We have here David’s warm and pathetic speech to Saul, wherein he endeavours to convince him that he did him a great deal of wrong in persecuting him thus and to persuade him therefore to be reconciled.
I. He calls him father (1 Sam. 24:11), for he was not only, as king, the father of his country, but he was, in particular, his father-in-law. From a father one may expect compassion and a favourable opinion. For a prince to seek the ruin of any of his good subjects is as unnatural as for a father to seek the ruin of his own children.
II. He lays the blame of his rage against him upon his evil counsellors: Wherefore hearest thou men’s words? 1 Sam. 24:9. It is a piece of respect due to crowned heads, if they do amiss, to charge it upon those about them, who either advised them to it or should have advised them against it. David had reason enough to think that Saul persecuted him purely from his own envy and malice, yet he courteously supposes that others put him on to do it, and made him believe that David was his enemy and sought his hurt. Satan, the great accuser of the brethren, has his agents in all places, and particularly in the courts of those princes that encourage them and give ear to them, who make it their business to represent the people of God as enemies to Caesar and hurtful to kings and provinces, that, being thus dressed up in bear-skins, they may “be baited.”
III. He solemnly protests his own innocence, and that he is far from designing any hurt or mischief to Saul: “There is neither evil nor transgression in my hand, 1 Sam. 24:11. I am not chargeable with any crime, nor conscious of any guilt, and, had I a window in my breast, thou mightest through it see the sincerity of my heart in this protestation: I have not sinned against thee (however I have sinned against God), yet thou huntest my soul,” that is, “my life.” Perhaps it was about this time that David penned the seventh psalm, concerning the affair of Cush the Benjamite (that is, Saul, as some think), wherein he thus appeals to God (1 Sam. 24:3-5): If there be iniquity in my hands, then let the enemy persecute my soul and take it, putting in a parenthesis, with reference to the story of this chapter, Yea, I have delivered him that without cause is my enemy.
IV. He produces undeniable evidence to prove the falsehood of the suggestion upon which Saul’s malice against him was grounded. David was charged with seeking Saul’s hurt: “See,” says he, “yea, see the skirt of thy robe, 1 Sam. 24:11. Let this be a witness for me, and an unexceptionable witness it is; had that been true of which I am accused, I should now have had thy head in my hand and not the skirt of thy robe, for I could as easily have cut off that as this.” To corroborate this evidence he shows him, 1. That God’s providence had given him opportunity to do it: The lord delivered thee, very surprisingly, to day into my hand, whence many a one would have gathered an intimation that it was the will of God he should now give the determining blow to him whose neck lay so fair for it. When Saul had but a very small advantage against David he cried out, God has delivered him into my hand (1 Sam. 23:7), and resolved to make the best of that advantage; but David did not so. 2. That his counsellors and those about him had earnestly besought him to do it: Some bade me kill thee. He had blamed Saul for hearkening to men’s words and justly; “for,” says he, “if I had done so, thou wouldest not have been alive now.” 3. That it was upon a good principle that he refused to do it; not because Saul’s attendants were at hand, who, it may be, would have avenged his death; no, it was not by the fear of them, but by the fear of God, that he was restrained from it. “He is my lord, and the Lord’s anointed, whom I ought to protect, and to whom I owe faith and allegiance, and therefore I said, I will not touch a hair of his head.” Such a happy command he had of himself that his nature, in the midst of the greatest provocation, was not suffered to rebel against his principles.
V. He declares it to be his fixed resolution never to be his own avenger: “The Lord avenge me of thee, that is, deliver me out of thy hand; but, whatever comes of it, my hand shall not be upon thee” (1 Sam. 24:12), and again (1 Sam. 24:13), for saith the proverb of the ancients, Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked. The wisdom of the ancients is transmitted to posterity by their proverbial sayings. Many such we receive by tradition from our fathers; and the counsels of common persons are very much directed by this, “As the old saying is.” Here is one that was in use in David’s time: Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked, that is, 1. Men’s own iniquity will ruin them at last, so some understand it. Forward furious men will cut their own throats with their own knives. Give them rope enough, and they will hang themselves. In this sense it comes in very fitly as a reason why his hand should not be upon him. 2. Bad men will do bad things; according as men’s principles and dispositions are, so will their actions be. This also agrees very well with the connexion. If David had been a wicked man, as he was represented, he would have done this wicked thing; but he durst not, because of the fear of God. Or thus: Whatever injuries bad men do us (which we are not to wonder at; he that lies among thorns must expect to be scratched), yet we must not return them; never render railing for railing. Though wickedness proceed from the wicked, yet let it not therefore proceed from us by way of retaliation. Though the dog bark at the sheep, the sheep does not bark at the dog. See Isa. 32:6-8.
VI. He endeavours to convince Saul that as it was a bad thing, so it was a mean thing, for him to give chase to such an inconsiderable person as he was (1 Sam. 24:14): Whom does the king of Israel pursue with all this care and force? A dead dog; a flea; one flea, so it is in the Hebrew. It is below so great a king to enter the lists with one that is so unequal a match for him, one of his own servants, bred a poor shepherd, now an exile, neither able nor willing to make any resistance. To conquer him would not be to his honour, to attempt it was his disparagement. If Saul would consult his own reputation, he would slight such an enemy (supposing he were really his enemy) and would think himself in no danger from him. David was so far from aspiring that he was, in his own account, as a dead dog. Mephibosheth thus calls himself, 2 Sam. 9:8. This humble language would have wrought upon Saul if he had had any spark of generosity in him. Satis est prostrasse leoni—Enough for the lion that he has laid his victim low. What credit would it be to Saul to trample upon a dead dog? What pleasure could it be to him to hunt a flea, a single flea, which (as some have observed), if it be sought, is not easily found, if it be found, is not easily caught, and, if it be caught, is a poor prize, especially for a prince. Aquila non captat muscas—The eagle does not dart upon flies. David thinks Saul had no more reason to fear him than to fear a flea-bite.
VII. He once and again appeals to God as the righteous Judge (1 Sam. 24:12, 15): The Lord judge between me and thee. Note, The justice of God is the refuge and comfort of oppressed innocence. If men wrong us, God will right us, at furthest, in the judgment of the great day. With him David leaves his cause, and so rests satisfied, waiting his time to appear for him.