Playing the Fool

I Samuel 26

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
January 2021

Today, we are going to be talking about fools.  It is an important topic today because we are surrounded by them in the world in which we live.  Last time we were together, we looked at a fool called NABAL.  He was a foolish farmer, a foolish businessman and a foolish husband. His name meant “fool.”

Today, we are going to look at another fool, named SAUL.  He was a foolish father-in-law, a foolish employer and a foolish king.  He was a leader who was a fool.  He was a foolish politician.  We have a few of those today.  As the saying goes, “there’s no fool like an old fool.”  Saul was an old fool.  He admitted he was a fool.  He said, “I played the fool” (I Samuel 26:21 KJV).

Three Types of Fools

Jerry Vines is a former pastor from Florida.  He was at one time the President of the Southern Baptist Convention.  He is retired now.  He is in his 80s.  Vines once preached a sermon and made the statement that there are three types of fools in the Bible: mental fools, material fools and moral fools.[1]

A MENTAL FOOL is a fool in his thinking.  There are a lot of mental fools.  One kind of mental fool is an atheist but there are many more.  The Bible says, “The fool has said in his heart that there is no God” (Psalm 14:1).

Atheists think that they are smart.  They think that they are advanced.  They have thrown off the shackles of the bible, the church and religion.  They think they are liberated.  Other people may call them smart.  God calls them fools.

Today, when we call someone a fool, we mean that this person is stupid.  Not all fools have a low IQ.  Fools may be smart.  They may be educated.  They might teach at Princeton or Harvard, but they are fools in God’s eyes.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools (Romans 1:22 ESV).

A MATERIAL FOOL is a fool in his possessions.   Nabal was a material fool.  He was a rich fool.  He owned thousands of sheep and cattle.  Material fools are often wealthy.  Material fools do not think about eternity.  They live for the here and now.  Many are selfish and stingy.

The rich farmer in Luke 12 was a material fool.  He was rich.  He was selfish.  His philosophy was “eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:19).  He was a hedonist like many today.  He just lived for pleasure.  But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. (Luke 12:20 NIV)

A MORAL FOOL is a fool in his morals.  We have plenty of those today.  This kind of fool does not take sin seriously.  Fools make a mock at sin (Proverbs 14:7 NIV).  This kind of fool tries to make sin respectable.  This fool calls evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20).

This fool believes that there are no consequences for sin.  One day, we will all die and stand before God who will hold people accountable for their actions.  He will judge everyone according to their works.

There are many different kinds of fools.  This list is not exhaustive.  What kind of fool was Saul?  What made him a fool?  We will see that he is a moral fool.  What made him a fool? Are we fools?  Have we played the fool, like Saul did?

In I Samuel 26, David outsmarts Saul.  He outsmarts his army and he outsmarts his personal bodyguard.  Abner was head of what we would call today his secret service.  David did not do it on his own.  He had a little help from above.  He got some divine intervention.  A miracle takes place in this chapter.  It is a sleeping miracle.

The Ziphites went to Saul at Gibeah and said, “Is not David hiding on the hill of Hakilah, which faces Jeshimon?” 2 So Saul went down to the Desert of Ziph, with his three thousand select Israelite troops, to search there for David. (I Samuel 26:1-2 NIV)

Notice how the chapter begins.  Saul gets some intelligence from the Ziphites.  The Ziphites once again tell Saul where David is hiding.  They rat him out.  They betray David.  What is surprising is that the Ziphites were from David’s own tribe.  They were from the Tribe of Judah.  Saul, once again, comes after David and once again brings three thousand troops with him.

When he saw that Saul had followed him there, he sent out scouts and learned that Saul had definitely arrived. Then David set out and went to the place where Saul had camped. He saw where Saul and Abner son of Ner, the commander of the army, had lain down. Saul was lying inside the camp, with the army encamped around him.

David then asked Ahimelek the Hittite and Abishai son of Zeruiah, Joab’s brother, “Who will go down into the camp with me to Saul?” “I’ll go with you,” said Abishai.  So David and Abishai went to the army by night, and there was Saul, lying asleep inside the camp with his spear stuck in the ground. (I Samuel 26:3-7 NIV)

David’s Plan

David finds out that Saul is looking for him.  He finds out that Saul is out to kill him, after he promised not to do that again, so what does David do?  What would we do?  We would run and hide.  We would run for our lives.  That is what any sane person would do.  That is what anyone who does not have a death wish would do but David was different.

David was a different kind of man.  The Bible says that the righteous are as bold as a lion (Proverbs 28:1 NIV).  David killed Goliath.  David was young.  He was bold.  He was fearless.  Instead of going on the defensive, he goes on the offensive.  Saul does NOT go into David’s camp.  David goes into Saul’s camp.

David does not just go into Saul’s camp.  He goes into the middle of the camp (because that is where Saul was).  He went there at night (probably in the middle of the night because everyone is asleep) and was completely undetected, like a ninja in the dark.

The odds were against him. This was risky.  It was dangerous.  Some would say that it was stupid.  He could have lost his life.  Some soldier in Saul’s army had to be a light sleeper.  If one soldier heard them to hear them, it would be two against three thousand men.

David asked if anyone wanted to go with him.  David finds one person who is willing to go.  The only one willing to go was a young man named Abishai. Who was Abishai?  We find out in I Chronicles.

13 Jesse was the father of Eliab his firstborn; the second son was Abinadab, the third Shimea, 14 the fourth Nethanel, the fifth Raddai, 15 the sixth Ozem and the seventh David. 16 Their sisters were Zeruiah and Abigail. Zeruiah’s three sons were Abishai, Joab and Asahel. (I Chronicles 12:13-16 NIV)

Abishai was the son of Zeruiah (zer-you-eye-ah).  Zeruiah was his mom, not his dad.  She happened to be one of David’s sisters.  That made his David’s nephew.  He was also was Joab’s brother.

David gets a chance to kill King Saul, but this time Saul is not going to the bathroom.  He is sleeping.  He gets a chance to kill him while he was sleeping but he does not take it, even though Saul tries to kill David while he was in bed earlier in the book (I Samuel 19:15-16).

David enters the cave and finds Saul sleeping but, this time, he is not alone, like he was before.  He is surrounded by all of his troops.  He is completely protected.  He even has his bodyguard with him.

David does not kill Saul, even though Abishai tells him to do it. He says, “God has delivered him into your hand.  Now is your chance.  Kill him and all of your problems will be over and you will be king, like God promised.”  In fact, in this chapter, Abishai offers to do it for David. He said that all it will take will be one thrust of the spear.

David refused to kill him because Saul is the Lord’s anointed.  Out of respect for the Lord, he refuses to kill him.  David said, “God put him in office.  Saul did not put himself there.  If God wants to take him out, He can but I am not going to.”

What does he do instead?  He does not cut off a corner of Saul’s robe.  He takes his spear and jug of water but later gives it back.  Some of us sleep with water near our bed and so did King Saul.  David took it, along with his sword.  Saul always had a spear by his side wherever he went.

This raises a question.  Why did David do this?  Why did he risk his like and the life of his nephew, especially if he does not kill Saul?  What was the point of that mission?

The last time that Saul and David meet on earth is in I Samuel 26.  When David encounters Saul, he does not kill him.  He just takes a jug of water and a sword out of the camp and gives them back anyway.   It seems like a complete waste, so why did he do it?  He did it to prove a point.

How do you change the opinion of someone who doesn’t like you?  How do you change the opinion of someone who has a completely false view about your character?  What can you do, based on David’s example, to try to change the opinion someone has of you?  Is it even possible to do that?

That was what David was up against.  That was his challenge, so what did he do?  What tactics did he use?  He did two things.  He used ACTIONS and he used WORDS and he used them in that order.  We usually just use words.

David did not just argue with Saul.  He did do that.  He said to him, “Why is my lord pursuing his servant? What have I done, and what wrong am I guilty of?” (I Samuel 26:18 NIV). He also demonstrated through actions that he was not against Saul and was not trying to harm him.  He did this repeatedly.  He proved by his actions that he was not out to hurt King Saul.  Notice what David said.

Saul’s Response

What was Saul’s response?  He did not get emotional and weep out loud like he did last time (I Samuel 24:16) but he did give David a CONFESSION and a PROMISE.

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 been terribly wrong.” (I Samuel 26:21 NIV)

Saul’s promise is that he will not try to hurt David anymore.  David does not put too much stock in this promise.  We will see that in the next chapter.  Saul would say one thing and go back on his word the next day.

Saul also makes a confession to David.  What is his confession?  He says, “I have sinned.”  Saul admits that he has sinned.  He had done that before.  He said the words “I have sinned” TWICE earlier in the book (cf. I Samuel 15:24, 30).  Not everyone who says those three words is sincere.  Not everyone who says, “I am sorry” really means it.  These days, people can say the right words and not mean any of it.

Saul does not only call himself a SINNER.  He calls himself a FOOL.  He says, “I played the fool” (I Samuel 26:21 KJV).   Saul says that he has been “terribly wrong” (I Samuel 26:21 NIV).  Saul admits that he did not just make a little mistake.  He made a huge mistake.

Samuel called him a fool in I Samuel 13:13 and now Saul calls himself a fool in I Samuel 26:21. He says that he played the fool.  That summed up his whole life.   You could put that on his tombstone.

At the end of his life, he looked back and said, “I have played the fool.” That is not what we want people to say about us at the end of our lives.

How many Christians have played the fool?  How many would dare to admit it?  Many would deny it, even if it were true, because of their pride.  Saul admits it here when he is confronted by David.

Saul was not always a fool.  He did not start out a fool.  He started out great.  How many professing Christians start out great but end up complete fools?

Compare how Saul started and how he ended?  He started out anointed by a prophet to be the first king of Israel.  He started out obedient.  He started out humble.  He started out filled with the Spirit.  He started out popular.

The people loved him.  Most of them did.  He started out full of promise.  He had a lot of potential.  God could have used him greatly.  He could have had a dynasty.  His son Jonathon could have been king.  The Messiah could have come from his line, but he became a fool.

How did Saul end up?  He ended up in deliberate disobedience to the command of God.  He ended up being a reject.  God rejected him as king.  He ended up fighting the will of God for his life.  He has a terrible and disgraceful ending.

That is always a bad plan.  He ended up demonized.  He had an evil spirit.  He ends up in the occult, visiting a witch.  He dies in disgrace.  After he dies, his enemies behead him.  That is not how any of us want to end up.

How Saul Played the Fool

How did Saul play the fool?  There are many ways he did this but four immediately stand out.

1) He deliberately disobeyed the Word of God

He deliberately disobeyed clear commands of Scripture.  Have we done that?  Some Christians live in blatant disobedience to the Word of God.

2) He actively fought the will of God for his life

God rejected him as king, and he continued to reign as king.  Do you know what God wants you to do and try to fight it or do you accept what he is doing in your life?

3) He gave it to a sinful obsession

Saul had a sinful obsession.  He was obsessed with killing David and tries to do it every day.  It was an irrational obsession because David had done nothing wrong. This obsession almost ruined his life.  Do we have a sinful obsession?

4) He did not live a life of integrity

His words meant nothing.  He would say, “I am sorry” when he was not sorry.  He made promises to people and repeatedly broke them.  Do we live lives of integrity?

[1] Jerry Vine, “Jacksonville’s Three Biggest Fools,” Sermon (1999).

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