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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 20

Kretzmann's Popular Commentary of the BibleKretzmann's Commentary

Verses 1-23

Conference between David and Jonathan

v. 1. And David fled from Naioth in Ramah, from the enclosure in which the seminary of the prophets was located, and came and said before Jonathan, with whom he was united in the closest and firmest friendship, 1 Samuel 18:1-4, What have I done? What is mine iniquity? and what is my sin before thy father that he seeketh my life? The threefold question by which he appealed to the personal knowledge of Jonathan was a threefold denial of any fault on his part.

v. 2. And he, Jonathan, said unto him, God forbid, that is, By no means; thou shalt not die, this is not only the assurance of a friend, but of a prince. Behold, my father will do nothing, either great or small, absolutely nothing, but that he will show it me, he uncovered or revealed, talked over, all his plans with Jonathan as the heir apparent to the throne. And why should my father hide this thing from me? It is not so; he was sure that Saul had not again determined upon the destruction of David at any cost.

v. 3. And David, whose experience with Saul had taught him to estimate the true state of affairs more correctly, sware moreover, in addition to what he had said to Jonathan, and said, Thy father certainly knoweth that I have found grace in thine eyes, the kindly feeling of his son for David could not have escaped his observation; and he saith, Let not Jonathan know this lest he be grieved; but truly, as the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, the double oath expressing the gravity of the situation as he saw it, there is but a step, hardly as much as a step, between me and death. "The picture is of a precipice, from which he is only a step removed, over which he may any moment be plunged. " (Lange. )

v. 4. Then said Jonathan unto David, Whatsoever thy soul desireth, I will even do it for thee, he would be glad to fulfill David's every wish, every thought.

v. 5. And David said unto Jonathan, Behold, tomorrow is the new moon, a minor, but joyful festival of the Jewish church-year, connected with a cheerful meal, Numbers 10:10; Numbers 28:11-15, and I should not fail to sit with the king at meat, as custom required it; but let me go, Jonathan should consent to his remaining away deliberately, that I may hide myself in the field unto the third day at even, for according to David's plan so much time was required to find out the disposition of the king.

v. 6. 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, a celebration with a sacrificial meal, for such celebrations at that time, when the Tabernacle had been desecrated by the removal of the ark, were held in various parts of the country.

v. 7. If he say thus, It is well; thy servant shall have peace, it would be evident that Saul's hostile disposition showed itself only during his attacks of rage; but if he be very wroth, then be sure that evil is determined by him, that the destruction of David was a settled thing in Saul's mind.

v. 8. Therefore thou shalt deal kindly with thy servant, show him merciful kindness; for thou hast brought thy servant into a covenant of the Lord with thee; it was on the basis of this covenant of friendship that David appealed to Jonathan. Notwithstanding, if there be in me iniquity, slay me thyself, in case of a trespass on his part, he would rather die by the hand of his friend; for why shouldest thou bring me to thy father?

v. 9. And Jonathan said, Far be it from thee, there was no sin for which David was bound to atone by death; for if I knew certainly that evil were determined by my father to come upon thee, then would not I tell it thee? It is a solemn protestation, with the force of an oath.

v. 10. Then said David to Jonathan, Who shall tell me? He wondered how he could get the information about Saul's decree concerning himself, for the matter was too delicate to be entrusted to a servant. Or what if thy father answer thee roughly? There was great danger that Saul would deal harshly with Jonathan in case he would make known his evil plans to David and this fact come to the knowledge of the king.

v. 11. And Jonathan said unto David, Come, and let us go out into the field, where they would be away from observation, not in danger of being overheard, and where Jonathan might point out to David a hiding place which he had in mind for his own plan. And they went out, both of them, into the field.

v. 12. And Jonathan said unto David, in a solemn invocation and vow before Jehovah, O Lord God of Israel, when I have sounded, searched out, gotten the information from, my father about tomorrow any time or the third day, and, behold, if there be good toward David, and I then send not unto thee, and show it thee,

v. 13. the Lord do so and much more to Jonathan. Jonathan most. solemnly promised that he would immediately inform David in case Saul was favorably disposed toward him. But if it please my father to do thee evil, then I will show it thee and send thee away, that thou mayest go in peace, he would not even entrust the message to a servant, but would come in person to impress his warning upon his friend's mind and to make arrangements for his escape; and the Lord be with thee, as he hath been with my father, a wish which indicates that Jonathan may have guessed the true situation of affairs.

v. 14. And thou shalt not only while yet I live show me the kindness of the Lord, that I die not, in case he should enter upon his royal office before Jonathan's death;

v. 15. but also thou shalt not cut off thy kindness from my house forever, kindness of the nature shown by Jehovah, the covenant God, to His people; no, not when the Lord hath cut off the enemies of David, every one, from the face of the earth. Although Jonathan was a member of Saul's house, who was an enemy of David, he himself was united with David by the bonds of the truest friendship, and therefore wanted both himself and his children spared when David's time of revenge would come.

v. 16. So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, Let the Lord even require it at the hand of David's enemies, namely, by punishing all those who opposed him, for this Jonathan foresaw.

v. 17. And Jonathan caused David to swear again, adjuring David to fulfill this last request, because he loved him, making his love toward David the ground of his request; for he loved him as he loved his own soul, 1 Samuel 18:1.

v. 18. Then Jonathan said to David, Tomorrow is the new moon; and thou shalt be missed, because thy seat, at the table of the king, will be empty.

v. 19. And when thou hast stayed three days, on the third day, then thou shalt go down quickly, on account of the danger of being observed, and come to the place where thou didst hide thyself when the business was in hand, when Jonathan, near that spot, had changed the murderous intention of Saul, 1 Samuel 19:2, and shalt remain by the stone Ezel, evidently a well-known landmark.

v. 20. And I will shoot three arrows on the side thereof, as though I shot at a mark, three arrows being taken because some other archer might shoot just one. or two by chance, but surely not three.

v. 21. And, behold, I will send a lad, saying, Go find out, fetch, the arrows. If I expressly say unto the lad, Behold, the arrows are on this side of thee, take them; then come thou; for there is peace to thee, and no hurt, as the Lord liveth. Just as the boy would come nearer to Jonathan, so David would be able to return without danger.

v. 22. But if I say thus unto the young man, Behold, the arrows are beyond thee, on the farther side, (then) go thy way; for the Lord hath sent thee away, bids him flee. The sign was simple and easily remembered.

v. 23. And as touching the matter which thou and I have spoken of, everything pertaining to their covenant, behold, the Lord be between thee and me forever, for it was in His fear that they should feel bound to keep their promises of mutual faithfulness. True friendship and mercy requires us to take as eager and real an interest in the weal and woe of another as if it concerned ourselves, to stand by him in danger, and to show kindness even to the children of one who has bestowed kindness upon us.

Verses 24-42

Jonathan's Information to David

v. 24. So David hid himself in the field; and when the new moon was come, the king sat him down to eat meat, at the head of the table, the place of honor.

v. 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. It seems that Jonathan arose from his place next to Saul and gave his seat to Abner, his uncle, while he himself took the place ordinarily occupied by David, in order to avert suspicion.

v. 26. Nevertheless Saul spake not anything that day, made no remark concerning the peculiar absence of David; for he thought, Something hath befallen him, he is not clean; surely he is not clean, that is, Levitically clean, a condition which kept a person away from sacrificial meals, Leviticus 15:16 ff. ; Deuteronomy 23:11.

v. 27. And it came to pass on the morrow, which was the second day of the month, that David's place was empty, literally, "on the morrow after the new moon," the second day; and Saul said unto Jonathan, his son, Wherefore cometh not the son of Jesse to meat, neither yesterday nor today?

v. 28. And Jonathan answered Saul, David earnestly asked leave of me to go to Bethlehem;

v. 29. and he said, Let me go, I pray thee; for our family hath a sacrifice in the city; and my brother, the oldest brother, as the head of the family, he hath commanded me to be there; and now, if I have found favor in thine eyes, let me get away, take myself off, I pray thee, and see my brethren. Therefore he cometh not unto the king's table. The report of Jonathan is entirely in keeping with the cordial relation existing between friends.

v. 30. Then Saul's anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said unto him, Thou son of the perverse, rebellious woman, literally, "of perversity, of rebelliousness," a common expression for a man of obstinate and unruly disposition, do not I know that thou hast chosen the son of Jesse to thine own confusion, disgrace, and unto the confusion of thy mother's nakedness, to thy shame and to the shame of thy mother's nakedness, who would be ashamed of having given birth to such a rebellious son?

v. 31. For as long as the son of Jesse liveth upon the ground, as long as David was alive and was, in the opinion of Saul, making rebellious attempts to possess the royal throne, thou shalt not be established, nor thy kingdom; David was standing in the way of making the kingdom hereditary in Saul's family. Wherefore, now, send and fetch him unto me, for he shall surely die; Saul considered him a son, a candidate, of death.

v. 32. And Jonathan, by way of gentle remonstrance, in order to set forth David's innocence, answered Saul, his father, and said unto him, Wherefore shall he be slain? What hath he done?

v. 33. And Saul cast a javelin at him to smite him, he brandished and probably even hurled the small spear which he used as a scepter; whereby Jonathan knew that it was determined, firmly settled, of his father to slay David.

v. 34. So Jonathan arose from the table in fierce anger and did eat no meat, did not partake of food, the second day of the month; for he was grieved for David, on account of the shame heaped upon his friend by Saul, which his generous nature deeply resented, while he overlooked the insult offered to himself, because his father had done him shame.

v. 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. He was careful to keep the agreement with David in every detail.

v. 36. And he said unto his lad, Run, find out now the arrows which I shoot, gathering them up from the ground as Jonathan practiced with his bow. And as the lad ran, he shot an arrow beyond him, farther than the boy had passed on.

v. 37. And when the lad was come to the place of the arrow which Jonathan had shot, where it had flown, Jonathan cried after the lad and said, Is not the arrow beyond thee?

v. 38. And Jonathan cried after the lad, Make speed, haste, stay not, lest in looking about in a leisurely fashion he might espy David behind the rock. And Jonathan's lad gathered up the arrows and came to his master, bringing the arrow, as he probably did in the next two cases.

v. 39. But the lad knew not anything; only Jonathan and David knew the matter.

v. 40. And Jonathan gave his artillery, bow, quiver, and arrows, unto his lad and said unto him, Go, carry them to the city, this giving him an opportunity to be alone with David.

v. 41. And as soon as the lad was gone, David arose out of a place toward the south, for on that side of the rock he had concealed himself, and fell on his face to the ground, and bowed himself three times, both to do Jonathan honor and gratefully to acknowledge his efforts in his behalf; and they kissed one another, and wept one with another, until David exceeded, until David broke out in loud weeping.

v. 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 forever. This oath they wanted to keep with all firmness; nothing should ever persuade them to break it. And he, David, arose and departed; and Jonathan went into the city. Thus true love and friendship demonstrates its sincerity when one friend warns the other against harm and danger. And it is true in general that we should weep with those who mourn and comfort those who are in trouble, encouraging them with reference to Jehovah's mercy.

Bibliographical Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 20". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kpc/1-samuel-20.html. 1921-23.
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