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Wednesday, July 24th, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 24

The Church Pulpit CommentaryChurch Pulpit Commentary

Verse 13


‘Mine hand shall not be upon thee.’

1 Samuel 24:13

This was the hour of David’s great temptation, when a single blow might have made him lord of Israel, so was it the hour of David’s greatest victory, when he won, through grace, the lordship of himself. There are deeds that it takes high qualities to do, but higher qualities still to leave undone. A hero is known not only by the blows he deals, but also by the blows he forbears to deal. And no one can hope for the fellowship of David who, when he finds his enemies in his power, does not feel sometimes that the noblest course for him is to be generous and let them go.

I. Note how unexpectedly our temptations come.—When David fled into the wilds of Engedi, he fled because he was in peril of his life. His one hope was to escape from danger, and to avoid the malignancy of Saul. Then all in a moment the scene was changed for David. He was no longer the exile and the outlaw. Here at his feet was the man who sought to slay him; his archenemy was entirely in his power. Dr. Forrest, in his admirable book on The Authority of Christ, has a suggestive passage on temptation. He points out how the power of temptation lies in large measure in its unexpectedness. It is the unlooked-for element that is like to overset us, and this was particularly so with David here. Without the preparation of an hour he was brought within grasp of all he was destined for. Had he seized the moment, his followers would have hailed him. They could not fathom the motives of his hesitancy. And it is because he was so suddenly confronted, and so immediately resisted his temptation, that we know at once we are dealing with a king.

II. Observe how our great hours reveal our secret life.—David had been very bitterly traduced. He had been charged with conspiring against Saul. Probably there was not one man in all the court, save Jonathan, who did not believe the tales of his dishonour. From the court the whispers would spread among the people, finding credence in many unlikely quarters; till at last the common folk were in a strait as to whether this were a true man or no. Under such clouds of suspicion and distrust, the heart of David was heavy on the hills. There was one who believed in him with perfect loyalty, but he was beyond reach, and far away. And it was then, in this dark season of suspicion, when none might believe his unsupported word, that a great and unpremeditated deed revealed the unsullied honour of his heart. No man who had been hatching plots in secret could ever have acted as David did that day. And so in this splendid and momentous hour, where a mighty decision had to be swiftly made, there shone forth as in a tongue of fire all that had lain within the heart of David. It is not only our sins that find us out, it is our secret thoughts and purposes and hopes. The kind of thing we cherish in the dark gets itself written on the forehead somehow. Sooner or later to all men there come hours for which no getting ready is allowed, and in which the unrecorded years find their voice, for weal or woe, at last.

III. Lastly, note that the near way is not God’s.—This was a very near way to the throne. One stab, and the kingship of Saul was in the dust, to be succeeded by the kingship of David. Might not this, after all, be the way that God intended? Might He not have predestined this meeting in the cave? There was not a man among the followers of David but thought this was the heaven-sent opportunity. But David had learned that, whatever the will of God was, it never could be anything lower than man’s best. If what was noblest in him revolted at the deed, it could not be a deed that God approved. It might be years before the promise was fulfilled, and he was seated upon the throne of Israel; but of one thing David was convinced, that the near way, that now offered, was not God’s. As a matter of fact, it very seldom is. God loves to lead us by the long way round. In work and play—in all that is worth doing—we come to our kingdom after weary marching.


(1) ‘On the long road we learn such a great deal, and make such discoveries of a love that helps and keeps, that we awaken in the end to find the blessing of having been forbidden the near way. It was to this that Jesus was tempted on the mount. “All these kingdoms will I give Thee now.” One act of obeisance to the devil would have secured them, as here one stab would have secured the crown. But Jesus took the long way of the Passion—though it led by Calvary and through the grave—and now He is King of kings for evermore.’

(2) ‘Consider magnanimity as a trait of character. Show how it is helped by established Christian principles; and how it agrees with the tone of the Christian spirit. “Hath any wronged thee? Be bravely revenged; slight it, and the work is begun; forgive it, and it is finished. He is below himself that is not above an injury” ( Quarles). “No cause of quarrel is sufficient to prevent reconciliation. Implacability is known only to the savage; so thought Julius Cæsar. I have always admired the English proverb, ‘Forgiveness and a smile are the best revenge.’ ” ’

(3) ‘Two great lessons are taught by that tragic figure of the weeping and yet unchanged king. One is of the power of forbearing gentleness to exorcise hate. The true way to “overcome evil” is to melt it by fiery coals of gentleness. That is God’s way. An iceberg may be crushed to powder, but every fragment is still ice. Only sunshine that melts it will turn it into sweet water. Love is conqueror, and the only conqueror, and its conquest is to transform hate into love. The other lesson is the worthlessness of the mere feeling, which passes away by its very nature, and, like unstored rain, leaves the rock more exposed in its obstinate hardness. Saul only increased his guilt by reason of the fleeting glimpse of his folly, which he did not follow up. Emotion which does not lead to action, hardens the heart, and adds to our guilt and condemnation.’

Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 24". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/1-samuel-24.html. 1876.
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