New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary

1Sa 26:1 The Ziphites came to Saul to Gibeah saying, Isn’t David hiding in the hill of Hachilah, which is before the desert?-
Saul had his spies everywhere, and David also had spies (:4). This complex game of espionage and subterfuge was so far from the peaceful hills where he had played his harp and drawn close to God as a youth. But those peaceful days are used to prepare us for later, more complex tests of our faith.

1Sa 26:2 Then Saul went down to the wilderness of Ziph, having three thousand chosen men of Israel with him, to seek David in the wilderness of Ziph-
David in the Psalms records how he hated those who 'rose up' against him, and that includes Absalom. Saul 'rose up' [NEV "went down"] against David (s.w. 1 Sam. 25:29; 26:2), and  then evil men 'rose up' against David out of his own family (2 Sam. 12:11 s.w.), especially Absalom who rose up against his father (2 Sam. 18:31,32 s.w.). But David has a tendency to assume that all who rose up against him were arising against God. It's not always so that our enemy is God's enemy. Relationships and the hand of God in human affairs and relationships is more complex than that. And David in Ps. 139:21,22 goes further, to assume that his hatred of people is justified, because they must, he assumes, hate God because they are against him. Solomon seems to make the same mistake when he alludes to such 'risings up' in Prov. 28:28. We must note that "all in Asia" turned away from Paul personally (2 Tim. 1:15), and yet according to the letters to the seven churches of Asia in Rev. 2,3, there were many faithful individuals amongst them.   

1Sa 26:3 Saul encamped by the road on the hill of Hachilah, which is before the desert, but David stayed in the wilderness. When he saw that Saul had come after him into the wilderness-
A group of 3000 men on the move (:2) would have created a fair dust cloud. But it seems that David "saw" this in that he heard it, and need to confirm Saul's presence there (:4).

1Sa 26:4 David sent out spies and found that Saul had certainly come to that place-
The sending our of spies is associated with taking the land of Canaan; it seems from :5 that David was buoyed up by his marriage to Abigail and the encouragement taken from the Divine judgment upon Nabal. Although he will go "down" again by 1 Sam. 27:1, he seems here very proactive and not on the back foot against Saul.

1Sa 26:5 David set out and came to the place where Saul had encamped. He saw the place where Saul and Abner the son of Ner, the captain of his army were lying; Saul lay among the wagons and the people were encamped around him-
As noted on :5, David is not so much on the run from Saul, but seeking him out. After the assurance received in 1 Sam. 25 that God would avenge him against Saul, and with Abigail so strongly encouraging him in this regard, David now sets out to demonstrate to Saul that he is not going to avenge himself. I therefore suggest that he intentionally went into Saul's camp to take away Saul's private property but not slay him. We can sense the encouragement of his Godly wife Abigail in this mission. For a large burden of her message to him in 1 Sam. 25 was that he would not be slain by Saul, and if he followed the path of not avenging himself, he would surely become king.

1Sa 26:6 Then David said to Ahimelech the Hittite and to Abishai the son of Zeruiah, brother to Joab, Who will go down with me to Saul to the camp? Abishai said, I will go down with you-
As explained on :5, David is proactively seeking to get close to Saul but not slay him, so fired up is he with the idea of not avenging himself and inviting God to act against Saul by his own lack of vengeance. But he still seemed to want some company in this bold mission. It seems Ahimelech turned down the invitation and only David and Abishai went (:7).

1Sa 26:7 So David and Abishai came to the army by night and Saul lay sleeping among the wagons, with his spear stuck in the ground at his head, and Abner and the soldiers lay around him-
The cameraman of Divine inspiration is zoomed in close up, so that we can envisage the situation. AV has "within the trench". 

1Sa 26:8 Then Abishai said to David, God has delivered your enemy into your hand today. Now therefore please let me strike him to the ground with one stroke of my spear; I will not strike him a second time-
This whispered conversation was absolutely contrary to the entire spirit of David's mission in visiting Saul (see on :5). David could have reasoned that his hand would not be upon Saul if Abishai slew him. But he realized that we are not to get around God's word. Indeed God had delivered Saul into David's hand, but that didn't mean that David had to kill him. GNB suggests Abishai wanted to slay Saul with his own weapon just as David had done to Goliath: "Now let me plunge his own spear through him and pin him to the ground with just one blow". This kind of out of context allusion to Biblical history was used by Saul too, and is a warning to us.

1Sa 26:9 David said to Abishai, Don’t destroy him, for who can put forth his hand against Yahweh’s anointed and be guiltless?-
We are all anointed in that we are in Christ, the anointed (2 Cor. 1:21). The same radical respect which David showed, we should show to each other. David’s attitude seems to have influenced Saul’s men, for his armour bearer refused to slay Saul (1 Chron. 10:4,5). But David's attitude towards Saul was actually an encouragement to himself. For he too was Yahweh's anointed, and no hand could be lifted against him unless Yahweh allowed it. The same phrase "lift up the hand against" in the context of murder is used of how Saul's guards refused to kill the priests of Nob (1 Sam. 22:17). For they too were anointed as priests. Yahweh's anointed referred to His priests as well as His kings.

1Sa 26:10 David said, As Yahweh lives, Yahweh will strike him, or his day will come to die, or he will go into battle and perish-
This indeed happened. It was the fulfillment of 1 Sam. 12:25: "But if you still do wickedly you will be consumed, both you and your king". "Perish" is s.w. "consumed"; David seems aware of Samuel's words and is alluding to them. In the face of so much Divine activity to save them, they would be destroyed if they continued to work against God's efforts to save them. And indeed Saul and Israel were "consumed" in the massacre by the Philistines. It was because despite all God's efforts with them, they had continued to "do wickedly".

1Sa 26:11 Yahweh forbid that I should put forth my hand against Yahweh’s anointed; but now please get the spear that is at his head and the jar of water, and let us go-
Yahweh had indeed restrained David from killing Nabal and his family in 1 Sam. 25, and now David was reflecting that by restraining Abishai from doing so, and asking Yahweh to continue to forbid or restrain him from murdering Saul.

David was tested by God in the matter of sparing the life of his enemy Saul- and he came through the test with flying colours (1 Sam. 26). But just before that, he had been tested again in the same area in the matter of Nabal- and he initially failed, intent as he was to take the life of his enemy Nabal (1 Sam. 25). Thus a circumstance can repeat over a matter in which we were previously unsuccessful.

1Sa 26:12 So David took the spear and the jar of water from Saul’s head and they went away; and no-one saw it or knew about it, neither did anyone awake, for they were all asleep because a deep sleep from Yahweh had fallen on them-
It seems God would have given Saul into David’s hand when “a deep sleep from the Lord” fell upon Saul at the very time David intended to kill him. Saul himself realized that the Lord had delivered him into David’s hand to kill him (1 Sam. 24:18). God thus confirmed David in his intentions- and yet at the last minute, it seems, David chose an even higher level; of love and deep respect for this spiritually sick man. The deep sleep from Yahweh recalls that sent upon Adam. Perhaps this was confirming David's plan of his own volition to try to bring Saul to repentance; for the hope was that he would awake to new life created from him.    

1Sa 26:13 Then David went over to the other side and stood on the top of the hill far off, a great space being between them-
All this was carefully planned. Saul was at the foot of "the hill of Hachilah" (:3), and this presumably was where David stood.

1Sa 26:14 and David called to the army and to Abner the son of Ner, Don’t you answer, Abner? Then Abner answered, Who are you who calls to the king?-
Abner, father of Ner, had a son and a father also called Ner, meaning "light" or "lamp". But darkness had been sent upon him. We get the impression that David was particularly hostile to Abner. Ner was Saul's uncle (1 Sam. 14:50). Abner had been captain of the army at the time of David's victory over Goliath (1 Sam. 17:55); perhaps he was the logical one to have fought Goliath, but he lacked David's faith. He therefore had a particular jealousy complex against David.

1Sa 26:15 David said to Abner, Aren’t you a man? Who is like you in Israel? Why then have you not kept watch over your lord, the king? Someone came to destroy the king your lord-
The criticism of Abner seems rather extreme seeing God had made Abner fall asleep; see on :16. But perhaps Abner was guilty because the falling asleep was in confirmation of his own attitude.

1Sa 26:16 What you have done is not good. As Yahweh lives, you are worthy to die because you have not kept watch over your lord, Yahweh’s anointed. Where are the king’s spear and the jar of water that was at his head?-
Often David calls Saul his master, describing himself as Saul's servant (1 Sam. 17:32,34,36; 20:8; 24:6; 26:16,19; 29:3,4; 30:15). This was no formal "Sincerely your brother and fellow-servant". This was a real conscious putting of himself down, as the Lord Jesus felt he was a worm rather than a man (Ps. 22:6). If only we would concentrate upon our own status and show some true respect for others on account of their being in the ecclesia, having even been anointed spiritually at their baptism (2 Cor. 1:21) as Saul was.

David says that the servants of Saul are “worthy to die” because they fell asleep as a result of “a deep sleep from the Lord” which fell on them, and therefore didn’t protect Saul (1 Sam. 26:12,16). Were they really that guilty of death for this? There doesn’t appear to be any Biblical command David was quoting. We get the impression this was another example of his wrong attitude to the shedding of blood (1 Chron. 22:8).

1Sa 26:17 Saul knew David’s voice and said, Is that your voice, my son David? David said, It is my voice, my lord, O king-
This was precisely the situation in the previous such incident in 1 Sam. 24:16. The lesson was being repeated. We wonder why Saul queries whether this is really David's voice. Perhaps there was a considerable distance between them; or David's voice was strained by emotion; or Saul so wished this was all a dream and this hadn't really happened. Again, each of these options has absolute credibility and reflects that this record is true and accurate as to what really happened and was said. It is no cunningly devised fable.

1Sa 26:18 Why does my lord pursue his servant? What have I done? What evil am I guilty of?-
The "why" was a deep rhetorical question, and was still aimed at eliciting repentance in Saul; as was this whole escapade to steal Saul's spear. We marvel at the unceasing desire of God through David for Saul's repentance, even at very late stages. In the type of the Lord Jesus, this looks forward to the Lord's question "Which of you convicts Me of sin?" (Jn. 8:46).

1Sa 26:19 Now therefore, please let my lord the king hear the words of his servant. If Yahweh has stirred you up against me, let Him accept an offering-
David simplistically speaks as if "an offering" can resolve any issue with God; he was to mature through the Bathsheba crisis to understand that God wants broken hearts rather than an offering (Ps. 51:18,19). "Stirred up" is the word used for 'entice', 'persuade' etc., and is used of God stirring up or psychologically stimulating David to number Israel (2 Sam. 24:1). This is how His Spirit works. And we know that His evil Spirit worked upon Saul. But David knows this is not an irresistible influence from God upon those He just decides to destroy; through repentance and sacrifice, things would be different. Hence GNB: "If it is the LORD who has turned you against me, an offering to him will make him change his mind".

But if it is men who have done it-
We get the impression from the record that it was Saul who was creating this false accusation, as part of his paranoid mindset that had jumped from one conspiracy theory to another. It was Saul who was influencing men to think like that. But David had clearly chosen his words carefully for this brief speech. He seeks to give Saul the benefit of the doubt, as grace does (see on 1 Sam. 24:8), and to make it as easy as possible for Saul to repent. He sets us a stellar example for behaviour in interpersonal conflict.

May they be cursed by Yahweh, for they have driven me out so that I can’t have a part in Yahweh’s inheritance; they have said ‘Go and serve other gods!’-
This remains an abiding lesson; for this is the result of driving people away from the visible sanctuaries and meetings of God's people.

David seems to have held the idea that Yahweh could only be worshipped in the land of Israel- hence he blames Saul for driving him out of the land and thus making acceptable worship impossible for him. This was the same misunderstanding as held by the exiles in Babylon and also Jonah; and yet for all that misunderstanding, David was still a man after God's own heart. Saul drove David away from his presence and that of Yahweh, to become a fugitive and vagabond; Saul would not accept any sacrifice from David (1 Sam. 26:19). This has so many connections with the driving out of Cain in Gen. 4:14. In other words, Saul was saying that David was not spiritually fit to be in the land and must therefore be destroyed. So many of the Psalms contain references to Saul's smear campaign against David (Ps. 27:12; 31:13; 109:23 cp. 1 Sam. 26:19). This frequency of reference in itself indicates the weight with which this tragedy rested upon David's mind.  

David's men represent the followers of the Lord Jesus (cp. Heb. 13:13). David's motley crew were idolaters and bitter men, "them that are set on fire... whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword" (Ps. 57:4). So rough were they that David says that having to live with them almost destroyed him spiritually. This typology would explain why the body of Christ seems [at times] full of mixed up men and women with hard words and a tendency to idolatry- who eventually will be the rulers in Messiah's Kingdom, after the pattern of David's men.

1Sa 26:20 Now therefore, don’t let my blood fall to the earth far from the presence of Yahweh-
GNB "Don't let me be killed on foreign soil, away from the LORD". David seems to be saying that Saul's persecution was driving him out of the land of Israel to Gentile lands such as Achish in Gath where he had a strong chance of death. But he was wavering in believing the promise that he would indeed become king, a promise so firmly believed in by those close to him like Jonathan and Abigail. He also, like the exiles, seems to mistakenly think that Yahweh's presence is only in the land of Israel.

For the king of Israel has come out to seek a flea, as when one hunts a partridge in the mountains-
Saul "sought" David, implying a great level of mental effort (1 Sam. 19:10; 23:14,15,25; 24:2; 25:26,29; 26:2,20; 27:1,4; 2 Sam. 4:8). In the type of Christ, the Jews sought to kill the Lord (Mt. 21:46; Mk. 11:18; 12:12; 14:1,11,55; Lk. 19:47; 20:19; 22:2,6; Jn.5:16,18; 7:1,11,25,30; 8:37,40; 10:39; 11:8,56; 18:4,7,8). This reflects the broken down psychological state of David. He felt himself as good as dead, powerless, tiny and insignificant as a flea. He had a low self image.

1Sa 26:21 Then Saul said, I have sinned-
The very words of Judas (Mt.27:4). Again, we see clearly David as a type of Christ.

Return, my son David, for I will no more do you harm, because my life was precious in your eyes today-
David alludes to Saul's words in Ps. 49:8 "life is costly", s.w. "My soul was precious". David is alluding to this; Saul's human life had been precious or costly to him, but he was unable to redeem Saul eternally. Only God could do that, if Saul by faith accepted God's grace. The death and life of Saul had been precious in David's eyes, and so David's life was precious in Yahweh's eyes (s.w. Ps. 116:15). Again we are taught that God's attitude to our salvation and our life is directly related to our attitude to the life and salvation of others; and this is why we are to perceive the value, the preciousness, of human life and salvation. It is why making others stumble from the path to eternal life is so serious to God.

I have played the fool, and have erred very seriously-
Saul "erred" or 'wandered' out of the way; this is s.w. Ps. 119:10 "let me now wander". David seems to have initially written Ps. 119 in his wilderness years; he is asking to be stopped from going the path of Saul.

1Sa 26:22 David answered, Here is the spear, O king! Let one of the young men come over and get it-
David clearly distrusts Saul and will not even walk over to him to return his spear. He had earlier refused that spear at the time of the Goliath battle, and he does so again now. Forgiveness and grace must be shown even to the likes of Saul, but this is not the same thing as trusting the person again; at least not until they have acted in such a way as to rebuild trust.

1Sa 26:23 Yahweh will reward every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness, because Yahweh delivered you into my hand today and I wouldn’t put forth my hand against Yahweh’s anointed-
This sounds rather self righteous and legalistic, as if David is saying that he has consciously gone up to Saul that night and refused to take his life, in order to get a reward for his righteousness. He comes over as self congratulatory in the extreme. We can also muse as to whether "Yahweh delivered you into my hand" suggests David was given the option of killing Saul; but he chose a higher level.

1Sa 26:24 As your life was respected this day in my eyes, so let my life be respected in the eyes of Yahweh and let Him deliver me out of all oppression-
As suggested on :23, David appears to have consciously pulled off this feat of sneaking up on Saul as he slept in order that his life should be respected and valued. This could reflect a very low self image and a craving for respect and being valued; his self image seems very low to describe himself as a flea (:20).

1Sa 26:25 Then Saul said to David, May you be blessed, my son David. You will do great things and will surely triumph. So David went on his way, and Saul returned home
Saul sought to "prevail against him" (Ps. 13:4), but Saul here used the same word in telling David (in a rare moment of reality and humility) that he knew that David would prevail against him. Those flash moments of reality and humility which Saul had are to be our warning. The Psalms condemn him as generally proud. We must live life in a spirit of humility, rather than just experiencing a few flash moments of it.

"Triumph" is the word used about David triumphing over Goliath (1 Sam. 17:9). Saul perceived in David's prevailing over / overcoming Goliath a sign that David would ultimately prevail to become king in his place; the "great things" refer to the things of the future kingdom. Saul realized that Samuel had indeed chosen his successor as king, and it was David; and that kingship was guaranteed by his victory over Goliath. For Saul to seek to kill David when David had overcome even Goliath... was therefore futile. Saul realized this, but obsessively continued in it. Such is the obsessive, blind nature of jealousy.