A king with his pants down

. . . there was a cave; and Saul went in to relieve himself.  Now David and his men were sitting in the innermost parts of the cave. The men of David said to him, “Here is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hand . . .'” Then David went and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul’s cloak. 1Sam. 24:3-4

Israel, En Gedi-30
Ibex mountain goats still inhabit the oasis at En-gedi that bears their name.

King Saul with his pants down! Do we laugh or cry? The first monarch of Israel has become so paranoid about the rising fortunes of young David that he sets out to kill him. With an army of three thousand, Saul pursues David to rugged desert terrain along the Dead Sea, where heat is brutal and fresh water scarce. With no outlet for Jordan River water flowing into the Dead Sea, what remains after millennia is undrinkable.

Wadis or ravines cut into parched limestone mountains along the shoreline. A few have springs producing fresh water that traveled long distances underground from areas that get more rainfall. Enough flows at the wadi of En-gedi (meaning “goat spring”) to create an oasis supporting vegetation and wildlife. “My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms in the vineyards of En-gedi,” wrote a royal poet of Israel (Song of Sol. 1:14).

Water that emerges from springs at En-gedi traveled long distances underground from areas to the west that get more rainfall. Numerous natural caves form in the limestone rock of the region.

Knowing that David with his six hundred guerillas would have to find fresh water, Saul heads for En-gedi to trap them. Countless natural caves form in the region, and some served as sheepfolds. David and his men are hiding in such a cave when Saul comes in to relieve himself. A powerful and arrogant king is reduced to performing bodily functions in the presence of a young rival of whom he is jealous! The modern image of humiliation that comes to mind is Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi being found in a culvert in 2011—and summarily executed by rebels.

David’s men likewise urge him to kill: “Here is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it seems good to you.'” Instead, David stealthily cuts off a corner of Saul’s cloak. Had Saul entered the cave alone for his bio-break, then taken a siesta?

David slips from the cave, then calls back to Saul. Bowing low, David says, “See, my father, the corner of your cloak in my hand!” David asks why the king spends time hunting down a “dead dog” and a “flea” like himself. Realizing that David could have killed, Saul’s heart softens. “Is this your voice, my son David?” he asks with tears.  “You are more righteous than I; for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil.”

David often used violence to achieve political goals, but in this case he showed respect and restraint in dealing with an enemy. It worked, though David had to be merciful again when Saul resumed pursuit of his young rival (1 Sam. 26). Soon Saul died in battle with the Philistines, and David became king.

Sometimes mercy and respect are more satisfying and effective for dealing with an enemy than revenge.

© 2015 J. Nelson Kraybill ***************************************IMG_0425

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Join me in the fall of 2015 for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land! See: Holy Land (Jordan, Israel & Palestine) with Pastor Nelson Kraybill – November 5-16, 2015

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