After chasing off the Philistines, 1 Samuel 23:28, Saul picked up where he left off in pursuit of David who was at En Gedi, which was an oasis some 600 feet in elevation above the western shore of the Dead Sea.
In his pursuit of David with his three thousand men, Saul goes into a cave to ‘relive himself’, which could mean he went in to masturbate or he went in because he needed the toilet, Judges 3:24.
Notice that it was David’s men, who were at the back of the cave with David, who came to the conclusion that it was God who provided a way to kill Saul, but David himself didn’t believe that.
David then sneaks up to Saul and cuts off a corner of his robe, but it’s clear that David’s heart was bothering him. Even the cutting of a small corner of the clothing of God’s anointed king greatly affected David. This shows us how much respect David had for God and God’s anointed king.
David goes on to rebuke his men because they appear to be motivated by selfishness. On one side, if they killed Saul, they wouldn’t have to live on the run anymore, but David saw things differently, he knew that it would be better to live on the run than be guilty of killing God’s anointed king.
David once again was showing wisdom and setting the example that he wanted not only his men to follow but all who would follow later when he became king. David would later write about this event in Psalm 57:1-11.
David’s respect for Saul is seen when he calls him ‘my lord the king’ and after Saul left the cave, David appeared to him with the piece of the robe he removed earlier from Saul.
David gives Saul the benefit of the doubt and assumes that he had been misinformed about David’s motives by those who wanted to remain in favour of Saul for their own selfish ends. In other words, if Saul was killed, they would lose their prominent positions of power and wealth.
David tells him an old saying, ‘From evildoers come evil deeds,’ which basically means that people behave according to their character. David is saying that if he was that evil, then he would have killed Saul when he had the chance in the cave.
Notice that David uses two metaphors, ‘a dead dog’ and ‘a flea’. The dog and the flea are absolutely insignificant compared to David, the next king of Israel.
In other words, David is saying, doesn’t Saul have something more important to be getting on with than chasing a flea, which is a metaphor for David himself. David then leaves God to decide what will happen next.
Saul, in his mental decline, doesn’t appear to recognise David until David speaks and when he did, he wept aloud. He’s obviously overwhelmed with the mercy which David has shown him, he appears to be in shock as he realises that the person he’s been trying to kill, could have easily killed him in the cave.
He tells David that he is more righteous than he is, Genesis 38:26, which was very true, David was way more dignified and just than Saul was. He knew that David’s actions towards him were more righteous than his actions toward David.
Saul wants David to swear to him that he will not cut off his descendants, cutting off the king’s descendants was to become common practice for Israel in the years ahead. The reason was simple, the son of a king couldn’t presume to become the next king.
David had no desire to do such a thing, and so, he promised Saul that he wouldn’t cut off his descendants. Saul, by this time, knew that David would become the next king of Israel but there’s a possibility that Saul thought that Johnathon, his son, would take over his reign after his death, despite being told otherwise by Samuel, 1 Samuel 15:16-23.
He could think about what he liked, but the truth was that God had already decided who was going to become Israel’s next king. Saul returns home and David goes to the stronghold of En Gedi, which was around 700 feet below sea level, in the highlands of southern Judah.