Last time, we talked about the time when Jesus commanded us to love our enemies. Though this may sound like an oxymoron, Jesus gives us a patten for dealing with our enemies, to turn them (if possible) into our friends. 

Sometimes, we may not be able to turn our foes into friends with love. Sometimes, our enemies stubbornly refuse to go after anything except our destruction. What can we do?

In this case, we are called to protect ourselves. Jesus exhorted us not to throw our precious treasures in front of people who will only turn around and tear us to pieces. [1]

The apostle Paul wrote:

Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.

(Romans 12:1)

We are called to present ourselves as living sacrifices to God, and not to sacrifice ourselves on the altar of someone else’s sin.

So what can we do when our enemies are unrepentantly seeking our destruction? What happens when we’re unable to reconcile?

Perhaps the best example of a godly response comes from someone the Bible calls “a man after God’s own heart”. [2] Let’s examine the life of King David, before he was king.

Though God had anointed David as the next king through His prophet, Samuel, it would be years before David ascended to the throne of Israel. In the interim, he would serve the current king (Saul), from whom God had removed His favour. 

First, David served as King Saul’s minstrel. The Bible tells us that Saul was afflicted by some sort of evil spirit, which would go away when David played his harp for the king.

Later, David joined Saul’s army when he defeated the fearsome giant, Goliath. That was when the trouble between David and Saul began. Saul became jealous of David, and soon began trying to kill him with his spear while David played his harp. 

I find it interesting that though David dodged the king’s spears, he didn’t immediately flee from Saul for good. Perhaps David understood Saul’s outbursts might have originated from his mental illness. He gave the king the benefit of the doubt for a long time—past the point when perhaps many of us would think was reasonable. But in a way, this makes sense. Saul was David’s father-in-law by that time. People tend to stay in dangerous situations longer for family.

Only much later, when Saul’s son (who was also David’s best friend and brother-in-law) confirmed the murderous intentions of Saul’s heart, would David properly flee from Saul’s presence.

In fleeing, David left the comfort of his home, his wife, his job, his father and brothers. Everything. 

It would have been easy, and even natural, to become bitter and resentful over Saul’s treatment when David had served the king so wholeheartedly. It would have been understandable to hate Saul for hating him. But that’s not what we observe through the narrative of this tormented relationship.

We can’t know for certain the exact amount of time that Saul would pursue David, but traditional Christian scholarship estimates a period of about seven years. [3] That’s a long time to be on the run, living in caves, and even living (disguised) amongst Israel’s sworn enemies, the Philistines. 

Yet, we never observe bitterness in David’s heart. In fact, we see quite the opposite. 

At one point, God finally gave Saul into David’s hands. David snuck into a cave where Saul slept and cut off a corner of his robe. [4] 

I can understand this action. When we’ve been constantly wronged and threatened, sometimes it’s nice to have something that we can use to prove to ourselves and others that we’ve not been entirely powerless during our time of persecution. 

But David’s conscience was quickly stabbed with regret over his actions. He had lifted his hand to damage something of Saul’s. He confessed his sin before God and his men. 

Humanly speaking, if David had allowed bitterness to grow in his heart, his heart would not have been soft enough to respond to a prick of conscience. (After all, he hadn’t bodily harmed Saul.) Yet, David’s spirit was still pliable and teachable. In human terms, surrounded by great injustice, the only way for this to happen is through forgiveness. [5]

After this, David confronted Saul on his actions and showed him the piece of robe he had taken, as proof of his goodwill. (i.e., "I cut off the corner of your robe but did not kill you. Now understand and recognize that I am not guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion." [6]) 

What followed was a beautiful moment of mutual understanding and relational tenderness between the two men.  

Shortly after this, Saul would return to his murderous attitudes and continue to pursue David. And David would continue to run, as was his duty in protecting the life that God had entrusted to him. 

To the end, the destruction in Saul’s heart remained strong. Saul and David would never be reconciled. When Saul and Jonathan finally died, David mourned them both. Reading David’s song of lament, he did not give preference to Jonathan, but mourned his best friend and his king equally. [7] This, too, demonstrates David’s love for his enemy. He mourned him in the same way as he did his friend.

That is what loving our enemy looks like. When our enemies fall, we don’t rejoice in their destruction, as they would have rejoiced in ours. We mourn them. We don’t repay evil for evil. We love them, do good to them, bless them when they curse us, and pray for them when they persecute us. [8] This is the only way to honour Jesus in the midst of others’ sin. This is the only way to remain holy and healthy ourselves.


[1] See Matthew 7:6.

[2] See 1 Samuel 13:14 and Acts 13:22.

[3] I found several sources that said seven or eight years was the estimated time. This one seems to have quite a bit of information: Lee Woofenden, “How long was David on the run from Saul?” StackExchange, last modified October 24, 2017,

[4] See 1 Samuel 24. This was not the only time that David spared Saul’s life. See 1 Samuel 26 for another example.

[5] When we’re unable to reconcile with our enemies, we can still love and forgive them. Jesus demonstrated this on the cross when he asked God to forgive His enemies (the Roman soldiers who were torturing and murdering Him). Without having forgiven someone ourselves, we cannot act on their behalf to solicit forgiveness from others. This is a foundational tenet of the human experience.

[6] 1 Samuel 24:11, NIV.

[7] See 2 Samuel 1:19-27.

[8] See Luke 6:27–28.

(Picture source)