The Word Made Fresh
1When Saul returned from challenging the Philistines he was told that David was at En-Gedi. 2He gathered three thousand hand-picked troops from all over Israel and went to search for David toward the rocky heights where there were wild goats. 3They passed a cave near some sheep pens on the way and Saul went in it to relieve himself, unaware that David and his men were hiding there.
4David’s men said, “This is the day the LORD told you about, when your enemy would be put in your hands and you can do to him whatever you want.”
David crept up and cut off a corner of Saul’s cloak. 5But then he was ashamed of himself for doing it, 6and told his men, “The LORD forbid that I should take advantage of him. After all, the LORD did anoint him as king.” 7And he scolded his men for wanting to attack Saul.
Then Saul left the cave and went on his way. 8David waited a bit, then followed him out and called after him, “My lord the king!” Saul looked back to see David bowing down to the ground before him in obeisance. 9David said, “Why must you listen to those who tell you I’m bent on hurting you? 10Today the LORD put you in my hands in the cave. My men wanted me to kill you, but I spared your life. I told them I will not attack the LORD’s anointed. 11Look, my father, here is the corner of your cloak. I cut it off instead of killing you so that you would know for a certainty that I have no thoughts of treason against you. I have done nothing to harm you, but here you are hunting me down to kill me. 12May the LORD judge between us and be my avenger to you. But I will not do anything to harm you. 13There’s an old saying; ‘Evil comes from evil men.’ But I will do nothing against you. 14You’ve come out in pursuit, but you may as well be chasing a dead dog or a flea. 15The LORD will be the judge and decide between us. I plead my case! I ask the LORD to judge me and pronounce my innocence before you.”
16When David finished speaking, Saul said, “Is that you, David my son?” And he wept. 17“You are a better man than I,” he said. “I see now that you have been good to me even though I have judged you wrongly, because you didn’t take my life when the LORD put me in your hands. 18No one has ever found an enemy and then let him walk away. May the LORD bless you for what you have done for me today. 19Now I know that you will become king of Israel, and Israel will be in your good hands. 20Promise me in the LORD’s name that you will not cast off my family after I’m gone, and you will not erase my name from my father’s house.”
22David promised him. Saul went home, and David and his men returned to their hideout.
1-7: Saul’s campaign against the Philistines is concluded and he resumes his pursuit of David. He clearly sees David as a threat to his throne. Informants tell him David is at En-Gedi, so Saul assembles a 3000-man unit and goes after him. The scene assumes a comic posture; Saul goes into a cave to relieve himself, and it is the very cave in which David and his men are hiding. But David refuses to take advantage of the situation. He cuts off a piece of the tunic Saul has set aside and withdraws, letting Saul leave the cave safely. Ironically, David is one of the few people left who honor Saul as Israel’s anointed king.
8-15: David follows Saul outside and reveals himself. His speech is well organized and touches on several points: he acknowledges Saul’s kingship; he displays the piece of cloth to prove his proximity to Saul in the cave; he cleverly uses the name of God to affirm Saul and also to affirm his own innocence. When he asks God to judge between them, he is calling on the very God who has anointed them both!
16-22: Saul’s rejoinder is also remarkable for several elements. His emotion is unexpected but is in keeping with what we’ve already seen of his deteriorating mental condition. As David has called him “father” (verse 11), now Saul calls him “son” (verse 16). And he seems to completely capitulate, acknowledging that David will be king and asking David to treat Saul’s family favorably! Is it too good to be true? We will soon find out. For his part, David does not return to Saul’s house.
These chapters are a character study of Israel’s first two kings. In Saul’s case we clearly see the deterioration of his character, and even his mental health. David is cocky (remember his challenge to Goliath in chapter 17) but is also very aware of God’s claim on his life. That may be the greatest difference between them. That is what certainly makes a difference in everyone’s life.