1 Samuel 24:1-22.
My Way or God's Way?

Copyright © 2016, Dr. John W. (Jack) Carter.  All rights reserved.
www.biblicaltheology.com   Scripture quotes from KJV


All of us find ourselves having to deal with significant problems and must make difficult decisions as we journey through this life.  The biblical scriptures reveal to us that God has a purpose for the circumstances in our lives,[1] and that through those experiences we would become more conformed to the image and person of Christ.[2]  When we respond appropriately to the issues of this life we position ourselves for that blessing that God promises.  However, it is probably more a pattern that we, when confronted with issues, seek not the LORDís solution, but prefer to come up with one of our own.

A good example of this concept may be understood in the metaphor of losing oneís way while traveling.  Assume that you are traveling and at some point realize that you are on the wrong road, and you are unsure of exactly where you are, and are very unsure of how to get to your destination.  People respond to this situation in a variety of ways.  Personally, my own tendency is to stop immediately and ask for directions.  However, this does not seem to be the stereotypical response of the modern male.  If inspired by pride or an overdeveloped sensitivity to testosterone, many males will not stop and ask for directions, but will instead wander around, possibly insisting that they are not lost, until the way is found, or they are so miserably lost that help is finally requested.  The folly of this latter form of problem solving is famous.

Many of us may have experienced an occasion similar to this, but it is probably more likely that we have much more frequently found ourselves in similar situations while traveling through this life on an ďoff-roadĒ course  We find ourselves presented with several options when faced with a need for decision.  How do we select from options?  We might simply look for the easiest way out.  We may assess the options and use some logical argument to make a selection.  We may make lists and opine a preferable solution.  We might ask the opinion of others.  In todayís technology, we might get out our smartphone or laptop and seek assistance from an internet search engine. 

It may be quite infrequent that we would step back and look at our situation through spiritual eyes and assess how the circumstances appear from the vantage point of Godís purpose for our lives.  Have we stopped and asked, ďwhat is God doing in my life through this?Ē  When we do we may come away with an entirely different approach to the problem, and find a response that is consistent with Godís purpose.

The book of 1 Samuel records the rise of David to the throne of Israel, particularly from the vantage point of his relationship with King Saul, his predecessor.  Driven by jealousy of Davidís successes and his widespread adulation of the people, Saul sought to kill David and neutralize this one whom he considered a rival.  His obsession with finding David became to characterize the period towards the end of his reign.  Chapter 24 brings us to a point of convergence when Saul was with his armies in the field in search of the Philistines when word came to him that David was in the area.

1 Samuel 24:1-3.  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.  2Then 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.  3And 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.

David was traveling through the plains of Engedi with his men, though doing so discreetly as not to be seen.  Consequently, come nightfall, they hid within the deep recesses of a mountain cave.  Having heard of Davidís whereabouts, Saul selected three thousand of his top soldiers to join him in his effort to locate and destroy David and his little band of men.  Certainly it was Godís providence that King Saul would select the same cave to seek  to ďcover his feet.Ē  Furthermore, the purpose of his entry into the cave most likely sets up the only circumstance in which the king would be alone.  By posting guards outside, he would be assured of his solitude and safety.  There is no question that God has ordained this meeting between David and Saul. 

If we had no idea of the outcome of this circumstance, we might be cheering for David as we would expect him to rush the king with his armed men and kill him.  Certainly this would be what we might logically expect since Saul was obsessed with killing David.  One can imagine what David and his men would think upon finding themselves hiding from the very one who is stumbling into their cave alone, exhausted from a long day of hard travel.  If David were to kill Saul, he could claim the throne of Israel with no resistance.

1 Samuel 24:4.  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 Saulís robe privily. 

We might note that the prophecy that is quoted by Davidís men is not biblical prophecy.  It may come from something written by an unrecorded prophet, or may even be false prophecy, or one that was not specifically referring to this encounter between David and Saul.  Regardless of the source of the prophecy, it is evident that Davidís men recognized the seeming impossibility of this situation without some form of supernatural intervention. 

The posture of Saul is probably not an exceedingly important point here, but may be of interest.  The earlier verse states that Saul entered the cave to ďcover his feet,Ē or according to other English renderings, ďrelieve himself.Ē  If we approach this from an English presupposition it may be easy to assume that this refers to Saulís entering the cave to sleep.  After all, one does cover their feet with a blanket when they sleep, and certainly sleep is a form of relief.  However, this is not the meaning of the text when considered in its historical context and use.  Early Jewish writings all agree:  Saul was entering the cave for the simple purpose of using it as a latrine.   We can also easily understand how these two phrases are also consistent with such a rendering.

Consequently, David approached Saul with great stealth and with what was probably a knife.  Since Saul was not sleeping, David would have approached him from behind (no pun intended.)  In order to ďrelieve himselfĒ there would have been some manner of disrobing going on, so the robe was apparently within Davidís reach at this time and in a state where Saul would not notice a tug on the robe as he would if he were standing..  Consequently, it was probably not that difficult a task to slip over to the location of the robe and cut of one of the four tassels that were attached to the hem of his robe.

However, it is important to note that it would have been far easier for him to simply approach the king with his men and confront him.  Such a confrontation could have easily ended in Saulís death.

1 Samuel 24:5  And it came to pass afterward, that Davidís heart smote him, because he had cut off Saulís skirt. 

The scripture does not state here why David was so greatly convicted by his theft of the tassel.  The readers of the original documents would have needed no explanation, given that the Mosaic Law spoke directly to the requirement of these tassels.[3]  David had second thoughts about his act when he realized that he had desecrated the robe, thus desecrating the authority of the king.  This was a sin against the position of the king of Israel and certainly contrary to the teaching of the Mosaic Law.  David had acted upon impulse, and later came to realize that there was a consequence to his action that he had not considered, one that was devastating to him.

How many times do we fail to consider all of the consequences of our actions?  Obviously David knew the law, since his regret came immediately following his act, soon enough that Saul still remained in the cave.  We can easily act out of impulse without considering all of the consequences of our actions. 

1 Samuel 24:6-7.  And he said unto his men, The LORD forbid that I should do this thing unto my master, the LORDíS anointed, to stretch forth mine hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the LORD.  7So 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. 

Though David did, in a sense, attack the position of the king, rather than the king himself, he did so to spare Saulís life.  Davidís men were poised to follow David to Saulís side and kill him.  However, the killing of Saul was never Davidís purpose and this action should be evidence to Saul of Davidís true heart.  Though Saul had abused his position as the king of Israel by failing to follow the LORD, David recognized that it was not his place to serve as the judge and executioner of this wicked and murderous king.  This was quite contrary to the pattern of the other nations that Israel was trying to copy.  Kings usually met their death at the hands of another who would ascend to the throne.  The killing of Saul by David would have been considered an acceptable act even by the people of Israel, knowing that Saul was guilty of godless leadership and David was known as a godly man.  David clearly stated that it is inappropriate for him to put his hand against one who has been anointed by the LORD.

We often want to express our own way by seeking to diminish or destroy the ministry of one with whom we disagree.  There is no shortage of church conflict that has arisen when church membership takes aggressive action towards their own pastors or staff.  Somehow we miss the message of James 3:1 that states that individuals should be careful about selecting Christian leadership because theirs is the greater judgment.  The judgment referred to in Jamesí letter is Godís judgment. 

God holds all Christians responsible for their behavior, so those who take on the responsibility for leading other Christians have accepted a responsibility for a greater share of Godís work.  Like Saul, they have the power to lead people in error.  However, like David, it is never our place to stand against the person or position of the anointed.  Davidís enemy was not Saul, nor was it the position of the King.  Davidís enemy was Saulís sin, celebrated and inspired by the evil one, a sin that totally consumed Saulís reason.  God is quite capable of judging Saul and does not need Davidís help.  Likewise, God is quite capable of judging us, so there is no need for us to pass judgment on one another.

This is one area of an His-way/My-way contrast that we often encounter, so it is one that deserves some attention and understanding.  It was not necessary that Saul meet his demise at the hands of David.  Had he done so, David would have been guilty of his murder.  Saul did meet his demise, and did so by his own hand.[4]  Let us not find ourselves guilty when we choose to take the LORDís matters into our own hands.

After David had taken the tassel, he communicated to his men that Saul was not to be attacked, and Saul inexplicably left the cave without any knowledge of the presence of David and his men.  It is reasonable that, upon hearing Saul entering the cave, David and his men froze in silence, knowing that their discovery by Saul in his men would surely bring their defeat.  When the rear of the cave to their back, a frontal attack by a couple thousand of Saulís men upon Davidís few men would have made the battle a massacre.  David and his men were able to maintain enough silence that Saul, who was certainly not thinking about the presence of people in the back of the cave, went about his business with little thought of being alert.  Saulís lack of vigilance could have easily gotten him killed.

1 Samuel 24:8.  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.

Immediately upon Saulís exit of the cave, David called to Saul in a voice that was loud enough for Saul to hear, but not loud enough to alert Saulís army.  Davidís men were close enough that they could capture Saul before Saulís army could be brought to bear.  However, even given this small margin of safety, David took a dramatic and bold step by bowing before Saul.  The tradition of bowing before another is illustrated in point by Davidís action.  By bowing before an armed enemy, one is placing themselves entirely under the mercy of the other.  Saul would be free to draw his sword and strike David with impunity.  Earlier it was Jonathan that came to Davidís defense.[5]  Now, David speaks directly to Saul in an attempt to communicate to him is true loyalty to the King and to the LORD.

1 Samuel 24:9-15.  And David said to Saul, Wherefore hearest thou menís words, saying, Behold, David seeketh thy hurt? 10Behold, 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 LORDíS anointed.  11Moreover, 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.  12The LORD judge between me and thee, and the LORD avenge me of thee: but mine hand shall not be upon thee.  13As saith the proverb of the ancients, Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked: but mine hand shall not be upon thee.  14After whom is the king of Israel come out? after whom dost thou pursue? after a dead dog, after a flea.  15The LORD therefore be judge, and judge between me and thee, and see, and plead my cause, and deliver me out of thine hand.

We can see the very heart of David in his plea to Saul.  Often, when we find ourselves in conflict with one another, our first reaction is to lash out.  Certainly David had that opportunity.  However, in Davidís plea, we may observe Davidís understanding of the LORDís purpose.  The need for reconciliation was so great that David was willing to risk his life in order to affect that reconciliation Godís way instead of manís way.  Instead of acting in defiance or arrogance as we may tend to so in situations of conflict, David showed tremendous humility; strength under control, specifically under the control of the Holy Spirit. 

This would certainly not have been the response from David that Saul had anticipated as he was chasing David with the intent of killing him.  He would clearly have believed that, had he fallen into Davidís hands like he had done, David would kill him just as quickly as he would have killed David.  This is likely the only reality that Saul considers.  Had David approached Saul in defiance, a battle would have ensued, and there would be no victor, only victims.  Instead, Saul was completely disarmed by Davidís humility.  David would have no certainty of Saulís response to his plea, but his humble approach allowed the Spirit of God to work on the heart of Saul, and Saulís response was one that was out of his natural character, as he, at least for this short period, demonstrated rational mercy.

1 Samuel 24:16-19.  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.  17And he said to David, Thou art more righteous than I: for thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded thee evil.  18And thou hast showed 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.  19For 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. 

Following Davidís plea, Saul was moved, particularly by Davidís godly mercy towards him.  Up to this point, Saul did not refer to David by name.  Up to this point Saul had referred to David as his ďson-in-law,Ē and now, he referred to him as his ďson.Ē  His first response was typical for one whose life had just been spared, as he complimented David, pointing out his godliness and his own disobedience to the LORD.  He recognized that the LORD had delivered him into Davidís hand, and it was Davidís loyalty to him and to the LORD that saved his life. 

Sometimes the best offense in a situation of conflict is simply the application of a little godly love.  Nothing will disarm an opponent quicker than a disarmed hand that is extended in love.  This is not the way people generally solve problems.  However, this is the way that the Holy Spirit leads those who are faithful to him to approach one another.  Somehow we often act like we can set aside Godís command to love one another when we deem another individual as not worthy of that love.  However, where would we be if God withheld his love from people who were not worthy?  There would be no hope for anyone.  The LORDís love is unconditional, and that love was demonstrated when He loved us while we were yet sinners, and died for us on the cross.   This is the same love we are to share with one another, and when we do so we will find that we will be responding to the turbulence of this life in an entirely different manner, one that will strengthen us, and one that will demonstrate the gospel to those around us.

By this time Saul knew David quite well, and it is evident that Saul was not particularly surprised by Davidís mercy.  Saul knew David as a skilled military leader, and one who truly loved the LORD and realized continually the hand of Godís protection and love in his life.  David characterized, even for Saul, what the King of Israel was to be like.  David had the opportunity that night, in a small (and somewhat crowded) cave, to usurp the throne and be declared to be Israelís king.  This makes Saulís continuing testimony quite interesting.

1 Samuel 24:20.  And now, behold, I know well that thou shalt surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in thine hand. 

Jonathan had already stated, possibly from a prophecy or more likely from rumor and its obvious evidence, that David would be the king who would follow Saul, and he had hoped that he would serve as Davidís second.  Jonathan surely would have served in this manner had he survived to see Davidís ascension.  Jonathan had already communicated this to his father, Saul.[6]  Saul agreed that David had the character and leadership traits that he lacked and that Israel needed in their next king.  This also reveals that he understood that his own son would not inherit the throne, and consequently, the line of kings to follow would not come from him.  This would have been a devastating blow of realism on one as proud as Saul.

Yet, even Saul had become king because the nation chose to run their nation manís way and not Godís way.  It was never Godís purpose that Israel would have a king, and Samuel warned the nation of this truth even before Saulís coronation.  When we look to choosing our national leaders, Christians should look first at the character of the candidates under the illumination of Godís word.  For example, God created life and He sustains it.  Is the candidate one whose position is consistent with that of the LORD?  It is easy for us to get swept up in the media hype and choose manís way, looking at the shallow images of personality, when God is clearly calling his faithful to respond in His way.

1 Samuel 24:21-22.  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 fatherís house.  22And David sware unto Saul.  And Saul went home; but David and his men gat them up unto the hold.

Realizing that David would someday succeed him as king, Saul recognized the possibility of enmity between their future families, a common and consistent pattern among those who found themselves in royal conflict.  Jonathan and David made a pact that their ďhouseĒ would forever be at peace with one another.  Saul, recognizing that his treatment of David could easily have created a blood war for the remaining generations was now the one pleading.  He begged David to agree with him that there would be no such enmity among their sons.  This would necessitate David and Saul both teaching their sons to teach their own sons to withhold any retribution or revenge and instead seek peace with one another.  To this they did agree, and the two families never did seek any form of revenge on the other.

Note, however, the wisdom of David.  Previously when Jonathan defended Davidís case to Saul, Saulís repentance was rewarded with Davidís return to the royal court.  However, Saul again succumbed to his jealousy and rage, and drove David from the court, precipitating this event.  David did not foolishly return to Saulís court, but stayed back, continuing to protect himself from Saul, who was known to quickly break his oaths.   We find a repeat of the jealousy/repentance cycle when Saul comes after David and David rewards Saul with mercy in chapter 26. 

These events in the history of Israel serve to teach us many things, and most powerfully, illustrate the wisdom of responding to turbulent events by following the LORD, seeking His solution, rather than our own.  His solution will invariably be different from our own because of His exceeding wisdom, and his higher purpose.  His response will always be one that is bathed in His agape love, and will not lead one to sin through any form of anger or violence.  Furthermore, Godís way is so far separated from manís way, that the response will often confound an adversary and provide an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to work in the lives of all individuals who are involved. 

We have the opportunity to respond to events the LORDís way by pausing, listening to the Holy Spirit and choosing a response that is in a manner that we know is what the LORD would truly do in the situation.  This is tremendous advice, that, when taken can profoundly affect, in a positive way, our response to, and the severity of, the turbulent events of life.


[1] James 1.

[2] Romans 8:28-32.

[3] Numbers 12:2 ff; Deuteronomy 22:12.

[4] 1 Samuel 31:4.

[5] 1 Samuel 19:4.

[6] 1 Samuel 23:17.