1 Samuel 24
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
1 Samuel 24:1-7. (ENGEDI.)
Would it not be manly to resent it? said one, on receiving an affront. "Yes," was the reply, "but it would be Godlike to forgive it." In the spirit of this answer David acted when he spared Saul in the cave at Engedi, and thereby proved that he was guiltless of the design which the latter in his delusion attributed to him - of aiming at his throne and his life (1 Samuel 22:8). Saul himself had shown generosity toward enemies in the earlier part of his career (1 Samuel 11:12); but his character had fearfully deteriorated since that time, and his generosity toward others was far surpassed by that of David toward him. "Generosity toward his enemies was a part of David's very being. And he alone is the true hero who, like David, forces involuntary recognition and friendship even from his bitterest foe" (Ewald). Observe that -

I. HE WAS STRONGLY TEMPTED TO AVENGE HIMSELF. He had been bitterly hated and grievously wronged; "was a man of like passions with ourselves;" and the temptation came to him, as it comes to others, in -

1. A favourable opportunity to take revenge. His enemy was entirely in his power, and his life might be taken away at a stroke.

"O, Opportunity, thy guilt is great;
Tis thou that execut'st the traitor's treason;
Thou set'st the wolf where he the lamb may get;
Whoever plots the sin, thou point'st the season;
Tis thou that spurn'st at right, at law, at reason;
And in thy shady cell, where none may spy him,
Sits sin, to seize the souls that wander by him"


2. A plausible argument used by others. David's men not only desired to see the deed done and sought permission to do it (vers. 7, 10), but also said," See, this is the day of which Jehovah hath said to thee, Behold, I give thine enemy into thine hand," etc. "The speakers regarded the leadings of Providence by which Saul had been brought into David's power as a Divine intimation to David himself to take this opportunity of slaying his deadly enemy, and called the intimation a word of Jehovah" (Keil). Men are apt to interpret the Divine purpose of events according to their own interests and inclinations (1 Samuel 23:7), and it is often the exact reverse of what they imagine it to be. It was not that David should slay Saul, but (among other things) that he should be tried, and by sparing him vindicated, blessed and made a blessing. What is meant for good is by a deceived heart turned to evil. "And those temptations are most powerful which fetch their force from the pretence of a religious obedience" (Hall).

3. A sudden thought tending in the direction of revenge (ver. 10, Vulgate: "And I thought to kill thee"). He did not cherish it or form a distinct purpose to carry it into effect, but came perilously near doing so in the indignity he offered to the king. "He does not seem to have been quite free from the temptation to kill Saul. The words (ver. 5) are only intelligible on the supposition that, on cutting off Saul's skirt, his thoughts were not directed only to the use which he afterwards made of it, at least in the beginning, but that his object was rather to prove the goodness of his thoughts at the first weak beginning he made to carry them into effect. But his better self soon awoke; all impure thoughts fled; his eye became clear; with horror he put the temptation from him" (Hengstenberg). "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation," etc. (James 1:12).


1. The possession of a tender conscience, which enabled him to perceive the will of God, shrank from sin, and smote him for his "thought of foolishness" (Proverbs 24:9) and irreverent act. "It is a good thing to have a heart within us smiting us for sins that seem little; it is a sign conscience is awake and tender, and will be a means to prevent greater sins" (M. Henry).

2. Regard to the Divine will, which directed him not to avenge himself, but to leave vengeance with the Lord; to honour the king, and love his neighbour as himself. His regard for it was lowly, reverent, and supreme. The purpose of providential events must be interpreted in harmony with conscience and the moral law. How often do the Scriptures enjoin forbearance and forgiveness toward enemies! (Proverbs 20:22; Proverbs 25:21, 22; Matthew 5:44; Romans 12:19-21; Colossians 3:13).

3. Repression of evil thought and impulse; immediate, firm, and entire. "The better to know how to guard against the wiles of the enemy, take it for a certain rule that every thought which discourages and removes thee from growing in love and trust towards God is a messenger of hell; and, as such, thou must drive him away, and neither admit him nor give him a hearing" (Scupoli). David repressed such a thought in himself and in his men, became the protector of Saul, was not overcome of evil, but overcame evil with good, and was made by means of temptation stronger and more illustrious. "Temptation is the greatest occasioner of a Christian's honour; indeed, like an enemy, it threatens and endeavours to ruin him, but in conquest of it consists his crown and triumph" (Hales, 'Golden Remains'). As aids to the practice of forbearance -

1. Consider the "goodness, forbearance, and long suffering of Gad."

2. Contemplate the example of Christ.

3. Watch against the first thought of evil.

4. Pray for the spirit of patience, forgiveness, and love. - D.

1 Samuel 24:8-12. (ENGEDI.)
Wherefore hearest thou men's words, saying, David seeketh thy hurt? (ver. 9). Saul's hatred and persecution of David were stirred up by slanderers; and, in vindication of himself from the charge of seeking his hurt, David referred to them on this and on a subsequent occasion (1 Samuel 26:19). One of them seems to have been Cush the Benjamite (see Kitto, 'D.B. Illus.'), on account of the calumnies of whom he wrote Psalm 7., 'The righteous judgment of God' (see inscription): -

"Jehovah my God, in thee have I found refuge;
Save me from my persecutors and deliver me!" How much he felt the wrong which they had done him, and how intensely his zeal burned against their sin against God and man, appears in many of his psalms (Psalm 24:13; 35:11; 52:2; 56:5; 57:4; 59:7, etc.). Good men are often exposed to the calumnious attacks of men of similar character.

"Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow,
Thou shalt not escape calumny."

I. IT IS ONE OF THE MOST ODIOUS OF VICES. It is "the uttering of false (or equivalent to false, morally false) speech against our neighbour in prejudice to his fame, his safety, his welfare, or concernment in any kind, out of malignity, vanity, rashness, ill nature, or bad design" (Barrow, Ser. 18.); and it is exhibited in an endless variety of ways.

1. It is marked by falsehood, folly, injustice, malice, and impiety.

2. It exerts a most pernicious influence. The tongue on which it dwells is like a fire, which (though at first but a single spark) may set a whole forest in a blaze (James 3:5); is "full of deadly poison," and sends forth "arrows, firebrands, and death." In private reputations, domestic life, social intercourse, the Church and the world, what mischief it works!

3. It is frequently forbidden and condemned in the word of God (Leviticus 19:16; Proverbs 10:31; 1 Corinthians 6:9). "I say unto you that every idle (empty, insincere, wicked, and injurious) word," etc. (Matthew 12:36, 37). "God is angry (with the wicked) every day" (Psalm 7:11).

II. IT OUGHT NEVER TO BE COUNTENANCED. "Wherefore hearest thou?" No one should listen to it; for by doing so -

1. He encourages the wicked in their wickedness (Proverbs 25:23). "When will talkers refrain from evil speaking? When listeners refrain from evil hearing" (Hare).

2. He injures himself; becomes a tool of designing men, and is led to do things which his better nature cannot approve; whilst, at the same time, he manifests his own unreasonableness and sinful disposition.

3. He makes himself "partaker of their evil deeds," and exposes himself to the same condemnation. Although incited by others, Saul was not guiltless in "hunting after" the soul of David "to take it" (ver. 11).

III. IT SHOULD ALWAYS BE MET IN A RIGHT MANNER by those who are calumniated; as by -

1. An open assertion of innocence, direct denial and rebuke of false statements, and faithful remonstrance against their being entertained. "Whose mouths" (says Paul concerning unruly and vain talkers and deceivers) "must be stopped" (Titus 1:11).

2. A clear proof of innocence afforded by becoming, righteous, and merciful actions (vers. 10, 11; compare Psalm 7:3, 4).

3. A sincere appeal to God as the Vindicator of the innocent; lowly submission to his will and firm confidence in the manifestation of his righteous judgment. "The justice of God is a refuge and comfort to oppressed innocency" (M. Henry). "The Lord judge between me and thee," etc. (ver. 12).

"Jehovah judgeth the people.
Judge me, O Jehovah, according to my righteousness,
And according to my integrity be it done to me.
Oh let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end,
And establish thou the righteous;
For thou that triest the hearts and reins art a righteous God.
My shield is with God,
Who delivers the upright in heart"

(Psalm 7:8, 9, 10) Learn -

1. To use the gift of speech in speaking well, and not ill, of others.

2. To rely on God more than on your own efforts for your vindication when evil spoken of.

3. The blessedness of those against whom men "say all manner of evil falsely" for Christ's sake. - D.

Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked (ver. 13). Proverbs are brief and apt sayings expressive of the general experience of men. They have been described as the wisdom of many and the wit of one" (Russell); and, more poetically, "jewels five words long, which on the stretched forefinger of time sparkle forever" (Tennyson). The most valuable of "the words of the wise" were uttered by Solomon, and are contained in the Book of Proverbs. But this saying was already ancient in the days of David. It is also "true and faithful" and very instructive. Consider -

I. ITS MEANING. "Ill men do ill things." "Actions usually correspond to the quality of the mind" (Grotius).

1. An evil disposition is possessed by some men. The ancients noticed the distinction between evil actions (as well as good) and evil character (as well as good). There is in some men, in contrast to others, a selfish and bad disposition. All men, it is true, are sinful; but some, instead of striving against sin and overcoming it, are the slaves of sin; their supreme affection is set upon unworthy objects, and the ruling principle of their life is wrong. This is due to many causes - previous voluntary acts, wilful neglect of Divine aid, etc.; but the fact is certain. Their nature differs from that of good men just as (though not so necessarily or to the same extent) the serpent from the dove, and the thistle from the vine.

2. An evil disposition expresses itself in corresponding actions. It uses power and opportunity according to its nature (ver. 19), and turns to evil the same circumstances which a good disposition turns to good (ver. 6). This is in harmony with the established order of things in the world. "A good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit" (Luke 6:43). "Do men gather grapes of thorns? "etc. (Matthew 6:16-20; Matthew 12:35). "Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?" etc. (James 3:11-13; Proverbs 13:16).

3. An evil disposition is plainly proved by evil actions. It is so especially when they are performed deliberately, habitually, and on occasions of decisive trial. "By their fruits ye shall know them." The proof is perfectly reliable, easily perceivable, and generally applicable.

II. ITS APPLICATION (ver. 11). "But my hand shall not be upon thee" (vers. 12, 13). "David means to say that if he had been guilty of conspiracy against the king he would not have neglected this favourable opportunity to kill him, since men usually indulge their feelings, and from a mind guilty of conspiracy nothing but corresponding deeds could come forth" (Clericus). The application may be made to the conduct of others, but it should be made first and chiefly to our own; and it should lead us -

1. To test our character by our actions, and to prove to others when it is suspected and calumniated that it is good, and not evil. As wickedness proceedeth from the wicked, so goodness proceedeth from the good.

2. To feel increased aversion to evil, to act according to the integrity we assert of ourselves, to resolve to do nothing wrong, and to endeavour to prevent others from doing wrong (ver. 14).

3. To appeal to God, who searches the heart, and, in the consciousness of sincerity and innocence, to put confidence in his righteous and merciful aid (ver. 15). "Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God" (1 John 3:21). In the review of the subject let us bear in mind that -

1. Men are responsible for the character they possess.

2. An evil character may be transformed into a good one by the power of Divine grace and the use of proper means. "I will give you a new heart." "Make you a new heart."

3. We ought to strive continually to attain the highest degree of virtue and goodness possible.

"Such is this steep ascent,
That it is ever difficult at first,
But more' a man proceeds less evil grows.
When pleasant it shall seem to thee, so much
That upward going shall be easy to thee,
As in a vessel to go down the tide,
Then of this path thou wilt have reached this end.
There hope to rest thee from thy toil"

(Purg.' 4.) = - D.

And Saul lifted up his voice and wept (ver. 17). The opportunity given to David to avenge himself on Saul was a severe test of principle, but by the use he made thereof it became a means of his further advancement. His forbearance was also another test of the character of Saul, over whom Divine mercy still lingered, and toward whom it was in such forbearance shown afresh. Igor was it without effect. The heart of the man who had ordered the massacre of eighty-five priests and was bent on the destruction of his most faithful servant relented at the words addressed to him; his voice trembled with emotion, tears flowed down his cheeks, he wept aloud, acknowledged his guilt, and turned from his purpose. It seemed as if he had undergone a sudden transformation and become a new man. But his heart remained unchanged. And his goodness, as on former occasions, was like that of those to whom the prophet said, "Your goodness" (fits of piety) "is as the morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away" (Hosea 6:4). Concerning such goodness, notice that -

I. IT IS NOT UNFREQUENTLY DISPLAYED. There is in the worst of men some capacity of moral and spiritual impression; and those who might be least expected to be moved are often most powerfully affected by -

1. The force of a powerful appeal, in which the truth is set before their minds and brought home to their hearts and consciences (vers. 9-15). They walk in the darkness of error and illusion, and the light breaks suddenly upon them, revealing what they could not or would not see before. It is made so plain that they are unable to deny its reality or resist its impression.

2. The exhibition of unusual generosity and superior excellence, which shows by contrast their own defects, shames and subdues them, overcomes not only them, but also, in some degree, the evil that is in them - their envy, hatred, and sin. "The simple self-presentation and self-witness of moral purity and truth has a great missionary power, and often makes a mighty impression on spiritually darkened and morally perverted natures, in such wise that the Divine in them is freed from the binding power of evil, and the religious moral element of the conscience, which is concealed deep under religious moral corruption, breaks freely forth, at least in some bright and good moments, in order to point to the way of salvation and show the possibility of deliverance, provided the man is willing to he saved and renewed" (Erdmann).

3. The apprehension of an extraordinary escape from danger and death (ver. 18). Saul had been placed by the hand of God within reach of the stroke of death, and if David had acted as men would ordinarily have done he would not have been now alive (ver. 19). The heart must be hard indeed if it be not melted by such things as these.

II. IT IS APPARENTLY GENUINE; the proof of a radical change of disposition. In tears and words and actions there is -

1. The presence of strong emotion. It is evidently not simulated, but real.

2. The operation of an awakened conscience (ver. 17), which produces the recognition of what is right, the vindication of one who has been wronged, the confession of sin, and prayer for the blessing of God on one who has been regarded as an enemy (ver. 19).

3. The conviction of the Divine purpose. "And now, behold, I know well," etc. (ver. 20). That purpose had been indicated to Saul by Samuel and by the course of events; but he refused to recognise it, sought to change it, and fought against it. Now he acknowledges its inevitable fulfilment on the ground of the superior worth of David (1 Samuel 15:28), submits to it without complaint, and even seeks a solemn pledge of forbearance toward his house on its accomplishment (ver. 21). He says in effect, "The will of the Lord be done."

4. The abandonment of evil designs. His amendment goes beyond good resolutions, and appears in his actually leaving off the pursuit of David and returning home to Gibeah (ver. 22). When good actions follow good words, what more can be needed? Yet Saul among the saints, like Saul among the prophets, was Saul still.

III. IT IS REALLY WORTHLESS. Although the signs of repentance and reformation in Saul were greatly valued, they were not absolutely relied upon by David, who had experience of his impulsive and changeable nature, and "knew what was in man." The most promising signs may be, and often are, connected with a goodness which is -

1. Superficial; the depth of the heart being still hard and stony.

2. Defective, in hatred of sin, renunciation of self, return to God, surrender of the will, true faith, inward renewal, and spiritual strength to resist temptation.

3. Transient. "They soon forgat his works," etc. (Psalm 106:13). Not long afterwards Saul was again in pursuit of David, and his heart was more obdurate than ever (1 Samuel 26:1). Transient goodness issues in permanent destruction. "Water that riseth and fioweth from a living spring runneth equally and constantly, unless it be obstructed or diverted by some violent opposition; but that which is from thunder showers runs furiously for a season, but is quickly dried up. So are those spiritual thoughts which arise from a prevalent internal principle of grace in the heart; they are even and constant unless an interruption be put upon them for a season by temptations. But those which are excited by the thunder of convictions, however their streams may be filled for a season, they quickly dry up and utterly decay" (Owen, 'Spiritual-Mindedness'). Consider that -

1. Men may be near the kingdom of God and yet never enter into it.

2. We are liable to be deceived by the appearance of goodness in others, and even in ourselves.

3. Whilst we should "search and try our hearts," we should also pray, "Search me, O God," etc. (Psalm 139:23, 24). "Create in me a clean heart," etc. (Psalm 51:10). - D.

Recent passages of this history have shown more of David's weakness than of his strength. But here he is again a hero. The fine points of his character shine out - his self-control, his magnanimity, and his reliance on the justice of God to vindicate his integrity. To this. period is ascribed the seventh Psalm, in which the son of Jesse appeals against the slanders with which he was assailed, and looks to God for solace and deliverance. The situation strikes both the imagination and the heart. The young chief stands at the mouth of the cavern, holding up the proof of his generous forbearance, and protesting with picturesque eloquence against Saul's hot pursuit. The king amazed, ashamed, and subdued; the sternness fading from his face, the haughty anger in his eyes drowned in tears. So evil was for the time overcome by good. David was helped to this noble behaviour at Engedi by his recent meeting with Jonathan in the forest of Ziph. At and through that meeting he had been encouraged in God. So in the hour of temptation he abstained from revenge, confided to God the vindication of his innocence and the preservation of his life, would not lift a hand, or let one of his officers lift hand, against the king. With what thankfulness and joy must Jonathan have heard of the sparing of his father's life by his friend! Their meeting had borne fruit very soon. Their prayers were heard. Perhaps we have a happy meeting with a friend, or a strengthening and refreshing service at church, and the reason why is not at once apparent; but soon we fall into stone temptation or danger, and then we are helped by the recent confirmation of our faith to endure with patience. Our "good time" in the wood of Ziph is meant to prepare us for the hour of temptation in the cave of Engedi.

I. MARK THE RESTRAINT OF GOD UPON THE PERSECUTOR. Saul seemed to have every facility for gaining his object. No one disputed his will. Armed men by thousands followed him in pursuit of David; and Saul knew how to lead men, and how to fight. He had spies to track out the fugitive. The country was small, and the inhabitants, both at Keilah and at Ziph, showed their readiness to help the king. Yet he could never reach David to arrest or to smite him. More than once he had thrown the javelin at him, but missed. In the highlands of Judah he was more than once close upon his steps, but still missed him. He went on one side of a hill while David moved round the other side. He had almost caught him when he was called off to repel a sudden inroad by the Philistines. He actually entered the cave in which David and his men lay hid, and did not see them. This was no mere luck. It was God who preserved David and baffled the malice of Saul. And in the tragical history of persecution the restraining hand of God has often been shown. As Saul was allowed to kill the priests but not to kill David, so has the Lord allowed many a tyrant to go so far, but no farther. Jezebel could make away with Naboth, but not with Elijah. Herod could kill St. James, but not St. Peter. The Roman Catholic persecutors could burn Huss, but not Wickliffe; George Wishart, but not John Knox. There has been a cord of Divine control round every oppressor, and whenever God saw meet he has simply drawn that cord, and so has restrained the remainder of wrath, defeated the devices of cruelty.

II. DISTINGUISH BETWEEN A RELENTING MOOD AND A REPENTING HEART. An evildoer may be thrown into a fit of shame and grief over his own misconduct, promise amendment with tears, and yet never truly repent. The generous conduct and appeal of his son-in-law overwhelmed the king with confusion, and woke lingering echoes of good feeling in his troubled breast. He even wept before all, and, with the hot tears pouring from his eyes, confessed that he was in the wrong, praised the noble forbearance of David, acknowledged that the young captain was destined to fill the throne, and even asked him to swear that on his accession he would not exterminate the royal family. David swore, and they parted. Saul went home, but David did not attend him, for he was too shrewd to trust to the altered mood of the king. Well for him that he was so cautious, for Saul had only relented for a little while, not really repented of his malignant purpose. Softened feeling is one thing, repentance in mind and purpose another thing. This is familiar to those who try to reclaim criminals. They find them melt under kind words, bewail their misconduct, promise to lead lives of honesty and sobriety, and yet after all this fall very soon under temptation, and not only renew, but increase, their wickedness. It is because they have only a gush of feeling, not a grasp of principle, and are sorry for themselves, but not penitent towards God. It is often illustrated in persons who have succumbed to the infatuation for strong drink. One has allowed this vice to grow insensibly, and does not know how far it has mastered him, till at last there comes an exposure of drunkenness which covers him with shame. A friend speaks to him about it seriously and kindly, and tears come promptly to his eyes, expressions of poignant regret and promises of the utmost caution flow from his lips. He is quite surprised that he should have been so foolish, hopes that no more will be said about it, and is quite sure that nothing of the kind will ever happen again. But there is little disturbance of conscience, no grave sense of sin, no humbling of self before God with petitions for pardon and for help to cease from this insidious vice. So in a little while the shame is gone, the good promises are forgotten, the friend who spoke so kindly is hated for his pains, and the perverse man succumbs to temptation, and goes on to a drunkard's disgrace, goes down to a drunkard's grave. There are many other instances of this folly without descending to gross vice. Men have twinges of compunction and gusts of admirable feeling, and so resolve to lead better lives. But there it ends. They mean well, but somehow cannot carry out their intention. It is for want of repentance toward God.

III. RECOGNISE THE SUPERIOR STRENGTH OF MORAL WEAPONS. Whatever good is done to those who are going astray is effected by moral means and weapons only. David might have fought Saul and beaten him, but that would not have brought even a temporary relenting to his heart. It would probably have hardened him. David smote him with the moral power of truth and love, and so disarmed him for the time, and subdued him to unwonted tenderness. So now we can best benefit our fellow men by using the moral influences of probity and kindness. So may our nation influence other nations as a Christian people ought to do, not by vaunting our power to go where we like and kill whom we please, but by showing righteousness and good will towards all mankind. Physical weapons of destruction are not worthy to be compared with the moral weapons that reach the conscience and the heart.

IV. RISE TO THE THOUGHT OF GOD'S MAGNANIMITY TO US. Though we have conceived in our minds enmity against him, he does not crush us by the might of his arm, or willingly slay us as with the edge of a glittering sword. The gospel conveys to us the sublime appeal of his truth, righteousness, and pardoning love. We enter no cave where God is not. We are never beyond his reach; and if he should smite, who is there that could deliver out of his hand? But he has no pleasure in our death. Much as we have provoked him, he has compassion, he spares, he even pleads with us to be reconciled to him. Let us consent to his proposals of grace not with mere evanescent feeling, but with inward repentance and cordial faith. Then we shall not part from our God, as did Saul from David, but abide and "walk together as those that are agreed." - F.

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