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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 24

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-7

David’s cutting off of Saul’s hem 24:1-7

Engedi lay near the Dead Sea’s western shore close to its mid-point north to south. Even today it is a refreshing oasis with waterfalls, pools, tropical plants, and wild goats. The Hebrew word means "spring of the kid." It may have been while David was hiding in this cave that he wrote Psalms 57 and or Psalms 142 (see their titles; cf. 1 Samuel 22:1).

Saul pursued David with 3,000 of his finest soldiers, which gave him a five-to-one advantage over David, who had only 600 men (1 Samuel 23:13). The "Rocks of the Wild Goats" was evidently a local site, which archaeologists have not yet identified. There Saul discovered a sheepfold that evidently encircled the mouth of one of the caves in those limestone hills. The king entered the cave to relieve himself, unaware of the mortal danger in which he was placing himself because David and his men were hiding in the recesses of the same cave.

David’s men interpreted Saul’s vulnerable position as a divine provision whereby David could free himself from his enemy (1 Samuel 24:4). There is no record in the text that God had indeed told David what they said He had. He may have told David that he would overcome his enemy, but certainly He had not given David permission to assassinate His anointed, King Saul. David’s advisers seem to have been resorting to pious language to urge David to follow their counsel (cf. 1 Samuel 23:7). We must always evaluate the advice of friends in the light of God’s Word even when they claim divine authority. Their counsel moved David to take some action against Saul, which he soon regretted.

The hem or edge of a person’s garment in the ancient Near East made a statement about his or her social standing. A king’s hem was especially ornate and identified him as the king. [Note: See Milgrom, pp. 61-65.] By cutting off this piece of Saul’s robe, which Saul may have laid aside as he relieved himself (1 Samuel 24:3), David suggested that he could cut off Saul’s reign just as easily (cf. 1 Samuel 24:21). His act constituted mild rebellion against Saul’s authority. [Note: D. J. Wiseman, "Alalakh," in Archaeology and Old Testament Study, p. 128.]

Almost immediately David realized that his clever trick was inappropriate. Since Saul was the king, David had no right to tamper with his clothing. Furthermore, David realized that any attempt to take the kingdom from Saul, as he had taken the symbol of that kingdom, was contrary to God’s will. Since Saul was God’s anointed (1 Samuel 24:6) it was God’s place to remove him, not David’s.

This little incident provides another window into David’s thinking. David was acknowledging Yahweh’s sovereignty by submitting to His authority in setting Saul up as king (cf. Proverbs 24:21). David refused to take revenge for the trouble that Saul had caused him.

"Perhaps no greater example of wisdom practice is found than in David’s response to Saul." [Note: Heater, "Young David . . .," p. 54. Cf. Proverbs 24:21.]

It is interesting that God prevented David’s enemies from assassinating him later when he was Israel’s king (cf. Galatians 6:7). Compare also Jesus’ refusal to take vengeance on His enemies (Luke 23:34).

Verses 1-22

3. David’s goodness to two fools chs. 24-26

". . . chapters 24-26 form a discrete literary unit within 1 Samuel. Chapters 24 and 26 are virtually mirror images of each other, beginning with Saul’s receiving a report about David’s latest hiding place (1 Samuel 24:1; 1 Samuel 26:1), focusing on David’s refusal to lift a hand against Saul, ’the Lord’s anointed’ (1 Samuel 24:6; 1 Samuel 24:10; 1 Samuel 26:11), and concluding with the words of a remorseful Saul and his returning home from his pursuit of David (1 Samuel 24:17-22; 1 Samuel 26:21; 1 Samuel 26:25). The two chapters form a frame around the central chapter 25, where the churlish Nabal functions as an alter ego of the rejected Saul. In addition, divine protection that keeps David from shedding innocent blood runs as a unifying thread through all three chapters." [Note: Youngblood, p. 745.]

Saul, who had disregarded God’s Law, became a deadly threat to David (1 Samuel 23:19-28). However, David, who regarded God’s Law, became a source of life to Saul (1 Samuel 23:29 to 1 Samuel 24:22) and to others in Israel (ch. 25).

In the previous section, Saul sought the opportunity to take David’s life. In this one (1 Samuel 23:29 to 1 Samuel 24:22), given the opportunity to take Saul’s life, David spared him.

David’s first sparing of Saul’s life ch. 24

The incident recorded in this chapter concerns "cutting off" (1 Samuel 24:4-5; 1 Samuel 24:11; 1 Samuel 24:21). David had the opportunity and received encouragement to cut off Saul’s life but chose to cut off only his robe hem. He ended up promising not to cut off Saul’s descendants and name.

"The verb ’cut off’ forms something of a recurring theme, a leit-motiv, in 1 Samuel 20-24." [Note: Baldwin, p. 146. Cf. 15:28; 20:14-17; 24:4.]

Verses 8-15

David’s verbal defense to Saul 24:8-15

The object lesson that David presented to Saul had a double application. David proved that he was not trying to kill Saul, because Saul was the Lord’s anointed. Furthermore he showed that it was inappropriate for Saul to seek to kill him because he, too, was the Lord’s anointed, as Saul now knew (1 Samuel 24:20). David modeled for Saul what the king’s dealings with him should have been.

"Our tendency is to say, ’Oh, just leave it alone. It’ll all work out.’ But David didn’t leave it alone. He said, ’King Saul, you’re listening to false counsel. People are telling you lies about me. Why do you listen to them?’ Then he said. ’Let me give you proof, verbal and visual proof, O King!’ . . .

"David told Saul the whole unvarnished truth; he told it to the person to whom it mattered most. Not to his comrades or to Saul’s friends or to the people of Israel, but to Saul himself. He came to terms with the individual with whom there was the battle." [Note: Swindoll, pp. 88, 89.]

By addressing Saul as his lord (1 Samuel 24:8), his king (1 Samuel 24:8), and his father (1 Samuel 24:11), David expressed respect, submission, and affection. People sometimes used the term "father" to imply a covenant relationship, and David may have had that in mind here (cf. 1 Samuel 26:25). [Note: J. M. Munn-Rankin, "Diplomacy in Western Asia in the Early Second Millennium B.C.," Iraq 18 (1956):68-110.] He was Saul’s son-in-law and successor (son) under Yahweh’s covenant with Israel (cf. 1 Samuel 18:3; 1 Samuel 20:16; 1 Samuel 20:42; 1 Samuel 23:18; 2 Samuel 9:1).

David called on Yahweh to judge (respond to his actions) and to avenge (reward David for his dealings with Saul; 1 Samuel 24:12; cf. Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:17-21). He promised that he would not usurp God’s role by judging Saul or by rewarding him in kind for his evil deeds. He may have compared himself to a dead dog and a single flea (1 Samuel 24:14) to help Saul realize that he viewed himself as harmless and insignificant, beneath Saul’s dignity to pursue. These comparisons may also have been warnings that Saul should not think of David as helpless and insignificant. David also voiced his reliance on God to defend and save him (1 Samuel 24:15; cf. Psalms 35:1). David’s defense here recalls Samuel’s apologia to the nation when he reached the end of his career (ch. 12).

Verses 16-22

David’s promise not to cut off Saul’s descendants and name 24:16-22

David’s words and actions convicted Saul of his actions (1 Samuel 24:17), and the king wept tears of remorse (1 Samuel 24:16). He referred to David as his "son" (1 Samuel 24:16), as David had earlier called Saul his "father" (1 Samuel 24:11). Saul confessed David’s superior righteousness (1 Samuel 24:17) and goodness (1 Samuel 24:18). There is no more powerful tribute than one that comes from an adversary. Saul even called on the Lord to reward David with blessing for his treatment of the king (1 Samuel 24:19). Saul then confessed that he realized that David’s ultimate succession to the throne of Israel was inevitable (1 Samuel 24:20; cf. 1 Samuel 23:17).

Finally Saul asked David not to cut off his descendants when he came to power (1 Samuel 24:21). As noted earlier, it was customary in the ancient Near East for a new king to kill all the descendants of the ruler whom he replaced. This prevented them from rising up and reestablishing the dead king’s dynasty. David had already promised Jonathan that he would not kill his descendants (1 Samuel 20:14-17), and he now made the same promise to Saul (1 Samuel 24:22). To cut off someone’s name meant to obliterate the memory of him. David even agreed to spare Saul’s reputation in Israel (cf. 2 Samuel 1:17-27).

Saul’s remorse was evidently genuine, but David had learned that it would probably be only temporary. Consequently when Saul departed and returned to Gibeah, David again sought protection in "the stronghold," probably one of the refuges near Engedi (perhaps the site of Masada; 1 Samuel 24:22; cf. 1 Samuel 23:29).

This chapter helps us deal with the common temptation to get even, by showing us David’s example of trusting God and not retaliating. It also deals with how we should view securing what God has promised us. David let God determine how and when he would become king. He refused the temptation to take matters into his own hands and thereby determine his destiny (cf. 2 Kings 8:14-15). We see David growing in this chapter. He began by threatening the king, but then he backed off and declined to kill Saul. Finally he determined even to trust God to control Saul’s descendants, as well as Saul himself, and to preserve Saul’s memory in Israel. God rewarded David for his trust and obedience by giving him a peaceful conscience immediately, and safety when his own son, Absalom, rose up against him.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 24". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/1-samuel-24.html. 2012.
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