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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 20

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-42


1 Samuel 20:1. “And David fled,” while Saul was still under the power of the prophetic influence. “Nothing could be a better evidence of his innocence than his thus putting himself in Jonathan’s power. Perhaps something passed between Samuel and Saul on the subject, since it appears from 1 Samuel 20:5; 1 Samuel 20:25; 1 Samuel 20:27, that Saul expected David at the feast of the new moon.” (Biblical Commentary.)

1 Samuel 20:2. “Why should my father hide this thing from me?” This remark supposes that the intimate relation between Jonathan and David had been concealed, as far as possible, from Saul.” (Erdmann.) “Jonathan, it would seem, clung to a hope that the extraordinary scene at Naioth might have wrought a sanctified improvement on Saul’s temper and feelings.” (Jamieson.) Or, “he might regard the late attempt on David as the result of a new but temporary access of rage, and remembering his distinct oath in his lucid intervals, might suppose that he would not in a quiet state of mind resolve on and execute such a murder. (Erdmann.)

1 Samuel 20:3. “Moreover:” rather “again.”

1 Samuel 20:5. “To-morrow is the new moon,” etc. “This request implies that Saul gave a feast at the new moon, and therefore that the new moon was not merely a religious festival, according to the law in Numbers 10:10; Numbers 28:11; Numbers 28:15, but that it was kept as a civil festival also, and in the latter character for two days; as we may infer both from the fact that David reckoned to the third evening, i.e., the evening of the third day from the day then present.… it does not follow, that because Saul supposed that David might have absented himself the first day on account of Levitical uncleanness, therefore the royal feast was a sacrificial meal. It was evidently contrary to social propriety to take part in a public feast in a state of Levitical uncleanness, even though it is not expressly forbidden in the law.” (Keil.)

1 Samuel 20:6. “A yearly sacrifice.” “In the then disorganised condition of public worship, to which David himself first gave regular form, family usages of this sort, after the manner of other nations, had established themselves, which were contrary to the prescriptions concerning the unity of Divine worship.” (Von Gerlach.)

1 Samuel 20:8. “Covenant of the Lord.” “Because it was not only made with invocation of the Lord’s name, but also had its deepest ground and origin in God, and its consecration in their life-like communion with God.” (Erdmann.)

1 Samuel 20:11. “Come, let us go out,” etc. “The scene of this memorable conference was,” as Porter describes it (Handbook, p. 324), “a shallow valley between Gibeah (Tell el Fûlil) 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.” (Jamieson.)

1 Samuel 20:12. “O Lord God of Israel.” This is not a prayer, but an invocation—a calling upon God to witness to his sincerity.

1 Samuel 20:14-15. “Of the various explanations of this difficult passage only the two following are worthy of consideration. The one understands a question to the end of 1 Samuel 20:14, ‘And wilt thou not, if I yet live, wilt thou not show me the kindness of the Lord, that I die not?’ 1 Samuel 20:15 cannot, then, be a part of the question, but must be taken as the subjoined expression of confident expectation: ‘And thou wilt not cut off thy kindness,’ etc. But this sudden, abrupt transition to a question, and then, again, to direct discourse, is strange, even if these vacillations and diversities of discourse are referred to Jonathan’s excited feeling. The second explanation, which is the preferable one, introduces a wish by a slight change in the pointing of the Hebrew. Jonathan, having invoked a blessing on David, thus expresses his wish for himself: ‘And wouldst thou, if I still live, wouldst thou show me the kindness of God, and not, if I die, not cut off thy love from my house for ever?’ So Syr., Arab., Maur., Then., Ew., Keil.” (Erdmann.) Jonathan’s request was fulfilled. See 2 Sam., chap. 9.

1 Samuel 20:16. “So Jonathan made a covenant,” etc., “namely, by bringing David to promise kindness to his family for ever.” (Keil.) The second clause is generally understood to be a continuation of the historian’s words, and is rendered, “And Jehovah required it at the hand of David’s enemies,” i.e., Jonathan’s words were fulfilled. So Keil and others.

1 Samuel 20:17. This verse is generally understood to mean that Jonathan made his love to David the ground of his request, or (Trans. of Lange’s Commentary) “his love to David made him anxious to maintain friendly relations between their houses.”

1 Samuel 20:19. “When thou hast stayed three days.” “Either with your family in Bethlehem, or wherever you find it convenient.” (Jamieson.) Come down quickly.” The Hebrew here is literally “Come down very,” but our authorised rendering seems to accord better with the sense than any other. Erdmann remarks that it might be necessary to insist on a quick descent to the place of meeting on account of the danger of being observed. “When the business,” etc. Literally “on the day of the deed.” Gesenius refers it to the attempt of Saul to kill David, narrated in 1 Samuel 19:2, and Jonathan’s effort to save his friend on that occasion. Erdmann coincides in this view. “Exel.” The stone of departure. (Gesenius.) “So called, probably, from its being the spot whence David separated from his friend.” (Jamieson.)

1 Samuel 20:23. “The matter.” Rather, “the word.” “This refers not merely to the sign agreed upon, but to the whole matter, including the renewal of the bond of friendship.” (Keil.) “Behold, the Lord is between,” etc. Sec Genesis 31:49.

1 Samuel 20:24. “So David hid himself,” etc. Some expositors think that David went first to Bethlehem, others that the visit to his father’s house was entirely a fabrication. “Meat,” i.e., food of any kind.

1 Samuel 20:25. “A seat by the wall.” “The left-hand corner 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 to them according to their respective gradations of rank.” (Jamieson). “Jonathan arose.” Kiel understands here that when Abner entered Jonathan rose from his seat by the side of Saul and gave up his place to Abner, others that he arose and seated Abner on the other side of Saul in David’s vacant place in order that the latter might not be missed. This latter suggestion seems, however, to be contradicted by the last clause of the verse which states that David’s place was empty.

1 Samuel 20:27. “The son of Jesse.” “Saul seems to hate the name of David and in contempt he calls him the son of Jesse.” (Wordsworth).

1 Samuel 20:30. “Thou son of the perverse rebellious woman.” “This is a striking oriental form of abuse, the counterpart of that ancient benediction (Luke 11:27). Saul was not angry with his wife; it was the son only upon whom he meant by this style of address to discharge his resentment; and the principle upon which it is founded seems to be that of a genuine filial instinct; it is a more inexpiable offence to hear the name and character of a parent traduced than any personal reproach. In every Eastern family the great object of devotion and respect 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.’ ”(Jamieson).

1 Samuel 20:31. “He shall surely die.” Literally, “he is a son of death.”

1 Samuel 20:34. “He was grieved for David.” “The generosity of Jonathan’s character is very apparent. He did not resent the injury and insult offered to himself so much as the wrong done to his friend.” (Biblical Commentary).

1 Samuel 20:38. “While in 1 Samuel 20:20-22, this procedure is summarily described of three arrows, the account here is of one.… We must suppose that Jonathan did so with each of the three arrows.” (Erdmann).

1 Samuel 20:40. “Artillery.” i.e., his bows and arrows. “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.” (Jamieson).

1 Samuel 20:41. “A place toward the south.” “An unintelligible description; one expects a repetition of the description of David’s hiding-place in 1 Samuel 20:19. The word rendered toward is the same as that rendered near in 1 Samuel 20:19, but instead of the stone Ezel following, there comes the inexplicable “the south,” (negeb) a word with which the adverb near is never joined, as it never is either with any other denoting a quarter of the heavens. The Sept. in both places read argab or ergab, a word meaning a heap of stones. If this is the true reading, David’s hiding-place was either a natural cavernous rock which was called argab, or some ruin of an ancient building, equally suited for a hiding place.” (Biblical Commentary).



Here we have—

I. A strengthening of friendship between David and Jonathan. Two things contributed to this.

1. An act of confidence on the part of David. It shows how entire was the trust that David had in his friend’s fidelity, that in his extremity at this time he sought his presence and help. That he was to displace Jonathan on the throne of Israel was probably a fact which both of them now recognised, and in a friendship less perfect it would have had the effect of making David somewhat doubtful of the continuance of Jonathan’s regard. But he shows that he has fully gauged the exceeding love which left no room in Jonathan’s heart for any feeling of rivalry, and the very fact that he confided so entirely in his friend formed a new link in the already strong chain which bound them together. Where there is a sincere and unselfish love at the foundation of friendship, acts of mutual confidence increase and strengthen it.

2. A new act of self-denial on the part of Jonathan. Jonathan had before ventured to plead with his father on behalf of David. He had done more—he had fearlessly asserted his innocence, and now, although his method of procedure was different, it was evidently regarded by Saul as a declaration of friendship for David. And in proportion as Saul’s wrath grew more fixed, so was the danger proportionately increased of those who showed him any favour. How dangerous it now was for Jonathan to defend him was apparent when his father’s anger went so far as an attempt to slay him. But this new exposure to danger for his friend’s sake would only cement the friendship on both sides. It is almost certain that David came to hear of Jonathan’s narrow escape from Saul’s javelin, and the thought that the risk had been run on his account must have deepened his grateful love. But the same risk and danger would have had a deepening influence also on Jonathan’s love for David, for every act of self-denial for another gives us a new interest in him, and makes our affection for him stronger than before. It is like new wood placed upon a fire—it gives new life to that which is already burning, and increases the volume of the whole.

II. A widening of the distance between Saul and his son. Jonathan’s filial respect for his father is as bright a feature in his character as his devotion to his friend. It manifests itself in his temperate remonstrance with his father when himself condemned to death by his unreasoning rashness (see 1 Samuel 14:43), and when the same blind passion was prompting Saul to seek the life of David. In this chapter also it is displayed in his unwillingness to believe David’s assertion that Saul still sought his life. But the infatuation which had made a breach between the monarch and probably his most courageous and faithful subject, now creates one between the father and his most noble and dutiful son. It may well be supposed that the relations of Saul and Jonathan were never, after the occurrence here related, what they were before, and Saul’s conduct is a striking illustration of the infatuation of wilful sin, which leads a man to cut off from his life one by one his truest sources of blessing and happiness.


Friendship among the servants of God. Three questions:

1. Wherein is friendship among the servants of God grounded?—It is a covenant in the Lord.
2. What perils threaten even friendship among the servants of God?—That one friend, overlooking another’s sin, may do for his sake what is not right in the sight of God.
3. What blessing rests upon friendship among the servants of God?—It teaches unenvying joy with them that rejoice, and faithful mourning and forbearing with them that mourn.—J. Disselhoff.

1 Samuel 20:3. It must not be forgotten that, to believers under the Old Covenant especially, Death was not yet the angel with the palm-branch of peace, as we to whom “life and immortality are brought to light by the Gospel” know it, or at least ought to know it. If, notwithstanding, the thought that there is “but a step between us and death” fills us also with horror, as too frequently happens, how shall we venture to blame the man living under the Old Testament economy, if we hear him, in his trying situation, express the wish that he might escape at least that form of death which was intended for him?—Krummacher.

1 Samuel 20:4. Here friendship goes too far. It is wrong to promise unconditional compliance with the wishes of another. He may err in judgment and ask what is unwise, or may be misled by interest and ask what is wrong. And, besides, every man is solemnly bound to exercise his own judgment and conscience in the direction of his own conduct. Jonathan was led by this promise to tell a falsehood which his father detected, and was thereby the more enraged.—Trans. of Lange’s Commentary.

1 Samuel 20:8. So long as one sees before him ordinary ways and means of escaping from danger, he should make use of them, and not look for extraordinary help from God, that he may not tempt God.—Starke.

1 Samuel 20:17. True love delights in receiving and giving repeated and strong assurances. This is very different from the repeated assurance which distrust demands.—Trans. of Lange’s Commentary.

1 Samuel 20:41. Strong men weeping.

1. Great occasion for it here. (a). Personal separation. (b). Mad injustice of their father. (c). Prospect of a bitter conflict.

2. Not unbecoming when on sufficient occasion. Compatible (a). With manly courage and spirit. David and Jonathan were certainly brave. (b). With great self-control (1 Samuel 17:29; 1 Samuel 18:14; 1 Samuel 20:32). (c). With living trust in Providence (1 Samuel 20:22).—Trans. of Lange’s Commentarg.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 20". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/1-samuel-20.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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