(1 Samuel 24:12-15) 12 May the Lord judge between you and me, and may the Lord avenge me on you; but my hand shall not be against you. 13 As the proverb of the ancients says, ‘Out of the wicked comes forth wickedness’; but my hand shall not be against you. 14 After whom has the king of Israel come out? Whom are you pursuing? A dead dog, a single flea? 15 The Lord therefore be judge and decide between you and me; and may He see and plead my cause and deliver me from your hand.”

24:12-15 שמואל א

The Westminster Leningrad Codex

12 וְאָבִ֣י רְאֵ֔ה גַּ֗ם רְאֵ֛ה אֶת־כְּנַ֥ף מְעִילְךָ֖ בְּיָדִ֑י כִּ֡י בְּכָרְתִי֩ אֶת־כְּנַ֨ף מְעִֽילְךָ֜ וְלֹ֣א הֲרַגְתִּ֗יךָ דַּ֤ע וּרְאֵה֙ כִּי֩ אֵ֨ין בְּיָדִ֜י רָעָ֤ה וָפֶ֙שַׁע֙ וְלֹא־חָטָ֣אתִי לָ֔ךְ וְאַתָּ֛ה צֹדֶ֥ה אֶת־נַפְשִׁ֖י לְקַחְתָּֽהּ׃

13 יִשְׁפֹּ֤ט יְהוָה֙ בֵּינִ֣י וּבֵינֶ֔ךָ וּנְקָמַ֥נִי יְהוָ֖ה מִמֶּ֑ךָּ וְיָדִ֖י לֹ֥א תִֽהְיֶה־בָּֽךְ׃

14 כַּאֲשֶׁ֣ר יֹאמַ֗ר מְשַׁל֙ הַקַּדְמֹנִ֔י מֵרְשָׁעִ֖ים יֵ֣צֵא רֶ֑שַׁע וְיָדִ֖י לֹ֥א תִֽהְיֶה־בָּֽךְ׃

15 אַחֲרֵ֨י מִ֤י יָצָא֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל אַחֲרֵ֥י מִ֖י אַתָּ֣ה רֹדֵ֑ף אַֽחֲרֵי֙ כֶּ֣לֶב מֵ֔ת אַחֲרֵ֖י פַּרְעֹ֥שׁ אֶחָֽד׃

(1 Samuel 24:14) After whom has the king of Israel come out? Whom are you pursuing? A dead dog, a single flea?

How can the Bible reader interpret, and infer/deduce from (1 Samuel 24:14) "................. Whom are you pursuing? A dead dog, a single flea?"

4 Answers 4


David used the art of rhetoric in 1 Samuel 24:

14 After whom has the king of Israel come out? Whom are you pursuing? A dead dog, a single flea?

Before the majesty of King Saul, David was nothing but a dead dog or a flea. There was no point for Saul to mobilize his glorious army to pursue a powerless and insignificant David. The rhetoric worked:

16 When David finished saying this, Saul asked, “Is that your voice, David my son?” And he wept aloud. 17 “You are more righteous than I,” he said. “You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly.

Some years later, fortune changed. David became King. Mephibosheth, a grandson of Saul, acted humbly before David in 2 Samuel 9:

8 Mephibosheth bowed down and said, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?”

Now Mephibosheth used the same art of rhetoric to please King David and it worked.

How can the Bible reader interpret, and infer/deduce from (1 Samuel 24:14) "................. Whom are you pursuing? A dead dog, a single flea?"

It was a rhetorical device to humble oneself before another.


It's considered a figure of speech (Meiosis). You've probably used this phrase at least once or have heard someone use it, the dog's bark is bigger than its bite, much less a dead dog. And a flea bite is harmless. In this David expresses his humility; he's harmless to Saul. David respected Saul and would never kill God's anointed.

I recall Saul was to step down as King of Israel; in his possessed stupor and enraged jealously and pursuit of David's very soul; Saul basically compromised himself to where David had easy opportunity to kill him; IF that was ever his intention. It was not.

Bullinger Identifies this figure as :

Mei-o´-sis; or, a Belittling (Genesis 18:27. Numbers 13:33). A belittling of one thing to magnify another.

This maybe related; this reminds me of the comparison of a living dog, to a dead lion. A lion is king of the jungle, yet without metabolism, a living dog is better; even if lower on the food chain.

Ecclesiastes 9:4-5 King James Version

4 For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion.

Sources used: The Companion Bible by E.W.Bullinger. It's a KJV version; with a side column of scholarly Bible notes.

A note on verse 14 of 1 Samuel 24 in the side column references a Figure of Speech (Meiosis) and points to Appendix 6 In the back.

"Verse 14 a dead dog, &c. Fig. Meiosis. Ap 6. a flea. Heb. a single flea."

There's only one or two attempts online to transcribe The Companion Bible into electronic format. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bul

ESword has a modual with an attempted transcription.

Some websites at least have the full 198 Appendixes: https://www.therain.org/appendixes/

and https://levendwater.org/companion/index_companion.html

  • 1
    Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics! Just a few comments about your answer: "Meoisis" is a biological term for haploid cell division. My dictionary gives no other sense of meaning for it, i.e. it is not said to be a figure of speech. "Flee" means to run away from something; "flea" is the animal. With a few corrections and/or clarifications, you might have an interesting answer here. Who is Bullinger? If you have a source or reference for your citation, such as a link, you could add this as well.
    – Polyhat
    Sep 26, 2021 at 8:35
  • A biology definition wont help here. This maybe a synonym for like words, but used of a figure of speech . " Meoisis -figure of speech " Will give you the correct results. I however did not use google. I cited a Christian scholars work for biblical figures . Example : Figures of Speech Used in The Bible Explained and illustrated - E.W.Bullinger . Any figure of speech work will have this definition.
    – W_R
    Sep 26, 2021 at 8:43
  • About flea, I think you are thinking of the word Flee. The Hebrew definition for the passage is Flea , I used the Strongs Hebrew meaning . H6550 פַּרְעשׁ par‛ôsh par-oshe' Probably from H6544 and H6211; a flea (as the isolated insect): - flea. Total KJV occurrences: 2 .
    – W_R
    Sep 26, 2021 at 8:46
  • 1
    Welcome to the site, W-R. I have edited out points you repeated unncecessarily and compacted the Sources section as that is not meant to read like an answer; just give the bare facts relevant to the Q and your A. This should make both your A and Sources more readable. But if you object, just replace what I've done.
    – Anne
    Sep 27, 2021 at 12:23
  • 1
    You had already corrected that error in the answer, so there was no need to repeat it in your Sources section, that was all. You're doing really well, so please only take my editing as a guide as to how to tighten up your answer and sources, so as to make them more concise. Persevere!
    – Anne
    Sep 28, 2021 at 9:53

With the terms "dead dog and one flea" David demeaned himself to emphasize how useless Saul's pursuit of him was. In the MT v15 (v14 in English translations) is almost a tongue twister.

כֶּ֫לֶב ... b. applied, fig., to men, in contempt 1 S 17:43, so of psalmist’s enemies ψ 22:17, 21, or in excessive humility 2 K 8:13; still more emphatically כ׳ מֵת a dead dog, -- Brown, F., Driver, S. R., & Briggs, C. A. (1977). Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (p. 477). Oxford: Clarendon Press.

פַּרְעֹשׁ ... n.m. flea (Assyrian puršuʾû, paršuʾû; on transp. of, v. Hom. i. 21);—fig. of insignificance 1 S 24:15; 26:20 נַפְשִׁי 𝔊 Th We Dr al. -- Brown, F., Driver, S. R., & Briggs, C. A. (1977). Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (p. 829). Oxford: Clarendon Press.


The king of Israel is with special emphasis made to follow the “after whom?” in contrast with the position and significance of the person persecuted by him. With the king of Israel adorned with honor and power David contrasts himself under the figure of a dead dog: 1) as a despised, lowly, qualitatively insignificant man, comp. 17:43; 2 Sam. 3:8, where the figure of a dog represents a man despicable in the eyes of one who is, or is supposed to be of high standing; 2) as a harmless, or in no wise dangerous man, comp. the figure of the dead dog, 2 Sam. 9:8; 16:9.—The comparison with the flea adds the idea of the quantitatively petty, mean, comp. 26:20. “Wherefore,” would David say, “O thou mighty king of Israel, dost thou summon thy army against so little and insignificant a man?” Berl. Bib.: “against a single flea, which is not easily caught, and easily escapes, and if it is caught, is poor game for a royal hunter.” No more than a dead dog can harm, and a flea endanger thee, am I, apart from the fact that I have no wish thereto, in position to work thee destruction -- Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Erdmann, D., Toy, C. H., & Broadus, J. A. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: 1 & 2 Samuel (p. 297). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

A “dead dog” seems to be a term of humble abasement, when used of oneself, but a term of opprobrium when hurled at another (2 Sm 16:9).20-22. -- Brown, R. E., Fitzmyer, J. A., & Murphy, R. E. (1996). The Jerome Biblical commentary (Vol. 1, p. 172). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

He asked Saul why he should conduct such a relentless campaign against one who was as harmless and insignificant as a dead dog and a flea. -- MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 316). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.


I suppose the Bible reader could infer/deduce that when David uses the metaphor "a single flea" for himself as meaning that King Saul is attacking David for David's minor flaws/faults. Therefore, one could say that David is complaining to King Saul that Saul's violent actions against David are disproportionate because David's flaws/faults are relatively minor. It might be a bit of a stretch but we could possibly say that David's philandering/womanizing which is evident in 2 Samuel was probably a well-known fact to King Saul. Even though David's philandering/womanizing recorded in 2 Samuel happened after King Saul's reign and death, we could assume that David was known as a philanderer/womanizer when he was a commander/general in Saul's army.

(2 Samuel 11:2-5) (NASB1995) 2 Now when evening came David arose from his bed and walked around on the roof of the king’s house, and from the roof he saw a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful in appearance. 3 So David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” 4 David sent messengers and took her, and when she came to him, he lay with her; and when she had purified herself from her uncleanness, she returned to her house. 5 The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, and said, “I am pregnant.”

(2 Samuel‬ 5:13-15)‬ NASB1995

13 Meanwhile David took more concubines and wives from Jerusalem, after he came from Hebron; and more sons and daughters were born to David. 14 Now these are the names of those who were born to him in Jerusalem: Shammua, Shobab, Nathan, Solomon, 15 Ibhar, Elishua, Nepheg, Japhia, 16 Elishama, Eliada and Eliphelet.

However, David was probably saying that King Saul's pursing attack against David was really disproportionate which is probably why David used the metaphor "a single flea" to describe himself. Again, this interpretation might be a bit of a stretch.

  • 1
    Interesting argument, but it is as you say "a little bit of a stretch" to associate "a single flea" to person with minor flaws/faults. Sep 25, 2021 at 15:01

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