1 Samuel 24
Matthew Poole's Commentary
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.
Saul pursueth David to En-gedi; cometh into a cave in which was David with his men; who cutteth off the skirt of Saul’ s mantle, but will not kill him, 1 Samuel 24:1-7. He communeth with Saul, and hereby evidenceth his innocency towards him, 1 Samuel 24:8-15. Saul acknowledgeth his fault, taketh an oath of David, and departeth, 1 Samuel 24:16-22.

No text from Poole on this verse.

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.
Which the wild goats use to delight and climb into. These very 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.
Some think

the sheep cotes to have been caves into which they used to drive their sheep for shelter in tempestuous weather.

To cover his feet, i.e. to ease his belly, as this phrase is thought to be used, Judges 3:24. The reason whereof is, because the eastern and some other nations of old wore no breeches, but loose and long coats or gowns, like those which women with us wear; but shorter, whence their feet and legs were in a great part uncovered; and sometimes other parts, which also in Scripture are designed by the name of the feet, (of which See Poole "Genesis 49:10"; See Poole "Deu 28:57"; See Poole "2 Kings 18:27"; See Poole "Isaiah 7:20",) were exposed to view. But when they went to perform this office of nature, which obliged them first to lift up their garments, they afterwards disposed them so decently, that all those parts might be covered and kept out of the sight of others. But possibly the words may have another meaning, and it is not to be despised that those ancient and venerable interpreters, the Syriac and Arabic, interpret this place and phrase quite otherwise, that Saul went in to sleep there; which was no uncouth thing to Saul, who being a military man, used to sleep with his soldiers upon the bare ground, as he did 1 Samuel 26:7. And it is not improbable that Saul, being exceeding weary with his eager and almost incessant pursuit, first of David, then of the Philistines, and now of David again, both needed and desired some sleep God also disposing him thereunto, that David might have this eminent occasion to demonstrate his integrity to Saul, and to all Israel; and, the season possibly being hot, he might choose to sleep in the cave, for the benefit of the shade. But all the question is, how it may appear that this is the meaning of this phrase, and what is the reason and ground of it? To which many things may be said. First, That this phrase is but twice used in Scripture, as far as I remember, here, and Judges 3:24, and this sense may conveniently enough agree to both of them; nay, this sense may seem better to agree with that place, Jud 3$, for that summer parlour or summer chamber (for both seem to be the same place, and were apparently for the same use, Judges 3:24,25) seems to be a place far more convenient for sleeping than for easing of nature. And the servants’ long stay and waiting for their lord seems to imply that they judged him gone to sleep, (which might take up a considerable time,) rather than to that other work, which requires but a little time. See Poole "Judges 3:24". Secondly, That there are many Hebrew phrases which do confessedly signify several things, albeit the reason of such significations be now utterly unknown to us, though it was doubtless known to the ancient Hebrews. Nor need I instance in particulars, seeing it is so in all languages, and particularly in the English tongue at this day, in which the use of many proverbs and phrases is well understood, though the reason of them be now lost; which if our modern infidels, who scoff at some passages of Scripture, which they either do not or will not understand, would consider, they would lose much of their sport. Thirdly, Although there be not that clear and full proof of this sense which some may require, (though indeed it cannot be reasonably expected in a thing so ancient, and in a phrase of so concise and narrow a language as the Hebrew is, and in an expression so rarely used in Scripture,) yet there are some intimations in Scripture which may seem to favour this interpretation. For persons composing themselves to sleep in this manner, are not only noted in the general to have been covered with a mantle, as is said of Sisera, Judges 4:18,19; but particularly they are said to have their feet covered, as is expressly observed concerning Boaz, when he lay down to sleep in the threshing-floor, Ruth 3:4,7. The reason whereof may possibly be this, that when they lay down to sleep in their garments, they were secured as to the other parts of their body, only their feet were open and visible; and therefore it was convenient to cover their feet, partly to prevent the inconveniences of cold, (for which reason we here take special care to cover our feet in such cases,) and partly for decency sake, lest their garments being loose and large below, should be disordered, and so their nakedness should appear, as it happened to Noah, Genesis 9:21. Compare Exodus 20:26. And therefore it cannot seem strange or forced, if in this place Saul’s covering of his feet design his composing himself to his rest. And if this be so, then the following difficulties of this history will appear to be plain and easy. For if Saul were fast asleep, which might easily be perceived by David and his men within; then it is not strange that Saul neither heard David and his men talking of him, nor felt David when he came to cut off’ his lap.

David and his men remained 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; and Strabo, in his 16th book, 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.
Quest. How came it to pass that Saul did not hear his debates of David and his men?

Answ. First, The greater noise of Saul’s men and horses, just by the cave’s mouth, might easily drown the lesser. Secondly, There were in these large and capacious caves several cells or parts, whereof some were more inward and remote from the cave’s mouth, in which they might freely converse and discourse, and yet neither be heard nor seen by Saul, though they could easily see him, and observe all his postures and actions, because he was in the mouth of the cave. Thirdly, Saul might be asleep, as hath been discoursed.

Behold the day of which the Lord said unto thee; not that either said these words, or made any such particular promise. as some apprehend; but they put this construction upon those confessed and known promises which God had made to him, of delivering him from all his enemies, and carrying him through all hinderances and difficulties to the throne and kingdom; which promise they conceived put him under an obligation of watching and taking all opportunities which God by his providence should put into his hand for their accomplishment, whereof this was an eminent instance.

David arose, and cut off the skirt of Saul’s robe privily.

Quest. How could David do thus, and Saul not perceive it?

Answ. First, This might be some loose and upper garment, which Saul might then lay at some distance from him, as we oft do on the same occasion. Secondly, In those vast caves there were divers particular cells and rooms, which were distinct one from another, yet so as there were secret passages from one to another, as may be gathered from the relations of historians and travellers. At the mouth of one of these, Saul might lay his upper garment; which David perceiving, and very well knowing all the cells and passages of that cave, might go some secret way to it, and cut off a little part of it. Thirdly, The noise which David’s motion might be supposed to make was but small, and that he well knew would be perfectly drowned with the far greater noise of Saul’s army, which lay at the mouth of the cave. Fourthly, The heroical actions of great men in Scripture are not to be measured by common rules. And as divers of the prophets and saints of old were in some of their actions, so David might be in this, moved to it by a secret and Divine impulse, which also gave him confidence of God’s assistance therein, and of the success of his enterprise. Fifthly, This difficulty doth perfectly vanish, if Saul was now asleep. And as no man can prove that he was not, so that he was may seem probable from what is said on 1 Samuel 24:3.

And it came to pass afterward, that David's heart smote him, because he had cut off Saul's skirt.
Not only because it was injurious, and reproachful, and dangerous to the king; but possibly because he had some secret thought of doing more to him, though he suppressed and overcame it; for he attempted this in pursuance of his soldiers’ suggestion, 1 Samuel 24:4 which if followed would have carried him to further action.

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.
He said unto his men; either, first, Before he cut off Saul’s lap. Or rather, secondly, Afterwards, when he returned with Saul’s lap in his hand, and his soldiers were enraged that he had not killed him.

This thing which you persuade me to do, even cut off Saul.

Unto my master, whom I must still own for my sovereign lord and king, to whom I owe allegiance whilst he lives, although after his death the right of the kingdom be mine.

To stretch forth mine hand against him, to wit, to kill him. A synecdochical expression. See Genesis 37:22.

The anointed of the Lord, i.e. anointed by God to the kingdom; by which unction his person was made sacred and inviolable, and is so to be accounted by me, and you, and all his subjects. And as God only exalted him, and God only could pronounce a sentence of deprivation of his kingdom against him; so it belongs to God only to execute his own sentence, and actually to depose him.

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.
Stayed his servants, Heb. cut, or clave, or divided, or cut them off. The word notes both the eagerness and violence of David’s men in prosecuting their desire, and David’s resoluteness in opposing them, as it were, by force; wherein he shows great piety, and generosity, and loyalty to Saul.

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.
No text from Poole on this verse.

And David said to Saul, Wherefore hearest thou men's words, saying, Behold, David seeketh thy hurt?
He prudently and modestly translates the fault from Saul to his followers and evil counsellors.

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.
Mine eye; which words are easily understood both from the nature of the thing, and from the use of this phrase in other scriptures, as Deu 7:16 13:8. The eye is said to spare, because it affects the heart with pity, and moves a man to spare.

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.
My father; so he calls him; partly, because he was his father-in-law; partly, in testimony of his respect and subjection to him as to a father; and partly, that by so amiable a compellation he might both insinuate himself into his favour, and mind him of that duty which as a father he owed to David.

There is neither evil nor transgression in mine hand; I neither design mischief against thee with my heart, nor will I execute it with my hand, which my false accusers told thee I would do, if thou didst at any time fall into my hand.

The LORD judge between me and thee, and the LORD avenge me of thee: but mine hand shall not be upon thee.
Avenge me of thee, or, will avenge me of thee, to wit, if thou dost persist in thy injurious and cruel designs against me.

Mine hand shall not be upon thee; I will not execute vengeance on thee, but will leave it wholly to God.

As saith the proverb of the ancients, Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked: but mine hand shall not be upon thee.
i.e. Wicked men will do wicked actions, among which this is one, to kill their sovereign lord and king; as David implied above, 1 Samuel 24:6, and more fully expresseth, 1 Samuel 26:9. And therefore if I were so wicked and vile a person as thy courtiers represent me to thee, I should make no conscience of laying wicked and violent hands upon thee, but should assassinate thee when I had opportunity; which because I have now neglected and refused to do, though moved to it by some of my wicked soldiers, know therefore that I am not guilty of any wicked designs against thee, but am just and innocent towards thee. Or thus, Wicked actions (such as that would have been if I had killed thee) proceed only from the wicked, of which number I am none, and therefore my hand shall not be upon thee.

After whom is the king of Israel come out? after whom dost thou pursue? after a dead dog, after a flea.
After a worthless, contemptible, and impotent person, such as I am. Thou disparagest thyself in contending with such a person; and even thy conquest of me will be inglorious and shameful.

The LORD therefore be judge, and judge between me and thee, and see, and plead my cause, and deliver me out of thine hand.
No text from Poole on this verse.

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.
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.

And wept; partly from the sense of his sin against God, and of his wicked and base carriage to David; (for there are some such temporary passions oft-times in hypocrites and ungodly men;) and principally from the remembrance of so great and so late a danger as he had now escaped; which commonly produceth grief and tears; as 2 Samuel 13:36. Yet these may be tears of affection or tenderness (upon the sense of David’s kindness) rather than of grief.

And he said to David, Thou art more righteous than I: for thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded thee evil.
Thou hast rewarded me good for the evil that I have designed and done to thee.

I have rewarded thee evil for thy good will to me.

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.
No text from Poole on this verse.

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.
Will he let him go well away? i. e. he will certainly destroy him. And therefore thou hast not dealt with me after the manner of men, but hast imitated the clemency of God in this act.

And now, behold, I know well that thou shalt surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in thine hand.
I know well, or, am convinced, not only by the fame of Samuel’s anointing thee, but by God’s singular providence watching over thee, and by that good Spirit and those great and princely virtues wherewith God hath endowed thee.

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.
Thou wilt not cut off my seed after me; as princes use to destroy their competitors, and those that have any hopes of or pretence to their crown; and Saul had endeavoured to destroy David for the same reason, and therefore he feared a retaliation.

Thou wilt not destroy my name, to wit, by cutting off my seed. So it is the same thing repeated in other words, as is usual in Scripture.

And David sware unto Saul. And Saul went home; but David and his men gat them up unto the hold.
David sware unto Saul.

Quest. How then could David destroy so many of Saul’s sons, 2 Samuel 21:8,9?

Answ. David could bind himself by his oaths, but he could not bind God, to whose good pleasure all promises, vows, and oaths must in all reason be submitted; and that was done by God’s command, and God was well pleased with it, 2 Samuel 21:14. Nor is it to be supposed that David sware not to destroy any of them in case God should specially command it, or that should by miscarriage render themselves obnoxious to the sword of justice; but only that he would not do it barely on his own private account, nor seek occasions of so doing.

Unto the hold, to wit, of En-gedi, 1 Samuel 24:1; for having had so great and frequent experience of Saul’s inconstancy, and malice, and perfidiousness, he would trust him no more.

Matthew Poole's Commentary

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