Many events in the life of David could be argued as a defining moment of his reign (e.g. his covenant with God or his quick repentance after being confronted by Nathan), but one could argue that his most defining moment occurs before he takes the throne. From this perspective, likely events might include his kingly appointing and anointing by God or his triumph over Goliath; however, while both events display David’s humility and trust in God, they actually prepare him for a greater event that would define David’s reign and have a lasting impact on the people. Actually, it is two similar events─David sparing Saul’s life at Engedi (1 Sam 24:1-25:1) and at Hachilah (1 Sam 26:1-25).
After Saul declares David as his enemy and tries to kill him, David escapes from Saul and is forced into hiding. David wrote several psalms (Pss. 18, 52, 53, 57) during this time, and they all portray the danger he faced due to Saul’s evil corruption. These psalms also describe David’s trust in God in the midst of his distress. On the occasion where he was close enough to kill Saul, he showed great restraint, humility and faith in God. He believed that despite Saul’s pride and evil, God would raise up a humble and faithful king for the people. David believed that God would deliver him from Saul without him having to murder Saul. He was not going to ascend to the throne by violence or by his own strength, but rather by the same radical trust, humility and courage he showed at his anointing and his swift battle against Goliath.
2 Samuel 1 brings the scene full circle when David hears of Saul’s (and Jonathan’s) death. David tore his clothes, mourned, wept and fasted, and he did this with honesty and integrity before God showing his true kingly character. Before David’s call to king, the prophet Samuel had warned the Israelites after Saul’s disobedience that the only way to experience the success and benefits of a king is by having a king who is humble and faithful. Thus, Saul is rejected as king, and the shepherd boy is exalted as king. The beginning of David’s reign revealed God’s standard for a king and was to be an example for all future kings. David could not ultimately sustain God’s kingly standard, and so his life shows that he is not the final deliverer for the Israelites, but rather a more qualified king will come from his line. A messianic king who will live in perfect faithfulness, humility, obedience and courage. This was a defining hope that would bless the future generations.