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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

1 Samuel 19

Verses 1-2

1 Samuel 19:1-9.19.2. Saul spake to Jonathan Jonathan, when Saul ordered him to kill David, disobeyed the command, and, instead of murdering him, pleaded his innocence and merits as reasons for saving him. He also disclosed to David his father's design and fixed resolution to destroy him; and, in my judgment, neither was inconsistent with his duty and allegiance to his father and king. He who knows of a conspiracy against an innocent person's life, and does not discover it, or who kills such a one by another's instigation and command, is himself a murderer; and no duty to a father, nor allegiance to a prince, can oblige any one to shed innocent blood. Jonathan was, therefore, so far from acting contrary to his duty and allegiance, in refusing to become his father's instrument in murdering David, that he gave a noble instance of filial piety, affection, and duty, in his repeated endeavours to preserve him from so unnatural and atrocious a crime; and piety and virtue will ever applaud him for the generous concern that he expressed for the honour of his father, and the preservation of his friend. The reader will observe, that Jonathan ever considers David as an innocent person, and pleads for him to his father, not as a rebel or notorious offender, to obtain his pardon, but as having never done any thing to forfeit Saul's favour, or his own life; and therefore Jonathan must be commended in disobeying his father's order, and doing all he can to prevent his purpose to kill him.

Verse 6

1 Samuel 19:6. And Saul sware, As the Lord liveth, he shall not be slain To judge of Saul by his future conduct, we should be tempted to believe, that he swore only the better to deceive his son Jonathan. But when we consider well the character of this prince, weak, inconstant, passionate, we may suppose, without much difficulty, that the discourse of Jonathan affected him, and that he sincerely resolved no more to attack the life of David: a resolution, however, which David's increasing glory soon overthrew, 1 Samuel 19:8.

Verse 11

1 Samuel 19:11. To slay him in the morning Calmet supposes that there was some superstition which prevented executions by night. He observes, that the Philistines acted the same with regard to Samson; Judges 16:2. The Mahometans also, to this very day, never do any thing of the kind at night.

Verse 13

1 Samuel 19:13. Michal took an image In the Hebrew it is תרפים teraphim; which teraphim, it plainly follows from hence, must have been figures of the human form; for the design of Michal was manifestly to deceive the messengers of Saul, by shewing them something in a bed so far resembling a man as to make them believe it was David himself. And as this was plainly her design, one would conceive that the next clause should express something demonstrative of sickness. What wonder is there that she put a pillow under the head? (though, by the way, our translation of a pillow, for a bolster, has no great meaning in it.) I should apprehend the passage might be rendered, and she put a goat's skin to, or over, its head, and covered it with a garment; for thus there would be an appearance of sickness, and the imposition would not be so easily detected. Several interpreters have supposed, that Michal put goat's hair round the head of the image: but the interpretation that we have given seems nearest the Hebrew, and best suited to the circumstances. The Vulgate renders it, et pellem pilosam caprarum posuit ad caput ejus. Abarbanel and Abendana say, that women in those times were accustomed to have figures made in the likeness of their husbands, that when they were absent from them they might have their image to look upon. If this was the case, Michal's image, most probably, was one of this kind.

Verse 17

1 Samuel 19:17. Michal answered Saul, he said unto me, Let me go, &c.— We have an account of an action of a woman, Polyxena, the sister of the famous Dionysius, tyrant of Sicily, which is as noble and generous as this of Michal's. Her husband was accused of treason. He fled away by means of her contrivance: Dionysius, being informed of it, reproached her very severely, when she replied, "Can you imagine me so ungenerous, as to be acquainted with the danger that my husband was in, without doing myself the honour of partaking it with him?"

Verse 18

1 Samuel 19:18. He and Samuel went, and dwelt in Naioth The Chaldee renders this as if it was an appellation, the school of learning. This was the famous school of the prophets. As many have been at a loss to ascertain the specific nature of these schools, it will not be unseasonable to endeavour to remove their difficulties. We have in this book only a partial view of the prophets; i.e. a view of them while at their devotions only, and not at their studies: for Saul and his messengers coming when the society was prophesying, or at divine worship, the spirit of God fell upon them, and they prophesied also. And thus the Chaldee paraphrast understands prophesying; adoring God, and singing praises to him: for we may well suppose, that they began and ended all their daily studies with this holy exercise. The college of the prophets was dedicated to the study of the Jewish law only; and, as such, was naturally and properly a seminary of prophets: for those who were most knowing and zealous in the law were surely most fit to convey God's commands to his people. Samuel was set over, or was master of one of these schools. See Samuel Triplici Nomine Laudat.; by Dr. Barton.

Verses 20-23

1 Samuel 19:20-9.19.23. Saul sent messengers to take David—and he went thither, &c.— One intent of this prophesying of the messengers and Saul was to prevent them from seizing, and him from murdering, certainly David, and probably, in the same fit of rage, Samuel, and the company of the prophets who harboured them. And whether this prophesying consisted in predicting somewhat future, such as Saul's destruction, and David's advancement to the throne, or what is understood by preaching, yet it had certainly one good effect, worthy the Spirit of God to produce; the preservation of the life of one destined to sit on the throne of Israel. The change in the messengers of Saul was great; but that which was wrought in Saul himself was astonishing. He came to wreak his vengeance: but instead of a murderer he becomes a prophet, and puts himself naked entirely into the hands of Samuel, the prophets, and David, who might have made what advantage they pleased of an adventure so fortunate, even to have cut off Saul, and raised David to the throne. But they abhorred the thought; and as the Spirit of the Lord kept Saul in that condition till David was safe, so Saul was safe during the time that he was naked; i.e. destitute of his royal military robe. A noble evidence this of the innocence and loyalty of Samuel, the prophets, and David; while, at the same time, it affords a pleasing instance to a generous, compassionate mind, of the care of Providence over persecuted virtue, and of the impotence of human malice towards those whom God is determined to preserve.

Verse 24

1 Samuel 19:24. He stripped off his clothes—and lay down naked When Saul went down to Naioth he went like himself, with the military dress and distinguishing habit of a king; and when he prophesied, he put off his military habit or vestment, and thus appeared like the rest of the prophets, a plain, disarmed, and therefore naked man. The text says, he pulled off בגדיו begadav, his exterior garment. This is the certain meaning of the word בגד beged, without any forced criticism. Joseph's mistress, Genesis 39:12; Gen 39:15 caught him by his בגד garment,—and he left his garment,—and she laid up his garment. This can mean nothing but his external habit, his coat or cloak, which she laid hold of, and he easily dropped when she pulled it. Other instances I can produce. In like manner Saul stripped himself of his outward dress, and is therefore said to lie down naked, or without the clothes which he had just pulled off; and the word in all languages answering to the English word naked is frequently used, not in the sense of stark-naked, but in that of being ill-dressed, stripped of an exterior garment, and being quite destitute of arms. In this sense Isaiah is ordered to put off his sackcloth, and walk naked; i.e. without his prophetical dress, Isa 20:2 and we read of stripping the naked of their clothes, Job 22:6; Job 24:7. Saul might be thus naked, without any circumstances of extravagance and indecency.

Is Saul also among the prophets? This is mentioned as a proverb, by way of anticipation, ch. 1 Samuel 10:11-9.10.12.; but it is evident, that the original of the proverb was this second prophesying among the prophets: because, first, Saul was not at that time known to the people; and, secondly, because the original of the proverb is said to arise from this second prophesying in this very verse; therefore the account of the proverb in ch. 10 is given by way of anticipation. This proverb was used to express a thing unlooked for, and unlikely. What this was, maybe thus explained: Saul, with many great qualities, both of a public and a private man, and in no respect an unable chief, was yet so foolishly prejudiced in favour of the human policies of the neighbouring nations, as to become impiously cold and negligent in the support and advancement of the law of God, though raised to regal power from a low and obscure condition for this very purpose. He was, in a word, a mere politician, without the least zeal or love for the divine constitution of his country. This was his great, and no wonder it should prove his unpardonable crime; for his folly had reduced things to that extremity, that either he must fall, or the law. Now this pagan turn of mind was no secret to the people: when, therefore, they were told that he had sent frequent messengers to the supreme school of the prophets, where zeal for the law was so eminently professed, and had afterwards gone himself thither, and entered with divine emotion and extacy into their devotions, they received this extraordinary news with all the wonder and amazement that it deserved; and, in the height of their surprize, cried out, Is Saul also among the prophets? that is, "Is Saul, who, throughout his whole reign, has so much slighted and contemned the law, and would conduct all his actions by the mere rules of human policy; is he at length become studious of, and zealous for, the law of God?" And the miracle of such a change in a politician was brought into a proverb before the mistake was found out.

REFLECTIONS.—1st. Saul no longer seeks to cloke his bloody designs, but gives public orders to kill David as a traitor; and particularly commands Jonathan to dispatch the rival of his crown: but Jonathan's love was stronger than the ambition of a throne, and Saul's malice, by being undisguised, was the easier disappointed.

1. He warns David of his danger, and bids him hide himself till the morning in some secret place, because of the order which had been given; and by that time he hoped to procure some change in his cruel father, or, at least, to let David know how to proceed.
2. He takes the first opportunity the next morning to expostulate with his father, and to pacify his resentment. He urges the kindnesses that David had shewn him, the great obligations the whole land owed him; nay, Saul's own acknowledgments of it. How ungrateful and base then to murder so faithful a servant, and so valiant a subject! Had he committed aught worthy of death, indeed, this might cancel his past services; but Saul must be conscious of his innocence; and, therefore, to shed his blood would be as inhuman as unjust. Note; Such a friend as Jonathan, so disinterested, so faithful, is rare.

3. Saul having slept, his passion was cooled. Conviction accompanied Jonathan's arguments; he swears to save David harmless, revokes his bloody edict, and restores him to his place at court, with every apparent mark of regard and confidence. Note; (1.) The oath of a common swearer is bad security. (2.) Good advice, though from an inferior, deserves attention. (3.) Sudden changes of passionate men prognosticate no long continuance.

2nd, David is ever armed in Israel's cause; we find him again in the field, fighting the Lord's battles, and again victorious over the Philistines. But every fresh laurel on David's brow puts a sharp thorn in Saul's bosom: his melancholy returns; and, willing to relieve him, his son-in -law thinks it not beneath his dignity again to handle the harp: but while, in kind regard, he seeks to soothe the torments of Saul's heart, he little suspects the spear that stood ready to pierce his own. Swift and violent, Saul hurls the javelin to pierce him to the wall; but his agility avoids the blow, and, leaving his presence, where it was no longer safe to stay, he seeks, by flight, to save himself from the enraged monarch. Note; (1.) Something will always be found to allay the joys of our triumphs. (2.) No kindness can cure the ranklings of inveterate malice.

3rdly, David was now in imminent danger; for Saul, supposing him fled to his own house, dispatches a party to watch him and kill him there: but through mercy he escapes.
1. Michal, by whom Saul hoped to ruin him, loves him too well to betray him: no sooner is she apprized of his danger, than she informs him; and in the night, through the window, lets him down, that he might not be perceived by those who had beset the house; and in the morning, to give him more leisure to escape, feigns that he is sick, puts an image in his bed, and thus deceives the messengers of Saul. Note; (1.) Wives must love their husbands, and cleave to them even beyond their own parents. (2.) A woman's wits are often sharper than her husband's; and it is no disparagement for a man to follow his wife's advice.

2. Saul's rage will not put up with excuse; he will have David brought in his bed, that he may have the satisfaction of murdering him by his own hand. Note; Wicked men grow worse and worse as they resist their convictions, and provoke God to give them up to their violent passions.

3. Michal, when the cheat was discovered, well knowing her father's mad rage, seeks to appease him; and as she stopped not at one lie to save her husband, she hesitates not at another to excuse herself, even at the expence of her husband's character. Note; One lie usually hardens the conscience for another.

4thly, We have,
1. David's flight to Samuel to consult him in his distress, and to have his faith supported, with regard to the kingdom, now severely shaken by these persecutions. Note; God's ministers, in our distresses, are the properest advisers.

2. Saul is no sooner informed of the place of his abode, than he sends messengers to Naioth in Ramah to seize him. But God so over-ruled their spirits, that, instead of bringing David prisoner, they no sooner came into the congregation of the prophets, with Samuel at their head, than themselves were seized with the sacred enthusiasm, and prophesied among them: repeated messengers feel the same irresistible impulse; yet Saul, breathing out threatenings and slaughter; will not desist; and, conceiving his own heart to be secure from the impression, he will go in person, and, rather than not destroy David, will be himself his executioner. But how vain are man's impotent designs! He, too, again feels the strange influence. Before he approaches the gates of Ramah, his fury subsides; and, laying aside his military garb and weapons of war, he lies down at Samuel's feet a day and a night, to the admiration of the beholders. Meantime David had an opportunity given him to escape. Note; (1.) Many have come into the assembly of God's people with the most violent designs, who have fallen before the power of God, and been forced to hang down the arms designed to be lifted up in wrath. (2.) God can turn persecutors into preachers, and make those who breathed out threatenings sing his praises. (3.) It is no strange thing to see wicked men prophesy in his name, and do wonderful works; but all these, without they are accompanied by a change of heart, only aggravate their final reprobacy and eternal ruin.—Goldsmith, speaking of the effects produced by the prevailing piety of his country Clergyman, says:

Truth from his lips prevailed with double sway, And fools who came to scoff remain'd to pray. DESERTED VILLAGE.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 19". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/1-samuel-19.html. 1801-1803.