1 Samuel 24 – “David Spares Saul’s Life”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
Saul inadvertently enters David’s hiding place. Instead of killing him, David cuts off a corner of Saul’s garment. Saul acknowledges David’s innocence and accepts his role as future king.

II. Photo
David proves his innocence: “Please, sir, take a close look at the corner of your cloak in my hand; for when I cut off the corner of your cloak, I did not kill you. You must see plainly that I have done nothing evil or rebellious, and I have never wronged you.” (v. 12a)

III. Important Verses
4b-8: There was a cave there, and Saul went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were sitting in the back of the cave. David’s men said to him, “This is the day of which the LORD said to you, ‘I will deliver your enemy into your hands; you can do with him as you please.’” David went and stealthily cut off the corner of Saul’s cloak. But afterward David reproached himself for cutting off the corner of Saul’s cloak. He said to his men, “The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my lord — the LORD’s anointed — that I should raise my hand against him; for he is the LORD’s anointed.” David rebuked his men and did not permit them to attack Saul. Saul left the cave and started on his way.
11-13: [David said to Saul:] “You can see for yourself now that the LORD delivered you into my hands in the cave today. And though I was urged to kill you, I showed you pity; for I said, ‘I will not raise a hand against my lord, since he is the LORD’s anointed.’ Please, sir, take a close look at the corner of your cloak in my hand; for when I cut off the corner of your cloak, I did not kill you. You must see plainly that I have done nothing evil or rebellious, and I have never wronged you. Yet you are bent on taking my life.  May the LORD judge between you and me! And may He take vengeance upon you for me, but my hand will never touch you.”
14: As the ancient proverb has it: ‘Wicked deeds come from wicked men!’ My hand will never touch you.
21-22: [Saul said to David:] “I know now that you will become king, and that the kingship over Israel will remain in your hands. So swear to me by the LORD that you will not destroy my descendants or wipe out my name from my father’s house.”

IV. Outline
1-4. Saul unknowingly enters David’s cave
5-8. David spares Saul’s life
9-16. David pleads his case
17-22. Saul accepts David’s plea and acknowledges David’s role as future king
23. Saul and David part ways

V. Comment
Chapter 24 relates how David convinces Saul of his innocence. Saul unknowingly enters David’s cave but David chooses to spare his life. Saul acknowledges David’s innocence and role as future king.

Scholars point out that the events of chapters 24 and 23 strikingly similar: both describe Saul in hot pursuit of David and both describe David’s narrow escape. As with other twice-told stories in the Hebrew Bible, scholars question if we are dealing with  (a) two distinct stories or (b) one story told in two different ways. An example of this can be seen in the works of Campbell. He writes: “An issue that has to come up early in any discussion is whether the mountainside pursuit (23:24b-28) belongs with the cave story (ch. 24) in a single narrative. The answer is remarkably simple; it is both Yes and No. Just as the text in 23:1-13 could be treated as two separate traditions following one another in the narrative or as two traditions presented as a single story, so here the pursuit story and the cave story could be treated as two separate traditions or as parts of a single story.” (250)

What is the purpose of this story? As has been pointed out in previous comments, scholars view 1 Samuel 16:14 – 2 Samuel 5 to be the “History of David’s Rise,” i.e. an apologetical account meant to cover up what was likely a violent coup d’état. David’s piety is stressed throughout the narrative, and Klein highlights it as follows: “The speeches of the two main characters carry the meaning of the story. Did David attempt to wrest the throne from Saul by violence? No, David was innocent of any revolutionary intent. By cutting off only a corner of Saul’s robe David showed his innocence. Saul, on the other hand, appears as the real villain. He pursued David with a five-to-one numerical superiority and hunted down the innocent Bethlehemite with great force even though David was no more significant than the last flea on a dead dog. David repeatedly and confidently called on [God] to decide the case. His loyalty to his predecessor should be unquestioned. In his words, Saul was ‘my lord,’ ‘the king of Israel,’ and, significantly, ‘my father.’” (241-242)

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Campbell, Antony F. “1 Samuel” The Forms of Old Testament Literature vol. 7 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2003).
Collins, John J. “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
Klein, Ralph W. “1 Samuel” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 10 (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1983).
Photo taken from http://www.peacehealth.org/Oregon/BHS/images/QuiltHand.jpg

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