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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 24

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-22




1 Samuel 24:1

The wilderness of En-gedi. Finding no safety on the western side of the desert of Judah, where the Ziphites were ever watching his movements, David now boldly crossed this arid waste, and sought shelter in the remarkable oasis of En-gedi, on the shore of the Dead Sea. The word may signify either the Fountain of Luck or the Kid's Spring, the latter being the meaning of the name Ain-Jadi, which it still bears. In 2 Chronicles 20:2 it is identified with Hazazon-Tamar, the Palm Wood, an ancient seat of the Amorites, and evidently famous from of old for its fertility (Genesis 14:7). Conder ('Tent Work,' 2:126) describes the country over which David would have to travel as almost impassable, so that in four and a half hours of hard riding be and his party advanced only six miles, so deep were the valleys which they were obliged to cross. From a lofty peak on their way the view was most extraordinary. On every side were other ridges, equally white, steep, and narrow; their sides seamed by innumerable torrent beds, their summits sharp and rugged in outline. Not a tree was visible, and the whole region was like the dry basin of a former sea, scoured by the rains, and washed down in places to the hard foundation of metamorphic limestone which underlies the whole district. But the desert once crossed, "there is no scene," he says, "more vividly impressed on my memory than that of this magnificently rocky and savage pass, and the view from the spring below." He had encamped on a plateau upon the top of the cliffs, which rise to a height of 2000 feet above the Dead Sea; and 1340 feet below him the warm spring of En-gedi, 83° F; rises from under a great boulder, and dashing down the rest of the descent, flows across the plate at the foot of the cliffs, which is about half a mile square. All around are the ruins of ancient gardens and thickets, among which he saw the beautiful black grackles with gold-tipped wings, bulbuls, and thrushes. Solomon seems to have delighted in the spot, and to have covered the hills with vines; for he compares his beloved to a "cluster of camphire in the vineyards of En-gedi" (So 2 Chronicles 1:14). Neither palm nor vine is to be found there now, but there is still a rich vegetation, and groves of trees. According to Thomson the sides of the ravines leading to En-gedi are full of natural and artificial caves and sepulchres.

1 Samuel 24:2

Chosen. See on this word 1 Samuel 9:2. The rocks of the wild goats. Apparently this was the proper name of some cliffs near En-gedi, so called from their being frequented by the ibex, or Syrian chamois, an animal which, according to Thomson is still found there. It shows Saul's pertinacious hatred of David, that no sooner was the war with the Philistines over, than he pursues him with 3000 picked warriors into these lonely fastnesses. Comp. Psalms 57:4, written, according to the title, upon the occasion recorded in this chapter.

1 Samuel 24:3

He came to the sheepcotes. Rather, "to sheepcotes," there being no article in the Hebrew. Such sheepcotes were common in Palestine; for Thomson says, "I have seen hundreds of these sheepcotes around the mouth of caverns, and indeed there is scarcely a cave in the land, whose location will admit of being thus occupied (i.e. by the flocks), but has such a "cote" in front of it, generally made by piling up loose stones into a circular wall, which is covered with thorns, as a further protection against robbers and wild beasts. During cold storms, and in the night, the flocks retreat into the cave, but at other times they remain in this enclosed cote .... These caverns are as dark as midnight, and the keenest eye cannot see five paces inward; but one who has been long within, and is looking outward toward the entrance, can observe with perfect distinctness all that takes place in that direction. David, therefore, could watch Saul as he came in, and notice the exact place where he "covered his feet," while Saul could see nothing but "impenetrable darkness." To cover his feet. The Syriac understands this of sleeping; more correctly the Vulgate and Chaldee take it as in Judges 3:24, margin.

1 Samuel 24:4, 1 Samuel 24:5

Behold the day of which Jehovah said unto thee, etc. David's men regard this deliverance of Saul into their band as providential, and the fulfilment of the promises made in David's favour, with which, no doubt, they were well acquainted. But with a noble self-control he refuses to take the matter into his own hand, and leaves unto God in trusting faith the execution of his purposes. To prove, nevertheless, to Saul his innocence, to soften his bitterness, and refute the suspicion that he was lying in wait to murder him, he cuts off the corner—Hebrew, wing—of his meil (see 1 Samuel 2:19). Even for this his heart smote him. So tender was his conscience that he condemned himself for even deviating so slightly from the respect due to the anointed king.

1 Samuel 24:6, 1 Samuel 24:7

Seeing he is the anointed of Jehovah. David bases his allegiance to Saul on religious grounds. He was Jehovah's Messiah, and as such his person was sacred. To this principle David steadfastly adhered (see 1 Samuel 26:9; 2 Samuel 1:16). The Lord forbid. Hebrew, "Far be it from me from Jehovah," i.e. for Jehovah's sake. So David stayed his servants. The verb is a strong one, and means to crush down. It shows that David had to use all his authority to keep his men, vexed by Saul's pursuit, from killing him.


1 Samuel 24:8

Saul apparently had withdrawn from his men, and David seizes the opportunity of proving to him his innocence, and quieting the king's fears. He goes out, therefore, and calls after him, saying, My lord the king, addressing him thus as his master, to whom his obedience was due. He also pays him the utmost reverence, bowing his face to the earth and making obeisance. By this lowly bearing David showed that, so far from being a rebel, he still acknowledged Saul's lawful authority, and was true to his allegiance.

1 Samuel 24:9, 1 Samuel 24:10

In his address David complained of Saul's listening to men's words, which slanderously represented him as lying in wait to kill the king. In answer to their calumnies he now pleads Saul's own experience of his deeds. Some bade me kill thee. Hebrew, "he bade to kill thee." The literal rendering is, "Jehovah delivered thee today into my hand, and bade kill thee." The A.V. supplies some, or, more exactly, "one said." This is supported by the Syriac and Chaldee, but the literal rendering is probably the right one. Had David killed Saul, it would have seemed as if it were ordered by Providence so to be, and as if by putting Saul into his power God had intended his death. But what seem to us to be the leadings of Providence are not to be blindly followed. Possibly David's first thought was that God intended Saul to die, and so the Vulgate, "I thought to kill thee. But immediately a truer feeling came over his mind, and he recognised that opportunities, such as that just given him, may be temptations to be overcome. The highest principles of religion and morality do not bend to external circumstances, but override them.

1 Samuel 24:11-13

My father. David thus salutes Saul not because he was actually his father-in-law, but as a title indicative of the respect due from an inferior to his superior (2 Kings 5:13). So David calls himself Nabal's son (1 Samuel 25:8). In the rest of the verse he contrasts his refusal to slay Saul, when it might have seemed as if it were Providence that had put him into his power, with Saul's determined pursuit of him. Thou huntest my soul to take it. Thou perpetually usest every artifice and stratagem against me for the confessed purpose of killing me, and pursuest me as eagerly as the hunter pursues his game. Hence David commits his cause to Jehovah, in the sure confidence that he will avenge him, and with the firm determination never himself to raise his hand against one who, though his enemy, was also the king. In proof of the impossibility of his ever seeking the king's hurt, he quotes an ancient proverb, "From the wicked goeth out wickedness." Had David harboured evil intentions he would have executed them when so fair an opportunity offered, but as he has no such purposes "his hand will never be" upon Saul.

1 Samuel 24:14, 1 Samuel 24:15

Finally, David makes a pathetic appeal to Saul, contrasting him in his grandeur as the king of Israel with the fugitive whom he so relentlessly persecuted. In calling himself a dead dog he implies that he was at once despicable and powerless. Even more insignificant is a flea, Hebrew, "one flea," "a single flea." The point is lost by omitting the numeral. David means that it is unworthy of a king to go forth with 3000 men to hunt a single flea. As the king's conduct is thus both unjust and foolish, David therefore appeals to Jehovah to be judge and plead his cause, i.e. be his advocate, and state the proofs of his innocence. For deliver me out of thy hand, the Hebrew is, "will judge me out of thy hand," i.e. will judge me, and by doing so justly will deliver me from thy power.

1 Samuel 24:16

This address of David produced a lively effect upon Saul. Philippson says of it, "The speech of David has so much natural eloquence, such warmth and persuasiveness, that it can be read by no one who has any feeling for the simple beauties of the Bible without emotion. The whole situation, moreover, has much of sublimity about it. We see David, standing on the summit of some rock in the wilderness, raising on high the trophy of his magnanimity, while addressing the melancholy Saul, whom he loved as a father, obeyed as king, and honoured as the Lord's anointed, but who nevertheless hated him without reason, and followed him with unremitting energy to put him to death; using his opportunity of touching the heart of his enemy with words hurried, but expressive of his innermost feelings, and showing himself full of humility, oppressed by unutterable sorrows, bowed down by the feeling of his powerlessness, yet inspirited by the consciousness of a noble deed." So affected is Saul by David's words that he breaks into team, affectionately addresses David as his son, and acknowledges his innocence and the uprightness of his cause.

1 Samuel 24:19

Will he let him go well away? Hebrew, "will he let him go on a good way?" i.e. will he let him go on his way in peace, unhurt? As David, nevertheless, had let his enemy go unharmed, Saul, touched momentarily by his generosity, prays that Jehovah will reward him for what he had done.

1 Samuel 24:20-22

I know well that thou shalt surely be king. Jonathan had expressed a similar conviction (1 Samuel 23:17), and probably there was a growing popular belief that David was the person in whom Samuel's prophetic words (1 Samuel 15:28) were to be fulfilled. Something may even have been known of the selection of David and his anointing at Bethlehem; not perhaps by the king, but in an indistinct way by the people. As for Saul himself, he must long have felt that God's blessing had departed from him, and, brooding perpetually over Samuel's words, it required but little discernment on his part to make him see that the kingdom which he had forfeited was to be bestowed upon one so worthy of it, and so manifestly protected and blessed by God. He therefore makes David swear that he will not cut off his seed after him (see on 1 Samuel 20:15); and so they part. Saul returns to Gibeah, while David and his men gat them up unto the hold. The word gat up, mounted, suggests that the hold, or fastness, was their previous haunt at Hachilah: They would go down to En-gedi, and the difficulty of obtaining food there for 600 men would be insurmountable, except for a very short period. On the other side of the desert they were in a pastoral country, and the large flock masters there probably from time to time sent them supplies. The position of David was thus improved for the present by Saul s reconciliation with him.


1 Samuel 24:1-7

Instruction in caves.

The facts are—

1. Saul, having repelled the incursion of the Philistines, returns to pursue David in the wilderness of Engedi.

2. Saul, entering privately into a cave while David and his men lie concealed there, comes unwittingly within the power of David.

3. David's men, referring to a Divine prediction, urge him to slay Saul.

4. Apparently to indicate how entirely Saul was within his power, David stealthily cuts off the skirt of his coat.

5. Reproaching himself for the levity thus displayed in treating the Lord's anointed, he at once justifies his refusal to touch Saul's life, and also restrains his men. It is observable how the sacred narrative of this period is entirely occupied with the conflict between Saul and David; not a word being said of the social and spiritual state of the nation, its commerce and agriculture, its hopes and fears, or even of the nature and degree of influence being exerted by Samuel and the prophetic schools. The specialty of sacred history lies in the concentration of all thought in the development of the chain of events by which the original promise to Adam and Abraham is traceable to fulfilment in Christ. This principle will account for countless omissions of fact which might reasonably be expected in a nation's annals, and for the prominence given to persons and circumstances otherwise of no public significance. It is because men do not consider the spiritual principle on which the Old Testament is evidently constructed that they mistake much of its meaning, fail to see its exquisite teaching, and regard as heterogeneous what is pervaded by a marvellous unity. The incidents of this stage in the history not only reveal the gradual process by which Providence was working out great issues for Israel and all mankind, but also suggest several topics of far wider range than the individual life of David. Caves. from Machpelah, the centre of solemn and tender interests (Genesis 23:1-9; Genesis 25:9; Genesis 35:29; Genesis 1:13), on to the hiding place of a weary-hearted prophet (1 Kings 19:9), to Plato's imaginary scene for illustrating the limitations of human knowledge and the hiding places of persecuted saints (Heb 12:1-29 :38), have figured in human affairs, and the cave of Engedi certainly merits attention. It reminds us of—

I. THE DOMINANCE OF AN EVIL PASSION. In reply to the inquiry, How is it that the king of Israel is here away from his ordinary seat of government, and exposed to peril of life? the answer must be, Because the passion of cruel envy has gained dominion over his entire nature. Any considerations of policy or prudence wherewith he may have sought to justify his conduct in pursuing David were mere fictions created by a perverted will under the control of a masterful envy of one better them himself. The history traces the growth of this feeling. The dire evil, like a repressed torrent, seemed to gain force by the check given by Samuel and the prophets (1 Samuel 19:18-24), until at last it gained such ascendancy over Saul's life that the entire energy of his mind and the ordinary administration of his kingdom were made subordinate to its expression. He was the slave of an evil once consisting in a sudden feeling of ill will, which, had it been dealt with as every unhallowed feeling should the moment it appears, might have been crushed in the germ. The case of Saul is not unlike that of many men, although the governing feeling may be different. Men are more entirely dominated by some powerful disposition than they, in their neglect of introspection and consequent lack of self-knowledge, imagine. The reality is seen in the instance of persons given up to intemperance, dissoluteness of life, and cruelty; and ordinary observers may be able to trace the process from slight indulgence in the sin to its complete mastery over the life. Others, who look at life more closely and estimate its value by the Scriptural standard, can also see the same enslavement, brought on by degrees, in the instance of persons who pursue wealth, worldly fame, or personal enjoyment as the chief end of life. The Pharisees thought it shocking to have killed the prophets, and were not disposed to admit their own enslavement to evil feelings deadly in character. The positive antagonism of men to Christ means the gradual growth in them of aversion to his holy restraints until they become its slaves. There is a proud but delusive sense of independence attaching to this enslavement to evil. "We were never in bondage to any man" (John 8:33). It is a device of the devil to make his captives content with their chains or to blind them to their reality. "Are we blind also?" (John 9:40). And as in the case of Saul the domination of the evil only drew him on and on to deeper trouble, till at last all was lost, so, unless our ruling evils are destroyed by prompt submission of will to Christ's yoke, and consequent subjection of the life to his purifying grace, sin will "bring forth death."

II. THE INFLUENCE OF HUMAN FEELING IN THE INTERPRETATION WHICH MEN PUT UPON REVELATION AND PROVIDENCE. Different opinions may be entertained as to the sense attached to the words of David's men (1 Samuel 24:4), and accordingly the practical lessons deducible will vary with the choice we make.

(1) On the supposition that they were here quoting a specific communication conveyed to David through Samuel or Gad, and probably divulged in course of conversation with them, we have raised the question of, the fact of revelations having been made in past ages to holy men which, serving for their personal guidance and comfort, have not been incorporated in the ordinary records, which conserve only what has been deemed necessary to the connected history of redemption, and the general instruction of mankind. If this be so, it is obvious obscurities might cease to be obscurities to us did we but know what those immediately concerned in the events recorded may have been familiar with.

(2) On the supposition that the language of these men was the interpretation which they put upon the predictions contained in 1 Samuel 15:28; 1Sa 16:1, 1 Samuel 16:12, and on the avowed beliefs of Jonathan (1 Samuel 20:15; 1 Samuel 23:17), which by this time may have become current, we have raised the question of the influence of a cherished state of feeling—its extent and legitimacy—on the interpretation which men put upon the teachings of Scripture in reference to doctrine, history, and worship.

(3) On the supposition that their words were simply intended to be the sense they put upon the indications of Providence as then working out in favour of David's cause, we have the question of the proneness of men to view passing events in the light of their own tendencies, and, therefore, to make Providence mean what it was never designed to suggest. Apart from controversy on the forementioned points, it is possible to generalise the teaching of the passage by saying that there is a prevailing tendency in men to prejudice the interpretation both of Divine words and providential events by undue regard to their own wishes. It is clear that these men wanted David to slay Saul. Being less spiritual and generous than he, not having risen to his lofty conception of the kingdom of God, and restive under the restraints which kept them from positions of power under the coming king, they easily believed it was God's will that David should force on the issue by the death of his enemy. Passing event or spoken word in the past would have no other meaning for them.

1. This fact should be remembered in relation to controversies and diversities of opinion on matters of sacred history, doctrine, and worship. The existence of such diversities is no evidence against a revealed religion, as some suppose, but just the reverse; for in the nature of the case men view the truth through the medium created by their own cherished moral condition. The final supremacy of truth is not to be attained in violation of laws which govern the operations of the human mind, but by means of them. That men so diverse in opinion and in worship should nevertheless have so much in common that is fundamental, and should be under the mighty influence of it, is a sign that the truth is one and of God, while the error is of man and is manifold. No student of human nature can be surprised that men should seek to eliminate the supernatural from Scripture history; for only let a desire be cherished to see a revelation harmonise with what a man thinks would be a proper way of giving it to the world,—namely, by just such an absence of supernatural manifestations as characterises an era when no new revelation is longer needed,—and it will be as easy for him to see only naturalism in Scripture events as for David's men to see in words and events an authorisation to slay Saul. It is a suggestive circumstance that men of diverse temperaments and emotional or esthetic tendencies gravitate towards certain ecclesiastical organisations; nor can we overlook the fact that it is rare for men to pass over from a system in which their tastes have been formed to another, the advocates of which claim to represent the truth.

2. The fact should variously affect our conduct in relation to our fellow men and to the truth. It should induce a distrust of our own judgment in so far as, on severe self-examination, it is seen to be associated with our wishes. Every one is bound to "search the Scriptures," to "see whether these things are so," and to "hold fast what is true." No surrender of this great duty and privilege to an order of men can be pleaded on the ground that possibly feeling may distort the vision of truth in the private individual; for men acting for others are men still, and cannot escape the conditions of human nature, while the aid of the Holy Spirit is as available for one sincere heart as for another. Our duty is to bring the most vigorous powers we can command to bear on our understanding of the will of God, and in so far as we do so in dependence on the Holy Spirit we may calmly rest in our conclusions, with the proviso that they, however good, are not coextensive with truth, and that we have purged our hearts of all human preference and prejudice. It should induce charity towards others. The exercise of charity in matters of opinion is not identical with a surrender of our own judgment to a superior, nor a denial of the importance of fundamental truth and the possibility of its attainment, nor a blindness to the serious consequences resulting from error, but an exercise of kindly consideration for those who differ from us, proceeding from the consciousness that our own views may be in some degree affected by our subjective moral condition, and that our superiority to others depends on the belief we have in the comparative freedom of our judgment from personal bias. It is a characteristic of the interaction of feeling with thought that in so far as feeling has become habitual we are, by a well known psychological law, less conscious of its presence as an element in the formation of judgment; and consequently we may, as may others, be very sincere though in error. This by no means justifies error, or renders men safe from its consequences; but it does demand mutual consideration, and imposes on every man the solemn responsibility of so guarding the beginnings of his life that no unholy feeling or form of self-will shall gain ascendancy in his nature. They are wise who in a kind and tender spirit seek to bring men to a higher form of spiritual life. It is in love—the pure love of God—that truth is to be seen. It should induce us to seek for ourselves and others more of the purifying grace of the Holy Spirit. Possibly while on earth men will not entirely rise above the disturbing or perverting influence of tastes and sentiments inwrought with their early education, and unconsciously fostered as years advance; for by the mental law of association we are, while in the body, in some measure subject to bondage. Yet the truth is clear that in so far as we do become pure in heart and like as a little child—with a nature open to receive what God may teach, and not furnished with wishes by which truth is to be judged—we shall rise to a correct view of God's word and providence. Pure souls are quick in spiritual perception and responsive to all that is Divine, and, on the other hand, sensitive to the faint appearance of evil. The more fully the Church becomes sanctified, the more unity will be created in a discernment of all that constitutes fundamental truth. The eras in which men have paraded opinions alien to the faith once delivered to the saints, priding themselves on their skill and ability, have not been distinguished by extreme dependence on the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit; nor perhaps has the Church ever, since apostolic days, sufficiently associated growth in spiritual knowledge with his blessed indwelling.

III. THE MEANS OF SUCCESS AS VIEWED BY MEN OF DIVERSE CHARACTER. All the men in the cave were one with David in the cause on which he was embarked. But followers do not always enter into the lofty aspirations of their leaders, or share equally with them the responsibility of the position assumed, while they often outstrip them in apparent zeal for the completion of their work. Hitherto the chief obstacle in the way of success was Saul, and now that Providence had manifestly put him within the power of David, what more conclusive evidence to ardent followers of the true road to success could be forthcoming? Let David smite his persecuting foe, and the cause is won! Such was the road to success suggested by policy, self-interest, usages of Eastern warfare, and restless impatience of the ways of God. Against this David protests. It is his duty to abide God's time for entrance on his royal dignities. Even the slight liberty which David, on the impulse of the moment, took with the king in spoiling his garment became on reflection an occasion of self-reproach. Respect for office is a power in social life, being one form of reverence for law and order, and contributing to the easy maintenance of lawful authority; and therefore the levity of finding amusement for himself and others at a king's expense was inconsistent with the true Hebrew culture which indicates its regard for the finer sentiments of life by such prohibitions as, "Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother's milk;" "Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people." It should be remembered generally that there is a seeming way to rapid success which is not the true way, and, vice versa, a tedious, painful way which is the right. David's superior discernment was fortunate for him, though doubtless his adherents were annoyed at his apparent timidity and, as they supposed, fastidiousness. Lot ungenerously made choice of the richest district in haste to be rich, but his uncle eventually was most successful (Genesis 13:8-11; Genesis 14:11, Genesis 14:12). On the other hand, Moses refused the temptation to become possessed of the honours and riches of Egypt, and finally was raised to the highest position a servant of God could occupy (Hebrews 11:24-26). Our Saviour might have gained a vast following and been regarded by the authorities of Jerusalem as their Messiah had he only accommodated his standard a little to their wishes; but now he is Lord of millions. The apostles constantly resisted inducements to achieve an immediate success by lowering their standard of preaching to the tastes of men, and so lost some (Galatians 3:1-4) disciples; but the result has been most blessed. In Church organisation, modes of worship, and methods of labour it is possible to devise means by which at first a large accession shall be made to the ranks of nominal Christians, yet at the same time wrong may be done to the claims of order, purity, reverence, and truth, which wrong will be avenged in years to come by corruption of manners, low spiritual tastes, and possibly apostasy from the truth. In matters of business men often see an easy way by which wealth may be speedily won, and, in preference to the slow and steady process of honest toil, it may be chosen to the ruin of the soul. Simple, earnest waiting on Providence, doing daily work as it comes, not seeking to force matters by any act that conscience would condemn, is the course suggested by the conduct of David and all who fear God.

1 Samuel 24:8-15

Discrimination in relation to men, truth, and vocation.

The facts are—

1. David follows Saul out of the cave and pays him homage.

2. He remonstrates against Saul heeding the lies of slanderers, and declares to him how he had just spared his life.

3. Exhibiting the skirt of the robe in evidence of his words, and appealing to God, he protests his innocence of purpose.

4. He, while admitting his own insignificance, commends his cause to the justice of God, and prays for deliverance. If we take into account what human nature is under provocation, and the rough and painful life of David at this period, we shall not fail to admire the generous, highly spiritual tone of his conduct on this occasion. It is a remarkable instance of real conformity of spirit with Christian requirements among those in ancient times not blessed with our advantages. It is also a remarkable testimony to the value of these virtues that men, without dissent, admire the beautiful spirit of David, even though in many instances they have not the will to act likewise in analogous situations. But the general teaching of the section may be arranged in the following order:—

I. DISCRIMINATION OF CHARACTER IS A PRODUCT OF TRUE GOODNESS, and is ESSENTIAL TO SUCCESS IN DEALING WITH MEN amidst the difficulties of life. David was a man of valour, of deep piety, and of keen discernment. His intense love of righteousness was not attended by a hasty and harsh condemnation of Saul's conduct, evil as it was. While keenly alive to the wrong Saul was doing him, and recognising that One above visits every evil doer, he nevertheless in his first words to Saul recognises the fact, which doubtless through Jonathan and others he had ascertained, that there were greater sinners in this sad business than Saul. "Wherefore hearest thou men's words, saying, Behold, David seeketh thy hurt?" He knew how the unhappy king had departed from God, and subsequently had become melancholy, and at times almost insane, and he understood how the original wicked envy was associated with this sad fall from God's favour; and hence, apart from the reverence cherished for the office of king, he could not but commiserate his persecutor. Saul, in the judgment of David, was now but a mere tool in the hands of cunning, unscrupulous men at court, who basely roused the enmity of the unfortunate monarch by inventing lies concerning the intentions of David. Discrimination of character may find abundant scope in every man's life. How much it is lacking is obvious when we reflect on the wholesale condemnation often passed on individuals and communities. Accidental association in public life is frequently the sole basis of a common judgment. Much of the faulty training of families and imperfect education in schools is to be ascribed to this source, while errors in this particular are the cause of manifold mistakes and disastrous failures in private life. It is due to others, as also safe for ourselves, that we act on our Saviour's exhortation, "Judge righteous judgment." David was just to Saul in regarding him as the weak instrument of stronger wills; as was our Saviour just to a misled people when he charged the scribes and Pharisees with hindering them from obeying the gospel (Matthew 23:13). A certain development and balance of the intellectual faculties are requisite to discriminate character. It is to be feared that very little attention is paid to this kind of culture in many homes and schools, and consequently there are thousands in a far worse position for the great conflict of life than they need be. But where ordinary capacities for discernment exist, true piety will insure their right and just exercise; for religion raises the whole moral tone of a man, and gives a superior moral element to our judgments on the motives and conduct of men. The gift of "discerning spirits" is of much value still in the Church of God and in daily affairs.

II. OUR JUDGMENT ON THE LANGUAGE OF THE BIBLE SHOULD BE REGULATED BY REGARD TO THE SPECIFIC KNOWLEDGE ON WHICH IT IS BASED. David discriminates between the weak and sinful Saul and the cunning, determined men who used him as a tool for their wicked schemes. The language employed by him here in reference to Saul is mild and tender—recognising wrong, but expressive of the conviction that his actions were now not responsible in the same degree as when he disobeyed the command of God through Samuel. In the Psalms we have other language—strong, severe, withering—intended for "men set on fire, sons of men whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword" (Psalms 57:4). "Deceit," "fraud," "lying lips," "poison of adders," tongues "set on fire," that "wrest words" and "love all devouring words," are the terms used to indicate the motives and purposes of the men prompting the action of Saul. Now as we find the explanation of the mild language in the intimate knowledge which he had of the weakness of his enemy, and the use which stronger wills were making of him, so, by the same rule of interpretation, ought we to allow an appropriateness of other and more severe language to men so utterly vile as these were known to be, and to whom he alludes in verse 9 and 1 Samuel 26:19. Too often Christian men, and especially unbelievers, read the strong language of the Psalms as though it were expressive of sentiments ordinarily entertained towards any who might differ from David; and it is viewed as in contrast with his address to Saul and the precepts of Christ. The unreasonableness of this judgment is evident when we only consider what David knew these men to be, and to be aiming at. They were deliberate, calculating liars, knowing by his deeds, by Samuel's approval, and by his pure and useful life, that he was a chosen man of God, and yet endeavouring by false representations to blast his reputation, to incite a moody king to slay him on account of his vileness of intention, and, in fact, to frustrate the purpose which God had announced through Samuel, and of which Jonathan, Gad, Abiathar, and others were aware. A baser, more cruel and cowardly conspiracy against character, life, and national welfare can hardly be imagined. The knowledge of these specific facts renders David's wrath and indignation most holy, and, in view of what would be the calamity to Israel should they succeed in annulling the purpose of God as declared to Samuel and made known to David and others, the Church can say Amen to the Psalms. This principle of interpretation is wider than the case before us. None of us dare use towards others the severe language of Christ's denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees, because we have not the minute knowledge of motive and internal, irreclaimable deceitfulness which was clear to his eye; but his view of what is hidden from us rendered his words just and good. Also, the language used with reference to the necessity of atonement, the manner in which it is made, and the conditions on which it becomes available for those made acquainted with it, should be considered reverently, as being founded on an intimate knowledge on the part of God of very many facts pertaining to moral existence, the interrelation of all moral beings, and the administration of a government stretching through all time and place, which necessarily at present escape our observation. The same principle may apply to much of the language in reference to the future condition of the wicked. Even the right interpretation of historical matter in many dubious cases may depend on facts which to the writers were well known, but to us are unknown. It would be useful to direct attention to the conditions of a right understanding of the Bible, embracing in the purview moral health, attained by the quickening of the Holy Spirit, caution, reverence, regard to its spiritual aims, its fragmentary character, its progressive teaching—especially sympathy with its purpose.

III. A MAN'S VOCATION IN LIFE EXERCISES A POWERFUL INFLUENCE IN DETERMINING HIS MORAL QUALITIES. The moral qualities of consideration, forbearance, magnanimity, and candour so prominent in David during this interview with Saul met with little sympathy among his followers at the time, though subsequently they would see the wisdom of his conduct. Like others, they judged of what should be done by what from their lower moral position they were inclined to do. The superior conduct of David was not due simply to tenderness of natural disposition, nor to the presence of piety considered per se, but largely to the educating influence on his generally pious character of his calling in life. He perfectly understood that, as servant of God, he was called to be future ruler of Israel, and meanwhile so to live and act that no deed of his should touch his personal reputation in Israel or create the impression on the mind of Saul that he sought his removal from the throne to gratify private ambition. Virtually he was already a royal personage. His actions and words were therefore public property. The building up of national character and development of national resources were matters of deepest concern. The consciousness of this drew him nearer to God, attached responsibility to his deeds, imparted dignity and grace to his bearing, put a restraint on the flow of private feelings, and, though uncrowned, made him royal in his magnanimity. David as a coming king was morally a more developed man than would have been David as a simple citizen. A consideration of the influence of calling on character would afford much instruction in relation to social habits, mental and moral development, Christian excellence and degeneracies, national and provincial characteristics and tendencies, domestic comfort and discomfort, personal antagonisms and aversions, and the need for a large charity in estimating conduct different from our own, as also for profound thought in reference to the best means of remedying some evils incident to a highly developed civilisation, in which the comforts and luxuries of one class are procured by avocations of another chess that tell perniciously on their mental and moral development. Christians are especially exhorted to walk worthy of their high calling; and, apart from direct influence of the Holy Spirit in the formation of character, it would be helpful to all to study the natural influence over the entire man of a calling to be "kings and priests unto God." "What manner of persons ought ye to be?" "As he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation" (1 Peter 1:15).

IV. THE COMMITTAL OF OUR INTERESTS TO GOD IS THE PROPER SEQUEL TO A CONSCIENTIOUS DISCHARGE OF DUTY. David had done all an honest man could do to clear himself of guilt and to pacify Saul, and with strong faith in an overruling Providence he leaves his cause with God. Personal retaliation for injuries done is no part of our duty. "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord." Whether we succeed in a difficult work is not our business. To have done right is the chief concern. Our Saviour has set us an example of fulfilling all righteousness and then committing himself and his cause to the "righteous Father." There is that in the conscience of men which bows before such appeals to the "Judge of all the earth." The name of God is a power over men because they are moral beings. It is a refuge for the oppressed and a terror to the wicked.

General lessons:

1. The real guilt of men is to be estimated both by the intrinsic evil of their intentions and the influence they seek to exercise over others.

2. Men who desire to find the Bible faulty in its language can have their desire easily gratified by reasoning as though they knew all concerning its production and contents; while a different disposition will lead to suspension of judgment or minute search for hidden facts.

3. The moral influence of a calling on character should guide us in our arrangements for our sons and daughters.

4. Deeds are the tests and signs of principles; for as wickedness is the natural outcome of the wicked man, good actions, as in the generous sparing of Saul's life, are the product of a righteous soul (verse 13).

1 Samuel 24:16-22

Tenderness transitory and truth suppressed.

The facts are—

1. Saul, subdued by the magnanimity of David, weeps and admits his own wrong in contrast with David's kindness.

2. Acknowledging his belief that David is to be king, he pleads with him to be merciful to his seed.

3. David, granting the request, returns to his stronghold, and Saul to his home. Good actions soon begin to authenticate their Divine mission in the world. The noble self-vindication from the calumnies of slanderers and the rare display of generosity to a persistent foe told at once even on the obdurate nature of Saul, and in the effect produced we have an instance of two facts often observable among men and of some significance in their experience.

I. THE TRANSITORY TENDERNESS OF SINFUL MEN. Saul's heart was softened, and he wept. Words of tenderness and of frank confession of guilt came forth with all sincerity. The terrible encrustation formed by years of transgression and disobedience seemed to be broken, and the true man reasserted itself from within. The power of kindness received a conspicuous illustration. Wickedness could no longer confront goodness. And yet, as we know from the subsequent care of David to escape from Saul, the tenderness was only as "the morning cloud and early dew."

1. There are seasons of tenderness even in the lives of the most impenitent of men. This might be inferred from our necessary knowledge of the conflicting principles at work in all moral beings, and from our observation that it requires enormous effort to kill outright all the better qualities of our humanity; but the fact comes before us in history, biographical confessions, and in the intercourse of daily life. Who has not seen a hardened sinner subdued by a reminder of a mother's prayers, or the mention in gentle tones of the Saviour's name, or the kindly gaze of a Christian eye? In the vilest abodes of sin, and among the proudest sceptics, there are those who sometimes weep in secret or relent in their rebellion against God.

2. The causes of this tenderness are often ascertainable. In the case of Saul we see a combination of causes. The display of magnanimity was impressive because of its very rarity; it came homo to his sense of right; it was in vivid contrast with his own conduct; it was in its logic so conclusive as to the goodness of the man he was persecuting; it brought out the fact that all along he had known David to be good, but had forced the fact out of thought; it was a revelation of his bondage to vile men, to whose character he could not be quite blind; and it could not but call up to memory days once bright and happy, when he was a young man unburdened by present guilt and care. Varied are the causes which enable the remnant of good in men to assert itself for awhile; some lie deep in the hidden processes of thought, where the association of ideas is made subservient to the force of Scriptural truth learnt in early years and to the unconscious influence of the Spirit of God; while others arise in the events of daily life, such as sickness, casual words of kindness, presence of a beautifully holy life that suggests a contrast, mention of the words of Jesus, or the open grave.

3. The import of these seasons of tenderness deserves consideration. Is there not some hope for such men in spite of their past and present surroundings? Is there not a basis on which Christians may work in wisdom? Have we not here the secret on the human side of the mighty power of the truth of God? Is it not important to make such men believe that there is some germ worth caring for in their otherwise sad and wretched life? Does not the transitoriness of the tenderness often arise from the absence of some wise friend to encompass the self-condemned heart with love? Ought not Christians to go among men with the conviction that they are all reclaimable, and that it is largely a question of gaining access to the tender place in their nature and caring for them as a wise physician would for a patient desperately ill? There are many ways in which the Church may apply the thoughts thus awakened in our endeavours to win to Christ even the most abandoned. Immense power is gained over men when they know us to be cognizant of any transitory feeling of tenderness; and half the battle is won when they begin to look on us as friends to be trusted.

II. THE FORCED SUPPRESSION OF TRUTH. Saul was evidently sincere in saying, "Now, behold, I know that thou shalt surely be king;" but the confession was also a revelation of the fact that all through these persecutions he had more than surmised that David was the coming king. Had he been anxious to know the actual truth before as surely as he professed now to have attained it, the course was clear enough. But these words confirm the teaching of the entire history—that he was aware not only of his own rejection, but that this slayer of the lion and bear, and conqueror of Goliath, and protege of Samuel, and friend of Jonathan, was the chosen servant of God. The course adopted by Saul can only be explained on the supposition that he suppressed the truth. It is in the nature of truth to assert its power over the life by convincing the understanding and constraining the will, and only the rebellious spirit that refused to submit to the sad punishment announced by Samuel, sustained by cherished envy of David, and wrought upon by cunning slanderers, could have rendered the facts clear to Saul so nugatory in their influence over his life. Well would it have been if this were a solitary instance of suppression of truth! Every man persisting in a sinful course has to force out truth from thought. The internal war consists partly in crushing the free evidence of knowledge. Men know more than they like to admit and act upon; and all kinds of devices are resorted to, to explain away or to divert attention from what is manifestly true. The suppressions of truth in controversy are denounced as very wicked, but in relation to personal moral conduct and religion it is possible for the advocates of candour to shut their eyes to much that is out of harmony with their wishes. It is a truth that self is sinful before God, that efforts to find true rest apart from Christ are unavailing, that the chosen life of sin is "hard," that the holy are happier than the sinful, and that Christ is waiting to be gracious, and yet this truth is constantly put away from view as unwelcome, troublesome. Doubtless, also, many who under the influence of stronger wills are bold in their denial of Christ's authority know in their secret heart that he is Lord and will establish his kingdom. Sin makes men dishonest to themselves; under its power they are not of the truth. They prefer darkness because their deeds are evil.

General lessons:

1. In the issue goodness will be recognised by those who despise it, and generosity is always influential.

2. The anguish of wrong doing occasionally felt is fearfully suggestive of the future experience of the unrepenting.

3. The occasional triumphs of the good over all their slanderers and oppressors are intimations of the final triumph of Christ in the establishment of his kingdom.

4. Vows and promises in reference to future acts in so far as they embrace the quality of mercy may be freely and at all times made (1 Samuel 24:21).


1 Samuel 24:1-7. (ENGEDI.)

David's forbearance toward Saul.

"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 (1 Samuel 24:7, 1 Samuel 24:10), 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 (1 Samuel 24:10, 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 (1 Samuel 24:5) 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, Proverbs 25:22; 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?" (1 Samuel 24:9). 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 Psalms 7:1-17; '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 (Psa 24:1-10 :13; Psalms 35:11; Psalms 52:2; Psalms 56:5; Psalms 57:4; Psalms 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, Matthew 12:37). "God is angry (with the wicked) every day" (Psalms 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" (Psalms 7:11).

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" "must be stopped" (Titus 1:11).

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

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. (Psalms 7:12).

"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" (Psalms 7:8, Psalms 7:9, Psalms 7:10).


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.

1 Samuel 24:13-15. (ENGEDI.)

A proverb of the ancients.

"Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked (1 Samuel 24:13). 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 (verse 19), and turns to evil the same circumstances which a good disposition turns to good (verse 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 (verse 11). "But my hand shall not be upon thee" (verses 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 (verse 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 (verse 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.

1 Samuel 24:16-22. (ENGEDI.)

The goodness of bad men.

"And Saul lifted up his voice and wept" (1 Samuel 24:17). 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 (1 Samuel 24:9-15). 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 (1 Samuel 24:18). 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 (1 Samuel 24:19). 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 (1 Samuel 24:17), 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 (1 Samuel 24:19).

3. The conviction of the Divine purpose. "And now, behold, I know well," etc. (1 Samuel 24:20). 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 (1 Samuel 24:21). 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 (1 Samuel 24:22). 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. (Psalms 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. (Psalms 139:23, Psalms 139:24). "Create in me a clean heart," etc. (Psalms 51:10).—D.


1 Samuel 24:16, 1 Samuel 24:17

Evil overcome by good.

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.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 24". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/1-samuel-24.html. 1897.
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