1 Samuel 24:1–6, 12, 14comment (0)
October 17, 2013
By James Riley Strange
Related Scripture: 1 Samuel 24:1–6, 12, 14
Bible Studies for Life
Associate Professor of Religion, Samford University
It’s Not About Me
1 Samuel 24:1–6, 12, 14
Today’s passage is an example of a “doublet,” a story told twice in a book of the Bible (read 1 Sam. 26).
The author of Samuel, whom some scholars call the “Deuteronomistic Historian” (he is thought to be responsible for putting together Deuteronomy through 2 Kings, not including Ruth), often relied on earlier sources (see for example 1 Kings 11:41), which could explain why he had this story in two different forms. He uses the doublet to emphasize David’s justice and mercy toward Saul with disregard for Saul’s instability and consuming envy of David.
Saul’s repentance at the end of both incidents might be genuine, but it is also fleeting.
En-gedi means “spring of the kid.” One can visit it today: the waters of the spring that flow east into the Dead Sea form a lovely oasis known for its rare and isolated ecosystem, including species of freshwater crabs.
The location of “the Rocks of the Wild Goats” is unknown. Wild ibexes still live in the area, as they did centuries ago.
“To cover his feet” probably means “to relieve himself.” Feet are sometimes a euphemism for genitals in the Old Testament. For some possible examples, see Exodus 4:25; Ruth 3:4, 7; Isaiah 6:2; Ezekiel 16:25.
The quote that David’s men attribute to the Lord is unfamiliar to us, but it is clear that they understand it to be divine providence that Saul has come into the very cave where they are hiding. Surely God is giving Saul to David as a gift, and if David won’t take advantage of it, they are prepared to do so (see v. 7). David might agree that it is the Lord’s doing (as does Saul himself: 24:18) but for a different purpose.
The narrator suggests that David is so stealthy that he can cut Saul’s cloak while it is still attached to Saul. Afterward David regrets the deed, as if he has harmed Saul himself. “The Lord’s anointed” is literally “the Lord’s messiah.” This will become a standard way to refer to the kings of Judah and to others who have not been anointed literally but whom God has appointed to a special task (see Isa. 45:1). Some translations write “Lord” in small capitals, as I have done, to indicate that the Hebrew say “Yahweh” with an instruction to substitute “Adonai” (“Lord”).
David says that God is the one who takes revenge (see Deut. 32:35; Rom. 12:19; also Matt. 5:38–40, 43–48; Luke 6:29–30); it is not David’s (or anyone else’s) prerogative. The words turn out to be prophetic. This encounter and its doublet in chapter 26 contain the last meetings between David and Saul before the Philistines kill Saul’s sons on Mount Gilboa and Saul falls on his own sword there (chapter 31).
David’s self-abasement might conceal a jab at Saul: does Saul really think he needs to pursue a dead dog, or a flea, with an entire army?
The lesson we can take from this story is striking, even if we already know it. (Isn’t that the way God so often works?) David has no assurance that his actions will change Saul’s mind about him, and in fact they do not.
Nevertheless David acts mercifully toward an enemy. He does not use an opportunity to harm his enemy, no matter how tempting it might be, and even regrets cutting his cloak.
What an important lesson to take, not only in a time of fractious political battles and worries about terrorism, but also in a time, like all times, in which temptations to answer wrong with wrong come at us where we live, work and — dare we say it? — worship.