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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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1 SAMUEL 26

DAVID SPARED SAUL'S LIFE A SECOND TIME

The critical canard that would relegate this chapter to the status of a "mere variation" of that other report of Saul's life being spared by David (1 Sam. 24) is an example of the same kind of "scholarship" that might identify the Battle of New Orleans with the Battle of Waterloo! Oh, but those battles were at different times, different places, involving different personnel and with different results. The same differences mark these two accounts of David's refusal to kill Saul when he had an excellent opportunity to do so. It is true, of course, that a limited number of the personnel participated in both events, those battles, and these two Biblical episodes, but that is no license to claim that these events are contradictory accounts of only one event or only one battle. The only alleged reason for this radical critical claim is that given by Canon Cook, "The incident is of a nature unlikely to have occurred more than once."F1 Indeed! If that was true, why would the Sacred Text have included both narratives?

THE ZIPHITES BETRAYED DAVID A SECOND TIME


 
Verses 1-5
And the Ziphites came unto Saul to Gibeah, saying, Doth not David hide himself in the hill of Hachilah, which is before the desert? 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. And Saul encamped in the hill of Hachilah, which is before the desert, 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 of a certainty. And David arose, and came to the place where Saul had encamped; and David beheld the place where Saul lay, and Abner the son of Ner, the captain of his host: and Saul lay within the place of the wagons, and the people were encamped round about him.

Porter stressed some remarkable differences here as contrasted with the event in 1 Sam. 24. "In the first encounter Saul went alone, unarmed and by chance, into a cave where David and his men were; here David and Abishai were reconnoitering in search of Saul, finding him at night where he was sleeping with Abner his commander. The first incident happened in the day time, this one at night. In the first event, David cut off part of Saul's robe; here they took Saul's spear and the jar of water that was beside him. The conclusion supported here is that there were two occasions."F2 D. F. Payne also supported "The historicity of both accounts."F3 "Jeshimon is the barren country between the hills of Judah and the dead sea. The Hill of Hachilah is perhaps El-kolah, six miles west of Ziph and on the eastern edge of the wilderness where it begins to fall toward the Dead Sea."F4

With three thousand chosen men of Israel
(1 Samuel 26:2). This is the number of men that Saul always had in attendance with him (1 Sam. 13:2; 24:2; 26:2).F5 This so-called similarity between the two narratives is of no consequence. Saul always had that number of men with him.

When he saw that Saul came after him
(1 Samuel 26:3). This is an idiomatic expression meaning that David had heard that Saul was coming after him. If he had seen Saul doing so, he would not have needed to send out spies.

David sent out spies and learned of a certainty that Saul had come
(1 Samuel 26:4). David's reluctance to believe that Saul had actually come out with an army to hunt him on this occasion, and which he would not believe until his spies confirmed it, proves the truth of the previous narrative. After all that Saul had said then, David could hardly believe the reality of this additional attack.

David saw the place where Saul lay, with Abner. commander of his army
(1 Samuel 26:5). Willis suggested that David must have arrived in daylight; but as both the king and Abner were asleep, it appears more likely that a brilliant moonlight enabled, not David, but the spies he sent to come back with this report. The word saw here is idiomatic as in 1 Sam. 26:4. David did not enter Saul's camp until later in the night.

DAVID SPARED SAUL'S LIFE A SECOND TIME


 
Verses 6-12
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. So David and Abishai came to the people by night: and, behold, Saul lay sleeping within the place of the wagons, with his spear stuck in the ground at his head; and Abner and the people lay round about him. Then said Abishai to David, God hath delivered up thine enemy into thy hand this day: now therefore let me smite him, I pray thee, with the spear to the earth at one stroke, and I will not smite him the second time. And David said to Abishai, Destroy him not; for who can put forth his hand against Jehovah's anointed, and be guiltless? And David said, As Jehovah liveth, Jehovah will smite him; or his day shall come to die; or he shall go down into battle and perish. Jehovah forbid that I should put forth my hand against Jehovah's anointed: but now take, I pray thee, the spear that is at his head, and the cruse of water, and let us go. So David took the spear and the cruse of water from Saul's head; and they gat them away: and no man saw it, nor knew it, neither did any awake; for they were all asleep, because a deep sleep from Jehovah was fallen upon them.

Ahimelech the Hittite
(1 Samuel 26:6). This man and Uriah are the only Hittites named in First Samuel. Esau had Hittite wives, whose names are not given. Those people were one of the seven great nations displaced by Israel in their occupation of Canaan.

Abishai
(1 Samuel 26:6), along with Joab and Asahel were children of Zeruiah, who according to 1 Chr. 2:16 was a sister of David. David, being the youngest in the family of Jesse probably had a number of cousins his own age or older. Abishai saved David's life in one of the Philistine wars (2 Samuel 21:17), was implicated in the murder of Abner (2 Samuel 3:30) and remained faithful to David during the rebellion of Absalom.F6

There lay Saul, with his spear stuck in the ground at his head
(1 Samuel 26:7). The lance standing upright is still the sign of the Sheik's quarters among the Arabs.F7

Abishai here eagerly wanted to kill Saul, but David forbade it, because Saul was "the Lord's anointed." This establishes the fact, as mentioned by Paul, that "The powers that be are ordained of God" (Romans 13:1), and regardless of how wicked and tyrannical a duly-authorized head of government may be, he should not be murdered by his subjects.

The Lord shall smite him, or his day shall come to die
(1 Samuel 26:10). This from the mouth of David was a prophecy, fulfilled eventually in the death of Saul in battle. At this point in David's life, he was honoring the prohibition in the Pentateuch against one's taking vengeance into his own hands, a lesson which was emphasized in his ears by Abigail.

A deep sleep from the Lord had fallen upon them
(1 Samuel 26:12). This was no ordinary sleep. It was God's providential protection of David. As Young said, The same term is used of the sleep of Adam while the Lord created Eve from a rib taken from Adam's side while he slept.F8

A passage in one of the Psalms seems applicable to what happened here, although the usual interpretation applies it to the destruction of the army of Sennacherib.

The stouthearted were stripped of their spoil;

They sank into sleep;

All the men of war were unable to use their hands.

At thy rebuke, O God of Jacob,

Both rider and horse lay stunned.

-- Ps. 76:5-6 (RSV).

"How easily can God weaken the strongest, befool the wisest, and battle the most watchful! Let all of God's friends therefore trust him and all his enemies fear him."F9

DAVID REBUKED ABNER, SAUL'S GENERAL


 
Verses 13-16
Then David went over to the other side, and stood on the top of the mountain afar off; a great space being between them; 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 watch over 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 Jehovah liveth, ye are worthy to die, because ye have not kept watch over your lord, Jehovah's anointed. And now see where the king's spear is, and the cruse of water that was at his head.

With a great space between them
(1 Samuel 26:13). Here is a very important difference from that other occasion of David's sparing Saul's life. There, David followed Saul out of the cave rather closely; here David took no such chance but called to Abner from the top of an adjoining mountain.

Who are you that calls to the king?
(1 Samuel 26:14) David was not calling Saul, but Abner; but Abner apparently meant, Who disturbed the king's repose?F10 It is very remarkable that, just a little while previously David's conversation with Abishai had not awakened anyone; and now, the voice of a man far away on the top of a distant mountain is easily heard by Abner. This is proof enough that the sleep that enabled David's exploit here was due to the direct intervention of God who induced the sleep of Saul's army.

Who is like you in Israel?
(1 Samuel 26:15) This was indeed a high compliment that David paid to Abner, and it was sincere, Which is fully borne out by David's dirge at Abner's death (2 Samuel 3:31-34,38).F11

As the Lord lives, (Abner) you deserve to die…
(1 Samuel 26:16) Of course, David very well knew that the hand of God was in Abner's failure; but, as Keil wrote, These words were designed to show Saul (who heard them) that David was the most faithful defender of the king's life, even more faithful than his closest friend and most zealous servant.F12

DAVID'S EARNEST APPEAL TO SAUL


 
Verses 17-20
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. And he said, Wherefore doth my lord pursue after his servant? for what have I done? or what evil is in my hand? Now therefore, I pray thee, let my lord the king hear the words of his servant. If it be Jehovah that hath stirred thee up against me, let him accept an offering: but if it be the children of men, cursed be they before Jehovah: for they have driven me out this day that I should not cleave unto the inheritance of Jehovah, saying, Go, serve other gods. Now therefore, let not my blood fall to the earth away from the presence of Jehovah: for the king of Israel is come out to seek a flea, as when one doth hunt a partridge in the mountains.

It is my voice my lord O king
(1 Samuel 26:17). There is a dramatic difference in David's reply to Saul here as contrasted with that other occasion at Engedi. There David addressed Saul as My father (1 Samuel 24:11), and Saul here sought the same kind of response from David, but David no longer used that terminology. Saul had given his wife Michal to Palti, and there were no grounds whatever, either for Saul's words, My son, or for David's responding with, My father. It was this, perhaps, that enabled David instantly to see that Saul's words were those of a confirmed hypocrite. There are many irreconcilable differences in these two accounts in which Saul's life was spared by David.

They have driven me out. that I should have no share in the heritage of the Lord…
(1 Samuel 26:19) Every Jew felt that the presence of God pertained especially to the land of Israel, and no Hebrew wanted to die away from it, but, It is unnecessary to infer that David believed that God was operative only in the land of Israel. Such a view is ruled out by 1 Sam. 30:7,8.F13 Here David pleaded with Saul for some opportunity that would prevent his having to leave his own people and the land of Israel.F14 The failure of Saul to provide any answer that David could trust was at once followed by David's leaving the land of Israel for that of the Philistines. This, of course, was a far different result from that which followed the first sparing of Saul's life by David.

Like one who hunts a partridge in the mountains
(1 Samuel 26:19). The older versions use the word flea instead of partridge here, and critics love to cite this as one of the similarities with the event at Engedi, but, as H. P. Smith wrote, This reading gives a sense more in accord with the context.F15

SAUL CONFESSED HIS SIN AND CALLED OFF THE PURSUIT OF DAVID


 
Verses 21-25
Then said Saul, I have sinned: return, my son David; for I will no more do thee harm, because my life was precious in thine eyes this day: behold, I have played the fool, and have erred exceedingly. And David answered and said, Behold the spear, O king! let then one of the young men come over and fetch it. And Jehovah will render to every man his righteousness and his faithfulness; forasmuch as Jehovah delivered thee into my hand to-day, and I would not put forth my hand against Jehovah'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 Jehovah, and let him deliver me out of all tribulation. Then Saul said to David, Blessed be thou, my son David: thou shalt both do mightily, and shalt surely prevail. So David went his way, and Saul returned to his place.

Return, my son David
(1 Samuel 26:21). If one wonders why David did not trust Saul here, the answer lies in his hypocritical use of the words my son, not only here, but in 1 Sam. 26:25. They were proof enough that Saul was lying in his teeth, and David instantly knew it.

I have played the fool, and have erred exceedingly
(1 Samuel 26:21). There is nothing that resembles this response in that other occasion at Engedi. This answer is very different from that of 1 Sam. 24:17-21. Here there is a sense of vexation and of annoyance, not only because his purpose had been frustrated but because his own military arrangements had been so unsoldierlike.F16 These expressions of Saul do not appear to be the words of one truly penitent.


Footnotes for 1 Samuel 26
1: Albert Barnes, Samuel, p. 62.
2: The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 402.
3: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 300.
4: The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 2, p. 1017.
5: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 4b, p. 497.
6: J. R. Dummelow's Commentary, p. 194.
7: International Critical Commentary, Samuel, p. 230.
8: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, Samuel, p. 291.
9: Matthew Henry's Commentary, Vol. 2, p. 422.
10: Ibid., p. 423.
11: Albert Barnes, op. cit., p. 63.
12: C. F. Keil, Keil and Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries, Vol. 2b, p. 251.
13: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 301.
14: The Teachers' Bible Commentary, p. 177.
15: International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 233.
16: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 499.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 26". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=1sa&chapter=026>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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