Robert Wurtz II
“Then the men of David said to him, “This is the day of which the LORD said to you, ‘Behold, I will deliver your enemy into your hand, that you may do to him as it seems good to you.’ ” And David arose and secretly cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. Now it happened afterward that David’s heart troubled him because he had cut Saul’s robe” (1 Samuel 24:4–5 NKJV).
Despite the fact that all the voices surrounding David gave approval for him to attack king Saul, his heart knew better. Although David did not attack or kill the king, his conscience reproached him, because he regarded this as an injury done to the king himself (Keil and Delitzsch). Keep in mind that David was a young man in these days and still sensitive (conscientious) about his actions.
Rather than take the familiar line of teaching regarding touching the Lord’s anointed, I wish to focus our attention on the fact that David’s heart troubled him for something he did that he knew was wrong. The Hebrew word for troubled is nakah and is actually much stronger than that and means to beat, strike, wound, or kill. In other words, David’s heart took him to the woodshed (as it were); which is a way of saying that it gave him an emotional spanking.
Listening to Your Conscience
There are two reasons why our heart would trouble is in this way; when we do something we know is wrong (a sin of commission) and when we neglect to do something we know we should do (a sin of omission). For David, he was under king Saul’s authority because God had anointed him to be king. To cut off his robe to demonstrate that he could have killed Saul if he had wanted was an act of rebellion against God’s duly established authority. It was an “I showed him” moment. David may have felt good about it at first, but then his conscience weighed in and corrected him for behaving that way.
It is vital that Christians be sensitive to their conscience regarding their behavior. I realize that a person can have a conscience that is too sensitive, but that is rare and perhaps a topic we can address at another time. Generally speaking, people are not too conscientious… they ignore their conscience. The evidence regarding this is revealed in the careless way in which people conduct themselves. For example, at first, they may feel inclined to obey all traffic rules while driving. But in time they adopt an almost “no Cop–no stop” outlook. In other words, I’ll only do right if someone in authority is watching me. In Old Testament times, the children of Israel were ripe for judgment once they said in their hearts, “The LORD seeth us not” (Ezekiel 8:12 KJV).
When someone only does right when they are being watched and scrutinized they are doing it with eyeservice. The Greek word is ophthalmos and it’s a synonym for hupokrisis (hypocrisy). The KJV translates ophthalmos as “eyeservice.” It is the opposite of sincerity. Yet this is what happens to people who are not conscientious. Their conscience is seared (insensitive) and no longer smites or troubles them when they do wrong. There is no voice in their head saying, “You know you shouldn’t have done ____.” Or “You know you should have done ____.”
The conscientious person (as was David as a young man) knows that he/she is living under the watchful eyes of God Himself. Paul reminds us in Colossians, “Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord” (Colossians 3:22 ESV). In modern times, this would be like our boss at work or a child under the authority of his/her parents. Again, it could be the traffic authorities or some other authority to whom we should be subject. We need that voice in our head or our heart getting our attention and calling us to do what we know is right without having to be told or corrected.
A conscientious person polices themselves and usually end up as leaders. Why? They are reliable and careful. They can be trusted. They are unlikely to cut corners when nobody’s looking. A careless person (the ophthalmos types) often struggles in all areas of life. Why? Because they don’t make themselves do right. They do the easiest thing.
Since spankings (physical punishment) fell on hard times in the 70s and 80s, and are now pretty much non-existent, people grow up to treat their conscience like a spoiled child treats their parents and teachers. They run roughshod over it because there are few or no immediate consequences (see Eccl. 8:11). For example, as a child, I was expected to pick up a piece of trash on the floor if I saw it… and was scolded for stepping over it. Looking back I’m thankful for that because it made me a little more conscientious about the little things in life.
When a person is conscientious they are an asset to those around them. They don’t have to be told what to do — they do it automatically. They are what the world calls a “self-starter.” You don’t have to ride a person who is conscientious to get them to do right or to convince them to stop doing wrong. They police themselves. How? But being sensitive to their God-given conscience. It is my hope that we will all be more attentive to our conscience and listen to our hearts when it’s troubling us about bad things we do and when we are neglecting to do things that we know are right.