After David spared his life in the wilderness cave, Saul admitted that his efforts to kill David were “evil” (1 Sam. 24:17). But his “repentance” does not last long. When the Ziphites come to Saul once more (see 1 Sam. 23:19ff) to report that David is back in their vicinity, Saul cannot resist the temptation to try again to finish off his God-appointed successor to the throne. “For aught we know, Saul would have continued in the same good mind that he was in (24:17), and would not have given David this fresh trouble, if the Ziphites had not put him on,” Puritan Biblical commentator Matthew Henry writes.
So Saul sets out with three thousand men and sets up camp by a road near Jeshimon. But David stays in the Wilderness of Ziph, well away from inhabited areas. Perhaps not quite believing that Saul is at it again, he sends out scouts to confirm Saul’s presence. When the men come back with word that Saul has indeed come again, David is apparently so incredulous that he has to see Saul for himself. And so, creeping to a position overlooking Saul’s camp, he gazes down on the king and his military commander, Abner, stretched out asleep.
But as he looks over Saul’s camp, David sees that Saul and Abner are not the only men who are sleeping. In fact, he can tell that everyone in the camp is asleep, having been put into a deep slumber by God (v. 12). Seeing this, David does an extraordinary thing—he decides to go down into the camp, to Saul himself. What is David’s motivation for this bold step? Is he planning to take revenge on Saul for once again pursuing him? If so, he is going to violate the sacred oath he swore not to harm Saul (24:12–13). In actuality, as subsequent events will show, he is hoping to gain some token by which he can show Saul that he had the king in his power again but spared his life as before. He wants to be able to confront Saul now, while he is just beginning to slip back into his evil ways.
And so David inquires of his two companions, asking which of them will go with him into the camp. Abishai, a nephew of David (1 Chron. 2:16), agrees to go. So David and Abishai steal down from the hills, past the sleeping sentries, and so to the very center of the encampment and to the side of the king of Israel, who is sleeping in blissful ignorance of his peril.