1 Samuel 20
Pulpit 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?
Verse 1. - David fled from Naioth. While Saul was under the influence of the prophetic enthusiasm David escaped; but it is evident that this visit to Samuel, and the extraordinary occurrences which attended it, were not without, a good influence for the time upon Saul's mind. Some sort of reconciliation must have been patched up, probably by the mediation of Samuel; for David assumed that at the new moon be would be expected to dine at the king's table (ver. 5), and that Saul would look for him as a matter of course (ver. 6). We find, moreover, that his place was made ready, not only on the new moon (ver. 25), but also on the following day (ver. 26). But whatever professions Saul may have made to Samuel, it is evident that no promise had been made personally to David, and taught by past experience that the intention of slaying him had grown more and more fixed in the king's mind, he feels that his position is full of danger, and takes counsel with Jonathan, with the view of learning whether he might venture once again to take his place as a member of Saul s family.
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.
Verse 2. - God forbid. An exclamation of horror; literally, "Far be it" (see on 1 Samuel 14:45). In spite of the many proofs of Saul's bitter hatred, Jonathan cannot believe that after all that had taken place at Ramah his father would still persist in his murderous purpose. He further assures David that Saul would do nothing without telling him; literally, without uncovering his ear, without telling it him privately (see on 1 Samuel 9:15). The phrase is used again in ver. 12. For will do nothing the written text reads "has done for himself," which the Kri properly corrects. The rashness of Saul's temper, and his frank talk about killing David recorded in 1 Samuel 19:1, confirm Jonathan's statement about the openness of his father's ways, and he therefore assures David that he may take his place in safety.
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.
Verses 3, 4. - Thy father certainly knoweth, etc. Though Saul did not know the entireness of Jonathan's love for David, yet he was aware of the friendship that existed between them, and consequently might keep his purpose a secret from Jonathan, especially if he considered that his frankness in speaking openly to his son and servants on a previous occasion had led to David's escape. David, therefore, urges upon his friend a different course, to which he assents. But how are we to explain the entirely different views taken of Saul's conduct by the two. When David tells his fears Jonathan utters an exclamation of horror, and says, "Thou shalt not die." Yet he knew that his father had talked to him and his Officers about putting David to death; that he had tried to kill him with his own hand, and on his escape had set people to watch his house with orders to slay him; and on David's flight to the prophet had thrice sent emissaries to bring him away by force. The explanation probably lies in Saul s insanity. When he threw his javelin at David and during the subsequent proceed. ings he was out of his mind. The violent fit at Naioth had for the time cleared his reason, and he had come back sane. Jonathan regarded all that had taken place as the effect of a mind diseased, and concluded, therefore, that David might now return to his home and wife, and resume his duties and take his place at the royal table. Should the old craze come back about David being his rival and destined successor, Saul would be sure to talk about it, and then Jonathan would give him timely warning. But David was convinced that it was no craze, but that Saul, sane or insane, had determined upon his death.
Then said Jonathan unto David, Whatsoever thy soul desireth, I will even do it for thee.
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.
Verses 5-7. - Tomorrow is the new moon. The first day of the new moon was a joyful festival, its appearance being greeted with the sounding of trumpets, and celebrated by a burnt offering and a sin offering. It was, moreover, kept by Saul as a family festival, at which David, as his son-in-law, was expected to be present. As, moreover, David was to hide unto the third day at even, counting from the time when he was arranging his plans with Jonathan, it is plain that it was the rule to prolong the feasting unto the second day. When then Jonathan, convinced by David's pleading, had consented to aid him in his own way, they arrange that he shall absent himself from this festival, and remain during it hidden out of sight. In case Saul missed him and asked the reason of his absence, Jonathan was to offer as an excuse for him that he had earnestly requested leave to pay a hurried visit to Bethlehem, in order to be present at an annual festival: and if Saul took the excuse in good part it would be a sign that he had no malicious purposes towards David, whereas if he fell into a rage it would be a proof of a settled evil design. A yearly sacrifice for all the family. For all the mishpachah, i.e. not for all Jesse's household, but for all that subdivision of the tribe of Judah to which Jesse belonged; for a tribe was divided into families, and these again into fathers' houses (Joshua 7:16, 17). The occasion would thus be a grand one. In 1 Samuel 16:2 we have an instance of a special sacrifice at Bethlehem, but this feast of the mishpachah was held every year; and evidently before the temple was built at Jerusalem these local sacrifices were the rule. We may well believe that there was such a festival, and that the fictitious part of Jonathan's story was that David had been summoned to it.
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.
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?
Verse 8. - Thou hast brought thy servant into a covenant of Jehovah with thee. As the friendship between Jonathan and David had been cemented by the invocation of the name of Jehovah, it was one firm and assured, and David might look not merely for one act of kindness, but for constant truth and help. It was, moreover, Jonathan's own doing; and yet, if there be in me, David says, iniquity, i.e. treason against Saul, if I have not been a faithful and true servant to him, but, on the contrary, have plotted evil against him, or now entertain any evil designs, then let the covenant be abrogated. David refuses to shelter himself under it if he has incurred guilt, and only asks that Jonathan, by the authority which he exercised as the king's son, should himself put him to death, and not deliver him up to Saul
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?
Verse 9. - Far be it, the word rendered God forbid in ver. 2. It indignantly rejects the idea of David having committed any crime. The rest of the verse is an incomplete sentence: "If I knew certainly that evil were determined by my father to come upon thee, and did not tell thee -" These broken sentences have great force in the original, as signs of intense feeling (comp. Luke 19:42). We must complete the sentence mentally in some such way as the Syriac: "then Jehovah do so to me, and more also."
Then said David to Jonathan, Who shall tell me? or what if thy father answer thee roughly?
Verse 10. - Who shall tell me? or what if, etc. The if is an insertion of the A.V. Really David's question is very involved and ungrammatical, as was natural in his excited state. It may be translated, "Who will tell me (or, how shall I know) what rough answer thy father will give thee?" But some Jewish authorities render, "Who will tell me if so be that thy father give thee a rough answer?"
And Jonathan said unto David, Come, and let us go out into the field. And they went out both of them into the field.
Verses 11-13. - Let us go out into the field. David's question had shown Jonathan that there were grave difficulties in their way, and so he proposes that they should walk into the country, to be able to talk with one another more freely, and concert measures for the future. And there Jonathan binds himself with a solemn oath, if Saul's intentions be good, to send a trusty messenger to inform David, but if there be danger, then to come and tell David himself. O Lord God. With a few MSS. we must supply the usual formula of an oath: "As Jehovah the God of Israel liveth." About tomorrow any time, or the third day. This cumbrous translation arose out of the mistaken idea that the word rendered tomorrow could only be used in that limited sense. Strictly it signifies the morning, and is applicable to any morrow. Jonathan fixes one time, and one only, and the passage should be rendered, "By this time on the third morrow." The meeting was to be on the morrow after the second day of the festival, and so on the third morrow after the conversation. The whole may be translated, "As Jehovah the God of Israel liveth, when by this time on the third morrow I have searched my father, and, behold, there be good for David, if then I send not to thee, and uncover thy ear, Jehovah do so and much more to Jonathan." The alternative case is then put, and if the news be evil, Jonathan undertakes himself to be the messenger, and David is to provide for his safety by flight. The concluding prayer that Jehovah might be with David as he had been with Saul contains the same presentiment of David attaining to great power and dignity which is more directly expressed in the following verses.
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:
Verses 14, 15. - The construction of this passage is very difficult if we retain the three negatives of the Masoretic text; but most commentators, following the reading of the Syriac as regards at least one of them, consider that the Masorites have been mistaken in the vowels which they have attached to the consonants (see on 1 Samuel 1:7). Read with other vowels, two of these negatives become interjections of desire - O that; and the whole may be translated, "And O that, while I still live, yea, O that thou wouldst show me the kindness of Jehovah, - i.e. great unfailing kindness, such as was that of Jehovah to Israel, - that I die not, nor shalt thou cut off thy kindness from my house forever." It was the sanguinary custom in the East on a change of dynasty to put all the seed royal to death (1 Kings 15:29; 1 Kings 16:11, etc., and comp. 2 Samuel 19:28). As then Jonathan foresaw that it was Jehovah's will to transfer the kingdom to David, he binds him by the memory of his own true love to him to show mercy to his race.
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.
So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, Let the LORD even require it at the hand of David's enemies.
Verse 16. - This verse also is very difficult, but it is probably to be taken as an insertion of the narrator: "So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David" - that is, so as to bind his descendants - "saying, Let Jehovah require it at the hand of David's enemies." These last words probably are a euphemism, and mean David himself. So Rashi explains the words. The courtesy of an Oriental forbade his saying, May Jehovah punish David for it, but he prays that God would requite it on some one. But if the Divine anger visits even David's enemies for it, how much more the guilty perjurer himself.
And Jonathan caused David to swear again, because he loved him: for he loved him as he loved his own soul.
Verse 17. - Jonathan caused David to swear again. So strong was his conviction in David's future kingdom, and his wish that there should be an unbroken bond of love between the two families, that he makes David solemnly repeat his promise. The Septuagint and Vulgate, by altering the vowels, read, "And Jonathan sware again to David." At first sight this interpretation seems most in accordance with the reason given for the renewal of the oath, namely, Jonathan's own love; but the Masoretic text agrees better with what has gone before, and with his wish that their covenant under no change of circumstances should be broken.
Then Jonathan said to David, To morrow is the new moon: and thou shalt be missed, because thy seat will be empty.
Verses 18, 19. - Jonathan now arranges his plan for communicating the result to David. For when thou hast stayed three days, at which all the versions stumble, a slight alteration gives the right sense: "And on the third day." David on the third day was to go down quickly - Hebrew, "greatly, i.e. he was to go a long way down into the valley. The rendering quickly is taken from the Vulgate, but makes no sense. It did not matter whether David went fast or slow, as he was to hide there for some time, but it was important that David should be far away, so that no prying eye might chance to catch sight of him. When the business was in hand. Literally, "the day of the business," probably that narrated in 1 Samuel 19:2-7. The Septuagint, Vulgate, and Chaldee all understand "a working day," in opposition to a feast day; but "where thou didst hide thyself on a week day" gives no intelligible meaning. By the stone Ezel. As the name Ezel is formed from a verb signifying to go, some understand by it a road stone, a stone to mark the way.
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.
And I will shoot three arrows on the side thereof, as though I shot at a mark.
Verses 20-23. - The two friends now agree upon the sign. Jonathan was to shoot three arrows at this stone, Ezel, as his mark, and was then to send his servant to gather them up. When he bad gone some distance Jonathan was to shout to him, loud enough for David to hear. If Jonathan said that the arrows were on that side the mark, i.e. between it and Jonathan, David was to come forth boldly, as all was well. But if Jonathan said that the arrows were further on, then David must understand that he was to seek safety in flight. For there is peace to thee, and no hurt, the Hebrew has "there is peace to thee, and it is nothing," a simpler and more idiomatic rendering. As touching the matter, etc. Rather, "As for the word that we have spoken, I and thou, behold, Jehovah is between me and thee forever." The word was the bond and covenant by which they had pledged their truth to one another. Though separated, their love was to continue, and Jehovah was to be their eternal centre of union, and the witness to their covenant.

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.
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.
Verses 24-26. - The king sat him down to eat meat. Hebrew, "the king sat down at the bread to eat." On sitting at table see 1 Samuel 16:11. And Jonathan arose. When the king had taken his usual place, that of honour, next the wall, and therefore farthest from the door, Jonathan arose and took his place on one side of the king, while Abner sat on the other. David's place below them was left empty. The omission of the statement that Jonathan sat down makes the passage obscure, and the versions bungle in rendering it, but there can be little doubt that these words ought to be supplied. He is not clean. Saul supposed that some ceremonial defilement (see Leviticus 15:2-16) had befallen David, and as the new moon was a religious festival, this would necessarily prevent his attendance.
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?
Verses 27-29. - On the morrow, which was the second day of the month. Hebrew, "on the morrow of the new moon, the second day." David's absence on the second day made Saul aware that it was no accident, and he demands of Jonathan the reason; whereupon he gives the excuse previously arranged, adding that it was David's brother who had required his attendance. The Septuagint has brothers, being offended at the singular, because Jesse was still alive. But as the festival was not confined to Jesse's household, his brother might very properly be the convener, without usurping his father's place. Let me get away. Literally, "let me escape," "let me get off," a light, half jocose way of speaking adopted by Jonathan, as if the matter were a mere trifle.
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.
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?
Verses 30, 31. - Thou son of the perverse rebellious woman. Literally, "thou son of one perverse in rebellion." In the East it is the greatest possible insult to a man to call his mother names; but the word rendered perverse, instead of being a feminine adjective, is probably an abstract noun, and "son of perversity of rebellion" would mean one who was thoroughly perverse in his resistance to his father's will. Unto the confusion of thy mother's nakedness. I.e. thy mother will feel ashamed and disgraced at having borne such a son. He shall surely die. Hebrew, "he is a son of death," son, being constantly used in Hebrew to express qualities, or, as here, the fate to which a man is destined.
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.
And Jonathan answered Saul his father, and said unto him, Wherefore shall he be slain? what hath he done?
Verses 32-34. - When Jonathan pleaded mildly for his friend, Saul did not east, but "brandished" (see on 1 Samuel 18:11) his javelin at him, threatening to smite him. This fierce behaviour of his father filled Jonathan also with anger, and he arose, refused to partake of the meal, and went away in wrath. His indignation was roused not merely at his father having thus brandished his javelin in his face, for he was sitting close to Saul, but because he had cast shameful aspersions upon David in saying that he was a rebel, and deserved death. JONATHAN'S LAST MEETING WITH DAVID (vers. 35-42).
And Saul cast a javelin at him to smite him: whereby Jonathan knew that it was determined of his father to slay 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.
Verses 35-38. - The next morning Jonathan went out into the field, not at the time, but "to the place" appointed, taking with him a little lad, as less likely to suspect a reason. Having shot at the mark, he sends him to pick up the arrows, and as he runs to do so he shoots one beyond him, and, calling aloud, gives David the sign that there was no hope. To keep the boy's attention engaged he gives him hurried commands - Make speed, haste, stay not. Instead of the arrows the written text has "Jonathan's lad gathered up the arrow," i.e. that one especially which Jonathan had shot beyond him, and to which his rapid commands referred.
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?
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.
Verses 40-42. - His artillery. I.e. his weapons. To get rid of the boy Jonathan sends him home with his bow and arrows, and then David arose out of a place toward the south, or "from the south side" of the stone Ezel, and while not forgetting in his repeated obeisance the honour due to Jonathan's dignity, yet friendship prevailed, and they kissed one another and wept sore, until David exceeded, i.e. broke down, and was completely mastered by his grief. And so they parted, David to begin a life of danger and wandering, while Jonathan returned to the city to be a dutiful son to Saul. Phillipson remarks, "The scenes in this chapter are some of the most affecting presented to us in history, whether in old or modern times, and we may Well wonder at the delicacy of feeling and the gentleness of the sentiments which these two men in those old rough times entertained for one another. No ancient writer has set before us so noble an example of a heart felt, unselfish, and thoroughly human state of feeling, and none has described friendship with such entire truth in all its relations, and with such complete and profound knowledge of the human heart."

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.
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.
The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by BibleSoft, inc., Used by permission

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