David Did Not Usurp the Throne
By Dr. Doug Bookman
1 Samuel is – as much as anything else – a polemic in defense of David’s right to the throne of Israel. To that end, it is negatively a legal brief making the point that David is not a usurper (a sensitive issue, because superficially considered that possibility could suggest itself, given David’s history with the court of Saul). One section of the book in which that focus is stunningly apparent is 1 Sam 24 and 26 – two remarkably similar narratives, each told in full, with almost identical literary frameworks: King Saul is on the hunt for David with the intent to kill him and rescue the throne for his dynasty; David is afforded the opportunity to neatly and quietly and safely assassinate the derelict monarch; but the young fugitive not only spares the king’s life, but rescues him as well.
The two outlines below are intended to make clear the similarity between the two narratives.
1 Sam 24 – David spares Saul in a cave at En-Gedi
1 Sam 26 – David spares Saul at the Hill of Hachilah
|The Rancor of Saul:(1, 2) Saul is returning from rebuffing the Philistines (cf. 23:27-28), is told David & his men are hiding in Eg-Gedi (deep in Jordan Rift, west of Dead Sea); David & men are hiding deep in one of the many caves of the region.||The Rancor of Saul (1-5): (Sometime after ch 24) the Ziphites go again to Gibeah, tell Saul is at Hill of Hachilah (area of Jeshimon, west of Dead Sea); Saul takes 3000 choice soldiers, pitch camp near there; David’s spies inform him the king is near; David sneaks to the camp|
|The Rescue of Saul: (3-7) Saul goes into that very cave to relieve himself (lit: “cover his feet”); David’s fellows compel him to seize the evidently God-given opportunity to slay the perverse king: David sneaks to Saul, rather then killing him cuts off the corner of the King’s garment (prob laid aside). David conscience smites him for that, says to his men: “The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the LORD.” So David restrained his servants with these words, and did not allow them to rise against Saul. And Saul got up from the cave and went on his way. (6, 7)||The Rescue of Saul (5-12): David & his men could see Saul and Abner (Captain of the host sleeping in camp (note 26:12 – the Lord caused a deep sleep to fall upon them!”) ; David & select men sneak near; one (Abishai) insists God has delivered Saul into David’s hand, begs permission to slay the king himself (“I’ll not smite him a 2nd time!”); David: “Do not destroy him; for who can stretch out his hand against the LORD’s anointed, and be guiltless?…”As the LORD lives, the LORD shall strike him, or his day shall come to die, or he shall go out to battle and perish. The LORD forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the LORD’s anointed. But please, take now the spear and the jug of water that are by his head, and let us go.” David takes water jug and scepter/spear, flees.|
|David’s Rebuke of Saul (8-15): After Saul leaves cave, David pursues him, calls out, bows before him (from afar), speaks 9-15. Note: 1) the regard – even affection – of David for King Saul; 2) the wisdom of David in providing Saul with an “out” (“men’s words – 9); 3) undeniable proof of his innocence; 4) appeal to wisdom of sages (13 – cf Mt 12:35, Lk 6:43; 5) appeal to justice and care of Yahweh||David’s Rebuke of Saul (13-20): David stood atop a hill far away to be safe, near enough to be heard, rebukes Abner for allowing Saul to be in such danger (13-16), then speaks to Saul (17-20). Note: 1) David’s plea of innocence, harmlessness; 2) David again insists that evil men have stirred up Saul against him (19); 3) David bemoans his inability to get to the tabernacle (19b – “Go serve other gods” – cf. Ps 42:2; 63:2; 64:2)|
|The Remorse of Saul (16-19): The king weeps, refers to David as “my son,” acknowledges David’s righteousness and kindness; expresses amazement that he has let his enemy go, prays blessing on David.||The Remorse of Saul (21): Saul confesses the wickedness of pursuing David, calls him “my son,” promises he will David no harm, acknowledges he has “played the fool, erred exceedingly”|
|David’s Response (22-24): Returns the water jug & scepter; reminds Saul that he had refused the opportunity of regicide; prays that as Saul’s life had been protected by him, his life might be protected by Yahweh.|
|The Revelation of Saul (20-21): Saul to David: “And now I know indeed that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand.Therefore swear now to me by the LORD that you will not cut off my descendants after me, and that you will not destroy my name from my father’s house.”||The Revelation of Saul (25): Saul to David: “May you be blessed, my son David! You shall both do great things and also still prevail.”|
|The Credits Roll (22): David makes the oath asked of him by Saul – to preserve Saul’s house after Saul was gone; Saul goes home, “David and his men returned to the strongholds”!!||The Credits Roll (25b): “David went on his way and Saul returned to his place.”|
One of the most notable features of these two stories is their similarity to one another. This point is the more dramatically made given the fact that Bible writers had the sense that their space was limited, and each of these two accounts is told in full detail. The intended and unmistakable two-fold impression upon the reader: Saul is an inveterate scoundrel and his rejection is justifiable; David consistently shows himself a loyal and protective subject even when faced with startling temptation to what might be regarded as justifiable revenge. In short: David did not usurp the throne of Israel.