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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 20

Gray's Concise Bible CommentaryGray's Concise Commentary

Verses 1-42


JEALOUSY AND FEAR (1 Samuel 18:0 )

Jonathan’s love for David is put to a serious test, but is found genuine. On the homeward march from the victory over the Philistines, the women of Israel, following oriental custom, met the warriors and accompanied them along the road, singing and dancing. But their joy outran their judgment, so that they praised David more than their king. A better man than Saul could scarcely have resisted the temptation to envy, sinful as it was (1 Samuel 18:6-9 ).

No wonder his malady returned and made him a murderer in his heart (1 Samuel 18:10-11 ). When it is said “he prophesied,” it cannot be that he was the mouthpiece of God, but as the term denotes, one under the influence of either a good or bad spirit; the probability is he was in a kind of frenzy. In religious meetings, where some have professed miraculous tongues, a similar phenomenon has been witnessed. There has been prophesying, and some have supposed it was God speaking; but events have proven otherwise, for there are evil spirits in the universe as well as good, and, if possible, they would “deceive the very elect.”

Saul would give David a military commission, but he would no longer retain him at the court (1 Samuel 18:12-13 ). David had merited the king’s eldest daughter in marriage (17:25); but this is now forgotten and, like Jacob with Laban, he must do more to obtain her. Nor is this enough (1 Samuel 18:17-19 ). Another snare is set for him in the case of the younger daughter (1 Samuel 18:20-25 ), for to slay one hundred Philistines, in order to their circumcision, meant a hazard that might easily have resulted in his death.

No wonder Saul was afraid of him (1 Samuel 18:29 ), for supernatural power was exerted on his behalf continually, and nothing could prevent his accession to the throne. Of course the wisdom of his behavior, the self-control he showed in the face of danger, at Saul’s hands, was equally the gift of God.

THE STRATEGY OF LOVE (1 Samuel 19:0 )

The story of this chapter is plain. For the incident of 1 Samuel 19:12 , compare Joshua 2:15 . Michal’s subterfuge (1 Samuel 19:17 ) is justifiable though its recital in the record is not necessarily a divine approval. Look for Ramah on the map, northeast of Jerusalem and a bit south of Bethel. The meaning of “prophesied” in 1 Samuel 19:20 may be similar to that expressed above concerning Saul; yet it is more likely that the influence of the sacred exercises produced an effect that made them unable to discharge their commission, led by a resistless impulse to join in praising God. “Stripping off his clothes” (1 Samuel 19:24 ) is to be understood of his armor and outer robes, as he lay in a trance.

THE FAITHFUL FRIEND (1 Samuel 20:0 )

The beginning of a new moon was celebrated by sacrifices and feasting at which all the family were expected to be present (1 Samuel 20:5 ). But David’s excuse for visiting his old home was a good one, since a “yearly sacrifice” seemed more important than a monthly one (1 Samuel 20:6 ).

Notice the renewal of the covenant between Jonathan and David at this time, and the project of its terms beyond the lifetime of the former who, with a prophet’s eye, saw the outcome of the struggle in which his father and his friend were engaged (1 Samuel 20:12-17 ).

“Clean” (1 Samuel 20:26 ) has reference to some ceremonial law such as was studied in Leviticus. The reproach of Jonathan’s mother (1 Samuel 20:30 ) was not a reflection upon her character necessarily, but a stronger way of insulting the son than to fling a charge against him personally. The phrase has been rendered “thou son of perverse rebellion,” with the reference to “woman” omitted. The last expression of the verse is a Middle East way of saying that the son’s conduct would bring shame on the mother.

“Artillery” (1 Samuel 20:40 ) is “weapons” in the Revised Version. The French “artillerie” signifies “archery,” a term still used in England of an association of archers who long since disused bows and arrows.

The closing verses are an affecting conclusion of a chapter in the lives of two of the best and greatest men who ever lived.


1. What mistake did the Hebrew women make?

2. What is meant by “prophesied” in Saul’s case?

3. What illustration of Saul’s perfidy toward David does this lesson contain?

4. Did Saul’s fear of David arise from natural or supernatural causes?

5. Have you identified Ramah?

6. What indicates Jonathan’s conviction that David, rather than he, would ascend the throne?

7. What does artillery mean?

Bibliographical Information
Gray, James. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 20". Gray's Concise Bible Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jgc/1-samuel-20.html. 1897-1910.
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