In this post, I will address 1 Samuel 24:1-22. This is the amusing story of how David had Saul in his power, when Saul was “relieving himself,” but did not take advantage of the situation in order to make himself king, but honored the Lord’s anointed. David’s righteousness is surely defined by verse 6: “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the Lord’s anointed.” I will argue that this is an application of the fifth commandment and is thus primarily about David’s relationship to the law of God. Leithart’s position is that this use of tsedeq counts as an example of the meaning “count as a friend.” Leithart’s own words: “David did not count him as an enemy, but as a friend, and that witnessed to David’s undiminished loyalty to the king” (p. 210). I don’t doubt that Leithart would acknowledge that the fifth commandment is involved. But I think that he would draw different conclusions from that fact than I would.
The fifth commandment has traditionally been interpreted as including submission to the proper authorities in government (as being ordained by God). This is why verse 6 is so crucial. I am a bit puzzled, frankly, as to why Leithart does not discuss this verse in connection with his claim, since I believe it challenges his claim. Verse 6 clearly connects David’s contemplated action with his relationship with the Lord and with the Lord’s law. The Lord God Himself ordained that Saul should be king. He is the Lord’s anointed, mentioned twice in verse 6. And surely the phrase “the Lord forbid” should clue us into the fact that David believes it is unthinkable for any attack to be made on the Lord’s anointed. In fact, the Lord did forbid any attack upon Saul. He forbade it in the fifth commandment. So, David’s relationship to the law is clearly the substance of verses 17-18, where Saul acknowledges that David upheld the law. The law is never far away from Saul’s speech here in this chapter. Now, surely we can see that interpersonal relations between Saul and David are surely important here. That is evident from verse 17, where the reasoning for Saul’s declaration is that David has upheld the second great commandment by loving Saul, his neighbor, as himself. However, it is the conclusions that Leithart draws from this that I challenge. His argument goes like this: tsedeq is here used in a broader way than a judicial setting (although he clearly acknowledges that this is at least somewhat judicial: his term is “quasi-judicial”); it is used in an interpersonal setting; if justification terms can be used in broader settings than judicial, then justification itself has more dimensions than judicial. There are two things that need to be said here. First of all is the hermeneutical point that I have already made: just because a term is used in broader senses than just one meaning does not mean that the doctrine of justification needs to be broadened. Words are not equal to concepts. Justification can be explained without any reference to tsedeq the term. I could say ”Christ’s law-keeping, or merit is imputed to us and our sins are imputed to Christ when God graciously gives us faith.” The word-concept fallacy is a fundamental fallacy that Leithart makes here. It is tightly related to the illegitimate totality transfer explained in previous posts. Secondly, the setting is more than quasi-judicial here. David explicitly calls on God to judge (vs. 12) between Saul and David. How much more judicial does it need to be? Are we assuming that it has to be in a courtroom in order for it to be completely judicial? The Lord doesn’t need a courtroom! Furthermore, it can be argued that many if not most judicial scenes in the OT don’t actually take place in a courtroom. Think, for instance, of the standing stones. They are placed in whatever location it was thought to be needed, and they served as a testimony (see Joshua 22:10-34, for a good example). So, the Samuel passage does not prove what Leithart thinks it does.