Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
COMES TO THE
1, 2. the Ziphites came unto Saul to Gibeah--This people seem to have
thought it impossible for David to escape, and therefore recommended
themselves to Saul, by giving him secret information
The knowledge of their treachery makes it appear strange that David
should return to his former haunt in their neighborhood; but, perhaps
he did it to be near Abigail's possessions, and under the impression
that Saul had become mollified. But the king had relapsed into his old
enmity. Though Gibeah, as its name imports, stood on an elevated
position, and the desert of Ziph, which was in the hilly region of
Judea, may have been higher than Gibeah, it was still necessary to
descend in leaving the latter place; thence Saul
"went down to the wilderness of Ziph."
4, 5. David . . . sent out spies . . . and David arose, and came to the
place where Saul had pitched--Having obtained certain information of
the locality, he seems, accompanied by his nephew
to have hid himself, perhaps disguised, in a neighboring wood, or hill,
on the skirts of the royal camp towards night, and waited to approach
it under covert of the darkness.
5. Saul lay in the trench, and the people pitched round about
him--Among the nomad people of the East, the encampments are
usually made in a circular form. The circumference is lined by the
baggage and the men, while the chief's station is in the center,
whether he occupy a tent or not. His spear, stuck in the ground,
indicates his position. Similar was the disposition of Saul's camp--in
this hasty expedition he seems to have carried no tent, but to have
slept on the ground. The whole troop was sunk in sleep around him.
8-12. Then said Abishai to David, God hath delivered thine enemy into
thine hand--This midnight stratagem shows the activity and heroic
enterprise of David's mind, and it was in unison with the style of
warfare in ancient times.
let me smite him . . . even to the earth at once--The ferocious
vehemence of the speaker is sufficiently apparent from his language,
but David's magnanimity soared far above the notions of his followers.
Though Saul's cruelty and perfidy and general want of right principle
had sunk him to a low pitch of degradation, yet that was no reason for
David's imitating him in doing wrong. Besides, he was the sovereign;
David was a subject. Though God had rejected him from the kingdom, it
was in every way the best and most dutiful course, instead of
precipitating his fall by imbruing their hands in his blood and thereby
contracting the guilt of a great crime, to wait the awards of that
retributive providence which sooner or later would take him off by some
sudden and mortal blow. He who, with impetuous haste was going to
exterminate Nabal, meekly spared Saul. But Nabal refused to give a
tribute to which justice and gratitude, no less than custom, entitled
David. Saul was under the judicial infatuation of heaven. Thus David
withheld the hand of Abishai; but, at the same time, he directed him to
carry off some things which would show where they had been, and what
they had done. Thus he obtained the best of victories over him, by
heaping coals of fire on his head.
11. the spear that is at his bolster, and the cruse of water--The
Oriental spear had, and still has, a spike at the lower extremity,
intended for the purpose of sticking the spear into the ground when the
warrior is at rest. This common custom of Arab sheiks was also the
practice of the Hebrew chiefs.
at his bolster--literally, "at his head"; perhaps, Saul as a sovereign
had the distinguished luxury of a bolster carried for him. A "cruse of
water" is usually, in warm climates, kept near a person's couch, as a
drink in the night time is found very refreshing. Saul's cruse would
probably be of superior materials, or more richly ornamented than
common ones, and therefore by its size or form be easily distinguished.
13-20. Then David . . . stood on the top of an hill afar off . . .
and cried to the
The extraordinary purity and elasticity of the air in Palestine enable
words to be distinctly heard that are addressed by a speaker from the
top of one hill to people on that of another, from which it is
separated by a deep intervening ravine. Hostile parties can thus speak
to each other, while completely beyond the reach of each other's
attack. It results from the peculiar features of the country in many of
the mountain districts.
15. David said to Abner, Art not thou a valiant man: . . . wherefore
then hast thou not kept thy lord the king?--The circumstance of David
having penetrated to the center of the encampment, through the circular
rows of the sleeping soldiers, constituted the point of this sarcastic
taunt. This new evidence of David's moderation and magnanimous
forbearance, together with his earnest and kindly expostulation,
softened the obduracy of Saul's heart.
19. If the Lord have stirred thee up against me--By the evil spirit
He had sent, or by any spiritual offenses by which we have mutually
let him accept an offering--that is, let us conjointly offer a
sacrifice for appeasing His wrath against us.
if they be the children of men--The prudence, meekness, and address
of David in ascribing the king's enmity to the instigations of some
malicious traducers, and not to the jealousy of Saul himself, is worthy
saying, Go, serve other gods--This was the drift of their conduct.
By driving him from the land and ordinances of the true worship, into
foreign and heathen countries, they were exposing him to all the
seductions of idolatry.
20. as when one doth hunt a partridge--People in the East, in hunting
the partridge and other game birds, pursue them, till observing them
becoming languid and fatigued after they have been put up two or three
times, they rush upon the birds stealthily and knock them down with
bludgeons [SHAW, Travels].
It was exactly in this manner that Saul
was pursuing David. He drove him from time to time from his
hiding-place, hoping to render him weary of his life, or obtain an
opportunity of accomplishing his destruction.
25. So David went on his way--Notwithstanding this sudden relenting
of Saul, David placed no confidence in his professions or promises, but
wisely kept at a distance and awaited the course of Providence.