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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 19

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



This chapter reports repeated attempts by Saul to murder David, resulting finally in David’s permanent exile from Saul’s court and his being continually hunted by Saul who forced upon him the status of an outlaw.

The remark of H. P. Smith that this chapter has, “Four sections which cannot be reconciled with each other,”(F1) exemplifies the confusion and frustration which inevitably come from the false theories of “multiple sources.” The chapter actually presents no difficulties whatever.

Verses 1-7


“And Saul spoke to Jonathan his son and to all his servants that they should kill David. But Jonathan, Saul’s son, delighted much in David. And Jonathan told David, “Saul my father seeks to kill you; therefore take heed to yourself in the morning, stay in a secret place, and hide yourself,’ And I will go out and stand beside my father in the field where you are, and I will speak to my father about you; and if I learn anything I will tell you.” And Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father, and said to him, “Let not the king sin against his servant David; because he has not sinned against you, and because his deeds have been of good service to you; for he took his life in his hand and he slew the Philistine, and the Lord wrought a great victory for all Israel. You saw it, and rejoiced; why then will you sin against innocent blood by killing David without a cause”? And Saul hearkened to the voice of Jonathan; Saul swore, “As the Lord lives, he shall not be put to death.” And Jonathan called David and showed him all these things, and he was in his presence as before.”

“And Saul spoke to Jonathan… and all his servants that they should kill David” The despotic wickedness of Saul reaches a climax here. All of his schemes to have David killed by the Philistines having failed, “He here proclaims him an outlaw, and charges all about him upon their allegiance to kill him.”(F2)

We are not given any of the reasons which Saul might have alleged as the basis of this shameful edict against his own son-in-law; but, “He probably accused David of being a traitor and of planning to usurp the throne.”(F3) Whatever reasons he might have claimed as the basis of his shameful declaration, Jonathan intervened, refuted the last one of all such evil allegations, insisted upon David’s innocence, and in return received from Saul a solemn oath in the name of the Lord that David would not be put to death. Before leaving this, we must include the comment of Matthew Henry, who said, “The ease with which Saul had violated other oaths makes the sincerity of this one justly questionable.”(F4)

Verses 8-10


“And there was war again; and David went out and fought with the Philistines, and made a great slaughter among them, so that they fled before him. Then an evil spirit from the Lord came upon Saul as he sat in his house with his spear in his hand.; and David was playing the lyre. And Saul sought to pin David to the wall with his spear; but he eluded Saul, so that he struck the spear into the wall. And David fled, and escaped.”

“And there was war again” This war, like many others, was with the Philistines. This is not a reference to the conflict in which David defeated Goliath, but to one of the campaigns of that long struggle of the Philistines against Saul’s government that finally resulted in its overthrow, ending in Saul’s death. David trusted the solemn oath Saul had sworn to the effect that he should not be put to death; and for some extended time everything seemed to be back to normal.

David’s great victories over the Philistines in this last campaign, however, again triggered the murderous jealousy of Saul, and, in the fit of madness that came upon him, David once more, as in the days of old, was assigned the task of soothing the troubled king.

This episode is not a repetition or a “doublet” of the previous effort of Saul to strike David to death with his spear. There is absolutely no evidence of such a thing.

Jamieson’s eloquent description of what happened here is:

“The fresh laurels which crowned David’s prosecution of the war in this last conflict reawakened in the moody breast of Saul the former spirit of envy and melancholy. Upon David’s return to court, the temper of Saul became more fiendish than ever; the melodious strains of the harp had lost all their power to charm; and in a paroxysm of uncontrollable frenzy, he aimed his spear at the person of David, who providentially made his escape.”(F5)

Matthew Henry suggested the possibility that Saul pretended insanity in this fit of passion, thinking perhaps that he might be excused for David’s murder in the eyes of God and of men, as “being not in his right mind.”(F6)

“An evil spirit from the Lord came upon Saul” “We are not to conclude that God sent an evil spirit, but that he permitted an evil spirit to take possession of Saul. The spirit of envy and jealousy is obviously from the devil.”(F7)

We do not know the exact nature of Saul’s affliction. It was sent upon Saul as a punishment; and with God’s permission, as Adam Clarke thought: “It was made worse by some diabolical influence”(F8)

“David fled, and escaped” “This remark somewhat anticipates the course of events, as the author, according to the custom of Hebrew historians, gives the result at once, and then proceeds to describe in detail the more exact order of events.”(F9)

David escaped that same night, as indicated by the next verse, and thus his first escape was from Saul’s murderous presence to his own residence where he and his wife Michal lived. Later that same night he fled from the city where Saul was.

Verses 11-17


“That night Saul sent messengers to David’s house to watch him, that he might kill him in the morning. But Michal, David’s wife, told him, “If you do not save your life tonight, tomorrow you will be killed. So Michal let David down through the window; and he fled away and escaped. Michal took an image and laid it on the bed and put a pillow of goat’s hair at its head, and covered it with clothes. And when Saul sent messengers to take David, she said, “He is sick.” Then Saul sent the messengers to see David, saying, “Bring him up to me in the bed that I may kill him.” And when the messengers came in, behold, the image was in the bed with the pillow of goat’s hair at its head. Saul said to Michal, “Why have you deceived me thus, and let my enemy go, so that he is escaped”? And Michal answered Saul, “He said to me, “Let me go; why should I kill you”?”

According to the superscription of Psalms 59, David composed that psalm following the occasion of his deliverance reported here.

“That night” “This cannot mean the night of the spear-throwing, for it is said there that David escaped.”(F10) Indeed it does refer to that night, as Keil very adequately explained above. All critical allegations against this chapter are solved by understanding it just as it is written. Another extremely bizarre “interpretation” is that of H. P. Smith who insisted that “the night” here was “the wedding night” of David and Michal.(F11)

“Save your life tonight… tomorrow you will be killed” One may wonder just how Michal had received the information which led to this warning of her husband; but such an incident as the king’s trying to kill his son-in-law would have been reported all over the city in a matter of minutes after it happened.

“Michal let David down through the window” This indicates, of course, that the house of David and Michal was on the city wall, as befitted a member of the king’s family, and therefore, just as Rahab had aided the spies sent out by Joshua, and just as the apostle Paul escaped from Damascus, so David here escaped the fury of Saul’s murderous “messengers” (Joshua 2:15; Acts 9:25).

Saul’s evil influence upon members of his own family is seen in the readiness with which Michal lied to her father, and also her possession of some kind of an idol with the implication that she probably worshipped it. The “teraphim” (the RSV margin) is a plural form with a singular sense, usually meaning household gods.”(F12) This must have been a secret which she kept from David. Nevertheless, one cannot help admiring the noble and courageous action she exhibited in saving her husband’s life.

A great many opinions have been expressed regarding that “image” which Michal put in David’s bed; but when all of the “guesses” have been investigated, we still cannot tell exactly what it resembled. The mention of “teraphim” suggests that the image might have been that of some household god, such as Rachel had stolen from her father Laban. The big point was that it was sufficiently deceptive to allow David a little more time to make good his escape. Josephus relates that, “Michal placed a still moving goat’s liver in the bed to make the messengers believe that there was a breathing invalid beneath.”(F13)

Verses 18-24


“Now David fled and escaped, and he came to Samuel at Ramah, and told him all that Saul had done to him. And he and Samuel went and dwelt at Naioth. And it was told Saul, “Behold, David is at Naioth in Ramah.” Then 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. 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. Then he himself went to Ramah, and came to the great well that is in Secu; and he asked, “Where are Samuel and David”’? And one said, “Behold, they are at Naioth in Ramah; and the Spirit of God came upon him also, and as he went he prophesied, until he came to Naioth in Ramah. And he too stripped off his clothes, and he too prophesied before Samuel and lay naked all that day and all that night. Hence, it is said, `Is Saul also among the prophets’?”

“And David came to Samuel in Ramah” David was in a terrifying position. Although innocent of any wrong-doing, Saul had designated him as an outlaw and devoted the resources of the whole kingdom of Israel to the task of hunting David down and killing him. Samuel was a true prophet of God, and David sought him out for advice and protection. “In flying to Samuel, David made God his refuge, trusting in the shadow of his wings. Where else can a good man go and feel himself safe”?(F14)

“He and Samuel went and dwelt at Naioth” Samuel’s first protective move after David’s arrival was to change the residence of both of them to Naioth. “No such place as that is known, but the word means `dwellings.’(F15) It is revealed a little later that it was “in Ramah” (1 Samuel 19:22), and it seems likely that W. H. Bennett’s opinion that, “It was the quarter of the town (of Ramah) inhabited by the prophets,”(F16) is correct. This, of course, would have been considered a sacred area by the people; and it seems likely that Samuel moved himself and David into that area as a protection against Saul. However, events quickly revealed that no area, no matter how “holy,” was safe from the intrusion of the murderous Saul.

Saul sent three different companies of “messengers,” in all probability bands of armed soldiers, to go and arrest David; and none of them was able to do it.

“When they saw the company of the prophets prophesying” This was probably the most disgusting thing imaginable that could have happened to a band of Saul’s soldiers. We are told absolutely nothing about the nature of this demonstration which overcame the armed “messengers”; but, whatever it was, it made it impossible for them to proceed with their mission to arrest David.

Not only the three different companies of messengers were stopped by this outburst of prophesying; but, “Even Saul himself was incapacitated by the prophetic seizure.”(F17)

One is reminded of what happened to the armed detachment that approached Jesus Christ in Gethsemane for the purpose of arresting Jesus. They all fell flat upon their faces in his presence (John 18:6).

The triple wonder of all this is that it happened three times to the different groups of messengers, and then a fourth time to the king himself! One can only imagine what a ridiculous figure he cut lying there stark naked on the ground all day and all night! Yes, God was looking after David. We are amused at the efforts of commentators who try to cover up Saul’s nakedness by insisting that, “he still had on his underclothes.”(F18) Well, maybe! However, when daylight came Saul must have been a lot more interested in finding his britches than in finding David.

“Then he himself went to Ramah, and came to the great well that is in Secu” In this verse, Saul is taking things into his own hands and is on the way to Ramah to arrest David himself! “Secu” here may have been. “The large cistern or tank that was there.”(F19)

Regarding the school of the prophets which appears at Nairoth, which had been founded and organized by Samuel, we probably have in this the beginning of that class of persons known in later ages as “the scribes” of Israel. In fact, “The Chaldee Paraphrast calls these prophets `scribes’; and doubtless these persons educated in Samuel’s schools held an analogous position to that of the scribes in later days.”(F20)

“Is Saul also among the prophets” This expression is found not only in this passage, but in 1 Samuel 10:1-13 also; and the type of commentator who cannot find anything in the Bible except “doublets” and duplicate accounts from “different sources” seize upon this at once as another example of what they are always seeking.

However, as Dr. John Willis stated it, “There is no compelling reason to deny the historicity of both passages.”(F21) The first use of the expression, “Is Saul also among the prophets,” was apparently used to enhance Saul’s reputation, but not so in this instance of it. Again from Willis:

“The powerful king of Israel was rendered powerless by divine intervention and made to prophesy against his will; and David’s supporters and Saul’s opponents asked mockingly, `Is Saul also among the prophets’?”(F22)

Payne also warned us against accepting the allegation that this is a duplicate of the former instance. “It is not a duplicate, but a deliberate repetition to show that such characteristics marked Saul’s whole career. `Going too far’ was his constant failing.”(F23)

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 19". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/1-samuel-19.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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