“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. And he said to David, Thou art more righteous than I: for thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded thee evil. And thou hast showed this day how that thou hast dealt well with me: forasmuch as when the LORD had delivered me into thine hand, thou killedst me not. For if a man find his enemy, will he let him go well away? wherefore the LORD reward thee good for that thou hast done unto me this day. And now, behold, I know well that thou shalt surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in thine hand. Swear now therefore unto me by the LORD, that thou wilt not cut off my seed after me, and that thou wilt not destroy my name out of my father’s house. And David sware unto Saul. And Saul went home; but David and his men gat them up unto the hold” (1 Samuel 24:16-22).
King Saul could have easily overpowered David and his men, but for a moment he recognised that David was indeed anointed and chosen of God. Nevertheless, David could not trust that Saul’s emotional display was evidence of a change of heart. Saul was not a changed man, but he realised that he had to conform to the circumstances he found himself in.
David had called Saul “my father” (1 Samuel 24:11), so now the king responds by calling him “my son”. This may sound like the situation between them was improving, but history tells us that Saul was speaking from his head rather than his heart.
Saul suddenly and unexpectedly bursts out in tears. We can imagine how this would have touched the hearts of everyone who was watching the scene, but the weeping did not produce true repentance in Saul. David’s actions proved to Saul that he was in the wrong rather than his supposed enemy. Saul was responding with fleshly emotions rather than out of love for David. He was sorry that he had been caught out about his sin rather than for the sin itself.
Saul made a show of reproaching himself publicly over his wrongdoing towards David. If we analyse Saul’s words here we find that he is still thinking of himself as righteous, for he simply acknowledges that David is a little more so. “He should have said, Thou are righteous, but I am wicked” (Matthew Henry). Notice that he covers his wicked desire to kill David with the words “I have rewarded thee evil.” He is suggesting that his behaviour was wrong. There is no mention of sinning against God.
Though Saul recognised that David ought to be rewarded for the righteousness he had shown that day, he makes no attempt to make amends himself. “He ingenuously acknowledges David’s integrity and his own iniquity” (John Wesley). He could have honoured David with titles, riches and restoration to the royal household, but he does not. He is using sugar-coated words of flattery. He is simply glad that he is still alive. Therefore, if David is to be rewarded, then God will have to do it.
Then Saul lets slip the reason why he has been after David’s life for so long. He had been working against God’s will, for he knew that, if he was allowed to live, David would be crowned king of Israel. Notice he says, “I know well that thou shalt surely be king”.
Now that Saul had declared that he knew David was going to be the next king of Israel, he realised he had to secure the lives of his decedents. He probably thought that David would take his revenge on Saul’s family for all the evils he had caused him. Saul reveals the troubled heart of a selfish sinner. Surely the king ought to have promised not to continue pursuing David rather than seeking a promise from him.
David was a man of his word. He promised to do as Saul requested. This was not any problem to David, for he had made a similar promise to protect Jonathan’s family. But did David truly trust Saul’s emotional response to his question? The proof that he did not is found in the fact that both parties went off in different direction. “For having had by frequent experience of Saul’s inconstancy, he would trust him no more” (John Wesley). Saul did not request that David come home to his wife. David knew that he would never be safe in Saul’s presence. “Though this tyrant saw and confessed the favour of God toward David, yet he did not cease to persecute him against his own conscience” (Geneva Study Bible).