Friday of Week 2 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on 1 Samuel 24:3-21

A truly majestic passage with much to say to us in these violent times.

Saul has been continuously trying to put an end to David’s life for he is jealous of David and sees him as a threat to his throne, especially as Saul knows that, because of his own behaviour, he has lost God’s support of him as king.

As our reading opens we find Saul with no less than 3,000 men trying to hunt down David. In some rocky terrain, Saul slips into a cave in order to “cover his feet”, a euphemism for “to relieve himself”. Little does he know that deeper inside the cave is David hiding with his men.

Seeing Saul’s very vulnerable position, David’s men urge him to kill Saul. After all God had promised that he would deliver David’s enemy into his hands. “This is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘I will deliver your enemy into your grasp; do with him as you see fit’.” Here was the clear opportunity.

Actually, there is no previous record of the divine revelation here alluded to by David’s men. Perhaps it was their own interpretation of the anointing of David to replace Saul, or of assurances given to David that he would survive Saul’s vendetta against him and ultimately become king. It could also refer not to a verbal communication from the Lord but to the providential nature of the incident itself, which David’s men understood as a revelation from God that David should not ignore.

However, David refused to kill Saul. Instead he stealthily just cut off a corner of Saul’s cloak. How he did this without Saul’s being aware is not clear, unless, after relieving himself, Saul had lain down to sleep. But, almost immediately, David regretted what he had done. For the garment was, as it were, the man himself and even to touch it was to lay hands on the person. (We remember in the New Testament how people just touched the clothes of Jesus or of his disciples to be healed.)

For all his wickedness, Saul was still the anointed king of Israel. Nor would David allow his men to attack Saul. Saul’s royal office carried divine sanction by virtue of his anointing, David will not seize the kingship from Saul but leave its disposition to the Lord to whom it belongs.

Only after Saul had left the cave did David reveal himself. He called out to the king and bowed low in reverence to his king. Why should Saul think that David wished him harm when, just now, David had him totally at his mercy and refrained from doing anything? “I will not raise a hand against my lord because he is the Lord’s anointed and a father to me.” Not only is Saul his king but also his father-in-law.

He lets Saul know how close to death he had been. The evidence was in David’s hands; the piece of the cloak that he had cut off. David offered this as proof that he had no designs on Saul and there was no need for Saul to regard David as his enemy. In the end, it would be the Lord who would judge between them.

Saul, for all his faults, generously acknowledges the enormous dignity of David in behaving the way he did. Asks Saul: “If a man meets his enemy, does he send him away unharmed?” In the culture of Israel in those days, the answer was definitely, No! And, in many situations in our own day, it is still No! There many in our society who would not be able to understand the attitude of David.

For now, Saul feels great remorse for his wicked intentions against David but it will not be long before he reverts to his former murderous plots. He realises that a person of such extraordinary dignity as David must surely replace him as king. He only begs David that he not do harm to his family and wipe out his family name. Jonathan will be killed in battle but David will take another son, who is physically handicapped, into the royal palace.

If David had killed Saul, he would have lowered himself to the same level as the king. David here can be seen as a patron for all those – and they are clearly a minority – who believe passionately in non-violent means for dealing all problems, most of all problems which involve violence. This scene really shows the greatness of the man. It is a perfect example of the power (not the weakness) of turning the other cheek.

Among the non-violent heroes of our own time have been Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King but there are many others. They would understand very well what David did. Let us try to understand too.

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