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Deeper Commentary

1Sa 24:1 When Saul had returned from pursuing the Philistines he was told, David is in the wilderness of En Gedi-
Saul had a network of spies watching David (1 Sam. 18:20,24; 19:11,19; 23:7,13,25; 24:1; 27:4). In the type of Christ, this looks ahead to Mk. 3:2; Lk. 6:7; 14:1; 20:20; Jn. 11:57.

1Sa 24:2 Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel-
They were not all Benjamites. They were doubtless chosen for their loyalty to Saul, even if that loyalty had been bought. That David could later weld the kingdom together was only achieved by his great grace and forgiveness.

And went to seek David and his men-
Saul "sought" David, implying a great level of mental effort (1 Sam. 19:10; 23:14,15,25; 24:2; 25:26,29; 26:2,20; 27:1,4; 2 Sam. 4:8). In the type of Christ, the Jews sought to kill the Lord (Mt. 21:46; Mk. 11:18; 12:12; 14:1,11,55; Lk. 19:47; 20:19; 22:2,6; Jn.5:16,18; 7:1,11,25,30; 8:37,40; 10:39; 11:8,56; 18:4,7,8).

On the rocks of the wild goats-
LXX "in front of Saddaeem"; GNB "east of Wild Goat Rocks". Even in these desperate straits, David still had time to reflect that as "the high hills are a refuge for the wild goats" so Yahweh would be for him (s.w. Ps. 104:18). Goats were unclean and a symbol of the rejected. And yet Yahweh is a refuge even for the unclean. This was how David appears to have felt.

1Sa 24:3 He came to the sheep pens by the way, where there was a cave, and Saul went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were hiding in the innermost parts of the cave-
David and his men were temporarily living [“hiding” is a poor translation]  in the cave, and must’ve watched Saul and his men drawing near. And then, Saul walks away from the men and starts walking right towards them. They withdraw deeper into the cave. As when being chased ever higher up the conical hill in 1 Sam. 23:26, it must have seemed that the end had now come. Saul puts his cloak down and goes further into the cave, to relieve himself and maybe have a rest; presumably he wasn’t feeling well and just wanted to be alone. He was after all an elderly man now, if indeed he reigned a literal 40 years (Acts 13:21).

It must’ve been so very weird; there was enough time for David to discuss with his men whether to kill him or not. This was clearly no coincidence; it was all too weird. Likewise the way circumstances repeated in 1 Sam. 26 was so strange. Again David stands over the weak Saul, again his men urge him to murder him, giving the same reasoning as before, and again David resists. And again David calls to Saul and demonstrates his sincerity and integrity. Our lives aren’t random chance; circumstances repeat in order to give us the opportunity to learn from mistakes, i.e. to not make the same mistake again; or even when we respond properly, the circumstance can repeat in essence so that we have our right choice reinforced by repeated experience.  Just as a teacher makes students repeat exercises so that they ‘get the point’. This gives extra point to David’s warning of Saul in 1 Sam. 26:19- that if Saul were doing what he was doing against David just because other men had stirred him up to it, then this was especially culpable. For David twice had been stirred up by his men to slay Saul, and had not done so.

1Sa 24:4 The men of David said to him, Look, the day of which Yahweh said to you, ‘I will deliver your enemy into your hand and you can do to him whatever you wish’. Then David got up and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe secretly-
There is no such oracle recorded; this doesn’t mean it wasn’t said e.g. by Gad or some other prophet. In this case, we might focus upon the phrase “That you may do to him as it shall seem good unto you”. There are times when there is no moral right or wrong in a situation; but what matters is the motive behind the decision we reach. God Himself slew Saul, so perhaps it wouldn’t have been a sin for David to have killed him; for David had never been told specifically that he was not to kill Saul just because Samuel had anointed him. But this was the position David came to in his conscience, and he therefore had to uphold it. We so often hanker after a right/wrong, black or white, this is a sin or it isn’t. But often the choices are left to us to exercise our conscience, so that the choice is made by us, from the heart, rather than as a matter of legalistic obedience. David had to do what ‘seemed good unto him’. In 2 Sam. 18:4 there’s a sad contrast with David’s resoluteness here – for he uses the same Hebrew words in saying that “whatever seems good unto you I will do” at the time of Absalom’s rebellion. We are called to do what seems good unto us rather than what seems good to those around us.

Another reading would be that God hadn’t said this at all (1 Sam. 24:6 Heb. could be read as a denial that God had said this), but David’s men urged him to see providence at work, as if to say ‘This is the day that God is saying to you, that you can now kill Saul’. Trying to work out what providence is telling us is quite a challenge. Even those within the ecclesia can urge us against our conscience, and David is presented as standing alone in his decision making. This is very hard when we’re surrounded by those who have stood with us in hard times, our friends and faithful supporters. We risk alienating them by our insistence upon following our conscience and the principle of respecting the value and meaning of persons, even if they are our abusers and enemies.

The  skirt was the hem of blue which was to remind the Israelite of their dedication to Yahweh’s holiness. Num. 15:38,39 decreed that this was to be done so that they remembered to keep all the commandments of Yahweh; but Saul is noted for not having done this (1 Sam. 15:22-28). David forgave Saul but didn’t naively blind his eyes to Saul’s unspirituality; and he didn’t trust Saul again. Forgiveness isn’t the same as reconciliation.

1Sa 24:5 Afterwards David’s conscience smote him, because he had cut off a piece of Saul’s robe-
David's heart smote him- but David hadn’t done anything wrong. Conscience isn’t ultimately reliable (1 Cor. 4:4); we will be judged in the light of God’s word, and not whether we have felt OK or not about our actions in life. His sensitive conscience appears again in 2 Sam. 24:10, where again his heart smote him for doing something which wasn’t wrong in itself, i.e. to number Israel. His conscience was aware, perhaps, that we can do things which aren’t wrong in themselves but which were performed with a wrong attitude. And this is no bad example for us to take. The only other time we read of David’s heart smiting him is in Ps. 102:4, where he speaks of himself as a lonely bird in the wilderness, chased by his enemies, but with a heart so smitten that he feels like dying:  “My heart is smitten, and withered like grass; so that I forget to eat my bread” (Ps. 102:4). It would appear that David’s heart didn’t just smite him for that moment; but it was an ongoing feeling he had during that period of his wilderness life. The lesson here is that we shouldn’t just let our conscience smite us, do something about it at the time, and then forget all about the issue. Believing and feeling God’s forgiveness may take a period of time; and the receipt of that forgiveness shouldn’t necessarily take away our sense of failure, just as it doesn’t within human relationships.

David's extreme respect for Saul is shown in the fact that Yahweh had explicitly told him that he would deliver Saul into David's hand, and David was free to do as he wished to him; but because of his genuine respect for Saul, David didn't take the liberty of killing him; indeed, he even felt guilty at cutting off the blue ribbon from Saul's coat (1 Sam. 24:4,5). Such was David's respect for Saul. It’s shown again in the way that David fairly evidently wanted to fight against Saul with the men of Achish, evidently wanting to turn against them and fight for Saul- as they correctly guessed (1 Sam. 29:8). This would have been suicidal. For Saul wanted to kill him, and the Philistines also would have tried to kill David as a result of this. He would have had no place to run. But even to the point of political suicide and the serious risking of his own life, David so loved his enemy. This true love leads to and is related to true respect. This kind of respect is  sadly lacking in our society, and has rubbed off upon our relationships within families and ecclesias.

1Sa 24:6 He said to his men, Yahweh forbid that I should do such a thing to my lord, Yahweh’s anointed, to lift my hand against him, since he is Yahweh’s anointed-
We are all anointed in that we are in Christ, the anointed (2 Cor. 1:21). The same radical respect which David showed, we should show to each other. David’s attitude seems to have influenced Saul’s men, for his armour bearer refused to slay Saul (1 Chron. 10:4,5). But David's attitude towards Saul was actually an encouragement to himself. For he too was Yahweh's anointed, and no hand could be lifted against him unless Yahweh allowed it. The same phrase "lift up the hand against" in the context of murder is used of how Saul's guards refused to kill the priests of Nob (1 Sam. 22:17). For they too were anointed as priests. Yahweh's anointed referred to His priests as well as His kings.

Often David calls Saul his lord or master, describing himself as Saul's servant (1 Sam. 17:32,34,36; 20:8; 24:6; 26:16,19; 29:3,4; 30:15). This was no formal "Sincerely your brother and fellow-servant". This was a real conscious putting of himself down, as the Lord Jesus felt he was a worm rather than a man (Ps. 22:6). If only we would concentrate upon our own status and show some true respect for others on account of their being in the ecclesia, having even been anointed spiritually at their baptism (2 Cor. 1:21) as Saul was.

1Sa 24:7 So David restrained his men with these words, and didn’t allow them to attack Saul. Saul got up out of the cave and went on his way-
David could easily have reasoned that if his men killed Saul, then he had not done it. But his ethics and spirituality were far higher than that. He realized his men were under his control, and so he restrained them. "Restrained" or "rebuked" is Heb. ‘to tear apart’. David had to really ‘lay into’ his men to stop them killing Saul. By going the way of grace, he ended up falling out with his own friends and supporters. This frequently happens when we seek to live by grace in reality; it can be a very lonely path. It’s clear from Abishai’s attitude in 1 Sam. 26:8 that David failed to totally convince his men to share his attitude to Saul. For David's grace towards Saul was a hard act to follow.

David had restrained or withheld his own men from murdering Saul, but Abigail perceives that over and above his own mental effort to do this, Yahweh had confirmed David in it (1 Sam. 25:26). And she sees her appeasement of David as likewise controlled by Yahweh to preserve David as innocent from avenging himself, so that he could indeed become king.

1Sa 24:8 David also got up afterwards and went out of the cave, and called after Saul, My lord the king! When Saul looked behind him, David bowed with his face to the earth and showed respect-
David's respect to Saul simply because he was the anointed king is really remarkable. He could easily have reasoned that Saul had twice been told by Samuel that his kingship had been removed and transferred to David, and therefore it was questionable whether Saul really was the anointed of Yahweh; for David had been anointed king in his place. But grace always falls on the side of giving a man the benefit of the doubt. And in practice, David's grace, like all grace, was motivated by a simple love of Saul as a person. We are all anointed in that we are in Christ, the anointed (2 Cor. 1:21). The same radical respect which David showed, we should show to each other.

1Sa 24:9 David said to Saul, Why do you listen when men say ‘David is trying to harm you?’- 
We get the impression from the record that it was Saul who was creating this false accusation, as part of his paranoid mindset that had jumped from one conspiracy theory to another. It was Saul who was influencing men to think like that. But David had clearly chosen his words carefully for this brief speech. He seeks to give Saul the benefit of the doubt, as grace does (see on :8), and to make it as easy as possible for Saul to repent. He sets us a stellar example for behaviour in interpersonal conflict.

1Sa 24:10 Look, today your eyes have seen how Yahweh had delivered you into my hand in the cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you; I said, I will not lift up my hand against my lord, for he is Yahweh’s anointed-
David is seeking to build psychological bridges with Saul. He is supposing for a moment that Saul only hated him because he listened to what others said about David (:9), and David is saying that he too had people in his life who told him to kill Saul, but he refused to listen to them. As discussed on :8, David could have reasoned that Saul was no longer Yahweh's anointed and the anointing had passed to him. And indeed it had. But by stressing that Saul is Yahweh's anointed, he may be following the position of Samuel, that despite all his rejection by God, Saul could still pull round and be Yahweh's anointed king. Grace includes this element of determined hopefulness for the repentance even of those who appear far gone.

1Sa 24:11 Moreover, my father-
Seeking to remind Saul of how he had asked Jesse to let David come and live at the court and effectively become his son.

Look, here is a piece of your robe in my hand; by the fact that I cut it off and didn’t kill you, you can know and see that I have no desire to hurt you and have not sinned against you-
This is the same phrase as David later uses when he confesses his sins regarding Bathsheba, in Ps. 51:3: "For I acknowledge my transgressions". This very phrase is here used by David in insisting that he did not acknowledge any transgression in him whilst in exile from Saul. What he said and felt then may have been relatively true, compared to the unspirituality of Saul and the false accusations against him. But perhaps there was an element of the overly self righteous in his words, and the sin with Bathsheba made him realize this.

Though you hunt me to take my life-
Despite all his radical grace toward Saul, David was not naive and he refused to slip into denial of the obvious misbehaviour of the object of his grace. Saul was trying to kill David; he was lifting up his hand against David as Yahweh's anointed, whereas David didn't do so.

1Sa 24:12 May Yahweh judge between me and you, and may Yahweh avenge the wrong you have done me; but my hand shall not be against you-
Despite the amazing grace shown, David cannot resist this reference to inevitable judgment which faced Saul for his behaviour. David at this time was meditating deeply upon the Mosaic law, as Ps. 119 makes clear. Perhaps a critical verse for him was Lev. 19:18: "You shall not avenge... but love your neighbour as yourself". God had already termed David and Saul neighbours (1 Sam. 15:28). Perhaps David took a cue from those words, and started thinking of Saul as his neighbour. And then his mind went to Lev. 15:18; if Saul was his neighbour, he was to love him as himself, and not take vengeance.

1Sa 24:13 As the proverb of the ancients says, ‘Out of the wicked comes forth wickedness, but my hand shall not be against you’-
Alluded to in Ps. 5:4, where the same word for "wickedness" is used: "For You are not a God who has pleasure in wickedness, evil can’t live with You". Despite showing such wonderful grace to Saul, David did not justify his wickedness but names it for what it is. Grace is not naivety.

1Sa 24:14 Against whom has the king of Israel come out? Whom do you pursue? A dead dog? A flea?-
This reflects the broken down psychological state of David. He felt himself as good as dead, powerless, tiny and insignificant as a flea. 1 Sam. 17:43 LXX adds "David said, Nay, but worse than a dog". This would reflect his deep humility, which we also see in his later reflections in Ps. 8 and Ps. 144 that he was most unworthy to have attained the victory. We note that here in 1 Sam. 24:14 he also likens himself to a dog. He had a low self image.

1Sa 24:15 May Yahweh therefore be the judge and give sentence between me and you; may He plead my cause and deliver me out of your hand-
See on Ps. 119 (introduction). Solomon alludes here in Prov. 3:30 "Don’t strive with a man without cause if he has done you no harm". To strive or plead a cause is the very phrase used of the opposition of Saul (1 Sam. 24:15) and Nabal to David (1 Sam. 25:39); and in both cases, David had done them "no harm", the phrase used of David's innocence before Nabal (1 Sam. 25:21,28) and Saul (1 Sam. 24:11). Clearly Solomon has these incidents in view, and again his statements of truth have a subtext of justifying his father David, with whom he was psychologically obsessed.

That Ps.119 was written at this time is evident. It mentioned David as a young man devoting himself to the word rather than riches(:72)- the riches which could have been his if he mentally surrendered to Saul, or if he killed Saul and took the kingdom. He often laments how he is in exile from Yahweh's word (:43,46,54), which would have been on account of his being away from the sanctuary at Gibeah. He pleads the promise of the word that he would be preserved from Saul's persecution (v.41,58), and several times mentions Saul's attempts on his life (v.87,95,109,110). The following verses are evidently relevant to this period: 61,63,67,79,84 (= 1 Sam. 27:1),95,98 (= 1 Sam. 18:14,15),110 (cp. the 'snaring' with Michal),119 (the emphasis is on 'You will destroy the wicked like Saul- one day),125 (David is often called Saul's servant),150,154 (= 1 Sam. 24:15),157,161,165,176. Therefore in the face of such hatred and pain, feeling he must be careful of every step he took, emotionally and physically, David could rejoice: "I will walk at liberty (AVmg. 'at large'): for I seek thy precepts".

Legal language is disproportionately common in the Bible. The idea of a Divine, heavenly court is common. God is the judge who upholds the weak, those who are condemned by human judgment (1 Sam. 24:15; Ps. 9:4; 43:1; 140:12; Lam. 3:58; Mic. 7:9); He is even portrayed as the one appealing for justice (Ps. 74:22). If God is the only and ultimate judge, then His judgment is all that ultimately matters, and in this sense human 'sentences' or judgment from the court of human opinion are reversed by Him (Prov. 22:22,23). Yet the pain of being judged by those around us is highly significant to us mortals; and time and again, Scripture is reminding us that we should not pay deep attention to this, because God's judgment is what ultimately matters; and the Divine court is sitting in session right now, at the very same time as those around us are judging us with their meaningless human judgments. This, then, is the ultimate answer to the pain of being slandered and defamed, being misunderstood and misrepresented, or feeling that persecution by worldly powers is not noticed by God.

1Sa 24:16 When David had finished saying this to Saul, Saul said, Is this your voice, my son David? Saul wept aloud-
The shame with Saul is that he did have a conscience and a spiritual side. He thereby becomes an even stronger warning to us all; for obsessive jealousy can enmesh any of us if we allow it to. We wonder why Saul queries whether this is really David's voice. Perhaps there was a considerable distance between them; or David's voice was strained by emotion; or Saul so wished this was all a dream and this hadn't really happened. Again, each of these options has absolute credibility and reflects that this record is true and accurate as to what really happened and was said. It is no cunningly devised fable.

1Sa 24:17 He said to David, You are more righteous than I, for you have been good to me, whereas I have done evil to you-
'Doing good' is the word used in Ps. 13:6 "I will sing to Yahweh, because He has been good to me", written by David reflecting upon the pain of Saul's persecution of him. Like us, our faith that God will finally come through for us in the future should give us joy now. This faith in God finally 'being good' to David led him to be the same to Saul- the word is used of how David was 'good' rather than evil to Saul, not slaying him when he had the opportunity (1 Sam. 24:17).

1Sa 24:18 You have declared this day how you have been good to me, because when Yahweh had delivered me into your hand, you didn’t kill me-
David doing good to Saul is alluded to by him in Ps. 119:65: "Do good to Your servant according to Your word, Yahweh".
The doing good would specifically refer to the fulfilment of the prophetic word that David would be king and Saul's persecution would end. "Do good" is the phrase used of how David did good to Saul by not killing him, but rather trusting in God's word about Saul's destruction. And on that basis, David in Ps. 119:65 appeals for God to do him good, by ending Saul's persecution and establishing David as king.

It seems God would have given Saul into David’s hand when “a deep sleep from the Lord” fell upon Saul at the very time David intended to kill him (1 Sam. 26:12). Saul himself realized that the Lord had delivered him into David’s hand to kill him (1 Sam. 24:18). God thus confirmed David in his intentions- and yet at the last minute, it seems, David chose an even higher level; of love and deep respect for this spiritually sick man.  

1Sa 24:19 For if a man finds his enemy, will he let him go away unharmed? Therefore may Yahweh reward you with good for what you have done to me today-
Saul knew of courses that Yahweh's reward for David would be that he would be made king in Saul's place (:20). Saul recognizes that David's grace is absolutely and radically different to all secular wisdom and ways of behaviour. Saul was out seeking to find David; and David had found Saul. "Unharmed" is literally "the good way". It is the term used of how Samuel taught Israel "the good way" despite their choice of Saul (1 Sam. 12:23; also 1 Kings 8:36). David alludes to this when he says that God teaches even sinners the good way (Ps. 25:8). This was relevant to the exiles, whom God also sought to teach the good way (Jer. 6:16). The idea is that even at this late stage, by preserving Saul's life, David was hopeful that he would still go in the good way. And Saul perceived this.

1Sa 24:20 Now I know that you will surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hands-
The truth of Samuel's words about David replacing Saul now became apparent to Saul- when he perceived how gracious David was. This was to be the lead characteristic of a king, a man with God's own gracious heart. Yet Saul's understanding was just theoretical, for he continues trying to murder David. Again we see how understanding God's word in crystal clarity is not of itself enough; it must be acted upon, and not just held in the mind for a few brief moments when the penny drops and we see everything clearly.

1Sa 24:21 Swear now therefore to me by Yahweh, that you will not cut off my seed after me, and that you will not destroy my name out of my father’s house-
It was usual for a new king to destroy the family of the king he had usurped, and there are Biblical examples of this. Jonathan was likewise concerned about this. We note that Saul sees swearing by Yahweh as a binding oath, but earlier he had sworn by Yahweh to Jonathan that he would not kill David- and totally disregarded it. He must surely have been aware of this big paradox. We may wonder why David having the upper hand as he did at this point, didn't ask Saul to swear by Yahweh not to kill him. He was aware Saul had earlier made such an oath and broken it. Perhaps in love he didn't want to lead Saul yet further into sin, for he knew that Saul was likely to break such an oath. We can apply that principle too in our dealings with those in spiritual weakness.

1Sa 24:22 David gave his oath to Saul. Saul went home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold
This continues the theme developed in the descriptions of David's meetings with Jonathan; one returns to their house, whilst David goes out into the scrubland again. Forgiveness is not the same as trust being restored. We must forgive, but we are not obligated to trust until that trust has been credibly restored.