The Word Made Fresh
1Around that time some men from Ziph went to Saul and told him David was hiding on Hachilah Hill across from Jeshimon. 2So, Saul led three thousand troops down to the Ziph wilderness to search for David. 3He camped south of Jeshimon beside the road to Hachilah Hill. David remained in the wilderness and when he heard that Saul was there 4he sent spies, who reported back to him that the reports were accurate. 5So, David crept up on Saul’s encampment and saw that Saul and Abner son of Ner, his army commander, were in the center with the army camped all around them.
6David consulted with Ahimelech the Hittite and with Joab’s brother Abishai son of Zeruiah. “Which one of you,” he asked, “will go into their encampment with me to where Saul is?” Abishai volunteered, 7so he and David crept into the Israelite camp in the dark to where Saul was asleep, his spear thrust into the ground near his head and with Abner and his troops lying all around him. 8Abishai whispered, “God has given your enemy into your hand. Let me take the spear and pin him to the ground. I won’t have to strike him twice.”
9But David responded, “Don’t do it! Who can lay a hand on God’s anointed and still be innocent? 10Either the LORD will strike him down when the time comes, or his day to die will arrive, or he will be killed in battle. 11The LORD forbid that I should be the one to raise my hand against him. But let’s take the spear beside his head and his water jar, and then get out of here!”
12So, David took Saul’s spear and water jar and they left. No one saw them. No one knew they had been there because none of them were awake. The LORD had sent them into a deep sleep. 13David crossed over to another hill some distance away. 14He called out to Abner and to Saul’s army. “Abner!” he yelled. “Why don’t you answer me?”
“Who is calling the king?” Abner responded.
15“What kind of man are you?” David taunted. “Is there anyone else like you in all of Israel? Why haven’t you guarded your lord the king? Someone entered your camp to destroy the king. 16This is not good, Abner! By the name of the living LORD, you deserve to die because you have utterly failed your lord, who is the LORD’s own anointed one! Look around. Where is the king’s spear and the king’s water jar that were right beside him?”
17Saul recognized David’s voice and called out, “Is that your voice, David my son?”
“It is, my lord the king!” David answered. 18And then he asked, “Why is my lord chasing his servant? What have I done? How am I guilty? 19Let my lord the king listen to his servant. If it is the LORD who has brought you out against me, I will give an offering. But if it is only a human act may my pursuers be cursed by the LORD, for they are trying to drive me away from my share in the LORD’s inheritance. They are telling me to go and serve other gods! 20Please, do not spill my blood on the ground away from the LORD’s presence. The king of Israel may as well have come out here chasing a single flea or hunting a partridge in the hills.”
21Then Saul replied, “I have made a mistake! Come back with me, my son David. I will never try to harm you again. I know my life was precious to you today, and I have been a fool. I have made a terrible mistake.”
22“Here is your spear, O king! Send one of the men to come get it from me. 23The LORD always rewards the one who is in the right and who is faithful. That is why the LORD gave you to me today, but I refuse to raise my hand against the LORD’s anointed. 24Your life has been precious in my sight today; may my life be precious in the LORD’s sight, and may the LORD rescue me from every danger.”
25Saul called out, “Bless you, David my son. You will accomplish many things.”
So, David went on his way and Saul returned home.
1-5: Although Saul and David seemed to have patched things up in chapter 24, we learn that matters between them are still unsettled. Again, locals inform Saul of David’s whereabouts, perhaps hoping for a reward. This is the same crowd from Ziph who ratted David out earlier (see 23:19). Saul assembles a force of 3000 men to track David down and capture him. And again, David’s intelligence is just as effective, and David knows where Saul’s army is camped and where he is within the camp.
6-12: David and Abishai slip into Saul’s camp undetected, their stealth aided by God’s having put all of them into a deep sleep. Abishai sees the opportunity to kill Saul, but David refuses, citing Saul’s status as the LORD’s anointed. We are reminded of David sparing Saul in the cave before when he clipped a piece of Saul’s tunic. Saul’s time will come eventually, David says, but for now just take his spear and water jar. They slip out of the camp as quietly as they have come into it.
13-16: Once out of the camp David taunts Abner, Saul’s chief military commander (who is also his uncle).
17-20: Saul recognizes David’s voice as before. This time David does not refer to Saul as “my father,” but only as “my lord the king.” David wonders why Saul pursues him and offers two possible explanations. If God has stirred up Saul, surely their relationship can be restored by simply making an offering. But if others are inciting Saul against him, then they are responsible for forcing David to run to other lands that serve other gods. He basically accuses them of trying to drive him to other gods. The statement about his blood falling to the ground reminds us of the Cain and Abel story, doesn’t it? He makes himself out to be unimportant in the scope of things: the king is using a cannon to shoot a flea.
21-25: Saul is recalcitrant. He insists on referring to David as “my son.” David is again reluctant to believe him and insists that Saul send someone to get the spear rather than bring it himself. Saul’s affirmation of David is not nearly as strong as it was in their last encounter. There he said to David, “Now I know that you shall surely be king!” (24:20). Here he only says, “You will succeed in many things.” But when the encounter is over, David does not return with Saul: once again they go their separate ways.
The cat and mouse game between David and Saul is becoming tedious for both of them and for us who are reading about them three millennia later (it’s more interesting than Leviticus, though!). Most of the action, however, primarily involves the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. We are given scant information about what is going on in the rest of Israel. The tribe of Judah will own the kingship with David and his son Solomon before the nation is split apart. The contest between David and Saul indicates the fault lines that will shake the foundations.