I Samuel 24





Verse 29 of the last chapter belongs to this section.  “And David went

up from thence, and dwelt in strong holds at Engedi.”


David Spares Saul’s Life in a Cave (vs. 1-7).


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.”  The wilderness of En-gedi. Finding no safety on

the western side of the desert of Judah, where the Ziphites were ever watching

his movements, David now boldly crossed this arid waste, and sought shelter

in the remarkable oasis of En-gedi, on the shore of the Dead Sea. The

word may signify either the Fountain of Luck or the Kid’s Spring, the latter

being the meaning of the name Ain-Jadi, which it still bears. In II Chronicles

20:2 it is identified with Hazazon-Tamar, the Palm Wood, an ancient seat of

the Amorites, and evidently famous from of old for its fertility (Genesis 14:7).

Conder (‘Tent Work,’ 2:126) describes the country over which David would

have to travel as almost impassable, so that in four and a half hours of hard

riding He and his party advanced only six miles, so deep were the valleys

which they were obliged to cross. From a lofty peak on their way the view

was most extraordinary. On every side were other ridges, equally white, steep,

and narrow; their sides seamed by innumerable torrent beds, their summits sharp

and rugged in outline. Not a tree was visible, and the whole region was like the

dry basin of a former sea, scoured by the rains, and washed down in places to the

hard foundation of metamorphic limestone which underlies the whole district.

But the desert once crossed, “there is no scene,” he says, “more vividly

impressed on my memory than that of this magnificently rocky and savage

pass, and the view from the spring below.” He had encamped on a plateau

upon the top of the cliffs, which rise to a height of 2000 feet above the

Dead Sea; and 1340 feet below him the warm spring of En-gedi, 83° F.,

rises from under a great boulder, and dashing down the rest of the descent,

flows across the plate at the foot of the cliffs, which is about half a mile

square. All around are the ruins of ancient gardens and thickets, among

which he saw the beautiful black grackles with gold-tipped wings, bulbuls,

and thrushes. Solomon seems to have delighted in the spot, and to have

covered the hills with vines; for he compares his beloved to a “cluster of

camphire in the vineyards of En-gedi(Song of Solomon 1:14). Neither

palm nor vine is to be found there now, but there is still a rich vegetation,

and groves of trees. According to Thomson (‘The Land and the Book,’ p.

602) the sides of the ravines leading to En-gedi are full of natural and

artificial caves and sepulchers.


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 goats.”

Chosen. See on this word ch. 9:2. The rocks of the wild goats. Apparently

this was the proper name of some cliffs near Engedi, so called from their being

frequented by the ibex, or Syrian chamois, an animal which, according to Thomson

(p. 603) is still found there. It shows Saul’s pertinacious hatred of David, that no

sooner was the war with the Philistines over, than he pursues him with 3000

picked warriors into these lonely fastnesses. Compare Psalm 57:4, written,

according to the title, upon the occasion recorded in this chapter.


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.”  He came to the sheepcotes. Rather, “to sheepcotes,” there

being no article in the Hebrew. Such sheepcotes were common in

Palestine; for Thomson (p. 603) says, “I have seen hundreds of these

sheepcotes around the mouth of caverns, and indeed there is scarcely a

cave in the land, whose location will admit of being thus occupied (i.e. by

the flocks), but has such a “cote” in front of it, generally made by piling up

loose stones into a circular wall, which is covered with thorns, as a further

protection against robbers and wild beasts. During cold storms, and in the

night, the flocks retreat into the cave, but at other times they remain in this

enclosed cote .... These caverns are as dark as midnight, and the keenest

eye cannot see five paces inward; but one who has been long within, and is

looking outward toward the entrance, can observe with perfect distinctness

all that takes place in that direction. David, therefore, could watch Saul as

he came in, and notice the exact place where he “covered his feet,” while

Saul could see nothing but “impenetrable darkness.” To cover his feet.

The Syriac understands this of sleeping; more correctly the Vulgate and

Chaldee take it as in Judges 3:24, margin.


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 privily.

5 And it came to pass afterward, that David’s heart smote him,

because he had cut off Saul’s skirt.” Behold the day of which Jehovah said

unto thee, etc.  David’s men regard this deliverance of Saul into their band as

providential, and the fulfillment of the promises made in David’s favor, with

which, no doubt, they were well acquainted. But with a noble self-control he

refuses to take the matter into his own hand, and leaves unto God in trusting

faith the execution of His purposes. To prove, nevertheless, to Saul his

innocence, to soften his bitterness, and refute the suspicion that he was

lying in wait to murder him, he cuts off the corner — Hebrew, wing — of

his meil (see ch. 2:19). Even for this his heart smote him. So tender was his

conscience that he condemned himself for even deviating so slightly from the

respect due to the anointed king.


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.”

Seeing he is the anointed of Jehovah. David bases his allegiance to Saul on

religious grounds. He was Jehovah’s Messiah, and as such his person was

sacred. To this principle David steadfastly adhered (see ch. 26:9; II Samuel 1:16).

The Lord forbid. Hebrew, “Far be it from me from Jehovah,” i.e. for Jehovah’s

sake.  So David stayed his servants. The verb is a strong one, and means

to crush down. It shows that David had to use all his authority to keep his men,

vexed by Saul’s pursuit, from killing him.



Instruction in Caves (vs. 1-7)


The facts are:


1. Saul, having repelled the incursion of the Philistines, returns to pursue

David in the wilderness of Engedi.

2. Saul, entering privately into a cave while David and his men lie

concealed there, comes unwittingly within the power of David.

3. David’s men, referring to a Divine prediction, urge him to slay Saul.

4. Apparently to indicate how entirely Saul was within his power, David

stealthily cuts off the skirt of his coat.

5. Reproaching himself for the levity thus displayed in treating the Lord’s

anointed, he at once justifies his refusal to touch Saul’s life, and also

restrains his men.


It is observable how the sacred narrative of this period is entirely occupied with the

conflict between Saul and David; not a word being said of the social and spiritual

state of the nation, its commerce and agriculture, its hopes and fears, or even of

the nature and degree of influence being exerted by Samuel and the prophetic

schools. The specialty of sacred history lies in the concentration of all thought

in the development of the chain of events by which the original promise to

Adam and Abraham is traceable to fulfillment in Christ. This principle will

account for countless omissions of fact which might reasonably be expected

in a nation’s annals, and for the prominence given to persons and circumstances

otherwise of no public significance. It is because men do not consider the spiritual

principle on which the Old Testament is evidently constructed that they mistake

much of its meaning, fail to see its exquisite teaching, and regard as

heterogeneous what is pervaded by a marvelous unity. The incidents of

this stage in the history not only reveal the gradual process by which

Providence was working out great issues for ISRAEL AND ALL MANKIND,

but also suggest several topics of far wider range than the individual life of

David. Caves. from Machpelah, the center of solemn and tender interests

(Genesis 23:1-9; 25:9; 35:29; 50:13), on to the hiding place of a weary-hearted

prophet (I Kings 19:9), to Plato’s imaginary scene for illustrating the limitations

of human knowledge and the hiding places of persecuted saints (Hebrews 11:38),

have figured in human affairs, and the cave of Engedi certainly merits attention.

It reminds us of:


  • THE DOMINANCE OF AN EVIL PASSION. In reply to the inquiry,

How is it that the king of Israel is here away from his ordinary seat of

government, and exposed to peril of life? The answer must be, Because the

passion of cruel envy has gained dominion over his entire nature. Any

considerations of policy or prudence wherewith he may have sought to

justify his conduct in pursuing David were mere fictions created by a

perverted will under the control of a masterful envy of one better them

himself. The history traces the growth of this feeling. The dire evil, like a

repressed torrent, seemed to gain force by the check given by Samuel and

the prophets (ch. 19:18-24), until at last it gained such

ascendancy over Saul’s life that the entire energy of his mind and the

ordinary administration of his kingdom were made subordinate to its

expression. He was the slave of an evil once consisting in a sudden feeling

of ill will, which, had it been dealt with as every unhallowed feeling should

the moment it appears, might have been crushed in the germ. The case of

Saul is not unlike that of many men, although the governing feeling may be

different. Men are more entirely dominated by some powerful disposition

than they, in their neglect of introspection and consequent lack of self-

knowledge, imagine. The reality is seen in the instance of persons given up

to intemperance, dissoluteness of life, and cruelty; and ordinary observers

may be able to trace the process from slight indulgence in the sin to its

complete mastery over the life. Others, who look at life more closely and

estimate its value by the Scriptural standard, can also see the same

enslavement, brought on by degrees, in the instance of persons who pursue

wealth, worldly fame, or personal enjoyment as the chief end of life. The

Pharisees thought it shocking to have killed the prophets, and were not

disposed to admit their own enslavement to evil feelings deadly in

character. The positive antagonism of men to Christ means the gradual

growth in them of aversion to His holy restraints until they become its

slaves. There is a proud but delusive sense of independence attaching to

this enslavement to evil. “We were never in bondage to any man” (John

8:33). It is a device of the devil to make his captives content with their

chains or to blind them to their reality. (The chains of habit are too light

to be felt until they are too strong to be broken! - unkown) “Are we blind also?”

(John 9:40). And as in the case of Saul the domination of the evil only drew

him on and on to deeper trouble, till at last all was lost, so, unless our ruling

evils are destroyed by prompt submission of will to Christ’s yoke, and

consequent subjection of the life to His purifying grace, sin will “bring

forth death.”  (James 1:15)




PROVIDENCE. Different opinions may be entertained as to the sense

attached to the words of David’s men (v. 4), and accordingly the

practical lessons deducible will vary with the choice we make.


Ø      On the supposition that they were here quoting a specific

communication conveyed to David through Samuel or Gad, and probably

divulged in course of conversation with them, we have raised the question

of, the fact of revelations having been made in past ages to holy men

which, serving for their personal guidance and comfort, have not been

incorporated in the ordinary records, which conserve only what has been

deemed necessary to the connected history of redemption, and the general

instruction of mankind. If this be so, it is obvious obscurities might cease to

be obscurities to us did we but know what those immediately concerned in

the events recorded may have been familiar with.


Ø      On the supposition that the language of these men was the interpretation

which they put upon the predictions contained in ch.15:28; 16:1, 12, and

on the avowed beliefs of Jonathan (ch. 20:15; 23:17), which by this time

may have become current, we have raised the question of the influence of

a cherished state of feeling — its extent and legitimacy — on the

interpretation which men put upon the teachings of Scripture in reference

to doctrine, history, and worship.


Ø      On the supposition that their words were simply intended to be the

sense they put upon the indications of Providence as then working out in

favor of David’s cause, we have the question of the proneness of men to

view passing events in the light of their own tendencies, and, therefore, to

make Providence mean what it was never designed to suggest. Apart from

controversy on the fore-mentioned points, it is possible to generalize the

teaching of the passage by saying that there is a prevailing tendency in men

to prejudice the interpretation both of Divine words and providential

events by undue regard to their own wishes. It is clear that these men

wanted David to slay Saul. Being less spiritual and generous than he, not

having risen to his lofty conception of the kingdom of God, and restive

under the restraints which kept them from positions of power under the

coming king, they easily believed it was God’s will that David should force

on the issue by the death of his enemy. Passing event or spoken word in the

past would have no other meaning for them.


1. This fact should be remembered in relation to controversies and

diversities of opinion on matters of sacred history, doctrine, and worship.

The existence of such diversities is no evidence against a revealed religion,

as some suppose, but just the reverse; for in the nature of the case men

view the truth through the medium created by their own cherished moral

condition. The final supremacy of truth is not to be attained in violation of

laws which govern the operations of the human mind, but by means of

them. That men so diverse in opinion and in worship should nevertheless

have so much in common that is fundamental, and should be under the

mighty influence of it, is a sign that the truth is one and of God, while the

error is of man and is manifold. No student of human nature can be

surprised that men should seek to eliminate the supernatural from Scripture

history; for only let a desire be cherished to see a revelation harmonize with

what a man thinks would be a proper way of giving it to the world, —

namely, by just such an absence of supernatural manifestations as

characterizes an era when no new revelation is longer needed, — and it will

be as easy for him to see only naturalism in Scripture events as for David’s

men to see in words and events an authorization to slay Saul. It is a

suggestive circumstance that men of diverse temperaments and emotional

or esthetic tendencies gravitate towards certain ecclesiastical organizations;

nor can we overlook the fact that it is rare for men to pass over from a

system in which their tastes have been formed to another, the advocates of

which claim to represent the truth.


2. The fact should variously affect our conduct in relation to our fellow

men and to the truth. It should induce a distrust of our own judgment in so

far as, on severe self-examination, it is seen to be associated with our

wishes. Every one is bound to “search the Scriptures,” to “see whether

these things are so”  (Acts 17:11),and to “hold fast what is true.” 

(I Thessalonians 5:21)  No surrender of this great duty and privilege to

an order of men can be pleaded on the ground that possibly feeling may

distort the vision of truth in the private individual; for men acting for others

are men still, and cannot escape the conditions of human nature, while the

aid of the Holy Spirit is as available for one sincere heart as for another.

Our duty is to bring the most vigorous powers we can command to bear on

our understanding of the will of God, and in so far as we do so in dependence

on the Holy Spirit we may calmly rest in our conclusions, with the proviso

that they, however good, are not coextensive with truth, and that we have

purged our hearts of all human preference and prejudice. It should induce

charity towards others. The exercise of charity in matters of opinion is

not identical with a surrender of our own judgment to a superior, nor a

denial of the importance of fundamental truth and the possibility of its

attainment, nor a blindness to the serious consequences resulting from

error, but an exercise of kindly consideration for those who differ from us,

proceeding from the consciousness that our own views may be in some

degree affected by our subjective moral condition, and that our superiority

to others depends on the belief we have in the comparative freedom of our

judgment from personal bias. It is a characteristic of the interaction of

feeling with thought that in so far as feeling has become habitual we are,

by a well known psychological law, less conscious of its presence as an

element in the formation of judgment; and consequently we may, as may

others, be very sincere though in error. This by no means justifies error,

or renders men safe from its consequences; but it does demand mutual

consideration, and imposes on every man the solemn responsibility of

so guarding the beginnings of his life that no unholy feeling or form of

self-will shall gain ascendancy in his nature. They are wise who in a

kind and tender spirit seek to bring men to a higher form of spiritual life.

It is in love — the pure love of God — that truth is to be seen. It should

induce us to seek for ourselves and others more of the purifying grace of

the Holy Spirit.  Possibly while on earth men will not entirely rise above

the disturbing or perverting influence of tastes and sentiments inwrought

with their early education, and unconsciously fostered as years advance;

for by the mental law of association we are, while in the body, in some

measure subject to bondage. Yet the truth is clear that in so far as we do

become pure in heart and like as a little child — with a nature open to

receive what God may teach, and not furnished with wishes by which

truth is to be judged — we shall rise to a correct view of God’s word

and providence. Pure souls are quick in spiritual perception and responsive

to all that is Divine, and, on the other hand, sensitive to the faint appearance

of evil. The more fully the Church becomes sanctified, the more unity will

be created in a discernment of all that constitutes fundamental truth. The

eras in which men have paraded opinions alien to the faith once delivered

to the saints, priding themselves on their skill and ability, have not been

distinguished by extreme dependence on the sanctifying power of the

Holy Spirit; nor perhaps has the Church ever, since apostolic days,

sufficiently associated growth in spiritual knowledge with His blessed




CHARACTER. All the men in the cave were one with David in the cause

on which he was embarked. But followers do not always enter into the

lofty aspirations of their leaders, or share equally with them the

responsibility of the position assumed, while they often outstrip them in

apparent zeal for the completion of their work. Hitherto the chief obstacle

in the way of success was Saul, and now that Providence had manifestly

put him within the power of David, what more conclusive evidence to

ardent followers of the true road to success could be forthcoming? Let

David smite his persecuting foe, and the cause is won! Such was the road

to success suggested by policy, self-interest, usages of Eastern warfare,

and restless impatience of the ways of God. Against this David protests. It

is his duty to abide God’s time for entrance on his royal dignities. Even the

slight liberty which David, on the impulse of the moment, took with the

king in spoiling his garment became on reflection an occasion of self-

reproach.  Respect for office is a power in social life, being one form of

reverence for law and order, and contributing to the easy maintenance of

lawful authority; and therefore the levity of finding amusement for himself

and others at a king’s expense was inconsistent with the true Hebrew

culture which indicates its regard for the finer sentiments of life by such

prohibitions as, “Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk;”

(Exodus 23:19) “Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.”

(ibid. ch. 22:28; Acts 23:5)It should be remembered generally that there is a

seeming way to rapid success which is not the true way, and, vice versa,

a tedious, painful way which is the right. David’s superior discernment was

fortunate for him, though doubtless his adherents were annoyed at his

apparent timidity and, as they supposed, fastidiousness. Lot ungenerously

made choice of the richest district in haste to be rich, but his uncle eventually

was most successful (Genesis 13:8-11; 14:11-12). On the other hand, Moses

refused the temptation to become possessed of the honors and riches of Egypt,

and finally was raised to the highest position a servant of God could occupy

(Hebrews 11:24-26). Our Saviour might have gained a vast following and

been regarded by the authorities of Jerusalem as their Messiah had he only

accommodated his standard a little to their wishes; but now He is Lord of

millions. The apostles constantly resisted inducements to achieve an

immediate success by lowering their standard of preaching to the tastes of

men, and so lost some (Galatians 3:1-4) disciples; but the result has

been most blessed. In Church organization, modes of worship, and

methods of labor it is possible to devise means by which at first a large

accession shall be made to the ranks of nominal Christians, yet at the same

time wrong may be done to the claims of order, purity, reverence, and

truth, which wrong will be avenged in years to come by:


Ø      corruption of manners,

Ø      low spiritual tastes, and

Ø      APOSTASY FROM the truth.


In matters of business men often see an easy way by which wealth may be

speedily won, and, in preference to the slow and steady process of honest

toil, it may be chosen to the ruin of the soul. Simple, earnest waiting on

Providence, doing daily work as it comes, not seeking to force matters by

any act that conscience would condemn, is the course suggested by the

conduct of David and all who fear God.



David’s Forbearance toward Saul (vs. 1-7)


“Would it not be manly to resent it?” said one, on receiving an affront.

“Yes,” was the reply, “but it would be Godlike to forgive it.” In the spirit

of this answer David acted when he spared Saul in the cave at Engedi, and

thereby proved that he was guiltless of the design which the latter in his

delusion attributed to him — of aiming at his throne and his life (ch. 22:8).

Saul himself had shown generosity toward enemies in the earlier part of his

career (ch. 11:12-13); but his character had fearfully deteriorated since that time,

and his generosity toward others was far surpassed by that of David toward him.

“Generosity toward his enemies was a part of David’s very being. And he alone

is the true hero who, like David, forces involuntary recognition and friendship

even from his bitterest foe” (Ewald). Observe that:



been bitterly hated and grievously wronged; “was a man of like passions

with ourselves” (James 5:17) and the temptation came to him, as it comes

to others, in:


Ø      A favorable opportunity to take revenge. His enemy was entirely in his

power, and his life might be taken away at a stroke.


“O, Opportunity, thy guilt is great;

Tis thou that execut’st the traitor’s treason;

Thou set’st the wolf where he the lamb may get;

Whoever plots the sin, thou point’st the season;

Tis thou that spurn’st at right, at law, at reason;

And in thy shady cell, where none may spy him,

Sits sin, to seize the souls that wander by him”



Ø      A plausible argument used by others. David’s men not only desired to

see the deed done and sought permission to do it (vs. 7, 10), but also

said, “See, this is the day of which Jehovah hath said to thee, Behold, I

give thine enemy into thine hand,” etc. “The speakers regarded the leadings

of Providence by which Saul had been brought into David’s power as a

Divine intimation to David himself to take this opportunity of slaying his

deadly enemy, and called the intimation a word of Jehovah” (Keil). Men

are apt to interpret the Divine purpose of events according to their own

interests and inclinations (ch. 23:7; II Peter 3:16), and it is often the exact

reverse of what they imagine it to be. It was not that David should slay

Saul, but (among other things) that he should be tried, and by sparing him

vindicated, blessed and made a blessing. What is meant for good is by a

deceived heart turned to evil. “And those temptations are most powerful

which fetch their force from the pretence of a religious obedience” (Hall).


Ø      A sudden thought tending in the direction of revenge (v. 10, Vulgate:

And I thought to kill thee”). He did not cherish it or form a distinct

purpose to carry it into effect, but came perilously near doing so in the

indignity he offered to the king. “He does not seem to have been quite free

from the temptation to kill Saul. The words (v. 5) are only intelligible on

the supposition that, on cutting off Saul’s skirt, his thoughts were not

directed only to the use which he afterwards made of it, at least in the

beginning, but that his object was rather to prove the goodness of his

thoughts at the first weak beginning he made to carry them into effect. But

his better self soon awoke; all impure thoughts fled; his eye became clear;

with horror he put the temptation from him” (Hengstenberg). “Blessed is

the man that endureth temptation,” etc. (James 1:12).




Ø      The possession of a tender conscience, which enabled him to perceive

the will of God, shrank from sin, and smote him for his “thought of foolishness”

(Proverbs 24:9; Isaiah 66:1-3) and irreverent act. “It is a good thing to

have a heart within us smiting us for sins that seem little; it is a sign

conscience is awake and tender, and will be a means to prevent greater

sins” (Matthew Henry).


Ø      Regard to the Divine will, which directed him not to avenge himself, but

to leave vengeance with the Lord; to honor the king, and love his

neighbor as himself. His regard for it was lowly, reverent, and supreme.

The purpose of providential events must be interpreted in harmony with

conscience and the moral law. How often do the Scriptures enjoin

forbearance and forgiveness toward enemies! (Proverbs 20:22; 25:21-22;

Matthew 5:44; Romans 12:19-21; Colossians 3:13).


Ø      Repression of evil thought and impulse; immediate, firm, and entire.

“The better to know how to guard against the wiles of the enemy, take it

for a certain rule that every thought which discourages and removes thee

from growing in love and trust towards God is a messenger of hell; and, as

such, thou must drive him away, and neither admit him nor give him a

hearing” (Scupoli). David repressed such a thought in himself and in his

men, became the protector of Saul, was not overcome of evil, but

overcame evil with good (Romans 12:21) and was made by means of

temptation stronger and more illustrious. “Temptation is the greatest

occasioner of a Christian’s honor; indeed, like an enemy, it threatens and

endeavors to ruin him, but in conquest of it consists his crown and triumph”

(Hales, ‘Golden Remains’).  As aids to the practice of forbearance:


o       Consider the “goodness, forbearance, and long suffering of

God.”  (Romans 2:4)

o       Contemplate the example of Christ.

o       Watch against the first thought of evil.

o       Pray for the spirit of patience, forgiveness, and love.




(vers. 8-22).


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 himself.”

Saul apparently had withdrawn from his men, and David seizes

the opportunity of proving to him his innocence, and quieting the king’s

fears. He goes out, therefore, and calls after him, saying, My lord the

king, addressing him thus as his master, to whom his obedience was due.

He also pays him the utmost reverence, bowing his face to the earth and

making obeisance. By this lowly bearing David showed that, so far from

being a rebel, he still acknowledged Saul’s lawful authority, and was true

to his allegiance.


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 anointed.”  In his address David complained of Saul’s listening to

men’s words, which slanderously represented him as lying in wait to kill

the king (compare ch. 22:8). In answer to their calumnies he now

pleads Saul’s own experience of his deeds. Some bade me kill thee.

Hebrew, “he bade to kill thee.” The literal rendering is, “Jehovah delivered

thee today into my hand, and bade kill thee.” The Authorized Version supplies

some, or, more exactly, “one said.” This is supported by the Syriac and Chaldee,

but the literal rendering is probably the right one. Had David killed Saul, it

would have seemed as if it were ordered by Providence so to be, and as if

by putting Saul into his power God had intended his death. But what seem

to us to be the leadings of Providence are not to be blindly followed.

Possibly David’s first thought was that God intended Saul to die, and so

the Vulgate, “I thought to kill thee. But immediately a truer feeling came

over his mind, and he recognized that opportunities, such as that just given

him, may be temptations to be overcome. The highest principles of religion

and morality do not bend to external circumstances, but override them.


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.”  My father. David thus salutes Saul not because he was

actually his father-in-law, but as a title indicative of the respect due from an

inferior to his superior (II Kings 5:13). So David calls himself Nabal’s

son (ch. 25:8). In the rest of the verse he contrasts his refusal to

slay Saul, when it might have seemed as if it were Providence that had put

him into his power, with Saul’s determined pursuit of him. Thou huntest

my soul to take it. Thou perpetually usest every artifice and stratagem

against me for the confessed purpose of killing me, and pursuest me as

eagerly as the hunter pursues his game. Hence David commits his cause to

Jehovah, in the sure confidence that He will avenge him, and with the firm

determination never himself to raise his hand against one who, though his

enemy, was also the king. In proof of the impossibility of his ever seeking

the king’s hurt, he quotes an ancient proverb, “From the wicked goeth out

wickedness.” Had David harbored evil intentions he would have executed

them when so fair an opportunity offered, but as he has no such purposes

his hand will never be” upon Saul.



Calumny (vs. 8-12)


“Wherefore hearest thou men’s words, saying, David seeketh thy hurt?”

(v. 9). Saul’s hatred and persecution of David were stirred up by

slanderers; and, in vindication of himself from the charge of seeking his

hurt, David referred to them on this and on a subsequent occasion (ch.26:19).

One of them seems to have been Cush the Benjamite (see Kitto, ‘D.B. Illus.’),

on account of the calumnies of whom he wrote Psalm 7., ‘The righteous judgment

of God’ (see inscription):


“Jehovah my God, in thee have I found refuge;

Save me from my persecutors and deliver me!”


How much he felt the wrong which they had done him, and how intensely

his zeal burned against their sin against God and man, appears in many of

his psalms (Psalm 34:13; 35:11; 52:2; 56:5; 57:4; 59:7, etc.). Good men

are often exposed to the calumnious attacks of men of similar character.


“Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow,

Thou shalt not escape calumny.”


  • IT IS ONE OF THE MOST ODIOUS OF VICES. It is “the uttering of

false (or equivalent to false, morally false) speech against our neighbor in

prejudice to his fame, his safety, his welfare, or concernment in any kind,

out of malignity, vanity, rashness, ill nature, or bad design” (Barrow, Ser.

18.); and it is exhibited in an endless variety of ways.


Ø      It is marked by:


o        falsehood,

o        folly,

o        injustice,

o        malice, and

o        impiety.


Ø      It exerts a most pernicious influence. The tongue on which it dwells is

like a fire, which (though at first but a single spark) may set a whole forest

in a blaze (James 3:5); is “full of deadly poison,” and sends forth

arrows, firebrands, and death” in:


o        private reputations,

o        domestic life,

o        social intercourse,

o        the Church and the world.


What mischief it works!


Ø      It is frequently forbidden and condemned in the word of God

(Leviticus 19:16; Proverbs 10:31; I Corinthians 6:9). “I say

unto you that every idle (empty, insincere, wicked, and injurious) word

that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of

judgment.  For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy

words thou shalt be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36-37). “God is angry

with the wicked every day” (Psalm 7:11).



thou?” No one should listen to it; for by doing so:


Ø      He encourages the wicked in their wickedness (Proverbs 25:23).

“When will talkers refrain from evil speaking? When listeners refrain from

evil hearing” (Hare).


Ø      He injures himself; becomes a tool of designing men, and is led to do

things which his better nature cannot approve; whilst, at the same time, he

manifests his own unreasonableness and sinful disposition.


Ø      He makes himself partaker of their evil deeds” (II John 1:11) and exposes

himself to the same condemnation. Although incited by others, Saul was not

guiltless in “hunting after” the soul of David “to take it” (v. 11).





Ø      An open assertion of innocence, direct denial and rebuke of false

statements, and faithful remonstrance against their being entertained.

“Whose mouths” (says Paul concerning unruly and vain talkers and

deceivers) “must be stopped” (Titus 1:11).


Ø      A clear proof of innocence afforded by becoming, righteous, and

merciful actions (vs. 10-11; compare Psalm 7:3-4).


Ø      A sincere appeal to God as the Vindicator of the innocent; lowly

submission to His will and firm confidence in the manifestation of His

righteous judgment. “The justice of God is a refuge and comfort to

oppressed innocency” (Matthew Henry). “The Lord judge between me

and thee” (v. 12).


“Jehovah judgeth the people.

Judge me, O Jehovah, according to my righteousness,

And according to my integrity be it done to me.

Oh let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end,

And establish thou the righteous;

For thou that triest the hearts and reins art a righteous God.

My shield is with God,

Who delivers the upright in heart

 (Psalm 7:8-10).


  • LEARN:


Ø      To use the gift of speech in speaking well, and not ill, of others.

Ø      To rely on God more than on your own efforts for your vindication

when evil spoken of.

Ø      The blessedness of those against whom men “say all manner of evil

falselyfor Christ’s sake. (Matthew 5:11)


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.”  Finally, David makes a pathetic appeal to Saul,

contrasting him in his grandeur as the king of Israel with the fugitive

whom he so relentlessly persecuted. In calling himself a dead dog he

implies that he was at once despicable and powerless. Even more

insignificant is a flea, Hebrew, “one flea,” “a single flea.” The point is lost

by omitting the numeral. David means that it is unworthy of a king to go

forth with 3000 men to hunt a single flea. As the king’s conduct is thus

both unjust and foolish, David therefore appeals to Jehovah to be judge

and plead his cause, i.e. be his advocate, and state the proofs of his

innocence. For deliver me out of thy hand, the Hebrew is, “will judge me

out of thy hand,” i.e. will judge me, and by doing so justly will deliver me

from thy power.



Discrimination in Relation to Men, Truth, and Vocation (vs. 8-15)


The facts are:


1. David follows Saul out of the cave and pays him homage.

2. He remonstrates against Saul heeding the lies of slanderers, and declares

to him how he had just spared his life.

3. Exhibiting the skirt of the robe in evidence of his words, and appealing

to God, he protests his innocence of purpose.

4. He, while admitting his own insignificance, commends his cause to the

justice of God, and prays for deliverance.


If we take into account what human nature is under provocation, and the rough and

painful life of David at this period, we shall not fail to admire the generous, highly

spiritual tone of his conduct on this occasion. It is a remarkable instance of real

conformity of spirit with Christian requirements among those in ancient

times not blessed with our advantages. (Romans 12:1-2)  It is also a remarkable

testimony to the value of these virtues that men, without dissent, admire the

beautiful spirit of David, even though in many instances they have not the will

to act likewise in analogous situations. But the general teaching of the section

may be arranged in the following order:




MEN AMIDST THE DIFFICULTIES OF LIFE. David was a man of valor,

of deep piety, and of keen discernment. His intense love of righteousness was

not attended by a hasty and harsh condemnation of Saul’s conduct, evil as it

was. While keenly alive to the wrong Saul was doing him, and recognizing

that One above visits every evil doer, he nevertheless in his first words to

Saul recognizes the fact, which doubtless through Jonathan and others he

had ascertained, that there were greater sinners in this sad business than

Saul. “Wherefore hearest thou men’s words, saying, Behold, David seeketh

thy hurt?” He knew how the unhappy king had departed from God, and

subsequently had become melancholy, and at times almost insane, and he

understood how the original wicked envy was associated with this sad fall

from God’s favor; and hence, apart from the reverence cherished for the

office of king, he could not but commiserate his persecutor. Saul, in the

judgment of David, was now but a mere tool in the hands of cunning,

unscrupulous men at court, who basely roused the enmity of the

unfortunate monarch by inventing lies concerning the intentions of David.

Discrimination of character may find abundant scope in every man’s life.

How much it is lacking is obvious when we reflect on the wholesale

condemnation often passed on individuals and communities. Accidental

association in public life is frequently the sole basis of a common judgment.

Much of the faulty training of families and imperfect education in schools is

to be ascribed to this source, while errors in this particular are the cause of

manifold mistakes and disastrous failures in private life. It is due to others,

as also safe for ourselves, that we act on our Saviour’s exhortation, “Judge

righteous judgment.” David was just to Saul in regarding him as the weak

instrument of stronger wills; as was our Saviour just to a misled people

when he charged the scribes and Pharisees with hindering them from

obeying the gospel (Matthew 23:13). A certain development and

balance of the intellectual faculties are requisite to discriminate character. It

is to be feared that very little attention is paid to this kind of culture in

many homes and schools, and consequently there are thousands in a far

worse position for the great conflict of life than they need be. But where

ordinary capacities for discernment exist, true piety will insure their right

and just exercise; for religion raises the whole moral tone of a man, and

gives a superior moral element to our judgments on the motives and

conduct of men. The gift of “discerning spirits” is of much value still in the

Church of God and in daily affairs.




KNOWLEDGE ON WHICH IT IS BASED. David discriminates between

the weak and sinful Saul and the cunning, determined men who used him as

a tool for their wicked schemes. The language employed by him here in

reference to Saul is mild and tender — recognizing wrong, but expressive

of the conviction that his actions were now not responsible in the same

degree as when he disobeyed the command of God through Samuel. In the

Psalms we have other language — strong, severe, withering — intended

for “men set on fire, sons of men whose teeth are spears and arrows, and

their tongue a sharp sword” (Psalm 57:4). “Deceit,” “fraud,” “lying

lips,” “poison of adders,” tongues “set on fire,” that “wrest words” and

love all devouring words,” are the terms used to indicate the motives and

purposes of the men prompting the action of Saul. Now as we find the

explanation of the mild language in the intimate knowledge which he had

of the weakness of his enemy, and the use which stronger wills were

making of him, so, by the same rule of interpretation, ought we to allow an

appropriateness of other and more severe language to men so utterly vile

as these were known to be, and to whom he alludes in v. 9 and ch. 26:19.

Too often Christian men, and especially unbelievers, read the strong

language of the Psalms as though it were expressive of sentiments

ordinarily entertained towards any who might differ from David;

and it is viewed as in contrast with his address to Saul and the precepts of

Christ. The unreasonableness of this judgment is evident when we only

consider what David knew these men to be, and to be aiming at. They were

deliberate, calculating liars, knowing by his deeds, by Samuel’s approval,

and by his pure and useful life, that he was a chosen man of God, and yet

endeavoring by false representations to blast his reputation, to incite a

moody king to slay him on account of his vileness of intention, and, in fact,

to frustrate the purpose which God had announced through Samuel, and of

which Jonathan, Gad, Abiathar, and others were aware. A baser, more

cruel and cowardly conspiracy against character, life, and national welfare

can hardly be imagined. The knowledge of these specific facts renders

David’s wrath and indignation most holy, and, in view of what would be

the calamity to Israel should they succeed in annulling the purpose of God

as declared to Samuel and made known to David and others, the Church

can say Amen to the Psalms. This principle of interpretation is wider than

the case before us. None of us dare use towards others the severe language

of Christ’s denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees, because we have not

the minute knowledge of motive and internal, irreclaimable deceitfulness

which was clear to His eye; but His view of what is hidden from us rendered

His words just and good. Also, the language used with reference to the

necessity of atonement, the manner in which it is made, and the conditions

on which it becomes available for those made acquainted with it, should be

considered reverently, as being founded on an intimate knowledge on the

part of God of very many facts pertaining to moral existence, the

interrelation of all moral beings, and the administration of a government

stretching through all time and place, which necessarily at present escape

our observation. The same principle may apply to much of the language in

reference to the future condition of the wicked. Even the right

interpretation of historical matter in many dubious cases may depend on

facts which to the writers were well known, but to us are unknown. It

would be useful to direct attention to the conditions of a right

understanding of the Bible, embracing in the purview moral health, attained

by the quickening of the Holy Spirit, caution, reverence, regard to its

spiritual aims, its fragmentary character, its progressive teaching —

especially sympathy with its purpose.




qualities of consideration, forbearance, magnanimity, and candor so

prominent in David during this interview with Saul met with little sympathy

among his followers at the time, though subsequently they would see the

wisdom of his conduct. Like others, they judged of what should be done by

what from their lower moral position they were inclined to do. The

superior conduct of David was not due simply to tenderness of natural

disposition, nor to the presence of piety considered per se, but largely to

the educating influence on his generally pious character of his calling in

life. He perfectly understood that, as servant of God, he was called to be

future ruler of Israel, and meanwhile so to live and act that no deed of his

should touch his personal reputation in Israel or create the impression on

the mind of Saul that he sought his removal from the throne to gratify

private ambition. Virtually he was already a royal personage. His actions

and words were therefore public property. The building up of national

character and development of national resources were matters of deepest

concern. The consciousness of this drew him nearer to God, attached

responsibility to his deeds, imparted dignity and grace to his bearing, put a

restraint on the flow of private feelings, and, though uncrowned, made him

royal in his magnanimity. David as a coming king was morally a more

developed man than would have been David as a simple citizen. A

consideration of the influence of calling on character would afford much

instruction in relation to social habits, mental and moral development,

Christian excellence and degeneracies, national and provincial

characteristics and tendencies, domestic comfort and discomfort, personal

antagonisms and aversions, and the need for a large charity in estimating

conduct different from our own, as also for profound thought in reference

to the best means of remedying some evils incident to a highly developed

civilization, in which the comforts and luxuries of one class are procured by

avocations of another class that tell perniciously on their mental and moral

development. Christians are especially exhorted to walk worthy of their

high calling; and, apart from direct influence of the Holy Spirit in the

formation of character, it would be helpful to all to study the natural

influence over the entire man of a calling to be “kings and priests unto

God.” (Revelation 1:6)  “What manner of persons ought ye to be?”

(II Peter 3:11)  “As he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy

in all manner of conversation” (I Peter 1:15).




David had done all an honest man could do to clear himself of guilt and to

pacify Saul, and with strong faith in an overruling Providence he leaves his

cause with God. Personal retaliation for injuries done is no part of our

duty. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.”  (Romans 12:19)

Whether we succeed in a difficult work is not our business. To have done

right is the chief concern. Our Saviour has set us an example of fulfilling all

righteousness and then committing Himself and His cause to the “righteous

Father.” There is that in the conscience of men which bows before such

appeals to the “Judge of all the earth.” The name of God is a power over

men because they are moral beings. It is:


Ø      a refuge for the oppressed and

Ø      a terror to the wicked.



A Proverb of the Ancients (vs. 13-15)


“Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked (v. 13). Proverbs are brief and

apt sayings expressive of the general experience of men. They have been

described as “the wisdom of many and the wit of one” (Russell); and, more

poetically, “jewels five words long, which on the stretched forefinger of

time sparkle forever” (Tennyson). The most valuable of “the words of the

wise were uttered by Solomon, and are contained in the Book of Proverbs.

But this saying was already ancient in the days of David. It is also

true and faithful” and very instructive. Consider:


  • ITS MEANING. “Ill men do ill things.” “Actions usually correspond to

the quality of the mind” (Grotius).


Ø      An evil disposition is possessed by some men. The ancients noticed the

distinction between evil actions (as well as good) and evil character (as

well as good). There is in some men, in contrast to others, a selfish and bad

disposition. All men, it is true, are sinful; but some, instead of striving

against sin and overcoming it, are the slaves of sin; their supreme affection

is set upon unworthy objects, and the ruling principle of their life is wrong.

This is due to many causes:


o        previous voluntary acts,

o        willful neglect of DIVINE AID,


but the fact is certain. Their nature differs from that of good men just as

(though not so necessarily or to the same extent) the serpent from the dove,

and the thistle from the vine.


Ø      An evil disposition expresses itself in corresponding actions. It uses

power and opportunity according to its nature (v. 19), and turns to evil

the same circumstances which a good disposition turns to good (v. 6).

This is in harmony with the established order of things in the world. “A

good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring

forth good fruit” (Luke 6:43). “Do men gather grapes of thorns? “etc.

(Matthew 7:16-20; 12:35). “Doth a fountain send forth at the same

place sweet water and bitter?” etc. (James 3:11-13; Proverbs 13:16).


Ø      An evil disposition is plainly proved by evil actions. It is so especially

when they are performed deliberately, habitually, and on occasions of

decisive trial. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” The proof is:


o        perfectly reliable,

o        easily perceivable, and

o        generally applicable.


  • ITS APPLICATION (v. 11). “But my hand shall not be upon thee”

(vs. 12-13). “David means to say that if he had been guilty of conspiracy

against the king he would not have neglected this favorable opportunity

to kill him, since men usually indulge their feelings, and from a mind guilty

of conspiracy nothing but corresponding deeds could come forth”

(Clericus). The application may be made to the conduct of others, but it

should be made first and chiefly to our own; and it should lead us:


Ø      To test our character by our actions, and to prove to others when it is

suspected and calumniated that it is good, and not evil. As wickedness

proceedeth from the wicked, so goodness proceedeth from the good.


Ø      To feel increased aversion to evil, to act according to the integrity we

assert of ourselves, to resolve to do nothing wrong, and to endeavor to

prevent others from doing wrong (v. 14).


Ø      To appeal to God, who searches the heart, and, in the consciousness of

sincerity and innocence, to put confidence in His righteous and merciful aid

(v. 15). “Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence

toward God” (I John 3:21).


In the review of the subject let us bear in mind that:


Ø      Men are responsible for the character they possess.


Ø      An evil character may be transformed into a good one by the power of

DIVINE GRACE and the use of proper means. “I will give you a new

heart.” (Ezekiel 36:26)  “Make you a new heart.”  (ibid. ch. 18:31)


Ø      We ought to strive continually to attain the highest degree of virtue

and goodness possible.


“Such is this steep ascent,

That it is ever difficult at first,

But more’ a man proceeds less evil grows.

When pleasant it shall seem to thee, so much

That upward going shall be easy to thee,

As in a vessel to go down the tide,

Then of this path thou wilt have reached this end.

There hope to rest thee from thy toil”


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.”  This address of David produced a lively

effect upon Saul.  Philippson says of it, “The speech of David has so much natural

eloquence, such warmth and persuasiveness, that it can be read by no one who has

any feeling for the simple beauties of the Bible without emotion. The whole

situation, moreover, has much of sublimity about it. We see David,

standing on the summit of some rock in the wilderness, raising on high the

trophy of his magnanimity, while addressing the melancholy Saul, whom he:


Ø      loved as a father,

Ø      obeyed as king, and

Ø      honored as the Lord’s anointed,


but who nevertheless hated him without reason, and followed him with

unremitting energy to put him to death; using his opportunity of touching

the heart of his enemy with words hurried, but expressive of his innermost

feelings, and showing himself full of humility, oppressed by unutterable

sorrows, bowed down by the feeling of his powerlessness, yet inspirited by

the consciousness of a noble deed.” So affected is Saul by David’s words

that he breaks into tears, affectionately addresses David as his son, and

acknowledges his innocence and the uprightness of his cause.


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.”

Will he let him go well away? Hebrew, “will he let him go on

a good way?” i.e. will he let him go on his way in peace, unhurt? As David,

nevertheless, had let his enemy go unharmed, Saul, touched momentarily

by his generosity, prays that Jehovah will reward him for what he had done.


20 “And now, behold, I know well that thou shalt surely be king, and

that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in thine hand.

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 swear unto Saul. And Saul went home;

but David and his men gat them up unto the hold.”  I know well that thou

shalt surely be king. Jonathan had expressed a similar conviction (ch. 23:17), and

probably there was a growing popular belief that David was the person in whom

Samuel’s prophetic words (ch. 15:28) were to be fulfilled.  Something may even

have been known of the selection of David and his anointing at Bethlehem; not

perhaps by the king, but in an indistinct way by the people. As for Saul himself,

he must long have felt that God’s blessing had departed from him, and, brooding

perpetually over Samuel’s words, it required but little discernment on his part to

make him see that the kingdom which he had forfeited was to be bestowed upon

one so worthy of it, and so manifestly protected and blessed by God. He therefore

makes David swear that he will not cut off his seed after him (see on ch.20:15);

and so they part. Saul returns to Gibeah, while David and his men gat them up

unto the hold. The word gat up, mounted, suggests that the hold, or fastness,

was their previous haunt at Hachilah: They would go down to En-gedi, and the

difficulty of obtaining food there for 600 men would be insurmountable, except

for a very short period. On the other side of the desert they were in a pastoral

country, and the large flock masters there probably from time to time sent them

supplies. The position of David was thus improved for the present by Saul s

reconciliation with him.



Evil Overcome by Good (vs. 16-17)


Recent passages of this history have shown more of David s weakness than

of his strength. But here he is again a hero. The fine points of his character

shine out:


Ø      his self-control,

Ø      his magnanimity, and

Ø      his reliance on the justice of God to vindicate his integrity.


To this. period is ascribed Psalm 7, in which the son of Jesse appeals  against

the slanders with which he was assailed, and looks to God for solace and

deliverance. The situation strikes both the imagination and the heart. The young

chief stands at the mouth of the cavern, holding up the proof of his generous

forbearance, and protesting with picturesque eloquence against Saul’s hot

pursuit. The king amazed, ashamed, and subdued; the sternness fading

from his face, the haughty anger in his eyes drowned in tears. So evil was

for the time overcome by good. David was helped to this noble behavior

at Engedi by his recent meeting with Jonathan in the forest of Ziph. At and

through that meeting he had been encouraged in God. So in the hour of

temptation he abstained from revenge, confided to God the vindication of

his innocence and the preservation of his life, would not lift a hand, or let

one of his officers lift hand, against the king. With what thankfulness and

joy must Jonathan have heard of the sparing of his father’s life by his

friend! Their meeting had borne fruit very soon. Their prayers were heard.

Perhaps we have a happy meeting with a friend, or a strengthening and

refreshing service at church, and the reason why is not at once apparent;

but soon we fall into some temptation or danger, and then we are helped

by the recent confirmation of our faith to endure with patience. Our “good

time” in the wood of Ziph is meant to prepare us for the hour of temptation

in the cave of Engedi.



Saul seemed to have every facility for gaining his object. No one disputed

his will. Armed men by thousands followed him in pursuit of David; and

Saul knew how to lead men, and how to fight. He had spies to track out

the fugitive. The country was small, and the inhabitants, both at Keilah and

at Ziph, showed their readiness to help the king. Yet he could never reach

David to arrest or to smite him. More than once he had thrown the javelin

at him, but missed. In the highlands of Judah he was more than once close

upon his steps, but still missed him. He went on one side of a hill while

David moved round the other side. He had almost caught him when he was

called off to repel a sudden inroad by the Philistines. He actually entered

the cave in which David and his men lay hid, and did not see them. This

was no mere luck. It was God who preserved David and baffled the malice

of Saul. And in the tragical history of persecution the restraining hand of

God has often been shown. As Saul was allowed to kill the priests but not

to kill David, so has the Lord allowed many a tyrant to go so far, but no



Ø      Jezebel could make away with Naboth, but not with Elijah.

Ø      Herod could kill James, but not Peter.

Ø      The Roman Catholic persecutors could burn Huss, but not Wickliffe;

George Wishart, but not John Knox.


There has been a cord of Divine control round every oppressor, and

whenever God saw meet He has simply drawn that cord, and so has

restrained the remainder of wrath (Psalm 76:10), and defeated the

devices of cruelty.



REPENTING HEART. An evildoer may be thrown into a fit of shame and

grief over his own misconduct, promise amendment with tears, and yet

never truly repent. The generous conduct and appeal of his son-in-law

overwhelmed the king with confusion, and woke lingering echoes of good

feeling in his troubled breast. He even wept before all, and, with the hot

tears pouring from his eyes, confessed that he was in the wrong, praised

the noble forbearance of David, acknowledged that the young captain was

destined to fill the throne, and even asked him to swear that on his

accession he would not exterminate the royal family. David swore, and

they parted. Saul went home, but David did not attend him, for he was too

shrewd to trust to the altered mood of the king. Well for him that he was

so cautious, for Saul had only relented for a little while, not really repented

of his malignant purpose. Softened feeling is one thing, repentance in mind

and purpose another thing. This is familiar to those who try to reclaim

criminals. They find them melt under kind words, bewail their misconduct,

promise to lead lives of honesty and sobriety, and yet after all this fall very

soon under temptation, and not only renew, but increase, their wickedness.

It is because they have only a gush of feeling, not a grasp of principle, and

are sorry for themselves, but not PENITENT TOWARDS GOD!   It is often

illustrated in persons who have succumbed to the infatuation for strong

drink. One has allowed this vice to grow insensibly, and does not know

how far it has mastered him, till at last there comes an exposure of

drunkenness which covers him with shame. A friend speaks to him about it

seriously and kindly, and tears come promptly to his eyes, expressions of

poignant regret and promises of the utmost caution flow from his lips. He

is quite surprised that he should have been so foolish, hopes that no more

will be said about it, and is quite sure that nothing of the kind will ever

happen again. But there is:


Ø      little disturbance of conscience,

Ø      no grave sense of sin,

Ø      no humbling of self before God with petitions for pardon and for

help to cease from THIS INSIDIOUS VICE!


So in a little while the shame is gone, the good promises are forgotten, the

friend who spoke so kindly is hated for his pains, and the perverse man:


Ø      succumbs to temptation,

Ø      goes on to a drunkard’s disgrace, and

Ø      goes down to a drunkard’s grave.


There are many other instances of this folly without descending to gross vice.

Men have twinges of compunction and gusts of admirable feeling, and so

resolve to lead better lives. But there it ends. (“When the unclean spirit is

gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth

none.  Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out;

and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished.  Then goeth

he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and

 they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than

the first.  (Matthew 12:43-45)  They mean well, but somehow cannot

carry out their intention. It is for want of REPENTANCE TOWARDS GOD!



Whatever good is done to those who are going astray is effected

by moral means and weapons only. David might have fought Saul

and beaten him, but that would not have brought even a temporary

relenting to his heart. It would probably have hardened him. David smote

him with the moral power of truth and love, and so disarmed him for the

time, and subdued him to unwonted tenderness. So now we can best

benefit our fellow men by using the moral influences of probity and

kindness. So may our nation influence other nations as a Christian people

ought to do:


Ø      not by vaunting our power:

o       to go where we like and

o       kill whomwe please, but:

Ø      by showing righteousness and good will towards all mankind.


Physical weapons of destruction are not worthy to be compared

with the moral weapons that reach the conscience and the heart.



Though we have conceived in our minds enmity against Him, He does not

crush us by the might of His arm, or willingly slay us as with the edge of a

glittering sword. The gospel conveys to us the sublime appeal of:


Ø      His truth,

Ø      righteousness, and

Ø      pardoning love.


We enter no cave where God is not.  We are never beyond his reach; and if

He should smite, who is there that could deliver out of His hand? But He

has no pleasure in our death. Much as we have provoked Him, He has

compassion, He spares, He even pleads with us to be reconciled to Him.

(II Corinthians 5:17-21)  Let us consent to His proposals of grace not

with mere evanescent feeling, but with inward repentance and cordial

 faith.  Then we shall not part from our God, as did Saul from David,

but abide and “walk together as those that are agreed.”



Tenderness Transitory and Truth Suppressed (vs. 16-22)


The facts are:


1. Saul, subdued by the magnanimity of David, weeps and admits his own

wrong in contrast with David’s kindness.

2. Acknowledging his belief that David is to be king, he pleads with him to

be merciful to his seed.

3. David, granting the request, returns to his stronghold, and Saul to his



Good actions soon begin to authenticate their Divine mission in the

world. The noble self-vindication from the calumnies of slanderers and the

rare display of generosity to a persistent foe told at once even on the

obdurate nature of Saul, and in the effect produced we have an instance of

two facts often observable among men and of some significance in their




was softened, and he wept. Words of tenderness and of frank confession of

guilt came forth with all sincerity. The terrible encrustation formed by years

of transgression and disobedience seemed to be broken, and the true man

reasserted itself from within. The power of kindness received a

conspicuous illustration. Wickedness could no longer confront goodness.

And yet, as we know from the subsequent care of David to escape from

Saul, the tenderness was only as “the morning cloud and early dew.”


Ø      There are seasons of tenderness even in the lives of the most impenitent

of men. This might be inferred from our necessary knowledge of the

conflicting principles at work in all moral beings, and from our observation

that it requires enormous effort to kill outright all the better qualities of our

humanity; but the fact comes before us in history, biographical confessions,

and in the intercourse of daily life. Who has not seen a hardened sinner

subdued by a reminder of a mother’s prayers, or the mention in gentle

tones of the Saviour’s name, or the kindly gaze of a Christian eye? In the

vilest abodes of sin, and among the proudest skeptics, there are those who

sometimes weep in secret or relent in their rebellion against God.


Ø      The causes of this tenderness are often ascertainable. In the case of

Saul we see a combination of causes. The display of magnanimity was

impressive because of its very rarity; it came home to his sense of right; it

was in vivid contrast with his own conduct; it was in its logic so conclusive

as to the goodness of the man he was persecuting; it brought out the fact

that all along he had known David to be good, but had forced the fact out

of thought; it was a revelation of his bondage to vile men, to whose

character he could not be quite blind; and it could not but call up to

memory days once bright and happy, when he was a young man

unburdened by present guilt and care. Varied are the causes which enable

the remnant of good in men to assert itself for awhile; some lie deep in the

hidden processes of thought, where the association of ideas is made

subservient to the force of Scriptural truth learned in early years and to the

unconscious influence of the Spirit of God; while others arise in the events

of daily life, such as sickness, casual words of kindness, presence of a

beautifully holy life that suggests a contrast, mention of the words of Jesus,

or the open grave.


Ø      The import of these seasons of tenderness deserves consideration. Is

there not some hope for such men in spite of their past and present

surroundings? Is there not a basis on which Christians may work in

wisdom? Have we not here the secret on the human side of the mighty

power of the truth of God? Is it not important to make such men believe

that there is some germ worth caring for in their otherwise sad and

wretched life? Does not the transitoriness of the tenderness often arise

from the absence of some wise friend to encompass the self-condemned

heart with love? Ought not Christians to go among men with the

conviction that they are all reclaimable, and that it is largely a question of

gaining access to the tender place in their nature and caring for them as a

wise physician would for a patient desperately ill? There are many ways in

which the Church may apply the thoughts thus awakened in our

endeavors to win to Christ even the most abandoned. Immense power is

gained over men when they know us to be cognizant of any transitory

feeling of tenderness; and half the battle is won when they begin to look on

us as friends to be trusted.



sincere in saying, “Now, behold, I know that thou shalt surely be king;” but

the confession was also a revelation of the fact that all through these

persecutions he had more than surmised that David was the coming king.

Had he been anxious to know the actual truth before as surely as he

professed now to have attained it, the course was clear enough. But these

words confirm the teaching of the entire history — that he was aware not

only of his own rejection, but that this slayer of the lion and bear, and

conqueror of Goliath, and protege of Samuel, and friend of Jonathan, was

the chosen servant of God. The course adopted by Saul can only be

explained on the supposition that he suppressed the truth. It is in the nature

of truth to assert its power over the life by convincing the understanding

and constraining the will, and only the rebellious spirit that refused to

submit to the sad punishment announced by Samuel, sustained by cherished

envy of David, and wrought upon by cunning slanderers, could have

rendered the facts clear to Saul so nugatory in their influence over his life.

Well would it have been if this were a solitary instance of suppression of

truth! Every man persisting in a sinful course has to force out truth from

thought. The internal war consists partly in crushing the free evidence of

knowledge. Men know more than they like to admit and act upon (Acts

26:26-29); and all kinds of devices are resorted to, to explain away or

to divert attention from what is MANIFESTLY TRUE! The suppressions

of truth in controversy are denounced as very wicked, but in relation to

personal moral conduct and religion it is possible for the advocates of

candor to shut their eyes to much that is out of harmony with their

wishes. It is a truth that:


Ø      self is sinful before God,

Ø      efforts to find true rest apart from Christ are unavailing,

Ø      the chosen life of sin is “hard,”

Ø      that the holy are happier than the sinful,

Ø      Christ is waiting to be gracious, and


yet this truth is constantly put away from view as unwelcome, troublesome?

Doubtless, also, many who under the influence of stronger wills are bold in

their denial of Christ’s authority know in their secret heart that HE IS


dishonest to themselves; under its power they are not of the truth.

They prefer darkness because their deeds are evil.  (John 3:19)





Ø      In the issue goodness will be recognized by those who despise it, and

generosity is always influential.


Ø      The anguish of wrong doing occasionally felt is fearfully suggestive of

the future experience of the unrepentant.


Ø      The occasional triumphs of the good over all their slanderers and

oppressors are intimations of the final triumph of Christ in the

establishment of His kingdom.



The Goodness of Bad Men (vs. 16-22)


“And Saul lifted up his voice and wept” (v. 17). The opportunity given to

David to avenge himself on Saul was a severe test of principle, but by the

use he made thereof it became a means of his further advancement. His

forbearance was also another test of the character of Saul, over whom

Divine mercy still lingered, and toward whom it was in such forbearance

shown afresh. Nor was it without effect. The heart of the man who had

ordered the massacre of eighty-five priests and was bent on the destruction

of his most faithful servant relented at the words addressed to him; his

voice trembled with emotion, tears flowed down his cheeks, he wept aloud,

acknowledged his guilt, and turned from his purpose. It seemed as if he had

undergone a sudden transformation and become a new man. But his heart

remained unchanged. And his goodness, as on former occasions, was like

that of those to whom the prophet said, “Your goodness” (fits of piety) “is

as the morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away” (Hosea 6:4).

Concerning such goodness, notice that:


  • IT IS NOT UNFREQUENTLY DISPLAYED. There is in the worst of

men some capacity of moral and spiritual impression; and those who might

be least expected to be moved are often most powerfully affected by:


Ø      The force of a powerful appeal, in which the truth is set before their

minds and brought home to their hearts and consciences (vs. 9-15). They

walk in the darkness of error and illusion, and the light breaks suddenly

upon them, revealing what they could not or would not see before. It is

made so plain that they are unable to deny its reality or resist its impression.


Ø      The exhibition of unusual generosity and superior excellence, which

shows by contrast their own defects, shames and subdues them, overcomes

not only them, but also, in some degree, the evil that is in them — their

envy, hatred, and sin. “The simple self-presentation and self-witness of

moral purity and truth has a great missionary power, and often makes a

mighty impression on spiritually darkened and morally perverted natures, in

such wise that the Divine in them is freed from the binding power of evil,

and the religious moral element of the conscience, which is concealed deep

under religious moral corruption, breaks freely forth, at least in some bright

and good moments, in order to point to the way of salvation and show the

possibility of deliverance, provided the man is willing to he saved and

renewed (Erdmann).


Ø      The apprehension of an extraordinary escape from danger and death

(v. 18). Saul had been placed by the hand of God within reach of the

stroke of death, and if David had acted as men would ordinarily have done

he would not have been now alive (v. 19). The heart must be hard indeed

if it be not melted by such things as these.


  • IT IS APPARENTLY GENUINE; the proof of a radical change of

disposition. In tears and words and actions there is:


Ø      The presence of strong emotion. It is evidently not simulated, but real.


Ø      The operation of an awakened conscience (v. 17), which produces the

recognition of what is right, the vindication of one who has been wronged,

the confession of sin, and prayer for the blessing of God on one who has

been regarded as an enemy (v. 19).


Ø      The conviction of the Divine purpose. “And now, behold, I know well,”

etc. (v. 20). That purpose had been indicated to Saul by Samuel and by

the course of events; but he:


o        refused to recognize it,

o        sought to change it, and

o        fought against it.


Now he acknowledges its inevitable fulfillment on the ground of the superior

worth of David (ch. 15:28), submits to it without complaint, and even seeks a

solemn pledge of forbearance toward his house on its accomplishment (v. 21).

He says in effect, “The will of the Lord be done.”


Ø      The abandonment of evil designs. His amendment goes beyond good

resolutions, and appears in his actually leaving off the pursuit of David and

returning home to Gibeah (v. 22). When good actions follow good

words, what more can be needed? Yet Saul among the saints, like Saul

among the prophets, was Saul still.


  • IT IS REALLY WORTHLESS. Although the signs of repentance and

reformation in Saul were greatly valued, they were not absolutely relied

upon by David, who had experience of his impulsive and changeable

nature, and “knew what was in man.” (John 2:25)  The most promising signs

may be, and often are, connected with a goodness which is;


Ø      Superficial; the depth of the heart being still hard and stony.


Ø      Defective, in hatred of sin, renunciation of self, return to God, surrender

of the will, true faith, inward renewal, and spiritual strength to resist



Ø      Transient. “They soon forgat His works,” etc. (Psalm 106:13). Not

long afterwards Saul was again in pursuit of David, and his heart was more

obdurate than ever (ch. 26:1). Transient goodness issues in

permanent destruction. “Water that riseth and fioweth from a living spring

runneth equally and constantly, unless it be obstructed or diverted by some

violent opposition; but that which is from thunder showers runs furiously

for a season, but is quickly dried up. So are those spiritual thoughts which

arise from a prevalent internal principle of grace in the heart; they are even

and constant unless an interruption be put upon them for a season by

temptations. But those which are excited by the thunder of convictions,

however their streams may be filled for a season, they quickly dry up and

utterly decay” (Owen, ‘Spiritual-Mindedness’).




Ø      Men may be near the kingdom of God and yet never enter into it.

Ø      We are liable to be deceived by the appearance of goodness in others,

and even in ourselves.

Ø      Whilst we should “search and try our hearts,” we should also pray,

“Search me, O God, and know my heart,” etc. (Psalm 139:23-24).

“Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me.”

(ibid. ch. 51:10).




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