As pursued by Saul, David, it was seen, had fled southward to the wilderness of Moan. Catching up with him, the king nearly had succeeded in surrounding and seizing the fugitive, when he received information of a new Philistine invasion, tie had to desist from further pursuit; and David was saved. So had the Lord again delivered his servant. Going up from thence, David dwelt in the stronghold of Engendi, a mountainous region with many caves on the border of the wilderness of Judah about the middle of the ‘ West shore of the Dead Sea. These were the “rocks of the wilderness’’, (24:3) where David and his men were now in hiding.
No sooner is Saul returned after the Philistines, then it is told him that David is in the wilderness of Engedi. Without losing any time, he takes three thousand chosen men out of all Israel and goes to seek David. He comes to the “sheepcotes on the way”. The words indicate a well-known locality, which serves as the abode of sheep. In the place is a cave in the deep recesses of which David and his men abide. Into this cave Saul enters alone not to sleep but to cover his feet, that is, to comply with the necessities of nature. David’s men say to him, “Behold, this is 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,” meaning to say to him, Tt is plainly the Lord’s will that thou slayest Saul. Such is now God’s command to thee.’
David is sorely tempted. By sending his adversary into the cave, the Lord does deliver Saul into his hand. Shall he then allow him to leave the cave alive? Can that be the Lord’s will? David’s men don’t think so. It can be explained. Is not Saul a deposed king by virtue of the word of the Lord to him, “The Lord hath rent the kingdom from thee this day, and hath given it to thine neighbor who is better than thou.” Had not the Lord said to Samuel, “I have rejected him—Saul—from reigning over Israel? Had not David been anointed to reign in Saul’s stead? Had not the Spirit, departing from Saul, already come upon David that he might be qualified for the kingship? Was not the kingdom rightfully his by the word of God? Verily, Saul is a deposed king. He should step down from his throne; but he is unwilling, and persecutes the righteous David. Shall David then allow Saul to pass out of his hands? Besides, all David’s troubles will end, if he slays Saul; and the nation will be delivered of a worthless, godless king.
So do David’s men reason, so, in that vein. David must silence those seductive voices. And he does so, but not without an inward struggle. For, being a sinful man, he is not immune to the temptation of adopting the point of view of his men. This is evident. He hears them out in silence. Not a word of remonstrance passes over his lips. Rising to his feet, he moves slinkingly to Saul in order not to be observed by the king. Is he half-minded to slay his master? It is not revealed what goes on in his soul at this moment. The sacred writer only tells us that he cuts off the skirt of Saul’s robe privately, and that afterwards his heart smites him, “because he has cut off Saul’s skirts.” It is his awakened conscience that now troubles him. He is being condemned in his heart for what he has just done, so that he clearly perceives now how wrong it would be for him to slay the king. And being a god-fearing man, he hearkens to the voice of his heart as understanding that it is the very voice of God. Thus by the mercy of God he endures temptation. Turning to his men, he says to them, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing unto my master, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch forth my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord.”
Speaking of Saul, David says of him that he is the anointed of the Lord. And rightly so. For upon Saul’s head has been poured the sacred oil. The action with the oil was symbolical. It signified a doing of God whereby he appointed, called Saul to the office of theocratic king and by His Spirit qualified him for a time for the duties of that office. Thus Saul is the anointed of the Lord indeed, but not certainly in the sense that he is still Israel’s rightful theocratic king—the Lord has rejected him from being king over Israel; and accordingly the Spirit of the Lord has long ago departed from him—but in the sense that it was the Lord who by special revelation appointed him to the kingship and seated him upon Israel’s theocratic throne. This was the Lord’s doing, not man’s, not David’s. King Saul therefore is solely the Lord’s. Hence, the only one who has the right to hurl him from the throne is the Lord. No man has this right except by divine direction. And whereas no such direction has been given, all Israelites, including David, must endure Saul and submit to his rule. For though Saul is a rejected, deposed, and disqualified theocratic king, the Lord, also through Saul’s unwillingness to abdicate, continues to maintain him on the throne; and the authority that Saul continues to exercise is the Lord’s. Thus in the sense here explained Saul is indeed still the anointed of the Lord. David now has full understanding of this. And therefore, fearing God, he spares the king’s life. “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing. . . .” namely, slay Saul. The Hebrew text here reads, “A curse be to me from Jehovah, should I do this to my master.” The thought of slaying Saul is now abhorrent to him but not on account of his esteem for Saul’s person—Saul is a godless, worthless king, and as such a menace to the nation—but because of his regard for the Lord. Saul is the Lord’s anointed. Hence, should he slay Saul, he would be committing a great sin against God. Slaying Saul, he would be moved by carnal ambition and be giving indication that he is no more fit to be king than is Saul. David, as already has been explained, may not capture the throne by violence; he must be willing to come into his kingdom in the way of implicit faith in the Lord his God as enduring Saul’s persecutions . The Lord will give him the kingdom in the way of his patiently abiding the Lord’s time. Soon God will remove Saul by the sword of the Philistines. This then is David’s calling. And as walking worthily of it in the strength of the Lord he typifies Him, Christ Jesus, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
(That Saul in those final years was a rejected, deposed and disqualified theocratic king upon Israel’s throne is the only tenable view in the light of what is written. “For thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord hath rejected thee from being king over Israel,” we read at one place (). This is followed by the statement, “And Samuel said unto him, The Lord hath rent the kingdom from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbor of thine that is better than thou.” And finally this scripture, “And the Lord said unto Samuel, how long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing that I have rejected him.” Saul’s rejection and deposition from office went into effect on the very day that these words were uttered by the seer. “The Lord hath rent the kingdom from thee this day” are his words to Saul, mark you, “this day”. Judicially, before the tribunal of God, Saul’s status in Israel from that day on was that of a rejected and deposed king from whom had been rent the kingdom. Accordingly, Samuel broke with Saul on that very day. He refused to return with the king to honor him before the elders. The Spirit also departed from him; and the word of the Lord came to him no more. David was anointed, and upon him came the Spirit. There can be but one meaning to all this: Saul was deposed. But the Lord for a while continued to maintain him on the throne; for He had use for Saul. And woe unto the man who stretched forth his hand against him. For he was the Lord’s anointed and not man’s. Thus a distinction must be made between Saul’s judicial rejection and deposition in the kingly office and his removal from that office, his actual dethronement. The latter followed sometime later; it was accomplished through the agency of the Philistines. Saul wanted to rule without God; and for a while the Lord gave him his way to his own unspeakable sorrow, ruin, and destruction.)
Saul now receives absolute proof that David does not seek his life. Rising out of the cave, Saul goes on his way. He has gone but a few paces, when there is a cry at his rear, “My Lord the king”. Turning him about he sees certainly to his amazement that he is being accosted by the very man whose life he seeks. Verily, it is David. And he stoops with his face to the earth, does David, and bows himself in recognition of the fact that he stands in the presence of his master. Having thus paid the king his respects, he loses no time to speak to him his mind. “Wherefore hearest thou man’s words, saying, Behold, David seeketh thy hurt.” It is thus a question that he puts to his master. But he does not pause for his answer. Doing so, he might be inviting disaster. Saul might reply by making a dash for David or by calling to his men yonder to storm the cave. Besides, it is not David’s purpose to start an argument with Saul, but to overwhelm the king with the undeniable evidence that he seeks David’s life without a cause. So he gets on with his discourse. “Behold, this day thine eyes have seen how that the Lord had delivered thee today into mine hand in the cave: and some bid me kill thee: but mine eyes have spared thee; and I said, I will not put forth mine hand against my lord; for he is the Lord’s anointed.” Is the king in the face of that evidence now ready to drop all his charges against David? The Lord delivered Saul into his hand, and his eye spared the king. It is evidence the genuineness of which Saul cannot sincerely question. For, as David says, he saw with his own eyes. He saw in seeing himself walk out of that cave alive. It is therefore as impossible for him truthfully to deny the genuineness of that evidence, thus deny David’s guiltlessness, as it is impossible for him to doubt the reliability of the testimony of his own senses, of his eyes and ears. And he cannot truly gainsay that he was in David’s power in that cave. For the cut-off skirt of his robe is in David’s hand. And he holds it forth for Saul to see, “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.” “That there is neither evil in mine hand. . . .” From the nature of matters, Saul is now as thoroughly convinced of this as he is convinced that he sees with his eyes that skirt in David’s hand. Against the background of that evidence of his innocency David now sets forth Saul’s doing of trying to get David in his hand to slay him, when he says to the king, “And yet thou huntest my soul to take it!” ‘How unutterably wicked thy doing, O Saul. For I am guiltless, as thou seeest.’ There can now be no question of that in Saul’s mind. For his own eyes have seen. And therefore Saul is not sneering at David in his heart at hearing him say that he commits himself unto God who judgeth righteously. For Saul now has received witness in his heart that David is guiltless indeed—undeniably guiltless—and therefore he now knows that David can call on God to judge his case without fear for the outcome as far as he himself is concerned.
And this David does. He appears with his case before the tribunal of the Lord; for he has a good conscience before God. Thus he will not avenge himself. For that would be wickedness. But David is not wicked. He fears God. But the point to take notice of is that he wants Saul to know about it, as his whole purpose is instrumentally to prick Saul’s conscience in order that henceforth he desist from seeking David’s soul to take it. So he next says to the king, “But my hand shall not be upon thee. As sayeth the proverb of the ancients, “Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked. But my hand shall not be upon thee.”
But David has not yet done with Saul. He will next show him the senselessness and thereby again the wickedness of his fear-inspired attempts on David’s life. David has no evil designs against Saul’s life. This has now been proved beyond the shadow of a doubt. Saul therefore has as little reason to be afraid of David as he has reason to be afraid of a dead dog or a flea. Yet the thought of David’s being alive and at large fills Saul’s soul with dread. Accordingly, he seeketh David’s life to take it. He continually comes against him with armed bands of choice men. The abject foolishness of such a doing. Do kings set out on military expeditions against a dead dog or a flea?! Verily, no. And therefore David puts to Saul the question, “After whom is the king of Israel come out? After whom dost thou pursue? After a dead dog? After a flea?” Verily, Saul is guilty of such foolishness. For as driven by fear of David, of all men the most harmless, he makes war against him.
But there must be still more meaning in these words of David. In Israel a dead dog was an object of abhorrence for the twofold reason of its being an unclean animal and of it being dead. So, too, David. In Saul’s eyes he is an object of hatred and disdain. For Saul knows that the Lord has appointed him to reign in his stead. It is not only fear that moves Saul to seek David’s soul to take it, but his hatred of David as well—fearing David, he naturally hates him—thus his being disposed toward the son of Jesse as though he were a dead dog. But in fearing, hating and seeking David’s life, he commits a great sin. For he has not a shred of evidence to support his charges against David. Not only so, but from now on he can no more actually doubt David’s innocence than he can doubt his own existence in the flesh. For he now has seen with his eyes that in David’s hand there is no evil.
And so David concludes his discourse with the statement, “The Lord therefore be judge, and judge between me and thee, and see, and plead my cause and deliver me out of thine hand.”
Having had his say, having expressed to Saul his mind, and unburdened to him his heart, David is silent. Saul has waited until he completed his discourse. He has heard him out to the end. Not once did he interrupt the speaker. But now he speaks, “It is thy voice, my son David?” Having uttered these words, he lifts up his voice and weeps. Saul is deeply moved. It indicates how these introductory words of his reply are to be understood, ‘I have heard a man telling me that he spared my life? Can that be thee, my son David? Is it possible that I have been listening to thy voice? Verily, art thou the man whose eyes spared me? How can it be! What a marvel. It is a thing unheard of. I am overwhelmed.’ Such is Saul’s reaction. And he is sincere. There is no hypocrisy or pretense here. The king means every word. But it is not true that here he “is laid hold of in a hidden corner of his heart, where he was still accessible to the power of the truth, and involuntarily yields to the nobler arousing of his soul, though it is not destined to be permanent.” Being thoroughly depraved there can be in him no noble arousings to which he momentarily yields. The plain fact is that Saul has received undeniable evidence of David’s innocence and thus of his own ungodliness as a persecutor of a righteous man; and that, as pricked in his conscience, he confesses it in tears not of true contrition of heart but of a carnal fear and remorse. His behavior at this moment is identical to that of the wicked in the final day of judgment. Then every tongue shall confess that Jesus is Lord, also the tongues of the reprobated. Their knees, too, shall bow before him. Then “the loftiness of men shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low: and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day. And the idols shall be utterly abolished. And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty, when he arises to shake terribly the earth” (). The high places also of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed: the thorn and the thistle shall come upon their altars; and they shall say to the mountains, cover us, and to the hills, fall upon us” ( ). “And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and low. . . the heavens departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall upon us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the lamb; for the great day of wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand” ( ).
What Saul’s reaction and these scriptures teach is that God will put an end to the terrible reactions of the wicked to Him and His people, the righteous, so that all their rebellion, defiance, and sinful pride will cease. Such was the case with Saul for the moment.
Let us take notice of his confession. Says he to David, “Thou art more righteous than I, for thou hast done me good, and I have done these evil,” which is equivalent to saying, ‘Thou hast rewarded me good for evil, and I have rewarded thee evil for good. Hence thou art righteous and I am wicked.’ That precisely characterizes the righteous. They bless such who curse them, and pray for such who despitefully use them. But the wicked love only such who love them, hate their enemies; and in persecuting God’s people, they despitefully use such who do them well. Saul was that kind of a man. He was wicked. But David was righteous, Saul now freely admits this. “For thou,” so he continues, “hast showed me this day how that thou hast dealt with me: forasmuch as when the Lord had delivered me into thine hand, thou killest me not,” ‘me, who all these days have been seeking thy soul to take it.’ “For if a man find his enemy, will he let him go away?” ‘Such is not the doing of depraved men,’ Saul means to say. ‘So do the righteous only. So doest thou; for thou art righteous.’ And therefore Saul blesses David, “Wherefore the Lord reward thee good for that thou hast done unto me this day.” Saul knows ‘hat it will be well with David, he being righteous. “And now, behold, I know well that thou wilt surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in thine hand.” And thus he adjures David to do well by his seed, “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.” David swears. He will not blot out “Saul’s name out of his father’s house. But the Lord will. And of this Saul is well aware, knowing, as he does, that he is wicked. Thus he will be plucked up out of the “land of the living”, and be cast in the place of everlasting desolation. For he is wicked and will not repent.