You probably know the name Benedict Arnold. But I’m guessing you don’t know much about him. Early in his career, he was one of America’s youngest generals, and, arguably, the country’s most capable military mind. Washington trusted him. His men respected him. And he had more guts than most: Once, when his entire regiment had retreated from a position, Arnold maintained the line alone against an entire oncoming British battalion. He was wounded and pinned underneath his horse—yet still managed to escape.
But as gutsy and smart as Arnold was, he just couldn’t get promoted. Washington and Arnold’s men might have loved him, but they didn’t control promotions or pay; the Continental Congress did. And they were sluggish in moving Arnold up the ranks.
Which is why, in 1779, Arnold found himself reading British articles about the war. In those articles, he found that many British officers had been speaking better of him than his own government had. His wife, Peggy, nudged Arnold into the decision that would make him famous—or rather, infamous. A Tory loyalist, she arranged a meeting for Arnold with a British officer named John André.
And just like that, an American patriot and war hero became a national symbol of cowardice and greed, a man whose name is now synonymous with the word “traitor.”
How tragic to spend a lifetime faithfully serving one allegiance, only to become a traitor to it in the end. And Arnold’s isn’t the only such story.
Much of the story arc of 1 and 2 Samuel follows David, a shepherd boy who would become Israel’s greatest king. But David’s story is a mixed bag. At times, he is a man after God’s heart, showing courage and faithfulness regardless of the risks. But then there are moments—as in 1 Samuel 25—when he looks more like Benedict Arnold.
Confronted with a relatively small challenge, David’s faith falters. His flesh gets the best of him. He needs rescuing. And, thank God, a woman named Abigail steps in to do the saving! But were it not for her, David would have gone back on everything he believed in.
Here’s the context: After Samuel’s death, David feels shaken, unmoored. He had lost a spiritual mentor, the one who believed in him when nobody else did. Shortly after, David and his men were staying in the vicinity of Nabal, a very wealthy man, protecting Nabal and his property from the Philistine raiding parties. Scripture says that David had been like a shield wall for Nabal (1 Samuel 25:16).
In those days it was customary to annually give a gift to those who had assisted you, so when the time came, David sent some of his men to ask Nabal for it. But Nabal rejected and insulted them, calling David the runt of Jesse, probably playing on David’s lifelong wound of feeling overlooked and exiled.
Upon hearing this, David said, “That’s it. We’re coming for them,” and went out for vengeance against Nabal.
What happened to the David of 1 Samuel 24? The one who said, “May the LORD judge between me and you, may the LORD avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you” (1 Samuel 24:12 ESV)? The David who resisted killing his enemy was about to murder the whole household of a nobody. He passed the big test, but was about to fail the little one.
Does this ever happen to you? You resist some big temptation only to fall to a much smaller one? It’s happened several times in my life, especially after some big spiritual victory. Here, David is worn out and tired, and Nabal plays on his deepest insecurities. And David loses it. That’s the tragedy of compromise.
You can never achieve the purposes of God by disobeying the commands of God. Never. So, when life takes an unexpected turn, you have a choice: You can take matters into your own hands and compromise, or you can do the single hardest thing in the Christian life by trusting God and waiting on his timing. You cannot complete the promise of the Spirit by the power of the flesh.