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CRITICAL AND EXPOSITORY NOTES—
The fact that the incidents related in this chapter agree in some points with those narrated in chapters 23; 24 has led Ewald, Thenius, and others to conclude that the historian has given two accounts of the same event. But a writer who could thus repeat himself in the general, while professing to give an account of events in their proper order, and at the same time could vary so much in detail, would be quite unworthy of confidence. And, as Keil shows, the details, after all, differ greatly. “When David was betrayed the first time, he drew back into the desert of Maon before the advance of Saul, and, being completely surrounded upon one of the mountains there, was only saved from being taken prisoner by the advance of the Philistines. (1 Samuel 23:25-9.23.28.) But on the second occasion Saul encamped upon the hill of Hachilah, whilst David had secretly drawn back into the adjoining desert, from which he crept secretly into Saul’s encampment.… On the first occasion Saul entered a cave in the desert of Engedi, whilst David and his men were concealed in the interior.… The second time David went with Abishai into the encampment of Saul, upon the hill of Hachilah.… It is true that on both occasions David’s men told him that God had given his enemy into his hand; but the first time they added, ‘Do to him what seemeth good in thy sight;’ and David cut off the lappel of Saul’s coat, whereupon his conscience smote him.… In the second instance, on the contrary, David called two of his heroes to go with him into the camp of his sleeping foe, and then went thither with Abishai, who thereupon said, ‘God hath delivered thine enemy into thine hand; let me alone, that I may pierce him with the spear.’ But David rejected this proposal, and merely took away the spear and water-bowl that were at Saul’s head. And, notwithstanding that the words of David and the replies of Saul agree in certain general thoughts, yet they differ entirely in the main. On the first occasion David showed the king that his life had been in his power, and yet he had spared him, to dispel the illusion that he was seeking his life. On the second he asked the king why he was pursuing him, and called upon him to desist. But Saul was so affected the first time that he wept aloud, and openly declared that David would obtain the kingdom, and asked him to promise on oath that when he did he would not destroy his family. The second time he only declared that he had sinned and acted foolishly, and would do David no more harm, and that David would undertake and prevail, but he neither shed tears, nor brought himself to speak of David’s ascending the throne, so that he was evidently much more hardened than before.” As to the moral unlikelihood that Saul would have made a second attempt upon David’s life after being treated so generously by him, such conduct on his part seems quite in keeping with his vacillating character on other occasions. On this subject Nägelsbach remarks, “That Saul marched against David a second time is easily explained, even although he was no moral monster (as Thenius affirms he must have been in such a case). His hatred to David was so deeply rooted that it could be only temporarily suppressed by that magnanimous deed, not extinguished.” It is indeed plain, from David’s conduct after the first remonstrance with Saul, that he placed little or no reliance upon his professions of repentance.
1 Samuel 26:1. “Hill of Hachilah.” See on 1 Samuel 23:19. Jamieson suggests that one reason for David’s returning to this locality might have been to be near Abigail’s possessions. “Before Jeshimon.” Jeshimon literally signifies “the waste or wilderness;” before should be “in the face of,” or “south of.”
1 Samuel 26:2. “Three thousand chosen men.” “The permanent guard whose formation is mentioned in 1 Samuel 13:2.” (Erdmann.) “Went down.” “Though Gibeah, as its name imports, stood on an elevated position, and the desert of Ziph may have been higher than Gibeah, it was still necessary to descend in leaving the latter place; hence Saul ‘went down’ into the wilderness of Ziph.” (Jamieson.)
1 Samuel 26:3. “David abode in the wilderness.” “That is, he had withdrawn from the hill Hachilah (where the Ziphites reported him as being, and Saul sought first to attack him) farther into the wilderness, and was then on the highland (compare 1 Samuel 26:6, ‘who will go down with me?’), while Saul was encamped on the road to the plain” (1 Samuel 26:3, “by the way.”) (Erdmann.) “He saw.” Rather, he learned, or perceived by the report of his spies.
1 Samuel 26:5. “Abner.” “The Hebrew Ab signifies father; but the captain of Saul’s host may have been so called in honour of some ancestor, without any reference to the meaning of the word. Another explanation has been suggested. ‘In Abner there are two pure Gomeric roots, and ab is the contrary of father, for it is expressly stated—Abner, son of Ner, etc. The ab is of course the ab or ap of the Appii of Italy and of the Cymry of Britain—son; Abner, son of strength; or in Latin, Appius Nero; and as we know that the Appii Claudii Nerones were a pure Umbrian family, we have in the centre of Palestine, B.C. 1000, and in the centre of Italy, B.C. at least 700, two Gomeric families of precisely the same name derived from their common family language (Japhetic) in the most natural way conceivable. It is utterly impossible that the Jewish writer, whoever he was, could have devised such a coincidence, or imagined its ethnological significance. He wrote down the simple fact. We know how to explain it, but this very knowledge is a confirmation of the prophetic utterance of Noah.’ ” (Genesis 9:27.) (“Vindication of the Mosaic Ethnology of Europe.”) (Jamieson.) “Trench.” Literally “the place of wagons.” (See on 1 Samuel 17:20)
1 Samuel 26:6. “Ahimelech the Hittite.” This man is only mentioned here. “The Hittites, a Canaanitish people, already settled around Hebron in Abraham’s time (Genesis 15:21), dwelt, after the return of the Israelites from Egypt, in the hill country of Judah with the Amorites, reaching as far north as towards Bethel (Judges 2:23), subdued but not exterminated by the Israelites. A portion of them had maintained a certain independence” (1 Kings 9:20; 1 Kings 10:29; 2 Kings 7:6). (Erdmann.) Uriah was also a Hittite. “Abishai.” The nephew of David (see 1 Chronicles 2:16), and afterwards one of his famous generals (2 Samuel 18:2, etc.)
1 Samuel 26:8. “I will not smite him a second time.” Abishai could have easily pinned David to the ground with one thrust of his sword, and no second blow would have been needed.
1 Samuel 26:10. “The Lord shall smite him,” etc. Rather, unless the Lord shall smite, etc. So Keil, Thenius, and others.
1 Samuel 26:11. “The spear that is at his bolster and the cruse of water.” “I noticed at all the encampments which we passed that the sheik’s tent was distinguished from the rest by a tall spear stuck upright in the front of it; and it is the custom, when a party is out on an excursion for robbery or for war, that when they halt to rest, the spot where the chief reclines or rests is thus designated. The whole of the scene in 1 Samuel 26:7, is perfectly natural, even to the deep sleep into which all had fallen, so that David and Abishai could walk among them in safety. The Arabs sleep heavily, especially when fatigued. Often, when travelling, my muleteers and servants have agreed to watch together in places thought to be dangerous; but in every instance I soon found them to be fast asleep, and generally their slumbers were so profound that I could not only walk among them without their waking, but might have taken the very aba with which they were covered. Then the cruse of water at Saul’s head is in exact accordance with the customs of the people at this day. No one ventures to travel over these deserts without their cruse of water, and it is very common to place it at the bolster, so that the owner can reach it during the night. The Arabs eat their dinner in the evening, and it is generally of such a nature as to create thirst; and the quantity of water which they drink is enormous. (Thomson’s Land and the Book.)
1 Samuel 26:13-9.26.14. “And David stood,” etc. The purity of the air of Palestine would render this quite easy. Dr. Thomson says, “There are thousands of ravines where the whole scene could be enacted, every word be heard, and yet the speaker be quite beyond the reach of his enemies.” “David had, no doubt, reconnoitered the camp from the opposite hill, and then gone down to it (1 Samuel 26:6), and returned after the deed was accomplished. The statement that this mountain was afar off, so that there was a great space between David and Saul, not only favours the accuracy of the historical tradition, but shows that David reckoned far less now upon any change in the state of Saul’s mind than he had done before when he followed Saul from the cave without hesitation, and called after him; and that in fact he rather feared that Saul should endeavour to get him into his power as soon as he woke from his sleep.” (Keil.)
1 Samuel 26:15. “Art thou not a man?” i.e., a warrior. “This incidental reference to Abner’s eminence as a warrior is borne out by his whole history. At the same time, David’s bantering tone, coupled with 1 Samuel 26:19, makes it probable that he considered Abner his enemy; the latter’s great influence with Saul might have prevented the persecution of David. Abner may have feared David as a rival; his opposition to him is shown after Saul’s death.” (Biblical Commentary.) “For there came one of the people,” etc. “These reproaches cast at Abner were intended to show to Saul, who might, at anyrate, possibly hear, and who, in fact, did hear, that David was a more faithful defender of his life than his closest and most zealous servants.” (Keil.)
1 Samuel 26:16. “Worthy to die.” Literally, son of death.
1 Samuel 26:19. “If the Lord have stirred thee up,” etc. “David’s word is based on the conception that God sometimes incites men to evil. (Comp. 2 Samuel 16:10 and 2 Samuel 24:1.) The idea that evil is, from one point of view, to be referred to God as its cause, is not a product of later times, but is early found in connection with the idea of the Divine ordering of the world, in which evil must serve God in order to bring about His saving help (Genesis 1:20, comp. with 1 Samuel 14:7-9.14.8), and reveal His judicial glory (Exodus 9:16). David therefore supposed the case that Saul’s hatred towards him rests on the Divine causality (comp. 1 Samuel 18:10; 1 Samuel 19:9), where the evil spirit from the Lord which has come upon Saul is said to be the cause of his hate to David. The Divine incitement to evil consists, according to David’s view, in the fact that Saul, sunk deep in sin by his own fault, is further given over by God to evil in that opportunity is given him to develop in deeds the evil of his heart.” (Erdmann.) Keil’s remarks on this phrase are substantially the same, and he adds, “The instigation of a sinner to evil is simply one peculiar way in which God, as a general rule, punishes sin through sinners; for God only instigates to evil actions, such as have drawn down the wrath of God upon them in consequence of their sins. When David supposes the fact that Jehovah has instigated Saul against him, he acknowledges, implicity at least, that he himself is a sinner, whom the Lord may be intending to punish, though without lessening Saul’s wrong by this indirect confession.” “Let him accept an offering.” Literally, let him smell an offering. (cf. Genesis 8:21). “The meaning is, let Saul appease the wrath of God by the presentation of acceptable sacrifices. What sacrifices they are that please God is shown in Psalms 51:18-19.51.19, and it is certainly not by accident merely that David uses the word minchah, the technical expression in the law for the bloodless sacrifice, which sets forth the sanctification of life in good works.” (Keil.) “The sense is: pray to God that He take the temptation from thee.” (Bunsen.) “Cursed be they,” etc. “David does not utter a wish, but states a fact, he does not pray that they may be cursed, but he asserts that they are incurring a curse from God.” (Wordsworth.) “Saying, go, serve other gods.” “The idea implied is, that Jehovah could only be worshipped in Canaan, at the sanctuary consecrated to Him, because it was only there that He manifested Himself to His people.” (Keil.) “We are not to understand that David’s enemies were accustomed to use these words, but David was thinking of deeds rather than words.” (Calvin.)
1 Samuel 26:20. “As when one doth hunt a partridge.” “Me, isolated from God’s people, far from all association, a fugitive by thy machinations on the mountain heights, thou seekest at all costs to destroy, as one hunts a single fugitive partridge on the mountains only to kill it at all costs, while otherwise from its insignificance it would not be hunted since partridges are found in the fields in flocks.” (Erdmann.) People in the east, in hunting the partridge and other game birds, pursue them till observing them becoming languid and fatigued, after they have been put up two or three times, they rush upon the birds stealthily and knock them down with bludgeons. (Shaw’s Travels.) It was exactly in this manner that Saul was persecuting David; he drove him from time to time from his hiding-place, hoping to render him weary of his life or obtain an opportunity of accomplishing his destruction. (Jamieson.)
1 Samuel 26:23. “To every man.” Keil and Erdmann translate to the man—i.e., to David himself. “These words are not a sounding of his own praises, but merely the testimony of a good conscience in the presence of an enemy.” (Keil.)
1 Samuel 26:24. “Let my life.” Keil and Erdmann read “so will my life.”
1 Samuel 26:25. “Thou wilt both undertake,” etc. Here Saul does not express a changed disposition, love instead of the old enmity, but the fleeting better feeling which David’s conduct had induced, and which compelled him to affirm that David would come forth victorious through the Lord’s help out of all the straits of his persecution. The content and character of Saul’s words in 1 Samuel 24:16-9.24.22, are very different.” (Erdmann.) “David went his way,” attaching no worth to Saul’s acknowledgment of wrong. “Saul returned to his place.” Some expositors make a contrast between this expression and that in 1 Samuel 24:22, in which Saul is said to have gone home after his interview with David, and understand that this time he did not desist even for a season from his pursuit.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE CHAPTER
DAVID’S VISIT TO SAUL’S CAMP
I. There is a tendency in good to repeat itself in the soul of a good man. Good deeds are not a sure indication of a good character, for a wicked man may perform such from motives which are not good. Nor does one good deed, even if done from a worthy motive, make a good character. But one such action performed from a desire to do right in the sight of God lays the foundation for another and another, and such a repetition establishes that right habit of thinking and feeling and doing which constitute a godlike and holy character. And it is a strengthening reflection for all who are engaged in the struggle against the evil within them that every temptation met and conquered makes the next victory more easy, and every godlike and divine impulse obeyed gives an increase to the power and dominion of good in the soul. David’s conduct here is a witness of this tendency of good to repeat itself. Since Saul was last in his power, every day had increased the provocation which he had suffered at the hand of his persecutor, who had now added to his other crimes that of pursuing the man who had so lately spared his life. If David’s former act of forbearance had not been dictated by right principle—if his entire attitude to Saul from the beginning of his persecution had not been the outcome of a spirit under the influence of the Spirit of God, he would have broken down under the long continuance of the demand upon his forbearance, and this last proof of Saul’s ingratitude and inextinguishable enmity would have been too much for him to forgive, but as David was a godly man, it was as easy for him to spare Saul’s life in the camp as it had been in the cave, and possibly this time the temptation was more easily overcome than on the former occasion.
II. There is a tendency in evil to repeat itself in the soul of a wicked man. If the good within becomes stronger by repetition, it is no less certain that the strength of sin increases in proportion as it is indulged in, and a sinful tendency or habit which once only bound a man as by a silken thread may come to fetter him as with an iron chain. The first few snowflakes that fall upon the earth are not noticed much, and can be easily swept away, even by a child, but continuing to fall hour after hour they will form a barrier which it may be well-nigh impossible to penetrate. So the first seeds of any sinful passion may enter into a human soul without producing any marked effect upon the life, and almost without the consciousness of the soul itself; but one sinful thought or feeling, if unchecked and harboured, will be quickly followed by another and another of the same character, until the man in whose spirit they have found a resting place becomes, before he is aware, a moral slave. Saul appears to afford a melancholy instance of such a process. Permitting jealous feelings towards David to find a lodging in his spirit, and listening to the evil suggestions of the worst part of his nature within and of the devil without, he came to be that slave of a sinful passion which he here appears. We cannot suppose, when he gave a place to the first emotions of envy of David, that he had any idea of the crimes to which they would one day lead him. But they had been permitted to remain undisturbed, and had so grown and strengthened by indulgence that all noble emotions had been buried alive beneath them and their victim stands before us in this picture not altogether unconscious of his degrading bondage, and yet making no effort to free himself. For although he here confesses his moral foolishness, and we read of no more active measures against David, his after history gives no reason to suppose that any radical change took place in his feelings towards him. If he had followed up his former conviction and confession of sin by struggle against it he would have found repentance then less difficult than now, and would not have added this darkest blot to the character he had already dimmed by many transgressions.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
1 Samuel 26:12. Behold now, once more, our David, as he goes away with Saul’s spear, the emblem of his sovereign power. At that moment he presents a symbolically significant appearance. Unconsciously he prophesied of his own future, while he stands before us as the projected shadow of that form in which we must one day behold him. In the counsel of the Invisible Watcher, it was, indeed, irrevocably concluded that the Bethlehemite should inherit Saul’s sceptre, and here we see before us a dim pre-intimation of that fact.—Krummacher.
1 Samuel 26:19. It was part of Saul’s punishment that he was constrained to persecute David, and in so doing he suffered more than David—consuming hatred, fear, the perpetual consciousness of the fruitlessness of all his measures—all this was perfect torture to him. Doubtless he would willingly have been freed from it, but there was only one way in which he could obtain this freedom, viz., by true repentance; and this way he refused to take. Because he would not desist from sin in general, he could not become free from this special form of sin. This was his fate. David’s piety is seen in the fact that he characterises it as the greatest sorrow inflicted on him by his enemies that they obliged him to leave the land of the Lord and go out into the heathen world, depriving him of the blessedness of religious communion.—Hengstenberg.
1 Samuel 26:21. How wonderful is the effect of a single flash of lightning, when previously the heavens had been veiled in deepest gloom, and the darksome night had thrown over all nature its dreariest mantle. How completely, for a moment, it lifts that mantle.… Houses, trees, streets—they burst upon you; you seem never to have seen them so distinctly before.… And yet it is but for a moment; while you look the flash is gone.… It lasted long enough to make you feel its effect and then departed.… “I have played the fool and erred exceedingly;” tells of such a sudden gleam. To our view, it lays open in a moment the whole features of Saul’s history, as he saw them himself.… Nothing escapes him; each avenue opens up its concealment, each pathway reveals the footsteps imprinted upon it … and then the gloom returned.… It was not the dawn of true repentance, gradually unfolding reason for encouragement, and losing itself in brighter hopes and lasting joy, but it was the sudden flash which conscience, excited, will send through a soul, preliminary only to a deeper despair—to hopeless ruin.… I. Saul’s history justifies this expression inasmuch as his public life was marked by a continued attempt at thorough independence of God.… This was folly—first, because it was subversive of all that reason and wisdom suggested. For the very being of a God is of itself sufficiently indicative of the place which the creatures of that God should occupy.… The laws of nature, in regard to matter, allow no interference with them which would subvert the relative conditions of strength and weakness, independence and dependence, without such results as would expose the folly of the attempt.… And on the same principle must there be read out the condemnation of downright folly when man so acts as to take upon himself the right to dictate for his own guidance.… What is this but an attempt to subvert what is fixed irrevocably?… Besides, secondly, it is not less against our own interests to put our own will in the place of God’s.… Did Saul get on as well without God as with Him? And did ever the history of a single individual justify the supposition that this was possible?… II. There was one particular course of action which was at this moment more especially present to Saul’s view.… In many respects he had erred; in one respect most especially so.…
1. His folly and error consisted in treating a man as his enemy who was, in reality, his best friend … How often is this mistake committed. How often do we see men making the least welcome those who have the highest title to their confidence, because they would do them real good; and treating as most welcome those whose influence on them is plainly prejudicial. The man who would not allow David in his sight, promoted Doeg the Edomite.…
2. Saul’s folly also consisted in attempting by this conduct towards David to fly in the face of those Divine arrangements to which, however humiliating in their character, he was bound in meekness to submit.… Never does a man commit himself to a harder, and at the same time more fruitless, enterprise than when he fights against God’s providential arrangements—when, for instance, God is evidently calling on him to give up some scheme for his own exaltation or his family’s aggrandisement, and requiring him to take a humbler level, and he will grasp tightly and hold tenaciously the position which everything combines to tell him is for another. Nothing too, is a greater temptation to a man to do unprincipled things than such an attempt.… But it is a fruitless work, however long maintained.—Miller.
1 Samuel 26:25. Saul is here also “among the prophets,” and foretells David’s exaltation and victory, “Vicisti; Nazarene!” was the exclamation of Julian.—Wordsworth.
Before we pass away from Saul’s persecution of David, an interesting inquiry presents itself, which may be answered by the help of one of the Psalms. How came it, one is tempted to ask, that Saul was thus at one time so friendly to David, and at another filled with such bitter enmity against him? Much of this was owing, doubtless, to the impulsive, wayward, and capricious disposition which, as we have seen, grew upon him after his rejection by Samuel.
But this will not explain it all. An impulse will go on in a man until it exhausts itself; but it will then leave him, at least, indifferent, and something else will be required to account for the rapid reversal of his feelings, when we see him change in a short time from grateful appreciation to fierce antagonism. Where, then, shall we find that something in the case of Saul? The answer seems to me to be furnished by the inscription to the 7th Psalm, which, from its similarity to David’s utterances to Saul on the occasions which have been before us, has been by most expositors connected with these events. It is entitled “Shiggaion of David, which he sang unto the Lord, concerning the words of Cush the Benjamite.” “That is a dithyrambic ode of David concerning the words of Cush.” Now if we adopt the conjecture that Cush was one of Saul’s confidential adherents, and that he had set himself deliberately and malignantly to poison his master’s mind in reference to David, by inventing all manner of false assertions, and indulging in every variety of significant innuendoes concerning him, we have an explanation atonce, of many statements in the narrative, of the vacillations in the disposition of Saul, and of the character of the Psalm to which the title belongs.… When the king was alone, away from the influence of this black-hearted sycophant, David’s noble and frank ingenuousness produced its appropriate impression on his heart; but when David disappeared, and this Cush resumed his insinuating supremacy, then Saul’s heart was again estranged, and he vowed vengeance on the son of Jesse. Of course, if Saul had not been weak, this effect would not have been produced upon him; but, in the circumstances, we can see how the larger measure of the guilt belonged to Cush, and can understand why, while David spared the king, his heart was full of abhorrence of the part which was played by the false-hearted Benjamite.—Dr. W. M. Taylor.
A few words may suitably be added in connection with these signal victories of David over the spirit of revenge, respecting what have been called his vindictive or imprecatory Psalms.… When loud complaints are made of the vindictive character of some of the Psalms of David, and when all the more favourable explanations of some of these Psalms are rejected with contempt, objectors may be fairly challenged to show how they can reconcile the view taken by them of these Psalms with the elevated generosity and forbearance that were so conspicuous in David’s general character. Saul was not the only enemy of David’s, or of God’s, that experienced his forbearance. Absalom, Shemei, and other bitter opponents of himself and of the cause of truth, shared the same generous treatment. It may surely be held as established that, so far as David was concerned, no feeling of personal revenge could have led him to use the language or breathe the spirit of the imprecatory Psalms. It can easily be proved that many, where individuals seem at first to be the objects of denunciation, in point of fact either do not contemplate the case of individuals at all, or make use of them chiefly as signs or types of principles.… The fifth Psalm, for example, appears to be a denunciation of the Psalmist’s personal enemies. But in Romans 3:13 the words are quoted as part of a proof of the universal corruption of mankind. The proof would be palpably irrelevant if the language of the Psalmist applied only to his personal and public enemies. But it is not irrelevant if these enemies were viewed as types or signs of those principles and habits of sin which infest the world.… Still, we freely admit that among the imprecatory Psalms there are several where living persons are the objects of the most earnest imprecations. What is to be said of these? The least strained seems also the best explanation of them. They are the expression of holy indignation at those wicked men who were opposing every good work, and encouraging, for their own vile ends, all that was wicked and destructive; they convey the earnest desire which every good man must have, that such persons may be arrested, overthrown, and punished, in their impious and pernicious career. In some cases, the mode of punishment is that of the well-known lex-talionis.… Our ears tingle at the mention of them; we can hardly read the 137th Psalm without a shudder, but the sense of the perfect justice of the law was so deeply impressed on the minds of pious Jews, that no such feeling of horror appears to have been awakened in them. The judicial aspect prevailed over the personal.—Blaikie.
Note.—It was during this sojourn of David in the wilderness that the Gadites, mentioned in 1 Chronicles 12:8-13.12.14, enlisted themselves in his service, and probably in the interval between the event recorded in this chapter and that which opens the next, that there came to him some belonging to his own tribe of Judah, and also some of the tribe of Benjamin to which Saul belonged (1 Chronicles 12:16-13.12.18). These occurrences show that Saul was gradually losing his hold upon the people, and that their confidence in David was increasing.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 26". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany