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Poole's Outline of 1 Samuel 24:1-4: The Cutting of Saul's Skirt

Verse 1:[1] And it came to pass, (1 Sam. 23:28) when Saul was returned from following (Heb. after[2]) the Philistines, that it was told him, saying, Behold, David is in the wilderness of En-gedi.

[In the most secure places of En-gedi] En-gedi is near the Dead Sea (Jerome in Sanchez). There was a city in that place, after which the field and the wilderness were named (Sanchez, thus Menochius, Tirinus).

[When he was returned, etc., מֵאַחֲרֵ֖י פְּלִשְׁתִּ֑ים] From after the Philistines (Septuagint, Jonathan, Montanus). From pursuing, etc. (Junius and Tremellius, similarly the Syriac, Tigurinus).

Verse 2:[3] Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel, and (Ps. 38:12) went to seek David and his men upon the rocks of the wild goats.

[Upon the most precipitous rocks, etc., עַל־פְּנֵ֖י צוּרֵ֥י הַיְּעֵלִֽים׃] Upon the faces (on the top [Syriac], on the summits [Munster, Tigurinus]) of the rocks, or cliffs (towards [Junius and Tremellius], over against [Castalio], upon [Dutch, English], the cliffs) of the wild he-goats (Montanus), or rupicapræ[4] (Arabic, Castalio, Dutch, English, Junius and Tremellius, Piscator, Tigurinus). Wild she-goats (Vatablus), ibexes[5] (Syriac, Vatablus). Rupicapræ adorn the cliffs of the mountains, yet not the highest, like ibexes, Psalm 104:18,[6] יָעֵל/mountain-goat from עָלָה, to ascend. The ibex always climbs to the highest, Gesner’s History of Animals[7] 192 (Bochart’s A Sacred Catalogue of Animals 1:3:23:916). The mountains of En-gedi (says Brocardo[8]) are so steep, threatening a fall into the valleys below, that they strike terror in those passing over (Malvenda).

The rocks of the wild goats: Which the wild goats use to delight and climb into. These very rocks are exceeding steep, and full of precipices, and dangerous to travellers, as an eyewitness hath left upon record. And yet Saul was so transported with rage, as to venture himself and his army here, that he might take David, who, as he thought, would judge himself safe, and therefore be secure in such inaccessible places.

Verse 3:[9] And he came to the sheepcotes by the way, where was a cave; and (Ps. 141:6) Saul went in to (Judg. 3:24) cover his feet: and (Ps. 57 title; 142 title) David and his men remained in the sides of the cave.

[And he came to the folds of the sheep, etc.] So that, if perhaps he had found shepherds, he might learn from them concerning David (Sanchez). I think these folds to be caves, into which in stormy times shepherds were gathering their flocks (Tirinus out of Sanchez).

Some think the sheep-cotes to have been caves into which they used to drive their sheep for shelter in tempestuous weather.

[There was a cave in that place] Caves of this sort are very numerous in the land of Judah, to which they were wont to flee, in a time of hostile incursion; even whole villages or hamlets (Tirinus). Towards Arabia and Iturea[10] (says Strabo[11] in his Geography 16) are mountains rugged, and notable for deep caves, one of which could receive four thousand men. Thus the Trachonites[12] for a long time protected themselves in vast caverns from Herod,[13] as Josephus testifies in his Antiquities 14:27 (Fuller’s[14]Sacred Miscellany[15] 4:6).

[Which Saul entered, so that he might purge his belly, לְהָסֵ֣ךְ אֶת־רַגְלָ֑יו] To cover his feet (Pagnine, Montanus, Junius and Tremellius, Piscator). To stimulate (that is, to discharge [Nobilius]), or to let fall (Theodoret), or to empty, the belly (Aquila); so that he might urinate (Munster). So that he might perform his necessity (Jonathan in Munster). See what things are on Judges 3:24 (Vatablus, Piscator). By these words is expressed the behavior of one purging the belly, with one’s garments covering the feet (Mariana). With one sitting or bent down, the longer garments (of which sort were the garments of the Hebrews, otherwise than those of other nations [Sanchez]) were extended over the feet (Menochius). But, because this is not always the case, nor always easy; I think that feet is here taken figuratively for the obscene parts (concerning which see what things we have brought to Isaiah 6:2, with two they were covering their feet), which Herodotus also calls the foot of the belly (Sanchez). By the name of feet, the private parts themselves sometimes go. [See what things are going to be said on 2 Kings 18:27 and Isaiah 7:20, σὺν Θεῷ, Lord willing.] The Jews were very careful, lest, when they were disburdening the belly, the private parts and thighs come into view (thus Doctor Guidott[16] in a Manuscript sent to me). The Hebraism modestly speaks of the discharge of the Bladder, Kidneys, and Bowels (Munster). [But the Syriac and Arabic translate it otherwise, having entered that cave, he slept (he laid himself down [Arabic]) there (Syriac).] Saul entered the cave, because sleep that task loves retreats and seclusion (Sanchez): Or, because God commanded excrement to be covered, lest it be touched by the rays of the sun, Deuteronomy 23:13; and for the same reason it was to be deposited in a secret place (certain interpreters in Tostatus). Great men were afterwards wont to carry some vessel to receive the burden of the belly. See Juvenal’s Satires 1:6: the youths carrying the chamber pot for thee…. But those former times were simpler; neither was there a King in Israel before Saul, whose example he might follow (Sanchez).

To cover his feet, that is, to ease his belly, as this phrase is thought to be used, Judges 3:24. The reason whereof is, because the eastern and some other nations of old wore no breeches, but loose and long coats or gowns, like those which women with us wear; but shorter, whence their feet and legs were in a great part uncovered; and sometimes other parts, which also in Scripture are designed by the name of the feet, (of which see on Genesis 49:10; Deuteronomy 28:57; 2 Kings 18:27; Isaiah 7:20,) were exposed to view. But when they went to perform this office of nature, which obliged them first to lift up their garments, they afterwards disposed them so decently, that all those parts might be covered and kept out of the sight of others. But possibly the words may have another meaning, and it is not to be despised that those ancient and venerable interpreters, the Syriac and Arabic, interpret this place and phrase quite otherwise, that Saul went in to sleep there; which was no uncouth thing to Saul, who being a military man, used to sleep with his soldiers upon the bare ground, as he did 1 Samuel 26:7. And it is not improbable that Saul, being exceeding weary with his eager and almost incessant pursuit, first of David, then of the Philistines, and now of David again, both needed and desired some sleep; God also disposing him thereunto, that David might have this eminent occasion to demonstrate his integrity to Saul, and to all Israel; and, the season possibly being hot, he might choose to sleep in the cave, for the benefit of the shade. But all the question is, how it may appear that this is the meaning of this phrase, and what is the reason and ground of it? To which many things may be said. First, That this phrase is but twice used in Scripture, as far as I remember, here, and Judges 3:24, and this sense may conveniently enough agree to both of them; nay, this sense may seem better to agree with that place, Judges 3, for that summer parlour or summer chamber (for both seem to be the same place, and were apparently for the same use, Judges 3:24, 25) seems to be a place far more convenient for sleeping than for easing of nature. And the servants’ long stay and waiting for their lord seems to imply that they judged him gone to sleep, (which might take up a considerable time,) rather than to that other work, which requires but a little time. See my notes on Judges 3:24. Secondly, That there are many Hebrew phrases which do confessedly signify several things, albeit the reason of such significations be now utterly unknown to us, though it was doubtless known to the ancient Hebrews. Nor need I instance in particulars, seeing it is so in all languages, and particularly in the English tongue at this day, in which the use of many proverbs and phrases is well understood, though the reason of them be now lost; which if our modern infidels, who scoff at some passages of Scripture, which they either do not or will not understand, would consider, they would lose much of their sport. Thirdly, Although there be not that clear and full proof of this sense which some may require, (though indeed it cannot be reasonably expected in a thing so ancient, and in a phrase of so concise and narrow a language as the Hebrew is, and in an expression so rarely used in Scripture,) yet there are some intimations in Scripture which may seem to favour this interpretation. For persons composing themselves to sleep in this manner, are not only noted in the general to have been covered with a mantle, as is said of Sisera, Judges 4:18, 19; but particularly they are said to have their feet covered, as is expressly observed concerning Boaz, when he lay down to sleep in the threshing-floor, Ruth 3:4, 7. The reason whereof may possibly be this, that when they lay down to sleep in their garments, they were secured as to the other parts of their body, only their feet were open and visible; and therefore it was convenient to cover their feet, partly to prevent the inconveniences of cold, (for which reason we here take special care to cover our feet in such cases,) and partly for decency sake, lest their garments being loose and large below, should be disordered, and so their nakedness should appear, as it happened to Noah, Genesis 9:21. Compare Exodus 20:26. And therefore it cannot seem strange or forced, if in this place Saul’s covering of his feet design his composing himself to his rest. And if this be so, then the following difficulties of this history will appear to be plain and easy. For if Saul were fast asleep, which might easily be perceived by David and his men within; then it is not strange that Saul neither heard David and his men talking of him, nor felt David when he came to cut off his lap. David and his men remained in the sides of the cave; for that there were vast caves in those parts is affirmed not only by Josephus, but also by heathen authors; and Strabo, in his 16th book, writes of one which could receive four thousand men.

[They were lurking in the interior part of the cave, בְּיַרְכְּתֵי] In the sides; that is, in the inmost part (Vatablus). David chose this place for its greater security; for Saul would suspect him to be in the most remote places: but not near the way, and in a public place (Tostatus). In a similar manner, Masinissa[17] once hid in a cave. See Appian’s[18] Punica 2:12 (Grotius). Question: How is it, that Saul, having entered here, did not perceive with ears or eyes David’s men? Response: These caves, although they were incredibly spacious within, were quite narrow at the first entrance. Moreover, to those entering a dark place what things lie hidden with are not seen and do not appear; although those recently entered are readily seen by them (Tirinus, thus Menochius). But the din of the passing army, and of horses and chariots, was hindering Saul from perceiving their conversation or whispering (Tirinus out of Josephus and Tostatus).

Verse 4:[19] (1 Sam. 26:8) And the men of David said unto him, Behold the day of which the LORD said unto thee, Behold, I will deliver thine enemy into thine hand, that thou mayest do to him as it shall seem good unto thee. Then David arose, and cut off the skirt of Saul’s robe (Heb. the robe which was Saul’s[20]) privily.

The men of David said unto him: Question: How came it to pass that Saul did not hear his debates of David and his men? Answer: First, The greater noise of Saul’s men and horses, just by the cave’s mouth, might easily drown the lesser. Secondly, There were in these large and capacious caves several cells or parts, whereof some were more inward and remote from the cave’s mouth, in which they might freely converse and discourse, and yet neither be heard nor seen by Saul, though they could easily see him, and observe all his postures and actions, because he was in the mouth of the cave. Thirdly, Saul might be asleep, as hath been discoursed.

[Behold the day, concerning which the Lord spoke to thee, I will deliver, etc.] Question: Where and when did God say this? Response 1: It was thus spoken indeed, whether through the Prophets, Gad, or Nathan, or Samuel (Lapide); or in some other way (Menochius). Rather by Samuel, when he had first fled by night[21] (Tirinus out of Sanchez): or this was said even to David himself (who was a Prophet). Now, this David disclosed to his companions, so that he might comfort their souls (Sanchez). Response 2: It is not probable that the Lord said this. For, that would have been a promise including a mandate, which David would have resolved accordingly. Therefore, the sense is, He spoke, that is, He furnishes so opportune an occasion to thee of killing thine enemy, as if He were expressly commanding thee. It is a Metaphor. Hebrew: He said.[22] It is an Enallage of tense. It is confirmed out of verse 11 (Piscator). Question: Whether then it was lawful for David to kill Saul? Response 1: Some answer in the affirmative. By these words was this power given (thus Cajetan in Tirinus). One attacked is able to anticipate his attacker, as Lessius[23] and Thomas teach (Lapide). They say, 1. that it is lawful to repel force with force. This I confess, but with a blameless defense: that is, if they be not able to fless, nor to defend themselves in another way. 2. David was already King. Response: That may be, but he was not yet publicly inaugurated (Martyr). Response 2: Others answer in the negative (thus Menochius, Tirinus out of Tostatus and Salian, Martyr). For, 1. David did not understand those words in that way (Menochius); but he always drew back from this killing. 2. David was not yet King, but a private person (Tostatus in Lapide). 3. How do they say that this was lawful, which pertained to the scandal and overthrow of the republic? 4. David was obliged to take care, lest he cast all things into confusion by bad examples. God was not willing to bring David into the kingdom through homicide. We are taught by this example, that a hand is not to be laid upon the magistrate (Martyr).

Behold the day of which the Lord said unto thee; not that God either said these words, or made any such particular promise, as some apprehend; but they put this construction upon those confessed and known promises which God had made to him, of delivering him from all his enemies, and carrying him through all hinderances and difficulties to the throne and kingdom; which promise they conceived put him under an obligation of watching and taking all opportunities which God by his providence should put into his hand for their accomplishment, whereof this was an eminent instance.

[That thou mayest do to him as it shall please] He does not say, that thou mightest kill him (Menochius).

[Then David arose] In what spirit it is uncertain (Sanchez). He went in that spirit, that he would kill Saul. See verse 11 (Menochius, Sanchez out of Tostatus, Rabbis in Martyr). But in the midst of the way he changed his mind (Sanchez).

[And he cut off the border (wing [Montanus, Junius and Tremellius], edge [Syriac]) of the mantle (cloak [Pagnine, Montanus, Junius and Tremellius, Syriac, etc.) of Saul silently, בַּלָּט] In secret (Montanus, Vatablus), secretly (Vatablus), privily (Pagnine, Junius and Tremellius). But it is strange that Saul neither saw nor sensed David doing this (Sanchez). Responses: 1. David’s agility and dexterity were extraordinary (Menochius). 2. Perhaps the King laid aside his mantle, so that he might be more conveniently free for that work of nature, and placed it at a rather great distance from himself (Sanchez, Menochius). 3. In this work, the Jews were wont to cover both head and feet (Pellican[24] in Willet). 4. David cut off a small part, which would suffice for a sign; otherwise Saul would have seen the notable defect. 5. God did something supernatural here. For, God a number of times was working miraculously in the acts of David against Saul, as in 1 Samuel 26 (Tostatus). [6. The problem is able to be loosed in another way, if with the Syriac and Arabic we understand here, that Saul slept, as was mentioned. Those sleeping are also wont to cover their feet. And why should not Saul, weary from his journey, compose himself for sleep?] 7. He did not sense this because of the commotion and noise of the soldiers. 8. But why go on? God prospered this deed, and will it thus to be done (Martyr).

David arose, and cut off the skirt of Saul's robe privily. Question: How could David do thus, and Saul not perceive it? Answer: First, This might be some loose and upper garment, which Saul might then lay at some distance from him, as we oft do on the same occasion. Secondly, In those vast caves there were divers particular cells and rooms, which were distinct one from another, yet so as there were secret passages from one to another, as may be gathered from the relations of historians and travellers. At the mouth of one of these, Saul might lay his upper garment; which David perceiving, and very well knowing all the cells and passages of that cave, might go some secret way to it, and cut off a little part of it. Thirdly, The noise which David’s motion might be supposed to make was but small, and that he well knew would be perfectly drowned with the far greater noise of Saul’s army, which lay at the mouth of the cave. Fourthly, The heroical actions of great men in Scripture are not to be measured by common rules. And as divers of the prophets and saints of old were in some of their actions, so David might be in this, moved to it by a secret and Divine impulse, which also gave him confidence of God’s assistance therein, and of the success of his enterprise. Fifthly, This difficulty doth perfectly vanish, if Saul was now asleep. And as no man can prove that he was not, so that he was may seem probable from what is said on verse 3.

[1] Hebrew: וַיְהִ֗י כַּֽאֲשֶׁר֙ שָׁ֣ב שָׁא֔וּל מֵאַחֲרֵ֖י פְּלִשְׁתִּ֑ים וַיַּגִּ֤דוּ לוֹ֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר הִנֵּ֣ה דָוִ֔ד בְּמִדְבַּ֖ר עֵ֥ין גֶּֽדִי׃ [2] Hebrew: מֵאַחֲרֵי. [3] Hebrew: וַיִּקַּ֣ח שָׁא֗וּל שְׁלֹ֧שֶׁת אֲלָפִ֛ים אִ֥ישׁ בָּח֖וּר מִכָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וַיֵּ֗לֶךְ לְבַקֵּ֤שׁ אֶת־דָּוִד֙ וַֽאֲנָשָׁ֔יו עַל־פְּנֵ֖י צוּרֵ֥י הַיְּעֵלִֽים׃ [4] The Rupicapra, or cliff-goat, is a sort of goat-antelope. [5] The Ibex is a sort of goat, distinguished by the male’s large, recurving horns. [6] Psalm 104:18: “The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats (הָרִ֣ים הַ֭גְּבֹהִים לַיְּעֵלִ֑ים); and the rocks for the conies.” [7] Conrad Gesner (1516-1565) was a Swiss philosopher and naturalist. He served as Professor of Philosophy at Zurich, and wrote Historia Animalium in five volumes. [8] Jacopo Brocardo (c. 1518-c. 1594) was an Italian convert to the Protestant cause, and a Biblical interpreter. Although Brocardo is remembered most for his apocalyptic views and work on Revelation, he also wrote commentaries on Genesis, Leviticus, and Song of Solomon. [9] Hebrew: וַ֠יָּבֹא אֶל־גִּדְר֙וֹת הַצֹּ֤אן עַל־הַדֶּ֙רֶךְ֙ וְשָׁ֣ם מְעָרָ֔ה וַיָּבֹ֥א שָׁא֖וּל לְהָסֵ֣ךְ אֶת־רַגְלָ֑יו וְדָוִד֙ וַאֲנָשָׁ֔יו בְּיַרְכְּתֵ֥י הַמְּעָרָ֖ה יֹשְׁבִֽים׃ [10] A region just north-east of the Sea of Galilee. [11] Strabo (c. 63 BC-c. 24 AD) was a Greek geographer and historian. [12] Trachonitis was just south of the region of Damascus. [13] Trachonitis, being a rough and inhospitable land, was infested with nests of robbers, living in common in caves. Trachonitis was given by Cæsar to Herod, but the people were not accustomed to an agrarian life, and rebelled. [14] Nicholas Fuller (1557-1622) was an Anglican churchman, a learned divine, and a critic of considerable reputation. He excelled in the languages of the Scripture, and he applied his considerable talents to the resolution of Scripture difficulties. [15]Miscellanea Sacra. [16] Thomas Guidott (1638-1706) was a physician, renowned in his own day, who wrote several works on the town of Bathe and its famous springs. [17] Masinissa (c. 238-148 BC) was a Numidian king, leading a federation of Massylii Berber tribes during the Second Punic War, ultimately siding with Rome, and securing Numidia a leadership position in North Africa. [18] Appian of Alexandria (c. 95-165) was a Roman historian. [19] Hebrew: וַיֹּאמְרוּ֩ אַנְשֵׁ֙י דָוִ֜ד אֵלָ֗יו הִנֵּ֙ה הַיּ֜וֹם אֲֽשֶׁר־אָמַ֧ר יְהוָ֣ה אֵלֶ֗יךָ הִנֵּ֙ה אָנֹכִ֜י נֹתֵ֤ן אֶת־אֹיְבֶיךָ֙ בְּיָדֶ֔ךָ וְעָשִׂ֣יתָ לּ֔וֹ כַּאֲשֶׁ֖ר יִטַ֣ב בְּעֵינֶ֑יךָ וַיָּ֣קָם דָּוִ֗ד וַיִּכְרֹ֛ת אֶת־כְּנַֽף־הַמְּעִ֥יל אֲשֶׁר־לְשָׁא֖וּל בַּלָּֽט׃ [20] Hebrew: הַמְּעִ֥יל אֲשֶׁר־לְשָׁא֖וּל. [21] 1 Samuel 19:8-24. [22] Hebrew: אָמַר. [23] Leonardus Lessius (1554-1623) was a French Jesuit Theologian. He studied under Suarez and Bellarmine, and later served as Professor of Theology at the University of Leuven. In the theological debate over Baianism, he adopted Molina’s doctrine of Middle Knowledge. Lessius is perhaps best known for his treatise, De Iustitia et Iure, a commentary on the Secunda Secundæ of Thomas’ Summa Theologica. [24] Conrad Pellican (1478-1556) began his career as a Roman Catholic priest and scholar in Germany. He sided with the Reformers, and, on account of his extensive knowledge and great skill in the Hebrew tongue, he was appointed Professor of Hebrew at Zurich.

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