During the period of time that can be looked upon as David’s pre-rule exile, and in the record of some of the stories related to that time of David’s life, we find David, and others associated with David, functioning in the role of deliverer. So in the midst of exile, as David is being pursued by an enemy (Saul), and as he awaits the exodus into his God’s ultimate plan for his life, he embodies that which he is supposed to be for his people. The first time we see this is in the twenty-fourth chapter of 1st Samuel, when David is given an opportunity to kill his enemy, Saul.
Saul, while pursuing David so as to kill him, ventured into a cave “to relieve himself” (24:3) in the area in which David was said to have been hiding. “Now David and his men were sitting in the recesses of the cave” (24:3b). David’s men’s thought that this was quite the fortuitous turn of events, saying “This is the day about which the Lord said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hand, and you can do to him whatever seems appropriate to you’.” (24:4a) They seem to be insistent that David’s moment of exodus---his deliverance from his oppressive and subjugating enemy---had finally arrived, and that this was the Lord’s handiwork. How does David respond? He “got up and quietly cut off an edge of Saul’s robe.
Though this seems rather benign, we read that “Afterward David’s conscience bothered him because he had cut off an edge of Saul’s robe” (24:5a), as he still looked to and recognized Saul as the Lord’s chosen king for Israel (24:6). There is a Moses-like quality, in a sense, that is on display here by David. How so? Well, when Moses went before Pharaoh in order to secure the release of Israel from Egypt, he went with the powerful backing of Israel’s God. Moses knew that he had been appointed as Israel’s leader and deliverer, just as David was well aware, in that moment with Saul in the cave, that he had been appointed as leader in Israel. However, with that knowledge, Moses did not strike hard against Pharaoh. Rather, as the plagues of Egypt would begin, we see Moses figuratively cutting off a corner of Pharaoh’s robe. As we look back on those events, we can say that the first of the plagues could be understood as a small sampling of God’s power, and that they were to be used as an inducement for Pharaoh to bring his oppression and subjugation of God’s anointed (Israel) to an end.
After David spared Saul in the cave, David raises his voice and asks Saul why he believes those that tell him that “David is seeking to do you harm” (24:9b). He goes on to say, “Today your own eyes see how the Lord delivered you---this very day---into my hands in the cave” (24:10a). After the first of the plagues in Egypt, Moses could easily have communicated such a sentiment to Pharaoh. In speaking of the way that the Lord delivered Saul into his hands, David alludes to the blessings of Deuteronomy---of being set over their enemies---that were to be enjoyed by the anointed of the Lord (Israel as a whole and him personally). David continues and says, “Some told me to kill you, but I had pity on you” (24:10b), which is another quasi-Mosaic quality, in that God threatened to kill the Israelites in the wilderness on more than one occasion, but Moses, with pity, interceded on behalf of the people, relying on God’s righteousness (covenant faithfulness) to carry the day.
That reliance upon God’s righteousness is reflected in what followed David’s statement concerning his pity, when he said, “I will not extend my hand against my lord, for he is the Lord’s chosen one” (24:10c). Moses could easily have seized on the words of the Lord and had a great nation made from him, just as David could have seized on the opportunity to kill Saul and take the kingdom for himself, but both refrained from doing so, offering reminders of the Lord’s choosing and faithfulness to His chosen and to His purposes.
David says, “Look, my father, and see the edge of your robe in my hand! When I cut off the edge of your robe, I didn’t kill you” (24:11a). David is effectively telling Saul, “I have delivered you! The power to send you into exile was in my hand, and in that, my exodus was at hand. I was being rescued from your subjugation, but I rescued you.” David’s mercy, in this instance, extended to the one that was his enemy, as he left himself in exile, much like God would do for His people as mentioned by the Apostle Paul in the fifth chapter of Romans, in that “God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us…while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (5:8,10a).
Yes, Jesus, the anointed one, went into exile (albeit a temporary exile, just as David’s exile was ultimately a temporary exile), so as to foster reconciliation, on behalf of those that were enemies of God. In that light, what was Saul’s response to David? It was a response of reconciliation, though unfortunately fleeting, as he says “You are more innocent than I, for you have treated me well, even though I have tried to harm you!” (24:17) Is that not the response of all of mankind to its Creator, as through its first and continued rebellion from God’s great purpose for the beings created to reflect His image into this creation, mankind says to God, “You have treated me well, even though I have tried to harm you”?