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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

1 Samuel 24

Verse 1

1 Samuel 24:1. In the wilderness of En-gedi The word גדי עין En-gedi signifies in the Hebrew, the kid's fountain; from whence the neighbouring region took its name, probably because there they watered their flocks. Eusebius places it on the confines of the Dead Sea, to the west. With him, it is famous for excellent balm, and with Solomon, in his song, for vineyards. Song of Solomon 1:4. It is now called An-guedi: see Thevenot's Travels, part 1: chap. 47.

Verse 3

1 Samuel 24:3. Saul went in to cover his feet See Jdg 3:24 and Ruth 3:4. Several commentators suppose, that this expression imports one of the necessities of nature; but one can hardly believe that in this case there would have been sufficient time either for the conversation between David and his men, or for the cutting off the robe. We are told by Dr. Pococke, that some of the caves in Palestine are exceedingly large; and that he himself visited one in which David and his men might have been hid, and not be seen by Saul; and hence he conjectures, that this is one of the strong-holds of En-gedi, and possibly the same with that mentioned by the sacred writer. See his Description of the East, vol. 2: part 1 and Psalms 142:0.

Verse 5

1 Samuel 24:5. David's heart smote him, because he had cut off Saul's skirt The reasons which restrained David from killing Saul, were worthy a brave and generous man, a man of piety and virtue. He durst not stretch forth his hand against the Lord's anointed. Under this sacred character he forgot that Saul was his implacable enemy, and instantly sacrificed his resentment to his conscience and duty; hereby acting with a goodness and greatness of mind, which Saul thought no man in the world could have done besides him.

Verse 11

1 Samuel 24:11. There is neither evil nor transgression in mine hand Instead of taking away Saul's life, David only privately cut off the skirt of his robe. His protestation of his innocence, and having no intention to deprive Saul of his crown and life, was founded in truth, and verified by the most authentic facts. Nor was his being in arms a contradiction to it; unless a man's being in arms to preserve his life, and not to oppose his friend, argues him guilty of rebellion; or unless when a tyrant tells a man he will have his life, such a person is bound to hold out his throat to the Lord's anointed, and humbly bid him cut it at his pleasure. David did not seem to be of this opinion; and therefore kept himself in arms, and upon his defence, because he had no other possible means of safety.

Verse 12

1 Samuel 24:12. The Lord judge, &c.— These words, spoken by David to Saul, when it was in his power to have taken his life, most men will admit, did not imply that David wished or desired that God would revenge him upon Saul, but was a declaration, from the spirit of prophesy, that GOD would do it. But these expressions are so frequent in Scripture, and with such circumstances and aggravations, that many do believe that they are literally intended; and though it has been otherwise enjoined under the Gospel, under the law it was not only the custom and practice of pious men to pray for the conversion, but also for the confusion of wicked and impenitent persons, whose prosperity confirmed men in their unrighteousness, and was a dishonour to God. David, conscious of his innocence, refers his cause to God, the just judge; willing to leave it wholly to his righteous award, and determined not to judge for himself, or execute his vengeance upon his enemy, when he had that enemy in his power: and certainly, whoever will compare the 12th and 15th verses together, will see that the latter is explanatory of the former. The avenging in the one, is the pleading his cause; and delivering him out of Saul's hand, in the other.

Verse 13

1 Samuel 24:13. Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked i.e. "Guilt is the consequence and fruit of guilt. If I had been guilty of conspiring against thee, I should have crowned my guilt by killing thee when it was in my power."

Verse 14

1 Samuel 24:14. After a dead dog? after a flea? A dog was an object of the greatest contempt. The reason why this secondary idea was always associated with the name of this animal in the mind of a Jew, may be deduced from the Mosaic law, which was intended not only to preserve the idea of the unity of thy Deity, but as an invincible barrier to keep the Israelites separate from other nations, by opposing, as well as imitating, under certain corrections, their ritual ceremonies. The dog being the hieroglyphick of the chief deity among the Egyptians, the treating this symbol with contempt, and propagating the term with such an associated idea to the latest posterity, was, in the course of nature, the most efficacious means to preserve the Israelites from adopting that species of idolatry; and when we recollect that Egyptian superstition was peculiarly affected by the Israelites, we cannot sufficiently admire the depth of the riches of the divine mercy and wisdom. The sense of this passage then is, "Dost thou pursue one of the weakest and meanest of thy subjects, and of no more signification and strength, in comparison of the king at the head of his chosen troops, than a dead dog, or a single flea?" And this was justly said; for Saul had now three thousand chosen men with him, and all the forces of Israel at his command; and David had at most but six hundred.

REFLECTIONS.—Saul, in the heat of the day, fatigued probably with the toil of mounting the craggy steeps, retires into the cave to cover his feet, wrapping himself up in his garments, for a little repose. When his nap is over, unsuspicious of what has passed, he arises and departs; David quickly follows him, and ere he was gone far, cries after him with the most honorable title, My lord the king; and bows before him with the deepest respect. Greatly surprised at the voice, no doubt, he turns; and is more surprised at the person, but most at the discourse which was addressed to him by his pious son and loyal subject.

1. He wisely and politely lays the blame of Saul's conduct on his courtiers rather than himself; and many such as Doeg, no doubt, there were, who envied David's preferment. The courts of princes abound with sycophants: it is difficult for them to see with their own eyes; and the best friends of their country, represented through this medium, are often made to appear, and are treated, as her sworn enemies.
2. He produces the strongest evidence of his innocence in that day's occurrence: so far from seeking Saul's life, when urged to slay him while lying at his mercy, the skirt he held up proclaimed how tender he was of his life; he reverenced him as God's anointed, he respected him as his king; and he adds the endearing name of father, both as a reason for rejecting so wicked a proposal, and to awaken the tenderness of a father's bowels towards a son so dutiful, and a servant so faithful. Note; No provocation can justify regicide.

3. He solemnly protests, that it never was his intention, and never would be his desire, to avenge himself: he referred the matter wholly to God; and observes, according to an ancient proverb, Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked; as a man's heart is, so are his actions: had he harboured any ill design, it must then have undoubtedly appeared; therefore Saul might be assured of his innocence and loyalty. Note; (1.) As the saying is, conveys many a good admonition; the words of the wise deserve to be long remembered, and often quoted. (2.) The only safe conclusion of a man's temper is certainly from his actions: an evil tree beareth not good fruit.

4. He expostulates with him, not only how unbecoming it was in a good man to pursue the innocent, but how unbecoming of a great king to persecute one so much his inferior, a shepherd, an exile, leaping as a flea from hill to hill for safety; and as worthless and unable to make resistance as a dead dog. Note; Yielding pacifies wrath: to humble ourselves before others, is the best way to keep them from trampling upon us, if they have any nobleness of spirit remaining.

Lastly, he rests his cause in the hands of the great Judge and avenger, and trusts that he will plead for him now, and stand by him, if the king still refuses to be convinced by such undeniable evidence of his innocency. Note; It is the comfort of the oppressed, that they have a tribunal to appeal to, where justice shall be done them. The last day at least will be our vindication from every malignant accusation.

Verse 16

1 Samuel 24:16. Saul lifted up his voice, and wept Saul himself, with all his malice, could not withstand this instance of David's generosity. He melted, and sunk under it; and instead of defaming it, or lessening the merit of it with an unrelenting heart, he lift up his voice and wept, and with tears acknowledged David's innocence and his own guilt, and even prayed God to reward him, whom, but the moment before, he was pursuing to destruction.

Verse 19

1 Samuel 24:19. For if a man find his enemy For if a man, finding his enemy, lets him go well away, the Lord will reward him: wherefore the Lord reward thee for that which thou hast done unto me this day. Houb.

Verses 20-22

1 Samuel 24:20-22. I know well that thou shalt surely be king He knew this, says St. Chrysostom, from David's manners, from his kingly virtues, as well as his uncommon success; but, above all, he knew his divine designation to the throne. Saul, says Dr. Trapp, being melted by those coals of kindness which David had heaped upon his head, poureth out himself in a flood of passions, and, for the present, spake as he thought. But good thoughts make a thoroughfare only of wicked hearts: they stay not there, as those that like not their lodging: their purposes, for want of performance, are but as clouds without rain, or as Hercules's club in the tragedy, of a great bulk, but stuffed with moss and rubbish. David complied with Saul's request, and sware to him; for Saul, foreseeing that his family would be in David's power, and conscious to himself how cruelly and treacherously he himself had treated him, exacts an oath from David, not to cut off his seed when he came to the throne, nor to destroy his name out of his father's house; an oath which David generously took, and honourably and religiously performed. He would not, however, trust himself to Saul: he knew too well his inconstancy, perfidy, and phrenzy. Never trust thine enemy, says the son of Sirach, though he humble himself; take good heed, and beware of him, Sir 12:10, &c. Two remarks naturally arise upon this pathetic speech of Saul's, and David's behaviour to him. The first is, that his 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. The second is, that David, by sparing his enemy, found himself possessed of one of the highest satisfactions in the world; to see his enraged prince his petitioner! to see his foe his suppliant! conscious, and confessing his own guilt and David's superiority! and begging that mercy to his issue which he himself had just experienced, and had not deserved! Who would not save an enemy, for the joy of so glorious a triumph!

Reflections on the foregoing chapter.

We can never so reasonably promise ourselves an extraordinary protection and deliverance from whatever calamities or dangers most nearly threaten or press us, by some wonderful act of God's own immediate power and vigilance, as when we have, out of mere piety or conscience, or out of the obligations of Christian charity and compassion, forborne the doing of an ill act, which was in our power to do, and the doing whereof, according to all human reason, would, for the present, have freed us from that oppression which is most grievous to us; for by that we declare, that we will have no other refuge than what is agreeable to His good will and pleasure. Whereas, they who are ready to lay hold of any advantage that is offered to do their enemy mischief, and, in the taking it, prescribe no other rules to themselves than what their enemies would observe if they had the same opportunity, make it manifest, that they depend on another security than the shadow of God's wings for the passing over of their calamities. If our enemies have traduced us with false and unworthy imputations, and we come to have credit enough by as scandalous reports to take away their good name, and for truth and justice sake we forbear to do it, we may be confident that their tongues, how sharp and venomous soever, shall not be able to hurt us; but that God, by some way or other, will make our innocence and uprightness appear, through all the clouds of prejudice and calumny which their malice has raised about us. If we are unjustly persecuted by a great and powerful enemy, who, in his rage and fury, would take our life, and whilst he is using all his skill to entrap us, and get us into his power, himself falls into our hands, and it is in our power to revenge the wrong he has done to us, and, by taking his life, prevent any act of future violence upon us; and we do, out of piety and duty, if he be our prince, or a person to whom we owe obedience, or out of humanity or generosity, if he be our equal, refuse to take that advantage, and spare that blood which we might shed, and wait God's leisure for a deliverance, without any guilt of our own; we may humbly presume, that he will interpose his protection in our behalf, and frustrate all attempts of violence upon us, if, notwithstanding this temper and obligation on our part, the malice and rancour of our enemies continue. If a man find his enemy, will he let him go well away? says Saul, (1 Samuel 24:19.) when he was convinced of the integrity of David's heart, by his not taking advantage of him in the cave where he might have securely destroyed him: and when some of his friends would have persuaded him, that God had delivered his enemy into his hand, and that he might do as seemed good to him. (1 Samuel 24:5.) Saul was never so confounded with the shame of his own jealousy and malice, as by this act of piety and magnanimity in David; and though he had long known that he was anointed, and appointed by God to reign as king after him, yet he did not so thoroughly believe it till this great instance of the temper of his mind, and of his relying upon God's purpose so entirely, that he would not, by an act of his own, endeavour to bring that honour and security upon himself sooner than His wisdom intended it to him. Now, behold, I know well that thou shalt surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in thy hand. We can never receive a greater earnest that God will himself wonderfully help us, than when he gives us grace not to help ourselves by any ill means which are offered to us.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 24". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/1-samuel-24.html. 1801-1803.