Read 1 Samuel 26:17–25
17 Saul recognized David’s voice and said, “Is that your voice, David my son?”
David replied, “Yes it is, my lord the king.” 18 And he added, “Why is my lord pursuing his servant? What have I done, and what wrong am I guilty of? 19 Now let my lord the king listen to his servant’s words. If the Lord has incited you against me, then may he accept an offering. If, however, people have done it, may they be cursed before the Lord! They have driven me today from my share in the Lord’s inheritance and have said, ‘Go, serve other gods.’ 20 Now do not let my blood fall to the ground far from the presence of the Lord. The king of Israel has come out to look for a flea—as one hunts a partridge in the mountains.”
21 Then Saul said, “I have sinned. Come back, David my son. Because you considered my life precious today, I will not try to harm you again. Surely I have acted like a fool and have been terribly wrong.”
22 “Here is the king’s spear,” David answered. “Let one of your young men come over and get it. 23 The Lord rewards everyone for their righteousness and faithfulness. The Lord delivered you into my hands today, but I would not lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed. 24 As surely as I valued your life today, so may the Lord value my life and deliver me from all trouble.”
25 Then Saul said to David, “May you be blessed, David my son; you will do great things and surely triumph.”
So David went on his way, and Saul returned home.
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
“Let my life be hid in thee, from vexation and annoy; Calm in thy tranquility, all my mourning turned to joy” (John Bull, 1777–1852).
This final exchange between David and Saul is compelling. Proclaiming his innocence, David describes himself as a “flea” pursued by Saul (20b; see also 1 Sam. 24:14). I remember a documentary film introducing the social behavior of monkeys, who remove fleas from each other. When the cleaner monkeys spot these sucking creatures, they pick them off and eat them right away. David is treated as one of these disgusting fleas, a pest to be rid of. He further portrays himself as a game bird (a “partridge”) in the mountains, being hunted by Saul (20b). Partridges are ground birds and cannot fly very well. You can imagine how frightened they are when being chased up the mountains and stunned or killed by arrows, slings or flying sticks. The flea and partridge metaphors vividly picture David’s devastating situation.
David fervently appeals to Saul, “Now do not let my blood fall to the ground far from the presence of the Lord” (20a). He begs the king not to drive him away from the land of Israel, where Yahweh is worshipped. Being cast out of his homeland would strip him from the presence of God. To escape Saul’s relentless pursuit, David eventually has to seek refuge in Philistia (1 Sam. 27:1), where we read about him in the coming chapters. He is a man on the run like a flea or a partridge!
From our viewpoint David appears to be the underdog, but he never denies his difficult circumstances and he sees beyond this horizon. Though sparing Saul’s life does not immediately help him, he trusts that ultimately God will reward him for his righteousness and faithfulness (23) and deliver him from trouble (24). Saul then acknowledges the error of his way and returns home for good.
Meditate on this prayer from George Appleton: “Let me fear nothing except to be faithless to you; nor let me be consciously defensive; nor hit back on those who attack; nor become bitter or self-pitying; nor fail in the desire for truth and the expression of unfailing good will” (Jerusalem Prayers for the World Today, 66).