Read the Passage: 1 Samuel 24
David Spares Saul (24:1–7)
In the narrative of 1 Samuel, David has been fleeing Saul in the wilderness since chapter 21. Note that wilderness wanderings are a common theme in Scripture, as they occur in the lives of Jacob (cf. Gen. 27–32), Joseph (cf. Gen. 37–41), Moses (cf. Exod. 2–4), David (cf. 1 Sam. 24–31), Jesus (cf. Matt. 4), and Paul (cf. Gal. 1:17–18). At 1 Sam. 24:1 Saul learns that David and his men, who had grown from 400 (cf. 1 Sam. 22:2) to at least 600 (cf. 1 Sam. 23:13), were hiding “in the wilderness of En Gedi.” This was a lush oasis about 35 miles southeast of Jerusalem (cf. Song 1:14). Saul then marshaled a force of 3,000 men, outnumbering David 5 to 1, in order to “seek David and his men” (1 Sam. 24:2). The narrative reports that after a time, “Saul went into [a cave] to attend his needs” (1 Sam. 24:3), which is to say, to visit the restroom.
Since David and his men were hiding in the cave that Saul chose to enter, it was a prime opportunity, or so it seemed, for David to slay Saul. Indeed, David’s companions even quoted an otherwise unknown, but presumably legitimate, prophecy that spoke of the deliverance of David’s enemies into his hand. David, however, knew that while God had rejected Saul and anointed him as king, the Lord had never commanded that he slay Saul, who was both his king and his father-in-law. In fact, God had clearly commanded his people the exact opposite in the Mosaic laws of the Pentateuch (cf. Ex. 22:28, “You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people”), a command that applies to Christians, as well (cf. Rom. 13:1–4; 1 Pet. 2:14). Note, however, that David did cut off a corner of Saul’s robe, an act that later troubled his conscience (cf. 1 Sam. 24:7).
David Confronts Saul (24:8–15)
After cutting off a corner of the robe of the king, as Saul left the cave David confronted him with the rhetorical question, “Why do you listen to the words of men who say, ‘Indeed David seeks your harm?’” (1 Sam. 24:9). David then showed Saul the cloth in his hand and quoted the proverb, “Wickedness proceeds from the wicked” (1 Sam. 24:13). While this exact proverb is not contained in the book of Proverbs, the teaching that wickedness proceeds from sinners is found throughout the book of Proverbs (cf. Prov. 1:10–19; 4:14–17). The corollary to this teaching—that is, the idea that you can tell the authenticity of one’s spiritual status by one’s actions—was cited by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Matt. 7:16–23). In summary, then, David’s confrontation of Saul was really a rebuke, which is why he cited the Lord’s judgment between he and Saul (cf. 1 Sam. 24:15).
Earlier, in 1 Sam. 24:4, David’s men stated that they understood Saul’s presence in the cave to be God’s deliverance of the king into David’s hand. Then, in 1 Sam. 24:10 David himself said to Saul, “The Lord delivered you today into my hand in the cave.” Following this, at 1 Sam. 24:18 Saul admitted that the Lord had delivered him into David’s hand. This same teaching is given at 1 Sam. 26:23. The concept here is known as the doctrine of providence, which is simply the working out of God’s sovereign will in history. Note, however, that David illustrates an important point for us in this passage—that is, we cannot infallibly read providence in advance in order to discern God’s will, nor do we have to (cf. 1 Cor. 16:7–9; 2 Cor. 2:12–13). Rather, all we are responsible for doing is bringing God’s already revealed Word to bear upon our circumstances as they occur (cf. Esth. 4:14; Luke 13:1–5).
Saul Recognizes David (24:16–22)
In response to David’s confrontation, “Saul lifted up his voice and wept” (1 Sam. 24:16). Then, Saul made a telling admission, recognizing David’s position, as he said, “You are more righteous than I . . . . And now I know indeed that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand” (1 Sam. 24:17–20). Of course, the Lord had already told Saul, on more than one occasion, that he would give the kingdom to another, a man after his own heart (cf. 1 Sam. 13:14; 15:28), and Jonathan had previously told David that Saul recognized that David was that man (cf. 1 Sam. 20:31; 23:17). Interestingly, however, Saul asked that David take an oath swearing to spare he and his father’s house, a request to which David consented (cf. 1 Sam. 24:22) and kept (cf. 2 Sam. 21:7). This oath was similar to David’s covenant with Jonathan.
- Jesus taught, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you . . . and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). Do you find this challenging?
- It seems that the majority of David’s companions would have approved of killing Saul. When is it okay to rebel against civil authorities (cf. Eph. 6:1)?
- Do you find it as easy as David did to forgive those who have wronged you? What sin is behind someone’s unwillingness to forgive?
- What did Paul mean, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink . . . in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head” (Rom. 12:20)?
- Given Saul’s recognition of David’s position, after the events in this chapter why did David return to the stronghold and Saul return to the palace?