1. Now it happened, when Saul had returned from following the Philistines, that it was told him, saying, “Take note! David is in the Wilderness of En Gedi.”
Saul chases off the Philistines invaders and returns from this campaign. He then learns from his spies David’s new hiding place in the Wilderness of En Gedi. It certainly did not take him long to get this information in order to be able to continue his pursuit!
2. Then Saul took three thousand chosen men from all Israel, and went to seek David and his men on the Rocks of the Wild Goats.
Saul perhaps is reluctant to take his entire army this time after what happened the last time. Therefore, he takes three thousand chosen men from his army to chase David. These would have been elite forces, and probably more than a match under normal circumstances for David and his rag-tag band of misfits. Then they move out to seek David and his men on the Rocks of the Wild Goats, which were probably very near En Gedi, the “Fountain of the Kid.”
3. So he came to the sheepfolds by the road, where there was a cave; and Saul went in to attend to his needs. (David and his men were staying in the recesses of the cave.)
Saul comes to a cave by some sheepfolds and has to relieve himself, so he goes into the cave to do so. The Hebrew says he went in to cover his feet, which refers to the fact that when you were wearing a robe and stooped down to void, the robe would cover your feet. Saul clearly does not realize that the cave he has chosen to use as a toilet is the very cave David and his men are hiding in! The “recesses” of the cave here are probably little side chambers or caves off the main cave. Saul had come into the cave from outside, and it was dark in the cave. What light there was in the cave was coming from the mouth of it, but Saul could not see into the side chambers. He does not realize that David and his men are there, and so he simply goes about his business.
4. Then the men of David said to him, “This is the day of which the LORD said to you, ‘Behold, I will deliver your enemy into your hand, that you may do to him as it seems good to you.’” And David arose and secretly cut off a corner of Saul’s robe.
David’s men are eager for him to take advantage of the situation. They quote to him a prophecy they claim he had received from the LORD. They believe now is the time this prophecy spoke of. David can do whatever he wants with Saul! Yet if we consider this, we realize that we have no record anywhere of such a prophecy other than here. Could it be that David had never received such a prophecy, and they were simply making this up? Or it could be they were freely paraphrasing and twisting some other prophecy he had been given? Clearly, they mean for David to kill Saul on the spot. Why else would the LORD have delivered him into his power this way, they reason?
David responds to the words of his men, though not as they supposed. He sneaks up behind Saul and cuts off the corner of his robe as he is busy making the cave his toilet. This corner was probably resting on the ground, and so David could cut it off without Saul feeling anything when he did so.
5. Now it happened afterward that David’s heart troubled him because he had cut Saul’s robe.
After David does this he starts to feel guilty for cutting the piece off Saul’s robe. His heart troubled him for even this small act against the king! Is this the sort of man who would plan to assassinate his master? Not at all! Saul’s paranoid delusions had no basis in reality. He could not have had a more loyal man than David, and yet his jealousy would not allow him to see that.
6. And he said to his men, “The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the LORD.”
David expresses his guilty feelings to his men. He reminds them that Saul was his master, as well as God’s anointed king, and so David does not have any right to lift a hand against him, even in so minor a thing as cutting his robe. This is surely an amazing attitude, considering that Saul would have killed David in a moment with no second thoughts at all. Yet David had a Godly spirit that would not allow him to do even this small act against his master without regret!
The word “anointed” that David uses here is the Hebrew word mashiyach, which we English as “Messiah.” We usually think of only the Lord Jesus as being “the Messiah.” Yet Saul is called “messiah” in Hebrew, since he was the first one God anointed king. David too had been anointed, as we saw back in chapter 16. Yet our Lord Jesus is the last and greatest of all anointed ones “The” Anointed of God. Surely even the smallest act against Him is a most serious sin indeed. If even a wicked and Godless man like Saul deserved respect since he was God’s anointed, how much more the Anointed One Who is the Son of God Himself!
7. So David restrained his servants with these words, and did not allow them to rise against Saul. And Saul got up from the cave and went on his way.
By saying this David restrained his men from hurting Saul, as they wanted to do. It was clear to them that David would sanction no such action, and so they had to stand by and allow Saul to get up from the cave and go on his way. David was not about to act in any way to try to precipitate Jehovah’s will. He knew that He would bring about His rule in His Own time, and it was not right for David to take matters into his own hands. In every way, he showed a Godly attitude in this. What a man of God this man David was! Surely we can see in this why Jehovah picked him as his anointed in the first place, and why He called him a man after His Own heart!
8. David also arose afterward, went out of the cave, and called out to Saul, saying, “My lord the king!” And when Saul looked behind him, David stooped with his face to the earth, and bowed down.
After Saul has gone out of the cave, David arises and follows him, calling out to him. When Saul looks behind him, David stoops down with his face to the ground and bows before him. What a surprise this must have been to Saul, to see the one he had decided was his enemy exit from the cave behind him with these words, and then bow in this way! This was not at all how he anticipated meeting David when he came out after him.
9. And David said to Saul: “Why do you listen to the words of men who say, ‘Indeed David seeks your harm’?
David asks Saul why he has believed reports that David planned to harm him? No doubt Saul had received such reports, once he had decided that David was his enemy. There are always plenty of people who are willing to buy favor in the king’s eyes at the expense of another, and once it was known that Saul’s mind was turned against David, there would be plenty who would be willing to bring him a report of some nefarious scheme of David. Rumors would go around that they could repeat, and if there were no rumors, they could start one, and by falsehood gain favor in the sight of the king. David knows Saul has heard such reports, but he argues that they are false, and Saul should not have listened to them.
10. Look, this day your eyes have seen that the LORD delivered you today into my hand in the cave, and someone urged me to kill you. But my eye spared you, and I said, ‘I will not stretch out my hand against my lord, for he is the LORD’s anointed.’
The words of the reports Saul heard against David were just words. Yet David brings proof that he has no plans to harm Saul. Saul was helpless before him in the cave, and Jehovah gave him power to do with him as he wished. To have something in your hand was to have it in your power, as something in your hand you can treat as you wish: treating it gently and carefully, or treating it roughly to break it, or dashing it to the ground. In this way, David had Saul in his hand, and one of his men had urged him to use the opportunity to kill him. David does not tell Saul who it was that urged this, not wishing to raise Saul’s enmity against any of his men. Yet in spite of his power over Saul and his grievance against Saul, David would not harm him, even when his men urged him to kill Saul as his enemy.
David’s eye spared Saul because he was his master, chosen by God. Again David calls Saul the LORD’s anointed, or “Jehovah’s messiah.” As we said above, this is not to deny that our Lord Jesus Christ is THE Messiah, but it is to say that other people in the Bible were anointed when they were chosen and marked out by God for some special service. Saul had been anointed in this way, though he had turned from faithfully following God and so did not live worthy of the position he had been placed in. Yet David respects Jehovah’s choice, no matter how unrespectable the man who had been chosen now had become.
11. Moreover, my father, see! Yes, see the corner of your robe in my hand! For in that I cut off the corner of your robe, and did not kill you, know and see that there is neither evil nor rebellion in my hand, and I have not sinned against you. Yet you hunt my life to take it.
David calls Saul his father. In a way the king was the father of all his subjects, in the sense that the father then was head of the family and Saul was head of the family of Israel. He was especially a father to David, however, as indeed he was his father-in-law. Then David shows Saul the corner of his robe that he cut off while Saul was helpless before him in the cave and did not even realize it. This corner of Saul’s robe proves how easily David could have struck Saul dead on the spot. Does this not prove that David has no ambition to destroy Saul? He has planned no calamity nor rebellion against his lord the king, nor sinned against him in any way. Yet Saul is hunting David, seeking his life to take it.
The word “life” here is the Hebrew word nephesh, which is the only word in the Old Testament translated “soul.” The soul sometimes stands in for the very person himself, and Saul seeking David’s soul to take it was indeed Saul seeking to take away David’s very life.
12. Let the LORD judge between you and me, and let the LORD avenge me on you. But my hand shall not be against you.
David calls upon Jehovah to look on the situation and judge between himself and Saul. This phrase, calling on Jehovah to judge between one person and another, is an interesting one, and oftentimes I cannot help but think in the contexts it is used that the person saying this might not actually like God’s judgment if he actually did judge between the two. One example is Sarah in the book of Genesis. She decided that Jehovah’s promise of a son for her was never going to be fulfilled, so she convinced Abraham to take her handmaid as a concubine and to have a child by her. After Abraham did so, the concubine Hagar despised Sarah for not being able to have a baby, and Sarah was incensed by this. She then blamed Abraham for the whole situation, and called on Jehovah to judge between the two of them. Well, it seems to me that Sarah made her own bed and then hated to lie in it. I am not altogether sure that Jehovah would have been so entirely on her side as she thought if he really judged between her and Abraham. We all tend to be convinced of the rightness of our own cause, yet I cannot help but think that we should be cautious before being too sure that Jehovah shares our outlook.
Yet saying that, this is certainly one case where it appears the phrase was used, and used correctly. If Jehovah were to judge between David and Saul, He would doubtless judge that the offense was all on Saul’s part and that David was innocent. Indeed, we have read that very judgment in the Scripture record of Samuel. Thus if Jehovah would judge between the two of them, He would surely avenge David on Saul by punishing him for all his unfair mistreatment of his son-in-law and army commander. Yet David is going to leave this in Jehovah’s hands. He may punish Saul for his actions, but David refuses to lift a hand himself against Saul, his king.
13. As the proverb of the ancients says, ‘Wickedness proceeds from the wicked.’ But my hand shall not be against you.
Now David quotes a proverb of the ancients: that wickedness proceeds from the wicked. This apparently was a known proverb of the day. This does not mean that it was inspired, but there was certainly much truth to it, and David quotes it as fitting very well in this case. After quoting the proverb, he applies it to himself, that he will not join with the wicked in killing his master, even if provoked by his master trying to kill him. Yet he could have just as easily applied the proverb to Saul, for Saul had wickedly tried to assassinate one of his most loyal subjects. Yet David does not accuse Saul directly of this. Indeed, his own conscience should be enough to convict him by itself because of his actions.
14. After whom has the king of Israel come out? Whom do you pursue? A dead dog? A flea?
David argues his own insignificance. He is a shepherd boy, of no great importance, and Saul is a king. David commands several hundred men, whereas Saul commands the entire army of Israel. Why is Saul wasting time chasing a dead dog, a flea like David?
15. Therefore let the LORD be judge, and judge between you and me, and see and plead my case, and deliver me out of your hand.”
David again calls on Yahweh to judge their quarrel, meaning he wants Him to determine what is right and set things right between the two of them. He is confident, and rightly so, that Yahweh will see his case and plead his cause when He sees David’s innocence. Yet he does not wish this to bring punishment on Saul his master, but only so that Yahweh will rescue him from Saul’s hand. Even from Yahweh he wishes no harm to come upon his master Saul.
16. So it was, when David had finished speaking these words to Saul, that Saul said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” And Saul lifted up his voice and wept.
David finishes speaking, and Saul acknowledges that he recognizes David’s voice. It seems for a moment that David’s Godly spirit appeals to the best in Saul. He weeps when he realizes what David has done in sparing him. If only these more tender feelings would have continued!
17. Then he said to David: “You are more righteous than I; for you have rewarded me with good, whereas I have rewarded you with evil.
Saul recognizes that David is more righteous than he. Even after all the calamity he has caused David, David spared Saul’s life. This was a most impressive thing to do, and even Saul is temporarily impressed by it.
18. And you have shown this day how you have dealt well with me; for when the LORD delivered me into your hand, you did not kill me.
Saul recognizes the legitimacy of the proof David has offered him that he has no ill intentions towards him. He knows that the LORD delivered him into David’s hand, that is, David’s power, and yet David did not take advantage of this to kill Saul. This certainly proved that all David’s words were true.
19. For if a man finds his enemy, will he let him get away safely? Therefore may the LORD reward you with good for what you have done to me this day.
Saul seems to marvel at David’s behavior. Who ever heard of a man finding his enemy totally in his power and letting him walk away unhurt? Yet that is what David did. It is clear that Saul never would have done the same. Often the Godly actions of the righteous have the power to impress the wicked, though not necessarily to turn them from their wickedness. Sometimes they will acknowledge they are impressed, like Saul did, and sometimes they will not, but that does not mean that they do not see the difference in a person who would do something like this. Yet just seeing a righteous person’s righteous actions is not enough to make a wicked man righteous, and Saul was not permanently changed by the attitude he saw in David. Yet for a little while he has a better spirit, and so Saul calls on Jehovah to reward David for his actions towards him on this day.
20. And now I know indeed that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand.
Saul admits that he knows that ultimately Yahweh will win out, and David will become king after him. This just puts into stark relief the madness of Saul when he still persisted in trying to avoid what he knew was inevitable. If he knew he could not succeed, why did he still try to hinder the LORD’s plans? It is clear that Saul’s jealousy and evil spirit did not allow him to act rationally or logically.
Saul also says that the kingdom of Israel will be established in David’s hand. The kingdom of Israel is its government, and Saul knew that David would take control of the government after him. He knew it would be established under his power, because the LORD was with him.
21. Therefore swear now to me by the LORD that you will not cut off my descendants after me, and that you will not destroy my name from my father’s house.”
Saul in this moment of tender feelings towards David is willing to let his fugitive son-in-law go without attempting at this time to kill him. Alas, we know his change of heart was all too short. Yet before he leaves him, Saul calls upon David to swear by the LORD not to harm his family and his descendants after he is dead, and that he will not destroy his name, that is, his reputation as carried on by his posterity, from his father’s household. Saul knew that this is what kings would typically do when taking over from a previous dynasty. They would wipe out all members of that former dynasty. Then there would be no one left to rise up and claim the throne, and no one for anyone wanting to bring back the good old days to support for the throne. Yet Saul wants David to swear to him that he will not do this to his family, but that he will leave them intact.
22. So David swore to Saul. And Saul went home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold.
Since Saul asked, David swears this to him. Of course, David swearing this was not necessary. He had no desire to harm Saul’s family anyway. Was not Saul’s firstborn son Jonathan David’s best friend? Had not David promised Jonathan to love and care for his family perpetually, even after Jonathan was gone? Was not David married to one of Saul’s daughters? David wanted to ally himself with Saul’s house, not destroy them. No, the only destruction that was going to take place in Saul’s house is what Saul himself would bring upon it, not what David would do.
So for the moment Saul returns home, at this time unwilling to harm David. After David had treated him so nobly, to mistreat him now was even more than Saul’s hardened conscience could stand. If only Saul had been able to retain his Godly attitude! But it disappeared as quickly as his mood.
With Saul gone, David and his men return to their fortified hiding places.