“Then answered David and said to Ahimelech the Hittite, and to Abishai the son of Zeruiah, brother to Joab, saying, Who will go down with me to Saul to the camp? And Abishai said, I will go down with thee. So David and Abishai came to the people by night: and, behold, Saul lay sleeping within the trench, and his spear stuck in the ground at his bolster: but Abner and the people lay round about him. 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. The LORD forbid that I should stretch forth mine hand against the LORD’S anointed” (1 Samuel 26:6-11a).
David had every opportunity to kill King Saul and escape from the camp without anyone knowing about it until they woke up. The temptation must have been there otherwise he would not have resisted the advice of Abishai. David was determined to continue to act in righteousness even if Saul was acting wickedly towards him.
Ahimelech and Abishai were asked if they would go with him into the camp of Saul, but only Abishai accepted the challenge. This may be due to the fact that he was David’s nephew, Zeruiah was David’s sister (see 1 Chronicles 2:1-16). Abishai was to play an important role in David’s reign over Israel, for he continued to prove himself faithful and courageous, and became David’s chief captain. “And Abishai the brother of Joab, he was chief of the three: for lifting up his spear against three hundred, he slew them, and had a name among the three” (1 Chronicles 11:20) … “Moreover Abishai the son of Zeruiah slew of the Edomites in the valley of salt eighteen thousand” (1 Chronicles 18:12).
How easily David could have destroyed Saul that night, especially since everyone, even his armed guards, were fast asleep. Like any soldier finding himself in this situation, it must have crossed David’s mind to kill Saul. Though he could have escaped the scene without anyone knowing, he would no doubt be accused of assassinating the king and bring more trouble upon himself. Temptation is designed by Satan to bring us to sin, and it does not matter to him if the sin is carried out in secret, for he knows that God sees it anyway. “Be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23).
To Abishai it seemed that God had preordained that David was to be victorious over his enemy that night. All David needed to do was to allow him to drive Saul’s own javelin (maybe the same one he had thrown at David) through him. This advice was not without logic, nor was it unwise according to the natural mind, so we must not assume that Abishai was speaking wickedly. The devil does not mind using those close to us, with their wise insights, to bring us down. He knows that human logic and reason almost always leaves God out of the equation. Nor does it bother him if a fellow believer adds God’s name to the temptation. “What’s wrong with social drinking? Jesus drank wine, didn’t He?” This makes it appear that the sin is God ordained. We ought to ask ourselves why those who disobey the Lord are so keen on quoting Scripture to legitimise their sin. “And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone” (Matthew 4:6).
David did not even need to get his hands dirty, because Abishai volunteered to strike Saul through on his behalf. He told David that he would only have to smite the king once and all his problems would be over. Would David allow such a thing? “Though Saul’s cruelty and perfidy and general want of right principle had sunk him to a low pitch of degradation, yet that was no reason for David’s imitating him in doing wrong” (Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Bible Commentary).
David knew that he would not be victorious over Saul if he accepted Abishai’s advice. He thought about what God wanted rather than what everyone else said, so he rejected Abishai’s wisdom and ordered that he must not touch, let alone destroy Saul. “Thus bravely does he prefer his conscience to his interest and trusts God with the issue” (Matthew Henry).
David explained the reason why Saul should not be assassinated. To commit such a sin would automatically bring condemnation upon him. Basically David was obeying God’s word, which for him was the only standard for judging what was right and wrong. “And they shall teach my people the difference between the holy and profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean” (Ezekiel 44:23). If only preachers were willing to do this today. “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Timothy 4:2-4).
David knew that Saul’s day would come and he would have to give an account of himself before God. “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27) … “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). Therefore, according to David’s understanding, it was not necessary to deal with Saul himself, for God knew all about his evil heart anyway. The Lord would see to it that Saul was removed from the throne.
Once again we find David avoiding questionable methods to become Israel’s next king. He allowed God to work through His plan without the need of man’s efforts, wisdom and intervention. For David to act against Saul would have been sinful, so his ultimate reason for rejecting Abishai’s advice was the fact that sinning was wrong. He believed that God had given him a “second opportunity of manifesting his innocency towards Saul” (John Wesley).