Abishai, Abner, David and Abortion (1 Samuel 26:1-25)

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This particular study was first prepared as a sermon to be preached from the pulpit of BBC on Sunday evening, 31 January 2011. That particular Sunday in 2011 was Sanctity of Life Sunday in South Africa, and this study was prepared with that particular theme in mind.

However, it is not my intention to look merely at the horror that is abortion and the illogical, immoral Termination of Pregnancy Act. We could look at graphic images, frightening statistics and philosophical debates and thereby raise some awareness and stir the emotions. But rather, we want to consider our approach, our convictions and willingness to be involved in preserving life. The Bible does not openly speak on the matter of abortion, just as it doesn’t speak on the rules of the road or proper Internet surfing. Technological and medical advancements have created many scenarios where we have to apply the principles that the Word does teach us. In this study, I want to consider 1 Samuel 26, which may at first seem very remote from the issues of the sanctity of life, but which does indeed develop the principles which we would do well to apply to the issue of the day.

The account that we read in 1 Samuel 26 is part of the ongoing saga between the first king of Israel (Saul) and God’s anointed king in waiting, David. In context we see that David was being pursued by Saul because David had gained favour among the nation for his exploits on the battlefield.

You will remember the praise singers who sang of the two returning warrior kings: Saul has slain his thousands, but David his ten thousands (1 Samuel 18:7). Saul was less than impressed with that song, and his enmity toward David began to burdgeon. Since that was recorded in 1 Samuel 18, Saul had become increasingly opposed to David. Not only had he tried to pin him to the wall with a spear, but he had essentially chased him out of the kingdom, removed his support and influence, and separated him from his best friend and his wife. In chapter 24 we see that David was presented with the opportunity to end this cat-and-mouse game when Saul and his army took refuge in a cave in which David and his men were hiding. Instead of killing him, David spared Saul and cut a piece of Saul’s robe off as proof of his commitment to preserve the king’s life—despite the fact that it was not in his favour to do so. Here, in chapter 26, David was providentially presented with a second opportunity to end the madness, and it is in this account that the Scriptures point us to three different views—three different worldviews and approaches—to handling the significance of human life and its inherent dignity.

By means of establishing the context for us in terms of the sanctity of life, particularly in relation to abortion, let us observe two principles from this passage which make it relevant to our thinking. Granted, the analogy is imperfect, but we can certainly use the principles in which the Word leads us and apply them to our lives.

First, see the similarity between Saul here and a developing human in the womb. While Saul was far from innocent in his dealings with David up to this point, in this passage we see him as being the passive, innocent bystander to the events unfolding around him. Verse 12 states that the Lord had caused a deep sleep to fall on Saul and his men to the point that they were unable to respond to the threats to their life. Just like the baby in the womb who cannot do anything to resist the external influences and threats against its life, Saul was exposed and at the mercy of the people around him. This is a very accurate depiction of the unborn: very much alive, vital in every respect, but unable to oppose or mount any resistance in action or word against those that would seek to end their life. Just like Saul, the unborn across our land are at the mercy of people who have the means and the motive—regardless of how wrong that motive is—to end their life definitively. Like Abishai, they need only strike once.

Second, let us consider the motives and the reasoning that people use to justify their taking a defenceless life in abortion. Whatever they are, they are summed up in one thought, and that is that they represent a God denying selfishness. John Piper, a strong pro-life advocate, says emphatically that “abortion is a God thing!” Since mankind, from Adam, was made in the image and likeness of God, an assault on human life is an assault on God. Look in v. 10 where David states that only the sovereign God, the Creator of all life, has the right to end a life. He may choose to do that through illness, or accident or during an act of war—but in none of these does he make allowance for one human to take that choice into his own hands. The reasons supporting abortion today revolve around exactly this issue. The very name of the pro-choice lobby shows that people have denied the sovereignty of God in matters of life and death. Rather than acknowledging God’s authority over all life, people can now choose what to do about a life. Unplanned pregnancies, “accidents,” rape, disability, deformity, social welfare, gender and other concerns now provide cause for choosing whether life should continue or not. It is a blatant disregard for God’s sovereign control over all life and it is extremely self-centred.

Abishai and Abortion

This brings us to the first view of the sanctity of human life that we will consider. Some people in society—in fact far too many—are like Abishai. Consider Abishai and his response to the vulnerability of Saul in v. 8: “God has delivered your enemy into your hand this day. Now therefore, please, let me strike him at once with the spear, right to the earth; and I will not have to strike him a second time!”

If you are like most people, I’m sure that you would be sympathetic towards Abishai. After all, he was on David’s side and David was the good guy. Abishai was a devoted companion and one of David’s very mighty men who frequently defended the king’s honour and led campaigns against the enemy. But in this area he was remiss and he provided an example to us of the abortion-minded, pro-choice lobby in our society.

There is no doubt that David’s life and indeed Abishai’s life would have been much easier and more pleasant if Abishai had been allowed to kill Saul at that instant. Pragmatically, it would have been a good move: no more running around the wilderness, with no food to eat, always looking over your shoulder; just a comfortable, unhurried trip back to the Promised Land and endless years of peace and relaxation. Just carry on your progress up the corporate ladder, save a little bit more money, ensure that you won’t have to battle with a child with special needs. Don’t worry about trying to learn how to be a parent in your teenage years—you’re just supposed to have fun and enjoy life. I speak facetiously, of course, but that is exactly the mindset that has pervaded our liberal culture.

From statistics published in mid-January 2011 in the United States we see that, since the unbanning of abortion in that country, more than 35 million babies have been killed. On average, 20% of all pregnancies in that country end in abortion. Forty percent of all pregnancies in New York and 60% among African-Americans in New York end in abortion. The statistics in our country are better, but only because we have a much smaller population and have only legalised this genocidal behaviour since 1997.

In all this, the Abishais of the world give no thought to God, no thought to the innocent and defenceless life that is abruptly and definitively ended. We hear much about every woman’s right to choose her own reproductive path, but we hear nothing from the victims. They are forever silent just as Saul would never have uttered another word had Abishai been permitted to fulfil his intention. It is interesting at this point to note that everyone who supports abortion has already been born! The short-sightedness and selfishness of this view is startling when considered like that but yet isn’t it also amazing that the eyes of the proponents of abortion are so tightly squeezed shut that only a merciful and dramatic act of God’s grace could pry them open?

We are disturbed by this worldview but we are not surprised. The apostle Paul repeatedly refers to the state of the fallen natural human mind and calls it reprobate, unrighteous, foolish and full of vile passions. And what typifies this more than abortion? But it is not enough for us to just recognise the error of this position and to be horrified by the deeds that they perform. We have to be like David, whom we will consider later in more detail. Suffice it to say for now that we must be willing to stand up for life, speak out against the abuse and senseless taking of life. Do this by acknowledging God: Tell the pro-choice people that He alone is the Creator and Sustainer of life; only He may take it. That is what the Abort97 ministry of BBC is all about. We want to raise awareness of the evils of abortion. Some people are just completely ignorant and oblivious to the depth of the horror. We want to be a part of a growing movement whose aim it is to make abortion unthinkable. Wouldn’t it be a great thing to be able to see God change society so much, that in 20 years’ time our children will look back at this time and say (as we say about slavery today), “I can’t believe they used to kill the unborn!” Lord have mercy!

How do you feel about defending the defenceless and standing up against the abortionists? Please know that there is plenty scope for you to get involved in this ministry.

So much for the consideration of the first view of the sanctity of human life, I trust that the Spirit will make the connections to individual lives where needed.

Abner and Abortion

Our second example of an attitude towards the sanctity of human life is not initially apparent—or at least it wasn’t to me. But let us consider Abner, the commander of Saul’s army, and a fierce warrior in his own right.

David stealthily crept through the ranks of 3,000 battle-hardy warriors, of which Abner was chief. Gifted the opportunity to kill the king, he instead took evidence of his proximity and opportunity to end the king’s life. He then called Abner out specifically for his failure to stand up and protect the life of the king.

Consider that Abner was Saul’s confidant, his friend and his protector. Just as the church has been tasked with caring for all nations, especially the defenceless and marginalised, the least of all people, Abner represents those that bear this responsibility of being a confidant, friend and protector. But here we see that Abner had left his post unguarded, and the enemy had come right in, unopposed, unchallenged and blasé about it. How was it that Abner succumbed to the same deep sleep that Saul did, when he was tasked with protection of his life? Should he not have ensured a safe perimeter about his king, set up a guard and failsafes?

Perhaps he had grown complacent in his responsibilities and had begun resting on his laurels and reputation. Perhaps he no longer seriously considered the king to be a target, or David to be a threat. Perhaps he got too caught up in his own activities and interests and thereby neglected his main task. Whatever the reason, after his return to safety, David in vv. 15-16 openly rebuked Abner for his disregard of the king’s life. His inattention to the preservation of Saul’s life was not a good thing, a crime which the law demanded should be punished by his own death. We are all immediately aware of the irony of this situation. He who was tasked with preserving life, was now liable to be put to death for his failure to safe guard it. He who was considered a noble man among men had now lost his honour.

The application for us here is clear. Since mankind was created and placed on this earth, we have been given the task of the preservation of life as well as the prohibition against taking life. In God’s instruction to Noah after the great flood, God justified the commandment given to Noah and his generations to be preservers of life and not to take another life by stating that it is so because God made man in His own image. The Sixth Commandment, as given to Moses, and the case laws detailing these commandments, bear an outright law preventing the taking of a life (no murder) and the implied commandment to do everything to preserve life. The Great Commission as given to the human founders of the early church tasked them with making disciples of all nations, which is a very difficult task if the very life of those nations is not highly regarded. Nothing has changed from God’s perspective. He still regards all mankind as valuable because men and women bear His image. He still expects us to be life-preserving, soul-winning, image-bearing, and covenant-keeping people.

But much has changed from our perspective. We have lost our high view of God as the ultimate Creator, and have come to worship the creature rather than the Creator. We have become flippant about our task of preserving life, perhaps in the hope that someone else will assume that responsibility, but perhaps also because we just couldn’t be bothered! Before, we may have been considered to have had some dignity, to be men, but now we have sunk to lows that carry with them the shame and embarrassment of unfit and unworthy servants. To what extent is this true in your own life? Are you just comfortably cruising along in the liberal lackadaisical milieu of the postmodern mindset, caught up in your own concerns, willingly or unwillingly ignorant of the very real threat that is creeping around the camp? You may even be self-righteous about it and say, “Issues like this are distractions to the real task that the church should be pursuing.” Notice how that after David had said these words to Abner, Abner who was initially very loud and proud, suddenly had no response. When confronted with the real concerns about the sanctity of life and his responsibility to maintain it, the mighty man was speechless.

Pray to this end. Pray that the Lord would stop the mouths of those that disregard the life that He creates and sustains. Pray that their eyes would be opened to the travesty of all moral reasoning that they are committing, promoting and benefitting from. Pray too that God would raise up those who would stand in opposition to these Abners, who could give a sure and reasonable defence of the need to preserve life, who could winsomely convince the pro-choice and the apathetic alike of the need to take life seriously. We noted David standing up against Abishai and now we see him coherently and winsomely opposing Abner too. Be like David!

And guard yourself. Don’t become lazy like Abner. You have not yet arrived where everything is alright and peaceful and everyone is happy. Don’t be apathetic to the plight of the unborn and the abortionists who are on their hellbound path.

David and Abortion

The last view of the sanctity of life that we will consider is obviously David’s. We have alluded to some of it already in our general considerations of this passage. But note specifically now that the pro-life stance as demonstrated by David is restorative, redemptive and rewarding.

Once Saul awoke properly, heard David’s voice and realised that his life had been spared, he called out to David and then listened attentively to David’s plea for mercy. As a result of David sparing Saul’s life, their fractious relationship was restored and the long-standing animosity was put to rest. As far as we know, this was indeed the last encounter that Saul and David ever shared and their final parting was blessed by the exchange of the sweet words of a restored relationship. They didn’t go off arm in arm into the sunset but they did stop trying to kill each other.

And just like that, those that today stand up for the preservation of life can be agents in restoring fractured relationships. In the most obvious sense, the unborn child will be allowed to experience life before death and will subsequently be able to develop relationships in the world into which they are born. Abortion on the other hand, ensures that there will never be any relationship to restore from the baby’s point of view.

But more so, those that work towards the preservation of life also offer restoration and genuine hope to those that are abortion-minded (i.e. those considering abortion, and those that have sinned in taking the life of an unborn baby). The fact that more than 80% of women who terminate their pregnancies come to regret their decision, and the hidden cost of the gnawing guilt that they carry around is enough to show that there is a huge need for restoration and hope. The Abishais of the world often act impulsively and carelessly and as a consequence they have to carry this huge scar around with them. But those that preserve life based on their worldview as determined by the revelation of God can point these hurting people to the One in who is the ultimate restoration and eternal hope.

True pro-lifers will not stop there: Not only will they seek opportunities to restore but they will seek out opportunities to rescue women from situations where they are exploited; they will foster a culture of equipping expectant women for parenting and for the growing embrace of adoption. Don’t you want to be such a vehicle of blessing?

Aligned with this hope and the restoration of earthly wellbeing and of these temporal relationships is the fact that the pro-life stance is redemptive in the eternal spiritual realm too. It is clear from Saul’s response to David’s plea that the preservation of his own life led him to consider the depths of his heart and its position before God.

Saul expressed his contrition and acknowledged the seriousness of his sin, which is the first step in anyone realising God’s redemptive plan in their life. And this is the chief aim of any ministry focusing on the sanctity of human life too. More than any other reason for preserving life, we desire to see spiritual lives changed. Yes, we earnestly desire to see laws changed and the end of the slaughter of the innocent, but we desire to see the hearts of people changed more! What would be the use of seeking a mere external conformity to legislation, if the heart behind the observance was not affected? The abolition of slavery was a great thing but racism still abounds. Let us aim higher, let us strive to see redemption and reconciliation to the Saviour as the primary goal and then the world will follow along with the behaviour that is determined by their belief.

The final benefit of the pro-life view as portrayed by David is indicated by David’s response to Saul in vv. 22-24.

And David answered and said, “Here is the king’s spear. Let one of the young men come over and get it. May the LORD repay every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness; for the LORD delivered you into my hand today, but I would not stretch out my hand against the LORD’S anointed. And indeed, as your life was valued much this day in my eyes, so let my life be valued much in the eyes of the LORD, and let Him deliver me out of all tribulation.”

(1 Samuel 26:22-24)

David heard Saul’s confession, but being familiar with his evil ways, he asked that Saul send a young man to fetch the king’s spear. In doing so he declared that, even after having said all the right things, Saul (like any other mortal) could just not be trusted. And he developed that further by stating that while man cannot be fully trusted every man will receive the just recompense for his actions from the Lord. And, in that, God the Father can be fully trusted.

This absolute confidence is the greatest and deepest reward that a man could ask for: to know that, despite our fallen nature and our frequent stumbling, that the Lord sees the intention of our heart and will reward us accordingly. Those who choose to do right, who choose to value a life, can be assured of a reciprocal value being placed on their life; they will be granted a settledness amidst fierce trials and the favour of the Lord’s eyes on them. And so, in a very real measure, the concept of Christian hedonism appears again. We are presented with the opportunity to do that which we have been commanded to do and which is right to do and which we have been enabled to do. And if we do indeed do these things, God promises to reward us. So essentially, we are working our own reward, we are creating our own satisfaction and pleasure. Honouring God by honouring the life that He created in his own image brings the deepest joy and the most satisfying reward.

So, going forward from here, let us remember we all have the choice to determine our degree of satisfaction. You can choose to be like hostile Abishai and place little value on human life. Or you can follow after ignorant, apathetic Abner and disregard the sanctity of life. May the Lord repay every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness! Or you can choose to be a champion of the inherent value of all human life, whether it is that of an enemy or an unborn baby. And in doing so, you can see lives rescued and restored, hearts turned to the Lord, and you can heap up for yourself treasures in heaven.

But now you might say that this is a matter for those that are activistic, for those who like to take up an issue, or for those who are politically motivated. There are multiple responses to that, but I’d like to point those who think that way—and indeed all of us—very briefly to Psalm 54. According to the preamble (“A Contemplation of David when the Ziphites went and said to Saul, ‘Is David not hiding with us?’”), David penned this psalm around the time of the opening verse of 1 Samuel 26.

Save me, O God, by Your name, and vindicate me by Your strength. Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth. For strangers have risen up against me, and oppressors have sought after my life; they have not set God before them.

(Psalm 54:1-3)

Do you see the point? David was able to respond as he did—he was able to stand for the sanctity of life—because he had covered himself with prayer. This is especially relevant for those that are seeking to serve the Lord, His church and indeed the world as they work towards making abortion unthinkable.

But even for those that do not see themselves serving in this capacity, do you see the power and effect that your prayers can have? Prayer really changes things. Prayer can move the hand of God. Prayer can lead to God raising up men and women who will speak clearly and convincingly on the issue. Prayer can change the heart of the policy makers. Let us pray for the end of abortion to be realised in our lifetime. Let us pray that God would gloriously save many abortion-minded men and women and their children, for His name’s sake and for His glory.

In an ever-increasing, capacity men and women from BBC—and I trust from likeminded local churches—will have opportunity to be like David. You can be involved in creating awareness of the God-ignoring selfish fallacies that underpin the abortion mindset. You can be involved in winsomely turning people to the truth and guiding them along the paths of restoration, redemption and reward. Be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit in your life, even right now, and stand up and be counted. Stand up for life!