Before David inherited the throne, he was a servant of King Saul. The Bible talks about how well David served Saul, his loyalty to the King, and Saul’s appreciation for David’s work. But as time went on, King Saul soon became jealous of David, so much so, that he even began to try and kill the servant he once loved. As we read through 1 Samuel, we see the dark and dismal fall of King Saul as his jealousy consumes him. It’s a depressing end to what was once an incredible friendship and mentorship.
When reading these Scriptures, we often emphasize David’s response to this situation. The Psalms he most likely wrote during this turbulent time paint a better picture of David’s own struggles through it all. I imagine all he must have been thinking, all the emotions he must have been feeling. Shock, fear, anger, brokenness, sadness, confusion, grief. What a dark time in David’s life it must have been.
While David certainly experienced personal highs and lows through this time in his life, we eventually read about David’s incredible example of mercy and forgiveness. Though he had the opportunity to easily kill King Saul throughout this ordeal, he chose to spare his life. And when, later on in the story, David learned of Saul and Jonathan’s deaths, we witness him grieve deeply for them both, witness him refer to Saul, even after all he had done, as God’s “anointed one,” and compose a song praising the king for good things he had done.
I’ve always read those Scriptures as a beautiful picture of how God defines true forgiveness, focused on David’s refusal to seek revenge in both word and deed. And undoubtedly, it certainly does all of that. But as I was reading through these passages a few years ago, I was struck by something I’d never given much thought to before.
As Christ-followers, I think we can often be confused as to what forgiveness, as the Bible defines it, is and what it is not. I’ve often seen it taught in churches, or at the very least, implied, that biblical forgiveness is the equivalent of forgetting. After all, Scripture teaches us to turn the other cheek and forgive others 70 x 7 when they sin against us. But this notion wasn’t settling well with me, especially in situations where abuse was occurring.
Webster’s Dictionary defines “forgive” as the following:
stop feeling angry or resentful toward someone for (an offense, flaw, or mistake).
cancel (a debt).
When we look at David and Saul’s story here, we see David wrestle through this process, but eventually, he most certainly lives up to this definition. Webster doesn’t mention anything about forgetting the offense when defining forgiveness, but does that align with Scripture? I found my answer in 1 Samuel 24.
In this chapter, we learn about how David spared Saul’s life when given the opportunity to kill him. When he makes this fact known to Saul, the king weeps and essentially begs David for mercy, which David agrees to. But then the Scripture reads in verse 22,
“…Then Saul returned home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold.”
Prior to Saul’s jealous rampage, David had lived with Saul and served as a high commanding officer in Saul’s army. David was best friends with Saul’s son Jonathan and several times, we even read David referring to Saul as “my father” and King Saul referring to David as “my son.” But despite all of this, we see in this verse of 1 Samuel 24, that though David chose to show mercy and not collect a debt from Saul, so to speak, it is also just as important to note, I think, that he did not return with Saul. In fact, he returned to a stronghold, which is a place where one seeks protection from attack.
While I believe the Church certainly gets some of the most vital components of biblical forgiveness right, we cannot forsake this equally important piece here: That forgiveness is letting go of revenge and animosity towards those who do us harm, but it does not require us to put ourselves back in situations where we are in danger, whether physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. Just as a physical stronghold protects us against those who seek to do us harm, personal boundaries work the same way, and they are necessary in life.
Forgive others, as Christ commands us. Allow Him to help you release resentment and bitterness towards those who have harmed you. But seek His wisdom and guidance, too, in learning how to set healthy boundaries with those who have harmed you. In some situations, perhaps He is calling you to reconcile the relationship and live as though it did not happen. But in other situations, He may want you to lean on Him as you let go of that toxic relationship, where there should be no reconciliation because it will only bring death and destruction to your life. Release the notion that biblical forgiveness is synonymous with forgetting and understand that Scripture teaches us that we can forgive an individual, but still protect our well-being by using the memory of the offense as the explanation for new and healthy boundaries with that individual.
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