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Bible Commentaries

Layman's Bible Commentary

1 Samuel 24

Verses 1-22

David’s Magnanimity at Engedi (24:1-22)

Returning from the Philistine digression, Saul pursued David into the fastness of Engedi. The reference to a cave amid the sheepfolds probably indicates a gathering of stone-walled enclosures for protecting the sheep from harsh weather near some cave in which the shepherds could take refuge. David and his men were hiding in the depths of the cave when Saul went in. As the king was squatting, with his cloak loose, David’s men besought him to take Saul’s life, but David, remembering that the king was a holy person, anointed by the Lord, contented himself with cutting off the skirt of Saul’s cloak and refused to allow his men to attack the king. David saw a deeper import in the words of the Lord, quoted by his men, that his enemy would be delivered into his hand and he should do with him as he willed. This meaning was brought out in the conversation with Saul that followed. As Saul was leaving the cave, David disclosed himself, and urged Saul to recognize that he had no enmity or hatred in his heart, since he had spared the king when the latter’s life was in his hand. As a proof, he showed the tailpiece of Saul’s cloak, and once more he affirmed that he could not harm the person of the king, calling on God to judge between them as to whether he, David, harbored in his heart the enmity that Saul attributed to him. David quoted a proverb which indicated that if he were as Saul said, then he would have taken the king’s life, for a wicked heart can produce only wicked deeds.

Here we see one of the fine ethical characteristics which marked the Hebrew faith and which found full expression in the teaching and life of our Lord himself (Matthew 5:38-48; Luke 6:27-31; Matthew 18:21-22; Luke 23:34). David’s magnanimity finds its resting place in the justice of the Lord. God himself would judge David’s cause, and David had no need to take punishment into his own hands.

Saul was apparently smitten by David’s attitude and admitted that David was more righteous than he. The point here is not that David is more morally good, for "righteousness" in its root Hebrew sense means conformance to the norm of justice, and is thus a legal term. David had appealed to the righteous God to judge his cause and thus had referred the dispute to the bar of divine justice. Saul had taken the matter into his own hands and was therefore less righteous, deciding the issue without reference to the divine justice. Once more Saul, like Jonathan, made a plea that, when David became king, he would keep faith with Saul’s descendants and not annihilate his family as was the customary practice.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 1 Samuel 24". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/1-samuel-24.html.