1 Samuel 25
Clarke's Commentary
The death of Samuel, 1 Samuel 25:1. The history of Nabal, and his churlishness towards David and his men, 1 Samuel 25:2-12. David, determining to punish him, is appeased by Abigail, Nabal's wife, vv. 13-35. Abigail returns, and tells Nabal of the danger that he has escaped: who on hearing it is thunderstruck, and dies in ten days, 1 Samuel 25:36-38 David, hearing of this, sends and takes Abigail to wife, 1 Samuel 25:39-42. He marries also Ahinoam of Jezreel, Saul having given Michal, David's wife, to Phalti, the son of Laish, 1 Samuel 25:43, 1 Samuel 25:44.

And Samuel died; and all the Israelites were gathered together, and lamented him, and buried him in his house at Ramah. And David arose, and went down to the wilderness of Paran.
And Samuel died - Samuel lived, as is supposed, about ninety-eight years; was in the government of Israel before Saul from sixteen to twenty years; and ceased to live, according to the Jews, about four months before the death of Saul; but according to Calmet and others, two years. But all this is very uncertain; how long he died before Saul, cannot be ascertained. For some account of his character, see the end of the chapter, 1 Samuel 25:44 (note).

Buried him in his house - Probably this means, not his dwelling-house, but the house or tomb he had made for his sepulture; and thus the Syriac and Arabic seem to have understood it.

David - went down to the wilderness of Paran - This was either on the confines of Judea, or in Arabia Petraea, between the mountains of Judah and Mount Sinai; it is evident from the history that it was not far from Carmel, on the south confines of Judah.

And there was a man in Maon, whose possessions were in Carmel; and the man was very great, and he had three thousand sheep, and a thousand goats: and he was shearing his sheep in Carmel.
Now the name of the man was Nabal; and the name of his wife Abigail: and she was a woman of good understanding, and of a beautiful countenance: but the man was churlish and evil in his doings; and he was of the house of Caleb.
The name of the man was Nabal - The word נבל nabal signifies to be foolish, base, or villanous; and hence the Latin word nebulo, knave, is supposed to be derived.

The name of his wife Abigail - The joy or exultation of my father. A woman of sense and beauty, married to the boor mentioned above, probably because he was rich. Many women have been thus sacrificed.

Of the house of Caleb - והוא כלבי vehu Chalibbi, "he was a Calebite." But as the word caleb signifies a dog, the Septuagint have understood it as implying a man of a canine disposition, and translate it thus, και ὁ ανθρωπος κυνικος, he was a doggish man. It is understood in the same way by the Syriac and Arabic.

And David heard in the wilderness that Nabal did shear his sheep.
And David sent out ten young men, and David said unto the young men, Get you up to Carmel, and go to Nabal, and greet him in my name:
And thus shall ye say to him that liveth in prosperity, Peace be both to thee, and peace be to thine house, and peace be unto all that thou hast.
Peace be both to thee - This is the ancient form of sending greetings to a friend: Peace to Thee, peace to thy Household, and peace to all that Thou Hast. That is, May both thyself, thy family, and all that pertain unto thee, be in continual prosperity!

Perhaps David, by this salutation, wished Nabal to understand that he had acted so towards him and his property that nothing had been destroyed, and that all had been protected; see 1 Samuel 25:15-17.

And now I have heard that thou hast shearers: now thy shepherds which were with us, we hurt them not, neither was there ought missing unto them, all the while they were in Carmel.
Thy shepherds which were with us, we hurt them not - It is most evident that David had a claim upon Nabal, for very essential services performed to his herdmen at Carmel. He not only did them no hurt, and took none of their flocks for the supply of his necessities, but he protected them from the rapacity of others; they were a Wall unto us, said Nabal's servants, both by night and day. In those times, and to the present day, wandering hordes of Arabs, under their several chiefs, think they have a right to exact contributions of provisions, etc., wherever they come; David had done nothing of this kind, but protected them against those who would.

Ask thy young men, and they will shew thee. Wherefore let the young men find favour in thine eyes: for we come in a good day: give, I pray thee, whatsoever cometh to thine hand unto thy servants, and to thy son David.
Whatsoever cometh to thine hand - As thou art making a great feast for thy servants, and I and my men, as having essentially served thee, would naturally come in for a share were we present; send a portion by my ten young men, for me and my men, that we also may rejoice with you. Certainly this was a very reasonable and a very modest request. This mode of address is not unfrequent among the Hindoos: "O father, fill the belly of thy son; he is in distress."

And when David's young men came, they spake to Nabal according to all those words in the name of David, and ceased.
And Nabal answered David's servants, and said, Who is David? and who is the son of Jesse? there be many servants now a days that break away every man from his master.
Who is David? - Nabal's answer shows the surliness of his disposition. It was unjust to refuse so reasonable a request; and the manner of the refusal was highly insulting. It is true what his own servants said of him, He is such a son of Belial that one cannot speak to him, 1 Samuel 25:17.

Shall I then take my bread, and my water, and my flesh that I have killed for my shearers, and give it unto men, whom I know not whence they be?
So David's young men turned their way, and went again, and came and told him all those sayings.
And David said unto his men, Gird ye on every man his sword. And they girded on every man his sword; and David also girded on his sword: and there went up after David about four hundred men; and two hundred abode by the stuff.
But one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal's wife, saying, Behold, David sent messengers out of the wilderness to salute our master; and he railed on them.
But the men were very good unto us, and we were not hurt, neither missed we any thing, as long as we were conversant with them, when we were in the fields:
They were a wall unto us both by night and day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep.
Now therefore know and consider what thou wilt do; for evil is determined against our master, and against all his household: for he is such a son of Belial, that a man cannot speak to him.
Then Abigail made haste, and took two hundred loaves, and two bottles of wine, and five sheep ready dressed, and five measures of parched corn, and an hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs, and laid them on asses.
Took two hundred loaves - The Eastern bread is ordinarily both thin and small; and answers to our cakes.

Two bottles of wine - That is, two goat-skins full. The hide is pulled off the animal without ripping up; the places where the legs, etc., were are sewed up, and then the skin appears one large bag. This is properly the Scripture and Eastern bottle. There is one such before me.

Five sheep - Not one sheep to one hundred men.

Clusters of raisins - Raisins dried in the sun.

Cakes of figs - Figs cured, and then pressed together. We receive the former in jars, and the latter in small barrels; and both articles answer the description here given.

Now all this provision was a matter of little worth, and, had it been granted in the first instance, it would have perfectly satisfied David, and secured the good offices of him and his men. Abigail showed both her wisdom and prudence in making this provision. Out of three thousand sheep Nabal could not have missed five; and as this claim was made only in the time of sheep-shearing, it could not have been made more than once in the year: and it certainly was a small price for such important services.

And she said unto her servants, Go on before me; behold, I come after you. But she told not her husband Nabal.
And it was so, as she rode on the ass, that she came down by the covert of the hill, and, behold, David and his men came down against her; and she met them.
She came down - and David - came down - David was coming down Mount Paran; Abigail was coming down from Carmel. - Calmet.

Now David had said, Surely in vain have I kept all that this fellow hath in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that pertained unto him: and he hath requited me evil for good.
So and more also do God unto the enemies of David, if I leave of all that pertain to him by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall.
So and more also do God - Nothing can justify this part of David's conduct. Whatever his provocation might have been, he had suffered, properly speaking, no wrongs; and his resolution to cut off a whole innocent family, because Nabal had acted ungenerously towards him, was abominable and cruel, not to say diabolic. He who attempts to vindicate this conduct of David is, at least constructively, a foe to God and truth. David himself condemns this most rash and unwarrantable conduct, and thanks God for having prevented him from doing this evil, 1 Samuel 25:32, etc.

Any that pisseth against the wall - This expression certainly means either men or dogs, and should be thus translated, if I leave, any male; and this will answer both to men and dogs, and the offensive mode of expression be avoided. I will not enter farther into the subject: Bochart and Calmet have done enough, and more than enough; and in the plainest language too.

And when Abigail saw David, she hasted, and lighted off the ass, and fell before David on her face, and bowed herself to the ground,
And fell at his feet, and said, Upon me, my lord, upon me let this iniquity be: and let thine handmaid, I pray thee, speak in thine audience, and hear the words of thine handmaid.
Let not my lord, I pray thee, regard this man of Belial, even Nabal: for as his name is, so is he; Nabal is his name, and folly is with him: but I thine handmaid saw not the young men of my lord, whom thou didst send.
Now therefore, my lord, as the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, seeing the LORD hath withholden thee from coming to shed blood, and from avenging thyself with thine own hand, now let thine enemies, and they that seek evil to my lord, be as Nabal.
And now this blessing which thine handmaid hath brought unto my lord, let it even be given unto the young men that follow my lord.
I pray thee, forgive the trespass of thine handmaid: for the LORD will certainly make my lord a sure house; because my lord fighteth the battles of the LORD, and evil hath not been found in thee all thy days.
And evil hath not been found in thee - Thou hast not committed any act of this kind hitherto.

Yet a man is risen to pursue thee, and to seek thy soul: but the soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life with the LORD thy God; and the souls of thine enemies, them shall he sling out, as out of the middle of a sling.
Shall be bound in the bundle of life - Thy life shall be precious in the sight of the Lord: it shall be found in the bundle of life; it shall be supported by Him who is the Spring and Fountain of life, and ever be found united to those who are most favored by the Almighty.

Them shall he sling out - Far from being bound and kept together in union with the Fountain of life, he will cast them off from himself as a stone is cast out from a sling. This betokens both force and violence.

And it shall come to pass, when the LORD shall have done to my lord according to all the good that he hath spoken concerning thee, and shall have appointed thee ruler over Israel;
That this shall be no grief unto thee, nor offence of heart unto my lord, either that thou hast shed blood causeless, or that my lord hath avenged himself: but when the LORD shall have dealt well with my lord, then remember thine handmaid.
And David said to Abigail, Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, which sent thee this day to meet me:
And blessed be thy advice, and blessed be thou, which hast kept me this day from coming to shed blood, and from avenging myself with mine own hand.
For in very deed, as the LORD God of Israel liveth, which hath kept me back from hurting thee, except thou hadst hasted and come to meet me, surely there had not been left unto Nabal by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall.
So David received of her hand that which she had brought him, and said unto her, Go up in peace to thine house; see, I have hearkened to thy voice, and have accepted thy person.
And Abigail came to Nabal; and, behold, he held a feast in his house, like the feast of a king; and Nabal's heart was merry within him, for he was very drunken: wherefore she told him nothing, less or more, until the morning light.
But it came to pass in the morning, when the wine was gone out of Nabal, and his wife had told him these things, that his heart died within him, and he became as a stone.
His heart died within him, and he became as a stone - He was thunderstruck, and was so terrified at the apprehension of what he had escaped, that the fear overcame his mind, he became insensible to all things around him, probably refused all kinds of nourishment, and died in ten days.

And it came to pass about ten days after, that the LORD smote Nabal, that he died.
And when David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, Blessed be the LORD, that hath pleaded the cause of my reproach from the hand of Nabal, and hath kept his servant from evil: for the LORD hath returned the wickedness of Nabal upon his own head. And David sent and communed with Abigail, to take her to him to wife.
To take her to him to wife - It is likely that he had heard before this that Saul, to cut off all his pretensions to the throne, had married Michal to Phalti; and this justified David in taking Abigail or any other woman; and, according to the then custom, it was not unlawful for David to take several wives. By his marriage with Abigail, it is probable he became possessed of all Nabal's property in Carmel and Maon.

And when the servants of David were come to Abigail to Carmel, they spake unto her, saying, David sent us unto thee, to take thee to him to wife.
And she arose, and bowed herself on her face to the earth, and said, Behold, let thine handmaid be a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord.
And Abigail hasted, and arose, and rode upon an ass, with five damsels of hers that went after her; and she went after the messengers of David, and became his wife.
David also took Ahinoam of Jezreel; and they were also both of them his wives.
David also took Ahinoam - Many think that this was his wife before he took Abigail; she is always mentioned first in the list of his wives, and she was the mother of his eldest son Ammon.

Of Jezreel - There were two places of this name; one in the tribe of Issachar, the other in the tribe of Judah.

But Saul had given Michal his daughter, David's wife, to Phalti the son of Laish, which was of Gallim.
Phalti - Called also Phaltiel, 2 Samuel 3:16.

Of Gallim - Probably a city or town in the tribe of Benjamin; see Isaiah 10:30. It is likely therefore that Saul chose this man because he was of his own tribe.

In this chapter we have the account of the death of Samuel, who from his infancy had been devoted to God and the service of his people. He was born at a time in which religion was at a very low ebb in Israel, as there were but very few prophets, and no open vision - scarcely any revelation from God. Those who might be called prophets had no regular ministry of God's word; they were extraordinary messengers sent for a particular purpose, and not continued in the work any longer than the time necessary to deliver their extraordinary message.

Samuel is supposed to have been the first who established academies or schools for prophets, at least we do not hear of them before his time; and it is granted that they continued till the Babylonish captivity. This was a wise institution, and no doubt contributed much to the maintenance of pure religion, and the prevention of idolatry among that people.

Samuel reformed many abuses in the Jewish state, and raised it to a pitch of political consequence to which it had been long a stranger. He was very zealous for the honor of God, and supported the rights of pure religion, of the king, and of the people, against all encroachments. He was chief magistrate in Israel before the appointment of a king, and afterwards he acted as prime minister to Saul, though without being chosen or formally appointed to that station. Indeed, he seems on the whole to have been the civil and ecclesiastical governor, Saul being little more than general of the Israelitish forces.

In his office of minister in the state, he gave the brightest example of zeal, diligence, inflexible integrity, and uncorruptedness. He reproved both the people and the king for their transgressions, with a boldness which nothing but his sense of the Divine authority could inspire, and yet he tempered it with a sweetness which showed the interest he felt in their welfare, and the deep and distressing concern he felt for their back-slidings and infidelities.

He was incorrupt; he received no man's bribe; he had no pension from the state; he enriched none of his relatives from the public purse; left no private debts to be discharged by his country. He was among the Hebrews what Aristides is said to have been among the Greeks, so poor at his death, though a minister of state, that he did not leave property enough to bury him. Justice was by him duly and impartially administered, and oppression and wrong had no existence.

If there ever was a heaven-born minister, it was Samuel; in whose public and private conduct there was no blemish, and whose parallel cannot be found in the ancient or modern history of any country in the universe.

Let ministers of state who have sought for nothing but their own glory, and have increased the public burdens by their improvident expenditure; who have endeavored, by their wordy representations, to dazzle and elude the people, and impose false grandeur in the place of true greatness and solid prosperity; who have oppressed the many, and enriched the worthless few; fall down at the feet of This heaven-born man, and learn, from this immaculate judge of Israel, what a faithful servant to his king, and an incorruptible minister of state, means, and in retiring from their high station, or in going to appear before the judgment-seat of God, see whether, in the presence of their king, and in the face of the thousands of their people, they can boldly say, "Behold, here am I! Witness against me before the Lord and before his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose ass have I seized? Whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed, by the imposition of heavy taxes for the support of needless expenses, and the payment of venal men? Or of whose hand have I taken any bribe to blind my eyes? Scrutinize my conduct, examine the state of my family, compare their present circumstances with what they were previously to my administration, and see if you can find aught in my hands." See 1 Samuel 12:1, etc.

O, how seldom in the annals of the world, from the assembled heads of the great body politic, can the departing prime minister hear, "Thou hast not defrauded us, thou hast not oppressed us; neither hast thou taken aught of any man's hand!" This voice call be heard from Gilgal; but of what other minister can this be spoken but of Samuel the seer, who was the gift of God's mercy to the people of Israel; whose memory was too precious to be intrusted to public monuments, but stands, and alas; almost unique in the Book of God? Of Daniel, and his administration, I shall have occasion to speak elsewhere.

A prime minister, deeply devoted to God and faithful to his king and to his country, is so rare a character in the world, that when he does occur, he should be held up to public admiration. But I have no parallel for Samuel. See the notes on 1 Samuel 12:1-25 (note) and on 1 Samuel 24:6 (note).

Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke [1831].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

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