Systemic Oppression and the Christian

Systemic oppression has taken many forms over the eons including tribalism, nationalism, racism, politicism, supremacism, victimism, social darwinism, etc… I have waited to address the issue of systemic oppression from the pulpit because we walk through the Scriptures and we had not yet approached a text that addressed the subject and I had no immediate need in my own context to present such a topic. Today’s text presents systemic oppression explicitly. Doubtless, you have seen the news about the racist and reverse racist agendas. Mixed in there somewhere are sincere individuals who desire that all people be measured by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. While racism is not particularly in view of the text, systemic oppression is. Indeed, the Bible never addresses racism explicitly because racism is a fairly new way to oppress people and derives from Darwin’s Theory of Evolution because some people can be said to be more evolved than others and, therefore, superior based on the idea of natural selection—an idea not much better than Hindu class distinctions based on the ebb and flow of karma.

Saul has been pursuing David in order to kill him. Saul feels threatened by the Jewish shepherd even though David has only honored the king. Saul’s tribalism leads him and the other Benjemites into anti-semitism (Cf. 22:7). David, many of his fellow Jews, and the others in Israel who feel oppressed by Saul are being systemically oppressed (oppressed as a result of certain systems put in place by the elite). In this passage, we see what it means to be oppressed. We also see the proper response to systemic oppression—the response that honors God.

1 Samuel 24:1-15

Now when Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, saying, “Behold, David is in the wilderness of Engedi.”

Then Saul took three thousand chosen men from all Israel and went to seek David and his men in front of the Rocks of the Wild Goats. He came to the sheepfolds on the way, where there was a cave; and Saul went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were sitting in the inner recesses of the cave.

The men of David said to him, “Behold, this is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘Behold; I am about to give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it seems good to you.’” Then David arose and cut off the edge of Saul’s robe secretly. It came about afterward that David’s conscience bothered him because he had cut off the edge of Saul’s robe.

So he said to his men, “Far be it from me because of the Lord that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, since he is the Lord’s anointed.”

David persuaded his men with these words and did not allow them to rise up against Saul. And Saul arose, left the cave, and went on his way. Now afterward David arose and went out of the cave and called after Saul, saying, “My lord the king!” And when Saul looked behind him, David bowed with his face to the ground and prostrated himself.

David said to Saul, “Why do you listen to the words of men, saying, ‘Behold, David seeks to harm you’? Behold, this day your eyes have seen that the Lord had given you today into my hand in the cave, and some said to kill you, but my eye had pity on you; and I said, ‘I will not stretch out my hand against my lord, for he is the Lord’s anointed.’ Now, my father, see! Indeed, see the edge of your robe in my hand! For in that I cut off the edge of your robe and did not kill you, know and perceive that there is no evil or rebellion in my hands, and I have not sinned against you, though you are lying in wait for my life to take it. May the Lord judge between you and me, and may the Lord avenge me on you; but my hand shall not be against you. As the proverb of the ancients says, ‘Out of the wicked comes forth wickedness’; but my hand shall not be against you. After whom has the king of Israel come out? Whom are you pursuing? A dead dog, a single flea? The Lord therefore be judge and decide between you and me; and may He see and plead my cause and deliver me from your hand.”

Saul pursues David (v. 1-2)

Now when Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, saying, “Behold, David is in the wilderness of Engedi.”
Then Saul took three thousand chosen men from all Israel and went to seek David and his men in front of the Rocks of the Wild Goats.

We recall that David has not committed a crime against king Saul or Israel. He has defended Israel and served his king. Yet, Saul pursues David because of his own envy. He includes all of Israel in his vendetta, effectively creating an active system of oppression against David and anyone who finds refuge with David.

David spares Saul (v. 3-7)

He came to the sheepfolds on the way, where there was a cave; and Saul went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were sitting in the inner recesses of the cave.
The men of David said to him, “Behold, this is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘Behold; I am about to give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it seems good to you.’”

The situation is somewhat comical. David’s men try to persuade him that God was giving Saul into his hand. They even claim that God foretold this moment. In reality, God never said about Saul, “Behold; I am about to give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it seems good to you.” God did promise to give the Philistines into David’s hand (23:4) but not Saul. David’s men have, here, either attributed a promise to God that God did not promise or misapplied a previous promise God made concerning the Philistines at Keilah in order to justify their own desire for retaliation or retribution. In the world today, we see all sorts of people justifying their own retaliation or retribution by adding to or twisting the Scriptures.

Then David arose and cut off the edge of Saul’s robe secretly. It came about afterward that David’s conscience bothered him because he had cut off the edge of Saul’s robe.
So he said to his men, “Far be it from me because of the Lord that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, since he is the Lord’s anointed.” David persuaded his men with these words and did not allow them to rise up against Saul. And Saul arose, left the cave, and went on his way.

At first, David agrees with his renegades. That is when he cut off the edge of Saul’s robe. Afterwards, while Saul is still relieving himself, David is convicted in his conscience that what he did and was about to do was wrong. As he explains why it is wrong to his men, he gives only one reason: Saul is the Lord’s anointed. For this reason alone, David does not allow his followers to rise up against Saul. Saul’s life is spared and he goes on his way.

Does it strike you that David would not harm Saul for conscience’s sake? David is being oppressed. Saul seeks his life. Most people in our day would chalk it up to self-defense or love of country. David, with whom the Holy Spirit abides, does something unexpected. He spares Saul’s life because Saul is God’s anointed king. True; David is not our example in the Scriptures. David does, here, exhibit God-honoring behavior in the midst of systemic oppression. Let me show you by considering Scripture’s stance on slavery and submission to governing authorities.

(1) Slavery in the modern sense is an abomination. God’s Law, in Exodus 21:16, says:

He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death.

The surrounding context of Exodus 21:16 severely limits the injustices that can be perpetrated against and preserved the promise of freedom for all types of slaves. Most instances where slavery is addressed in the Bible, that slavery doesn’t refer to someone being kidnapped and sold like we think of today. Even though modern slavery is an abomination, different types of slaves are instructed to:

…be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free (Ephesians 6:5-8).

Systemic oppression is abominable; Yet, slaves are to serve humbly according to the flesh with good will toward their oppressors. The Lord will reward their service.

(2) All worldly government is by God (Cf. Romans 13:1; Daniel 2:21; 4:17; John 19:11; Acts 17:26; Deuteronomy 32:8; Job 12:23). Whoever resists authority opposes God’s ordinance and will receive condemnation upon themselves (Romans 13:2). That is why Christians are instructed to be in subjection to the governing authorities (Romans 13:1). Paul will write these words under the systemic oppression of Rome in the First Century AD. When he does break the Law, it will be to preach Christ and Christ crucified; He will be willing to accept the consequences because he will submit to the ruling authorities God has in place. Submission to the governing authorities does not mean we sit down and shut our mouths. It does mean we are willing to endure oppression, be good citizens, and speak the truth in love—more like Dr. King’s civil disobedience than the riots we see in 2020.

We are not, individually, the arbiters of God’s justice. Vengeance is the Lord’s (Cf. Romans 12:19). As Bible believing Christians, we seek not to overthrow our oppressors, but honor them as servants for the sake of the Gospel. Instead of airing our conservative or liberal hate-speech or libel, we seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness. Instead of trying to force others into submission, we submit ourselves in service to others. I will encourage you by quoting Ephesians 6:12:

…our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

We seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness knowing that Jesus has sent His disciples out like sheep in the midst of wolves (Cf. Matthew 10:16; Luke 10:3).

God’s work in human oppression (v. 8-15)

Now afterward David arose and went out of the cave and called after Saul, saying, “My lord the king!” And when Saul looked behind him, David bowed with his face to the ground and prostrated himself.
David said to Saul, “Why do you listen to the words of men, saying, ‘Behold, David seeks to harm you’? Behold, this day your eyes have seen that the Lord had given you today into my hand in the cave, and some said to kill you, but my eye had pity on you; and I said, ‘I will not stretch out my hand against my lord, for he is the Lord’s anointed.’ Now, my father, see! Indeed, see the edge of your robe in my hand! For in that I cut off the edge of your robe and did not kill you, know and perceive that there is no evil or rebellion in my hands, and I have not sinned against you, though you are lying in wait for my life to take it. May the Lord judge between you and me, and may the Lord avenge me on you; but my hand shall not be against you. As the proverb of the ancients says, ‘Out of the wicked comes forth wickedness’; but my hand shall not be against you. After whom has the king of Israel come out? Whom are you pursuing? A dead dog, a single flea? The Lord therefore be judge and decide between you and me; and may He see and plead my cause and deliver me from your hand.”

David shows Saul that it was within his ability to take Saul’s life, but he spared Saul. David professes his trust that God will judge justly and work things together accordingly. David does not seek retribution. He does not retaliate. The fruit of his life reveals the fruit of his soul. Saul is revealed to be the wicked person he is. Oppression flows out of Saul’s heart. Submission flows out of David’s. This is the difference between the self-righteous and truly regenerate person—between a heathen and a Christian.

God has made the world. He works all things together, even establishing kings and setting the boundaries for nations. Since He is the providential one, His advice is the advice to follow—not the advice or preference of the world or our own peers. God’s perfect word is entirely sufficient to guide us in this life. Not surprising, it addresses wholly the problems we face in this life—namely systemic oppression. Systemic oppression is wrong, but Christians are willing to endure because they seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness instead of their own.

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