Reading through 1 Samuel again, this time from the Christian Standard Bible, I paused to reflect when I came across this statement from David to Saul: “As the old proverb says, ‘Wickedness comes from wicked people’” (1 Sam 24:13).
Sometimes a statement seems so obvious that we skip right along past it. Yet I find the idea of this proverb to go deeper than the surface level, perhaps signaling one of the themes of 1 Samuel in its contrasting of David with Saul.
What is David trying to convey to Saul here? Saul was hunting David down to kill him, and David had just spared Saul’s life when he had a chance to take it; he provided evidence of this by showing Saul the cut off the corner of Saul’s robe. He had no ill intent and promised he would not take the life of God’s anointed. He stayed consistent with this throughout the narratives.
What a contrast here to Saul, who did intend to take David’s life (who also was God’s anointed)! Saul was convicted on this occasion and confessed his own evil intent. He was one of the wicked men from whom wickedness comes, and this is what is seen later on.
We all sin, and we all have to grapple with the consequences of our own evil. Yet this old proverb points to the fact that we will be known by our fruits, and these fruits come from the consistency of our lives. It’s one thing to sin and seek the Lord; it’s quite another to sin and refuse the Lord. Attitude is everything when it comes to seeking forgiveness.
The proverb reminds us that there two kinds of people, broadly speaking:
First, there are those who are trying to do what is right, who are seeking the Lord, and yet recognize their sins and failures. These return to the Lord upon realization of their sins and are willing to confess to God (see 1 John 1:7-2:2).
This attitude of confession and seeking the Lord is, I believe, why David can ultimately be described as a man after God’s own heart. He sought to do God’s will. We are well aware of David’s multiple failures and sins, but David kept returning to the Lord and he put himself in God’s hands. Psalm 51, for example, shows us the heart of a man who was truly penitent and longing for God’s fellowship. David’s actions hurt himself deeply, but his heart led him to seek the Lord and do what is right. Remember, God knew David’s heart, and He always knows our hearts as well.
Second there are those who do wickedness with little regard for correcting this or striving to do what is right. As another proverb says, “Doing wickedness is like sport to a fool, and so is wisdom to a man of understanding” (Prov 10:23). Again, “Folly is a joy to him who lacks sense, but a man of understanding walks straight ahead” (Prov 15:21). Some take such pleasure in wickedness that their minds become twisted, futile, and bent on doing harm. Those seeking the Lord cannot understand this mindset, but it is real and dangerous.
Saul found himself falling further into evil and he stood condemned for it. Even though he confessed, as on this occasion in 1 Samuel 24, he then dug his heels in deeper and turned further from God. There would be no true Psalm 51 moment from Saul. Just a couple chapters later, he’s after David’s life again. Not long after that he is seeking the help of a medium, involving practices strictly forbidden by God. He was, as we sometimes might say, “losing it.” Wickedness comes from wicked people.
Where do we find ourselves in this? Will we be among those who find evil to be fun, seeking it out and reveling in it? Will we be among who repent, turn to the Lord, and dedicate ourselves to doing right?
Wisdom plays a large role in these decisions. Wisdom, knowledge, discretion, and understanding delivers from those who forsake the “paths of uprightness,” who “rejoice in doing evil” and “delight in the perverseness of evil” (see Proverbs 2:1-15).
Seeking the Lord with the intent of avoiding wickedness is not going to happen accidentally (as “intent” would surely imply). Yet this is what we must do if we will find any success in serving the Lord at all. Hebrews 11:6 reminds that “whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” The seeking is not a half-hearted act. This requires diligence and perseverance. Yet the journey is far beyond any worth we can measure.
In contrast to the proverb quoted by David, let’s remind ourselves of what James wrote:
“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (Jas 3:17-18).