Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
1 Kings (1 Samuel)
David complains to Jonathan of Saul's enmity against him; Jonathan comforts him, Sa1 20:1-10. They walk out into the field, and renew their covenant, Sa1 20:11-17. David asks Jonathan's leave to absent himself from Saul's court; and Jonathan informs him how he shall ascertain the disposition of his father towards him, Sa1 20:18-23. David hides himself; is missed by Saul; Jonathan is questioned concerning his absence; makes an excuse for David; Saul is enraged, and endeavors to kill Jonathan, Sa1 20:24-33. Jonathan goes out to the field; gives David the sign which they had agreed on, and by which he was to know that the king had determined to take away his life, Sa1 20:34-39. He sends his servant back into the city; and then he and David meet, renew their covenant, and have a very affectionate parting, Sa1 20:40-42.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 20:1
David fled from Naioth - On hearing that Saul had come to that place, knowing that he was no longer in safety, he fled for his life.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 20:2
My father will do nothing - Jonathan thought that his father could have no evil design against David, because of the oath which he had sworn to himself Sa1 19:6; and at any rate, that he would do nothing against David without informing him.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 20:3
There is but a step between me and death - My life is in the most imminent danger. Your father has, most assuredly, determined to destroy me.
The same figure used here, there is but a step between me and death, may be found in Juvenal, who, satirizing those who risk their lives for the sake of gain in perilous voyages, speaks thus: -
I nune et ventis animam committe, dolato
Confisus ligno, digitis a morte remotus
Quatuor aut septem, si sit latissima teda.
Sat. xii., ver. 57.
"Go now, and commit thy life to the winds,
trusting to a hewn plank, four or seven fingers thick,
if the beam out of which it has been cut have been large enough."
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 20:5
To-morrow is the new moon - The months of the Hebrews were lunar months, and they reckoned from new moon to new moon. And as their other feasts, particularly the passover, were reckoned according to this, they were very scrupulous in observing the first appearance of each new moon. On these new moons they offered sacrifices, and had a feast; as we learn from Num 10:10; Num 28:11. And we may suppose that the families, on such occasions, sacrificed and feasted together. To this David seems to refer; but the gathering together all the families of a whole tribe seems to have taken place only once in the year. There is a yearly sacrifice there for all the family, Sa1 20:6.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 20:8
If there be in me iniquity - If thou seest that I am plotting either against the state, or the life of thy father, then slay me thyself.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 20:10
Who shall tell me? - Who shall give me the necessary information? What means wilt thou use to convey this intelligence to me?
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 20:11
Come, and let us go out into the field - In answer to David's question, he now shows him how he shall convey this intelligence to him.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 20:12
Jonathan said - O Lord God of Israel - There is, most evidently, something wanting in this verse. The Septuagint has, The Lord God of Israel doth Know. The Syriac and Arabic, The Lord God of Israel is Witness. Either of these makes a good sense. But two of Dr. Kennicott's MSS. supply the word חי chai, "liveth;" and the text reads thus, As the Lord God of Israel Liveth, when I have sounded my father - if there be good, and I then send not unto thee, and show it thee, the Lord do so and much more to Jonathan. This makes a still better sense.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 20:13
The Lord be with thee, as he hath been with my father - From this, and other passages here it is evident that Jonathan knew that the Lord had appointed David to the kingdom.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 20:14
Show me the kindness of the Lord - When thou comest to the kingdom, if I am alive, thou shalt show kindness to me, and thou shalt continue that kindness to my family after me.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 20:20
I will shoot three arrows - Jonathan intended that David should stay at the stone Ezel, where probably there was some kind of cave, or hiding place; that, to prevent all suspicion, he would not go to him himself, but take his servant into the fields, and pretend to be exercising himself in archery; that he would shoot three arrows, the better to cover his design; and that, if he should say to his servant, who went to bring back the arrows, "The arrows are on this side of thee," this should be a sign to David that he might safely return to court, no evil being designed; but if he should say, "The arrows are beyond thee," then David should escape for his life, Saul having determined his destruction.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 20:25
The king sat upon his seat - It seems that there was one table for Saul, Jonathan, David, and Abner; Saul having the chief seat, that next to the wall. As only four sat at this table, the absence of any one would soon be noticed.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 20:29
Our family hath a sacrifice - Such sacrifices were undoubtedly festal ones; the beasts slain for the occasion were first offered to God, and their blood poured out before him; afterwards all that were bidden to the feast ate of the flesh. This was a family entertainment, at the commencement of which God was peculiarly honored.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 20:30
Thou son of the perverse rebellious woman - This clause is variously translated and understood. The Hebrew might be translated, Son of an unjust rebellion; that is, "Thou art a rebel against thy own father." The Vulgate, Fili mulieris virum ultro rapientis; "Son of the woman who, of her own accord, forces the man." The Septuagint is equally curious, Υἱε κορασιων αυτομολουντων; "Son of the damsels who came of their own accord." Were these the meaning of the Hebrew, then the bitter reflection must refer to some secret transaction between Saul and Jonathan's mother; which certainly reflects more dishonor on himself than on his brave son. Most sarcasms bear as hard upon the speaker, as they do on him against whom they are spoken. Abusive language always argues a mean, weak, and malevolent heart.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 20:34
Jonathan arose - in fierce anger - We should probably understand this rather of Jonathan's grief than of his anger, the latter clause explaining the former: for he was grieved for David. He was grieved for his father - he was grieved for his friend.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 20:38
Make speed, haste, stay not - Though these words appear to be addressed to the lad, yet they were spoken to David, indicating that his life was at stake, and only a prompt flight could save him.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 20:40
Jonathan gave his artillery - I believe this to be the only place in our language where the word artillery is not applied to cannon or ordnance. The original (כלי keley) signifies simply instruments, and here means the bow, quiver, and arrows.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 20:41
Until David exceeded - David's distress must, in the nature of things, be the greatest. Besides his friend Jonathan, whom he was now about to lose for ever, he lost his wife, relatives, country; and, what was most afflictive, the altars of his God, and the ordinances of religion.
Saul saw David's growing popularity, and was convinced of his own maladministration. He did not humble himself before God, and therefore became a prey to envy, pride, jealousy, cruelty, and every other malevolent temper. From him David had every thing to fear, and therefore he thought it was safer to yield to the storm, than attempt to brave it; though he could have even raised a very powerful party in Israel, had he used the means which were so much in his power. But as he neither sought not affected the kingdom, he left it to the providence of God to bring him in by such means, at such a way, and in such a time, as was most suited to his godly wisdom. He that believeth shall not make haste: God's way and time are ever the best; and he who, even in God's way, runs before he is sent, runs at random; runs without light, and without Divine strength.
Feeble, therefore, must be his own might, his own counsel, and his own wisdom: though he encompass himself with his own sparks yet this hath he at the Lord's hand - he shalt lie down in sorrow.