“And afterward David’s heart struck him, because he had cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. He said to his men, ‘The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord ‘s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the Lord ‘s anointed.’” (ESV – Read the chapter)
Have you ever had the opportunity to take a shortcut? Sometimes shortcuts can be a good thing. We went to the Cincinnati Zoo this past summer. It was a great zoo, but it came near the end of several days out of town, all of which had involved a pretty hefty load of walking. Trying to cover every square inch of the place was going to be more than three sets of little legs was going to be able to handle. Fortunately, there were a few shortcuts to get from one place to another that allowed us to see nearly everything without walking all of it. That was a good shortcut.
But other times, shortcuts are not a good thing. If you’ve hired someone to build your house, you don’t want him to take any shortcuts. You want the builder to do everything exactly to code and even a little beyond even if it costs some extra money. Taking shortcuts in the building process will result in headaches (and lots more money spent) not too far down the road of living there.
Similarly, if you are trying to develop some physical skill that normally takes a lot of practice, there are some performance-enhancing drugs that can get you to the next higher level faster than spending hours in the practice room or the gym or wherever else it is that you develop the skill. These shortcuts are no substitute for doing the work and can have a long-term detrimental effect on your body.
Shortcuts like this are not ones that are ultimately beneficial and may in fact prove to be paths that wind up taking us longer to reach our goal if we take them. And yet, when the path seems to stretch out long before us, and the further we walk, the more difficult it seems to get, when we come upon one of these shortcuts, they can be awfully tempting to take.
David was on a road that he knew by the anointing of Samuel and the prophetic encouragement of his best friend and the actual heir to the throne, Jonathan, ended with him sitting on the throne of Israel. And yet, the path to that end seemed to be getting longer and longer. Saul’s paranoia and jealousy had taken David from being a national hero about whose bravery women sang songs, to being a wanted man who was being ratted out to the king even by the towns he and his men had saved from destruction by the Philistines. In other words, he was now viewed as a bigger enemy of the people than the nation that had been their mortal enemy for years.
And here, while hiding out in a cave from Saul and an army of 3,000 of the best warriors in Israel, he was presented with what seemed like a God-given shortcut. While David and his men were hiding in the back of this cave, who should come in the front but Saul. And was he coming to corner David and kill him? No, he was coming to relieve himself. He was alone and in the single most compromising position someone can be in. All David had to do was sneak up, hack off his head, carry it out of there with him, and march straight to the throne of Israel to claim what God had promised to give him. It was as obvious as the nose on his face that this wasn’t a shortcut, it was a God-given ticket to finally be done with all of this running and hiding.
But something in David stirred with discontent. Saul was someone who had been anointed by Samuel at God’s direction to be the king of Israel just as he had been. If He took the gold-lined path that seems to have suddenly appeared before him, what kind of a precedent would he be setting? If killing the Lord’s anointed just because you too were the Lord’s anointed was how to get there, then he would have to live the rest of his life in fear of anyone anointed by the Lord even as Saul was. In other words, taking this path would make him no different from Saul. The problem here, of course, is that Saul being like Saul is what put he and David on this particular path to start with. Taking the path of Saul would lead, not to the throne, but only to the wilderness, chasing after some future rival. David knew that wasn’t what he wanted.
In our own lives, when God has called us down some path, there are going to come times when an apparent shortcut is going to stretch out before us. Taking it will be most tempting, but if we do, it will not lead us more quickly to where God is taking us. Instead, it will result in heartache, frustration, and setting us further back in our journey after God than when we started. The long path doesn’t always seem to be the easiest path, but it is the one that will get us there. Be patient and keep to the path. God knows what He is doing.