1 Samuel 24 comes when David is still on the run from Saul. Suddenly, the paths of the two men cross in a cave, and David actually has the upper hand through the element of surprise. Urged on by his men to see this as God’s way of finally getting rid of Saul and thus establishing his claim to be king, David resists the temptation to kill Saul and shows mercy instead of vengeance. He speaks to Saul and reminds him that he has never harmed him, even when he has had the opportunity, and promises loyalty to him. Saul, with the evidence of a torn robe showing him just how close David actually got to him, is forced to acknowledge the truth of David’s words and asks him to show mercy to his descendants when he is gone (something David has already sworn to do because of his covenant with Jonathan.)

The chapter shows us much about mercy. Mercy is defined as ‘compassion or forgiveness shown towards someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.’ In a surprising turn of events, David the hunted is in a position to harm Saul, but he refuses to succumb to this temptation (even though his men urge him to, based on their interpretation of what God has promised him ultimately, the chance to be king of Israel.) David demonstrates a trust in God’s sovereignty and an attitude of submissive servanthood which seem surprising to us given his prowess as a warrior. David does not wish harm to Saul; he recognises him as the Lord’s anointed, and he is prepared to wait for God to make him king. He does not need to manipulate the situation or commit wrongdoing – doing the ‘right thing’ in the ‘wrong way’ violates how we are meant to live; as we teach children, ‘two wrongs don’t make a right.’ David’s way of mercy goes against the grain, but it is the way of the cross, where grace and mercy meet. We are to be merciful to others, just as our heavenly Father is merciful to us (Luke 6:36).