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Saturday, July 13th, 2024
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14
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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 20

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

And David fled from Naioth in Ramah, and came and said before Jonathan, What have I done? what is mine iniquity? and what is my sin before thy father, that he seeketh my life?

David fled from Naioth in Ramah, and came and said before Jonathan. He could not remain in Naioth, because he had strong reason to fear that when the religious fit, if we may so call it, was ever, Saul would relapse into his usual fell and sanguinary temper. It may be thought that David acted imprudently in directing his flight to Gibeah. But he was evidently prompted to go there by the most generous feelings, to inform his friend of what had recently occurred, and to obtain that friend's sanction to the course he was compelled to adopt. Jonathan could not be persuaded there was any real danger after the oath his father had taken; at all events, he felt assured his father would do nothing without telling him. Filial attachment naturally blinded the prince to defects in the parental character, and made him reluctant to believe his father capable of such atrocity. David repeated his unshaken convictions of Saul's murderous purpose, confirming his declaration by a special form of oath, which occurs here for the first time, but in terms delicately chosen (1 Samuel 20:3) not to wound the filial feelings of his friend; while Jonathan, clinging, it would seem, to a hope that the extraordinary scene enacted at Naioth might have worked a sanctified improvement on Saul's temper and feelings, undertook to inform David of the result of his observations at home.

Verses 2-4

And he said unto him God forbid; thou shalt not die: behold my father will do nothing either great or And he said unto him, God forbid; thou shalt not die: behold, my father will do nothing either great or small, but that he will shew it me: and why should my father hide this thing from me? it is not so.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 5

And David said unto Jonathan, Behold, to morrow 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 unto the third day at even.

Tomorrow is the new moon. The beginning of a new month or moon was always celebrated by special sacrifices, followed by feasting, at which the head of a family expected all its members to be present. David, both as the king's son-in-law and a distinguished courtier, dined on such occasions at the royal table; and from its being generally known that David had returned to Gibeah, his presence in the palace would be naturally expected. This occasion was chosen by the two friends for testing the king's state of feeling. As a suitable pretext for David's absence, it was arranged that he should visit his family at Beth-lehem, and thus create an opportunity of ascertaining how his non-appearance would be viewed. The time and place were fixed for Jonathan reporting to David; but as circumstances might render another interview unsafe, it was deemed expedient to communicate by a concerted signal.

Verses 6-10

If thy father at all miss me, then say, David earnestly asked leave of me that he might run to Bethlehem his city: for there is a yearly sacrifice there for all the family.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 11

And Jonathan said unto David, Come, and let us go out into the field. And they went out both of them into the field.

Jonathan said ... Come, and let us go out into the field. The scene of this memorable conference was, as Porter describes ('Handbook,' p. 324), 'a shallow valley between Gibeah (Tell el-Fulil) and Nob, breaking down on the east in rocky declivities into Wady Suleim. Behind some of the rocks in it David could easily lie hid, and yet see Jonathan descending from the city above.' The private dialogue which is here detailed at full length presents a most beautiful exhibition of these two amiable and noble-minded friends. Jonathan was led, in the circumstances, to be the chief speaker. The strength of his attachment, his pure disinterestedness, his warm piety, his invocation to God-consisting of a prayer and a solemn oath combined-the calm and full expression he gave of his conviction that his own family were, by the divine will, to be disinherited, and David elevated to the possession of the throne; the covenant entered into with David on behalf of his descendants, and the imprecation (1 Samuel 20:16) denounced on any of them who should violate his part of the conditions; the reiteration of this covenant on both sides (1 Samuel 20:17), to make it indissoluble-all this indicates such a power of mutual affection, such magnetic attractiveness in the character of David, such susceptibility and elevation of feeling in the heart of Jonathan, that this interview, for dramatic interest and moral beauty, stands unrivaled in the records of human friendship.

Verses 12-17

And Jonathan said unto David, O LORD God of Israel, when I have sounded my father about to morrow any time, or the third day, and, behold, if there be good toward David, and I then send not unto thee, and shew it thee;

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 18

Then Jonathan said to David, To morrow is the new moon: and thou shalt be missed, because thy seat will be empty.

Tomorrow is the new moon, [ chodesh (H2320)]. The first day of the lunar month was held as a festival among the Hebrews.

Verse 19

And when thou hast stayed three days, then thou shalt go down quickly, and come to the place where thou didst hide thyself when the business was in hand, and shalt remain by the stone Ezel.

When thou hast stayed three days either with your family at Beth lehem or wherever you find it When thou hast stayed three days - either with your family at Beth-lehem, or wherever you find it convenient.

Where thou didst hide thyself when the business was in hand - Hebrew, 'in the day or time of the business,' when the same matter was under inquiry formerly (1 Samuel 19:22).

Remain by the stone Ezel, [ haa-'Aazel (H237)] - the stone of departure (Gesenius); so called, probably, from its being the spot whence David separated from his friend. He was to conceal himself in some cave or hiding-place near that spot.

Verses 20-22

And I will shoot three arrows on the side thereof, as though I shot at a mark.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 23

And as touching the matter which thou and I have spoken of, behold, the LORD be between thee and me for ever.

As touching the matter which thou and I have spoken of. The plan being concerted, the friends separated for a time, and the amiable character of Jonathan again peers out in his parting allusion to their covenant of friendship.

Verse 24

So David hid himself in the field: and when the new moon was come, the king sat him down to eat meat.

The king sat him down to eat meat, [ lechem (H3899)] - food, bread. The English word "meat," at the time when the present English transition of the Bible was made, was applied to farinaceous as to animal substances. [The Septuagint has: kai erchetai ho basileus epi teen trapezan tou fagein, the king comes to the four-footed table to eat.] Perhaps, like Joseph, he had a small table for himself, or for a few of his chief officers.

Verse 25

And the king sat upon his seat, as at other times, even upon a seat by the wall: and Jonathan arose, and Abner sat by Saul's side, and David's place was empty.

The king sat upon his seat, as at other times ... by the wall. The left-hand grainer at the at the upper end of a room was, and still is, in the East, the most honourable place. The person seated there has his left arm confined by the wall, but his right hand is at full liberty. From Abner's position next the king, and David's seat being left empty, it would seem that a state etiquette was observed at the royal table, each of the courtiers and ministers having places assigned them according to their respective gradations of rank. Jonathan, as prince, had of course the highest seat; Abner was captain of the host, or commander-in-chief; and David was successively armour-bearer to the king (1 Samuel 16:21; 1 Samuel 18:2), captain over a thousand (1 Samuel 18:13), and on his becoming Saul's son-in-law, he had been promoted, as Ewald explains this passage (cf. 1 Samuel 22:14), to the dignified office of captain of the royal body-guard. These three were the most honoured guest on state occasions at Saul's table.

Jonathan arose - either as a mark of respect on the entrance of the king, or in conformity with the usual Oriental custom for a son to stand in prance of his father. [The Septuagint has: kai proefthase ton Ioonathan, and he went before, or he faced, Jonathan.]

Verse 26

Nevertheless Saul spake not any thing that day: for he thought, Something hath befallen him, he is not clean; surely he is not clean.

He is not clean. No notice was taken of David's absence, as he might be labouring under some ceremonial defilement.

Verse 27

And it came to pass on the morrow, which was the second day of the month, that David's place was empty: and Saul said unto Jonathan his son, Wherefore cometh not the son of Jesse to meat, neither yesterday, nor to day?

On the morrow, which was the second day of the month. The time of the moon's appearance being uncertain, whether at mid-day, in the evening, or at midnight, the festival was extended over two days. Custom, not the law, had introduced this.

Saul said unto Jonathan ... Wherefore cometh not the son of Jesse? The question was asked, as it were, casually, and with as great an air of indifference as he could assume. And Jonathan having replied that David had asked and obtained his permission to attend a family anniversary at Beth-lehem, the pent-up passions of the king, who penetrated the prince's policy, burst out in a most violent storm of rage and invective against his son.

Verses 28-29

And Jonathan answered Saul, David earnestly asked leave of me to go to Bethlehem:

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 30

Then Saul's anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said unto him, Thou son of the perverse rebellious woman, do not I know that thou hast chosen the son of Jesse to thine own confusion, and unto the confusion of thy mother's nakedness?

Thou son of the perverse rebellious woman. This is a striking Oriental form of abuse (see an instance, Bovet, 'Voyage en Terre Sainte,' p. 77), the counterpart of that ancient benediction, Luke 11:27. Saul was not angry with his wife; it was the son alone upon whom he meant, by this style of address, to discharge his resentment; and the principle on which it is rounded seems to be, that to a genuine filial instinct it is a more inexpiable offence to hear the name or character of a parent traduced than any personal reproach. In every Eastern family the great object of respect and devotion is the mother. There are familiar expressions which show this very strongly. 'Pull my father's beard, but do not speak ill of my mother.' 'Strike me, but do not curse my mother' (Urquhart's 'Spirit of the East). This was, undoubtedly, one cause of 'the fierce anger' in which the high-minded prince left the table without tasting a morsel.

Verses 31-32

For as long as the son of Jesse liveth upon the ground, thou shalt not be established, nor thy kingdom. Wherefore now send and fetch him unto me, for he shall surely die. No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 33

And Saul cast a javelin at him to smite him: whereby Jonathan knew that it was determined of his father to slay David.

And Saul cast a javelin at him to smite him. The ordinary way in which commentators understand this clause is with reference to Jonathan; and accordingly the usual heading of the chapter in the English Bible is, 'Saul seeketh to kill Jonathan.' But bad as the character of Saul was, and violent his fits of furious rage, he had never attempted any act like the atrocity of taking his son's life. Supposing, however, that he had made such an unnatural attempt, how could Jonathan know by that cruelty to himself "that it was determined of his father to slay David"? Besides, it appears from the next verse that, after this scene of violence, Jonathan arose from the table with deep but deliberate displeasure, being determined to fast, from grief on account of David. This hardly seems to harmonize with the idea of his having started up from his seat to save his own life, as we must naturally suppose him to have done, if his father aimed a deadly weapon at him across the table. There is no evidence that a javelin was thrown at Jonathan. Let the sentence be read as an interjected parenthesis, in which the sacred historian refers to former attempts upon David's life, as throwing a clear light upon what had now taken place, and all is plain: 'Now Saul had cast a javelin at him to smite him; whereby Jonathan knew that it was determined of his father to slay David.' That is, Jonathan, recollecting the former attempt at assassinating David, was convinced that the present threats of his father were by no means empty words; but, coupling the present with the former scene, could not now doubt that his father did really cherish the deliberate purpose of slaying David. (See an article on this passage, 'Christian Observer,' vol. 14:, pp. 715,


Verse 34

So Jonathan arose from the table in fierce anger, and did eat no meat the second day of the month: for he was grieved for David, because his father had done him shame.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 35

And it came to pass in the morning, that Jonathan went out into the field at the time appointed with David, and a little lad with him.

Jonathan went out into the field at the time appointed - or, 'at the place appointed.'

Verse 36

And he said unto his lad, Run, find out now the arrows which I shoot. And as the lad ran, he shot an arrow beyond him.

He said unto his lad. The direction given aloud to the attendant was the signal preconcerted with David. It implied danger.

Verses 37-39

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 thee?

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 40

And Jonathan gave his artillery unto his lad, and said unto him, Go, carry them to the city.

Gave his artillery - i:e., his missile weapons. The French word 'artillerie' signifies 'archery,' and the term is still used in England, in the designation of the 'artillery company of London,' the association of archers, though they have long disused bows and arrows. Jonathan's boy being despatched out of the way, the friends enjoyed the satisfaction of a final meeting.

Verse 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.

David ... fell on his face ... and bowed himself three times - a token of homage to the prince's rank; but on a close approach, every other consideration was sunk in the full flow of the purest brotherly affection.

Verse 42

And Jonathan said to David, Go in peace, forasmuch as we have sworn both of us in the name of the LORD, saying, The LORD be between me and thee, and between my seed and thy seed for ever. And he arose and departed: and Jonathan went into the city.

Jonathan said to David, Go in peace. The interview being a stolen one, and every moment precious, it was kindness in Jonathan to hasten his friend's departure.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 20". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/1-samuel-20.html. 1871-8.
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