1 Samuel 24


‘After Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, ‘David is in the Desert of En Gedi.’ So Saul took three thousand able young men from all Israel and set out to look for David and his men near the Crags of the Wild Goats. He came to the sheep pens along the way; a cave was there, and Saul went in to relieve himself. David and his men were far back in the cave. The men said, ‘This is the day the LORD spoke of when he said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.’ Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe. He said to his men, ‘The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the LORD.’ With these words David sharply rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul. And Saul left the cave and went his way.’ 1 Samuel 24:1-7

David Spares Saul’s Life

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.

‘Then David went out of the cave and called out to Saul, ‘My lord the king!’ When Saul looked behind him, David bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. He said to Saul, ‘Why do you listen when men say, ‘David is bent on harming you’? This day you have seen with your own eyes how the LORD delivered you into my hands in the cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you; I said, ‘I will not lay my hand on my lord, because he is the LORD’s anointed.’ See, my father, look at this piece of your robe in my hand! I cut off the corner of your robe but did not kill you. See that there is nothing in my hand to indicate that I am guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion. I have not wronged you, but you are hunting me down to take my life. May the LORD judge between you and me. And may the LORD avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you. As the old saying goes, ‘From evildoers come evil deeds,’ so my hand will not touch you. ‘Against whom has the king of Israel come out? Who are you pursuing? A dead dog? A flea? May the LORD be our judge and decide between us. May he consider my cause and uphold it; may he vindicate me by delivering me from your hand.’ 1 Samuel 24:8-15

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.

‘When David finished saying this, Saul asked, ‘Is that your voice, David my son?’ And he wept aloud. ‘You are more righteous than I,’ he said. ‘You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly. You have just now told me about the good you did to me; the LORD delivered me into your hands, but you did not kill me. When a man finds his enemy, does he let him get away unharmed? May the LORD reward you well for the way you treated me today. I know that you will surely be king and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hands. Now swear to me by the LORD that you will not kill off my descendants or wipe out my name from my father’s family.’ So David gave his oath to Saul. Then Saul returned home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold.’ 1 Samuel 24:16-22

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.

Go To 1 Samuel 25