1 Samuel 24
We have hitherto had Saul seeking an opportunity to destroy David, and,
to his shame, he could never find it. In this chapter David had a fair
opportunity to destroy Saul, and, to his honour, he did not make use of
it; and his sparing Saul's life was as great an instance of God's grace
in him as the preserving of his own life was of God's providence over
I. How maliciously Saul sought David's life,
1 Samuel 24:1,2.
II. How generously David saved Saul's life (when he had him at an
advantage) and only cut off the skirt of his robe,
1 Samuel 24:3-8.
III. How pathetically he reasoned with Saul, upon this to bring him to
a better temper towards him,
1 Samuel 24:9-15.
IV. The good impression this made upon Saul for the present,
1 Samuel 24:16-22.
|David Spares Saul in the Cave.
||B. C. 1057.|
1 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 Engedi.
2 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
3 And he came to the sheepcotes by the way, where was a cave;
and Saul went in to cover his feet: and David and his men
remained in the sides of the cave.
4 And the men of David said unto him, Behold the day of which
the LORD said unto thee, Behold, I will deliver thine enemy into
thine hand, that thou mayest do to him as it shall seem good unto
thee. Then David arose, and cut off the skirt of Saul's robe
5 And it came to pass afterward, that David's heart smote him,
because he had cut off Saul's skirt.
6 And he said unto his men, The LORD forbid that I should do
this thing unto my master, the LORD's anointed, to stretch forth
mine hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the LORD.
7 So David stayed his servants with these words, and suffered
them not to rise against Saul. But Saul rose up out of the cave,
and went on his way.
8 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 stooped with his face to the earth, and bowed
I. Saul renews his pursuit of David,
1 Samuel 24:1,2.
No sooner had he come home safely from chasing the Philistines, in
which it should seem he had good success, than he enquired after David
to do him a mischief, and resolved to have another thrust at him, as
if he had been delivered to do all these abominations,
By the frequent incursions of the Philistines, he might have seen how
necessary it was to recall David from his banishment and restore him to
his place in the army again; but so far is he from doing this that now
more than ever he is exasperated against him, and, hearing that he is
in the wilderness of En-gedi, he draws out 3000 choice men, and
goes with them at his feet in pursuit of him upon the rocks of the
wild goats, where, one would think, David should not have been
envied a habitation nor Saul desirous of disturbing him; for what harm
could he fear from one who was no better accommodated? But it is not
enough for Saul that David is thus cooped up; he cannot be easy while
he is alive.
II. Providence brings Saul alone into the same cave wherein David and
his men had hidden themselves,
1 Samuel 24:3.
In those countries there were very large caves in the sides of the
rocks or mountains, partly natural, but probably much enlarged by art
for the sheltering of sheep from the heat of the sun; hence we read of
places where the flocks did rest at noon
(Song of Solomon 1:7),
and this cave seems to be spoken of as one of the sheep-cotes. In the
sides of this cave David and his men remained, perhaps not all his men,
the whole 600, but only some few of his particular friends, the rest
being disposed of in similar retirements. Saul, passing by, turned in
himself alone, not in search of David (for, supposing him to be an
aspiring ambitious man, he thought to find him rather climbing with the
wild goats upon the rocks than retiring with the sheep into a cave),
but thither he turned aside to cover his feet, that is, to sleep
awhile, it being a cool and quiet place, and very refreshing in the
heat of the day; probably he ordered his attendants to march before,
reserving only a very few to wait for him at the mouth of the cave.
Some by the covering of the feet understand the easing of nature, and
think that this was Saul's errand into the cave: but the former
interpretation is more probable.
III. David's servants stir him up to kill Saul now that he has so fair
an opportunity to do it,
1 Samuel 24:4.
They reminded him that this was the day which he had long looked for,
and of which God had spoken to him in general when he was anointed to
the kingdom, which should put a period to his troubles and open the
passage to his advancement. Saul now lay at his mercy, and it was easy
to imagine how little mercy he would find with Saul and therefore what
little reason he had to show mercy to him. "By all means" (say his
servants) "give him the fatal blow now." See how apt we are to
1. The promises of God. God had assured David that he would deliver him
from Saul, and his men interpret this as a warrant to destroy Saul.
2. The providences of God. Because it was now in his power to kill
him, they concluded he might lawfully do it.
IV. David cut off the skirt of his robe, but soon repented that
he had done this: His heart smote him for it
(1 Samuel 24:5);
though it did Saul no real hurt, and served David for a proof that it
was in his power to have killed him
(1 Samuel 24:11),
yet, because it was an affront to Saul's royal dignity, he wished he
had not done it. Note, It is a good thing to have a heart within us
smiting us for sins that seem little; it is a sign that conscience is
awake and tender, and will be the means of preventing greater sins.
V. He reasons strongly both with himself and with his servants against
doing Saul any hurt.
1. He reasons with himself
(1 Samuel 24:6):
The Lord forbid that I should do this thing. Note, Sin is a
thing which it becomes us to startle at, and to resist the temptations
to, not only with resolution, but with a holy indignation. He
considered Saul now, not as his enemy, and the only person that stood
in the way of his preferment (for then he would be induced to hearken
to the temptation), but as God's anointed (that is, the person whom God
had appointed to reign as long as he lived, and who, as such, was under
the particular protection of the divine law), and as his master, to
whom he was obliged to be faithful. Let servants and subjects learn
hence to be dutiful and loyal, whatever hardships are put upon them,
1 Peter 2:18.
2. He reasons with his servants: He suffered them not to rise
1 Samuel 24:7.
He would not only not do this evil thing himself, but he would not
suffer those about him to do it. Thus did he render good for evil to
him from whom he had received evil for good, and was herein both a type
of Christ, who saved his persecutors, and an example to all Christians
not to be overcome of evil, but to overcome evil with good.
VI. He followed Saul out of the cave, and, though he would not take the
opportunity to slay him, yet he wisely took the opportunity, if
possible, to slay his enmity, by convincing him that he was not such a
man as he took him for.
1. Even in showing his head now he testified that he had an honourable
opinion of Saul. He had too much reason to believe that, let him say
what he would, Saul would immediately be the death of him as soon as he
saw him, and yet he bravely lays aside that jealousy, and thinks Saul
so much a man of sense as to hear his reasoning when he had so much to
say in his own vindication and such fresh and sensible proofs to give
of his own integrity.
2. His behaviour was very respectful: He stooped with his face to
the earth, and bowed himself, giving honour to whom honour was due,
and teaching us to order ourselves lowly and reverently to all our
superiors, even to those that have been most injurious to us.
|David Expostulates with Saul.
||B. C. 1057.|
9 And David said to Saul, Wherefore hearest thou men's words,
saying, Behold, David seeketh thy hurt?
10 Behold, this day thine eyes have seen how that the LORD had
delivered thee to day into mine hand in the cave: and some bade
me kill thee: but mine eye spared thee; and I said, I will
not put forth mine hand against my lord; for he is the LORD's
11 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 mine hand, and I have not sinned against thee;
yet thou huntest my soul to take it.
12 The LORD judge between me and thee, and the LORD avenge me
of thee: but mine hand shall not be upon thee.
13 As saith the proverb of the ancients, Wickedness proceedeth
from the wicked: but mine hand shall not be upon thee.
14 After whom is the king of Israel come out? after whom dost
thou pursue? after a dead dog, after a flea.
15 The LORD therefore be judge, and judge between me and thee,
and see, and plead my cause, and deliver me out of thine hand.
We have here David's warm and pathetic speech to Saul, wherein he
endeavours to convince him that he did him a great deal of wrong in
persecuting him thus and to persuade him therefore to be
I. He calls him father
(1 Samuel 24:11),
for he was not only, as king, the father of his country, but he was, in
particular, his father-in-law. From a father one may expect compassion
and a favourable opinion. For a prince to seek the ruin of any of his
good subjects is as unnatural as for a father to seek the ruin of his
II. He lays the blame of his rage against him upon his evil
counsellors: Wherefore hearest thou men's words?
1 Samuel 24:9.
It is a piece of respect due to crowned heads, if they do amiss, to
charge it upon those about them, who either advised them to it or
should have advised them against it. David had reason enough to think
that Saul persecuted him purely from his own envy and malice, yet he
courteously supposes that others put him on to do it, and made him
believe that David was his enemy and sought his hurt. Satan, the great
accuser of the brethren, has his agents in all places, and particularly
in the courts of those princes that encourage them and give ear to
them, who make it their business to represent the people of God as
enemies to Caesar and hurtful to kings and provinces, that, being thus
dressed up in bear-skins, they may "be baited."
III. He solemnly protests his own innocence, and that he is far from
designing any hurt or mischief to Saul: "There is neither evil nor
transgression in my hand,
1 Samuel 24:11.
I am not chargeable with any crime, nor conscious of any guilt, and,
had I a window in my breast, thou mightest through it see the sincerity
of my heart in this protestation: I have not sinned against thee
(however I have sinned against God), yet thou huntest my soul,"
that is, "my life." Perhaps it was about this time that David penned
the seventh psalm, concerning the affair of Cush the Benjamite (that
is, Saul, as some think), wherein he thus appeals to God
(1 Samuel 24:3-5):
If there be iniquity in my hands, then let the enemy persecute my
soul and take it, putting in a parenthesis, with reference to the
story of this chapter, Yea, I have delivered him that without cause
is my enemy.
IV. He produces undeniable evidence to prove the falsehood of the
suggestion upon which Saul's malice against him was grounded. David was
charged with seeking Saul's hurt: "See," says he, "yea, see
the skirt of thy robe,
1 Samuel 24:11.
Let this be a witness for me, and an unexceptionable witness it is; had
that been true of which I am accused, I should now have had thy head in
my hand and not the skirt of thy robe, for I could as easily have cut
off that as this." To corroborate this evidence he shows him,
1. That God's providence had given him opportunity to do it: The
lord delivered thee, very surprisingly, to day into my hand,
whence many a one would have gathered an intimation that it was the
will of God he should now give the determining blow to him whose neck
lay so fair for it. When Saul had but a very small advantage against
David he cried out, God has delivered him into my hand
(1 Samuel 23:7),
and resolved to make the best of that advantage; but David did not so.
2. That his counsellors and those about him had earnestly besought him
to do it: Some bade me kill thee. He had blamed Saul for
hearkening to men's words and justly; "for," says he, "if I had done
so, thou wouldest not have been alive now."
3. That it was upon a good principle that he refused to do it; not
because Saul's attendants were at hand, who, it may be, would have
avenged his death; no, it was not by the fear of them, but by the fear
of God, that he was restrained from it. "He is my lord, and the Lord's
anointed, whom I ought to protect, and to whom I owe faith and
allegiance, and therefore I said, I will not touch a hair of his head."
Such a happy command he had of himself that his nature, in the midst of
the greatest provocation, was not suffered to rebel against his
V. He declares it to be his fixed resolution never to be his own
avenger: "The Lord avenge me of thee, that is, deliver me out of
thy hand; but, whatever comes of it, my hand shall not be upon
(1 Samuel 24:12),
(1 Samuel 24:13),
for saith the proverb of the ancients, Wickedness proceedeth from
the wicked. The wisdom of the ancients is transmitted to posterity
by their proverbial sayings. Many such we receive by tradition from our
fathers; and the counsels of common persons are very much directed by
this, "As the old saying is." Here is one that was in use in David's
time: Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked, that is,
1. Men's own iniquity will ruin them at last, so some understand it.
Forward furious men will cut their own throats with their own knives.
Give them rope enough, and they will hang themselves. In this sense it
comes in very fitly as a reason why his hand should not be upon
2. Bad men will do bad things; according as men's principles and
dispositions are, so will their actions be. This also agrees very well
with the connexion. If David had been a wicked man, as he was
represented, he would have done this wicked thing; but he durst not,
because of the fear of God. Or thus: Whatever injuries bad men do us
(which we are not to wonder at; he that lies among thorns must expect
to be scratched), yet we must not return them; never render railing for
railing. Though wickedness proceed from the wicked, yet let it
not therefore proceed from us by way of retaliation. Though the dog
bark at the sheep, the sheep does not bark at the dog. See
VI. He endeavours to convince Saul that as it was a bad thing, so it
was a mean thing, for him to give chase to such an inconsiderable
person as he was
(1 Samuel 24:14):
Whom does the king of Israel pursue with all this care and
force? A dead dog; a flea; one flea, so it is in the Hebrew. It
is below so great a king to enter the lists with one that is so unequal
a match for him, one of his own servants, bred a poor shepherd, now an
exile, neither able nor willing to make any resistance. To conquer him
would not be to his honour, to attempt it was his disparagement. If
Saul would consult his own reputation, he would slight such an enemy
(supposing he were really his enemy) and would think himself in no
danger from him. David was so far from aspiring that he was, in his own
account, as a dead dog. Mephibosheth thus calls himself,
2 Samuel 9:8.
This humble language would have wrought upon Saul if he had had any
spark of generosity in him. Satis est prostrasse leoni--Enough for
the lion that he has laid his victim low. What credit would it be
to Saul to trample upon a dead dog? What pleasure could it be to him
to hunt a flea, a single flea, which (as some have observed), if it be
sought, is not easily found, if it be found, is not easily caught, and,
if it be caught, is a poor prize, especially for a prince. Aquila
non captat muscas--The eagle does not dart upon flies. David thinks
Saul had no more reason to fear him than to fear a flea-bite.
VII. He once and again appeals to God as the righteous Judge
(1 Samuel 24:12,15):
The Lord judge between me and thee. Note, The justice of God is
the refuge and comfort of oppressed innocence. If men wrong us, God
will right us, at furthest, in the judgment of the great day. With him
David leaves his cause, and so rests satisfied, waiting his time to
appear for him.
|Saul Relents at David's Reproof.
||B. C. 1057.|
16 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.
17 And he said to David, Thou art more righteous than I: for
thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded thee evil.
18 And thou hast shewed this day how that thou hast dealt well
with me: forasmuch as when the LORD had delivered me into thine
hand, thou killedst me not.
19 For if a man find his enemy, will he let him go well away?
wherefore the LORD reward thee good for that thou hast done unto
me this day.
20 And now, behold, I know well that thou shalt surely be king,
and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in thine
21 Swear now therefore unto me by the LORD, that thou wilt not
cut off my seed after me, and that thou wilt not destroy my name
out of my father's house.
22 And David sware unto Saul. And Saul went home; but David and
his men gat them up unto the hold.
Here we have,
I. Saul's penitent reply to David's speech. It was strange that he had
patience to hear him out, considering how outrageous he was against
him, and how cutting David's discourse was. But God restrained him and
his men; and we may suppose Saul struck with amazement at the
singularity of the event, and much more when he found how much he had
lain at David's mercy. His heart must have been harder than a stone if
this had not affected him.
1. He melted into tears, and we will not suppose them to have been
counterfeit but real expressions of his present concern at the sight of
his own iniquity, so plainly proved upon him. He speaks as one quite
overcome with David's kindness: Is this thy voice, my son David?
And, as one that relented at the thought of his own folly and
ingratitude, he lifted up his voice and wept,
1 Samuel 24:16.
Many mourn for their sins that do not truly repent of them, weep
bitterly for them, and yet continue in love and league with them.
2. He ingenuously acknowledges David's integrity and his own iniquity
(1 Samuel 24:17):
Thou art more righteous than I. Now God made good to David that
word on which he had caused him to hope, that he would bring forth
his righteousness as the light,
Those who take care to keep a good conscience may leave it to God to
secure them the credit of it. This fair confession was enough to prove
David innocent (even his enemy himself being judge), but not enough to
prove Saul himself a true penitent. He should have said, Thou are
righteous, but I am wicked; but the utmost he will own is this:
Thou art more righteous than I. Bad men will commonly go no
further than this in their confessions; they will own they are not so
good as some others are; there are those that are better than they, and
more righteous. He now owns himself under a mistake concerning David
(1 Samuel 24:18):
"Thou hast shown this day that thou art so far from seeking my
hurt that thou hast dealt well with me." We are too apt to
suspect others to be worse affected towards us then really they are,
and than perhaps they are proved to be; and when, afterwards, our
mistake is discovered, we should be forward to recall our suspicions,
as Saul does here.
3. He prays God to recompense David for this his generous kindness to
him. He owns that David's sparing him, when he had him in his power,
was an uncommon and unparalleled instance of tenderness to an enemy; no
man would have done the like; and therefore, either because he thought
himself not able to give him a full recompence for so great a favour,
or because he found himself not inclined to give him any recompence at
all, he turns him over to God for his pay: The Lord reward thee
1 Samuel 24:19.
Poor beggars can do no less than pray for their benefactors, and Saul
did no more.
4. He prophesies his advancement to the throne
(1 Samuel 24:20):
I know well that thou shalt surely be king. He knew it before,
by the promise Samuel had made him of it compared with the excellent
spirit that appeared in David, which highly aggravated his sin and
folly in persecuting him as he did; he had as much reason to say
concerning David as David concerning him, How can I put forth my
hand against the Lord's anointed? But now he knew it by the
interest he found David had in the people, the special providence of
God in protecting him, and the generous kingly spirit he had now given
a proof of in sparing his enemy. Now he knew it, that is, now that he
was in a good temper he was willing to own that he knew it and to
submit to the conviction of it. Note, Sooner or later, God will force
even those that are of the synagogue of Satan to know and own those
that he has loved, and to worship before their feet; for so is the
This acknowledgement which Saul made of David's incontestable title to
the crown was a great encouragement to David himself and a support to
his faith and hope.
5. He binds David with an oath hereafter to show the same tenderness of
his seed and of his name as he had now shown of his person,
1 Samuel 24:21.
David had more reason to oblige Saul by an oath that he would not
destroy him, yet he insists not on that (if the laws of justice and
honour would not bind him, an oath would not), but Saul knew David to
be a conscientious man, and would think his interests safe if he could
get them secured by his oath. Saul by his disobedience had ruined his
own soul, and never took care by repentance to prevent that ruin, and
yet is very solicitous that his name might not be destroyed nor his
seed cut off. However, David swore unto him,
1 Samuel 24:22.
Though he might be tempted, not only in revenge, but in prudence, to
extirpate Saul's family, yet he binds himself not to do it, knowing
that God could and would establish the kingdom to him and his, without
the use of such bloody methods. This oath he afterwards religiously
observed; he supported Mephibosheth, and executed those as traitors
that slew Ishbosheth. The hanging up of seven of Saul's posterity, to
atone for the destruction of the Gibeonites, was God's appointment, not
David's act, and therefore not the violation of this oath.
II. Their parting in peace.
1. Saul, for the present, desisted from the persecution. He went home
convinced, but not converted; ashamed of his envy of David, yet
retaining in his breast that root of bitterness; vexed that, when at
last he had found David, he could not at that time find in his heart to
destroy him, as he had designed. God has many ways to tie the hands of
persecutors, when he does not turn their hearts.
2. David continued to shift for his own safety. He knew Saul too well
to trust him, and therefore got him up into the hold. It is
dangerous venturing upon the mercy of a reconciled enemy. We read of
those who believed in Christ, and yet he did not commit himself to
them because he knew all men. Those that like David are innocent as
doves must thus like him be wise as serpents.