After David spared Saul’s life in the caves at Engedi, Saul seemed to call off his pursuit of the son of Jesse. He even confessed that David would surely be king, and he secured David’s promise not to destroy all of his descendants (1 Sam. 24). Yet Saul granted David only a temporary reprieve. As we see in today’s passage, Saul and his army were soon after David again.
In 1 Samuel 26:1–5, we read that the Ziphites betrayed David’s location to Saul a second time, prompting the king to set up camp on the “hill of Hachilah.” Presumably, that base would enable Saul to catch up with David, but David took note of Saul’s presence.
Instead of fleeing from Saul’s army immediately, David waited until nightfall and went with Abishai, the brother of Joab, to Saul’s camp. Abishai and Joab would go on to be significant once David succeeded Saul as king, as they would be key leaders in Israel’s army. David and Abishai were able to sneak into Saul’s camp while the Israelite army was sleeping and steal Saul’s spear and water jar (vv. 6–12). Here again we see how the Lord’s providence favored David. He and Abishai could commit such a brazen act only because the Lord had put Saul and his army into a deep sleep (v. 12). And the numerous close calls that David had when running from Saul can be explained only by the sovereign hand of God and His directing events to David’s favor (18:11; 19:10; 23:26; 24:1–4).
For a second time, David refused to kill Saul when he had the chance, and he followed this up by announcing that fact to Saul (26:13–20). Such actions demonstrate that with David we have a far different king from Saul. He recognized his place in God’s sovereign plan, refusing to seize the throne by force, for God never told him to take the kingship that way. Instead, he was content to wait on the Lord. He learned that God would take Saul out of the way, either in battle or by striking him dead directly (vv. 10–11). Saul never learned to wait on the Lord (13:8–15), but David knew better.
David’s mercy sparked another one of the few lucid moments in Saul’s life during this period. Confessing the error of his ways, Saul vowed to leave David alone, and he declared that the Lord would give David success. David even gave Saul his spear back, and Saul would use it again in battle against the Philistines, but not against the son of Jesse (26:21–25). The threat of Saul was soon to end, and David was being readied to ascend Israel’s throne.