David is biting his nails in the beginning of this psalm because of the precarious position he is in. By the end his relief is VERY evident. He is praising God for it.
The preface for this psalm tells us that this was written about the time that David was hiding in a cave from Saul. I LOVE this story! It is in 1 Samuel 24. In the story recorded there we are told that Saul went into the cave to “relieve himself.” I’m not 100% certain what that means. To me, I think it means going to the bathroom. In the story crafted from this event in the Davidic Chronicles it has Saul and another coming into the cave to sleep for the night. It also has the spider web story that my grandmother and mother told me. That part is NOT in the bible. I find it interesting though that others have also heard of this embellishment and woven it into David’s story.
What we do know is that in the beginning of the encounter with Saul, from David’s psalm, was that it was an unnerving experience. We can hear David asking God to conceal him as Saul steps into the very cave where David and his men are sitting. Can you imagine the man who is determined to see you dead, walking into the very place where you are sitting? Talk about a YIKES moment!
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David and his men have taken refuge in this cave and are praying to go undetected as 3,000 trained soldiers scour the site for them. They have gone as far back in the cave as possible and are speaking in barely a whisper as sound travels too well within any cave. As they sit huddled together, weapons at the ready, in walks King Saul.
David is not visible from the entrance. He and his men are hidden in the shadows. King Saul though is quite distinctive in both voice and form. He calls out to his men before entering. He leaves one man on guard outside so he won’t be ambushed while he is distracted.
Hands shoot out all around the group as they grab on another to ensure they all recognize the danger that has just walked in on them. Saul goes to a secluded spot in the cave and settles himself. His back is to David and the group. He has no idea that his every move is being watched. He goes about his business with ignorance of the danger he is in.
One of David’s men whispers in his ear that this would be the perfect opportunity to be done with Saul. “God has given him into your hands! You could easily sneak in and kill him and we would finally be safe.”
David thinks this over for a bit. He is tired of running but he is also afraid that if he steps from the shadows he will be putting his own life in danger too. Several of the others also whisper their encouragement into David’s ears. Finally, with all the stealth he can muster, David sneaks up behind Saul.
To the dismay of all those looking on, David does not draw his blade across Saul’s neck or run him through from the back. Instead, David uses his knife on the robe of the king. He swiftly and carefully cuts off a corner of the robe that flows behind the king where he sits. Once this is done David quickly retreats back to join his men.
It takes a bit for his heart to settle back down. To his fear of discovery, David has also added shame. Shame for the fact that he stretched out his hand even to the clothing of the man God had called to be king of Israel. He might not be a good king but he was God’s anointed king.
While waiting in the shadows David carefully and quietly extracts a promise from each of his men to do NO harm to King Saul. The men are astonished at David’s command but they will obey.
Finally Saul rises from his place and makes his way back out into the sunlight. He has no idea of how close he came to death. His first act upon leaving the cave is to call out for a report on the search for David. “Nothing to report yet” is the answer he receives. Saul and his guard make their way towards the rest of the contingent of troops.
David and his men creep towards the mouth of the cave and watch Saul’s retreating back. David can stand it no longer. He feels compelled to confess what he has done. He steps boldly into the blazing light of the sun and calls out to Saul.
Saul’s head jerks around as he hears his title spoken with obvious respect. He is stunned to see a form standing in front of the cave he left only a few minutes before. The form is VERY familiar and so is its voice. Saul strains his eyes against the light and watches carefully as the form drops face down on the ground.
David cries out. “Why are you listening to those who would lead you astray and whisper in your ears false things about me? I would never try and harm you. I honor you as the Lord’s anointed. I could have killed you where you sat only moments ago but I didn’t. Look at the edge of your cloak and you will see the evidence of what I say.” David then holds up the piece of Saul’s garment that he cut off.
Saul grabs the hem of his cloak and starts searching it for the missing corner. Finding it just as David said, Saul’s face pales. He knows the proximity in which David would have to have stood to do such a thing. He shudders thinking how vulnerable he was. And shame lands on him in a crushing weight as he recognizes the difference between himself and David. He knows that if their roles were reversed, David’s blood would be soaking into the ground this very moment. He is ashamed at how he has suspected David of disloyalty and of treason. David has acted honorably even when God allowed Saul to walk right into his hands.
“You are a man of honor. I have acted shamefully and will do so no longer. I know that the Lord has given you the throne. You will be king. Please grant me one request. When you are king don’t kill all my children as other kings do. Don’t write me out of the hearts of man.”
“This I promise my king. Your name will continue to be known and your children are safe.”
Saul called off the hunt for David immediately and went back to his home. David and his men rejoined those who were with him. David knew the fickleness of Saul’s heart so he and those who followed him continued to be on guard and to hide away from prying eyes.
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I imagine some of the thoughts shared in this psalm today were running through David’s head as he hid within the cave but there was NO WAY he could cry out to God out loud or sing the pain in his heart. He had to cry out in the confines of his heart and mind. A place where God is still intently listening. I can see David crouched in a corner as his mind supplies the “lions” of which he sings. I see the paws with razor sharp claws roaming about in the cave where he hides.
When the tides shift and Saul leaves the cave, David can breathe again. The relief fills the whole cave as each man watches Saul moving on. They almost come unglued when they watch David pursue Saul and reveal their hiding place. No one tries to stop David as they have come to trust him with their lives.
Once all is said and done, David composes his song to the Lord. And as any good storyteller would, he brings his listener right into the feelings that were going through him at the time. He spares them nothing of the danger he actually faced. Yet he also fills his song with the REAL reason he is able to sing; the fact that GOD saved him again that day.
Whether out loud or in his heart, David’s cry to the Lord was heard and answered. Once again, God came to David’s rescue. No doubt even hiding him from discovery as he crept up to Saul. How could David do anything but praise Him?! I would be dancing and shouting for joy right along with him.
Father God, You are AMAZING! Some of the things You do for Your children blow my mind! They also give me hope for the situations I face some times. And they inspire me to sing about the answers You provide. I suppose You have me sing in poems instead of songs. That works for me. Thank You for each time You have spoken into my heart to either write or sing of Your goodness. Thanks for sharing David’s songs with me too.