1 Samuel 20
Benson Commentary
And David fled from Naioth in Ramah, and came and said before Jonathan, What have I done? what is mine iniquity? and what is my sin before thy father, that he seeketh my life?
1 Samuel 20:1. David fled, and came and said before Jonathan — Saul’s being thrown into a trance, as mentioned in the foregoing verse, gave David time to escape, and he went from Naioth to Gibeah, where Jonathan was. “It was happy for David that he had such a friend at court, when he had such an enemy on the throne.” — Henry. What have I done? What is mine iniquity? — He appeals to Jonathan himself concerning his innocence, and endeavours to convince him that, notwithstanding he had committed no iniquity, Saul sought his life.

And he said unto him, God forbid; thou shalt not die: behold, my father will do nothing either great or small, but that he will shew it me: and why should my father hide this thing from me? it is not so.
1 Samuel 20:2. He said, God forbid: thou shalt not die — It appears by this that Jonathan knew nothing of his father’s design, and that the messengers before named had been sent to seize David without his privity. Hence, from a principle of filial respect to his father, he was very loath to believe that he would do so ill a thing. Behold, my father will do nothing, but he will show it me — In this he was greatly mistaken. Communicative as Saul was to his son Jonathan in other things, he was ashamed to disclose to him the wicked design he had formed against the life of his friend. Why should my father hide this thing from me? — Why? For an obvious reason; because it was too base and shameful to be discovered to any one that had any fear of God before his eyes, or any sense of moral obligation. He was afraid too that if he should disclose his design to Jonathan, he should find means to prevent its execution. It is not so — Jonathan gave credit to his father’s oath, mentioned 1 Samuel 19:6.

And David sware moreover, and said, Thy father certainly knoweth that I have found grace in thine eyes; and he saith, Let not Jonathan know this, lest he be grieved: but truly as the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, there is but a step between me and death.
1 Samuel 20:3. David sware moreover — The matter being of great moment, and Jonathan doubting the truth of it, he confirms his word with an oath, which follows in the end of the verse. Only he interposeth a reason why Saul concealed it from Jonathan. Let not Jonathan know this, lest he be grieved — What a noble and generous turn does David here give to the behaviour of Saul to Jonathan, lest he should think ill of his father, by insinuating that he had kept this a secret from him out of affection, lest it should give him pain.

Then said Jonathan unto David, Whatsoever thy soul desireth, I will even do it for thee.
1 Samuel 20:4-5. Whatsoever thou desirest — He does not say, that shall be lawful and honest; for he knew David too well to think he would ask anything that was otherwise. I will do it for thee — This is true friendship. Thus Christ testifies his love to us; Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do. And we must testify ours to him by keeping his commandments. Behold, to-morrow is the new-moon — There were solemn sacrifices every new-moon, and then a feast upon them. And David being one of the king’s family, by marrying his daughter, used to eat with them at these festival times. That I may hide myself in the field till the third day — That is, unto the next day but one after the new-moon. His meaning is not, that he would hide himself in any certain place all the three days, but that he would secure himself, either at Beth-lehem with his friends, or in some other place till the third day.

And David said unto Jonathan, Behold, to morrow is the new moon, and I should not fail to sit with the king at meat: but let me go, that I may hide myself in the field unto the third day at even.
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.
1 Samuel 20:6. Say, David earnestly asked of me — Jonathan, being the king’s son and deputy, used, it seems, to give license to military men to depart for a season upon just occasions. There is a yearly sacrifice for all the family — It is likely it was a custom among pious families to meet together once a year, and praise God for his mercies toward them all.

If he say thus, It is well; thy servant shall have peace: but if he be very wroth, then be sure that evil is determined by him.
Therefore thou shalt deal kindly with thy servant; for thou hast brought thy servant into a covenant of the LORD with thee: notwithstanding, if there be in me iniquity, slay me thyself; for why shouldest thou bring me to thy father?
1 Samuel 20:8. Thou shalt deal kindly with thy servant — In giving me timely notice, and a true account of Saul’s disposition and intention toward me. A covenant of the Lord — That is, a solemn covenant, not lightly undertaken, but seriously entered into, in the name and fear of God, and in his presence, calling him to be the witness of our sincerity therein, and the avenger of perfidiousness in him that breaks it. Slay me — I am contented thou shouldest kill me. For why — Why shouldest thou betray me to thy father, by concealing his evil intentions from me?

And Jonathan said, Far be it from thee: for if I knew certainly that evil were determined by my father to come upon thee, then would not I tell it thee?
1 Samuel 20:9-13. Jonathan said, Far be it from thee — Or, rather, Far be this away; for Jonathan is speaking of himself in this thing. Then said David, Who shall tell me? — Who shall bring me advice how matters stand? They went out both into the field — To take their measures about this matter. Jonathan said, O Lord God of Israel — Do thou hear and judge between us. These first words of the sentence seem to be an exclamation, or an abrupt speech, not usual in great passions, and the rest are as if he had said, Shall I, who love thee so much, be thought capable of breaking my word with thee? In all these verses the words are broken, concise, and interrupted: as the words of lovers are wont to be, especially when they are disturbed. But there are a tenderness and sincerity in this exclamation of Jonathan which are scarcely to be equalled. If there be good toward thee — I will show it thee, that thou mayest be easy. If it please my father to do thee evil — I will send thee away, that thou mayest be safe. Thus he would help to deliver him from evil if it were real, and from the fear of evil if it were but imaginary. The Lord do so and much more to Jonathan — If I speak deceitfully, or break my word with my friend: he expresseth himself thus solemnly that David might be fully assured of his sincerity. And thus God has confirmed his promises to us, that we might have strong consolation, Hebrews 6:17-18. The Lord be with thee — And protect and prosper thee. Thus, to his protestations, Jonathan adds his hearty prayers for David. As he hath been with my father — Formerly, though now he be withdrawn. This intimates his belief that David would be in his father’s place, and his desire that he might prosper in it better than his father now did.

Then said David to Jonathan, Who shall tell me? or what if thy father answer thee roughly?
And Jonathan said unto David, Come, and let us go out into the field. And they went out both of them into the field.
And Jonathan said unto David, O LORD God of Israel, when I have sounded my father about to morrow any time, or the third day, and, behold, if there be good toward David, and I then send not unto thee, and shew it thee;
The LORD do so and much more to Jonathan: but if it please my father to do thee evil, then I will shew it thee, and send thee away, that thou mayest go in peace: and the LORD be with thee, as he hath been with my father.
And thou shalt not only while yet I live shew me the kindness of the LORD, that I die not:
1 Samuel 20:14. And thou shalt show me the kindness of the Lord — That kindness to which thou hast engaged thyself, in the covenant sworn between thee and me in God’s presence. The words in the Hebrew run plainly thus: And wilt thou not, if I be then alive, (namely, when God had advanced David to the throne as he had done Saul,) wilt thou not show me the loving-kindness of the Lord? He made no doubt, but rather strongly affirmed his belief of it. That I die not — That thou do not kill me or mine, as princes of another line used to kill the nearest relations of the former line, from whom the kingdom was translated to them.

But also thou shalt not cut off thy kindness from my house for ever: no, not when the LORD hath cut off the enemies of David every one from the face of the earth.
1 Samuel 20:15. Thou shalt not cut off thy kindness from my house — The covenant they had made was not merely personal, but reached to their posterity, and was to be kept even when David should have the greatest power, and there were none to oppose his will. These verses seem strongly to indicate that Jonathan knew of David’s being anointed to the kingdom! How unspeakable a generosity is here shown by Jonathan to stipulate for his own life, and the lives of his posterity, with that man whose life, humanly speaking, was now in his power!

So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, Let the LORD even require it at the hand of David's enemies.
1 Samuel 20:16-17. So Jonathan made a covenant — The covenant which before was personal, he now extends to the whole house of David, expecting a reciprocal enlargement of it on David’s side, which doubtless he obtained. At the hand of David’s enemies — If either I, or any of my house, shall prove enemies to David or to his house, let the Lord, the witness of this covenant, severely punish the violators of it. Jonathan caused David to swear again — Hebrew, and Jonathan added or proceeded to swear; that is, having himself sworn to David, or adjured David, in the foregoing verse, he here requires David’s oath to him, by way of restipulation or confirmation. For he loved him, &c. — The greatness of his love to him induced him to use every means in his power to secure David’s friendship to himself and his posterity, and to ensure the inviolable observance of this covenant through all their generations.

And Jonathan caused David to swear again, because he loved him: for he loved him as he loved his own soul.
Then Jonathan said to David, To morrow is the new moon: and thou shalt be missed, because thy seat will be empty.
And when thou hast stayed three days, then thou shalt go down quickly, and come to the place where thou didst hide thyself when the business was in hand, and shalt remain by the stone Ezel.
1 Samuel 20:19. When thou hast stayed three days, &c. — This is commonly interpreted of his staying so long with his kindred at Bethlehem. In the Hebrew the words are, Thou shalt three times go down to a very low place; and the meaning seems to be, that if Jonathan did not come to the place appointed the first day, David should take it for granted that he had no information of importance to communicate, and should come again the second day; and if Jonathan brought him no intelligence then, he should come on the third. Houbigant interprets the words, “But on the third day thou shalt come quickly to that place, in which thou shalt hide thyself on the feast-day.” When the business was in hand — When this same business which they were now treating about was in agitation formerly; namely, to discover Saul’s mind and purpose toward David, 1 Samuel 19:2-3. By the stone Ezel — A stone probably erected to direct travellers in the way: he was to hide himself in some cave or other convenient place near it.

And I will shoot three arrows on the side thereof, as though I shot at a mark.
And, behold, I will send a lad, saying, Go, find out 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.
1 Samuel 20:21-23. I will send a lad, &c. — I will send him before I shoot, to find and take up the arrows which I shall shoot: and I shall shoot them either short of him or beyond him, as I shall see occasion. If I say, Behold the arrows are beyond thee — This signal seems to have been agreed on between them, in case Jonathan was so watched and followed, as not to have an opportunity of communing with David by word of mouth. The Lord be between thee and me — As a witness and a judge, and between our families for ever, if on either side this league of friendship be violated.

But if I say thus unto the young man, Behold, the arrows are beyond thee; go thy way: for the LORD hath sent thee away.
And as touching the matter which thou and I have spoken of, behold, the LORD be between thee and me for ever.
So David hid himself in the field: and when the new moon was come, the king sat him down to eat meat.
1 Samuel 20:24-26. David hid himself in the field — Namely, at the time appointed: for it seems probable that he went first to Beth-lehem, and thence returned to the field, when the occasion required. Jonathan arose — He rose from his seat where he had sat next the king, and stood up at Abner’s coming, to do honour to him, who was his father’s cousin, and the general of the army. Something hath befallen him — Some accident, which has rendered him unclean, and so unfit to partake of this feast, which consisted in part of the remainders of the peace-offerings, according to the law; (Leviticus 7:20;) unfit also to come into any company, much more, into the king’s company, lest he should pollute them also.

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.
Nevertheless Saul spake not any thing that day: for he thought, Something hath befallen him, he is not clean; surely he is not clean.
And it came to pass on the morrow, which was the second day of the month, that David's place was empty: and Saul said unto Jonathan his son, Wherefore cometh not the son of Jesse to meat, neither yesterday, nor to day?
1 Samuel 20:27-28. Wherefore cometh not the son of Jesse? — So he calls him in contempt and scorn, to mark the meanness of his original, and as not deigning to call him by his proper name. Neither yesterday nor to-day — For the uncleanness that came by some accident usually lasted but for one day. David earnestly asked leave of me — Which he, being next to the king, it is likely, had power to grant, as appears from Saul’s demanding of him what was become of David.

And Jonathan answered Saul, David earnestly asked leave of me to go to Bethlehem:
And he said, Let me go, I pray thee; for our family hath a sacrifice in the city; and my brother, he hath commanded me to be there: and now, if I have found favour in thine eyes, let me get away, I pray thee, and see my brethren. Therefore he cometh not unto the king's table.
1 Samuel 20:29-30. My brother, he hath commanded me to be there — The eldest brother, it seems, was wont to let all the rest know that their company was expected. Thou son of the perverse, rebellious woman — Or rather, according to the Hebrew, Thou son of perverse rebellion; that is, a very perverse rebel. Thou hast chosen the son of Jesse to thine own confusion — Made him thy friend to thy utter undoing and disgrace. For men will conclude that thou hast no royal blood in thy veins, that thou canst so tamely give up thy crown to so contemptible a person. The confusion of thy mother’s nakedness — To the reproach of her having children, as if she were an adulteress, and thou and the rest base-born, and none of you worthy to inherit the kingdom: or rather, he thus asperses Jonathan’s very birth, as if so degenerate a son could not be his, but must be the offspring of his mother’s guilt, the issue of a criminal commerce with some other man.

Then Saul's anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said unto him, Thou son of the perverse rebellious woman, do not I know that thou hast chosen the son of Jesse to thine own confusion, and unto the confusion of thy mother's nakedness?
For as long as the son of Jesse liveth upon the ground, thou shalt not be established, nor thy kingdom. Wherefore now send and fetch him unto me, for he shall surely die.
1 Samuel 20:31. Thou shalt not be established, nor thy kingdom — Though Samuel had long before this declared to Saul, in the name of the Lord, that the kingdom should not continue with him, nor descend to his posterity; yet he seems to have had hopes that he should be able to prevent this declaration from being verified by his policy and taking proper measures.

And Jonathan answered Saul his father, and said unto him, Wherefore shall he be slain? what hath he done?
And Saul cast a javelin at him to smite him: whereby Jonathan knew that it was determined of his father to slay David.
1 Samuel 20:33-34. Saul cast a javelin to smite him — Saul seemed a moment before to be in great care, that Jonathan should be established in his kingdom: and now he himself aims at his life! What fools, what worse than savage beasts, does anger make men! Because — Or, and because, &c., for this seems to be a second cause of his grief; his father had done him shame — That is, had done shame, not to David, but Jonathan, by giving him such rough words, and throwing a javelin at him. It may, however, be understood of his father’s speaking so contemptuously of David.

So Jonathan arose from the table in fierce anger, and did eat no meat the second day of the month: for he was grieved for David, because his father had done him shame.
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.
And he said unto his lad, Run, find out now the arrows which I shoot. And as the lad ran, he shot an arrow beyond him.
And when the lad was come to the place of the arrow which Jonathan had shot, Jonathan cried after the lad, and said, Is not the arrow beyond thee?
1 Samuel 20:37. When the lad was come to the place — That is, near to the place: or, and the lad went; or, was going on to the place; for the words following show that he was not yet come thither. The Hebrew word בואbo, signifies either to come or to go. See Ruth 3:7; and Jonah 1:3.

And Jonathan cried after the lad, Make speed, haste, stay not. And Jonathan's lad gathered up the arrows, and came to his master.
But the lad knew not any thing: only Jonathan and David knew the matter.
And Jonathan gave his artillery unto his lad, and said unto him, Go, carry them to the city.
1 Samuel 20:40. His artillery — His bow, and arrows, and quiver.

And as soon as the lad was gone, David arose out of a place toward the south, and fell on his face to the ground, and bowed himself three times: and they kissed one another, and wept one with another, until David exceeded.
1 Samuel 20:41. And fell on his face to the ground, &c. — After three bows, he fell on his face; out of reverence to Jonathan, as the king’s son, and in tenderness to him, as his most generous friend. They kissed one another, and wept one with another — Nothing can be imagined more generous, and, at the same time, more soft and moving, than this meeting of these two friends. Jonathan seems, out of tenderness to David, to have suppressed some part of his grief. But David, who reflected that he was now taking his last leave of a friend who had often saved his life, and was now just come from speaking in his favour, at the imminent hazard of his own life, could not restrain himself. The thought of taking a farewell of so invaluable a friend, and, at the same time, of leaving all his comforts, even those of God’s sanctuary, was so bitter, that he could not bear it with moderation; and therefore is said to have exceeded. Perhaps his temper was more tender, and his passions stronger, than those of Jonathan; who, however, seems evidently to have done great violence to his feelings, and to have had no little difficulty so to restrain his grief as not to sink his friend too much, but to send him away with a calm confidence in God, and religious tranquillity and peace of mind.

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 for ever. And he arose and departed: and Jonathan went into the city.
1 Samuel 20:42. Jonathan said, The Lord be between thee and me, &c. — As much as to say, Fear not but I will faithfully keep my covenant with thee; as I doubt not of thy perpetual steadfastness in it with me and my posterity. And this must be our satisfaction in this sad separation. And he arose and departed — That is, David left Jonathan, that he might avoid the effects of Saul’s wrath, and escape immediate destruction; and Jonathan returned to his family and friends. And it appears that these two friends never met again on earth, except once, and that was by stealth in a wood, chap. 23. 16. But their spirits have long been united in the paradise of God, and they shall spend an eternity together in their complete persons, in that world of love and harmony where, the former things being passed away, friends united in heart will be separated no more!

Benson Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

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