he moves from one relationship to another never learning because recognise the problem comes from within him. It’s folly and it comes from not seeing that his problem has more to do with his own heart than anything else.

  • The problem is always a heart problem

Saul thought his problem was David, but his problem had always been with his own heart that refused to repent of his folly. Saul was man who ultimately worshipped himself and not the Lord and therefore he was unwillingness to trust the Lord and be faithful and walk in his ways. Even though he knew the Lord had chosen David to replace him, he wouldn’t let go of what he thought was rightly his because he hadn’t really given the Lord the place in his heart that he should have had.

Now before we turn from Saul and think about David, we need to pause for a moment and think about whether we might be acting foolishly. The trouble with foolishness is that while we can see it so clearly in others we usually can’t see it ourselves. We all need to examine our hearts and ask ourselves if there is any foolishness that we are not repenting of. Are we repeating the same mistake over and over again because we aren’t trusting the Lord with our lives? Are we are holding on to something that we should be letting go of? Are we looking for something that might be good to have but it has become so important to us that it now rules us and has become an idol? Are we looking for something in the wrong place or with the wrong person? Is there something that you know that you should be letting go of but you are still hanging on to? Do you keep on ignoring what God is saying to you? Do you think that if you just keep on with doing what you want to do that somehow it will all work out differently in the end and won’t end disaster? Such thinking foolish and sinful.  Is there something that the Lord is trying to teach you that have been refusing to learn? Don’t court folly for it always ends out in disaster.

David learnt from his folly

In contrast to Saul it is clear in the story that David learnt from his folly and his near disaster in the previous chapter. David and Abishai went down into the camp by night and we are told that they found Saul lying asleep at the centre of the camp with his spear stuck in the ground right by his head.

  • David wouldn’t lay a hand on Saul

David could have used this spear to run Saul through. Saul on at least two occasions had tried to run David through with his spear. David had, what at least appeared to Abishai, to be the perfect opportunity to end all his troubles and he could have done it with very spear that Saul had hurled at David to kill him. It seemed obvious to Abishai what David should do. But David wouldn’t lay a hand on Saul.

1 Samuel 26:8

Abishai said to David, “Today God has given your enemy into your hands. Now let me pin him to the ground with one thrust of my spear; I won’t strike him twice.”

  • David left the judgment up to the Lord

David refrained from laying a hand on Saul. He had learnt to live by faith and not by sight. He had learnt to trust the Lord and leave the judgement of Saul up to him. He wouldn’t lay a hand on Saul and nor would he allow Abishai to do it for him for that wouldn’t be faithful and righteous. It would be wrong of him and he wouldn’t remain guiltless or innocent of wrongdoing. David learnt that he wasn’t to take things into his own hands. God would judge Saul in his own time and his own way.

1 Samuel 26:9-11

But David said to Abishai, “Don’t destroy him! Who can lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless? 10 As surely as the Lord lives,” he said, “the Lord himself will strike him; either his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. 11 But the Lord forbid that I should lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed. Now get the spear and water jug that are near his head, and let’s go.”

  • David trusted the Lord to work things out

David trusted the Lord to work things out. David now understood that the Lord would take care of Saul in his own time and his own way and it might happen in any number of ways. That’s the lesson that David had learnt in the last chapter with Nabal. The Lord had intervened that time saving David from his folly and unlike Saul David had learnt his lesson. The Lord had struck Nabal down in his own time and in a way that David wouldn’t even have expected. The Lord would also do the same thing with Saul. At the right time he would come under God’s judgement. It might be that his time would just eventually come naturally, and he would die, or he might go into battle and perish. But it wasn’t David’s decision to make for it was up to the Lord.

  • David knew he was to be faithful and righteous

What David realised was that he needed to trust the Lord and just keep on being faithful to the Lord and righteous in his dealing with others. Later in verse 23 this is what David explained to Saul when he told him that this is what the Lord rewards.

1 Samuel 26:23

The Lord rewards every man for his righteousness and faithfulness.

This is what the Lord is looking for from his people and especially from the leader of his people. He doesn’t want us to take things into our own hands, but to trust him and be faithful to him and righteous in whatever circumstances that we find ourselves in.[4] David certainly won’t get it right all the time, but he understood what God was calling him to be. Ultimately, it would greater son who would always be faithful and righteous in everything he did. It’s in him that we can be righteous and faithful too (see 1 Cor. 1:30).

Beware of the temptation to do things your own way. Have you ever felt that you needed to just take things into your own hands and do things your way that it was time to give up what the Lord says? Maybe you have friends around you like Abishai who think that getting on with what whatever seems most expedient in the situation is the way to go? You are to just get on and do whatever you think will make you happy. They say this because that is how they measure life – according to what they think will make them happier. Why put up with things that get in the way of what you want in life? Why hold off on sex and wait for marriage if you love one another? Why be restrictive on who you have sex with so long as it makes you happy? Why not bend the truth if it is going to get you out of trouble? Why not stick the knife into someone at work if that’s what they have been doing to you? Why keep loving someone that doesn’t deserve it? Why forgive someone if they have hurt you?

Wisdom for them isn’t to trust the Lord and not lean on your own understanding. It’s you who decides what’s good for you and when enough is enough and what will be good for you and make you happy. They think this way because they belong to a world that has believed the foolish lie that we sit at the centre of our world and what makes us happy is the most important thing. But it is the foolishness of Abishai that they are whispering in our ear.

  • David learnt the wisdom of trusting the Lord

David learnt the wisdom of trusting in the Lord and leaning not on his own understanding (Prov. 3:5-6). He learnt the wisdom of trusting the Lord and leaving it the Lord to work everything out according to his plan and purpose. The Lord can do, as the apostle Paul says, immeasurable more than all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). With God there are endless possibilities and the wise person is one trust him and does what right.

Friends, we have a God who can do more than we could ever ask for or ever imagine possible. But the sad truth is sometimes people will never know what could have been because they won’t let go of what they think they have. Maybe you will never have the one you ought to have because you won’t let go of the one who you shouldn’t have. Maybe you will never have the career that you could have because you won’t surrender the one that you do have. Maybe you will never be able to see what you couldn’t ever have imagined, because you won’t stop looking at what you have before you. It’s folly to hang on to something that God says you should be letting go of. If you trust the Lord, he will do more than you can ever ask or imagine.

  • David spared Saul

David didn’t take Saul’s life that day, again he spared Saul. He just took his spear and his water jug that were near his head. We are told no one saw or knew about it, nor did anyone wake up. But again, it was God working behind the scenes. We are told in verse 12 the reason for this. “They were all sleeping, because the Lord had put them into a deep sleep.”

But, why take the spear and the water jug? John Woodhouse says that “David symbolically disarmed Saul and took his life”[5]. That may be so, but I think understanding the significance comes with noting the repetition of the words that these things had been “near Saul’s head”. The spear and the water jug had been right next to his head. Taking them highlighted just how close that David had been able to get to Saul and how vulnerable Saul had been.

Not long after we moved into the house where we now live and have been living for 17 years we were robbed at night while we were asleep inside the house. They took several things of value including both Kylie’s and my wallet. The fact that they took our wallets was the thing that really concerned us. It wasn’t because of what was in the wallets at the time but where the wallets had been when they took them.  Our wallets had been sitting on our bedside tables right next to our heads. The thieves had not only come into our house, but they had brazenly walked into our bedroom, and then walked right up to where we were sleeping, not just at the foot of the bed, but right up to where our heads were and they took the things that had been on our bedside table. Thinking about it still send a chill down my spine. I’m glad that on that night the Lord kept us in a deep sleep and we were all oblivious to what was going on. Who knows what would have happened if we or one of the children had woken up at the time?

Taking the water jug and spear beside the head of Saul showed just how close that David and Abishai were able to get to Saul and how easy it would have been for David to have taken his life if that was what he had wanted to. In his banter with Abner in verses 13 to 16 David told him to have a look around and he asked him “where are the king’s spear and water jug that were near his head?” The point was that these things had been near the king’s head. It highlighted David’s innocence and just how vulnerable Saul had been and how even with three thousand men camped all around him he had been foolish to ever think that all these men could protect him and somehow make him secure.

Folly or faithfulness

Saul had been a fool to not learn his lesson after the first time and he admits his folly again to David.

1 Samuel 26:21

21 Then Saul said, “I have sinned. Come back, David my son. Because you considered my life precious today, I will not try to harm you again. Surely I have acted like a fool and have erred greatly.”

  • Admitting your folly is different from turning from it

Like a dog returning to its vomit the fool had repeated his folly. Saul, in what is a great understatement said that that he had erred greatly. But to admit your folly is different from turning from it. Saul admitted how foolish he had been, but he didn’t turn from it. David knew enough now not to ever trust Saul again and he was right to do so. Saul never did give up his folly. In the next chapter we read that it was only when Saul heard that David had fled to Gath and was living in enemy territory that he gave up searching for David. Saul had this moment of clarity but because his heart didn’t change he just went on making the same mistake over and over again. That’s the nature of folly!

  • Fools don’t find what they are searching for

The truth is that fools never find what they are searching for. A fool won’t be secure no matter what it is that they have managed to gather around them.

What we think might protect us never does. What we hope will make us happy often ends up making us more miserable. What we believe will give us meaning and purpose only becomes a source of frustration and hopelessness. The answer to our troubles is not us and holding on to what we have or what we’ve made for ourselves. It learning to trust the Lord in all things and without change of heart that isn’t possible.

  • Will we learn the lesson?

So, which will it be? Will it folly or faithfulness? Are you going to trust the Lord and lean not on your own understanding or are you going to keep on doing the same thing over and over again foolishly thinking that somehow it is all going to work out different the next time? Every so often the Lord gives people moments of clarity and it becomes clear that what we’ve been doing isn’t working. Saul had these moments at least twice. But he didn’t learn his lesson. Have you been courting folly? Is it time to give it up and turn from it? What it is it that the Lord is teaching you today/tonight?

Like David, we must come to the point that we realise that only our creator, can deliver us from our troubles. We are to trust in him and what he has done to deliver us from all our troubles. David didn’t know it, but it would be through a descendant of his that the Lord would deliver all of us from our sin and folly. His perfect righteousness and faithfulness would be the only way that the cycle of folly could be ultimately broken. The righteous one would die in the place of the unrighteous that we might be forgiven. He rose from the dead we might live a new life of faithfulness and righteousness in him. Paul writes that Christ is for us wisdom from God (1 Cor. 1:30). Friends if we aren’t willing to take that step and trust him with our lives we will always be repeating our folly.



[1] Unless otherwise indicated all Scripture citations are taken from The Holy Bible: New International Version—Anglicised. (1984). (electronic edition). London: Hodder & Stoughton.


[2] Last time, in chapter 24, Saul had been delivered into David’s hands without even one of those three thousand men knowing about it. Saul had gone into a cave to relieve himself thinking that surely there he was safe with his three thousand men all standing outside guarding the entrance. What he didn’t know at the time, was that David and his men were already in the cave with him. If David had wanted to take his life, he could have. But here in chapter 26 Saul made exactly the same mistake again.


[3] In the case of Jesus, you can even crucify him, and the Lord will just bring him back to life again. As Paul says in Romans 8, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

[4] This is how Solomon, David’s son, described his father in 1 Kings 3:6. He says his father was faithful to the Lord and righteous and upright in heart.

[5] John Woodhouse, 1 Samuel:Looking for a Leader, 68% in the Kindle version