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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

1 Samuel 25

Verse 1

1 Samuel 25:1. And Samuel died This great prophet was in the ninety-seventh or ninety-eighth year of his age: he had ruled sixteen, or, as others think, twenty years before the reign of Saul, and judged the Israelites, that is, was their principal judge, for about forty years after. No wonder that so righteous a ruler, and so just a judge, should be universally lamented, especially when the wisdom and equity of his government, compared with Saul's tyranny and extravagancies, made his memory more dear, and his loss more regretted. He was buried in his house at Ramah; for the Jews had no places of public sepulture. Each family had its private sepulchres; which appears to have been the case from Abraham to the time of Joseph of Arimathea. They were, indeed, for the most part, in fields and rocks; and Samuel is the first that we read of who was buried in, or at his own house; probably in his garden: see ch. 1Sa 28:3 though we are afterwards told that Joab was buried in the same manner, 1Ki 2:34 and the practice, for aught we know, might have been frequent among them; as we are told it was enjoined the Thebans, "before they built a house, to build a sepulchre in the place." Samuel was now attended by all Israel to his grave; and his remains were removed, many centuries after, with incredible pomp, and almost one continued train of attendants, from Ramah to Constantinople, by the emperor Arcadius, Ann. Dom. 401.

REFLECTIONS.—The best of men are dying worms. Samuel departs in peace: he had lived highly respected, and dies universally lamented. His last days he had spent far from a busy world, in the pleasing enjoyment of presiding in the school of the prophets at Naioth, where he was at leisure to look forward to that rest to which he was going, and wait his joyful dismission. He was buried in Ramah, in his own house or garden, and all Israel mourned his loss; a loss the more sensibly felt in the present distracted condition of their country under Saul's outrageous government. David hereupon retires to Paran, that he might be more out of the way of Saul. Note; (1.) In age it becomes us particularly to look forward, and as we get nearer our journey's end, to prepare for our great change. (2.) The death of a great and faithful minister will draw forth tears of real grief from all who know the invaluable blessing they have lost, and who sensibly feel the want of his admonitions, preaching, and prayers.

Wilderness of Paran Which was to the south of Judea, and on the confines of Arabia, nay, the Mahometans make it a part of Arabia Deserta; and David himself is generally thought to own it such in that dolorous complaint of the 120th Psalm, where he laments his so long continuance in the tents of Kedar: but that by no means follows; for he might, upon Saul's pursuit, have passed from Paran to Arabia, and so sojourned there a considerable time; but as it was the place of Ishmael's residence, it cannot, I think, well be doubted to have been part of Arabia. There seems no doubt, from the whole of this history, that Paran, Maon, and Carmel, were contiguous. See note on chap. 1 Samuel 23:14.

Verse 3

1 Samuel 25:3. Nabal—as of the house of Caleb כלבי kalibi, in the Hebrew, and he was a Calebite. As כלב caleb signifies a dog, some of the ancient interpreters understand the word as expressive of his bad disposition; whence the Syriac, Arabic, and LXX translate it, a man of a churlish, snarling, or dog-like disposition, ανθρωπος Κυνικος . See Le Clerc and Calmet.

Verses 5-9

1 Samuel 25:5-9. And David sent out, &c.— In this message of David to Nabal, which is a fine picture of ancient and true politeness, there are three things well worth our notice. First, the direction: To him that liveth, 1 Samuel 25:6. (in prosperity is not in the Hebrew); and secondly, the salutation: Peace be to thee, and peace to thine house, &c. In the Scripture, living and being happy, are synonimous: David's own benevolent spirit suggested to him, that, being happy ourselves, we should delight in making others share in our happiness. God does so; and the man after God's own heart does so too: at the same time David well knew that Nabal was obliged to assist him from God's own express command; Deuteronomy 15:7. In the next place, the great beauty and propriety of that ancient eastern salutation, Peace be to thee, &c. is very emphatical, inasmuch as the best blessings of life, and all the social affections attend upon peace; and in the last place, the modesty of this message is very remarkable: for though David had much real merit towards Nabal, yet he puts his request only upon having no demerit towards him; (well knowing that some martial men are wont to deem this merit enough towards the tame inhabitants of the country; and they too think it so;) but at the same time referring him to his own servants for fuller information. The LXX translate the 7th verse thus: Behold, I have heard that thy shepherds are now shearing for thee. They were with us in the wilderness, and we have not hindered them, nor have we commanded them any thing all the days of their being in Carmel. Upon which the author of the Observations remarks, that this is translating like people perfectly well acquainted with the managements of the violent and rapacious Arab Emirs, whose manners David, though he lived in the wilderness as they did, did not adopt. One of them, at the head of six hundred men, would have commanded from time to time some provisions or present from Nabal's servants for permitting them to feed in quiet, and would have driven them away from the watering place upon any dislike. He had not done either. Nor is this a misrepresentation of the LXX. The Hebrew word הכלמנום heklamnum, which we translate hurt, the Margin tells us signifies shamed; and it is used, Jer 14:3 to express a returning from a watering place without water: and the word נפקד niphkad, translated missing, is the passive of the verb פקד pakad, which signifies to visit, and perhaps comes to signify missing, or wanting, from some things being usually wanting where an Arab emir had visited. Some late authors have represented this address of David to Nabal as a very strange one, and made it one topic of defamation; as if he had the assurance to press Nabal for a supply of his wants, on the plea of his not having robbed or hurt his servants, for which he could have no pretence; and on the old man's declining it, resolves to cut him off, with those of his household. It would be an over-officious zeal to attempt to justify this design of David, since he himself condemned it, as he certainly did when he blessed God for preventing him, by his Providence, from avenging himself with his own hand, 1 Samuel 25:33. But it is right to place every action in its true light as far as possible; and David might certainly with a very good grace remind Nabal, that though he was unjustly driven out from the inhabited parts of Judea, and forced to live very much like the Arabs of the desart, and reduced to necessities equal to theirs, he did not imitate their rapaciousness, nor extort the least thing from his servants when they were absolutely in his power, as the Arabs of the wilderness often did. When therefore, in return to all this, Nabal treated him with reproaches, it is the less to be wondered at, that he was wrought up to a rage, which prompted him to think of imitating these Arabs, among whom he was now forced to dwell, and who thought themselves authorised to take from others what they wanted, and even to kill those who resisted, which is what they do to this day. But the law of God hath hitherto restrained him from any thing of this kind, made him acknowledge to be wrong the thought which anger had inspired, and engaged him to lay aside the bloody purpose. Observations, p. 65.

Verses 10-11

1 Samuel 25:10-11. Nabal answered David's servants Nabal's answer was agreeable to his character, rude and sullen, a strong image of ungoverned brutality, and very natural to that insolence which wealth is too apt to infuse into undisciplined spirits. He had thoroughly learned Saul's contemptuous stile; Who is the son of Jesse? Nor could any reproach more atrocious be thrown upon a well-born, well-bred, and innocent man, than that in these words, there be many servants, &c. as it implies those crimes on account of which bad servants become fugitives from their masters.

REFLECTIONS.—We have here an account of Nabal, his family, and circumstances. He was sprung from a noble stock, the distinguished Caleb; but, like many others, became the reproach of his ancestors: a man, indeed, of vast wealth, which made him great in the eyes of men; but of a mean and little spirit; and, as mean spirits usually are, insolent, churlish, and overbearing. His wife was of a character the reverse of his; her name Abigail, her father's joy: a woman of excellent understanding, generous in her temper, and not more adorned by the accomplishments of her person, than by the beauties of her mind. Note; (1.) The greatest gifts of this world are often possessed by those who have neither wisdom nor grace to improve them. (2.) Many a wife, like Abigail, is doomed, by inhuman parents, for a great estate, to bear the yoke of such a Nabal. But how little happiness can be expected from such an union!

Verse 14

1 Samuel 25:14. And he railed on them The Hebrew word ויעט waiiaat, is never used to signify railing, but denotes, he flew at them, like a ravenous bird on its prey: an expression used in almost all languages to denote a violent attack or assault upon any person to abuse and injure him; and it is probable, by David's resentment, that Nabal employed some of his servants to attack them. The same verb is used to denote the sudden, furious, hostile invasion of the prey; ch. 1Sa 25:14 and is there rendered by the LXX, "Hast rushed upon the spoil," viz. in order to seize it. The substantive עיט aiiet signifies a bird of prey; so we read, Jeremiah 12:9. The bird with talons; as that place should be rendered.

Verse 22

1 Samuel 25:22. So and more also do God unto the enemies of David If we put all circumstances together, though David's passion, and oath to destroy Nabal and servants, are not to be vindicated; though the resolution was cruel, and the oath a rash and wicked one, yet it must be allowed, that the provocation given him was very great. The last clause of this verse is rendered by the French, I will leave to Nabal nothing that belongs to him, from man even to dog.

Verses 23-31

1 Samuel 25:23-31. When Abigail saw David, &c.— Abigail was a woman of distinguished merit. She had the advantage of a beautiful person, set off by an excellent understanding, a graceful address, and uncommon prudence; these are finely discovered in her speech to David, which is full of such humble, pathetic, natural, and for that reason powerful eloquence, as is not, I verily think, to be paralleled in antiquity. She begins by begging that the blame of this misconduct might rather light on her than on her husband; see 2Sa 14:9 but begs at the same time, that David would please to hear what she has to say in her own excuse. As for Nabal, he was below David's notice; a man, as his name implied, נבל nabal, (which signifies folly in the Hebrew,) of very mean understanding; and she excuses herself by assuring him, that she heard not a word of his message till his servants were sent away. She then insinuates the goodness of God to him, in withholding him from revenge and from blood; and in the very same sentence interweaves a most solemn adjuration to abstain from both, 1 Samuel 25:26. Abigail, after this, beseeches David that he would suffer his servants to accept her presents (they were too mean for his acceptance): repeating her petition for forgiveness, and adding, that God would certainly preserve him from his enemies, whom she wishes to be all as Nabal, as truly despicable, as incapable to harm him, and as much humbled before him; that God, whose battles he had fought (finely insinuating that such only were worthy his prowess), and whose laws he had hitherto kept inviolable, would certainly preserve, and in the end establish him in the throne: and that then it would be matter of no remorse or disquiet to him, that he had abstained from self-vengeance, and the shedding of blood; concluding with an earnest request, that, when God had established him, he would remember her. The words in the 29th verse, But the soul of my Lord shall be bound in the bundle of LIFE, &c. Calmet would render, But the soul of my Lord shall be like a living stone with the Lord. It is certain, that by this translation the opposition is finely marked between the two clauses of the verse: but we do not know of either versions or manuscripts which favour this translation of our learned Benedictine. Houbigant translates as we do, and observes, that the similitude is drawn from little bundles in which things of value are collected, that they may not be scattered about and thrown away; and at the same time a comparison is made between these bundles, and a sling in which a stone is put, not to be preserved, but to be thrown away. See Schmidt's Dissertations.

Verses 32-34

1 Samuel 25:32-34. David said to Abigail, Blessed be the Lord God The finest spirits are soonest kindled into a flame; and to see them quickly cooled and calmed again upon the first shew of submission, by the first gleam of conviction, and raging wrath changed in one instant into flowing humanity and benignity, is the surest test of generosity and true magnanimity. David, convinced by Abigail's prudence of the rashness of his resolution, blesses the Lord God of Israel for sending her, blesses her advice, and blesses her, who kept him from shedding blood, and avenging himself. Can there be a finer picture of a generous mind? See Waterland's Script. Vindicated, p. 100.

Verse 37

1 Samuel 25:37. His heart died within him The baseness of Nabal's own heart made him believe David incapable of forgiving him; and therefore, upon Abigail's representing the case to him, which, no doubt, she did in lively colours, his terror became irremediable. This extremity of terror we commonly express by the term thunderstruck; which is finely and feelingly described by Ovid. Trist. lib. i, eleg. 3.

So was I stunn'd, as one that's thunder-struck, Who lives, but lives unconscious of his life.

Verse 39

1 Samuel 25:39. When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, &c.— David, hearing of the death of Nabal, adores the divine justice so remarkably displayed in the punishment of this wicked man; and is full of thankfulness, that his cause was thus remarkably pleaded, without any intervention of his own. How fine a lesson is this to mankind, to remit injuries; to refer themselves and their concerns to the providence of God; to quell the spirit of revenge in the haughty heart, and to recede from rash and wicked resolutions, even though backed by solemn oaths!

Verse 40

1 Samuel 25:40. When the servants of David were come to Abigail We would just remark, that in this, as in their historical details in general, the sacred writers are very concise. There can be no doubt, but that a decent time passed before David's proposals were made to Abigail, and that his servants omitted nothing to convince her of the respectful and tender sentiments wherewith her virtue and beauty had inspired the heart of David.

Verse 43

1 Samuel 25:43. David also took Ahinoam Ahinoam is always mentioned as first of the wives of David. See chap. 1 Samuel 27:3 1 Samuel 30:5, &c. And, therefore, it is supposed, that he was married to her before he took Abigail. Polygamy was a practice too prevalent in those ages, even under the dark Jewish dispensation; and David, probably, hoped to strengthen his interest in his own tribe by this double alliance, especially when he apprehended that it must be considerably weakened in that of Benjamin, by Michal's being taken away from him, 1 Samuel 25:44. For Saul had given Michal his daughter, David's wife, to Phalti the son of Laish, a Benjamite; which Saul did to take away all his pretensions to the crown from that alliance.

Remarks on the Character of Samuel.

How singular was the character and piety of Samuel! Devoted to God from the womb, and worthy to be so! Early dedicated to the Divinity, and hallowed by his influence! Descended from prophets, himself a greater prophet. The peculiar service of God constituted the early business of his life; nor was it ever interrupted by any thing but the service of his country.
The Scriptures are certainly the solace of life; but the pleasure of perusing them is always heightened when they demonstrate their own veracity. No man, guided by nature only, in the vigour of life, and in the age of ambition and avarice, forced by no danger, urged by no guilt, and pressed by no infirmity of mind or body, ever yet, voluntarily, and of his own choice, resigned the supreme power, secluded his sons from the succession, and elected two strangers to it, in succession, neither of whom he had ever seen before. Samuel did all this; and therefore, when the Scriptures assure us that he did it by the divine command, we cannot help believing them: the narration carries with it its own irresistible evidence.
Happy Samuel! Exalted to supreme power without ambition; exerting it without oppression or avarice; and resigning it without reluctance, when his God commanded! Retiring (rare felicity!) with undiminished dignity, or, to speak more justly, with added honour, from the concurrent and universal testimony of his country to his equity and incorruption! Oh, that all princes would so use their power, or so resign it! Illustrious in the splendor of authority, and yet more so in the shade of a cell; so far from envying his successor to the supreme power, he pitied and prayed for him! He had raised him by the divine favour, but could not restore him.
It would be hard to decide which was happiest, his life, or his death. He lived to the noblest of purposes, the glory of God, and the good of his country; he died full of years and honours, universally lamented and desired. Such was Samuel! Such always were, and always will be, those, whose duty is their delight, and whose God is their glory!

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 25". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/1-samuel-25.html. 1801-1803.