Read Psalm 18.
One of my favorite moments in the life of David is the scene in which David sneaks up on Saul in a cave and cuts off a corner of his robe. I remember hearing about it in Sunday school. It stuck in my brain as an elementary school kid because when Saul entered that cave in the wilderness—which happened to be David’s hiding place—it was to go to the bathroom (1 Samuel 24:3–4).
Saul is hunting David in a jealous rage, trying to kill him. But David won’t hurt the king. He even feels remorse for damaging Saul’s garment: “The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the LORD” (v. 6).
This has always struck me as strange. After all, Saul was trying to kill David. David was on the run, forced to hide out among Israel’s enemies, the Philistines (1 Samuel 21:10–15), and out in the wilderness. That’s why he and his men were in that cave to begin with. If the situation had been reversed, Saul would have done more than cut off a corner of David’s robe. Plus, David had been anointed to become the next king of Israel. The Holy Spirit had come upon him—and left Saul (1 Samuel 16:13–14). And finally, though the promise itself is not recorded in the Bible, David’s men remind him that God had promised to give Saul into his hands (24:4).
But David doesn’t see things that way. He knows it would not be a righteous act to kill the king God set upon the throne of Israel.
According to its title, Psalm 18 is a song David sang “when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.” It’s a song of praise for God’s protection through his trials. At the center of the psalm, we read, “The LORD has dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me” (v. 20).
I can’t help but think of the incident in the cave during Saul’s bathroom break. David’s hands are so clean, he would rather keep running than end his hardship by taking the life of a man who wished him dead and whom God had already rejected as king (1 Samuel 15:26). The episode gives me a glimpse into what God meant when he called David a man after his own heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22). His righteousness goes beyond mere rule following. David doesn’t look to see what he can get away with; he looks to see how he can honor God in all circumstances.
David wasn’t a perfect man. The Bible records several of David’s most notable sins for us. But there are sins, and there is the trajectory of a person’s heart. David trusted in God when the world around him was pressing in. He showed his strength, not through raw power, but by submitting to the Lord.
We don’t know who wrote or compiled the books of 1 and 2 Samuel, but whoever organized it placed a slightly different version of Psalm 18 inside 2 Samuel 22, toward the end of David’s life. The words about David’s clean hands are still there, after his sin with Bathsheba and after his sinfully weak response to Amnon’s rape of Tamar. David’s hands are still clean because God washed them clean—he repented and didn’t turn from a trajectory of chasing after God’s heart.
In this, I have hope. By the grace of God and through the work of Jesus, my sins and mistakes are not the sum of who I am. I can be made clean.