The desperate fugitive had decided to not raise his hand against his pursuer, despite the urgings of his men. “There he is, resting alone, right here in our cave! Kill him now!” They even played the God Card: “God’s fingerprints are all over this. It’s YOUR day! Seize it!” Instead, as we read in 1 Samuel 24, David snuck up on King Saul and simply cut off the edge of his robe. But even that relatively minor assault troubled the man who had been chosen to replace Saul as King of Israel – we read in verse 5 that “David’s conscience bothered him because he had cut off the edge of Saul’s robe.” This man’s heart was so tender that taking a knife to Saul’s robe was not all that far, in his mind, from taking a knife to Saul’s throat.
Let’s fast-forward to several years (and about 18 chapters) later, moving from a cave in the desert to the palace in Jerusalem. David is now King. A bathing woman catches his eye during an evening stroll. He sends for her and sleeps with her. He unsuccessfully tries to cover up his sin and the pregnancy that resulted from it, eventually having Bathsheba’s husband killed so he could take her as his wife. The tender conscience that bothered him when he cut off Saul’s robe did nothing to keep him from committing adultery and murder several years later.
What a contrast! It’s almost hard to accept that these stories describe the same man. I say “almost,” because the painful truth is, I understand very well how they could describe the same man. I have seen my own conscience protect me from a “small sin” one day, only to be entirely ineffective in the face of a major failure just a few days later.
Yes, I have been that man – but I don’t want to be that man. I want a tender heart at all times. I want to have an Edge of the Robe kind of conscience. So I need to know, and to learn from, the difference between Cave-David and Palace-David.
Joni Eareckson Tada spoke at our church recently, and shared something that I think sheds light on the two Davids. Drawing on her 45 years as a quadriplegic, Joni told us that disability is a blessing in disguise. Disabled Christ-followers, she said, experience a desperate need for God, every moment of every day. They know they can’t get through the day without Him, so they live in constant, conscious dependence upon His strength.
In many ways, that describes Cave-David. He was a fugitive, on the run, much more likely to sense his need for God and a close connection to Him, determined to allow nothing to come between him and the Lord that he was depending on to get through the day. Even a small disobedience would seem unthinkable in that context.
Palace-David was successful, prosperous, respected. He had people to cook for him, fight for him, bring women to him, and respond to his every whim. I assume he still knew that God was there, but he had lost the sense of desperate dependence upon His presence and strength. David was living the pitfall of prosperity – a declining awareness of the need for God. His conscience was handicapped by that decline – ironically, it was disabled by his lack of disability.
I want to learn from the two Davids. I’ve been asking God to give me an Edge of the Robe conscience, one that is so tender and responsive that the very thought of willful disobedience fills me with dread. I’ve seen Him answer that prayer, at least partially, through my worship walks. They serve as regular reminders of how desperately I need Him, of how much I love walking with Him and how much a rupture in our relationship, even a temporary one, would be costly.
I want the protection that comes with an Edge of the Robe conscience. If you want one too, I invite you to ask Him for it, and to strengthen it by finding a way to increase your awareness of your need for Him. Build regular reminders of that need into your schedule, and honor them. Revel in your neediness, clinging to it like a flood victim clings to a floating log.
Whatever you do, don’t forget your need of God. Because even if He allows us to live in the palace, we need the kind of heart that comes to those who live in a cave.