The Life of David, Vol. I.
by A. W. Pink
His Address to Saul
1 Samuel 24
In our last chapter we left the apostate king of Israel asleep in the cave of Engedi, the very place which had been made a refuge by David and his followers. There Saul lay completely at the mercy of the man whose life he sought. David’s men were quick to perceive their advantage, and said to their master "Behold the day of which the Lord said unto thee, Behold I will deliver thine enemy into Wine hand, that thou mayest do to him as it shall seem good unto thee" (1 Sam. 24:4). A real temptation presented itself to the sweet Psalmist of Israel, and though he was not completely overcome by it, yet he did not emerge from the conflict without a wound and a stain. "Then David arose, and cut off the skirt of Saul’s robe privily." How true it is that "evil communications corrupt good manners" (1 Cor. 15:33)! Did this incident come back to his mind when, (probably) at a later date, the Spirit of God moved him to write, "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly" (Ps. 1:1)? Possibly so; at any rate, we find here a solemn warning which each of us does well to take to heart.
"And it came to pass afterward that David’s heart smote him, because he had cut off Saul’s skirt" (1 Sam. 24:5): which means, his conscience accused him, and he repented of what he had done. Good is it when our hearts condemn us for what the world regards as trifles. Though David had done no harm to the king’s person, and though he had given proof it was in his power to slay him, nevertheless his action was a serious affront against the royal dignity. No matter what be the personal character of the ruler, because of his office, God commands us to "honor the king" (1 Peter 2:17). This is a word concerning which all of us need reminding, for we are living in times when an increasing number "despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities" (Jude 8). God takes note of this!
"David’s heart smote him, because he had cut off Saul’s skirt." With this should be compared 2 Samuel 24:10, "And David’s heart smote him after that he numbered the people. And David said unto the Lord, I have sinned greatly in that I have done: and now, I beseech Thee, O Lord, take away the iniquity of Thy servant; for I have done very foolishly." From these passages it is evident that David was blest with a tender conscience, which is ever a mark of true spirituality. In solemn contrast therefrom, we read of those "having their conscience seared with a hot iron" (1 Tim. 4:2), and of some "being past feeling" (Eph. 4:19), which is a sure index of those who have been abandoned by God. David soon regretted his rash action and realized he had sinned. May God graciously grant unto reader and writer a sensitive conscience.
"And he said unto his men, The Lord forbid that I should do this thing unto my master, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch Forth mine hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord" (v. 6). How honest of David! He not only repented before God of his rash conduct, but he also confessed his wrong-doing unto those who had witnessed the same. It requires much grace and courage to do this, yet nothing short of it is required of us. Moreover, we know not to whom God may be pleased to bless a faithful and humble acknowledgement of our sins. David now let his men know plainly that he was filled with abhorrence for having so insulted his sovereign Lord. Observe how that it was his looking at things from the divine viewpoint which convicted him: he now regarded Saul not as a personal enemy, but as one whom God had appointed to reign as long as he lived.
"So David stayed his servants with these words, and suffered them not to rise against Saul" (v. 7). "Stayed" here signifies, pacified or quieted them, hindering them from laying rough hands upon the king. The first word of this verse is deeply significant: "So," in this manner, by what he had just said—how evident that God clothed his words with power! Few things have greater weight with men than their beholding of reality in those who bear the name of the Lord. David had honored God by calling the attention of his men to the fact that Saul was His "anointed," and now He honored David by causing his honest confession to strike home to the hearts of his men. Thus, by restraining his followers David returned good for evil to him from whom he had received evil for good.
"But Saul rose up out of the cave, and went on his way" (v. 7). Utterly unconscious of the danger which had threatened him, the king awoke, arose, and went forth out of the cave. How often there was but a step betwixt us and death, and we knew it not. Awake or asleep, our times are in God’s hands, and with the Psalmist faith realizes "Thou holdest my soul in life" (Ps. 66:9). None can die a moment before the time his Maker has appointed. Blessed is it when the heart is enabled to rest in God. Each night it is our privilege to say, "I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for Thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety" (Ps. 4:8). But how unspeakably solemn is the contrast between the cases of the godly and the wicked: the one is preserved for eternal glory, the other is reserved unto everlasting fire. Such was the difference between David and Saul.
"David also arose afterward and went out of the cave, and cried after Saul, saying, My lord the king" (v. 8). "Though he would not take the opportunity to slay him, yet he wisely took the opportunity, if possible, to slay his enmity, by convincing him that he was not such a man as he took him for" (Matthew Henry). In thus revealing himself to Saul, David intimated that he still entertained an honorable opinion of his sovereign: this was further evidenced by the respectful language which he employed. "And when Saul looked behind him, David stooped with his face to the earth, and bowed himself." How surprised the blood-thirsty monarch must have been in hearing himself addressed by the one whose life he sought! The posture of David was not that of a cringing criminal, but of a loyal subject. In what follows we have one of the most respectful, pathetic and forcible addresses ever made to one of earth’s rulers.
"And David said to Saul, Wherefore hearest thou men’s words, saying, Behold, David seeketh thy hurt?" (v. 9). It is beautiful to see how David commenced his speech to the king, wherein he endeavors to show how much he was wronged in being so relentlessly persecuted, and how much he desired Saul to be reconciled to him. Most graciously did David throw the blame upon Saul’s courtiers, rather than upon the king himself. In the question here asked Saul, it was suggested that his prejudice against David had been provoked by slanderous reports from others. Herein important instruction is furnished us as to what method to follow when seeking to subdue the malice of those who hate us: proceeding on the assumption that it is not the individual’s own enmity against us, but that it has been unjustly stirred up by others. Particularly does this apply to those in authority: respect is due unto them, and where they err, due allowance should be made for their having been ill-informed by others.
It is the practical application of the teaching of Scripture to the details of our own lives which is so much needed today. Of what real value is a knowledge of its history or an understanding of its prophecies, if they exert no vital influence upon our conduct? God has given us His Word not only for our information, but as a law to walk by, and every chapter in it contains important rules for us to appropriate and put into practice. What is before us above supplies a timely case in point. How often differences arise between men, breaches between friends, and misunderstandings between fellow-Christians; and how rarely do we see the spirit displayed by David unto Saul, exercised now in efforts to effect a reconciliation! Let us earnestly seek grace to profit from the lovely and lowly example here set before us.
"Behold, this day, thine eyes have seen how that the Lord had delivered thee today into mine hand in the cave: and some bade me kill thee: but mine eyes spared thee; and I said, I will not put forth mine hand against my lord, for he is the Lord’s anointed" (v. 10). First, David had refrained from reproaching or sharply expostulating Saul, now he shows that there was no ill-will in his own heart against him. He appealed to the most decisive proof that he had no intention of injuring him. The king had been completely at his mercy, and his men had urged him to dispatch his enemy, but pity for the helpless monarch had restrained him. Moreover, the fear of God governed him, and he dared not to lay violent hands upon His "anointed." By such mild measures did David seek to conciliate his foe. Let us take a leaf out of his copybook, and seek by acts of kindness to prove unto those that harbor false thoughts against us that Satan has misled them.
"Moreover, my father, see, yea, see the skirt of thy robe in my hand: for in that I cut off the skirt of thy robe, and killed thee not, know thou and see that there is neither evil nor transgression in mine hand, and I have not sinned against thee; yet thou huntest my soul to take it" (v. 11). "He produceth undeniable evidence to prove the falseness of the suggestion upon which Saul’s malice against him was grounded. David was charged with seeking Saul’s hurt: ‘see,’ saith he, ‘yea, see the skirt of thy robe:’ let this be a witness for me, and an unexceptional witness it is; had that been true which I am accused of, I had now had thy head in my hand, and not the skirt of thy robe; for 1 could as easily have cut off that as this" (Matthew Henry). Well for us is it when we can go to one filled with unjust suspicions against us, and confirm our words with convincing proofs of our good-will.
It is touching to see David here reminding Saul that there was a more intimate relation between them than that of king and subject; he had been united in marriage to his daughter, and therefore does he now address him as "my father" (v. 11). Here was an appeal not only to his honor, but to his affection: from a monarch one may expect justice, but from a parent we may surely look for affection. David might have addressed Saul by a hard name, but he sought to "overcome evil with good." Blessedly did he here prefigure his Lord, who, at the time of his arrest in the garden, addressed the treacherous Judas not as "Betrayer" or "Traitor," but "Friend." Nothing is gained by employing harsh terms, and sometimes "A soft answer turneth away wrath" (Prov. 15:1).
"The Lord judge between me and thee, and the Lord avenge me of thee: but mine hand shall not be upon thee" (v. 12). David now appealed unto a higher court. First, he desires that Jehovah Himself shall make it appear who was in the right and who in the wrong. Second, he counts upon the retribution of Heaven if Saul should continue to persecute him. Third, he affirms his steadfast resolution that no matter what he might suffer, nor what opportunities might be his to avenge himself, he would not do him hurt, but leave it with God to requite the evil. This was indeed a mild method of reasoning with Saul, and the least offensive way of pointing out to him the injustice of his conduct. If men would deal thus one with another how much strife could be avoided, and how many quarrels be satisfactorily ended!
"As saith the proverb of the ancients, Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked: but mine hand shall not be upon thee" (v, 13), This intimates that it is permissible for us to make a right use of the wise sayings of others, particularly of the ancients, even though they are not directly inspired of God. Such aphorisms as "Look before you leap," "Too many cooks spoil the broth," "All is not gold that glitters," are likely to stand us in good stead if they are stored in the memory and duly pondered. In days gone by, such proverbs were frequently spoken in the hearing of children (we are thankful that they were in ours), and the general absence of them today is only another evidence of the decadence of
"As saith the proverb of the ancients, Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked: but mine hand shall not be upon thee." The use which David here made of this proverb is obvious: he reminds Saul that a man is revealed by his actions. As a tree is known by its fruits, so our conduct makes manifest the dispositions of our hearts. It was as though David said, "Had I been the evil wretch which you have been made to believe, I would have had no conscience of taking away your life when it was in my power. But I could not: my heart would not let me." Though the dog barks at the sheep, the
"After whom is the king of Israel come out? after whom dost thou pursue? after a dead dog, after a flea" (v. 14). Here David descends and reasons with Saul on the lowest grounds: in your own judgment I am a worthless fellow, then why go to so much trouble over me! Is it not altogether beneath the dignity of a monarch to take so much pains in hunting after one who is not worthy of his notice? In likening himself to a "flea," David, by this simile, depicts not only his own weakness, but the circumstances he was in: obliged to move swiftly from place to place, and therefore not easily taken; and if captured, of no value to the king. Why then be so anxious to give chase to one so inconspicuous? "To conquer him would not be his honor, to attempt it only his disparagement. If Saul would consult his own reputation he would slight such an enemy (supposing he were really his enemy), and would think himself in no danger from him." If Saul had a spark of generosity in him, the humble carriage of David here would surely abate his enmity.
"The Lord therefore be Judge, and judge between me and thee, and see, and plead my cause, and deliver me out of thine hand" (v. 15). Having pleaded his case so forcibly, David now solemnly warned his enemy that Jehovah would judge righteously between them, deliver him out of his hand, and avenge his cause upon him. When we are innocent of the suspicions entertained against and preferred upon us, we need not fear to leave the issue with God. This is what our Lord Himself did: "When he suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously" (1 Peter 2:23). Assured that God would, in due time, vindicate him, David acted faith upon Him and rested in His faithfulness. The justice of God should ever be the refuge and comfort of those who are wrongfully oppressed: the day is coming when the Judge of all the earth shall recompense every evil-doer, and reward all the righteous.
A brief analysis of what we may term David’s "defense" teaches us what methods we should follow when seeking to show a person that we have given no cause for his malice against us. First, David asked Saul if he had not been unjust in listening to slanders against him (v. 9)? Second, he pointed out that because the fear of God was upon him, he dared not sin presumptuously (v. 10). Third, he appealed to his own actions in proof thereof (v. 11). Fourth, he affirmed he had no intention to retaliate and return evil for evil (v. 12). Fifth, he argued that the known character of a person should prevent others from believing evil reports about him (v. 13). Sixth, he took a lowly place, shaming pride by humility (v. 14). Seventh, he committed his case unto the justice of God (v. 15).