1 Samuel 24


David Shows Restraint (24:1-26:25)

David Spares Saul’s Life at En Gedi

      • When Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines he was told, “Look, David is in the wilderness of En Gedi.” So Saul took 3,000 select men out of all Israel and went to look for David and his men near the rocks of the wild goats. He came to the sheepfolds along the road where there was a cave, and Saul went in to relieve himself.

        • Where did Saul go look for David? It can be rendered as above, or as NET Bible’s text critical notes point out, “Or ‘the region of the Rocks of the Mountain Goats,’ if this expression is understood as a place name (cf. NASB, NIV, NRSV, TEV, CEV).”

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible writes, “While caves certainly abound in the area, attempts to identify the specific cave in question out of the innumerable possibilities have not succeeded.” On Saul “relieving himself” the same source notes, “Lit. ‘cover his feet.’ Its occurrence also in Jdg 3:24 confirms its use as a euphemism. That Saul entered alone into the very cave where David and his men were hiding is unmistakable providential irony.”

        • Guzik adds, “The En Gedi canyon runs westward from the Dead Sea. One can still see the good-sized creek flowing down the canyon, making En Gedi, with its waterfalls and vegetation seem more like a tropical paradise than the middle of the desert. One can also see the numerous caves dotting the hills. This was a great place for David and his men to hide out. In the middle of barren desert, scouts could easily detect approaching troops. There was plenty of water and wildlife and many caves and defensive positions…This [the sheepfolds] indicates that this was a large cave, big enough to shelter a flock of sheep. All or most of David’s 600 men could hide in the recesses of the cave.”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible says, “David’s force was outnumbered five to one.”

      • Now David and his men were sitting in the back of the cave and David’s men said to him, “This is the day Yahweh spoke to you about when He told you, ‘I will hand your enemy over to you and you will do to him what seems best to you.’” Then David crept up unnoticed and cut a corner off of Saul’s robe. Afterward, David’s conscience bothered him because he had cut off the corner of Saul’s robe. He told his men, “Yahweh forbid that I should do such a thing to my lord, Yahweh’s anointed, or extend my hand against him, seeing that he is Yahweh’s anointed.” With these words David rebuked his men and didn’t allow them to attack Saul. Saul left the cave and went on his way.

        • Guzik writes, “David’s men were excited at the opportunity and believed it was a gift from God. They knew it was no coincidence that Saul came alone into that cave at that moment. They thought this was an opportunity from God to kill Saul…Apparently, on some previous occasion God promised David, ‘Behold, I will deliver your enemy into your hand, that you may do to him as it seems good to you.’ They believed that this was the fulfillment of the promise and that David needed to seize the promise by faith and by the sword.”

        • Along the same lines NLT Illustrated Study Bible says, “David’s men believed, as Saul did, that if the circumstances seem right, the Lord is telling you through those circumstances what to do (cp 23:7).”

        • ESV Archaeology Study Bible writes, “In the ancient Near East, grasping or tearing another’s garment could, depending on the context, indicate disinheritance, divestment of authority, or divorce.”

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible notes, “In the present episode, David displays the severed hem of Saul’s robe as evidence that he had been close enough to Saul to kill him, but had refrained to do so, despite the encouragement of his men…However, the fact that no sooner had David ‘cut off the corner of Saul’s robe’ than his conscience began to strike him suggests that David’s motive may not have been first or foremost to demonstrate his innocence to Saul, but rather, to divest Saul symbolically of his rule.”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible continues, “David’s conscience began bothering him because he had dishonored God’s anointed king. The Lord’s anointed one was not to be violated (26:9, 11, 16, 23; 2 Sam 1:14, 16; 19:21). David would not harm Saul even though God had anointed him to be the next king (1 Sam 16:13).”

      • Then David got up, left the cave, and called out to Saul, “My lord king!” When Saul looked behind him, David bowed down with his face to the ground in homage. David said to Saul, “Why do you pay attention to people who tell you, ‘Look, David is trying to harm you’? Today you have seen with your own eyes how Yahweh delivered you into my hand in the cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I took pity on you and said, ‘I won’t raise my hand against my lord because he is Yahweh’s anointed.’ See, my father! Look at the corner of your robe in my hand. You can see by the fact that I cut off the corner of your robe, but did not kill you, that there is no evil or rebellion in me. I have not sinned against you even though you are hunting me down to kill me. May Yahweh judge between us, and may Yahweh avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but I will not raise my hand against you. As the old proverb goes, ‘Out of the wicked comes forth wickedness.’ My hand will not be against you. Who has the king of Israel come out after? Who is it you are chasing? A dead dog? A single flea? May Yahweh be our judge and give sentence between us. May He see, plead my case, and deliver me from your hands.”

        • Guzik writes, “David took a big chance here, because he could simply remain in hiding, secure in the fact that Saul had not found him. But he surrendered himself to Saul because he saw the opportunity to show Saul his heart towards him and reconcile.” On David bowing to Saul, Guzik continues, “This was great submission to Saul. We might think that David had the right to come to Saul as an equal. ‘Well Saul, we’ve both been anointed to be king. You’ve got the throne right now, but I’ll have it some day and you know it. So from one anointed man to another, look at how I just spared your life.’ That wasn’t David’s attitude at all. Instead he said: ‘Saul, you are the boss and I know it. I respect your place as my leader and as my king.’…he also showed great trust in God, because he made himself completely vulnerable to Saul. Saul could have killed him very easily at that moment, but David trusted that if he did what was right before God then God would protect him and fulfill the promise.”

        • Guzik discusses the significance of David’s asking Saul why he listens to others claims, “David showed great kindness and tact to Saul. David knew very well that Saul’s fear of David came from Saul himself and not from anyone else. But David put the blame on nameless others so that it was easier for Saul to say, ‘They were wrong’ instead of ‘I was wrong.’ Even in confrontation, David covers Saul’s sin.”

        • In referring to Saul as “my father,” NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “Saul was, in fact, David’s father-in-law. David was demonstrating his respect for the king…”

        • Regarding David’s calling for Yahweh to judge, NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “There was no human authority to adjudicate between Saul and David…David rested in God’s will rather than trying to force God’s hand.”

        • On David’s citation of the proverb, NLT Illustrated Study Bible says, “The proverb vindicates David and indicts Saul. David refrained from evil deeds, such as killing Saul. Saul, however, repeatedly tried to kill David.”

        • Finally, NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible addresses David’s references to himself as a “dead dog” and “single flea,” “As the dog was not considered ‘man’s best friend’ in the ancient Near East but was regarded with some disdain or at least entirely insignificant, ‘dog’ was a favorite term of both in insults and in expressions of self-abasement. To be a ‘dead dog’ was worse still (on this usage, see also 2 Sa 9:8; 16:9, the only other occurrences in the Bible). David’s self-deprecation before Saul was meant to assure Saul that his pursuit of him was neither necessary or worthy. Reference to oneself as a ‘dog’ was a stereotypical way in the ancient Near East of showing deference to one in a superior position…If to be a (dead) dog was to be insignificant, then to be a ‘single flea’ (so the Hebrew reads) was to be almost nothing at all…”

      • When David finished saying this to Saul, Saul said, “Is that your voice, my son David?” Then Saul wept loudly. He told David, “You are more righteous than I. You have repaid me with good, even though I have repaid you with evil. Today, you have explained the good you did to me by not killing me when Yahweh delivered me into your hand. When a man finds his enemy, does he let him get away safely? May Yahweh repay you with good for what you have done for me today. Now I realize that you will certainly be king and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hand. So then, swear to me by Yahweh that you will not kill off my descendants or wipe out my name from my father’s family.”

        • Guzik writes, “Saul responded so emotionally because Saul lived on the delusion that David was out to get him, and David’s refusal to kill Saul when he had the chance proved beyond doubt that this was false. David’s obedience to God and his love to Saul made all the difference in softening Saul’s heart. This was a dramatic change of heart in Saul. Every change David could have hoped for in Saul has happened, and Saul really seemed sincere about it (Saul lifted up his voice and wept)…Saul simply wanted the same kind of promise from David that he made to Jonathan in 1 Samuel 20:13-16. In that day, when one royal house replaced another it was common for the new royal house to kill all the potential rulers from the old royal house. Saul knew that one day, David and his descendants would rule over Israel, and he wants David to promise that David and his descendants will not kill or mistreat the descendants of Saul.”

      • David swore this to Saul. Then Saul went home and David and his men went up to the stronghold.

        • Some have alleged a breach of this oath on David’s part regarding his later actions in allowing seven of Saul’s sons to be killed by the Gibeonites. HCSB explains:

          • David’s agreement was that he would not wipe out Saul’s descendants as a way of ‘cleaning house’ when he took over the kingship of Israel. That was the normal practice in the ancient Near East when a ruler established a new dynasty (that is, a ruler of a different family line from the previous king); it was done to eliminate other potential claimants to the throne (see 1 Kg 15:29; 16:11; 2 Kg 11:1; 25:7). David not only kept his agreement, he invited a member of Saul’s family line to eat at the royal table and restored a generous inheritance to him (2 Sm 9:1-13).”

          • Saul, in attempting to exterminate the Gibeonites, had brought a great deal of guilt upon himself by violating the centuries-old agreement in which the Israelites had allowed them to live in the land (Jos 9:3-15; 2 Sm 21:2). Because Saul, as leader, represented all Israel…his guilt led to the spread of famine (2 Sm 21:1). To bring an end to God’s judgment, David agreed to let the Gibeonites take revenge on the house of Saul. As a remedy for Saul’s homicidal actions, this ‘life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth’ principle (Deut 19:21; cp. Ex 21:24; Lv 24:20) was effective; God lifted His punishment from Israel (2 Sm 21:14).”

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