And it came to pass, when Saul was returned from following the Philistines, that it was told him, saying, Behold, David is in the wilderness of Engedi.
Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel, and went to seek David and his men upon the rocks of the wild goats.1 Samuel 24:2. Upon the rocks of the wild goats — Which the wild goats used to delight in and climb over. These same rocks are exceeding steep, and full of precipices, and dangerous to travellers, as an eye-witness hath left upon record. And yet Saul was so transported with rage as to venture himself and his army here, that he might take David, who, as he thought, would judge himself safe, and therefore be secure in such inaccessible places.
And he came to the sheepcotes by the way, where was a cave; and Saul went in to cover his feet: and David and his men remained in the sides of the cave.1 Samuel 24:3. Where was a cave — This cave being near the highway, and in the most frequented place of the wilderness, namely, near the sheep-cotes, to which the shepherds and herdsmen resorted to feed and milk their flocks, it is likely David made choice of it as being a place most unlikely to be suspected. Or, perhaps, he was pressed so near by Saul that he had no other way of escaping. That his distress and danger were very great, may be gathered from the 57th and 142d Psalms, which, it is supposed, he composed in commemoration of his deliverance. Saul went in to cover his feet — To take some rest in sleep. Being a military man, it is probable he used to sleep with his soldiers upon the ground. And it is not improbable that, being weary with his eager and almost incessant pursuit, first of David, then of the Philistines, and now of David again, he both needed and desired some sleep; God also disposing him thereto, that David might have this eminent occasion to demonstrate his integrity to Saul, and to all Israel. In the sides of the cave — For that there were vast caves in those parts is affirmed, not only by Josephus, but also by heathen authors; Strabo writes of one which could receive four thousand men.
And the men of David said unto him, Behold the day of which the LORD said unto thee, Behold, I will deliver thine enemy into thine hand, that thou mayest do to him as it shall seem good unto thee. Then David arose, and cut off the skirt of Saul's robe privily.1 Samuel 24:4. The men of David said unto him, &c. — The cave being very large, and David and his men at the further end of it, they might see Saul by the light of the entrance, without his seeing them, and might whisper together what follows without being heard. The Lord said unto thee, Behold, I will deliver, &c. — We do not read anywhere that God said these very words, or made a promise to deliver Saul into David’s hands. But they put this construction on what Samuel had said about taking the kingdom from Saul and giving it to David, and on those promises which God had made to him of delivering him from all his enemies, and carrying him through all difficulties to the throne. These promises, they conceived, laid him under an obligation of taking all opportunities which God put into his hands for their accomplishment. Add to this, that, having a desire to return to their own habitations, and also to have preferment under David, they wished him to seize this occasion which now presented itself of destroying his enemy, and advancing himself. Then David arose and cut off the skirt of Saul’s robe privily — Which he might easily do, as he was asleep.
And it came to pass afterward, that David's heart smote him, because he had cut off Saul's skirt.1 Samuel 24:5-6. David’s heart smote him — His intention in cutting off Saul’s skirt was only to give certain proof that he did not seek his life, in that he had spared it when it was wholly in his power; yet no sooner had he done it, but the consideration how Saul might be affected by it, whether it might not enrage him the more, and how the action might be esteemed by others, troubled him greatly. And he said to his men — When he returned to them, and they again pressed him, as is probable, to kill Saul; The Lord forbid, &c. — He considers Saul now, not as his enemy, and the only person that stood in the way of his preferment, (for then he would have been induced to hearken to the temptation,) but as his master, to whom he was obliged to be faithful, and as the Lord’s anointed, whom God had appointed to reign as long as he lived, and who, as such, was under the particular protection of the divine law.
And he said unto his men, The LORD forbid that I should do this thing unto my master, the LORD'S anointed, to stretch forth mine hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the LORD.
So David stayed his servants with these words, and suffered them not to rise against Saul. But Saul rose up out of the cave, and went on his way.1 Samuel 24:7-8. And suffered them not to rise against Saul — He not only would not do this ill thing himself, but he would not suffer those about him to do it. Thus did he render good for evil to him, from whom he had received evil for good; and was herein both a type of Christ, who saved his persecutors, and an example to all Christians, not to be overcome of evil, but to overcome evil with good. David also went out of the cave, and cried after Saul — A bold attempt this, to adventure to come into the presence of such an enraged enemy. But his innocence, and confidence in God, imboldened him, especially having so strong an evidence to give of his integrity.
David also arose afterward, and went out of the cave, and cried after Saul, saying, My lord the king. And when Saul looked behind him, David stooped with his face to the earth, and bowed himself.
And David said to Saul, Wherefore hearest thou men's words, saying, Behold, David seeketh thy hurt?
Behold, this day thine eyes have seen how that the LORD had delivered thee to day into mine hand in the cave: and some bade me kill thee: but mine eye spared thee; and I said, I will not put forth mine hand against my lord; for he is the LORD'S anointed.1 Samuel 24:10-12. Mine eye spared thee — A phrase signifying the taking pity on those whom we have it in our power to hurt. The eye is said to spare, because it affects the heart, and induces a person to spare. Moreover, my father — Such he was through David’s marriage of his daughter. The Lord avenge me of thee — Rather, will avenge me; that is, vindicate and deliver me from thy violent and unjust persecution. For he does not, in these words, pray God to punish Saul for the injuries he had done him, but to justify, clear, and protect himself. But my hand shall not be upon thee — He was resolved not to return evil for evil, or to avenge himself, but to leave it to God to do him right.
Moreover, my father, see, yea, see the skirt of thy robe in my hand: for in that I cut off the skirt of thy robe, and killed thee not, know thou and see that there is neither evil nor transgression in mine hand, and I have not sinned against thee; yet thou huntest my soul to take it.
The LORD judge between me and thee, and the LORD avenge me of thee: but mine hand shall not be upon thee.
As saith the proverb of the ancients, Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked: but mine hand shall not be upon thee.1 Samuel 24:13. Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked — That is, men may be known by their actions; wicked men will do wicked actions; among which, this is one, to kill their sovereign lord and king; and, therefore, if I were so wicked a person as I am represented by thy courtiers to be, I should now have shown it, I should have made no conscience of laying violent hands upon thee.
After whom is the king of Israel come out? after whom dost thou pursue? after a dead dog, after a flea.1 Samuel 24:14-15. After whom is the king of Israel come out? — David here employs every persuasive art to move Saul. He represents himself in as contemptible a light as possible; that he might convince Saul it was not for his honour to take so much pains to kill him, if he could do it. The Lord, therefore, be judge — He thought he could not repeat this too often, that as he had done hitherto, so he still resolved hereafter, to leave it to God to judge which of them was in the right, and not to avenge himself.
The LORD therefore be judge, and judge between me and thee, and see, and plead my cause, and deliver me out of thine hand.
And it came to pass, when David had made an end of speaking these words unto Saul, that Saul said, Is this thy voice, my son David? And Saul lifted up his voice, and wept.1 Samuel 24:16. Is this thy voice, my son David? — He knew his voice, though, being at a great distance from him, he could not discern his face. Saul lifted up his voice and wept — Being overcome with David’s kindness, in sparing his life when he could have taken it away, and conscious of his base carriage toward him. He speaks as one that relented at the sight of his own folly and ingratitude. “David’s kindness,” says Samuel Clark, “drew tears from hard-hearted Saul, as Moses fetched water out of the flinty rock,” Deuteronomy 8:15. Perhaps, however, he was also affected with a sense of his sins against God. But it does not appear from his future conduct that he was a true penitent, for he did not bring forth fruits meet for repentance.
And he said to David, Thou art more righteous than I: for thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded thee evil.1 Samuel 24:17-19. Thou art more righteous than I — He ingenuously acknowledges David’s integrity and his own iniquity. If a man find his enemy, will he let him go? — That is, he will certainly destroy him to save himself. Thy behaviour, therefore, shows that thou hast no enmity to me. Wherefore the Lord reward thee good — Because he thought himself not able to recompense so great a favour, he prays God to recompense it.
And thou hast shewed this day how that thou hast dealt well with me: forasmuch as when the LORD had delivered me into thine hand, thou killedst me not.
For if a man find his enemy, will he let him go well away? wherefore the LORD reward thee good for that thou hast done unto me this day.
And now, behold, I know well that thou shalt surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in thine hand.1 Samuel 24:20-21. And now I know well that thou shalt surely be king — These wonderful dispensations of Divine Providence over David, and David’s no less wonderful virtue, at last convinced Saul that God designed him to be the king of his people, and that none could hinder his establishment. That thou wilt not destroy my name, &c. — As it was usual for kings to do in those days, generally destroying the families of those to whose thrones they were advanced.
Swear now therefore unto me by the LORD, that thou wilt not cut off my seed after me, and that thou wilt not destroy my name out of my father's house.
And David sware unto Saul. And Saul went home; but David and his men gat them up unto the hold.1 Samuel 24:22. David and his men get them up unto the hold — Of Engedi, 1 Samuel 24:1. For having had so frequent experience of Saul’s inconstancy, he would trust him no more. It is indeed dangerous to trust a reconciled enemy; and the son of Sirach advises, “Never trust thine enemy; though he humble himself, yet take good heed and beware of him.” Before we close our notes on this chapter, we beg leave to add one general remark; which is, that there is something so noble and generous in David’s whole behaviour, as related in it, that it is above all encomiums. We cannot say any thing in commendation of it, but what the relation itself far exceeds.