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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 20

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-10

First Samuel - Chapter 20

Enlisting Jonathan’s Aid, vs. 1-10

Why did David leave Samuel? The reason is not given, though it may have been out of concern for endangering the old prophet’s life. Then, too, it appears that David still hoped for a reconciliation with Saul. He came secretly to Gibeah and met with Jonathan to seek out Saul’s reason for his attempts on David’s life. David was aware that Saul’s animosity went beyond the fact of his madness or even jealousy over his popularity. Though David had been anointed king, Saul must not have been aware of that, and David had made no attempt to usurp the throne.

Saul had not, however, intimated to Jonathan any reason, and his son could not accept that his father actually wished to kill David. He knew of no reason Saul would want to kill David and felt that if he had intended to do so he would have discussed it with Jonathan. David,

though, was sure that Saul’s intent had been to hide his purpose from Jonathan because he was aware of their friendship. David uttered words pregnant with meaning for everyone when he replied to Jonathan, "Truly as the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, there is but a step between me and death." The words, of course, are true in a sense of every person, and are especially of the soul which has not trusted in Christ.

When Jonathan agreed to help David in whatever way he desired, David reminded Jonathan of the requirement that all the household of Saul meet together at table each new moon (or month). The next day was the time for this, so David suggested a means by which Saul’s intentions might be ascertained. David would hide in the field for three days, and Saul would inquire of his whereabouts. Jonathan would reply that he had given David permission to return to Bethlehem for a yearly feast with his family. If Saul responded favorably it would bid well for David, but if he became very angry it would show that he intended evil against him. David pled for Jonathan’s help on the basis of the covenant, asking that Jonathan himself put him to death if there was iniquity in him. Jonathan assured David that he would surely tell him if Saul meant him harm, and they proceeded to lay plans whereby David could be informed of the outcome of the test.

Verses 11-23

David and Jonathan Renew Covenant, vs. 11-23

At this point Jonathan took over the planning. When he had gone with David into the field he proposed his plan, beginning with a renewal of the covenant and oath they had formerly made with each other. He swore the Israelite’s most stringent oath, by his own life, to be required of him by the Lord if he should fail to keep it. By his oath Jonathan promised to inform David of his father, Saul’s intent whether good or evil.

As Jonathan proceeded it became apparent once more that he fully expected David to be king of Israel and seems happy in it. He prayed the blessing of the Lord on David as the Lord had blessed his father, for the Lord had blessed Saul abundantly so long as he was in the Lord’s way. But Jonathan could also foresee possible trying times for his own family before David should become king. With his father in opposition, Jonathan would be caught in the middle, and his family could suffer at the hands of a succeeding’ king who might feel it necessary to exterminate the members of the rejected king’s house.

Therefore, Jonathan required David to swear that he would treat Jonathan kindly while he yet lived and also that he would befriend Jonathan’s descendants for ever. At some future time when David had overcome all his enemies he was asked to remember Jonathan’s friendship. The reference of Jonathan’s great love for David certainly seems to imply the great respect Jonathan had for the Lord and thus for the man the Lord had chosen to be king instead of his father.

So the plan for informing David of Saul’s intentions toward him were formulated. Jonathan mentioned the fact that David’s seat would be empty at the king’s table on the next day, when according to protocol he should be there. There is a lesson here for God’s people who are expected to be in their places in the Lord’s service at appointed times. Three days were to elapse to find out Saul’s intentions, after which David should proceed to the stone of Ezel, where he had previously hidden. Jonathan would come with a boy, pretending to be practicing his archery. He would shoot arrows and send the boy for them. If he should say to the boy, "The arrows are to your side," it would mean that all was well. But if Jonathan said, "The arrows are beyond thee," David should hastily flee, for the Lord was sending him away from harm’s danger. As for the covenant between them, Jonathan said, "The Lord be between thee and me," or that the Lord watch over both.

Verses 24-34

Saul Attempts to Slay Jonathan, vs. 24-34

The plan proceeded as intended. It appears that David had been admitted to a very elite circle by virtue of having become the king’s son-in-law. While on the first day of the new moon (month) David hid in the field the rest of the circle met according to custom. The king took his seat first next to the wall; Jonathan and Abner, captain of the host, waited upon him, and David’s seat was empty, as planned. On this first day Saul said nothing, supposing that David had some ceremonial uncleanness which prevented his attendance.

The question arises as to why Saul should have expected David to be there after he had previously sought to kill him. It may have been that in the past David had more or less overlooked the king’s periodic seizures and continued as usual after an interval. Thus Saul expected this again. Even Jonathan seems to have thought his father’s behavior was only the product of temporary insanity. Of course, it had gone so far that David feared for his life in Saul’s presence.

On the second day, finding David’s place still empty, Saul inquired of Jonathan why the "son of Jesse" had absented himself for two days. Saul’s reference to David as the "son of Jesse" must have been an expression of his contempt for David as the son of a little ­known poor man. The Scriptures do imply the poverty of David’s family, which might be surprising inasmuch as he was descended from Boaz, who was a well-to-do farmer of Bethlehem as revealed in the Book of Ruth. It is well to remember, however, that Obed, the first son of Boaz and Ruth, was legally the son of Mahlon, the son of Naomi, by the law of levirate marriage (De 25:5-10), and his inheritance was meager.

Jonathan answered his father’s inquiry according to the story devised by himself and David, that David’s brother had commanded him to attend a family feast in Bethlehem, and Jonathan had granted him permission. Saul did not believe the false story, and his extreme wrath showed that he had hoped David would innocently return as before to the king’s table. Then he planned to seize and put him to death. Saul cursed Jonathan his son as the offspring of a bad woman who was putting his mother to shame by his espousal of David. He then commanded Jonathan to send and bring David from his hiding place that he might be put to death for Jonathan’s own best interest. For Jonathan could never be established over the kingdom so long as the "son of Jesse" lived.

Jonathan challenged his father to produce a reason why David should be slain, whereupon Saul seized the ever-ready javelin and hurled it at his own son to kill him. Jonathan arose in great anger and ate nothing that day out of grief for David and the shame Saul had done him.

Verses 35-42

Jonathan Warns David, vs. 35-42

Early on the third morning, according to his promise and in keeping with his oath to David, Jonathan went to their rendezvous at the stone of Ezel. He had the little lad with him to chase the arrows. As the boy ran into the field to retrieve the arrows Jonathan shot an arrow beyond him, and cried to him, "Make speed, haste, stay not." Of course the boy thought Jonathan was urging him on, but the words were primarily warning to David that his life was, indeed, in danger from Saul.

When the boy returned the arrows Jonathan gave him the bow and arrows and sent him back into the city with them. When he had gone David came out of hiding to meet Jonathan and did homage to the prince by bowing before him three times to the ground. This showed David’s respect for Jonathan as the son of the king and also his gratitude to him for helping him to escape the clutches of Saul.

David and Jonathan kissed each other and fell on each other and wept. David wept more than Jonathan, for he was facing a very uncertain future, a fugitive from Saul and separated from his young wife. He would never be entirely secure so long as Saul lived, and he would be estranged from Jonathan, his benefactor. He would have no certain home, or dwelling of any kind. But Jonathan bade David go in peace and to remember the bond between them, with the Lord watching over them. So they parted.

Lessons from chapter twenty: 1) The Lord often blesses with friends for troubled times; 2) friends ought to be mutually interested in the welfare of each other and their families; 3) an empty seat can be a matter of great concern in the Lord’s house; 4) family ties often cause one to seek to believe the best about a family member; 5) demon possession can make one seek to destroy those he loves; 6) parting of friends is sad, but they can be comforted by both relying on the Lord.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 20". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/1-samuel-20.html. 1985.
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