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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 16–22
Verses 16–22

I. Saul’s penitent reply to David’s speech. It was strange that he had patience to hear him out, considering how outrageous he was against him, and how cutting David’s discourse was. But God restrained him and his men; and we may suppose Saul struck with amazement at the singularity of the event, and much more when he found how much he had lain at David’s mercy. His heart must have been harder than a stone if this had not affected him. 1. He melted into tears, and we will not suppose them to have been counterfeit but real expressions of his present concern at the sight of his own iniquity, so plainly proved upon him. He speaks as one quite overcome with David’s kindness: Isa. this thy voice, my son David? And, as one that relented at the thought of his own folly and ingratitude, he lifted up his voice and wept, 1 Sam. 24:16. Many mourn for their sins that do not truly repent of them, weep bitterly for them, and yet continue in love and league with them. 2. He ingenuously acknowledges David’s integrity and his own iniquity (1 Sam. 24:17): Thou art more righteous than I. Now God made good to David that word on which he had caused him to hope, that he would bring forth his righteousness as the light, Ps. 37:6. Those who take care to keep a good conscience may leave it to God to secure them the credit of it. This fair confession was enough to prove David innocent (even his enemy himself being judge), but not enough to prove Saul himself a true penitent. He should have said, Thou are righteous, but I am wicked; but the utmost he will own is this: Thou art more righteous than I. Bad men will commonly go no further than this in their confessions; they will own they are not so good as some others are; there are those that are better than they, and more righteous. He now owns himself under a mistake concerning David (1 Sam. 24:18): “Thou hast shown this day that thou art so far from seeking my hurt that thou hast dealt well with me.” We are too apt to suspect others to be worse affected towards us then really they are, and than perhaps they are proved to be; and when, afterwards, our mistake is discovered, we should be forward to recall our suspicions, as Saul does here. 3. He prays God to recompense David for this his generous kindness to him. He owns that David’s sparing him, when he had him in his power, was an uncommon and unparalleled instance of tenderness to an enemy; no man would have done the like; and therefore, either because he thought himself not able to give him a full recompence for so great a favour, or because he found himself not inclined to give him any recompence at all, he turns him over to God for his pay: The Lord reward thee good, 1 Sam. 24:19. Poor beggars can do no less than pray for their benefactors, and Saul did no more. 4. He prophesies his advancement to the throne (1 Sam. 24:20): I know well that thou shalt surely be king. He knew it before, by the promise Samuel had made him of it compared with the excellent spirit that appeared in David, which highly aggravated his sin and folly in persecuting him as he did; he had as much reason to say concerning David as David concerning him, How can I put forth my hand against the Lord’s anointed? But now he knew it by the interest he found David had in the people, the special providence of God in protecting him, and the generous kingly spirit he had now given a proof of in sparing his enemy. Now he knew it, that is, now that he was in a good temper he was willing to own that he knew it and to submit to the conviction of it. Note, Sooner or later, God will force even those that are of the synagogue of Satan to know and own those that he has loved, and to worship before their feet; for so is the promise, Rev. 3:9. This acknowledgement which Saul made of David’s incontestable title to the crown was a great encouragement to David himself and a support to his faith and hope. 5. He binds David with an oath hereafter to show the same tenderness of his seed and of his name as he had now shown of his person, 1 Sam. 24:21. David had more reason to oblige Saul by an oath that he would not destroy him, yet he insists not on that (if the laws of justice and honour would not bind him, an oath would not), but Saul knew David to be a conscientious man, and would think his interests safe if he could get them secured by his oath. Saul by his disobedience had ruined his own soul, and never took care by repentance to prevent that ruin, and yet is very solicitous that his name might not be destroyed nor his seed cut off. However, David swore unto him, 1 Sam. 24:22. Though he might be tempted, not only in revenge, but in prudence, to extirpate Saul’s family, yet he binds himself not to do it, knowing that God could and would establish the kingdom to him and his, without the use of such bloody methods. This oath he afterwards religiously observed; he supported Mephibosheth, and executed those as traitors that slew Ishbosheth. The hanging up of seven of Saul’s posterity, to atone for the destruction of the Gibeonites, was God’s appointment, not David’s act, and therefore not the violation of this oath.

II. Their parting in peace. 1. Saul, for the present, desisted from the persecution. He went home convinced, but not converted; ashamed of his envy of David, yet retaining in his breast that root of bitterness; vexed that, when at last he had found David, he could not at that time find in his heart to destroy him, as he had designed. God has many ways to tie the hands of persecutors, when he does not turn their hearts. 2. David continued to shift for his own safety. He knew Saul too well to trust him, and therefore got him up into the hold. It is dangerous venturing upon the mercy of a reconciled enemy. We read of those who believed in Christ, and yet he did not commit himself to them because he knew all men. Those that like David are innocent as doves must thus like him be wise as serpents.