1 Samuel 26
Pulpit Commentary
And the Ziphites came unto Saul to Gibeah, saying, Doth not David hide himself in the hill of Hachilah, which is before Jeshimon?
Verse 1. - The Ziphites came unto Saul. There are so many points of similarity between this narrative and that contained in 1 Samuel 23:19-24; 1 Samuel 24:1-22, that it has been argued that in these two accounts we have substantially the same fact, only modified by two different popular traditions, and not recorded until a late subsequent period, at which the narrator, unable to decide which was the true form of the story, determined upon giving both. The main points of similarity are -

(1) The treachery of the Ziphites (1 Samuel 26:1; 1 Samuel 23:19).

(2) David's position in the hill Hachilah (1 Samuel 26:1, 3; 1 Samuel 23:19).

(3) Saul's march with 3000 men (1 Samuel 26:2; 1 Samuel 24:2).

(4) The speech of David's men (1 Samuel 24:4; 1 Samuel 26:8).

(5) David's refusal to lay hands on the anointed of Jehovah (1 Samuel 24:6; 1 Samuel 26:9, 11).

(6) Saul's recognition of David's voice (1 Samuel 24:16; 1 Samuel 26:17).

(7) David's comparison of himself to a flea (1 Samuel 24:14; 1 Samuel 26:20).

Besides these there are several remarkable verbal coincidences; but some other matters which have been enumerated are either such as must have happened, supposing the two events to have occurred, or are even points of difference. Of these there are many. Thus the first occasion on which David spared Saul's life was in a cave at En-gedi; the latter was in Saul's entrenched camp. In this second narrative David's return to Maon was the natural result of his marriage with Abigail, and when the Ziphites report his presence there to Saul, which they were sure to do for fear of David's vengeance for their former betrayal of him, he awaits Saul's attack, whereas before he fled in haste, and was saved for the moment by the wonderful ravine which Conder has so unmistakably verified (see on 1 Samuel 23:26), and finally by an invasion of the Philistines. Mr. Conder's visit to the ground, and the way in which the difficulties in the previous narrative are cleared up by what he saw, sets the historical credibility of that account above all reasonable doubt. Had there been a mountain between David and his pursuers, he would have been safe enough; but as it was he was in full sight of his enemies, and the ravine alone enabled him to escape from Saul's vengeance. The number of Saul's army, 3000, was the number of the chosen men whom he always had in attendance upon him (1 Samuel 13:2); and it is Saul who encamps on the hill Hachilah, while David, instead of being all but caught as before, had scouts to watch Saul's movements, and was himself safe in the wilderness on the south. On the previous occasion Saul had withdrawn from his men, but here he lies in his camp surrounded by them, when David, accompanied only by Abishai, undertakes this bold enterprise, which was entirely in accordance with his growing sense of security. The argument, moreover, that Saul must have been a "moral monster" thus to seek David's life after his generous conduct towards him keeps out of view the fact that Saul was scarcely accountable for his actions. We have seen that he was subject to fits of madness, and that the form which it took was that of deadly hatred against David. Even this was but a form of the ruling passion which underlies all Saul's actions, namely, an extreme jealousy of everything that in the slightest degree seemed to trench upon his royal prerogative and supremacy. To what an extreme length his ferocity was capable of proceeding in punishing what he regarded as an overt act of resistance to his authority we have seen in the account of the massacre of the priests at Nob with their wives and children (1 Samuel 22:18, 19). No worse act is recorded of any man in history, and we may hope that Saul would not have committed such a crime had not his mental faculties been disturbed. Nor was Saul alone in his estimate of what was due to him as Jehovah's Messiah; David had equally high views of Saul's rights and position, and regarded them as fenced in by religious sanctions. But in Saul's case the passion had grown till it had become a monomania, and as he brooded over his relations to David, and thought of him as one that was to usurp his crown, and was already a rebel and an outlaw, the sure result was the return of his hatred against David, and when news was brought him that his enemy was so near, he gladly welcomed another opportunity of getting him into his power. On the hill of Hachilah. See 1 Samuel 23:19. It is there said to be "on the right hand," but here "over against," i.e. facing the desert which lies on the northeastern coast of the Dead Sea.
Then Saul arose, and went down to the wilderness of Ziph, having three thousand chosen men of Israel with him, to seek David in the wilderness of Ziph.
Verses 2-4. - Three thousand chosen men. Not chosen for this expedition, but the force which Saul always kept under arms (1 Samuel 13:2). By the way. The high road which led down to Arad. David abode in the wilderness. Hebrew, "abides." Instead of fleeing in haste as before, he remains apparently on the higher ground, as he speaks in ver. 6 of going down to Saul's camp. And he saw. I.e. learned, was told. It was only when his scouts brought him their report that he knew that Saul was come in very deed, or "for a certainty" (see 1 Samuel 23:23).
And Saul pitched in the hill of Hachilah, which is before Jeshimon, by the way. But David abode in the wilderness, and he saw that Saul came after him into the wilderness.
David therefore sent out spies, and understood that Saul was come in very deed.
And David arose, and came to the place where Saul had pitched: and David beheld the place where Saul lay, and Abner the son of Ner, the captain of his host: and Saul lay in the trench, and the people pitched round about him.
Verse 5. - David arose. It seems as if David could scarcely believe that Saul would thus a second time pursue him; but when the scouts informed him that it was really so, he went in person to reconnoitre Saul's camp. From the opposite hill he was able to see that he lay in the trench, i.e. the barricade formed by the wagons. At night Saul's place would be in the centre, with Abner near him, while the rest would lie sleeping around, but all of them within the rampart. When David reconnoitred them they would probably be arranging their wagons to form this barricade.
Then answered David and said to Ahimelech the Hittite, and to Abishai the son of Zeruiah, brother to Joab, saying, Who will go down with me to Saul to the camp? And Abishai said, I will go down with thee.
Verse 6. - Ahimelech the Hittite. Though a portion of this once powerful people (Genesis 15:20; Judges 1:26) was reduced to the position of bondmen (1 Kings 9:20), yet others had retained their independence, and their kings even are spoken of (ibid. 10:29; 2 Kings 7:6). As Ahimelech is mentioned before Abishai, he must have held an honourable place with. David, as did subsequently another Hittite, Uriah (2 Samuel 11:3). Abishai the son of Zeruiah. Zeruiah is described in 1 Chronicles 2:16 as sister to Jesse's sons, but apparently only by adoption, as both she and Abigail seem to have been daughters of the king of Ammon (2 Samuel 17:25), whence probably the absence of any direct reference to their father. Abishai, who was probably about David's age, and his two brothers were high in rank among David's heroes (1 Chronicles 11:6, 20, 26), and apparently he was one of the three captains who, when David was in the cave of Adullam, broke through the host of the Philistines to fetch him water from the well of Bethlehem. Who will go down? It is evident that David and his men remained upon the mountains, which extend from Maon far to the southwest. Saul's camp, being "by the way," i.e. near the road, would be on the lower ground. David having personally examined it, and seen that the watches were ill kept, asks which of the two will accompany him for the more hazardous enterprise of penetrating into it. Ahimelech seems prudently to have declined, but Abishai at once offers his services.
So David and Abishai came to the people by night: and, behold, Saul lay sleeping within the trench, and his spear stuck in the ground at his bolster: but Abner and the people lay round about him.
Verses 7, 8. - The two accordingly go by night, or "at night," as soon as night came on, and find Saul asleep within the trench, i.e. inside the wagon rampart, as in ver. 5, and his spear, the sign of his royal authority, stuck in the ground; not at his bolster, but "at his head; and so in vers. 11, 12, 16. The word literally signifies "the place where the head is." Like David's men in 1 Samuel 24:4, Abishai sees in Saul's defenceless condition a proof that it was God's will that he should die, but there is a difference of language in the Hebrew which the A.V. does not represent. There the word rendered deliver is really give; here it is "hath locked up." At once. Hebrew, "once." Abishai would pierce him through with a single stroke so thoroughly that no second blow would be necessary. The purpose of this would be to prevent an outcry.
Then said Abishai to David, God hath delivered thine enemy into thine hand this day: now therefore let me smite him, I pray thee, with the spear even to the earth at once, and I will not smite him the second time.
And David said to Abishai, Destroy him not: for who can stretch forth his hand against the LORD'S anointed, and be guiltless?
Verses 9-11. - David forbids the deed as before (1 Samuel 24:6), because of Saul's office. As we there saw, this was an ingrained principle in David's mind on which he constantly acted. Present with equal strength in Saul's mind, it was the cause of moral ruin to the one, and of a noble forbearance and self-control to the other. David therefore leaves him in Jehovah's hand, saying, As Jehovah liveth, Jehovah shall smite him; or his day, etc. Literally, "As Jehovah liveth (I will not smite him), but Jehovah shall smite him; either his day shall come and he shall die; or he shall go down into battle and perish." Whenever he falls, it shall be Jehovah's doing, whether he die a natural death, or a violent one in battle. "The smiting of Jehovah" does not imply a sudden death. God smites men with disease (2 Kings 15:5) and other troubles. What David means is that he will leave the matter entirely to God, but that if Saul's death is to be a violent one, he must fall honourably, not by the hand of a subject, but in battle with Israel's enemies. Jehovah forbid. The same phrase as in 1 Samuel 24:6. Cruse of water. i.e. water bottle, as in 1 Kings 19:6.
David said furthermore, As the LORD liveth, the LORD shall smite him; or his day shall come to die; or he shall descend into battle, and perish.
The LORD forbid that I should stretch forth mine hand against the LORD'S anointed: but, I pray thee, take thou now the spear that is at his bolster, and the cruse of water, and let us go.
So David took the spear and the cruse of water from Saul's bolster; and they gat them away, and no man saw it, nor knew it, neither awaked: for they were all asleep; because a deep sleep from the LORD was fallen upon them.
Verse 12. - And no man saw it, etc. The Hebrew text describes the occurrence in a much more lively manner: "And none saw, and none knew, and none awaked." A deep sleep from Jehovah, etc. So surprising a fact as that two men could penetrate into the very centre of a considerable army, and remove the king's sceptre and water bottle from his side, could only be accounted for by the interference of Providence in their behalf.
Then David went over to the other side, and stood on the top of an hill afar off; a great space being between them:
Verses 13-16. - The top of a hill. Hebrew, "the top of the hill," the particular mountain from which David had reconnoitred Saul's camp (ver. 5). A great space being between them. At En-gedi Saul was alone, and had placed himself in David's power; he therefore had followed him closely. Here Saul had his army round him, and David had entered his camp by stealth. It is not, therefore, till he had placed an ample interval between them that he calls to Abner, and asks in derision, Art thou not a man? The irony is enfeebled by the insertion of the word valiant (comp. 1 Samuel 4:9). No special valour was needed;any one worthy of the name of man ought to have guarded his master better. Who is like to thee - Hebrew, "who is as thou" - in Israel? Among all Saul's subjects there was no one so powerful and highly placed as the commander-in-chief, and he ought to have shown himself worthy of his pre-eminence. Justly, therefore, for neglecting his duty and exposing the king to danger, he and his people were worthy to die. Hebrew, "sons of death" (see on 1 Samuel 20:31). Finally David bids him search for the king's spear and water bottle, that he may understand how completely Saul had been in his power. It has been suggested that Abner was probably a personal enemy of David, with whom he could never have held the high position which he occupied with his near relative Saul. Possibly instead of dissuading Saul from persecuting David, he stirred up his ill feelings. Still absolutely there is nothing in this banter which was not justified by Abner's official position.
And David cried to the people, and to Abner the son of Ner, saying, Answerest thou not, Abner? Then Abner answered and said, Who art thou that criest to the king?
And David said to Abner, Art not thou a valiant man? and who is like to thee in Israel? wherefore then hast thou not kept thy lord the king? for there came one of the people in to destroy the king thy lord.
This thing is not good that thou hast done. As the LORD liveth, ye are worthy to die, because ye have not kept your master, the LORD'S anointed. And now see where the king's spear is, and the cruse of water that was at his bolster.
And Saul knew David's voice, and said, Is this thy voice, my son David? And David said, It is my voice, my lord, O king.
Verses 17-19. - Is this thy voice? So 1 Samuel 24:16. In the darkness the only way of recognising David was by his voice. If Jehovah have stirred thee up, etc. This is one of the many passages indicative of the intensity with which the Israelites had grasped the idea of the omnipresence of the Deity, and of his being the one power by whose energy all things exist and all acts are done (see on 1 Samuel 2:2). Alike evil and good come from God, for he alone is the source of all; but it does not therefore follow that everything which he makes possible, or to which his providence seems to lead, is therefore right for man to do (1 Samuel 24:4, 6). On the contrary, all leadings of providence are to be judged by God's immutable law, and the conduct of a Shimei may be absolutely wrong and unjustifiable, even though "Jehovah had bidden him do it" (2 Samuel 16:11). If, indeed, an external command come by the hand of a properly accredited person, it may take the same high position as the published law of God, and so override the conscience; but Shimei's bidding came through the working of his own passions, and was no more binding than the moving of David's mind by Jehovah to number Israel (2 Samuel 24:1). David, then, here sets forth the two only possible cases: first, Saul may be stirred up by Jehovah to persecute David, i.e. the temptation may come by the working of his own mind under those strong impulses which to the Israelite had in them always something Divine. But this was an impulse to break God's law, and was therefore to be resisted; and just as in modern phrase we should bid a person when strongly moved to some act to carry it to God's throne in prayer, so David urges Saul to seek for the quieting of his emotions in religion. Under holy influences these fierce passions would pass away, and Jehovah would accept an offering. Hebrew, "would smell it," because the offering, minchah, consisting of flour and frankincense, was burnt for a sweet odour before God. But, secondly, Saul might be stirred up by the calumnies of wicked men, in which case David prays that they may be cursed before Jehovah; because by forcing him to leave the covenant land of Israel they virtually say to him, Go, serve other gods. To a mind so intensely religious as David's, not only was the private devotion of the heart a necessity, but also the taking part in the public worship of the Deity (Psalm 42:2; Psalm 63:2; Psalm 84:2); and, therefore, to deprive him of this privilege and expel him from the inheritance of Jehovah, i.e. the earthly limits of Jehovah's Church, was to force him, as far as his enemies could do so, to be a heathen and a worshipper of strange gods.
And he said, Wherefore doth my lord thus pursue after his servant? for what have I done? or what evil is in mine hand?
Now therefore, I pray thee, let my lord the king hear the words of his servant. If the LORD have stirred thee up against me, let him accept an offering: but if they be the children of men, cursed be they before the LORD; for they have driven me out this day from abiding in the inheritance of the LORD, saying, Go, serve other gods.
Now therefore, let not my blood fall to the earth before the face of the LORD: for the king of Israel is come out to seek a flea, as when one doth hunt a partridge in the mountains.
Verse 20. - Let not my blood fall to the earth before the face of Jehovah. Hebrew, "far from the presence of Jehovah." The point of David's appeal is not that his life may be spared, but that he may not thus be driven far away from the land where Jehovah manifests himself; nor does he seem so much to contemplate Saul's putting him to death as the probability that sooner or later the life of an exile will be cut short by one or other of the many dangers by which he is surrounded. A flea. Hebrew, "a single flea," as in 1 Samuel 24:14. A partridge. Many emendations of the text have been proposed on the supposition that partridges are only to be found in plains. But Mr. Condor tells us that partridges are among the few living creatures which still tenant these wilds; and, speaking of the precipitous cliffs which overhang the Dead Sea, he says, Here, among "the rocks of the wild goats, the herds of ibex may be seen bounding, and the partridge is still chased on the mountains, as David was followed by the stealthy hunter Saul" ('Tent Work,' 2:90: see also 1 Samuel 23:19).
Then said Saul, I have sinned: return, my son David: for I will no more do thee harm, because my soul was precious in thine eyes this day: behold, I have played the fool, and have erred exceedingly.
Verse 21. - I have sinned. Saul's answer here is very different from that in 1 Samuel 24:17-21, where the main idea was wonder that David should with such magnanimity spare the life of an enemy so manifestly delivered into his hand. Here a sense of vexation seems uppermost, and of annoyance, not merely because his purpose was frustrated, but because his own military arrangements had been so unsoldierlike. I have played the fool. His first enterprise had ended in placing his life in David's power, and it was folly indeed a second time to repeat the attempt. But though the words of Saul convey the idea rather of vexation with himself than of sorrow for his maliciousness, yet in one point there is a sign of better things. He bids David return, evidently with reference to the grief expressed with such genuine feeling by David at being driven away from Jehovah's land. It was of course impossible, as Saul had given David's wife to another, and David had himself married two other women, but at least it expressed a right and kindly feeling.
And David answered and said, Behold the king's spear! and let one of the young men come over and fetch it.
Verses 22-24. - Behold the king's spear. Rather, "Behold the spear, O king." The other is an unnecessary correction of the Kri. Having restored to Saul this ensign of his authority, David prays that Jehovah may render to every man his righteousness, i.e. may requite David for his upright conduct towards Saul, and by implication punish Saul himself for his unjust conduct. And also his faithfulness, his fidelity, and steady allegiance. This refers exclusively to David, who gives as proof of his faithfulness to his king that he had spared his life when it was delivered into his power. In return for which act God, he affirms, will protect his life. Ver. 24 would be better translated, "And behold, as thy life was great (in value) in my sight this day, so shall my life be great (in value) in the sight of Jehovah, and he shall deliver me out of every strait," every narrowness and difficulty into which Saul's persecution might drive him.
The LORD render to every man his righteousness and his faithfulness: for the LORD delivered thee into my hand to day, but I would not stretch forth mine hand against the LORD'S anointed.
And, behold, as thy life was much set by this day in mine eyes, so let my life be much set by in the eyes of the LORD, and let him deliver me out of all tribulation.
Then Saul said to David, Blessed be thou, my son David: thou shalt both do great things, and also shalt still prevail. So David went on his way, and Saul returned to his place.
Verse 25. - Thou shalt both do, etc. Better, "Thou shalt both do mightily, and thou shalt surely prevail." The words are very general as compared with those in 1 Samuel 24:20, 21, where Saul expressed his conviction that David Would be king, and intrusted his family to his care. The poverty of sentiment here, and the mere vexation expressed in ver. 21, justify Keil's remark that Saul's character had deteriorated in the interval, and that he was more hardened now than on the previous occasion. And so they parted - David still leading the life of a fugitive, for Saul's return in ver. 21 was the most evanescent of good purposes, while the king went back to his place, his home at Gibeah.

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