I Samuel 24: David Spares Saul’s Life
As we enter this passage, Saul is still pursuing David. He hears about David’s whereabouts, and follows him there. Along the way, Saul enters a cave to relieve himself, and as it turns out, David is hiding in that cave, with some of his men! Immediately, David’s men see this as an opportunity from the LORD; this must be the day He spoke of, when He promised to deliver David’s enemy into his hands, to do with as he wishes.
But rather than killing Saul, as one might expect, he instead creeps up unnoticed, and cuts off a corner of Saul’s robe. And is then immediately conscience-stricken, for having done such a thing to the king, the LORD’s anointed. He then rebukes his men, and prevents them from attacking Saul.
But David is not just letting the matter drop, either. He then goes out of the cave, and calls out to Saul. When Saul turns around to see David, David prostrates himself, and calls Saul “My lord the king” (verse 8). He asks Saul why Saul would listen to people who claim that David is trying to harm him. (I don’t think Saul has actually listened to anyone, I think he decided this himself, but I don’t know what David knows and what he doesn’t.) David then points out that the LORD has delivered Saul into David’s hands, by sending him into the cave, but David spared Saul, since Saul is the LORD’s anointed king. He even shows Saul the corner of his robe, which was cut off in the cave, as proof that David could have killed Saul, if he’d been so inclined. Therefore, Saul should recognize that David has done nothing wrong, and that he is not guilty of any rebellion. Then he says:
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? Whom are you pursuing? A dead dog? A flea?
I especially like that last line.
And Saul appears to heed David’s words.
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 of 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 cut off my descendants or wipe out my name from my father’s family.” (verses 16–21)
So David gives Saul this oath, Saul returns home, and David returns to his stronghold.
I’ve heard people say that the Bible is not realistic, because it doesn’t include things like people going to the bathroom. To which I say:
- They obviously haven’t read this passage, and
- It wouldn’t matter even if the Bible didn’t include this, because very rarely does someone going to the bathroom introduce an important plot point for the stories included. (This is obviously an exception to the rule.)
I also find that God introduces a lot of “coincidences” into the story between Saul and David. Saul and his men are encircling a mountain, and David and his men are creeping away from Saul on the other side; Saul goes into a cave to relieve himself, and David happens to be hiding there. Being in control of the situation, God is very much emphasizing David’s responses to Saul—largely, I believe, for our benefit, who are reading about it thousands of years later.
It’s interesting that David rebukes his men, after becoming conscience-stricken for cutting off the corner of Saul’s robe. This tells me that his men are really pushing for him to kill Saul, but I wonder if he’s also partially blaming them for goading him into cutting off the piece of Saul’s robe in the first place? It seems to me that we’re watching David grow up, in the book of I Samuel; he starts out a boy, and is growing up a little more with each story we read.
Once again, in this chapter, we see Saul seeming to come to his senses, but I’m pretty sure we’ll be seeing soon that Saul will be back to his old ways, and trying to kill David. David definitely doesn’t go back to serve in Saul’s court, he goes to his stronghold instead, so he’s probably thinking the same thing.