I Samuel 24:1-22

1 After Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, “David is in the Desert of En Gedi.” 2 So Saul took three thousand able young men from all Israel and set out to look for David and his men near the Crags of the Wild Goats.3 He came to the sheep pens along the way; a cave was there, and Saul went in to relieve himself. David and his men were far back in the cave. 4 The men said, “This is the day the Lord spoke of when he said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.’” Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. 5 Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe. 6 He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the Lord.” 7 With these words David sharply rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul. And Saul left the cave and went his way. 8 Then David went out of the cave and called out to Saul, “My lord the king!” When Saul looked behind him, David bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. 9 He said to Saul, “Why do you listen when men say, ‘David is bent on harming you’? 10 This day you have seen with your own eyes how the Lord delivered you into my hands in the cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you; I said, ‘I will not lay my hand on my lord, because he is the Lord’s anointed.’11 See, my father, look at this piece of your robe in my hand! I cut off the corner of your robe but did not kill you. See that there is nothing in my hand to indicate that I am guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion. I have not wronged you, but you are hunting me down to take my life. 12 May the Lord judge between you and me. And may the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you.13 As the old saying goes, ‘From evildoers come evil deeds,’ so my hand will not touch you. 14 “Against whom has the king of Israel come out? Whom are you pursuing? A dead dog? A flea? 15 May the Lord be our judge and decide between us. May he consider my cause and uphold it; may he vindicate me by delivering me from your hand.” 16 When David finished saying this, Saul asked, “Is that your voice, David my son?” And he wept aloud. 17 “You are more righteous than I,” he said. “You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly. 18 You have just now told me about the good you did to me; the Lord delivered me into your hands, but you did not kill me. 19 When a man finds his enemy, does he let him get away unharmed? May the Lord reward you well for the way you treated me today. 20 I know that you will surely be king and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hands.21 Now swear to me by the Lord that you will not kill off my descendants or wipe out my name from my father’s family.” 22 So David gave his oath to Saul. Then Saul returned home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold.

1. Davids Action (in the cave and when they departed) 1 – 7, 22

What Saul did in verse 2 is reasonable (how he thought) to him and consistent with what he heard in verse 1. He heard where David was and set out to find him.

We have seen Saul seeking an opportunity to destroy David, and, to his embarrassment, he could never find it. In this chapter, however, as a contrast to Saul’s way of thinking, David had a good and easy opportunity to destroy Saul, but, to his honor, did not. He spared Saul’s life and it was as great a demonstration of God’s grace in him as the miraculous preservation of his own life was an illustration of God’s protection of him. Observe (1) how maliciously Saul sought David’s life.

Verse 3. “Saul went in to relieve himself. David and his men were far back in the cave.” There is some humor here. Only God could have set this up. How vulnerable Saul was! He would have been completely distracted by the personal business at hand and in no position to defend himself.

In verse 4, the men said, “This is the day the Lord spoke of when he said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.’” Wait a minute. Did God really say that? Where is that recorded? God did not teach David to get revenge. It seems that David’s men misquote God here. People may say we should get revenge, but God did not say that.

David generously spared Saul’s life when he had him at a great advantage and could have killed him easily, but he only cut off the skirt of his robe and this was not so much to damage Saul’s wardrobe, but rather so he could later prove to Saul what he had done—or rather what he had not done. (I Sam 24:3-7).

Jump down to verse 22; to the end of this chapter. They parted in peace as recorded in this verse. Saul, for the present was persuaded to abandon the persecution. He went home convinced, but not converted; ashamed of his envy of David, yet retaining in his hard heart that root of bitterness; vexed that, when at last he had found David, he could not at that time find in his temperament to destroy him, as he had designed. God has many ways to tie the hands of persecutors, when He does not turn their hearts just as Saul’s heart was not turned and the story of the Saul-David conflict continues seven more chapters before David is eventually made king in II Samuel 2.

David continued to shift for his own safety as also recorded in verse 22. He knew Saul too well to trust him, and therefore “David and his men went up to the stronghold.” It is dangerous to venture 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 who like David are innocent as doves must also like him be wise as serpents.

2. Davids Words (Outside the cave, his appeal to Saul) 8 – 15

Notice the pathos, the sincere thoughtfulness, with which David reasoned with Saul in his attempt to bring Saul around to a better attitude towards himself, 1 Sam. 24:9-15. Here is David’s heart-breaking, poignant, warm and moving speech to Saul, wherein he endeavored to convince Saul that he did him a great deal of wrong in persecuting him like this and to try persuade him to be reconciled.

David lays the blame of Saul’s rage against him upon his evil counsellors: “Why do you listen when men say, ‘David is bent on harming you?’” (I Sam. 24:9) It is common and normal for a head of state, if they do amiss, to blame it on underlings, who either advised them to do it or should have advised them against it. In this instance, David had reason enough to think that Saul actually persecuted him purely from his own envy and malice, yet he courteously, tactfully and carefully suggested that others may have influenced him, 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 who make it their business to represent the people of God as enemies to Caesar, hurtful to kings and destructive to Christian ministries other than their own. Accusations fly, rumors abound, negative reports flourish and destructive lies multiply. Only with effective spiritual armor like the breastplate of righteousness and shield of faith can God’s soldier today win this battle. God is calling you, oh man and woman of God, to be strong and show others who follow your example, how to prevail in such hostile conflicts.

“The Lord delivered you into my hands in the cave” (10). Earlier Saul wrongly made the claim (I Sam 23:7) that God had delivered David into his hand, but here we see a much much more clear instance of God actually putting Saul into David’s hand. And David did what? He let him go.

He solemnly protested his own innocence, and that he is far from designing any hurt or mischief to Saul: “See that there is nothing in my hand to indicate that I am guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion” (I Sam 14:11). I am not chargeable with any crime, nor conscious of any guilt, and you are welcome to look into my heart and see my sincerity. Then he added, “ but you are hunting me down to take my life.”

He called him father (I Sam 24:11), for he was not only, as king, the father of his country, but he was, in particular, David’s father-in-law. From a father one may expect compassion and a favorable opinion. For a king to seek the ruin of any of his good subjects is as unnatural as for a father to seek the ruin of his own children. God is so opposite of Saul.

David produced undeniable evidence to prove the falsehood of the dishonest charge upon which Saul’s hatred against him was grounded. David was dishonorably charged with seeking Saul’s hurt: “See, my father, look at this piece of your robe in my hand! I cut off the corner of your robe but did not kill you” (I Sam. 24:11).

Let this be a witness for me that had it been true as you have accused me, I could now have had your head in my hand and not just the skirt of your robe, for I could as easily have cut off that as this.” “The Lord delivered you into my hands (very surprisingly) in the cave.” To corroborate this evidence he showed him that God’s providence had given him opportunity to do it: and that many would have concluded that it was the will of God he should then give the determining blow to Saul whose neck lay so open for it—just as open as Goliath’s had been. When Saul had but a very small advantage against David he cried out, God has delivered him into my hand (1 Sam. 23:7), and resolved to make the best of that advantage; but David did not.

His counsellors and those about him had earnestly encouraged him to do it: “Some urged me to kill you.” He had blamed Saul for hearkening to men’s words and justly; but now claims that contrary to Saul’s willingness to listen to bad advice, he did not. As though to say, “if I had done so, you would not be alive now.” It was a good idea for David to have refused to do it; not so much just because Saul’s attendants were at hand, who, it may be, would have avenged Saul’s 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 complete and wholesome command he had of himself that his nature, in the midst of the greatest provocation, was not allowed to rebel against his principles.

He declared it to be his fixed resolution never to be his own avenger: “And may the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you” (1 Sam. 24:12). No matter what, I will not avenge myself. And then he added: (1 Sam. 24:13), “As the old saying goes, ‘From evildoers come evil deeds,’ so my hand will not touch you.” The wisdom of the ancients is transmitted to posterity by their proverbial sayings. We too receive many similar bits of wisdom by tradition from our fathers; and the counsels of common persons are very much directed by this, “As the old saying goes.” Here is one that was in use in David’s time:, “From evildoers come evil deeds,” that is, men’s own iniquity will ruin them at last, which is the way many understand this proverb. Future desperate and enraged men will cut their own throats with their own knives. Give them rope enough, and they will hang themselves. In this sense it becomes an appropriate reason why his hand should not be upon him.

Bad men will do bad things; according as men’s principles and dispositions are, so will their actions be. As people think, so will they speak: out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. As people think, so will they act: by their fruits you will know them. This also agrees very well with the proverb David used. If David had been a wicked man, as he was represented to be, he would have done this wicked thing; but he dared not, because of the fear of God. Whatever injuries bad men do us (which we are not to wonder at since he that lies among thorns must expect to be scratched), yet we must not return them; never render railing for railing. Though “From evildoers come evil deeds,”, yet let it not therefore come from us by way of retaliation. Though the dog bark at the sheep, the sheep does not bark at the dog. Bad people do bad things; good people do good things. Notice the insight of Isaiah in Is 32:6-8: “For fools speak folly, their hearts are bent on evil: They practice ungodliness and spread error concerning the Lord; the hungry they leave empty and from the thirsty they withhold water. Scoundrels use wicked methods, they make up evil schemes to destroy the poor with lies, even when the plea of the needy is just. But the noble make noble plans, and by noble deeds they stand.”

He tried to convince Saul that, as it was a bad thing, so it was a mean thing, for Saul to give chase to such a small and harmless person as he was (1 Sam. 24:14): Whom does the king of Israel pursue with all this care and force? A dead dog; a flea; one flea, as it is in Hebrew. It is below so great a king to enter the contest with a lowly 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 the king’s honor, to attempt it could ruin his name. If Saul would consult his own personal history and reputation, he would not stoop to fight with such a weaker enemy (supposing he were really his enemy) and would think himself in no danger from him. David was so far from aspiring to fight with Saul that he was, in his own account, as a dead dog compared to King Saul.

Years later after David became king, Saul’s grandson, Mephibosheth referred to himself as a dead dog. “Mephibosheth bowed down and said, ‘What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?’” (II Sam. 9:8). This humble language would surely have some effect on Saul if he had any spark of generosity or even just humanity in him. “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 (if you think about it) 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 king. “The eagle does not dart upon flies.” David thought Saul had no more reason to fear him than to fear a flea-bite.

Perhaps it was about this time that David wrote the seventh psalm, concerning the affair of Cush the Benjamite (possibly Saul), wherein he appeals to God this way:

Psalm 7 A shiggaion of David, which he sang to the Lord concerning Cush, a Benjamite.

  • 1 Lord my God, I take refuge in you; save and deliver me from all who pursue me,
  • 2 or they will tear me apart like a lion and rip me to pieces with no one to rescue me.
  • 3 Lord my God, if I have done this and there is guilt on my hands—
  • 4 if I have repaid my ally with evil or without cause have robbed my foe—
  • 5 then let my enemy pursue and overtake me; let him trample my life to the ground and make me sleep in the dust . . .
  • 8 Let the Lord judge the peoples.Vindicate me, Lord, according to my righteousness, according to my integrity, O Most High.
  • 9 Bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure—you, the righteous God who probes minds and hearts.
  • 10 My shield is God Most High, who saves the upright in heart.
  • 11 God is a righteous judge, a God who displays his wrath every day . . .
  • 17 I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness; I will sing the praises of the name of the Lord Most High.
  • 3. Words (His seemingly penitent reply to David) 16 - 21

    David’s earlier actions in the cave and now his words just outside the cave made a good impression upon Saul for the present.

    Saul gave a penitent reply to David’s speech. It was strange that he had patience to hear him out, considering how outrageous he was against him. Yet notice how convicting, convincing and persuasive David’s speech was. God had restrained David and his men in the cave; and we may guess that Saul was quite struck with amazement at the uniqueness of this event, and much more so when he found out how much he had been exposed to potential danger and then benefited so much from David’s mercy. His heart would have had to have been harder than a stone if David’s action had not affected him. He apparently melted into tears, and we might suppose them to have been counterfeit were it not that he wept aloud as a proof of his feelings. The sight of his own iniquity had been oh so plainly proven to him by Davids action and speech. He spoke as one quite overcome with David’s kindness: “Is that your voice, David my son?” Followed by “And he wept aloud” as one that had changed his mind regarding his former folly and ingratitude (I Sam 24:16). And yet there was a problem.

    Many mourn for their sins that do not truly repent of them; they weep bitterly for them, and yet continue in their love for and enjoyment of them. Saul willingly acknowledged David’s integrity and his own iniquity (1 Sam. 24:17): “You are more righteous than I,” he said. “You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly. Now God made good to David that word on which He had caused David to hope, that He would “make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun” (Ps.37:6). Those who are careful to keep a good conscience may leave it to God to defend them. This fair confession was enough to prove David innocent (even his enemy himself being judge), but not enough to prove Saul himself truly penitent. He said “You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly” and should have said, You are righteous, but I am wicked,” but the utmost he will admit is only: You are more righteous than I.” Bad men will commonly go no further than this in their confessions; they will confess only that they are not so good as others; there are those that are better than they, and more righteous. True repentance, goes much deeper; it says, “I am sorry and I will change.”

    Saul, however, acknowledged a mistake he made concerning David (I Sam 14:18, 19): “the Lord delivered me into your hands, but you did not kill me. When a man finds his enemy, does he let him get away unharmed? May the Lord reward you well for the way you treated me today.” You have shown this day that you are so far from seeking my hurt that you have done good to me.” We sometimes are too apt to suspect others to be worse than really they are, and than perhaps they are proved to be. Afterwards, when our mistake is discovered, we should be forward to recall our suspicions, as Saul does here. Even if Saul later continued to pursue and harass David, his confession of his error here is exemplary.

    Saul prayed God to recompense David for this his generous kindness to him. He conceded 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 that he himself could not give him a full reward for so great a favor, or because he found himself not inclined to give him any compensation at all, he turned him over to God for his pay: “May the Lord reward you well for the way you treated me today.” (v 19) Poor beggars would not dare to do less than pray for their benefactors, and Saul, though he easily could have, did no more than dismiss his own responsibility with a brief prayer.

    Saul prophesied David’s advancement to the throne (1 Sam. 24:20): “I know that you will surely be king” He knew it before, through the promise Samuel had given to David compared with the excellent spirit Saul himself saw in David. Saul had as much reason to say about David as David concerning him, How can I put forth my hand against the Lord’s anointed? Now he also knew it by the interest David had in the people, the special providence of God in protecting him, and the generous kingly spirit he had now given as a proof of it in sparing his enemy. Now he knew it, that is, now that he was in a good mood, he was willing to entertain the idea and to submit to it.

    David was so magnanimous that Saul need not have made this request, but nevertheless he bound David with an oath to show hereafter the same tenderness toward his descendants and his name as David had now shown toward his Saul himself. 1 Sam. 24:21. David actually had more reason to oblige Saul by an oath that Saul would not destroy David, yet he does not insist on that. If the laws of justice and honor would not bind Saul, an oath would not. Saul, on the other hand, knew David to be a conscientious man, and would rest easier if he could get a promise from David. Saul by his disobedience had ruined his own soul, and never took care by repentance to prevent that ruin, and yet is very eager that his name might not be destroyed nor his seed cut off. However, Scripture records, “So David gave his oath to Saul” (v 22) David had already promised Jonathan to be kind to his descendants, and now he gave the promise even to the evil Saul. David knew how to treat people better than they deserved. And we love him for it. And we love also his descendant, Jesus for it. And we seek to follow their examples.

    Throughout this lesson we have referred both directly and indirectly to integration of thought, action and word. The reason men could trust David is because he said what he thought, did what he said and acted according to what he said and thought. David was a model leader. Let us seek to have the same quality of integrity that he had to have our systems—thoughts words and actions—integrated.

    If you are a person of integrity—your words, actions and thoughts are all the same—people will know what you think by listening to your words and watching your actions. People will readily follow a person who has that quality. Because they know what you think they will also know what you will say and what you will do. Such a person is trustworthy and will have a following. Saul did not have integrity; David did. People feared Saul and did what he said out of fear; they loved David and willingly, even proudly, followed and served him.