Word Study:David’s Heart Smote Him


1 Samuel 24:5: “And it came to pass afterward, that David’s heart smote him, because he had cut off Saul’s skirt.”

We are all familiar with this story. Saul had a posse out after David and David is not wanted Dead or Alive but basically dead. David and his men are hiding out in a cave. Actually, the Bible calls it a sheepcote. The sheepcote was a cave where shepherds would gather their flocks at night and then wall it off with rocks and branches so the sheep could not escape. It is said to be as dark as midnight inside the cave although given enough time in the cave your eyes will adjust to the darkness and you can make your way around. It is sort of like walking into a movie theater after the movie started. You are virtually blind and it is almost impossible to tell if the seat you decide to sit in is already taken. However, after a few minutes you can easily see the seat and whether it is occupied or not.

That was the situation here. When Saul entered the cave to cover his feet (really that is what it says in the Hebrew, they also had their delicate expressions for such nastiness) he was virtually blind but David and his men could easily see him. His men did not see this as dumb luck but as God providence. “Why David, look at what God has done, go ahead now and lop off his head and you will be king and I can be your chief advisor.” Here is where it gets a little murky. Was David really tempted to kill Saul?

I read any number of commentaries on this and there is no agreement. Some say he intended to kill Saul but backed out at the last minute, others say he had no intention to kill Saul but only to cut off the piece of his garment to show he had the opportunity and still others say he took a swipe at Saul and missed and got his garment instead.

Our picture of David as a man of integrity in his youth is on the line in how we interpret the motivation in this act. I believe our interpretation lies in how we render the words yake lev Dod David’s heart was struck. I find it almost comical as I read the various commentaries on this passage. The American commentators say David felt guilty over even addressing the idea of killing Saul and the British commentators say that David felt guilty over showing disrespect for royalty.

We Americans have absolutely no concept of royalty, myself included. We look at Britain and how they have this married couple with grown children who are wealthy beyond imagination and basically do nothing to earn a living. They are wined and dined by heads of state, they travel around the world where they are cheered by thousands, they are always off on ski trips, trips on their yachts or are playing polo. And the people love it, they hang on their every activity like rock stars or movie stars. The Queen has virtually no political power or say in how the government and country is run. The most powerful political figure is the Prime Minister who suffers the same fate as our number one politician, the President. He can hardly sneeze without the press debating his style and method and writing commentaries on how someone could do it much better. Ah, but the Queen, no matter what their political persuasion liberal, progressive, conservative, right wing or left wing all adore their monarch and would never, ever say anything derogatory about their Queen or her family. Well, they may do that but if they do they better not expect any free drinks at the local pub. In America that is very hard for us to understand. I remember how the world shook when Michelle Obama was visiting the queen and she put her had on the Queen’s back. Talk about a fire storm, “The American President’s wife touch the Queen, major scandal.” Even the most influential woman in America who should have had the best advisors on protocol failed to mention to understand that you are never to touch the Queen. How could the wife of the American President, the most powerful man in the world, not know this? It is because we Americans have no concept of royalty.

For David to even touch the King’s garment, let alone cut off a piece was about as bad as if he killed the king. Actually, worse. This was warfare and David was the King’s enemy and the King was David’s enemy. Under the laws of ancient warfare he had every right to kill his King, so long as he did it respectfully. I mean one swift blow and then respectfully display the body to declare your victory and yourself as the new sovereign. You did not desecrate or mutilate your king’s body. You would have enough people hating you as it was and to show such lack of respect for their beloved king, not a good political move.

When David touched the king’s garment and cut off a portion he dishonored his king, he could not have felt more guilty than had he killed Saul. He knew Saul was anointed by God and only God could remove him from office. I don’t believe he intended to kill Saul but in the heat of the moment he committed an act of extreme disrespect. Even in America we always say: “You may not like your President, but you must respect the office.

Keep in mind, also, that Saul had been a good friend to David and Saul’s son Jonathan was David’s best friend. That is why I do not like the renderings that David’s conscience was stricken or that his heart was smote. That sounds like he was troubled but not totally upset. I think it was more than that. The word for smote is nakah which is in a Hiphal form. Something caused his heart to be smote. I think it was the realization that it had come to this. That he would show such disrespect his king or the office of the king, to have been brought to this level of insult to his king it nakah his heart. Nakah means to smite, but it also means to wound, destroy and break into pieces. He wasn’t troubled over this like a pang of conscience, I believe he was heartbroken. I believe he was struck with the realization and tormented with the thought: “Why has it come to this?”

You know, there may be preachers, teachers and other Christians that we disagree with. Yet I have read articles where Christians have brutally attacked other Christians for their beliefs. There is almost hatred expressed in these articles filled with mockery and insult. The one writing them probably thinks he or she is doing God a service and acting in love but to anyone reading it you find nothing but vindictiveness and hatred. David was a man after God’s own heart. He was a man who had a heart like God’s and although King Saul sought to take David’s life, David did not hate this man and was in fact heart broken that he even stooped to insult him and the office that God Himself established. I think there is a lesson here for all of us in these latter days. But I will leave it to you to ponder that.