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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

1 Samuel 24

Verses 3-22

1 Samuel 24:3-22

Where was a cave and Saul went in . . . and David and his men remained in the sides of the cave.

Saul and David in the cave

Saul’s animosity is a fire that finds constant fuel. No sooner are the Philistines repulsed than he resumes his hunt for his prey. That Saul should know so well where to look for David seems to imply that traitors were among the wanderer’s followers. Misinterpreted providence refused in wisdom. Saul’s unexpected appearance thus unguarded would appear to David’s men as decidedly a providence. Calling to mind the meaning of the Divine anointing and the promise that David should come to the throne of Israel, they whisper, “Behold the day of which the Lord said unto thee” (1 Samuel 24:4). If Psalms 7:1-17 belongs to this period, we see how great the conflict with self before this temptation. The history furnishes us with much light concerning David.

1. His tenderness of conscience is noticeable. His heart smote him for thus doubting God and stooping to dishonour His anointed king (verse 5).

2. His conscious integrity adds force to his words. How tenderly he pleads with Saul (verse 9). How tremulous with righteousness are his words (verse 11).

3. What dignity there is in truth l and withal his humility must be noticed. (verse 14). It was as if he had said, “I shall not antedate the promise. God has said He will bring me to the throne. I shall wait.” (verse 15). Such a time was filled with tests--a sudden opportunity to reach the desire of the heart, and an appeal to passion in the name of religion. He stood the strain. He lost not his self-command. Nearly all our falls come from trying to go before God! (H. E. Stone.)

David sparing his enemy

This scene is an episode in the life of David, whom God had chosen to succeed Saul as the king of Israel.

1. The cave. In all limestone countries such caves are common, and many of them are large enough to conceal armies. The Mammoth Cave in Kentucky and Weyer’s Cave in Virginia are large enough to shelter a hundred thousand men. Bruce’s Cave in Scotland is still shown to tourists, and history tells how Mohammed once saved his life by running into one of these mountain caves. But in this cave at Engedi we have the marvellous escape of Saul as an act of gracious forbearance on the part of David.

2. The meeting. In the solitude, of that cave, by the mysterious providence of God, are these two men, Saul and David. Saul hated David as Haman hated Mordecai, or as Herod hated Jesus when the wise men told him that a King was born in Bethlehem.

3. David restrained. It must have been a great provocation to stand there and see his inveterate enemy ungird his mantle and compose himself to sleep. But David was a man of war, brave as the lion. He was made of nobler stuff than assassins are made of. He was too much of a man to kill a king when asleep, as Richard hired men to kill the princes of England that he might ascend the throne.

4. The final appeal. “But I say unto you, love your enemies.” We would hardly expect to find a fulfilment of such a sentiment in that rude age of the world.

Lessons:--

1. Sin hardens. Sin puts a man in antagonism to God, makes him hate the rule of God, and makes him ignore and despise the mercy of God, and at last brings him to confront the unmitigated vengeance of God.

2. The subduing and restraining power of God’s grace. (T. W. Hooper, D. D.)

David sparing his enemy

David illustrates the peacemaker.


I.
In his forbearance. Those were times of quick and savage deed. Human life was cheap. Tender sensibilities had slight leave among a people, every one of whom wore his sword on thigh, ready, on occasion, to pierce with it the heart of an offender. The spirit of the age demanded speedy redress of injury or insult. And here was one who, above all others, had, signalized himself as gifted with courage and strength in conflict. The wrongs we have suffered do rankle mightily, till an unearthly nature has been created within us. To “forgive, but not forget,” is the veriest empty form of words. Philip of Burgundy, being entreated to punish a prelate who had injured him, may seem to have given a holy rule in his reply, “It is a fine thing to have revenge in one’s power, but it is a finer thing not to use it.” And a finer yet, is it not, to have no spirit of resentment burning within, however it may be reprised? Another characteristic of the peacemaker which gave David a right to the title was:


II.
His conscientiousness. Though he would not harm his foe in the least, yet he did think best to obtain proof that he could have slain him if he would. We commend his prudence. But no sooner had the rent been made in the royal mantle than “his heart smote him.” He had lifted his hand against his fellow; if not to cut off his head, at least somewhat his dignity. The Rabbis declare that he expiated this sin in his old age, by finding no warmth in the clothes wherewith he wrapped himself. He opened his inmost heart to his murmuring associates, and we are surprised that this bronzed soldier betrays the finer sentiments of humanity. The beating of a reverent, loving heart, seeking over to he cleansed from secret faults, is felt through all this story of trial. As the string of the piano vibrates when its kindred note is sounded by other instrument or voice, so does this brief protest of a conscience, ages since, stir the reader’s in quick unison, as we learn that the standards of right and wrong are eternal. The peacemaker like David is--


III.
Loyal to rulers. Saul had been sought out by the aged prophet, and the vial of oil had been poured upon his head. Henceforth he was a representative of Jehovah. Affront, disobedience, disrespect shown to him, was dishonour to God as well. Let him betray his trust; let him, like the stork in the fable, eat up his subjects; let him be a Herod, a Nero, a Charles, an Ashantee chief, an Alexander IV; still, the authority of his office, when once he holds it, is sacred, and must be maintained. So David reasoned, and would not for a moment think of retaliation. What a lesson of self-control and chivalrous devotion was that to the impatient, hating victims of oppression in every age! God’s time and God’s way may best be waited for. The chief attribute at the peacemaker David was--


IV.
Simple trust in God. In this instance, as before and afterwards, we find him, in full view of danger, committing his ease to the Lord, whom he prayed to “judge between me and thee, and plead my cause and deliver me out of thine hand.” Such confidence is a sublime reality. (Monday Club Sermons.)

Verse 11

1 Samuel 24:11

I cut off the skirt of thy robe, and killed thee not.

David sparing Saul’s life

We are taught:--


I.
Thankfulness for preservation in sleep.


II.
Attention to conscience in little things. When Saul slept in the cave at Engedi David spared his life, but not the skirt of his robe. That was cut off, to be visible token to the king of his exposure to David’s power. It was a little thing to do, and from one urged to a great and deadly. But his “heart smote him.” He had a conscience in little things. He must be stringent in obedience to it. Would that he always had been! Little things! So we speak. But these make the staple of life. This is the great need--for Christian men to reverence conscience in so-called little things, in all things. Home life remitter, purer, friendship firmer, business more honest and unselfish--these are “evidences of Christianity” which the enemy cannot gainsay or resist.


III.
The cruelty of slander.


IV.
The patience of faith. David “believed God.” The crown was Divinely assured him. He could wait God’s time for it.


V.
The truth of repentance. Saul shed tears enough, and made vows enough. But it availed nothing. Quick to repent he was quick to fall into the old sin. Soon, in spite of solemn protestations, we find him again pursuing David. The truth of repentance is not to be read in tears. (G. T. Coster.)

Verse 16

1 Samuel 24:16

And Saul lifted up his voice and wept.

A triple victory

Those who form the most careful plans for the defeat of others are often defeated themselves. Pharaoh persecuted and pursued the children of Israel, but he perished through his own folly--Haman and Mordecai--Judas mad Christ. Saul hunted for David like a thirsty bloodhound, but imperilled his own life lay entering the cave in which David and his men had concealed themselves. How did David treat his enemy in the hour of his weakness?


I.
David showed the most gracious treatment to an inveterate enemy. We may learn two things from this gracious forbearance.

1. That it is the duty of Christian men to forgive their enemies.

2. Christian men are benefited by forgiving their enemies. Forgiveness improves both the heart of the offended and the offender. Life is ennobled by little acts of forbearance, and the heart made bright and glad. A desire for revenge is a sure sign of weakness. Revenge is its own torment.


II.
David gained a most decisive victory over an inveterate enemy. Kindness conquered. Love won. “Saul lifted up his voice and wept.”

1. Saul was convinced of sin. The hardest heart is sometimes softened. The iceberg melts before the sun. Awakened, ashamed, but not reclaimed.

2. Saul confessed his sin. “Thou art more righteous than I, for thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded thee evil.” Bad men must confess their sin. They may conceal their true character for a time, but “truth will out.” The secret diary of the heart will be opened and read.


III.
How did David obtain this three-fold victory?

1. He conquered by constant vigilance.

2. He conquered by earnest prayer. (J. T. Woodhouse.)

The reconciliation of Saul


I.
Whilst the good man sees his own perils, let him also see the restraints which are put upon the wicked. Saul is mighty; Saul has servants; Saul is accustomed to dip his sword in human blood; yet he cannot hit David!


II.
Let the sad man put to himself some serious questions respecting the restraints which limit his power. Saul should have learned a good deal from the failures which followed each other in rapid succession. Why do the heathen so furiously rage? Evil is a gigantic failure: is there not a cause?


III.
Though mediation may fail is carrying out its purposes, yet let no wise mediator suppose that his work is in vain. Jonathan was mediator between Saul and David. Looking at it on one side, he might well have abandoned his work as a failure. What of its influence upon David? How it cheered him like a light! Be some man’s true friend. No word of love is lost. No true ministry is a failure, though it may have aspects which are discouraging.


IV.
Observe the infinite superiority of power that is moral, as compared with power that is physical. Saul went to seek David upon the rocks of the wild goats. In his pursuit he came to the sheepcotes where there was a cave, and into that cave he entered, little knowing who was there! Said lifted up his voice and wept! What a difference between this and a mere fight of hostile weapons!

1. In the worst men there is something that may be touched.

2. In every life there is at least one opportunity of showing the real quality of the heart. David seized it! This is the sublime appeal of the Gospel! God does not crush us by mere power. Love, truth, persuasion--these are the weapons of God’s warfare! (J. Parker, D. D.)

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Samuel 24". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/1-samuel-24.html. 1905-1909. New York.