Martin Luther wrote that grace must precede good works: “There is not one in a thousand who does not set his confidence upon the works, expecting by them to win God’s favor and anticipate his grace. . . . God cannot endure [that], since he has promised his grace freely, and wills that we begin by trusting that grace, and in it to perform all works, whatever they may be.”
Salvation is by God’s grace, not our good works or right choices. David acknowledged this in Psalm 57, composed on the occasion of events narrated in 1 Samuel 24. David had been anointed king by Samuel but was waiting for God to put him on the throne. In the meantime, King Saul was hunting him. His nap in the cave must have presented a terrible temptation—David could escape danger and seize the throne in one quick strike. But he knew that righteousness included waiting on God’s timing, so he resisted temptation and let the king go.
Psalm 57 captures David’s inner feelings about these outer events. With reference to Saul, he felt threatened and hounded, as if by “ravenous beasts” (v. 4). With reference to God, however, he felt protected and cared for. God had a purpose and a plan for David’s life, and David was as safe in His hands as a baby bird under its mother’s wings (vv. 1–2). Ironically, the hunters fell into their own trap (v. 6), an allusion to the situation in the cave. The point, though, was not David’s choice, right as it was, but God’s glory. God didn’t rescue David because of his “good deed” in the cave. He did so because He is loving and faithful, and because this story and every story are about His glory filling the earth (v. 11). David responded, “My heart, O God, is steadfast” (v. 7).
Apply the Word
In the episode in the cave, David showed Saul godly respect. He could have sought revenge for Saul’s previous attempts to kill him. He could have done the right thing, but with a touch of bitterness or self-righteousness. Instead, he did the right thing for the right reasons, honoring the Lord and letting Him be the one to determine Saul’s fate.