Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament1 SAMUEL 24
DAVID SPARES SAUL'S LIFE AT ENGEDI
This episode is not a variable account of David's sparing Saul's life as recorded in 1 Sam. 24:26. The critical theory of two original documents from which Samuel has been composed is valueless. There has never been discovered any evidence of such alleged "sources," their existence being found only in the imaginations of men. If there had been any such prior documents, then they could be separated from the text here, and there would then exist two different coherent stories of the events recorded; and, until those "two sources" can be produced and compared, the theory remains unproved and unprovable!
It is not any more incredible that David spared Saul's life twice than that he spared it once. We hold both accounts to be absolutely true as recorded. The events are so different that there is no intelligent device by which one can understand them as variable accounts of only one incident.
DAVID HAS AN OPPORTUNITY TO KILL KING SAUL
And it came to pass, when Saul was returned from following the Philistines, that it was told him, saying, Behold, David is in the wilderness of En-gedi. Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel, and went to seek David and his men upon the rocks of the wild goats. And he came to the sheepcotes by the way, where was a cave; and Saul went in to cover his feet. Now David and his men were abiding in the innermost parts of the cave. And the men of David said unto him, Behold, the day of which Jehovah said unto thee, Behold, I will deliver thine enemy into thy hand, and thou shalt do to him as it shall seem good unto thee. Then David arose, and cut off the skirt of Saul's robe privily. And it came to pass afterward, that David's heart smote him, because he had cut off Saul's skirt. And he said unto his men, Jehovah forbid that I should do this thing unto my lord, Jehovah's anointed, to put forth my hand against him, seeing he is Jehovah's anointed. So David checked his men with these words, and suffered them not to rise against Saul. And Saul rose up out of the cave, and went on his way.
A sampling of the critical comment here is that, "1 Sam. 24 and 1 Sam. 26 give two versions of the same story";F1 "We have two versions of the same story":F2 etc. (See my chapter introduction, above, for my response to this type of comment.) Caird admitted that, "The writers of both our sources are very accurate in their use of verbs of motion";F3 but he offered no explanation whatever of how "both of those writers" could possibly have been inaccurate in their use of every noun, adverb, adjective and pronoun in both accounts. To us, the admitted accuracy of the verbs of motion is proof of the accuracy of both narratives as they stand in the sacred text.
Behold, David is in the wilderness of Engedi
(1 Samuel 24:1). It is a measure of the persistent hatred of Saul that, as soon as he had chased the Philistines out of the country, he resumed his efforts to hunt down David and kill him.
Engedi is an oasis some 600 feet in elevation above the western shore of the Dead Sea, where today there is a small Jewish farm (kibbutz). "There is a copious stream of water that plunges toward the Dead Sea, with five or six waterfalls, skipping like a goat from one ledge to another, hence the name, `The Fountain of the Kid.' The ancient palms and vineyards have vanished, but the petrified leaves still attest the ancient fertility of the place."F4
In front of the Wild Goats' Rocks
(1 Samuel 24:2). This is a reference to the cliffs of Engedi where the wild goats (the ibex) still climb the rocky fastness.F5
There was a cave, and Saul went in to relieve himself
(1 Samuel 24:3), literally, . to cover his feet. The last clause here should be understood in the same sense as Judg. 3:24. The expression is a euphemism for using the bathroom, or going to a restroom.
There was a cave! Indeed there was. Literally hundreds of caves are in that area. However, there was a special cave at Engedi, so large that the Franks called it a labyrinth. The Arabs called it "A Hiding Place," and report that at one time 30,000 people hid themselves in it. The entrance to that cave was very inconspicuous, giving no hint whatever of the size of the interior. Keil, who gave us this information, also stated that, "It is an arguable conjecture that this was the very cave which Saul entered."F6
Here is the day of which the Lord said to you, `Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand.'
(1 Samuel 24:4). Part of what the men quoted the Lord as saying to David here is not found in the Bible. There is a warning in this that some providences are really not that at all. Jonah's finding the ship to Tarshish ready to sail is another example.
David cut off the skirt of Saul's robe
(1 Samuel 24:4). Both Young and Keil expressed the opinion that, upon his entry into the cave, Saul laid his robe aside, making it quite easy for David to cut off part of it completely unobserved by Saul. The darkness of such a cave would also have been a factor in this action.
David's heart smote him
(1 Samuel 24:5). David's great respect for the person of the Lord's anointed resulted in his conscience hurting from this `disrespect' of Saul, whose authority over Israel David still honored, and against whom David had never done anything whatsoever.
Far be it from me. to stretch forth my hand ... against the Lords anointed
(1 Samuel 24:6). These words show that no word from Jehovah had come to David telling him to do as he liked to Saul (as his men said in 1 Sam. 24:4).F7
So David persuaded his men
(1 Samuel 24:7). One readily understands why David's men were anxious to kill Saul. They were not nearly as conscientious as their commander, who, it is said, wrote Ps. 57 upon this occasion. The context shows that David had to use all of his authority to prevent his men from killing Saul.F8
DAVID TELLS SAUL THAT DAVID HAD SPARED SAUL'S LIFE
David also arose afterward, and went out of the cave, and cried after Saul, saying, My lord the king. And when Saul looked behind him, David bowed with his face to the earth, and did obeisance. And David said to Saul, Wherefore hearkenest thou to men's words, saying, Behold, David seeketh thy hurt? Behold, this day thine eyes have seen how that Jehovah had delivered thee to-day into my hand in the cave: and some bade me kill thee; but [mine eye] spared thee; and I said, I will not put forth my hand against my lord; for he is Jehovah's anointed. Moreover, my father, see, yea, see the skirt of thy robe in my hand; for in that I cut off the skirt of thy robe, and killed thee not, know thou and see that there is neither evil nor transgression in my hand, and I have not sinned against thee, though thou huntest after my life to take it. Jehovah judge between me and thee, and Jehovah avenge me of thee; but my hand shall not be upon thee. As saith the proverb of the ancients, Out of the wicked cometh forth wickedness; but my hand shall not be upon thee. After whom is the king of Israel come out? after whom dost thou pursue? after a dead dog, after a flea. Jehovah therefore be judge, and give sentence between me and thee, and see, and plead my cause, and deliver me out of thy hand.
And David bowed with his face to the earth, and did obeisance
(1 Samuel 24:8). By this action, David showed that, so far from being a rebel, he still acknowledged Saul's lawful authority, and was true to his allegiance.F9
Why do you listen to the words of men
(1 Samuel 24:9)? Saul was being grossly misled and misinformed by the evil slanderers of David who were among the retinue of his followers at Gibeah. However, Saul was not the only one, either then or at the present time, who desperately needed to take these words to heart. Why do men listen to the words of men? men who deny everything the Bible says, who vaunt their authority above that of God Himself, who this very day are leading countless millions of souls to eternal death? Why? Why? We shall cite only one example of this. Christ the Son of God said, He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved. But men say. ... ...!
See, my father
(1 Samuel 24:11). On two counts, these words were appropriate in David's mouth. The king was his father-in-law; and custom required that an inferior address the king in such language.
`Out of the wicked comes forth wickedness'; but my hand shall not be against you
(1 Samuel 24:13). Some able scholars have interpreted these words to mean that David said, Your wickedness will bring divine destruction, but I will not take vengeance into my own hand.F10 It appears to this writer that The Interpreter's Bible has a better explanation: The proverb means simply that `wicked deeds come from wicked men,' and if David had been the inveterate enemy Saul took him for, he would have killed Saul without compassion.F11
After a dead dog! After a flea!
(1 Samuel 24:14). These expressions were used by David as metaphors of his own insignificance relative to the importance of the king of Israel. The implied question is, Does not the king of Israel have anything more important to do than to chase after a flea? The Hebrew word here has the article before the word `flea,' stressing that the meaning is a single flea!F12
This paragraph presents one of the most sublime situations in all the Bible. Let the reader picture if he can the Magnificent David standing on some rocky promontory of the cliffs of Engedi, a man proscribed, outlawed and hunted as a wild beast by the man whose life he had just spared, the very man who had given his beloved wife to another, who had repeatedly tried to kill him, and who at that very moment stood not very far away. David held on high the skirt of Saul's robe, a convincing trophy of David's triumph over the temptation to destroy his enemy, but also an indictment of' Saul's wicked hatred of a man who loved him and never did him any harm whatever! There is no wonder that Saul burst into tears.
"This speech of David has so much natural eloquence in it, such warmth and persuasiveness, that it can be read by no one without emotion."F13
SAUL'S TEARFUL RESPONSE TO DAVID'S WORDS
And it came to pass, when David had made an end of speaking these words unto Saul, that Saul said, Is this thy voice, my son David? And Saul lifted up his voice, and wept. And he said to David, Thou art more righteous than I; for thou hast rendered unto me good, whereas I have rendered unto thee evil. And thou hast declared this day how that thou hast dealt well with me, forasmuch as when Jehovah had delivered me up into thy hand, thou killedst me not. For if a man find his enemy, will he let him go well away? wherefore Jehovah reward thee good for that which thou hast done unto me this day. And now, behold, I know that thou shalt surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in thy hand. Swear now therefore unto me by Jehovah, that thou wilt not cut off my seed after me, and that thou wilt not destroy my name out of my father's house. And David sware unto Saul. And Saul went home; but David and his men gat them up unto the stronghold.
You are more righteous than I
(1 Samuel 24:17). These are the very words that Judah spoke to his daughter-in-law Tamar, whom he was in the act of burning to death for adultery (Genesis 38:26). What could either Judah or Saul have meant by words like these? What `righteousness' could either one of them have claimed that was worthy to be mentioned in the same breath as that of the persons addressed? Saul should have said, `Thou art righteous; but I am wicked.'F14
"David knew Saul too well to trust him and therefore returned to the stronghold. It is dangerous venturing upon the mercy of a reconciled enemy. We read of men who believed in Christ, but Christ did not commit himself to them, `because he knew all men.'"F15 "David, with his intuitive wisdom, perceived that the softening of Saul's feelings was only momentary, and that the situation remained unchanged."F16
David and his men went up to the stronghold
(1 Samuel 24:22). Engedi was 700 feet below sea level; and that stronghold to which David and his men went up to seems to have been at some higher elevation in the highlands of southern Judah. Some scholars suggest that it might have been the cave of Adullam, but Willis rejected that idea and wrote that, The writer had in mind the stronghold of Engedi.F17 This seems to be correct, in which case, went up to would mean that the conversation with Saul had taken place at some lower level than that of the stronghold. Many questions of this nature are unanswerable without more information than is provided in the sacred text.
Footnotes for 1 Samuel 24
1: Arthur S. Peake's Commentary, p. 284.
2: International Critical Commentary, Samuel, p. 216.
3: The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 2, p. 1008.
4: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, Samuel, p. 290.
6: C. F. Keil, Keil and Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries, Vol. 2b, p. 234.
7: Ibid., p. 235.
8: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 4b, p. 460.
9: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 460.
10: John T. Willis, op. 239.
11: The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 2, p. 1010.
12: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 460.
13: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 461.
14: Matthew Henry's Commentary,, Vol. 2, p. 411.
15: Matthew Henry's Commentary, op. cit., p. 411.
16: Albert Barnes, Samuel, p. 58.
17: John T. Willis, p. 240.