Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, May 19th, 2024
Tired of seeing ads while studying? Now you can enjoy an "Ads Free" version of the site for as little as 10¢ a day and support a great cause!
Click here to learn more!

Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 24

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-7


1 Samuel 24:2Rocks of the wild goats,” or ibex-rocks. Probably not a name for any particular rock, but a general term applied to the locality on account of the number of ibexes, or wild goats, found there.

1 Samuel 24:3. “Sheepcotes.” These are still to be seen at the mouth of the caves in this region, and are made by piling up stones in a circle and covering them with thorns. “To cover his feet,” i.e., to obey a call of nature, when Orientals usually cover their feet. (Keil, Erdmann, and others.) There are many caves in this district where men might easily remain concealed from the view of a person entering. “The largest cave,” says Lieut. Lynch (American Exploration of the Dead Sea), “that we entered at Engedi could contain thirty men, and has a long low and narrow gallery running from one side, which would be invisible when the sun does not shine through the entrance.”

1 Samuel 24:4. “Behold the day,” etc. “This can here be understood only in the general sense of the Divine ordering of a favourable opportunity. A reference to a definite Divine declaration is not in the words themselves. Some cite 1 Samuel 16:23; 1 Samuel 16:1-12; and also 1 Samuel 20:15; 1 Samuel 23:17; but it is not probable that David’s men would know this. Of any other promise we have no mention.” (Lange’s Commentary.)Saul’s robe.” His long outer mantle (meil), probably laid aside by Saul when he entered the cave.

1 Samuel 24:6. “The Lord forbid.” Literally, “far be it from me from Jehovah,” i.e., on Jehovah’s account. “It is a religious ground which restrains David.” (Erdmann.)



I. Here is an example of the power of hatred to sustain the zeal of the wicked. We often speak of the power of righteous convictions and emotions to sustain men in a course of righteous action in the face of much opposition and many defeats, and we rejoice to think that history furnishes us with many bright illustrations of this truth. But we cannot deny that wicked men have also shown much courage and patience in the pursuit of their evil designs, impelled by the power of evil passions and principles. And of all these passions, perhaps hatred, and especially hatred of those whom the hater has wronged, is the most potent. This is the motive power that keeps alive the zealous activity of the great adversary of the human race. Satan first wronged man by tempting him to sin, and throughout all the ages since has been unceasing in his hatred to the creatures whom he has wronged and untiring in his efforts to compass their ruin. Such a passion possessed Saul at this time. His hatred of David was not appeased by the wrong which he had done him in the past, but seemed to gather strength with every fresh crime committed against him, and sustained him in his purpose to take his life if possible, notwithstanding all the checks and hindrances hitherto received. Since the day when he mistrusted David’s motive of action in the defeat of Goliath, he had found in his malice inspiration sufficient to keep him ever eager to compass his destruction, and he could not have set about this new pursuit with more determination and energy if God, instead of having constantly checkmated him in the past, had given him a Divine commission to seek and to destroy the son of Jesse. The untiring zeal of such a man under the influence of such a motive, ought to read a lesson to all who, professing to be animated by love to men and zeal for righteousness, often become weary and faint-hearted if they meet with repeated disappointments.

II. An example of the power of faith in God to abide God’s time of vindication. To a man who harboured a spirit of revenge such an opportunity as now presented itself to David to take the life of his adversary could hardly have been resisted. But revenge and retaliation are more frequently found in alliance with guilt than with innocence. The man who is wrongfully accused is generally more ready to forgive his accuser than the man who is guilty of the crime laid to his charge, because the latter is, as a rule, more likely to be governed by passion, and the former to be ruled by conscience. But the temptation here presented to David by the peculiar circumstances of the case, and seconded by the persuasions of his followers, did not take the form of an act of private revenge. We do not know what took place in David’s spirit when he found Saul so completely in his power, but if there arose within him any sudden impulse to take action against his persecutor, we may safely conclude that it sought to justify itself on the same ground as that urged by his men, viz., that in so doing he would be only taking a lawful advantage of a remarkable providence. And it was this which formed the strength of the temptation. As we saw in the preceding chapter (see on 1 Samuel 24:7-12) men are at all times prone to interpret circumstances in accordance with their own inclinations, rather than by the light of Divine laws, and nothing but a strong faith in God could have saved David at this time from falling into this snare. The man who was now at his mercy was avowedly seeking his life, and might it not therefore be lawful to slay him in self-defence, nay, might he not have been given into his hand for this very purpose? This was not the argument of one man only, but of many, and numbers strengthen the weight of argument. Then David knew, what his men did not know, that he was also the anointed of the Lord, and was destined by Jehovah to succeed Saul as king of Israel. Was not the time now come when by Saul’s death peace might be restored to the kingdom which he neglected to gratify his private enmity? And would not David bring a blessing to the entire nation by executing the sentence which had long since been pronounced against the man who had proved so faithless to the great trust committed to him? Such questions and arguments from within and without came up for solution in the short space of time given to David for decision, but a man who, like David, lives a life of dependence upon God and of confidence in Him, does not find it so difficult after all to find out what he ought to do and to do it. The key to David’s conduct in these circumstances is found in his firm persuasion that his cause was in the hands of the Divine and Righteous Ruler of all men, who would not suffer wrong to prevail over right in the end. “The Lord judge between me and thee, and see and plead my cause.” This was the shield of faith upon which David turned aside the darts of temptation which now assailed him.


1 Samuel 24:3. If Saul had known his own opportunities, how David and his men had interred themselves, he had saved a treble labour of chase, of execution, and burial; for had he but stopped the mouth of that cave, his enemies had laid themselves down in their own graves. The wisdom of God thinks fit to hide from evil men and spirits those means and seasons which might be, if they had been taken, most prejudicial to his own. We had been oft foiled if Satan could but have known our hearts. Sometimes we lie open to evils, and happy it is for us that He only knows it who, pities instead of tempting us. Bp. Hall.

1 Samuel 24:4. Providential purpose, apparent and real.

1. What was here the apparent purpose of God? To give an injured man the opportunity of delivering and avenging himself.…
2. How did he know that such could not be the purpose of Providence? Because it would involve his doing what would be wrong in itself. An enlightened and tender conscience must check our interpretations of Providence.

3. What was the real Providential purpose? As usual, it was manifold: we can see the following points; (a). To make him more conscientious by obeying conscience under sore temptation (1 Samuel 24:5-6). (b). To present a noble example to his rude followers and the people at large (1 Samuel 24:6; 1 Samuel 24:10). (c). To furnish a most convincing proof that he was wrongly accused (1 Samuel 24:9-11). (d). To give him ground for a confident appeal to Providence in future (1 Samuel 24:12 sq.; comp. 1 Samuel 26:23-24). (e). To heighten his reputation for loyalty and magnanimity, and smooth the way to his finally becoming king.—Lange’s Commentary.

1 Samuel 24:5. His conscience, which keeps court in every faculty of the soul, checked him, such was his tenderness then. Bee-masters tell us that those are the best hives that make the greatest noise; so is that the best conscience that checketh for the smallest sins. Good men are afraid of the least show of sin, being jealous over themselves with a godly jealousy.—Trapp.

1 Samuel 24:7. Revenge is unquestionably one of the strongest and most impetuous, as it is plainly one of the darkest passions in the heart of man. Of all the tragedies of which this earth has been the scene, the wildest have sprung from the exercise of revenge; of all the crimes that have disgraced humanity, the darkest have had this foul passion for their mother; and perhaps the bitterest remorse with which man’s bosom has ever been torn, is that which has followed the deeds of revenge. Dark and dreadful, too, though this passion be, nothing comes less welcome than the call to check it; and once it is fairly roused, life itself would often be parted with more readily than the savage gratification which it craves. Nowhere have its frightful fruits been more clearly shown than in that beautiful island of the Mediterranean celebrated as the birthplace of the first Napoleon. For hundreds of years Corsica has sustained a lofty reputation for its patriotism and dauntless valour; age after age has produced fresh crops of heroes, worthy of being ranked with those of any land; but in spite of the richness of its soil, the beauty of its climate, and the fearless spirit of its people, the country is most miserable; its plains are uncultivated, its inhabitants are kept in constant misery by family feuds that never heal, and that are constantly breaking out with fresh vehemence, through the influence of an organised system of revenge, that under the name of the vendetta has become one of the institutions of the country.… It is only when we think of such awful fruits of the spirit of revenge that we become truly alive to the singular excellence of the spirit of forbearance which David remarkably displayed. We see the striking contrast between nature and grace—between the heart of man as sin has made it, and the heart of man as grace renews it.… Yet while we freely award the tribute of admiration, let us not forget that the field is one upon which similar victories are always to be won.—Blackie.

1 Samuel 24:8. David follows Saul from the cave more joyous now than after the conquest of Goliath. Indeed, this last victory was the more glorious one—the spoils were more precious, the trophies more honourable. Then, he had needed a sling, stones, and battle array; this time his reason had been a sufficient weapon—without arms he had won the victory, without having shed blood he had erected the trophy. He came forth, therefore, not carrying the head of a Philistine, but a mortified heart, a conquered anger; and it was not to Jerusalem that he consecrated his spoils, but to heaven, to the city on high. We see no women coming forth to meet him with songs of praise, but the angels applauded his deed and admired his wisdom and piety. For he returned after having given many wounds to his adversary; not to Saul, whom he had saved, but to his real enemy, the devil, whom he had pierced through with many thrusts. For as our anger and lust and our mutual collisions rejoice the devil, so peace and concord and victory over passion grieve and conquer him who hates peace and is the father of jealousy. David comes forth, then, from the cavern with a crown upon his head … it is not the diadem of Saul, but the crown of justice which adorns him—it is not the royal purple which enwraps him, but a wisdom more than human, before which the most gorgeous robe becomes pale.—Chrysostom.

Verses 8-15


1 Samuel 24:8. The closeness of the precipitous rocks and the depth of the ravines or wadies between them, together with the remarkable purity of the air, made it quite easy for David thus to converse with Saul at a distance sufficient to ensure his own safety. “My lord the King.” “This address indicates the double point of view whence David, in what follows, declares by deed and by word his relation and attitude to Saul. He recognises and honours Saul as his lord to whom he is bound to be subject; in calling him lord he declares himself guiltless of insurrection against him. In the king he sees the anointed of the Lord, the bearer of the holy theocratic office, in which character he was inviolable.” (Erdmann.)

1 Samuel 24:13. “As saith the proverb,” etc. “The meaning is, only a wicked man would wish to avenge himself, I do not.” (Keil.) “A prophetic speech. Thy death will not be from me, who have no such thoughts, but from the wicked. And so it was. Saul perished by his own wicked hand.” (Wordsworth.)

1 Samuel 24:14. “A flea.” Literally, a single flea. “By these similes David meant to describe himself as a perfectly harmless and insignificant man, of whom Saul had no occasion to be afraid, and whom it was beneath his dignity to pursue.” (Keil.)



I. This vindication of David reveals that he still considered himself a subject of the king of Israel. The best and wisest men are always the least ready to rebel against those in authority, and their obedience will stand a much more severe test than that of men who are their inferiors in character and ability. A son who is far above his father in excellence and wisdom will be far more loyal to his weak and erring parent than one who is like him in character, and a subject who is morally and intellectually superior to his ruler will bear more before he renounces his allegiance than one who is less intelligent and godly. Noble and good men in all ages have been tried both in their public and private relationships by the incapacity and wickedness of those in authority over them, and it has sometimes become their duty to disown such authority and renounce their allegiance to such rule, but this is a step that is taken with the most reluctance by the men who seem to have the most right to take it. It seems to us, when we read this history, that of all the men in Israel at this time, David was the least bound to acknowledge Saul as his lord and king. No man in the kingdom had deserved Saul’s gratitude so much and none had received such ingratitude and cruelty at his hand. Yet David’s mode of address here shows him still acknowledging himself Saul’s subject, and reveals that he had only taken arms in self-defence, and not in defiance. The spirit of this Old Testament servant of God was the same as that which animated the apostles and martyrs of the Christian Church (Romans 13:1; Titus 3:1), and had its root in the same recognition of God as the Supreme Ruler and Judge of all men.

II. His conduct shows that he considered Saul’s position worthy of outward tokens of respect. When it is impossible to respect a man for what he is, we may sometimes feel bound to honour him for what he has been, or for what he now represents. A heap of ruined stones may have nothing in their present appearance to awaken interest, but if they are the remains of a city once famous for its beauty, thinking men cannot look at them without emotion. Or a building which has never had any pretensions to architectural beauty may awaken a feeling almost of reverence because it represents something of far more value and dignity than itself. So when David bowed himself before Saul it could hardly have been in token of respect for any moral excellence now found in him, but must have rather been in honour of what he once was and of what he even now represented. He was still the Lord’s anointed—the man whom God had Himself appointed to rule over His people Israel, and there had been a time when he had seemed not unworthy of the honour thus put upon him. And David, like every other godly man, was ever ready to render honour wherever it was due, whether to place or person, whether to individual excellence or to “powers ordained of God” (Romans 13:1.)

III. Yet David’s vindication contains an appeal to Saul’s reason and to God’s justice. Reverence for Saul as a king, and a sense of his own duty as a subject, did not degenerate into that servility which seems to ignore the fact that the higher the position the greater the obligation, and to forget that there is a Judge before whose bar all human distinctions fade away. David did not think it incompatible with his acknowledgment of Saul as his lord to remonstrate with him on his foolishness, and to remind him that there was a King to whom both the persecutor and the persecuted would have to render an account, and whose judgment would certainly be according to truth. The most genuine loyalty is always found associated with self-respect and with faith in God, and they are the most faithful servants of kings who do not fear to show them wherein they err, and who can with confidence commit their cause to Him who will one day certainly render every man according to his works. For neither of the two causes, one or the other of which sometimes operates in the decisions of a human judge and leads him to pronounce an unjust sentence, can ever have any place in the Divine administration. A man may condemn the innocent or justify the guilty through ignorance, or from wickedness. He may not be acquainted with all the facts of the case, or some selfish or other evil motive may lead him to pronounce a false verdict. But it is the joy of every lover of truth and righteousness to know that this can never be the case with God. He who searches and knows everyone of His creatures can never be mistaken in His judgment, and He who is infinitely above them, both in nature and in character, can have no motive or desire to wrong anyone of them in the smallest degree. Hence the assurance with which men in all ages have turned to Him when they have been wronged by their fellow-creatures, and have said, with David, “The Lord, therefore, be judge, and see, and plead my cause.”


1 Samuel 24:10. It by no means follows that all kings are God’s lieutenants in the sense in which Saul was, or lie under the same sacred charm of divine anointing. God does not stand in the same special relation to other nations as he did to the Jews. Magistracy is still the ordinance of God, but it is left to communities to choose both the form of government and the individuals who are to exercise it. Nations have power to choose their governors, and, unless there be a special arrangement to the contrary, they have power to discontinue them.… Thus viewed, the consideration that influenced David resolves itself into a principle of wider application. It was the fruit of that profound reverence for God’s will, and that thorough confidence in God’s providential government, and in the holy principles on which it is conducted, that characterised David in all his better periods and that will ever characterise the humble and consistent Christian.—Blaikie.

Verses 16-22


1 Samuel 24:16. “And Saul lifted up his voice.” “There is no hypocrisy or pretence here. Saul, tossed powerless hither and thither by fierce passions and without harmony of soul-life, is here laid hold of in a hidden corner of his heart, where he was still accessible to the power of truth, and involuntarily yields to this nobler arousing of his soul, though it is not destined to be permanent.” (Erdmann.)

1 Samuel 24:20. “How did Saul come to this knowledge which he here expresses, and which Jonathan had already affirmed that his father had? (1 Samuel 23:17.) Not through direct Divine revelation, but by the observation that all his undertakings against David were unsuccessful, and that David, in respect to his persecutions, was under special Divine protection, coupled with the recollection of what Samuel had once said to him in the name of God respecting his rejection for disobedience.” (Erdmann.)

1 Samuel 24:21. “My name,” etc. “A name is exterminated when the whole of the descendants are destroyed—a thing of frequent occurrence in the East in connection with a change of dynasties, and one which occurred again and again even in the kingdom of the ten tribes. See 1 Kings 15:28 sqq.; 1 Kings 16:11 sqq.; 2 Kings 10:0” (Keil.)

1 Samuel 24:22. “The hold.” “The word here so translated is used to denote the mountainous part of the desert of Judah. It is different in 1 Samuel 22:5.” (Keil.)



I. Here is a righteous emotion and a sincere confession of sin produced by godlike conduct. The ice upon the lake may be very strong and thick, but there is a strength of sunlight that will dissolve it; and the iron may be very hard and cold, but there is an intensity of heat that will make it glow and even melt it. So the conscience may be as it were frozen over by indulgence in some evil passion, and all the soul hardened by a long course of sin; but there are manifestations of goodness that will melt the stubborn will, and awaken into life the better part of the man although it may be only for a season. Circumstances sometimes bring such a man into such contact with a godly character that he cannot avoid seeing the contrast between what he is and what he might and ought to be; and the effect of the vision is to awaken a feeling of contrition, and it may be to extort from him a confession of his guilt. Such a time now came to Saul. The feeling of jealousy against David had gained such an ascendancy in his soul as to stifle all his better feelings, and even the voices of reason and conscience; but this meeting, and David’s godlike behaviour, caused him for a moment to see himself in a true light, and to discern how great a gulf of character there was between him and the man whom he was hating even unto blood. For a short season the magnanimity of David asserted its power over his pitiless foe, and melted him into contrition and confession.

II. But this righteous emotion and sincere confession failed to produce true repentance. Where there is beautiful blossom we may hope in due time to see the fruit, and whenever we rejoice over the ripened fruit we know it began with the blossom, but the blossom is not the fruit, and we know that, alas, many a fair blossom fails to bring forth that which it seems to promise. So is it with contrition for sin and sincere repentance, the one must precede the other, and when we see the first we hope it may prove to be that godly sorrow which worketh repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). But we know that it is not always so, and Saul’s conduct here and on a subsequent occasion shows how even strong and sincere emotion may be felt and yet not pass into life and action, and so fail to benefit the character and even make repentance more difficult. Every conviction of sin which leaves the man no better than before does not leave him as it found him, but in a worse condition, even as the bar of iron which has been in the furnace is harder than one which has never yet been heated.


1 Samuel 24:16. What change is this that takes place all at once? He who but lately could not bring himself to mention David’s name (1 Samuel 22:7)—who hated even his name—makes him one of his family by calling him his son! What more happy fortune than that which now befel David, who transforms his would-be murderer into his father, who changes the wolf into the lamb, who is able to extinguish this angry conflagration, to make a calm succeed the tempest, and to heal this fever of passion in the soul? David’s words had brought about this revolution. Saul says not, “It is thou who speakest, my son David,” but “It is thy voice, my son David,” for the mere sound of his voice was enough to soften him. And as a father, who, after a long absence, hears the voice of his child, needs not to see him to be awakened to emotion, so Saul, after the words of David penetrating his heart, chased away his hatred, recognised in David the man of God, and, cured of his evil passion, felt himself possessed by another emotion; his malice had disappeared, and joy and affection had taken its place. Just as in the darkness of night we do not perceive the presence of our friend, but when the daylight comes we recognise him even afar off, so while we are evilly disposed towards each other, we listen to each other’s words, and look upon one another in the spirit of prejudice, but when we are cured of our malice, the voice which before sounded harsh and angry becomes soft and pleasant to our ears, and the countenance which seemed repulsive and unwelcome is now lovely and attractive.—A bridged from Chrysostom.

1 Samuel 24:17. He should have said, Thou art righteous, but I am wicked; but the utmost he will own is this, Thou art more righteous than I. Bad men will commonly go no further than this in their confessions; they will own they are not so good as some others are; there are those that are better than they and more righteous.—Henry.

1 Samuel 24:18. Saul for the present spake as he thought. But good thoughts make but a thoroughfare of wicked hearts: they stay not there, as those that like not their lodging.—Trapp.

Saul’s sense of David’s generosity must be very strong when he beseeches God to reward it. Indeed, Saul had no equivalent to give David for the kindness shown him, and therefore he refers him to God for retribution. For if, after this, he should even save David’s life, yet still he could only save the life of his best benefactor, whereas David both spared and saved the life of his most mortal enemy.—Delany.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 24". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/1-samuel-24.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Ads FreeProfile