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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
1 Samuel 24

 

 

Introduction

DAVID SPARES SAUL'S LIFE AT ENGEDI

This episode is not a variable account of David's sparing Saul's life as recorded in 1 Samuel 24:26. The critical theory of two original documents from which Samuel has been composed is valueless. There has never been discovered any evidence of such alleged "sources," their existence being found only in the imaginations of men. If there had been any such prior documents, then they could be separated from the text here, and there would then exist two different coherent stories of the events recorded; and, until those "two sources" can be produced and compared, the theory remains unproved and unprovable!

It is not any more incredible that David spared Saul's life twice than that he spared it once. We hold both accounts to be absolutely true as recorded. The events are so different that there is no intelligent device by which one can understand them as variable accounts of only one incident.


Verses 1-7

DAVID HAS AN OPPORTUNITY TO KILL KING SAUL

"When Saul returned from following the Philistines, he was told, "Behold, David is in the wilderness of Engedi." Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel, and went to seek David and his men in front of the Wild Goats' Rocks. And he came to the sheepfolds by the way, where there was a cave; and Saul went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were sitting in the innermost parts of the cave. And the men of David said to him, "Here is the day of which the Lord said to you, `Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it shall seem good to you.'" Then David arose and stealthily cut off the skirt of Saul's robe. And afterward David's heart smote him, because he had cut off Saul's skirt. He said to his men, "The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord's anointed, to put forth my hand against him, seeing he is the Lords anointed." So David persuaded his men with these words, and Saul rose up and left the cave, and went upon his way."

A sampling of the critical comment here is that, "1Sam. 24,1 Samuel 26 give two versions of the same story";[1] "We have two versions of the same story":[2] etc. (See my chapter introduction, above, for my response to this type of comment.) Caird admitted that, "The writers of both our sources are very accurate in their use of verbs of motion";[3] but he offered no explanation whatever of how "both of those writers" could possibly have been inaccurate in their use of every noun, adverb, adjective and pronoun in both accounts. To us, the admitted accuracy of the verbs of motion is proof of the accuracy of both narratives as they stand in the sacred text.

"Behold, David is in the wilderness of Engedi" (1 Samuel 24:1). It is a measure of the persistent hatred of Saul that, as soon as he had chased the Philistines out of the country, he resumed his efforts to hunt down David and kill him.

Engedi is an oasis some 600 feet in elevation above the western shore of the Dead Sea, where today there is a small Jewish farm (kibbutz). "There is a copious stream of water that plunges toward the Dead Sea, with five or six waterfalls, skipping like a goat from one ledge to another, hence the name, `The Fountain of the Kid.' The ancient palms and vineyards have vanished, but the petrified leaves still attest the ancient fertility of the place."[4]

"In front of the Wild Goats' Rocks" (1 Samuel 24:2). "This is a reference to the cliffs of Engedi where the wild goats (the ibex) still climb the rocky fastness."[5]

"There was a cave, and Saul went in to relieve himself" (1 Samuel 24:3), literally, " ... to cover his feet." The last clause here should be understood in the same sense as Judges 3:24. The expression is a euphemism for "using the bathroom," or "going to a restroom."

There was a cave! Indeed there was. Literally hundreds of caves are in that area. However, there was a special cave at Engedi, so large that the Franks called it a labyrinth. The Arabs called it "A Hiding Place," and report that at one time 30,000 people hid themselves in it. The entrance to that cave was very inconspicuous, giving no hint whatever of the size of the interior. Keil, who gave us this information, also stated that, "It is an arguable conjecture that this was the very cave which Saul entered."[6]

"Here is the day of which the Lord said to you, `Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand.'" (1 Samuel 24:4). Part of what the men quoted the Lord as saying to David here is not found in the Bible. There is a warning in this that some "providences" are really not that at all. Jonah's finding the ship to Tarshish ready to sail is another example.

"David cut off the skirt of Saul's robe" (1 Samuel 24:4). Both Young and Keil expressed the opinion that, upon his entry into the cave, Saul laid his robe aside, making it quite easy for David to cut off part of it completely unobserved by Saul. The darkness of such a cave would also have been a factor in this action.

"David's heart smote him" (1 Samuel 24:5). David's great respect for the person of "the Lord's anointed" resulted in his conscience hurting from this `disrespect' of Saul, whose authority over Israel David still honored, and against whom David had never done anything whatsoever.

"Far be it from me ... to stretch forth my hand ... against the Lords anointed" (1 Samuel 24:6). "These words show that no word from Jehovah had come to David telling him to do as he liked to Saul (as his men said in 1 Samuel 24:4)."[7]

"So David persuaded his men" (1 Samuel 24:7). One readily understands why David's men were anxious to kill Saul. They were not nearly as conscientious as their commander, who, it is said, wrote Psalms 57 upon this occasion. "The context shows that David had to use all of his authority to prevent his men from killing Saul."[8]


Verses 8-15

DAVID TELLS SAUL THAT DAVID HAD SPARED SAUL'S LIFE

"Afterward David also arose, and went out of the cave, and called after Saul, "My lord, the king"! And when Saul looked behind him, David bowed with his face to the earth, and did obeisance. And David said to Saul, "Why do you listen to the words of men who say, `Behold David seeks your hurt.'? Lo, this day you have seen how the Lord gave you today into my hand in the cave; and some bade me kill you, but I spared you. I said, I will not put forth my hand against my lord; for he is the Lord's anointed. See, my father, see the skirt of your robe in my hand; for by the fact that I cut off the skirt of your robe, and did not kill you, you may know and see that there is no wrong or treason in my hands. I have not sinned against you, though you hunt my life to take it. May the Lord judge between me and you, and may the Lord avenge me upon you; but my hand shall not be against you. As the proverb of the ancients says, `Out of the wicked comes forth wickedness'; but my hand shall not be against you. After whom has the king of Israel come out? After whom do you pursue? After a dead dog! After a flea! May the Lord therefore be judge, and give sentence between me and you, and see to it, and plead my cause, and deliver me from your hand."

"And David bowed with his face to the earth, and did obeisance" (1 Samuel 24:8). "By this action, David showed that, so far from being a rebel, he still acknowledged Saul's lawful authority, and was true to his allegiance."[9]

"Why do you listen to the words of men" (1 Samuel 24:9)? Saul was being grossly misled and misinformed by the evil slanderers of David who were among the retinue of his followers at Gibeah. However, Saul was not the only one, either then or at the present time, who desperately needed to take these words to heart. "Why do men listen to the words of men? men who deny everything the Bible says, who vaunt their authority above that of God Himself, who this very day are leading countless millions of souls to eternal death? Why? Why? We shall cite only one example of this. Christ the Son of God said, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." But men say ... ... ...!

"See, my father" (1 Samuel 24:11). On two counts, these words were appropriate in David's mouth. The king was his father-in-law; and custom required that an inferior address the king in such language.

"`Out of the wicked comes forth wickedness'; but my hand shall not be against you" (1 Samuel 24:13). Some able scholars have interpreted these words to mean that David said, "Your wickedness will bring divine destruction, but I will not take vengeance into my own hand."[10] It appears to this writer that The Interpreter's Bible has a better explanation: "The proverb means simply that `wicked deeds come from wicked men,' and if David had been the inveterate enemy Saul took him for, he would have killed Saul without compassion."[11]

"After a dead dog! After a flea!" (1 Samuel 24:14). These expressions were used by David as metaphors of his own insignificance relative to the importance of the king of Israel. The implied question is, "Does not the king of Israel have anything more important to do than to chase after a flea"? "The Hebrew word here has the article before the word `flea,' stressing that the meaning is "a single flea"![12]

This paragraph presents one of the most sublime situations in all the Bible. Let the reader picture if he can the Magnificent David standing on some rocky promontory of the cliffs of Engedi, a man proscribed, outlawed and hunted as a wild beast by the man whose life he had just spared, the very man who had given his beloved wife to another, who had repeatedly tried to kill him, and who at that very moment stood not very far away. David held on high the skirt of Saul's robe, a convincing trophy of David's triumph over the temptation to destroy his enemy, but also an indictment of' Saul's wicked hatred of a man who loved him and never did him any harm whatever! There is no wonder that Saul burst into tears.

"This speech of David has so much natural eloquence in it, such warmth and persuasiveness, that it can be read by no one without emotion."[13]


Verses 16-22

SAUL'S TEARFUL RESPONSE TO DAVID'S WORDS

"When David had finished speaking these words to Saul, Saul said, "Is this your voice, my son David"? And Saul lifted up his voice and wept. He said to David, "You are more righteous than I; for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil. And your have declared this day how you have dealt well with me, in that you did not kill me when the Lord put me into your hands. For if a man finds his enemy, will he let him go away safe? So may the Lord reward you with good for what you have done to me this day. And now, behold, I know that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand. Swear to me therefore by the Lord that you will not cut off my descendants after me, and that you will not destroy my name out of my father's house." And David sware this to Saul. Then Saul went home; but David and his men went up to the stronghold."

"You are more righteous than I" (1 Samuel 24:17). These are the very words that Judah spoke to his daughter-in-law Tamar, whom he was in the act of burning to death for adultery (Genesis 38:26). What could either Judah or Saul have meant by words like these? What `righteousness' could either one of them have claimed that was worthy to be mentioned in the same breath as that of the persons addressed? "Saul should have said, `Thou art righteous; but I am wicked.'"[14]

"David knew Saul too well to trust him and therefore returned to the stronghold. It is dangerous venturing upon the mercy of a reconciled enemy. We read of men who believed in Christ, but Christ did not commit himself to them, `because he knew all men.'"[15] "David, with his intuitive wisdom, perceived that the softening of Saul's feelings was only momentary, and that the situation remained unchanged."[16]

"David and his men went up to the stronghold" (1 Samuel 24:22). Engedi was 700 feet below sea level; and that stronghold to which David and his men went up to seems to have been at some higher elevation in the highlands of southern Judah. Some scholars suggest that it might have been the cave of Adullam, but Willis rejected that idea and wrote that, "The writer had in mind the stronghold of Engedi."[17] This seems to be correct, in which case, "went up to" would mean that the conversation with Saul had taken place at some lower level than that of the stronghold. Many questions of this nature are unanswerable without more information than is provided in the sacred text.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 24:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/1-samuel-24.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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