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Commentary on SAMUEL (or 1 & 2 Samuel) 6

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD

SECTION 3 B The Rise of David And His Triumphs Over The Philistines, Followed By Saul’s Attempts To Destroy Him Which Result In David Having To Flee From Him (18.5-20.1a).

This subsection covers the rise of David and his continual defeating of the Philistines, which results in Saul’s jealousy reaching unparalleled heights, and his determination that David must die. It may be analysed as follows:

Analysis.

  • B). Saul’s Aim To Destroy David At Court (18.5-20.1a).
  • a David’s Military Success And Saul’s Growing Suspicion - Saul Prophesies And Tries To Spear David (18.5-14).
  • b Saul Seeks To Use Marriage To His Daughters As A Means Of Arranging For The Philistines To Kill David. David Marries Michal (18.15-30).
  • c David Must Die! Jonathan Successfully Intercedes For David (19.1-7).
  • b Further Attempts on David’s Life By Spearing And Arrest. David Is Saved By Saul’s Daughter Michal (19.8-17).
  • a David Flees To Samuel. Saul Follows, Is Rendered Helpless And Prophesies (19.18-20.1a).
.

Note that in ‘a’ Saul prophesies and tries to smite David, and in the parallel he prophesies and is prevented from arresting David and executing him. In ‘b’ Saul tries to use his daughters as a weapon against David, and in the parallel one of those daughters protects David from Saul. Central in ‘c’ is the thought that David must die.

However, in this passage we also have a similar sandwich arrangement to the one we saw in 2.11-4.1a. There the pattern was one of the spiritual growth of Samuel, which was interspersed by references to the iniquities of Eli’s sons, here it is of the growing success of David, followed by his having to flee from Saul, which is interspersed with examples of Saul’s growing jealousy and determination to see David killed. Thus the growth of David as a war-leader here can be seen as paralleling the growth of Samuel as a prophet in 2.11-4.1a, with David eventually being welcomed by the prophet Samuel, who has rejected Saul, as he flees from Saul. Then when Saul seeks to come against them Saul is resisted by the Spirit of God.

It is a sad reminder that there is no one more dangerous to the work of God than one who has outwardly experienced the blessings of God and has then turned away from it. It was Saul’s responsibility as king to ensure the safety of the kingdom, but instead, in contrast with Jonathan his son, having sunk into open disobedience, he then sought to destroy the one most responsible for that safety whom God had raised up in his place. All the depredations of the Philistines that follow must therefore be laid at his door, for he had removed Israel’s bulwark. As a result, from this point onwards there is a lull in the fortunes of Israel, which will go on until finally, after Saul’s death, David is restored.

This subsection can therefore be further analysed as follows, with the David verses marked with an ‘A’ and the Saul verses marked with a ‘B’:

Further Analysis.

  • A 18.5 ‘And David went out wherever Saul sent him, and behaved himself wisely, and Saul set him over the men of war, and it was good in the sight of all the people, and in the sight of Saul’s servants.’
  • B 18.6-13 Saul grows jealous and seeks to spear David with his ceremonial javelin.
  • A 18.13-14 ‘Therefore Saul removed him from him and made him his captain over a large military unit, and he went out and came in before the people. And David behaved himself wisely in all his ways and YHWH was with him.’
  • B 18.15-29 Saul plans David’s marriage to one of his daughters with the aim of having David killed at the hands of the Philistines.
  • A 18.30 ‘Then the princes of the Philistines went forth, and it came about that as often as they went forth, David behaved himself more wisely than all the servants of Saul, so that his name was much set by.’
  • B 19.1-7 Saul calls for the death of David, but is persuaded from it by Jonathan.
  • A 19.8 ‘And there was war again, and David went out and fought with the Philistines, and slew them with a great slaughter, and they fled before him.’
  • B 19.9-10a Saul again seeks to smite David with his ceremonial javelin.
  • A 19.10b ‘And David fled and escaped that night.’
  • B 19.11 Saul is prevented from arresting David by the actions of Saul’s daughter Michal.
  • A 19.18 ‘Now David fled, and escaped, and came to Samuel to Ramah and told him all that Saul had done to him, and he and Samuel went and dwelt in Naioth.
  • B 19.19-23 Saul first sends two arresting parties and then goes himself in order to arrest David, but is prevented by the Spirit of God coming on him.
  • A 20.1a ‘And David fled from Naioth in Ramah.’

Note that the ‘David’ verses follow a systematic pattern as follows:.

  • Three incidents of David’s ascendancy as war-leader, in each of which ‘he behaves himself wisely’ (18.5, 13-14, 30).
  • Centrally David defeats the Philistines and ‘they fled before him’ (19.8).
  • Three incidents where, instead of the Philistines fleeing before David, David flees before Saul (19.10b, 18,; 20.1a). Saul thus destroys Israel’s bulwark against the Philistines.

The ‘Saul verses follow a systematic pattern as follows:

  • Saul seeks to spear David (18.6-13).
  • Saul uses his daughters against David and arranges for him to marry Michal (18.15-29).
  • Saul prepares for the arrest of David but is persuaded against it by his son Jonathan (19.1-7).
  • Saul seeks to spear David (19.9-10a).
  • Saul’s purposes are prevented by his daughter Michal (19.11).
  • Saul prepares for the arrest of David but is prevented by YHWH (19.19-23).

We must now look at the narrative in detail.

David’s Military Success And Saul’s Growing Suspicion And Awe Of David (18.5-14).

It will be noted that this passage comes between two inclusios in verses 5 and 15. In verse 5 we are told that David ‘behaved himself wisely’ and in verse 15 this is confirmed. David’s military success, both in defeating Goliath and in what followed, was such that it made Saul jealous, and it probably confirmed to him the suspicion that this might be the one of whom Samuel had spoken when he said that YHWH had Saul’s replacement in mind. Thus he began to watch David closely and to be in awe of him, and it affected him so much that in one of his ‘mad fits’ he sought to kill him.

Analysis.

  • a And David went out wherever Saul sent him, and behaved himself wisely, and Saul set him over men of war, and it was good in the sight of all the people, and also in the sight of Saul’s servants (18.5)
  • b And so it was, as they came, when David returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet king Saul, with timbrels, with joy, and with instruments of music (18.6).
  • c And the women sang one to another as they played, and said, “Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands” (18.7).
  • d And Saul was very angry, and this saying displeased him, and he said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed but thousands, and what can he have more but the kingdom? And Saul eyed David from that day and forward (18.8-9).
  • e And it came about on the morrow, that an evil spirit from God came mightily on Saul, and he prophesied in the midst of the house (18.10a).
  • d And David played with his hand, as he did day by day, and Saul had his spear in his hand, and Saul cast the spear, for he said, “I will smite David even to the wall.” And David avoided out of his presence twice (18.10b-11).
  • c And Saul was afraid of David, because YHWH was with him, and had departed from Saul (18.12).
  • b Therefore Saul removed him from him, and made him his commander over a military unit, and he went out and came in before the people (18.13).
  • a And David behaved himself wisely in all his ways, and YHWH was with him (18.14).

Note that in ‘a’ David behaved himself wisely and Saul, and the people, and all Saul’s courtiers were with him, and in the parallel David behaved himself wisely and ‘YHWH was with him’. In ‘b’ David was welcomed by the people in the shape of the women of Israel singing and dancing, and in the parallel he went out and then back in among the people. In ‘c’ the women are seen as exalting David above Saul, indicating that YHWH is with him, and in the parallel is afraid of David because YHWH is with him and has departed from Saul. Note the repetition of ‘YHWH was with him’ in verses 12 and 14. In ‘d’ Saul is jealous of David and ‘eyes him’ from that day on, and in the parallel that envy and suspicion erupts into violence. Centrally in ‘e’ we have the explanation for Saul’s behaviour and the recognition of his fall from YHWH’s favour. He no longer has the Holy Spirit coming mightily upon him, but ‘an evil spirit from God’, with the result that he babbles.

18.5 ‘And David went out wherever Saul sent him, and behaved himself sagaciously, and Saul set him over men of war, and it was good in the sight of all the people, and also in the sight of Saul’s servants.’

From this time on David served Saul faithfully and wisely, and did whatever he asked him, and Saul set him over a military detachment, and in spite of his youth everyone approved, even Saul’s closest adviser and supporters.

‘The men of war’. The article need only indicate ‘the men of war over whom he was set’. It does not mean that he was made commander-in-chief.

18.6 ‘And so it was, as they came, when David returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet king Saul, with timbrels, with joy, and with instruments of music.’

When the victorious army of Israel returned home after the slaughter of Goliath and the routing of the Philistine army , they passed through a number of cities, and as they did so they were greeted by the women of those cities who sang and danced and played their musical instruments in order to welcome Saul with joy.

This reaction of the women was a common one after victories as we can see from Exodus 15.20-21; Judges 11.34; compare also Psalm 68.25; 149.3. The timbrels were probably hand drums, but a number of musical instruments were used.

18.7 ‘And the women sang one to another as they played, and said, “Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands.” ’

But news had reached them of how David had downed the feared Philistine champion, and it was inevitable that he was the darling of their hearts, as he must indeed have been, for the time being at least, the darling of almost the whole army. And thus as they played they sang “Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands.” It was typical of the hero-worship of young girls for a handsome and popular hero which a wiser head would have laughed at and even teased David about. It was not intended to be a calculated insult. They simply had in mind his victory over Goliath and assumed the rest. They were not intending their words to be analysed.

18.8 ‘And Saul was very angry, and this saying displeased him; and he said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed but thousands, and what can he have more but the kingdom?” ’

But Saul was both suspicious and jealous of David, and thus became very angry. It made him feel that both he and his crown were being demeaned. For Saul always now carried about with him the awareness of his own rejection, and Samuel’s warning of his eventual replacement, and this seemed to accentuate it. And so he was both displeased and angry. If David’s popularity was ten times more than his own, what more could he have than the kingdom as well? And thus his suspicions of David began to grow.

18.9 ‘And Saul eyed David from that day and forward.’

And the result was that he ‘eyed David’ from that day on. He had him marked down as a possible fulfiller of Samuel’s words. We must remember that paranoia is one feature of the disease that Saul suffered from, for David never made any attempt to exalt himself. But it would have huge consequences.

As A Result Of His Illness Saul Tries To Harm David And Dismisses Him From His Personal Entourage, But David Prospers All The More (18.10-16).

The fact that what follows is stated to have been ‘on the morrow’ brings out the connection between the praise heaped on David and the return of Saul’s clinical depression. Saul once again moves into one of his states of ‘madness’.

18.10-11 ‘And it came about on the morrow, that an evil spirit from God came mightily on Saul, and he prophesied in the midst of the house, and David played with his hand, as he did day by day. And Saul had his spear in his hand, and Saul cast the spear, for he said, “I will smite David even to the wall.” And David avoided out of his presence twice.’

The impact of the women’s greetings, and of his own response to them, brought on an even worse fit of mania than usual, with the result that Saul went about the palace babbling and talking to himself. And when David came in to play for him as he regularly did, Saul eyed him jealously had the mad thought of attaching David to the wall with the spear that he had in his hand at the time. The spear was not specifically a war spear, but would be the equivalent of a sceptre as an indication of Saul’s royal authority. But it could be effective enough in use. Such a desire to see blood can often result from the type of mental illness that Saul had, (as I have witnessed myself), and indeed he seems to have made the attempt twice (which suggests that David did not see it as a deliberate and serious attempt on his life, but simply as a manifestation of Saul’s illness). David, of course, was in the difficult position that he was in the presence of the king and could not leave without the king’s permission. But he probably also recognised that the actions were due to the king’s illness and not a pre-planned attempt on his life (that would come later). They were after all rough days, and men were used to violence, in play as well as in earnest.

‘An evil spirit from God came mightily on Saul.’ This language is used as a clear parody on 10.10 and therefore need only indicate that Saul’s severe mental illness has replaced the Spirit of YHWH. In the same way his ‘mad’ babbling is described as ‘prophesying’ as a parody on his experience in 10.11-13. Instead of being a man possessed by God, he is now a man possessed by mental illness.

18.12-13 ‘And Saul was afraid of David, because YHWH was with him, and had departed from Saul. Therefore Saul removed him from him, and made him his commander over a military unit, and he went out and came in before the people.’

Saul’s morbid fear of David continued to grow because he could see that YHWH was with him, while at the same time having departed from Saul. So he removed him from his personal entourage and made him a commander in the field over a military unit on active service. He probably hoped by this means to be rid of him. He was aware that mortality in the field could be very high, especially for men like David who led from the front. Notice the repetition of ‘YHWH was with him’ in verses 12 and 14. This is to be seen as in contrast with Saul of whom that had once been true, but was so no longer.

18.14 ‘And David behaved himself wisely in all his ways, and YHWH was with him.’

But while brave, David was not foolhardy. He commanded his men well, was careful in his behaviour both in war and in peace, doing nothing foolish. And what was most important was that YHWH was with him. Thus he was invariably triumphant. The verse sums up verses 5 and 12, and seals off the whole.

Saul Sees The Possibility Of Using His Promise That The Victor Over Goliath Should Marry His Daughter As A Means Of Trapping David, But In The End It Backfires On Him (18.15-30).

In this passage we again have an inclusio based on David’s behaving wisely (compare verses 5 and 14). In verse 15 ‘Saul saw that he behaved wisely’ and in verse 30 ‘David behaved himself more wisely than all the servants of Saul’ with the result that his reputation grew. This brings out that the two passages indicate parallel situations in that in both of them Saul is plotting David’s downfall.

In this passage Saul plans to use his promise that he would give his daughter to the victor over Goliath so as to destroy David by the hand of the Philistines. The fact is emphasised (see verses 17, 21 and 25). It is a further indication of his distorted thinking. It is the kind of inverted cunning often found in cases of schizophrenia.

Analysis.

  • a And when Saul saw that he behaved himself very wisely, he stood in awe of him (18.15).
  • b But all Israel and Judah loved David, for he went out and came in before them (18.16).
  • c And Saul said to David, “See, my elder daughter Merab, I will give her to you for a wife, only be you valiant for me, and fight YHWH’s battles” (18.17a).
  • d For Saul said, “Let not my hand be on him, but let the hand of the Philistines be on him” (18.17b).
  • e And David said to Saul, “Who am I, and what is my life, or my father’s family in Israel, that I should be son-in-law to the king?” (18.18).
  • f And it came about that, at the time when Merab, Saul’s daughter, should have been given to David, she was given to Adriel the Meholathite to wife (18.19).
  • g And Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved David, and they told Saul, and the thing pleased him (18.20).
  • h And Saul said, “I will give him her, that she may be a snare to him, and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him” (18.21a).
  • g Which is the reason why Saul said to David, “You shall this day be my son-in-law” a second time (18.21b).
  • f And Saul commanded his servants, saying, “Speak with David secretly, and say, Behold, the king delights in you, and all his servants love you, now therefore be the king’s son-in-law” (18.22).
  • e And Saul’s servants spoke those words in the ears of David. And David said, “Does it seem to you a light thing to be the king’s son-in-law, seeing that I am a poor man, and lightly esteemed?” (18.23).
  • d And the servants of Saul told him, saying, “In this way spoke David.” And Saul said, “Thus shall you say to David, The king does not want any dowry, but a hundred foreskins of the Philistines, to be avenged of the king’s enemies.” Now Saul thought to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines (18.24-25).
  • c And when his servants told David these words, it pleased David well to be the king’s son-in-law. And the days were not expired, and David arose and went, he and his men, and slew of the Philistines two hundred men; and David brought their foreskins, and they gave them in full number to the king, that he might be the king’s son-in-law. And Saul gave him Michal his daughter to wife (18.26-27).
  • b And Saul saw and knew that YHWH was with David, and Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved him. And Saul was yet the more afraid of David, and Saul was David’s enemy continually (18.28-29).
  • a Then the princes of the Philistines went forth, and it came about that, as often as they went forth, David behaved himself more wisely than all the servants of Saul; so that his name was much set by (18.30).

Note that in ‘a’ Saul saw that David behaved himself very wisely, and in the parallel David behaved himself very wisely. In ‘b’ all Israel and Judah loved David, and in the parallel Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved David. In ‘c’ Saul says that David can marry his daughter Merab if he is valiant for him and fights YHWH’s battles, and in the parallel he goes out and is valiant for Saul and slays many Philistines and as a result marries Michal, his other daughter. In ‘d’ Saul’s aim is that David fall at the hands of the Philistines, and in the parallel his aim is the same. In ‘e’ David declares his unfitness to be the king’s son in law, and in the parallel declares the same. In ‘f’ Merab is given to someone else, and in the parallel David is given a second opportunity to marry one of Saul’s daughters. In ‘g’ Saul was pleased that his daughter loved David, and in the parallel tells David that he has another opportunity to be his son-in-law. Centrally in ‘g’ Saul’s aim is that David might be ensnared into being slain by the Philistines (a theme of the passage, see verses 17b, 21, 25b).

18.15-16 ‘And when Saul saw that he behaved himself very wisely, he stood in awe of him. But all Israel and Judah loved David; for he went out and came in before them.’

And when Saul saw the discreet and wise way in which David conducted himself he stood in awe of him. As David grew in status and popularity Saul recognised more and more that he was dealing with someone with whom he would have to be extremely careful. For meanwhile the whole of Israel and Judah had grown to love David as he moved among them and efficiently performed his duties, which, of course, included going out and defending them from the Philistines. Note again the distinction between ‘all Israel’ and ‘Judah’. The whole people loved him, but especially those of his own tribe to whom he had, of course, brought great prestige.

‘But all Israel and Judah loved David.’ This is the second reference in the chapter to people who loved David. The first was Jonathan in verse 1, and a third will be Michal in verse 28. The more Saul is against him, the more popular he becomes.

‘For he went out and came in before them.’ Compare verse 13 where ‘he went out and came in before the people’. Because of his triumphs he was constantly in the eyes of the people.

In all this there is a reminder to all of us of the importance of behaving well and discreetly, even when we consider that the Spirit of God is upon us. Spiritual experience is never a good excuse for sloppy behaviour and living. We are called on to be ‘perfect in all our ways’, and that includes being honourable in the eyes of all men (as far as is consistent with our Christian testimony).

Bound By His Promise Saul Seeks To Fulfil It By Giving One Of His Daughter’s To David To Be His Wife (18.17-27).

Saul had publicly promised that to the victor over Goliath he would give him one of his daughters to be his wife (17.25), and it was thus not a promise that he could avoid facing up to. But of course David was still young, which may help to explain the course of events which follow. He may not have wanted to be saddled with a wife who was not of his choosing. On the other hand you did not tell the king that. Thus there appears to have been some prevarication taking place, which was not necessarily all Saul’s fault.

18.17 ‘And Saul said to David, “See, my elder daughter Merab, I will give her to you for a wife, only be you valiant for me, and fight YHWH’s battles.” For Saul said, “Let not my hand be on him, but let the hand of the Philistines be on him.’

Saul now approached David about the promise that he had made to give his daughter as wife to the man who slew Goliath, and accordingly offered him his eldest daughter as his wife, in return for his loyalty and true service, both towards him and towards YHWH. Outwardly he was fulfilling his promise. But we learn that underneath Saul was still hoping that David would be slain by the Philistines. He would become a special target once he was the king’s son-in-law.

18.18 ‘And David said to Saul, “Who am I, and what is my life, or my father’s family in Israel, that I should be son-in-law to the king?” ’

David replies with a show of humility which what follows points to as containing some truth in it. He really does appear to have felt that he was not worthy to be connected with the royal family, and indeed could not afford it. (It was now many years since Saul himself had been’ ‘ordinary’, and it had been before David’s time). On the other hand this expression of humility by David could have been a polite acceptance, for it was quite normal to accept such offers with such an act of humility, but if that was so, it is then difficult to understand why the marriage did not go through, or why he accepted Michal later on different terms. In context, therefore, it is more probable that David was simply here politely indicating that he would prefer not to accept the offer. This could have been for a number of reasons:

  • 1). Because he genuinely did not feel that he was worthy of the offer (compare verse 22).
  • 2). Because he genuinely thought that he could not afford to pay the necessary dowry. This would help to explain Saul’s later offer (compare verse 25).
  • 3). Because he knew that Merab looked down on him as a mere commoner. This would help to explain why Saul was so pleased when he found out that Michal loved David. She would therefore not be seen by David as looking down on him.

What David said would certainly have been said in such a way that both parties knew what the situation was. There was a way of doing these things which would have been familiar at the time. Thus Saul would have immediately recognised that David was not happy at the thought of marrying Merab. Of course had he insisted David would have had no option but to accept, but what happened subsequently does suggest that Saul took the hint and recognised that David did not want to marry Merab, whether through humility, size of dowry or some other reason, and did not want to press it.

18.19 ‘And it came about that, at the time when Merab, Saul’s daughter, should have been given to David, she was given to Adriel the Meholathite to wife.’

Thus at the time when she would have been expected to marry David, Merab was married to someone else. That was probably in order to prevent her from being shamed by the situation. Everyone would have been anticipating her marriage to the hero of Israel, and her marriage to Adriel would make it clear to all that that was not what had been intended, and that she had already previously been committed. It would leave Saul to be able to fulfil his promise in another way. As the eldest daughter Merab inevitably had to be married before another daughter could be offered to David (compare Genesis 29.26). It is not really likely that Saul deliberately snubbed David. That would have brought Saul into disrepute.

18.20 ‘And Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved David, and they told Saul, and the thing pleased him.’

Then news that his other daughter, Michal, loved David was brought to Saul, and Saul was delighted, for he saw in this the opportunity to fulfil his promise and at the same time to entrap David. (We must remember that he was not thinking normally). Marriage to Michal might be more acceptable to David because for one thing the younger daughter would not be expected to receive so great a dowry as the elder. For another her love for David would also mean that Michal would not be seen as disdaining marriage to him as a commoner. The mention of this does suggest that that may have been one problem between David and Merab

18.21 ‘And Saul said, “I will give him her, that she may be a snare to him, and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.” Which is the reason why Saul said to David, “You shall this day be my son-in-law” a second time.’

But Saul’s reasoning was not straightforward. Indeed it was treacherous. His plan was that by giving his daughter to David and binding him to him in service, he could then send him out on the most dangerous assignments, as his son-in-law, while the Philistines would also especially be eager to kill him because of whom he now was. It would thus put him in great danger. This then was why he said to David a second time, ‘You shall this day be my son-in-law.’ The only problem now was how to persuade David to accept the offered privilege.

18.22 ‘And Saul commanded his servants, saying, “Speak with David secretly, and say, Behold, the king delights in you, and all his servants love you, now therefore be the king’s son-in-law.”’

With this in mind Saul privately told his servants to have a quiet word in David’s ear and tell him that the king delighted in him, and that all Saul’s servants loved him, and that he should therefore be willing to become Saul’s son-in-law, because everyone important was in agreement about it.

18.23 ‘And Saul’s servants spoke those words in the ears of David. And David said, “Does it seem to you a light thing to be the king’s son-in-law, seeing that I am a poor man, and lightly esteemed?”

But David continued to point out that he was only a poor man and not one who held high position or was greatly esteemed. He genuinely did not see becoming Saul’s son-in-law as a real possibility. He had too high a regard for Saul, and he also did not feel that he could afford the dowry that would be required, or live up to what would then be expected of him.

18.24 ‘And the servants of Saul told him, saying, “In this way spoke David.” ’

Saul’s servants then informed Saul of what David had said, which set Saul to thinking the problem over.

18.25 ‘And Saul said, “Thus shall you say to David, The king does not want any dowry, but a hundred foreskins of the Philistines, to be avenged of the king’s enemies.” Now Saul thought to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines.’

Then Saul had an inspiration. He told them to tell David that the only dowry that he would require would be a hundred foreskins of (dead) Philistines so that the king might be avenged of his enemies. He did this in the hope that David might be killed by the Philistines as he sought to obtain them.

We may cringe a little at the idea of warriors taking the foreskins of their enemy, but some kind of physical proof had to be brought back in order to demonstrate that the one hundred who had been killed were Philistines. As Philistines were the only uncircumcised people around this would be proof that the hundred who had been killed really were Philistines. Saul may also have been associating the foreskins with what would result from their presentation to him. They represented the future productivity of David’s house as contrasted with the fact that no more Philistine warriors would be produced by these Philistines, and may even have been seen as contributing towards that end. They would thus be seen as a very suitable ‘wedding gift’ in those raunchier days.

18.26-27 ‘And when his servants told David these words, it pleased David well to be the king’s son-in-law. And the days were not expired, and David arose and went, he and his men, and slew of the Philistines two hundred men; and David brought their foreskins, and they gave them in full number to the king, that he might be the king’s son-in-law. And Saul gave him Michal his daughter to wife.’

Once he recognised that all barriers to being the king’s son-in-law could be solved David was well pleased and decided that it was a very worthwhile idea. And as the period in which he had had to make his decision about Michal had not expired he arose and took his men and killed two hundred Philistine warriors, and brought their foreskins to Saul and thereby presented him with double the dowry which was required for becoming the king’s son-in-law. (Thereby indicating his high esteem for Saul). And Saul then, in accordance with what he had promised, gave his daughter Michal to David to be his wife.

All now appeared rosy on the outside, and David had by this leaped from being a commander of a military unit to being the king’s son-in-law, thereby gaining at least a foothold on the path to the throne, although that was certainly not Saul’s intention.

David Continues To Prosper (18.28-30).

Saul continued to recognise that YHWH was with David, and was thus all the more afraid of him because he saw in him a potential threat to his throne, and especially to his descendants’ likelihood of inheriting it (20.31). The result was that he continually looked on David with enmity. In contrast, however, his daughter loved David, and meanwhile David continued to prosper and behave sanguinely, and was so successful that he outdid all Saul’s other servants, and became a name in the land as a successful commander against the Philistines.

18.28 ‘And Saul saw and knew that YHWH was with David, and Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved him.’

Aware of his own rejection by YHWH, and that an unknown successor had already been selected by YHWH, it galled him to see that YHWH was clearly with David. It must have raised the question in him as to whether David might be the successor that YHWH had in mind. Meanwhile Michal continued to love David, as did Jonathan (verses 1-4). (These swift contrasts are typical of the writer). Not all Saul’s family were against him.

18.29 ‘And Saul was yet the more afraid of David, and Saul was David’s enemy continually.’

And it was because of these fears that Saul was more and more afraid of David, and that he was continually David’s enemy. He was obsessed with the thought that David was after his throne. We can note the growth of Saul’s hostility through the chapter as he commenced by taking David into his court and ended by being his continual enemy:

  • ‘And Saul took him that day and would let him go no more home to his father’s house’ (18.2).
  • ‘And Saul was very angry and this saying displeased him (that he had slain his thousand but that David had slain his ten thousands) -- and he eyed David from that day forward (18.8, 9).
  • ‘And Saul was afraid of David because YHWH was with him and had departed from Saul’ (18.12).
  • ‘And when Saul saw that he behaved himself wisely he stood in awe of him’ (18.15).
  • ‘And Saul saw and knew that YHWH was with him --- and was yet more afraid of David, and Saul was David’s enemy continually (18.29).

So as David continually and successfully held the Philistines at bay, and became more and more popular, Saul’s jealousy and enmity grew greater and greater.

18.30 ‘Then the princes of the Philistines went forth, and it came about that, as often as they went forth, David behaved himself more wisely than all the servants of Saul, so that his name was much set by.’

Meanwhile the Philistine aristocracy continued their assaults on Israel, but each time that they did so they discovered that David and his men were always a match for them because of David’s astuteness, far more so than Saul’s other commanders. And the consequence was that, young though he was, David’s reputation grew and grew, resulting in his gaining great prestige. His name was found on everyone’s lips, from the smallest to the greatest.

Chapter 19. David Must Die! A Period Of Stalemate Is Followed By A Period In Which Saul Is Determined That David Must Definitely Die, Which Results In David Taking Refuge With Samuel.

Saul, obsessed with jealousy and fears for his throne could only view David’s continuing growth in popularity with suspicion. He was aware that he himself had been rejected by YHWH, and that YHWH already had his successor in sight, and he clearly thought that David was the one. He therefore began to scheme as to how he could get rid of David, before David got rid of him.

Initially this led to his discussing the need for David to die with his son Jonathan and his other advisers and courtiers (verse 1). We are given no details but presumably Saul must have been suggesting that he was guilty of treason. In the end, however, Jonathan managed to talk him round. But the problem was that David continued to be militarily successful, and this simply renewed Saul’s suspicions, for he was sick in mind. The result was that he made further attempts on David’s life, firstly when he was playing for him because he was having ‘one of his turns’, and then more systematically when he sought to have David arrested, presumably on a charge of treason. He had become obsessed with the thought that David must die.

Finally, recognising his parlous position, David sought help from his mentor Samuel, who was still a name in the land, for he was still the prophet of YHWH. And when Saul again sought to have him arrested, and finally went in order to do the job himself, God intervened and prevented all his attempts through irresistible acts of power.

Saul Is Determined That David Should Die, But Jonathan Intercedes For Him And His Father Alters His Position (19.1-7).

While his followers did not fully appreciate how bad he was Saul was now a very sick man. He was seriously mentally unstable, an instability almost certainly brought on by his rejection by Samuel, even though there must have been a latent problem already there. Thus as he brooded on what in his view David was trying to do, he made it clear to his courtiers and advisers that it was becoming necessary for David to be called to account for his treasonable attitude towards the throne. No actual order appears to have been given. Indeed it would probably at this stage have been folly for him to issue one, because David was too popular. But he nevertheless made his view clearly enough known for Jonathan to be worried about it.

Stand-off situations like this between kings and powerful men are found throughout history in cases where a king wishes to get rid of a powerful noble but is unable to do it openly, because the noble has too much support. What the king therefore has to do is wait for the noble to put a foot wrong, or hope that someone will arrange for his assassination. But if the noble is wise he takes precautions and ensures that he is never in a position to be directly accused, and never lets himself be found in a situation where he is unprotected. This would appear to have been something like David’s position (he was now a powerful and influential man in Israel) with regard to Saul.

Meanwhile, seemingly at a time when he was thinking straight, Jonathan appealed to Saul on behalf of David, and brought about in him a change of mind. He declared in the strongest of terms that David should not die after all. In his medical innocence Jonathan no doubt thought that he had obtained from his father a rational decision that he would adhere to. What he, of course, did not realise was the nature of his father’s illness. He was not to know that from this time on no one could ever be sure what Saul would do next, because it all depended on his psychological state at the time, something especially affected by his excessive pride in his kingship and his paranoia about David.

Analysis.

  • a And Saul spoke to Jonathan his son, and to all his servants, indicating that they should slay David (19.1a).
  • b But Jonathan, Saul’s son, delighted much in David. And Jonathan told David, saying, “Saul my father seeks to slay you. Now therefore, I pray you, take heed to yourself in the morning, and remain in a secret place, and hide yourself, and I will go out and stand beside my father in the countryside where you are, and I will discuss you with my father, and if I see anything, I will tell you” (19.1b-3).
  • c And Jonathan spoke good of David to Saul his father, and said to him, “Do not let the king sin against his servant, against David, because he has not sinned against you, and because his works towards you have been very good, for he put his life in his hand, and smote the Philistine, and YHWH wrought a great victory for all Israel. You saw it, and you rejoiced. For what reason then will you sin against innocent blood, to slay David without a cause?” (19.4-5).
  • b And Saul took note of the voice of Jonathan, and Saul swore, “As YHWH lives, he shall not be put to death.” And Jonathan called David, and Jonathan showed him all those things (19.6-7a).
  • a And Jonathan brought David to Saul, and he was in his presence, as previously (19.7b).

Note that in ‘a’ Saul speaks with Jonathan about the need for David to die, and in the parallel Jonathan brings about a reconciliation between Saul and David. In ‘b’ Jonathan tells David that he will plead with his father on his behalf, and will inform him of the result, and in the parallel, having pleaded successfully he informs David of the result. Central in ‘c’ is the argument that he puts before Saul which gives a clear summary of David’s virtues.

19.1 ‘And Saul spoke to Jonathan his son, and to all his servants, indicating that they should slay David. But Jonathan, Saul’s son, delighted much in David.’

As we have suggested this was probably a statement made while Saul was in one of his ‘bad periods’, and was deluding himself. It may be that his servants (his courtiers) recognised this and therefore did little about it. Alternately it may have been that he called a council in which he put to his court the reasons why David needed to be dealt with. But Jonathan greatly loved David and he really could not understand his father’s attitude towards him. He had no idea of the intricacies of a deluded mind.

19.2-3 ‘And Jonathan told David, saying, “Saul my father seeks to slay you. Now therefore, I pray you, take heed to yourself in the morning, and remain in a secret place, and hide yourself, and I will go out and stand beside my father in the countryside where you are, and I will discuss you with my father, and if I see anything, I will tell you.” ’

So when the opportunity came he took David on one side and warned him of what had been said. He was in fact also determined to speak to his father about it, but he wanted David to be aware of what was happening. Furthermore he wanted him to know about the outcome of his conversation with his father. So he told David to find somewhere where he could remain hidden, and then let him know where he was. Then he could take his father there and discuss the matter with his father, and pass on the result to David.

19.4-5 ‘And Jonathan spoke good of David to Saul his father, and said to him, “Do not let the king sin against his servant, against David, because he has not sinned against you, and because his works towards you have been very good, for he put his life in his hand, and smote the Philistine, and YHWH wrought a great victory for all Israel. You saw it, and you rejoiced. For what reason then will you sin against innocent blood, to slay David without a cause?” ’

Following out his plan Jonathan spoke with Saul. He pleaded David’s innocence and begged his father not to commit an offence by acting against him. He pointed out all that David had done for Saul and for the people, especially with regard to the matter of Goliath, and how glad they had all been. Why then did his father seek to shed innocent blood without cause?

Note the fourfold defence:

  • ‘He has not sinned against you.’
  • ‘His works towards you have been very good’ (for example in his playing of music for Saul even when it grew decidedly unpleasant).
  • ‘He put his life in his hand and smote Goliath the Philistine.’
  • ‘Through him YHWH has wrought a great victory for all Israel.’

So David has not only not done Saul any harm, or even considered it, but has rather only done good to him, both in his personal life and in enabling the fulfilling of his responsibilities, and has indeed benefited all Israel.

19.6 ‘And Saul took note of the voice of Jonathan, and Saul swore, “As YHWH lives, he shall not be put to death.” ’

On this occasion Saul took notice of Jonathan and was convinced sufficiently to swear that as YHWH lived David would not be put to death. David was thus safe until Saul had another bout of his illness.

19.7 ‘And Jonathan called David, and Jonathan showed him all those things. And Jonathan brought David to Saul, and he was in his presence, as previously.’

Jonathan then called David and let him know the result of his conversation with Saul, after which he brought him to Saul in order that they might be reconciled, and David was thus once more able to take his place in the court, enjoying the king’s presence as before.

Saul Makes Further Attempts On David’s Life (19.8-17).

David’s great success in the wars with the Philistines continued so that Israel continued to enjoy their freedom from oppression. And when battle was again joined Israel were victorious and slew many Philistines with the result that the Philistines, thoroughly defeated, fled from David. But this further success would raise David’s standing even more in the eyes of all Israel and it thus appears to have brought on another bout of Saul’s illness. (Of course we cannot just directly relate the illness with particular events. The illness was permanent and could affect Saul at any time. But bouts of such illness can certainly be triggered off by particular events). It was not, however, only his illness that caused the problems. Part of the blame rested on Saul’s obsession with the kingship and his extreme jealousy, both of which helped to trigger off the illness, and were then symptomatic of it. And the result was to be a determined and sustained attempt on David’s life.

Saul Seeks To Pin David To The Wall (19.8-10).

The first attempt to kill David followed the pattern of previous wild attempts. It was probably not premeditated but occurred as passion was aroused in Saul, for as David played for him in order to soothe him his jealousy over the latest reports of David’s successes, no doubt accompanied by glowing praise of David, got the better of him. And he raised his ceremonial spear and tried to spit David with it.

Analysis.

  • a And there was war again, and David went out, and fought with the Philistines, and slew them with a great slaughter, and they fled before him (19.8).
  • b And an evil spirit from YHWH was on Saul, as he sat in his house with his spear in his hand, and David was playing with his hand (19.9).
  • a And Saul sought to smite David even to the wall with the spear, but he slipped away out of Saul’s presence, and he smote the spear into the wall, and David fled, and escaped that night (19.10).

Note that in ‘a’ the Philistines flee from David, and in the parallel David flees from Saul. (The incongruity of the situation is quite clear). Central in ‘b’ is the fact that David is seeking to do good to Saul. Note how two of Jonathan’s four points in defence of David are being revealed here, his defeating of the Philistines and his doing of good towards Saul.

19.8 ‘And there was war again, and David went out, and fought with the Philistines, and slew them with a great slaughter; and they fled before him.’

Once again the Philistines appear to have encroached on Israel, with the result that David went out and fought with them, and utterly routed them. With a general like David as his son-in-law Saul clearly did not see any need for himself or Jonathan to be involved. Besides the invading party may not have been a full-scale one. But whatever was the case it could only enhance David’s prestige.

We should note that the writer continually wants us to see that the Spirit of YHWH is still on David, and that that is why he is now the Deliverer of Israel, while Saul has been thrust into the background. Furthermore it emphasises the truth of Jonathan’s defence of David above. But one of the dangers of being a success is that it arouses the envy of lesser men, and that was what happened in this case.

19.9 ‘And an evil spirit from YHWH was on Saul, as he sat in his house with his spear in his hand, and David was playing with his hand.’

The consequence of David’s success and Saul’s bitter jealousy was that it brought on a further heightening of Saul’s illness. A harmful spirit was aroused within him, and because all things are in God’s hands it could be described as ‘from God’. So suffering again from delusion and paranoia he sat in his palace with his spear of authority in his hand, calling on David to come and play for him. And as he played Saul eyed him and saw in him the great enemy. It is always difficult to know what people with Saul’s illness will do next, but David had already had experience of what a moody Saul could do, and was ready for what did happen next.

‘Playing with his hand.’ It was thus a harp like instrument. There may be intended the thought that David’s hand was acting innocently, while the hand that was gripping Saul’s spear had other intent.

19.10 ‘And Saul sought to smite David even to the wall with the spear, but he slipped away out of Saul’s presence, and he smote the spear into the wall, and David fled, and escaped that night.’

Suddenly, probably with a mad and wild look in his eyes (a pattern common with such people), Saul raised his spear and sought to pin David to the wall. He would make no attempt to hide his intention or to act subtly. This was no carefully planned attempt at murder by an experienced warrior but rather a blatant and crude action from a perverted mind which would have been well advertised. Saul had once again decided that he wanted to see David’s blood, and he made no secret of it. And he also wanted to rid himself of this enemy. But David was able to see what was coming in plenty of time, avoid the blow and flee, thus escaping that night. This is the first major example of David fleeing before Saul (contrast verse 7c and see 19.18; 20.1. Note further 19.12, but that is in the middle of a passage).

In fact 20.33 suggests that this use by Saul of his ceremonial spear was a ‘normal’ practise when Saul was in this state and became angry. It had thus probably also been experienced by a number of his other courtiers, which would help to explain why David did not see it as indicating that Saul was particularly venomous towards him.

Saul Seeks To Have David Arrested With A View To Execution (19.11-17).

This incident may well have occurred some time after the previous one. Saul has now determined that David must be got rid of. But the only problem that Saul had was that it had to be done legally. Thus his intention was presumably to bring him before a special court selected from David’s ill-wishers in order to pass sentence on him for treason in that by encouraging the people to exalt him above Saul he was fermenting revolt.

19.11 ‘And Saul sent messengers to David’s house, to watch him, and to slay him in the morning, and Michal, David’s wife, told him, saying, “If you do not save your life tonight, tomorrow you will be killed.” ’

Still gripped by his mania Saul continued to want David’s blood, and he sent messenger’s down to David’s house to keep watch for him and to slay him when he arose and came out next day. In view of David’s popularity he was hardly acting rationally. But that no longer concerned him. And meanwhile Michal, who was very familiar with her father’s behaviour patterns, and no doubt noticed the watchers, warned David that he should escape while he could, or else he would find himself a dead man.

No doubt as a Commander of Israel David’s house was well guarded, which probably explains Saul’s circumspection, but of course the guards would not be able to refuse entry to Saul’s messengers during the day time. Or alternatively the plan may have been to catch a hopefully unsuspecting David alone when he left his house in the morning.

19.12 ‘So Michal let David down through the window, and he went, and fled, and escaped.’

The watchers would not be expecting an attempt to escape by the back windows, (they would not think that David suspected anything), and thus Michal was able to let David down from a window so that he could flee and escape.

19.13 ‘And Michal took the teraphim, and laid it in the bed, and put a pillow of goats’ hair at its head, and covered it with the clothes.’

Then Michal took a teraphim, and laid it in the bed. A teraphim was a religious household image favoured by women and possibly associated with fertility or good luck. Note how Rachel took her father’s teraphim when she was pregnant (Genesis 31.19). This one was presumably Michal’s and kept in her own private apartment. Compare Judges 17.5; 18.14 ff which demonstrate their use in Israel, probably by associating them with Yahwism. David may well not have known that she had it. It may not have been life size but needed to be sufficiently large to make an obvious lump under the bed covers. Additionally she used a pillow of goat’s hair to give the impression of a head. (Alternately the teraphim could have been propped against the bed as a kind of ‘protection’ against illness, while the pillow caused the lump in the bed)

19.14 ‘And when Saul sent messengers to take David, she said, “He is sick.” ’

Thus when Saul’s messengers came to the house the next morning to arrest David she was able to say that David was ill and even possibly let them see the figure lying in the bed under the bed clothes. Her aim was to give David as much time as possible to make his escape.

19.15 ‘And Saul sent the messengers to see David, saying, “Bring him up to me in the bed, that I may slay him.” ’

When the messengers reported back to Saul he immediately demanded that they go back and arrest David, and bring him as he was in his bed, so that he could be tried for treason and be put to death. Even Saul could not simply have David assassinated by his courtiers. His aim was presumably to allow David a summary trial and then have him executed for treason (otherwise why not have him killed in his bed).

19.16 ‘And when the messengers came in, behold, the teraphim was in the bed, with the pillow of goats’ hair at its head.’

So the messengers arrived back at David’s house and demanded access to his bedroom. And once there they discovered the subterfuge perpetrated by Michal, and reported it back to Saul.

19.17 ‘And Saul said to Michal, “Why have you deceived me in this way, and let my enemy go, so that he has escaped?” And Michal answered Saul, “He said to me, Let me go. Why should I kill you?” ’

Saul then summoned his daughter and asked her why she had deceived him with the effigy in the bed and had let his enemy escape. He no doubt felt that she owed first loyalty to him as her father and king. Michal simply replied that she had had to do what she did otherwise David might have killed her. This would actually tie in with Saul’s own obsessive view of David and he appears to have accepted that it was true.

That Michal lied at least twice is clear, and although the Scripture does not actually specifically approve of it, it does raise the question as to when, if ever, such a lie is justified. Similar examples can be found with Rahab at Jericho (Joshua 2.4 ff), Jael with Sisera (Judges 4.18) and the woman at Bahurim (2 Samuel 17.20). It is too large a question to be dealt with fully here. However, while Scripture undoubtedly does require us to be truthful (Leviticus 19.11; Matthew 5.37) there must certainly be cases where to tell the truth would be an even greater sin than the alternative, for example in such cases as these where lives were at stake. I must confess that if I was hiding someone I loved from a criminal gang, and could save his life by denying his presence, I would not hesitate. Nor would I feel guilty afterwards. (I would feel far more guilty if he died because I had given him away). Truth about the whereabouts of others can only be expected when the questioner does not have murderous intentions. However, the question is so complicated that we must leave a full discussion of it to elsewhere.

David Takes Refuge With Samuel At Ramah And When Saul Tries To Take Him He Discovers That YHWH Has Other Means Of Preventing Him From Doing So (19.18-24).

Recognising that Saul was seeking his life David turned to the only one with the power to help him, Samuel, the prophet of YHWH, who had earlier anointed him (16.13), and who was still a power in Israel. Even Saul had to have regard to Samuel. And Samuel took him to live with him and the company of prophets in Naioth in Ramah.

But after some time, on learning of David’s whereabouts, Saul sent arresting parties to bring him back to Gibeah for trial. And each time the arresting parties were met by a large company of prophets worshipping and speaking out the praises of God, with the result that the Spirit of God came on them and they also began to worship and speak out the praises of God, losing any desire to fulfil the purpose for which they had been sent.

So in the end Saul decided that he must do the job himself, but he too was met by the prophets, with the result that the Spirit of God came on him, and he too began to worship and speak out the praises of God, and in his case he divested himself of his royal garments and lay down in his undergarments all day and all night, rendered powerless by the Spirit.

Analysis.

  • a Now David fled, and escaped, and came to Samuel to Ramah, and told him all that Saul had done to him. And he and Samuel went and dwelt in Naioth (19.18).
  • b And it was told Saul, saying, “Behold, David is at Naioth in Ramah” (19.19).
  • c And Saul sent messengers to take David, and when they saw the company of the prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as head over them, the Spirit of God came on the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied (19.20).
  • c And when it was told Saul, he sent other messengers, and they also prophesied (19.21a).
  • c And Saul sent messengers again the third time, and they also prophesied (19.21b).
  • b Then went he also to Ramah, and came to the great well that is in Secu, and he asked and said, “Where are Samuel and David?” And one said, “Behold, they are at Naioth in Ramah.” And he went there to Naioth in Ramah, and the Spirit of God came on him also, and he went on, and prophesied, until he came to Naioth in Ramah (19.22-23).
  • a And he also stripped off his clothes, and he also prophesied before Samuel, and lay down naked all that day and all that night. Which is why they say, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” And David fled from Naioth (19.24).

Note that in ‘a’ David goes to be with Samuel among the prophets in Naioth, and in the parallel Saul is also seen as among the prophets, at which point David flees from Naioth. In ‘b’ Saul is told that David is at Naioth in Ramah, and in the parallel he is told the same. Centrally in ‘c’ we have the threefold examples of men sent to arrest David who instead finish up praising and worshipping God under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

19.18 ‘Now David fled, and escaped, and came to Samuel to Ramah, and told him all that Saul had done to him. And he and Samuel went and dwelt in Naioth.

Recognising that he would find refuge from Saul nowhere else David made for the only man whom he considered might be able to give him protection. Samuel was still a power in the land, and dwelt among a band of prophets who were presumably a consequence of his ministry. So David came to him at Ramah, and told Samuel all that Saul had done to him. And the result was that Samuel took David under his protection, and David went to live with him in Naioth. Naioth was where Samuel dwelt, along with a band of prophets. The word ‘Naioth’ means ‘dwellings’ and was probably the name of the compound or community in which the prophets had their dwellings. Both may well have thought that with David in such spiritual surroundings he would no longer be seen as a threat to Saul.

This idea of a company of prophets is a new one, and they were probably the fruit of Samuel’s labours as he sought to establish a spiritual core in Israel. We came across them previously in 10.5-6, 10-13. While there was no established Central Sanctuary to which the prophets could be attached as a group, a separate community was a necessity if their activities were to continue. Elijah and Elisha will similarly form a band of prophets in the Northern kingdom of Israel (there called ‘the sons of the prophets’), also unconnected with the Temple, but as there is no mention of them in between times there are no grounds for assuming that the one is the continuation of the other, except in the sense that both helped to maintain the prophetic tradition. Once David had re-established the Central Sanctuary this band of prophets presumably connected up with the Central Sanctuary, or with the Sanctuary in Jerusalem where the Ark was. Alternatively they may have spread throughout the land.

19.19 ‘And it was told Saul, saying, Behold, David is at Naioth in Ramah.’

It was inevitable that at some stage the news would reach Saul of where David was. Those who knew of Saul’s determination to get rid of David, and who were looking for political advancement would not hesitate to pass on to him the information once they received it, and Naioth was a place visited by many people as they sought prophetic help. It would therefore not be long before the word spread around of where David was. He was the kind of man concerning whose whereabouts people were interested.

19.20 ‘And Saul sent messengers to take David: and when they saw the company of the prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as head over them, the Spirit of God came upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied.’

So Saul sent an arresting party to take David and bring him back to Gibeah, presumably for ‘trial’, a trial which could only have one conclusion in the view of the despotic nature of Saul’s kingship.

But when these men came to Naioth they were faced up with Samuel and the band of prophets. These were worshipping God and speaking out His praises (compare Acts 2.11). We must beware of reading into this the kind of ecstasy which was a feature of prophets elsewhere, in which the person was as one possessed, but nevertheless it was with a spirit that was effective, powerful and restraining. For as a result of meeting them the Spirit of God came on the arresting party and they too were caught up in praising and exalting God (one meaning of ‘prophesying’ - compare Acts 2.11 with Acts 19.6).

This must not be seen as too surprising. These men had nothing personal against David. When they came to arrest him they were simply obeying Saul’s orders. And as Israelites they certainly had a great reverence for Samuel and the prophets, and for YHWH. Thus when they were moved by the Spirit, and became involved with the prophets, they would feel it only right to participate in their worship. How far they found themselves unable to do anything else is a matter of conjecture, for history reveals that when God does choose to manifest His presence, men do find themselves unable to disobey Him (consider the remarkable happenings in the revivals in Wales and in the Hebrides in the last century). But this does not necessarily signify their being in such an ecstatic state that they were powerless to resist. It indicates rather what happens to men when they are made deeply aware that God is there among them. They do not want to resist. They want to participate in the far more important worship of YHWH. It would appear from verse 24 that in order to do so they divested themselves of their outer clothing which depicted their status as Saul’s men, recognising that they were now in the presence of One Who was greater than Saul, and that Saul’s authority meant nothing here. Here they had to be open before God.

‘The prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as head over them.’ They found the prophets gathered in worship under their leader and great teacher Samuel, to whose authority all yielded fully as they worshipped together. In days when the importance of God and his rights over men were fully acknowledged by most, such a gathering would have been seen as of prime importance, and as one that could not be disturbed, even on the king’s business. Rather than disturbing it, all spiritual men who came there would expect to have their part in it.

Having worshipped with the prophets these men would then no doubt be reluctant to reject Samuel’s plea for them to go and leave David with him (compare their similar reluctance later to kill the members of the High Priestly family (22.17) even when they were not involved in a spiritual atmosphere). They may even have decided to spend some time in the prophetic circles, and have remained there. We must not overlook in all this both the importance of YHWH in their eyes and the powerful standing that Samuel still had in the land as His Prophet. To them Samuel was not a man to be trifled with, for he represented YHWH. It is in fact noteworthy that even Saul, with all his excesses, never retaliated against Samuel, so we can be sure that the people in general would have looked at him with awe.

19.21 ‘And when it was told Saul, he sent other messengers, and they also prophesied. And Saul sent messengers again the third time, and they also prophesied.’

When his men failed to return with David, and he was told what had happened, Saul sent a further arresting party and then another. But in each case they had the same experience once they became involved with the prophets. God’s power and working were proving to be irresistible. And there were thus more and more men involved in praising YHWH and worshipping him, and speaking out about His wonderful works (compare Acts 2.11). We are not given the details of precisely what happened, but it is clear that YHWH’s power was being revealed as sufficient to protect David.

19.22 ‘Then went he also to Ramah, and came to the great well that is in Secu: and he asked and said, “Where are Samuel and David?” And one said, “Behold, they are at Naioth in Ramah.”

In the end Saul recognised that it would be necessary to go himself and exert his own authority. He seemingly acknowledged that his men could not be blamed for becoming involved with the prophets in their worship. They were after all Yahwists. And if YHWH called on them to partake in a special period of worship then they could hardly be expected to refuse to do so. However, it would be a different matter when he went himself. He was not to be so easily swayed.

So he made his way to Ramah, and when he came to the great public water cystern in Secu, which was where people would gather to collect water, he enquired about the whereabouts of Samuel and David, and was informed that they were at the prophetic college at Naioth.

19.23 ‘And he went there to Naioth in Ramah, and the Spirit of God came on him also, and he went on, and prophesied, until he came to Naioth in Ramah.’

Accordingly Saul approached Naioth, but then, even while he was on the way, he became aware of the power of YHWH working on him manifesting the presence of God, and he too began to speak out the praises of YHWH, and to worship him. God was clearly manifesting His presence among men in an unusual way. This may well have been genuine praise of YHWH in contrast to the situation in 18.10, constrained by a power that he did not understand and seeking to bring him to repentance.

19.24 ‘And he also stripped off his clothes, and he also prophesied before Samuel, and lay down naked all that day and all that night. Wherefore they say, Is Saul also among the prophets?

On arrival at the prophetic college, and the worshipping group that he found there, Saul too felt impelled to divest himself of all his insignia, and his royal outer garments, being impelled by the sense of the presence of God to humble himself before YHWH and acknowledge Him as his Overlord. All clearly saw this as a holy place. And there before Samuel, moved by an irresistible power, he spoke out the praises of God, and fell on his face before God, where he remained all day and all night, prostrated by YHWH. It was a sad reflection on his reign, which had begun with a similar sign, that this time it was caused because of his murderous attitude towards David. And when the news got around of how he had been humbled before YHWH, so too would the standing joke, ‘is Saul also among the prophets?’ In 10.12 it had been asked in admiration. Now it would be asked with a snigger. But he had brought it all on himself by his own folly.

The remarkable situation described here, in which the sense of the presence of God had driven people to unexpected actions, has been reproduced at other times throughout history, in days when God has chosen to make known His power and presence in an unusual way. We have already mentioned the Welsh Revival and the Hebrides Revival. Other parallels include the time of the Great Awakening, when God moved in power through men like George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards, and people were moved to unusual behaviour At such times men find themselves powerless to resist God, (and often indeed do not want to do so), and were driven to actions that they would not normally have engaged in. Here at Naioth God thus gave this revelation of His protective power as a specific reminder of the importance of David in God’s future plans. The memory of it would certainly be a strength to David in the days of his exile and of his being hunted down, for he would remember that YHWH was indeed able to deliver, if necessary, in extraordinary ways. And it would help him to recognise that he was being equally protected then, even if not in such an obviously supernatural way.

‘And David fled from Naioth.’ This was David’s third major flight (compare 19.10, 18). He was no longer the despatcher of the Philistines but a fugitive from Saul. From now on he had nowhere to go.

C). Jonathan Acts On David’s Behalf In Order To Protect Him From Saul But They Finally Have To Say Farewell (20.1-42).

In this subsection Jonathan at first refuses to believe David when he claims that Saul is trying to kill him (David) but determines to discover the truth. Meanwhile he renews a firm covenant with David and then attends the New Moon Festival where he discovers that David is right. He goes to Warn David and they say their final farewell.

Analysis.

  • a David Tells Jonathan That Saul Intends To Kill Him (David). Jonathan Does Not Believe It But Excuses David From Attendance At The New Moon Festival (20.1-9).
  • b Jonathan Renews Covenant With David And Declares That He Will Discover His Father’s Intentions (20.10-24a).
  • b Jonathan Discovers Saul’s Intentions At The Moon Festival And Fasts Out Of Grief (20.24b-34).
  • a Jonathan Confirms To David That He Was Right And They Say Farewell (20.35-42).

Chapter 20. David Finds Himself At Crisis Point, And Jonathan Is At Last Finally Convinced That His Father Means To Kill David.

It appears from the narrative that although he had now made two major attempts to arrest David, presumably for treason, Saul had gone to some pains to conceal his actions from Jonathan. He knew of his son’s deep friendship with David, and clearly felt that it was better for him not to know anything of what he was doing. Jonathan, who was an open and honest person, was thus in complete ignorance of Saul’s attempts to arrest David, and was satisfied that the agreement that he had made with his father about David’s safety (19.6) still stood.

Meanwhile David was bewildered as to why Saul was treating him like an enemy. While he would not know the detailed workings of Saul’s mind he was certainly now aware that Saul was seeking to arrest him and that his life was in danger. And he was also equally confident that he had done nothing to deserve it. Indeed because he had at this time no designs on the throne, he was completely baffled by Saul’s behaviour. But he was also astute enough to recognise that the problem appeared to be permanent, something Jonathan could not be convinced of, until in the end he had no option but to be so.

Another problem that David had was that the new moon was approaching, and at this particular new moon all Saul’s courtiers and commanders were required to attend at the palace for the new moon celebrations. This put him in a quandary, for he knew that Saul had the intention of arresting him, which meant that he dared not attend, while on the other hand he knew that not to be present would be tantamount to rebellion and would give good cause for arresting him. It would be looked on as a deliberate insult to the king. So being a man who dealt wisely he sought out Jonathan in order to obtain a legitimate excuse from him for not attending the festival, an excuse which was valid because it was sealed by royal authority, the authority of Jonathan the crown prince. This would mean that he could then avoid attending without insulting the king, as he would basically have had royal permission for his absence.

In this chapter we have described for us Jonathan’s slow recognition that David’s position at court was hopeless, followed by his communication of the fact to David, and then their parting as he bids David ‘God speed’.

Central to the whole passage is the relationship between Jonathan and David. It is a moving account of the brotherly love between two men. But even more importantly, it provides us with the final evidence of David’s integrity, otherwise Jonathan, who was fully up with all political affairs (apart from those to do with David’s proposed demise) would not have stood by him like he did, and would not have made a firm covenant with him. Furthermore there is also here an indication that Jonathan himself recognises that in the end it is David who is bound for the throne, and is quite content that its should be so.

David Seeks Out Jonathan (20.1-9).

While Saul was rendered incapable of doing anything by the working of God’s Spirit on him, David was able to flee from Naioth, and his first action was to take advantage of the fact that Saul was busy elsewhere to seek out Jonathan, presumably in Gibeah. He was genuinely puzzled as to why Saul was behaving in the way that he was because he did not know what he had done wrong. And if anyone would know, surely it would be Jonathan.

Analysis.

  • a And David fled from Naioth in Ramah, and he came and said before Jonathan, “What have I done? what is my iniquity? and what is my sin before your father, that he seeks my life?” (20.1).
  • b And he said to him, “Far from it. You will not die. Look, my father does nothing, either great or small, but that he discloses it to me. And why should my father hide this thing from me? It is not so” (20.2).
  • c And David swore moreover, and said, Your father knows well that I have found favour in your eyes, and he says, “Do not let Jonathan know this, lest he be grieved,” but truly as YHWH lives, and as your soul lives, there is but a step between me and death” (20.3).
  • d Then Jonathan said to David, “Whatever your soul desires, I will even do it for you” (20.4).
  • c And David said to Jonathan, “Look, tomorrow is the new moon, and I should not fail to sit with the king at meat, but let me go, that I may hide myself in the field until the third day in the evening. If your father misses me at all, then say, ‘David earnestly asked leave of me that he might run to Bethlehem his city, for it is the yearly sacrifice there for all the family.’ If he say thus, ‘It is well,’ your servant will have peace, but if he is angry, then know that evil is determined by him” (20.5-7).
  • b “Therefore deal kindly with your servant, for you have brought your servant into a covenant of YHWH with you, but if there be in me iniquity, kill me yourself; for why should you bring me to your father?” (20.8).
  • a And Jonathan said, “Far be it from you, for if I should at all know that evil were determined by my father to come on you, then would I not inform you?” (20.9).

Note that in ‘a’ David declares that he is innocent and asks why Saul seeks his life, and in the parallel Jonathan basically declares by his words that his father does not seek his life. In ‘b’ Jonathan declares that Saul has no intention of putting David to death (‘it is not so’), while in the parallel David asks that if Jonathan knows of any evil in him, Jonathan himself will put him to death. In ‘c’ David stresses that that is Saul’s intention (‘there is but a step between me and death’), and in the parallel David asks Jonathan to put the question to the test so as to ascertain whether Saul does intend to put him to death. Central in ‘d’ is Jonathan’s heartfelt assurance that he will do whatever David desires.

20.1 ‘And David fled from Naioth in Ramah, and he came and said before Jonathan, “What have I done? what is my iniquity? and what is my sin before your father, that he seeks my life?” ’

Strictly ‘and David fled from Naioth in Ramah’ closes off the last passage. It is, however, also a connecting link between the two.

Having ‘fled’ he arrived at Jonathan’s house, and gaining admittance he asked Jonathan man to man what the problem was. He was genuinely concerned. He wanted to know what he had done that made Saul want to have him executed. Note the earnestness expressed by the three fold request, ‘What have I done?’, What is my iniquity?’ ‘What is my sin before your father?’ He was baffled.

20.2 ‘And he said to him, “Far from it. You will not die. Look, my father does nothing, either great or small, but that he discloses it to me. And why should my father hide this thing from me? It is not so.”

Jonathan, who was seemingly unaware of the attempts made to arrest David, was astounded, and thought that David must have got it wrong. He could not believe that his father could do such a thing without consulting him. Why, did not his father discuss everything with him? Why then should he hide this? Thus his conclusion was that David must be mistaken.

20.3 ‘And David swore moreover, and said, Your father knows well that I have found favour in your eyes, and he says, “Do not let Jonathan know this, lest he be grieved,” but truly as YHWH lives, and as your soul lives, there is but a step between me and death.” ’

David then asserted strongly to Jonathan (‘David swore’) that the reason why he did not know was because his father knew of the great bond that there was between them, and was thus trying to avoid grieving him. Saul no doubt felt that once David was safely dead he could then explain to Jonathan why it had been necessary. Men in Saul’s state of mind always think that they can justify what they do. David then further pressed Jonathan with the utmost force (‘as YHWH lives and as your soul lives’) to recognise that there could really be no doubt about it, and that in fact his life hung by a thread. He was but one step from death.

20.4 ‘Then Jonathan said to David, “Whatever your soul desires, I will even do it for you.” ’

Jonathan then assured David that he would do anything that he asked of him. He had only to make his request and it would be granted. This not only revealed his love for David, but also that there was not a shadow of doubt in Jonathan’s heart, that David was innocent.

20.5-7 ‘And David said to Jonathan, “Look, tomorrow is the new moon, and I should not fail to sit with the king at meat, but let me go, that I may hide myself in the countryside until the third day in the evening. If your father misses me at all, then say, ‘David earnestly asked leave of me that he might run to Bethlehem his city, for it is the yearly sacrifice there for all the family.’ If he say thus, ‘It is well,’ your servant will have peace, but if he is angry, then know that evil is determined by him.”

David then explained to him his dilemma. On the morrow it was the new moon festival. The new moon festival was a time for offering burnt offerings and sacrifices (and for partaking of some of them) and for the blowing of ram’s horns (Numbers 28.11-15; 10.10). It was a time of celebration of YHWH’s goodness, and was a special sabbath (Psalm 81.3). It was also seemingly a time for the most important men in the kingdom to express their loyalty to the king by their presence, although in this case it might be that it was a special new moon, such as one when it occurred on the day following the Sabbath, or at the new year. At that festival all courtiers and commanders were seemingly expected to attend, and not to do so without reasonable excuse would therefore be seen an insult to the king and to YHWH. What David certainly did not want to do at this stage was cause an irrevocable break if it was not necessary. He was no doubt still hoping that what Saul was doing was simply a phase of his illness and would pass.

In the affairs of kingdoms such situations often arise when men with whom the king is displeased find themselves in a position where tradition demands that they present themselves before him on some important occasion. Sometimes they simply solve the problem by means of the power of the forces that accompany them. At others they have to find reasonable grounds for exempting themselves.

David chose the latter course. What he required from Jonathan, therefore, was his royal authority to absent himself from the meal in order that he might attend at his family’s yearly sacrifice. Then if Saul asked why he was not there, Jonathan could explain, and there would be no insult because it would be an important family occasion, and he would have received royal permission to be absent, and what was more he would be attending a like festival in praise of YHWH. Thus he would not be failing in his religious duty.

Furthermore his thought was that Jonathan would then be able to discern from his father’s reaction what his intentions had been. If Saul was quite content with the idea of his absence and was calm about it, it would indicate that he had responded to what had happened to him at Naioth and was now reconciled in his heart towards David. On the other hand, if he was angry it would indicate that he still had designs on David’s life, for it would demonstrate that he had been planning to move against David at the feast. Meanwhile David would hide himself in the countryside for three days and await results. ‘Hide in the countryside’ may well have been intended to include attendance at Bethlehem for the family sacrifice, for Bethlehem was away from the centres of activity and could be said to be ‘in the countryside’. It did not mean that David’s excuse was a lie. Indeed such a lie would have been foolish, for it would have been uncovered later.

We should not underrate the importance of the new moon in Israel, and indeed in the ancient world. The new moon was the means by which time was determined. It determined when the ‘months’ of the year began and ended. Its arrival was therefore carefully observed. And it may well be that this particular new moon was that which commenced the seventh month, and therefore of special importance (Leviticus 23.24). The two day feast may well have been simply in order to ensure that in case there was an error in determining when the new moon took place the correct day was always celebrated.

20.8 “Therefore act in covenant love (chesed) with your servant, for you have brought your servant into a covenant of YHWH with you, but if there be in me iniquity, kill me yourself; for why should you bring me to your father?”

David then deliberately submitted himself to royal authority. He called on Jonathan, who has brought him into covenant with him, to act with covenant love towards him by being his judge in this case,. By this he emphasised the distinction in their positions. He acknowledged that he was in service to the royal household, and especially to Jonathan because Jonathan had entered into a solemn covenant of YHWH with him. Thus if he knew of any just cause against David let him act in accordance with their covenant and arrange for his execution. He was prepared to submit himself to Jonathan’s judgment, and die at Jonathan’s hands. If he really was guilty then it was unnecessary for Saul to be involved, for as the firstborn son of the royal household Jonathan had an equal right and responsibility to act as his judge. Let Jonathan then make his own decision about it. By citing this the writer is making David’s innocence absolutely clear. (It was not David’s fault what future YHWH had in store for him. All he could do was not make any move that suggested that he was aiming at the throne).

20.9 ‘And Jonathan said, “Far be it from you, for if I should at all know that evil were determined by my father to come on you, then would I not inform you?” ’

Jonathan dismissed the idea that David could be guilty. He was quite well aware that David was totally innocent. On the contrary, he made it clear that far from than wanting to pass judgment on David, if he had known of any evil determined against him by Saul he would have informed him of it.

Jonathan Explains His Plan For Letting David Know What The Situation Is, And Renews Their Firm Covenant (20.10-24a).

In response to David’s request Jonathan now outlined his plan for keeping David informed of whatever decision Saul showed himself to have come to, and at the same time renewed and expanded his covenant with David. He was now aware in his heart that the throne was not for him, and that YHWH eventually intended that David would sit on the throne of Israel. Indeed we have to consider it a good possibility that David had confided to him what Samuel had done in anointing him at Bethlehem. And Jonathan was seemingly quite satisfied with the situation. Unlike his father he had no overweening ambition.

Analysis.

  • a Then said David to Jonathan, “Who will tell me if perhaps your father answers you roughly?” And Jonathan said to David, “Come, and let us go out into the countryside. And they both went out to the countryside” (20.10-11).
  • b And Jonathan said to David, “YHWH, the God of Israel, be witness. When I have sounded out my father about this time tomorrow, or the third day, behold, if there be good toward David, will I not then send to you, and disclose it to you? YHWH do so to Jonathan, and more also, should it please my father to do you evil, if I do not disclose it to you, and send you away, that you may go in peace. And YHWH be with you, as he has been with my father” (20.12-13).
  • c “And you shall not only, while yet I live, show me the lovingkindness of YHWH, that I die not, but also you shall not cut off your kindness from my house for ever, no, not when YHWH has cut off the enemies of David every one from the face of the earth” (20.14).
  • d So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “And YHWH will require it at the hand of David’s enemies” (20.16).
  • c And Jonathan made David swear again, for the love that he had to him, for he loved him as he loved his own soul (20.17).
  • b Then Jonathan said to him, “Tomorrow is the new moon, and you will be missed, because your seat will be empty. And when you have stayed three days, you shall go down quickly, and come to the place where you hid yourself when the business was in hand, and shall remain by the stone Ezel. And I will shoot three arrows on its side, as though I shot at a mark. And, see, I will send the lad, saying, ‘Go, find the arrows.’ If I say to the lad, ‘Look, the arrows are on this side of you, take them, and come, for there is peace to you and no hurt, as YHWH lives. But if I say thus to the boy, ‘Look, the arrows are beyond you’, go your way, for YHWH has sent you away. And as touching the matter which you and I have spoken of, behold, YHWH is between you and me for ever” (20.18-23).
  • a So David hid himself in the countryside (20.24a).

Note than in ‘a’ they go out into the countryside, and in the parallel David hides himself in the countryside. In ‘b’ Jonathan speaks of the two day feast that is coming, and promises to connect with David on the third day in order to reveal the result of his testing out of Saul, and ends with a request that YHWH be with David as He has been with his father, and in the parallel he refers to the feast and to the three days, and explains how he will convey the information in such a way that no one will be suspicious, and ends with a request that YHWH will YHWH will be between them both for ever. In ‘c’ Jonathan asks that David will show him the lovingkindness of YHWH and will make a covenant with him, and in the parallel he makes David swear to that covenant again and it is because of his true love for David. Central in ‘d’ is the solemn nature of that covenant.

20.10 ‘Then David said to Jonathan, “Who will tell me if perhaps your father answers you roughly?”

David now raised the question as to how, if Saul’s verdict went against him, he was to obtain the information. Clearly he could not approach Jonathan openly because too many people would know about it, and it would be dangerous. And in view of what Saul knew about their friendship it was always likely that Jonathan’s movements would be watched. Who then would come and give him the information?

20.11 ‘And Jonathan said to David, “Come, and let us go out into the countryside.” And they both went out to the countryside.’

Jonathan then suggested that they leave the town and go out into the countryside. He was concerned that nothing that they discussed might be overheard. And once there he would show David what he intended to do. So that is what they both did.

20.12 ‘And Jonathan said to David, YHWH, the God of Israel, be witness. When I have sounded out my father about this time tomorrow, or the third day, behold, if there be good toward David, will I not then send to you, and disclose it to you?” ’

Once they were in the countryside Jonathan called on YHWH to witness the absolute certainty of what he was saying, and he confirmed that if Saul’s disposition turned out to be good he would immediately tell him of it.

20.13 “YHWH do so to Jonathan, and more also, should it please my father to do you evil, if I do not disclose it to you, and send you away, that you may go in peace. And YHWH be with you, as he has been with my father.”

On the other hand if he discerned that his father planned evil towards David, then he affirmed equally strongly that he would disclose it to David and send him away that he might go in peace. Then he added words which were very significant. It would seem clear from this that he recognised that David was destined for higher things, for he adds, ‘YHWH be with you, as he has been with my father.’ There is the underlying thought here that David was following in Saul’s footsteps and would one day be king. It seems that Jonathan did not have any particular desire to be king, and did not consider himself kingship material (although he would have made a better king than most). He was quite happy that his comrade-in-arms be king in his place.

20.14-15 “And you shall not only, while yet I live, show me the lovingkindness of YHWH, that I die not, but also you shall not cut off your kindness from my house for ever, no, not when YHWH has cut off the enemies of David every one from the face of the earth.”

One thing only he asked, and that was that, once YHWH had once for all removed all David’s enemies, David would himself show to him the lovingkindness of YHWH and guarantee his life (it was quite normal for men who took over a kingship to kill off all the close relatives of the previous king, especially the heir apparent), and also that he would guarantee that mercy for all who were descended from, or close relations of, Jonathan.

20.16 ‘So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “And YHWH will require it at the hand of David’s enemies.” ’

In this way Jonathan made a covenant with ‘the house of David’, and backed it up with a curse, namely that if David proved unfaithful to it then YHWH would require it of him by giving David’s enemies victory over him.

20.17 ‘And Jonathan made David swear again, for the love that he had to him, for he loved him as he loved his own soul.’

Thus did the heir apparent to the throne of Israel willingly yield his throne to David by covenant, because of the great love that he had for him, requiring only that he in return Jonathan honour himself and his descendants. It is apparent from this that Jonathan now recognised the seriousness of the situation and realised that they must soon part.

20.18 ‘Then Jonathan said to him, “Tomorrow is the new moon, and you will be missed, because your seat will be empty.”

Having confirmed the covenant between them Jonathan now went into the details of what was to happen in the next three days. Again we have it confirmed that David would be expected to take his place at the coming new moon celebration. And he would be missed, because his seat would be empty. Precedents as to who sat where were clearly firmly set at such festivals, and David, as the king’s son-in-law, would have a place set near the king.

20.19-22 “And when you have stayed three days, you shall go down quickly, and come to the place where you hid yourself when the business was in hand, and shall remain by the stone Ezel. And I will shoot three arrows on its side, as though I shot at a mark. And, see, I will send the lad, saying, ‘Go, find the arrows.’ If I say to the lad, ‘Look, the arrows are on this side of you, take them, and come, for there is peace to you and no hurt, as YHWH lives. But if I say thus to the boy, ‘Look, the arrows are beyond you’, go your way, for YHWH has sent you away.”

Jonathan then explained what David was to do in order to receive his prearranged signal. He was to come to the place where he had hidden himself when ‘the business was in hand’ (possibly the incident in 19.1-7), and take up his place by the stone Ezel. And then he, Jonathan, would come there with a lad to practise archery. This would allay any suspicion that Jonathan had come out on some secret assignment. On arrival there he would shoot three arrows at the side of the stone, as though shooting at a mark. Then he would send the lad to find the arrows, and if he called out ‘the arrows are on this side’ David could take that as a signal that all was well and that he was in no danger. But if he yelled, ‘Look, the arrows are beyond you’ then that would be a signal for David to flee for his life. It would indicate that there was danger and that YHWH had thus sent him away. Note the regular assumption, common in the former prophets (Joshua-Kings), that whatever happened was due to the activity of YHWH.

‘The stone Ezel.’ This means literally, ‘the stone of departure’. Out of sentimentality Jonathan may well have chosen to pass on his message at this stone for that very reason. The name presumably commemorated some well known ‘departure’ in the past. Others, however, consider that it was named Ezel because of this incident.

The shooting of arrows symbolically may well have had an important and recognised significance in Israel, possibly signifying the certainty of final triumph, or as an indication of certain judgment on the enemy (Deuteronomy 32.23). We can compare how Elisha arranged for Joash to shoot an arrow as an acted out prophecy of coming victory for him and coming judgment on his enemies (2 Kings 13.14-19). Thus in this case arrows that went their full length indicated judgment determined on David, whereas arrows that fell short indicated that judgment like that would not reach David.

20.23 “And as touching the matter which you and I have spoken of, behold, YHWH is between you and me for ever.”

Jonathan then completed his words with a further reminder of the covenant and bond between himself and David. They were each to remember that they were bound to each other by YHWH.

20.24 ‘So David hid himself in the countryside.’

This does not necessarily mean that he did not attend at his family’s celebrations in Bethlehem. It may simply indicate that he kept out of the way of the large cities, and especially of Gibeah, thus remaining out of public view. He would know that he was safe while the feast at Gibeah was in progress. Or it may simply be indicating what he did after he had been to Bethlehem and the sacrifices were over.

Jonathan And Saul Fall Out Over David At The New Moon Festival (20.24b-34).

Every ‘day of the new moon’, which indicated the commencement of another ‘month’, and thus regulated the seasons and the days of the religious feasts, was treated specially, with the offering of offerings and sacrifices and the blowing of ram’s horns. And some new moon days would be even more special, such as those that fell on a Sabbath, or the day following the Sabbath, those that began the New Year, and those on which there were other special festivals. Thus this special gathering may not have occurred on every ‘day of the new moon’. But it is clear that on this particular day attendance was certainly expected by all courtiers and commanders, and places were set for those who should attend.

It was apparently a two day feast. This may have been so that if an error had been made about the correct date of the new moon it would ensure that the day was still properly celebrated by observing it on the next day (This certainly happened in later centuries). On the first day of the feast Saul was able to excuse David’s absence (he was probably not the only one absent) on the grounds of some temporary ceremonial ‘uncleanness’ which kept him at home ‘until the evening’. But when he was not present on the second day it necessarily raised the question as to why he was not there. And when Jonathan admitted that he had given David permission to go to his family in Bethlehem to feast at the family sacrifices Saul was furious. The result was that he berated Jonathan severely and in the end threw his spear at him, and the final consequence was that Jonathan realised that David had been right after all.

Analysis.

  • a And when the new moon was come, the king sat himself down to eat food. And the king sat on his seat, as at other times, even on the seat by the wall, and Jonathan stood up (arose), and Abner sat by Saul’s side, but David’s place was empty (20.24b-25).
  • b Nevertheless Saul did not say anything that day, for he thought, “Something has befallen him, he is not clean, surely he is not clean” (20.26).
  • c And it came about that on the next day after the new moon, which was the second day, that David’s place was empty, and Saul said to Jonathan his son, “Why does not the son of Jesse come to the meal, neither yesterday, nor today?” (20.27).
  • d And Jonathan answered Saul, “David earnestly asked leave of me to go to Bethlehem, and he said, ‘Let me go, I pray you, for our family has a sacrifice in the city, and my brother, he has commanded me to be there, and now, if I have found favour in your eyes, let me get away, I pray you, and see my brothers.’ That is why he is not come to the king’s table” (20.28).
  • c Then Saul’s anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said to him, “You son of a perverse rebellious woman, do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness? For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the ground, you will not be established, nor your kingdom. Wherefore now send and fetch him to me, for he shall surely die” (20.30-31).
  • b And Jonathan answered Saul his father, and said to him, “For what reason should he be put to death? What has he done?” And Saul cast his spear at him to smite him, by which means Jonathan knew that it was determined by his father to put David to death (20.32-33).
  • a So Jonathan arose from the table in fierce anger, and ate no food the second day of the month, for he was grieved for David, because his father had behaved shamefully towards him (literally ‘had done him shame’) (20.34).

Note first the inclusio in that in verse 25 we find ‘and Jonathan arose’ and in verse 34 we again have ‘and Jonathan arose’, which forms a parallel between the two verses. In ‘b’ Saul is disturbed over David’s absence because he intends ill towards him and has been thwarted, and in the parallel he hurls his spear at Jonathan for the same reason. In ‘c’ he asks Jonathan why David has not come to the feast and in the parallel he commands Jonathan in anger to go and fetch David to the feast. Central in ‘d’ is given the reason why David has not come to the king’s table.

20.24b-25 ‘And when the new moon was come, the king sat himself down to eat food. And the king sat on his seat, as at other times, even on the seat by the wall, and Jonathan stood up, and Abner sat by Saul’s side, but David’s place was empty.’

When the day of the new moon came (commencing at twilight) the king sat down to eat. The seat by the wall would be the central seat reserved for the king, with his back to the wall and probably facing the entranceway. The mention of Jonathan ‘arising’ forms an inclusio with verse 34. There are a number of possibilities as to its significance:

  • 1). That Jonathan arose in order to demonstrate courtesy towards Abner, and in order to welcome him.
  • 2). That Jonathan arose in order to give way to Abner, possibly because he was unhappy with what he saw in his father’s behaviour and wanted an excuse not to sit by him.
  • 3). That Saul asked Jonathan to give way for Abner because he wanted to discuss with Abner plans for David’s arrest as soon as he arrived.
  • 4). That we translate, ‘and Jonathan arose and sat down, and Abner (also sat down), by Saul’s side’. This would tie in with 1).

In deciding which option to take we might feel that we would expect Jonathan to sit at Saul’s right, and Abner, as commander-in-chief, at his left. This would favour 1). and 4). On the other hand the fact that Saul later hurled his spear at Jonathan does suggest that Jonathan had moved seats (although, of course, the spear hurling occurred on the second day which points to a more permanent change of seats, something which may well have annoyed Saul). This would favour 2). and 3).

The mention of the fact that David’s place was empty heightens the tension and prepares us for what is coming.

20.26 ‘Nevertheless Saul did not say anything that day, for he thought, “Something has befallen him, he is not clean, surely he is not clean.” ’

But Saul’s reaction to the fact that David’s place was empty was at first simply that because (no doubt like some others) David was ritually ‘unclean’ he had been unable to attend. The ritual uncleanness would last until the evening. Such ritual uncleanness could arise through a variety of reasons, and would be quite common.

20.27 ‘And it came about that on the next day after the new moon, which was the second day, that David’s place was empty, and Saul said to Jonathan his son, “Why does not the son of Jesse come to the meal, neither yesterday, nor today?” ’

However, when David’s place was still empty on the second day Saul turned to Jonathan and asked him if he could explain David’s absence on both days. Note Saul’s contempt for David, referring to him simply as ‘the son of Jesse’ (compare Isaiah 7.4-5 of ‘the son of Remaliah’).

20.28 ‘And Jonathan answered Saul, “David earnestly asked leave of me to go to Bethlehem, and he said, ‘Let me go, I pray you, for our family has a sacrifice in the city, and my brother, he has commanded me to be there, and now, if I have found favour in your eyes, let me get away, I pray you, and see my brothers.’ That is why he is not come to the king’s table.”

Jonathan then gave the explanation that David and he had agreed on. He informed Saul that David had sought his royal permission to absent himself from the new moon celebration because he had been required by his elder brother to go to the family sacrifice in Bethlehem, and wanted to go and see his brothers, and Jonathan had agreed to it. That was why David was not at the king’s table. There may well have been that about Jonathan’s attitude (compare how he had moved seats) which made clear to Saul his disapproval of what he saw that Saul was now planning, and even if not such a disapproval may well have been read in by a paranoid Saul.

New moon celebrations would, of course, have been going on all around the country. However, Saul would no doubt have considered that his own requirement for David’s presence, even if not openly expressed, should take precedence over any requirement coming from David’s elder brother. (The fact that it came from David’s elder brother suggests that Jesse, David’s father, was quite ill. We know from 22.3 that he was still alive). It is clear why he saw the excuse for what it was, an attempt to forestall him. With his suspicious mind he would not realise that it was not until the events at the actual meal that Jonathan had become suspicious of his intentions, and that that was why he had moved seats. He would think that Jonathan had known about his plans beforehand.

20.30-31 ‘Then Saul’s anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said to him, “You son of a perverse rebellious woman, do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness? For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the ground, you will not be established, nor your kingship. Wherefore now send and fetch him to me, for he shall surely die.” ’

As a result of Jonathan’s words Saul was so filled with rage that he turned on his son. To insult a man’s mother in front of him was to have the intention of paying him the greatest insult possible, but the words were intended to describe Jonathan (as being what his mother was), not his mother. He was describing him as going against nature and as rebelling against him. In a sense, of course, both were true. He was supporting David against his father’s perverseness, and he was going against Saul’s will. But he was doing it because he wanted to do what was right. And taking up such a position often means being seen as perverse and rebellious by a sinful world.

Furthermore Saul emphasised that he was bringing shame on himself by favouring David, and shame on his mother’s sufferings when she bore him. And in Saul’s eyes the reason that he was doing this was because by his actions he was risking losing the kingship. For to Saul keeping hold of the kingship was everything. Thus if losing the kingship would really have been a disgrace and a shame then Saul was right. But he only felt like that because he had become obsessed with his kingship. To him nothing else mattered. What he was determined to do was show Samuel that he was wrong, and that he could hold on to his kingship both for himself and his family. He was overlooking the fact that it was he who had caused Jonathan to lose the kingship by his own disobedience to YHWH (13.13-14). To Jonathan, on the other hand, there was no shame in what he was doing, for he was doing it for the right reason, and that was because he considered that David would make the better king. Thus far from bringing shame on his mother he was ennobling her, because he was demonstrating that she had brought him up with the right values. Saul, however, in his obsession with kingship, could not see that.

It was true, of course, that as long as David lived Jonathan would not be established in his kingship, but Jonathan recognised that that was because David was the chosen of YHWH, not because of any lack in himself. And Jonathan had been big enough a man to recognise the fact and accept it. To Saul, however, with his obsession with the kingship, no disaster could have been greater. And so he demanded that Jonathan bring David to him that he might die.

20.32 ‘And Jonathan answered Saul his father, and said to him, “For what reason should he be put to death? What has he done?” ’

It was Jonathan who was keeping his cool, and he therefore replied by asking why a man who had done nothing wrong should be put to death. If his father wanted David to be executed, let him now justify it.

20.33 ‘And Saul cast his spear at him to smite him, by which means Jonathan knew that it was determined by his father to put David to death.’

This reply, to which he had no genuine answer, took Saul’s fury beyond bounds, and raising the ceremonial javelin that he carried as an emblem of his kingship, he hurled it at his son. As we have seen, Saul, as a result of his illness, which kept on interfering with his rational thinking, had got into the habit of expressing his fury precisely in this way when he was over-excited (18.11; 19.10), and he had, in fact, no doubt done it to a number of people when they had annoyed him when he was in one of his bad periods. It was not a genuine attempt to kill them, except perhaps in 19.10, but it did put the person in danger nonetheless. Rather it meant that they had to be sharp in their reactions, which would be expected of courtiers in a military court. And as a result of Saul’s response, Jonathan, who normally had a close relationship with his father, knew, both from this act, and from Saul’s words, that it really did mean that Saul was determined to kill David. Now he could be in no doubt about it. It was clear that his father had gone beyond all reasoning.

Some have questioned whether Saul would have thrown his javelin at his own son, but people who have Saul’s illness do tend to see enemies, especially, when they displease them, in those closest to them, especially when they seem to be acting against what they think is in their best interests. Thus in that moment he saw Jonathan as the one who was trying to thwart him and demonstrated what he thought by his action. For those who have experience of people with such an illness this would come as no surprise at all.

20.34 ‘So Jonathan arose from the table in fierce anger, and ate no food the second day of the month, for he was grieved for David, because his father had behaved shamefully towards him (literally ‘had done him shame’).’

The recognition of his father’s attitude filled him with anger, and as we have seen he was not a man to be easily angered. Rising from the table he refused any food, seeking to demonstrate by that fact that in his view there was at present nothing to be thankful about. He was expressing as openly as he dared his displeasure at what Saul was doing. For he was grieved for David, and for the shameful way in which Saul was behaving towards him.

We note from all this the writer’s intention, both to emphasise David’s innocence, and to emphasise the fact that YHWH had destined him for the kingship. Although it was not yet openly known, he wanted his readers to know continually that David was the Lord’s Anointed and was now the one on whom was the Spirit of YHWH.

Jonathan Bids Farewell To David (20.35-42).

Recognising that there was now no alternative open to them Jonathan made his way to his rendezvous with David at the time appointed, taking with him his bow and arrows, and a young lad as his servant, in order to give the impression that he was simply going out for some target practise. And there he bade farewell to David, with a reminder of the covenant that was between them. It was the last time they would meet face to face.

Analysis.

  • a And it came about that in the morning Jonathan went out into the countryside at the time appointed with David, and a little lad with him (20.35).
  • b And he said to his lad, “Run, find now the arrows which I shoot.” And as the lad ran, he shot an arrow beyond him. And when the lad was come to the place of the arrow which Jonathan had shot, Jonathan cried after the lad, and said, “Is not the arrow beyond you?” (20.36-37).
  • c And Jonathan cried after the lad, “Make speed, hurry, do not stop.” And Jonathan’s lad gathered up the arrows, and came to his master (20.38).
  • d But the lad did not know anything. Only Jonathan and David knew the matter (20.39).
  • c And Jonathan gave his weapons to his lad, and said to him, “Go, carry them to the city.” And as soon as the lad was gone, David arose out of a place toward the South, and fell on his face to the ground, and bowed himself three times, and they kissed one another, and wept one with another, until David exceeded (wept the more profusely) (20.40-41).
  • b And Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, forasmuch as we have sworn both of us in the name of YHWH, saying, “YHWH shall be between me and you, and between my seed and your seed, for ever” (20.42a).
  • a And he arose and departed, and Jonathan went into the city (20.42b).

Note that in ‘a’ Jonathan went into the countryside, and in the parallel he returned to the city. In ‘b’ Jonathan indicates firmly by his arrows that David is to depart, and in the parallel he tells him to go in peace. In ‘c’ the lad gathers up the arrows and comes to his master, and in the parallel he takes his weapons into the city. Centrally in ‘d’ the lad knows nothing about the matter. Only Jonathan and David knew.

20.35 ‘And it came about that in the morning Jonathan went out into the countryside at the time appointed with David, and a little lad with him.’

At the time which Jonathan had appointed for his rendezvous with David he went out into the countryside. He took with him his bow and arrows, and a servant lad to gather up the arrows. He was seeking to give the impression that he was going out for target practise so that no one would suspect his real motive.

20.36 ‘And he said to his lad, “Run, find now the arrows which I shoot.” And as the lad ran, he shot an arrow beyond him.’

Once he had reached the spot near the rock Ezel (verse 19) he called on the servant lad to collect the arrows once he had fired them. And as the servant lad ran into position he shot an arrow beyond him. This was in order to indicate to David that he should flee for his life.

20.37 ‘And when the lad was come to the place of the arrow which Jonathan had shot, Jonathan cried after the lad, and said, “Is not the arrow beyond you?” ’

When the land reached the spot where the arrow had fallen Jonathan called out, “Is not the arrow beyond you?” He wanted to ensure that David had got the message.

20.38 ‘And Jonathan cried after the lad, “Make speed, hurry, do not stop.” And Jonathan’s lad gathered up the arrows, and came to his master.’

Then he called again to the lad, “Make speed, hurry, do not stop.” But really his words were for David. Meanwhile the unsuspecting lad gathered up the arrows, possibly feeling that his master was a bit out of sorts on this particular day.

20.39 ‘But the lad did not know anything. Only Jonathan and David knew the matter.’

The writer then emphasises that the lad knew nothing, and that only Jonathan and David knew, for what Jonathan was doing could have been interpreted as treason.

20.40 ‘And Jonathan gave his weapons to his lad, and said to him, “Go, carry them to the city.” ’

Satisfied that he had not been followed Jonathan then decided that he would say a proper ‘goodbye’ to David, and giving his bow and arrows to the servant he told him to take them into the city.

20.41 ‘And as soon as the lad was gone, David arose out of a place toward the South, and fell on his face to the ground, and bowed himself three times, and they kissed one another, and wept one with another, until David exceeded (wept the more profusely).’

Then as soon as the lad had gone, David came out from his hiding place and expressed his love and respect for Jonathan by falling on his face to the ground and bowing three times. Strictly speaking he would have knelt down and bowed his head to the ground three times, a typical oriental greeting to a superior. It should be noted that David never took advantage of their friendship in such a way as to dishonour Jonathan. Then they kissed one another in a comradely way, and both wept. And David wept the most profusely. It was after all he who was leaving, never to return while Jonathan was alive..

20.42a ‘And Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, forasmuch as we have sworn both of us in the name of YHWH, saying, “YHWH shall be between me and you, and between my seed and your seed, for ever.”

Then Jonathan said his farewell. ‘Go in peace’ was a typical Israelite farewell. But poignancy was added to it by reminding David that there was peace between them because of the covenant that they had with each other, a peace made sure because they had sworn to each other in the name of YHWH. And he called to mind their compact of permanent friendship, not only between them, but between those who would follow them. David would fulfil his part in this when he slew the murderers of Ishbosheth (2 Samuel 4.6-12) and took Mephibosheth under his wing (2 Samuel 9.7-8).

20.42b ‘And he arose and departed, and Jonathan went into the city.’

Their farewells tearfully ended David arose and departed, from that time on an outlaw through no fault of his own, and Jonathan returned to the city. They would meet once more after this occasion, when Jonathan sought David out to assure him of his continued support (23.15-18).

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Further free Bible articles and commentaries

Commentary on Samuel - Contents

1 Samuel 1.1-4.1a The Birth of Samuel And His Subsequent Career

1 Samuel 4.1b-8.22 The Movements of the Ark of God and the Judgeship of Samuel

1 Samuel 9.1-12.25 Saul Becomes King

1 Samuel 13-15 The Downfall Of Saul

1 Samuel 16.1-18.4 David Is Anointed And Slays Goliath

1 Samuel 21.1-22.23 The Murder of The Priests, David Builds a Private Army

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