Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 24:1
Whilst Saul had gone against the Philistines, David left this dangerous place, and went to the mountain heights of Engedi, i.e., the present Ain-jidy (goat-fountain), in the middle of the western coats of the Dead Sea (see at Jos 15:62), which he could reach from Maon in six or seven hours. The soil of the neighbourhood consists entirely of limestone; but the rocks contain a considerable admixture of chalk and flint. Round about there rise bare conical mountains, and even ridges of from two to four hundred feet in height, which mostly run down to the sea. The steep mountains are intersected by wadys running down in deep ravines to the sea. "On all sides the country is full of caverns, which might then serve as lurking-places for David and his men, as they do for outlaws at the present day" (Rob. Pal. p. 203)
When Saul had returned from his march against the Philistines, and was informed of this, he set out thither with three thousand picked men to search for David and his men in the wild-goat rocks. The expression "rocks of the wild goats" is probably not a proper name for some particular rocks, but a general term applied to the rocks of that locality on account of the number of wild goats and chamois that were to be found in all that region, as mountain goats are still (Rob. Pal. ii. p. 204).
When Saul came to the sheep-folds by the way, where there was a cave, he entered it to cover his feet, whilst David and his men sat behind in the cave. V. de Velde (R. ii. p. 74) supposes the place, where the sheep-folds by the roadside were, to have been the Wady Chareitun, on the south-west of the Frank mountain, and to the north-east of Tekoah, a very desolate and inaccessible valley. "Rocky, precipitous walls, which rise up one above another for many hundred feet, form the sides of this defile. Stone upon stone, and cliff above cliff, without any sign of being habitable, or of being capable of affording even a halting-place to anything but wild goats." Near the ruins of the village of Chareitun, hardly five minutes' walk to the east, there is a large cave or chamber in the rock, with a very narrow entrance entirely concealed by stones, and with many side vaults in which the deepest darkness reigns, at least to any one who has just entered the limestone vaults from the dazzling light of day. It may be argued in favour of the conjecture that this is the cave which Saul entered, and at the back of which David and his men were concealed, that this cave is on the road from Bethlehem to Ain-jidy, and one of the largest caves in that district, if not the largest of all, and that, according to Pococke (Beschr. des Morgenl. ii. p. 61), the Franks call it a labyrinth, the Arabs Elmaama, i.e., hiding-place, whilst the latter relate how at one time thirty thousand people hid themselves in it "to escape an evil wind," in all probability the simoom. The only difficulty connected with this supposition is the distance from Ain-jidy, namely about four or five German miles (fifteen or twenty English), and the nearness of Tekoah, according to which it belongs to the desert of Tekoah rather than to that of Engedi. "To cover his feet" is a euphemism according to most of the ancient versions, as in Jdg 3:24, for performing the necessities of nature, as it is a custom in the East to cover the feet. It does not mean "to sleep," as it is rendered in this passage in the Peschito, and also by Michaelis and others; for although what follows may seem to favour this, there is apparently no reason why any such euphemistic expression should have been chosen for sleep. "The sides of the cave:" i.e., the outermost or farthest sides.
Then David's men said to him, "See, this is the day of which Jehovah hath said to thee, Behold, I give thine enemy into thy hand, and do to him what seemeth good to thee." Although these words might refer to some divine oracle which David had received through a prophet, Gad for example, what follows clearly shows that David had received no such oracle; and the meaning of his men was simply this, "Behold, to-day is the day when God is saying to thee:" that is to say, the speakers regarded the leadings of providence by which Saul had been brought into David's power as a divine intimation to David himself to take this opportunity of slaying his deadly enemy, and called this intimation a word of Jehovah. David then rose, up, and cut off the edge of Saul's cloak privily. Saul had probably laid the meil on one side, which rendered it possible for David to cut off a piece of it unobserved.
But his heart smote him after he had done it; i.e., his conscience reproached him, because he regarded this as an injury done to the king himself.
With all the greater firmness, therefore, did he repel the suggestions of his men: "Far be it to me from Jehovah (on Jehovah's account: see at Jos 22:29), that (אם, a particle denoting an oath) I should do such a thing to my lord, the anointed of Jehovah, to stretch out my hand against him." These words of David show clearly enough that no word of Jehovah had come to him to do as he liked with Saul.
Thus he kept back his people with words (שׁסּע, verbis dilacere), and did not allow them to rise up against Saul, sc., to slay him.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 24:8
But when Saul had gone out of the cave, David went out, and called, "My lord king," that when the king looked round he might expostulate with him, with the deepest reverence, but yet with earnest words, that should sharpen his conscience as to the unfounded nature of his suspicion and the injustice of his persecution. "Why dost thou hearken to words of men, who say, Behold, David seeketh thy hurt? Behold, this day thine eyes have been that Jehovah hath given thee to-day into my hand in the cave, and they said (אמר, thought) to kill thee, and I spared thee:" lit. it (mine eye) spared thee (cf. Gen 45:20; Deu 7:16, etc., which show that עיני is to be supplied).
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 24:11
To confirm what he said, he then showed him the lappet of his coat which he had cut off, and said, "My father, see." In these words there is an expression of the childlike reverence and affection which David cherished towards the anointed of the Lord. "For that I cut off the lappet and did not kill thee, learn and see (from this) that (there is) not evil in my hand (i.e., that I do not go about for the purpose of injury and crime), and that I have not sinned against thee, as thou nevertheless layest wait for my soul to destroy it."
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 24:12
After he had proved to the king in this conclusive manner that he had no reason whatever for seeking his life, he invoked the Lord as judge between him and his adversary: "Jehovah will avenge me upon thee, but my hand will not be against thee. As the proverb of the ancients (הקּדמוני is used collectively) says, Evil proceedeth from the evil, but my hand shall not be upon thee." The meaning is this: Only a wicked man could wish to avenge himself; I do not.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 24:14
And even if he should wish to attack the king, he did not possess the power. This thought introduces Sa1 24:14 : "After whom is the king of Israel gone out? After whom dost thou pursue? A dead dog, a single flea." By these similes David meant to describe himself as a perfectly harmless and insignificant man, of whom Saul had no occasion to be afraid, and whom the king of Israel ought to think it beneath his dignity to pursue. A dead dog cannot bite or hurt, and is an object about which a king ought not to trouble himself (cf. Sa2 9:8 and Sa2 16:9, where the idea of something contemptible is included). The point of comparison with a flea is the insignificance of such an animal (cf. Sa1 26:20).
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 24:15
As Saul had therefore no good ground for persecuting David, the latter could very calmly commit his cause to the Lord God, that He might decide it as judge, and deliver him out of the hand of Saul: "Let Him look at it, and conduct my cause," etc.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 24:16
These words made an impression upon Saul. David's conduct went to his heart, so that he wept aloud, and confessed to him: "Thou art more righteous than I, for thou hast shown me good, and I (have shown) thee evil; and thou hast given me a proof of this to-day."
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 24:19
"If a man meet with his enemy, will he send him (let him go) in peace?" This sentence is to be regarded as a question, which requires a negative reply, and expresses the thought: When a man meets with an enemy, he does not generally let him escape without injury. But thou hast acted very differently towards me. This thought is easily supplied from the context, and what follows attaches itself to this: "The Lord repay thee good for what thou hast done to me this day."
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 24:20
This wish was expressed in perfect sincerity. David's behaviour towards him had conquered for the moment the evil demon of his heart, and completely altered his feelings. In this better state of mind he felt impelled even to give utterance to these words, "I know that thou wilt be king, and the sovereignty will have perpetuity in thy hand." Saul could not prevent this conviction from forcing itself upon him, after his own rejection and the failure of all that he attempted against David; and it was this which drove him to persecute David whenever the evil spirit had the upper hand in his soul. But now that better feelings had arisen in his mind, he uttered it without envy, and merely asked David to promise on oath that he would not cut off his descendants after his death, and seek to exterminate his name from his father's house. A name is exterminated when the whole of the descendants are destroyed, - a thing of frequent occurrence in the East in connection with a change of dynasties, and one which occurred again and again even in the kingdom of the ten tribes (vid., Kg1 15:28., Sa1 16:11.; 2 Kings 10).
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 24:22
When David had sworn this, Saul returned home. But David remained upon the mountain heights, because he did not regard the passing change in Saul's feelings as likely to continue. המּצוּדה (translated "the hold") is used here to denote the mountainous part of the desert of Judah. It is different in Sa1 22:5.