[Apr 15]--Shrewd as a Snake, Innocent as a Dove

1 Sam. 24:1-22

David has long been one of my favorite heroes in the Bible, and I think I have good reasons for this. He was obviously courageous and trusted in the Lord, as shown in his encounter with Goliath (I wouldn’t call it a “battle”). He was a born leader, as demonstrated by how many people in Saul’s administration admired him and abandoned Saul in a heartbeat in order to join David in exile. He was a loyal friend, as displayed by how he treated Mephibosheth (we’ll discuss that later). But the quality he showed in today’s passage is very rare, and I'd love to have it. I’m not exactly sure what to call it, except a balanced perspective regarding people.

Jesus commanded us to be “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves," and I love the perfect tension there. But just like with most good qualities in tension, most of us tend to fall off on one side or the other. Many people, especially as they get older, get cynical about human nature. They always expect the worst out of people, and they have a really hard time trusting them. They’ve been disappointed by friends or relatives in the past, and they spend their waning years bitter about it. Others, on the other hand, are hopelessly naïve about human nature. They always want to believe the best about people, and there's a real danger that they’ll trust someone who isn’t worthy of it.

What we need is a biblical perspective. While the Bible tells us that all of us are sinners and fall short of God’s standards, that doesn’t mean that everyone around us never does anything good. Of course they do, as long as we're talking about on a human level. Theologians have a term for this: Common grace. The Wikipedia article (which is really good) defines it as "every favor, falling short of salvation, which this undeserving and sin-cursed world enjoys at the hand of God; this includes the delay of wrath, the mitigation of our sin-natures, natural events that lead to prosperity, and all gifts that human use and enjoy naturally."

This would include a conscience, some understanding of good and evil, and some degree of desire to do good instead of bad. Atheists love their families, have compassion on the needy, and try to become a better person. Again, this in no way lessens the truth in the Scriptures cited in the last paragraph about our sinful nature. The Bible tells us that all of us--at rock bottom--are sinners and rebels under God's righteous judgment, and it also tells us that none are as bad as we could be, and it affirms the existence of a moral conscience. 

This means that we need to find a balance between naïveté and cynicism.

In today’s passage this balance was showcased perfectly in the actions and attitudes of David. He had zero respect for Saul as a man, but for David the office of king was totally sacrosanct. He saw government--and the kingship in Israel in particular--as appointed by the Lord, not as a human invention that can be changed when we feel like it. He saw Saul as being directly appointed by God, and as far as he was concerned the only one with the right to remove Saul was the One who put him into power. And obviously he was willing to trust people who deserved it: his close friends and followers, and even the son of Saul.

But when it came to Saul’s character, he wasn't willing to put his trust in the promises of a man like this. Saul had made promises like this before, and his word was worth less than something you scrape off your shoe. Hence the last verse of today’s reading.

I think the key to this is wisdom and guidance. We need the Holy Spirit to give us insight into how to treat people who've hurt us. We must forgive them, which means we hold no ill will towards them and demonstrate sacrificial love towards them. But there may be cases in which someone has a track record of breaking promises. In that case, keep in mind that there's NO command in Scripture to put our trust in someone who’s unreliable. Remember: Shrewd as a serpent, innocent as a dove.

Lord Jesus, in every interaction I have with someone today, please give me your wisdom. Whenever I listen to your voice, everything’s in perfect balance.

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