And it came to pass, when Saul was returned from following the Philistines, that it was told him, saying, Behold, David is in the wilderness of Engedi.
Verse 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" (Song of Solomon 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 Land and the Book,' p. 602) the sides of the ravines leading to En-gedi are full of natural and artificial caves and sepulchres.
Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel, and went to seek David and his men upon the rocks of the wild goats.
Verse 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 (p. 603) 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. Psalm 57:4, written, according to the title, upon the occasion recorded in this chapter.
And he came to the sheepcotes by the way, where was a cave; and Saul went in to cover his feet: and David and his men remained in the sides of the cave.
Verse 3. - He came to the sheepcotes. Rather, "to sheepcotes," there being no article in the Hebrew. Such sheepcotes were common in Palestine; for Thomson (p. 603) 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.
And the men of David said unto him, Behold the day of which the LORD said unto thee, Behold, I will deliver thine enemy into thine hand, that thou mayest do to him as it shall seem good unto thee. Then David arose, and cut off the skirt of Saul's robe privily.
Verses 4, 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.
And it came to pass afterward, that David's heart smote him, because he had cut off Saul's skirt.
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.
Verses 6, 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. TEMPORARY RECONCILIATION OF SAUL AND DAVID (vers. 8-22).
So David stayed his servants with these words, and suffered them not to rise against Saul. But Saul rose up out of the cave, and went on his way.
David also arose afterward, and went out of the cave, and cried after Saul, saying, My lord the king. And when Saul looked behind him, David stooped with his face to the earth, and bowed himself.
Verse 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.
And David said to Saul, Wherefore hearest thou men's words, saying, Behold, David seeketh thy hurt?
Verses 9, 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 (comp. 1 Samuel 22:8). 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.
Behold, this day thine eyes have seen how that the LORD had delivered thee to day into mine hand in the cave: and some bade me kill thee: but mine eye spared thee; and I said, I will not put forth mine hand against my lord; for he is the LORD'S anointed.
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.
Verses 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.
The LORD judge between me and thee, and the LORD avenge me of thee: but mine hand shall not be upon thee.
As saith the proverb of the ancients, Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked: but mine hand shall not be upon thee.
After whom is the king of Israel come out? after whom dost thou pursue? after a dead dog, after a flea.
Verses 14, 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.
The LORD therefore be judge, and judge between me and thee, and see, and plead my cause, and deliver me out of thine hand.
And it came to pass, when David had made an end of speaking these words unto Saul, that Saul said, Is this thy voice, my son David? And Saul lifted up his voice, and wept.
Verse 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 tears, affectionately addresses David as his son, and acknowledges his innocence and the uprightness of his cause.
And he said to David, Thou art more righteous than I: for thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded thee evil.
And thou hast shewed this day how that thou hast dealt well with me: forasmuch as when the LORD had delivered me into thine hand, thou killedst me not.
For if a man find his enemy, will he let him go well away? wherefore the LORD reward thee good for that thou hast done unto me this day.
Verse 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.
And now, behold, I know well that thou shalt surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in thine hand.
Verses 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.
Swear now therefore unto me by the LORD, that thou wilt not cut off my seed after me, and that thou wilt not destroy my name out of my father's house.
And David sware unto Saul. And Saul went home; but David and his men gat them up unto the hold.