1 Samuel 24:16, 17
And it came to pass, when David had made an end of speaking these words to Saul, that Saul said, Is this your voice, my son David?…
Recent passages of this history have shown more of David's weakness than of his strength. But here he is again a hero. The fine points of his character shine out - his self-control, his magnanimity, and his reliance on the justice of God to vindicate his integrity. To this. period is ascribed the seventh Psalm, in which the son of Jesse appeals against the slanders with which he was assailed, and looks to God for solace and deliverance. The situation strikes both the imagination and the heart. The young chief stands at the mouth of the cavern, holding up the proof of his generous forbearance, and protesting with picturesque eloquence against Saul's hot pursuit. The king amazed, ashamed, and subdued; the sternness fading from his face, the haughty anger in his eyes drowned in tears. So evil was for the time overcome by good. David was helped to this noble behaviour at Engedi by his recent meeting with Jonathan in the forest of Ziph. At and through that meeting he had been encouraged in God. So in the hour of temptation he abstained from revenge, confided to God the vindication of his innocence and the preservation of his life, would not lift a hand, or let one of his officers lift hand, against the king. With what thankfulness and joy must Jonathan have heard of the sparing of his father's life by his friend! Their meeting had borne fruit very soon. Their prayers were heard. Perhaps we have a happy meeting with a friend, or a strengthening and refreshing service at church, and the reason why is not at once apparent; but soon we fall into stone temptation or danger, and then we are helped by the recent confirmation of our faith to endure with patience. Our "good time" in the wood of Ziph is meant to prepare us for the hour of temptation in the cave of Engedi.
I. MARK THE RESTRAINT OF GOD UPON THE PERSECUTOR. Saul seemed to have every facility for gaining his object. No one disputed his will. Armed men by thousands followed him in pursuit of David; and Saul knew how to lead men, and how to fight. He had spies to track out the fugitive. The country was small, and the inhabitants, both at Keilah and at Ziph, showed their readiness to help the king. Yet he could never reach David to arrest or to smite him. More than once he had thrown the javelin at him, but missed. In the highlands of Judah he was more than once close upon his steps, but still missed him. He went on one side of a hill while David moved round the other side. He had almost caught him when he was called off to repel a sudden inroad by the Philistines. He actually entered the cave in which David and his men lay hid, and did not see them. This was no mere luck. It was God who preserved David and baffled the malice of Saul. And in the tragical history of persecution the restraining hand of God has often been shown. As Saul was allowed to kill the priests but not to kill David, so has the Lord allowed many a tyrant to go so far, but no farther. Jezebel could make away with Naboth, but not with Elijah. Herod could kill St. James, but not St. Peter. The Roman Catholic persecutors could burn Huss, but not Wickliffe; George Wishart, but not John Knox. There has been a cord of Divine control round every oppressor, and whenever God saw meet he has simply drawn that cord, and so has restrained the remainder of wrath, defeated the devices of cruelty.
II. DISTINGUISH BETWEEN A RELENTING MOOD AND A REPENTING HEART. An evildoer may be thrown into a fit of shame and grief over his own misconduct, promise amendment with tears, and yet never truly repent. The generous conduct and appeal of his son-in-law overwhelmed the king with confusion, and woke lingering echoes of good feeling in his troubled breast. He even wept before all, and, with the hot tears pouring from his eyes, confessed that he was in the wrong, praised the noble forbearance of David, acknowledged that the young captain was destined to fill the throne, and even asked him to swear that on his accession he would not exterminate the royal family. David swore, and they parted. Saul went home, but David did not attend him, for he was too shrewd to trust to the altered mood of the king. Well for him that he was so cautious, for Saul had only relented for a little while, not really repented of his malignant purpose. Softened feeling is one thing, repentance in mind and purpose another thing. This is familiar to those who try to reclaim criminals. They find them melt under kind words, bewail their misconduct, promise to lead lives of honesty and sobriety, and yet after all this fall very soon under temptation, and not only renew, but increase, their wickedness. It is because they have only a gush of feeling, not a grasp of principle, and are sorry for themselves, but not penitent towards God. It is often illustrated in persons who have succumbed to the infatuation for strong drink. One has allowed this vice to grow insensibly, and does not know how far it has mastered him, till at last there comes an exposure of drunkenness which covers him with shame. A friend speaks to him about it seriously and kindly, and tears come promptly to his eyes, expressions of poignant regret and promises of the utmost caution flow from his lips. He is quite surprised that he should have been so foolish, hopes that no more will be said about it, and is quite sure that nothing of the kind will ever happen again. But there is little disturbance of conscience, no grave sense of sin, no humbling of self before God with petitions for pardon and for help to cease from this insidious vice. So in a little while the shame is gone, the good promises are forgotten, the friend who spoke so kindly is hated for his pains, and the perverse man succumbs to temptation, and goes on to a drunkard's disgrace, goes down to a drunkard's grave. There are many other instances of this folly without descending to gross vice. Men have twinges of compunction and gusts of admirable feeling, and so resolve to lead better lives. But there it ends. They mean well, but somehow cannot carry out their intention. It is for want of repentance toward God.
III. RECOGNISE THE SUPERIOR STRENGTH OF MORAL WEAPONS. Whatever good is done to those who are going astray is effected by moral means and weapons only. David might have fought Saul and beaten him, but that would not have brought even a temporary relenting to his heart. It would probably have hardened him. David smote him with the moral power of truth and love, and so disarmed him for the time, and subdued him to unwonted tenderness. So now we can best benefit our fellow men by using the moral influences of probity and kindness. So may our nation influence other nations as a Christian people ought to do, not by vaunting our power to go where we like and kill whom we please, but by showing righteousness and good will towards all mankind. Physical weapons of destruction are not worthy to be compared with the moral weapons that reach the conscience and the heart.
IV. RISE TO THE THOUGHT OF GOD'S MAGNANIMITY TO US. Though we have conceived in our minds enmity against him, he does not crush us by the might of his arm, or willingly slay us as with the edge of a glittering sword. The gospel conveys to us the sublime appeal of his truth, righteousness, and pardoning love. We enter no cave where God is not. We are never beyond his reach; and if he should smite, who is there that could deliver out of his hand? But he has no pleasure in our death. Much as we have provoked him, he has compassion, he spares, he even pleads with us to be reconciled to him. Let us consent to his proposals of grace not with mere evanescent feeling, but with inward repentance and cordial faith. Then we shall not part from our God, as did Saul from David, but abide and "walk together as those that are agreed." - F.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.