Sacred Texts  Bible  Bible Commentary  Index 
1 Kings (1 Samuel) Index
  Previous  Next 

Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

1 Kings (1 Samuel) Chapter 20

1 Kings (1 Samuel) 20:1

sa1 20:1

After the occurrence which had taken place at Naioth, David fled thence and met with Jonathan, to whom he poured out his heart.

(Note: According to Ewald and Thenius, this chapter was not written by the author of the previous one, but was borrowed from an earlier source, and Sa1 20:1 was inserted by the compiler to connect the two together. But the principal reason for this conjecture - namely, that David could never have thought of sitting at the royal table again after what had taken place, and that Saul would still less have expected him to come - is overthrown by the simple suggestion, that all that Saul had hitherto attempted against David, according to Sa1 19:8., had been done in fits of insanity (cf. Sa1 19:9.), which had passed away again; so that it formed no criterion by which to judge of Saul's actual feelings towards David when he was in a state of mental sanity.)

Though he had been delivered for the moment from the death which threatened him, through the marvellous influence of the divine inspiration of the prophets upon Saul and his messengers, he could not find in this any lasting protection from the plots of his mortal enemy. He therefore sought for his friend Jonathan, and complained to him, "What have I done? what is my crime, my sin before thy father, that he seeks my life?"

Sa1 20:2

Jonathan endeavoured to pacify him: "Far be it! thou shalt not die: behold, my father does nothing great or small (i.e., not the smallest thing; cf. Sa1 25:36 and Num 22:18) that he does not reveal to me; why should my father hide this thing from me? It is not so." The לו after הנּה stands for לא: the Chethibh עשׂה is probably to be preferred to the Keri יעשׂה, and to be understood in this sense: "My father has (hitherto) done nothing at all, which he has not told to me." This answer of Jonathan does not presuppose that he knew nothing of the occurrences described in 1 Samuel 19:9-24, although it is possible enough that he might not have been with his father just at that time; but it is easily explained from the fact that Saul had made the fresh attack upon David's life in a state of madness, in which he was no longer master of himself; so that it could not be inferred with certainty from this that he would still plot against David's life in a state of clear consciousness. Hitherto Saul had no doubt talked over all his plans and undertakings with Jonathan, but he had not uttered a single word to him about his deadly hatred, or his intention of killing David; so that Jonathan might really have regarded his previous attacks upon David's life as nothing more than symptoms of temporary aberration of mind.

Sa1 20:3

But David had looked deeper into Saul's heart. He replied with an oath ("he sware again," i.e., a second time), "Thy father knoweth that I have found favour in thine eyes (i.e., that thou art attached to me); and thinketh Jonathan shall not know this, lest he be grieved. But truly, as surely as Jehovah liveth, and thy soul liveth, there is hardly a step (lit. about a step) between me and death." כּי introduces the substance of the oath, as in Sa1 14:44, etc.

Sa1 20:4-5

When Jonathan answered, "What thy soul saith, will I do to thee," i.e., fulfil every wish, David made this request, "Behold, to-morrow is new moon, and I ought to sit and eat with the king: let me go, that I may conceal myself in the field (i.e., in the open air) till the third evening." This request implies that Saul gave a feast at the new moon, and therefore that the new moon was not merely a religious festival, according to the law in Num 10:10; Num 28:11-15, but that it was kept as a civil festival also, and in the latter character for two days; as we may infer both from the fact that David reckoned to the third evening, i.e., the evening of the third day from the day then present, and therefore proposed to hide himself on the new moon's day and the day following, and also still more clearly from Sa1 20:12, Sa1 20:27, and Sa1 20:34, where Saul is said to have expected David at table on the day after the new moon. We cannot, indeed, conclude from this that there was a religious festival of two days' duration; nor does it follow, that because Saul supposed that David might have absented himself on the first day on account of Levitical uncleanness (Sa1 20:26), therefore the royal feast was a sacrificial meal. It was evidently contrary to social propriety to take part in a public feast in a state of Levitical uncleanness, even though it is not expressly forbidden in the law.

Sa1 20:6

"If thy father should miss me, then say, David hath asked permission of me to hasten to Bethlehem, his native town; for there is a yearly sacrifice for the whole family there." This ground of excuse shows that families and households were accustomed to keep united sacrificial feasts once a year. According to the law in Deu 12:5., they ought to have been kept at the tabernacle; but at this time, when the central sanctuary had fallen into disuse, they were held in different places, wherever there were altars of Jehovah - as, for example, at Bethlehem (cf. Sa1 16:2.). We see from these words that David did not look upon prevarication as a sin.

Sa1 20:7

"If thy father says, It is well, there is peace to thy servant (i.e., he cherishes no murderous thoughts against me); but if he be very wroth, know that evil is determined by him." כּלה, to be completed; hence to be firmly and unalterably determined (cf. Sa1 25:17; Est 7:7). Seb. Schmidt infers from the closing words that the fact was certain enough to David, but not to Jonathan. Thenius, on the other hand, observes much more correctly, that "it is perfectly obvious from this that David was not quite clear as to Saul's intentions," though he upsets his own previous assertion, that after what David had gone through, he could never think of sitting again at the king's table as he had done before.

Sa1 20:8

David made sure that Jonathan would grant this request on account of his friendship, as he had brought him into a covenant of Jehovah with himself. David calls the covenant of friendship with Jonathan (Sa1 18:3) a covenant of Jehovah, because he had made it with a solemn invocation of Jehovah. But in order to make quite sure of the fulfilment of his request on the part of Jonathan, David added, "But if there is a fault in me, do thou kill me (אתּה used to strengthen the suffix); for why wilt thou bring me to thy father?" sc., that he may put me to death.

Sa1 20:9

Jonathan replied, "This be far from thee!" sc., that I should kill thee, or deliver thee up to my father. חלילה points back to what precedes, as in Sa1 20:2. "But (כּי after a previous negative assertion) if I certainly discover that evil is determined by my father to come upon thee, and I do not tell it thee," sc., "may God do so to me," etc. The words are to be understood as an asseveration on oath, in which the formula of an oath is to be supplied in thought. This view is apparently a more correct one, on account of the cop. ו before לא, than to take the last clause as a question, "Shall I not tell it thee?"

Sa1 20:10

To this friendly assurance David replied, "Who will tell me?" sc., how thy father expresses himself concerning me; "or what will thy father answer thee roughly?" sc., if thou shouldst attempt to do it thyself. This is the correct explanation given by De Wette and Maurer. Gesenius and Thenius, on the contrary, take או in the sense of "if perchance." But this is evidently incorrect; for even though there are certain passages in which או may be so rendered, it is only where some other case is supposed, and therefore the meaning or still lies at the foundation. These questions of David were suggested by a correct estimate of the circumstances, namely, that Saul's suspicions would leave him to the conclusion that there was some understanding between Jonathan and David, and that he would take steps in consequence to prevent Jonathan from making David acquainted with the result of his conversation with Saul.

Sa1 20:11

Before replying to these questions, Jonathan asked David to go with him to the field, that they might there fix upon the sign by which he would let him know, in a way in which no one could suspect, what was the state of his father's mind.

1 Kings (1 Samuel) 20:12

sa1 20:12

In the field, where they were both entirely free from observation, Jonathan first of all renewed his covenant with David, by vowing to him on oath that he would give him information of his father's feelings towards him (Sa1 20:12, Sa1 20:13); and then entreated him, with a certain presentiment that David would one day be king, even then to maintain his love towards him and his family for ever (Sa1 20:14-16); and lastly, he made David swear again concerning his love (Sa1 20:17), and then gave him the sign by which he would communicate the promised information (Sa1 20:18-23).

Sa1 20:12-15

Sa1 20:12 and Sa1 20:13 are connected. Jonathan commences with a solemn invocation of God: "Jehovah, God of Israel!" and thus introduces his oath. We have neither to supply "Jehovah is witness," nor "as truly as Jehovah liveth," as some have suggested. "When I inquire of my father about this time to-morrow, the day after to-morrow (a concise mode of saying 'to-morrow or the day after'), and behold it is (stands) well for David, and then I do not send to thee and make it known to thee, Jehovah shall do so to Jonathan," etc. ("The Lord do so," etc., the ordinary formula used in an oath: see Sa1 14:44). The other case is then added without an adversative particle: "If it should please my father evil against thee (lit. as regards evil), "I will make it known to thee, and let thee go, that thou mayest go in peace; and Jehovah be with thee, as He has been with my father." In this wish there is expressed the presentiment that David would one day occupy that place in Israel which Saul occupied then, i.e., the throne. - In Sa1 20:14 and Sa1 20:15 the Masoretic text gives no appropriate meaning. Luther's rendering, in which he follows the Rabbins and takes the first ולא (Sa1 20:14) by itself, and then completes the sentence from the context ("but if I do it not, show me no mercy, because I live, not even if I die"), contains indeed a certain permissible sense when considered in itself; but it is hardly reconcilable with what follows, "and do not tear away thy compassion for ever from my house." The request that he would show no compassion to him (Jonathan) even if he died, and yet would not withdraw his compassion from his house for ever, contains an antithesis which would have been expressed most clearly and unambiguously in the words themselves, if this had been really what Jonathan intended to say. De Wette's rendering gives a still more striking contradiction: "But let not (Jehovah be with thee) if I still live, and thou showest not the love of Jehovah to me, that I do not, and thou withdrawest not thy love from my house for ever." There is really no other course open than to follow the Syriac and Arabic, as Maurer, Thenius, and Ewald have done, and change the ולא in the first two clauses in Sa1 20:14 into ולוּ or ולא, according to the analogy of the form לוּא (Sa1 14:30), and to render the passage thus: "And mayest thou, if I still live, mayest thou show to me the favour of the Lord, and not if I do, not withdraw thy favour from my house for ever, not even (ולא) when Jehovah shall cut off the enemies of David, every one from the face of the earth!" "The favour of Jehovah" is favour such as Jehovah shall cut off," etc., shows very clearly Jonathan's conviction that Jehovah would give to David a victory over all his enemies.

Sa1 20:16

Thus Jonathan concluded a covenant with the house of David, namely, by bringing David to promise kindness to his family for ever. The word בּרית must be supplied in thought to יכרת, as in Sa1 22:8 and Ch2 7:18. "And Jehovah required it (what Jonathan had predicted) at the hand of David's enemies." Understood in this manner, the second clause contains a remark of the historian himself, namely, that Jonathan's words were really fulfilled in due time. The traditional rendering of וּבקּשׁ as a relative preterite, with אמר understood, "and said, Let Jehovah take vengeance," is not only precluded by the harshness of the introduction of the word "saying," but still more by the fact, that if אמר (saying) is introduced between the copula vav and the verb בּקּשׁ, the perfect cannot stand for the optative בּקּשׁ, as in Jos 22:23.

Sa1 20:17

"And Jonathan adjured David again by his love to him, because he loved him as his own soul" (cf. Sa1 18:1, Sa1 18:3); i.e., he once more implored David most earnestly with an oath to show favour to him and his house.

Sa1 20:18-19

He then discussed the sign with him for letting him know about his father's state of mind: "To-morrow is new moon, and thou wilt be missed, for thy seat will be empty," sc., at Saul's table (see at Sa1 20:5). "And on the third day come down quickly (from thy sojourning place), and go to the spot where thou didst hide thyself on the day of the deed, and place thyself by the side of the stone Ezel." The first words in this (19th) verse are not without difficulty. The meaning "on the third day" for the verb שׁלּשׁ cannot be sustained by parallel passages, but is fully established, partly by השּׁלשׁית, the third day, and partly by the Arabic usage (vid., Ges. Thes. s. v.). מאד after תּרד, lit., "go violently down," is more striking still. Nevertheless the correctness of the text is not to be called in question, since שׁלּשׁתּ is sustained by τρισσεύσει in the Septuagint, and מאד תּרד by descende ergo festinus in the Vulgate, and also by the rendering in the Chaldee, Arabic, and Syriac versions, "and on the third day thou wilt be missed still more," which is evidently merely a conjecture founded upon the context. The meaning of המּעשׂה בּיום is doubtful. Gesenius, De Wette, and Maurer render it "on the day of the deed," and understand it as referring to Saul's deed mentioned in Sa1 19:2, viz., his design of killing David; others render it "on the day of business," i.e., the working day (Luther, after the lxx and Vulgate), but this is not so good a rendering. The best is probably that of Thenius, "on the day of the business" (which is known to thee). Nothing further can be said concerning the stone Ezel than that Ezel is a proper name.

Sa1 20:20

"And I will shoot off three arrows to the side of it (the stone Ezek), to shoot for me at the mark," i.e., as if shooting at the mark. The article attached to החצּים is either to be explained as denoting that the historian assumed the thing as already well known, or on the supposition that Jonathan went to the field armed, and when giving the sign pointed to the arrows in his quiver. In the word צדּה the Raphe indicates that the suffix of ־ה is not a mere toneless ה, although it has no mappik, having given up its strong breathing on account of the harsh צ sound.

Sa1 20:21

"And, behold (הנּה, directing attention to what follows as the main point), I will send the boy (saying), Go, get the arrows. If I shall say to the boy, Behold, the arrows are from thee hitherwards, fetch them; then come, for peace is to thee, and it is nothing, as truly as Jehovah liveth."

Sa1 20:22

"But if I say to the youth, Behold, the arrows are from thee farther off; then go, for Jehovah sendeth thee away," i.e., bids thee flee. The appointment of this sign was just as simple as it was suitable to the purpose.

Sa1 20:23

This arrangement was to remain an eternal secret between them. "And (as for) the word that we have spoken, I and thou, behold, the Lord is between me and thee for ever," namely, a witness and judge in case one of us two should break the covenant (vid., Gen 31:48-49). This is implied in the words, without there being any necessity to assume that עד had dropped out of the text. "The word" refers not merely to the sign agreed upon, but to the whole matter, including the renewal of the bond of friendship.

1 Kings (1 Samuel) 20:24

sa1 20:24

David thereupon concealed himself in the field, whilst Jonathan, as agreed upon, endeavoured to apologize for his absence from the king's table.

Sa1 20:24-25

On the new moon's day Saul sat at table, and as always, at his seat by the wall, i.e., at the top, just as, in eastern lands at the present day, the place of honour is the seat in the corner (see Harmar Beobachtungen ii. pp. 66ff.). "And Jonathan rose up, and Abner seated himself by the side of Saul, and David's place remained empty." The difficult passage, "And Jonathan rose up," etc., can hardly be understood in any other way than as signifying that, when Abner entered, Jonathan rose from his seat by the side of Saul, and gave up the place to Abner, in which case all that is wanting is an account of the place to which Jonathan moved. Every other attempted explanation is exposed to much graver difficulties. The suggestion made by Gesenius, that the cop. ו should be supplied before אבנר, and ויּשׁב referred to Jonathan ("and Jonathan rose up and sat down, and Abner [sat down] by the side of Saul"), as in the Syriac, is open to this objection, that in addition to the necessity of supplying ו, it is impossible to see why Jonathan should have risen up for the purpose of sitting down again. The rendering "and Jonathan came," which is the one adopted by Maurer and De Wette, cannot be philologically sustained; inasmuch as, although קוּם is used to signify rise up, in the sense of the occurrence of important events, or the appearance of celebrated of persons, it never means simply "to come." And lastly, the conjecture of Thenius, that ויּקם should be altered into ויקדּם, according to the senseless rendering of the lxx, προέφθασε τὸν Ἰονάθαν, is overthrown by the fact, that whilst קדּם does indeed mean to anticipate or come to meet, it never means to sit in front of, i.e., opposite to a person.

Sa1 20:26

On this (first) day Saul said nothing, sc., about David's absenting himself, "for he thought there has (something) happened to him, that he is not clean; surely (כּי) he is not clean" (vid., Lev 15:16.; Deu 23:11).

Sa1 20:27-29

But on the second day, the day after the new moon (lit., the morrow after the new moon, the second day: השּׁני is a nominative, and to be joined to ויהי, and not a genitive belonging to החדשׁ), when David was absent from table again, Saul said to Jonathan, "Why is the son of Jesse not come to meat, neither yesterday nor to-day?" Whereupon Jonathan answered, as arranged with David (compare Sa1 20:28 and Sa1 20:29 with Sa1 20:6). "And my brother, he hath commanded me," i.e., ordered me to come. צוּה as in Exo 6:13, and אחי, the elder brother, who was then at the head of the family, and arranged the sacrificial meal.

Sa1 20:30-31

Saul was greatly enraged at this, and said to Jonathan, "Son of a perverse woman (נעות is a participle, Niph. fem. from עוה) of rebellion," - i.e., son of a perverse and rebellious woman (an insult offered to the mother, and therefore so much the greater to the son), hence the meaning really is, "Thou perverse, rebellious fellow," - "do I not know that thou hast chosen the son of Jesse to thine own shame, and to the shame of thy mother's nakedness?" בּחר, to choose a person out of love, to take pleasure in a person; generally construed with בּ pers., here with ל, although many Codd. have בּ here also. "For as long as the son of Jesse liveth upon the earth, thou and thy kingdom (kingship, throne) will not stand." Thus Saul evidently suspected David as his rival, who would either wrest the government from him, or at any rate after his death from his son. "Now send and fetch him to me, for he is a child of death," i.e., he has deserved to die, and shall be put to death.

Sa1 20:32-34

When Jonathan replied, "My father, why shall he die? what has he done?" Saul was so enraged that he hurled his javelin at Jonathan (cf. Sa1 18:11). Thus Jonathan saw that his father had firmly resolved to put David to death, and rose up from the table in fierce anger, and did not eat that day; for he was grieved concerning David, because his father had done him shame. כּלה is a substantive in the sense of unalterable resolution, like the verb in Sa1 20:9. השּׁני בּיום־החדשׁ, on the second day of the new moon or month.

1 Kings (1 Samuel) 20:35

sa1 20:35

The next morning Jonathan made David acquainted with what had occurred, by means of the sign agreed upon with David. The account of this, and of the meeting between Jonathan and David which followed, is given very concisely, only the main points being touched upon. In the morning (after what had occurred) Jonathan went to the field, דּוד למועד, either "at the time agreed upon with David," or "to the meeting with David," or perhaps better still, "according to the appointment (agreement) with David," and a small boy with him.

Sa1 20:36

To the latter he said, namely as soon as they had come to the field, Run, get the arrows which I shoot. The boy ran, and he shot off the arrows, "to go out beyond him," i.e., so that the arrows flew farther than the boy had run. The form חצי for חץ only occurs in connection with disjunctive accents; beside the present chapter (Sa1 20:36, Sa1 20:37, Sa1 20:38, Chethibh) we find it again in Kg2 9:24. The singular is used here with indefinite generality, as the historian did not consider it necessary to mention expressly, after what he had previously written, that Jonathan shot off three arrows one after another.

Sa1 20:37-39

When the boy came to the place of the shot arrow (i.e., to the place to which the arrow had flown), Jonathan called after him, "See, the arrow is (lies) away from thee, farther off;" and again, "Quickly, haste, do not stand still," that he might not see David, who was somewhere near; and the boy picked up the arrow and came to his lord. The Chethibh החצי is evidently the original reading, and the singular is to be understood as in Sa1 20:37; the Keri החצּים is an emendation, according to the meaning of the words. The writer here introduces the remark in Sa1 20:39, that the boy knew nothing of what had been arranged between Jonathan and David.

Sa1 20:40

Jonathan then gave the boy his things (bow, arrows, and quiver), and sent him with them to the town, that he might be able to converse with David for a few seconds after his departure, and take leave of him unobserved.

Sa1 20:41

When the boy had gone, David rose (from his hiding-place) from the south side, fell down upon his face to the ground, and bowed three times (before Jonathan); they then kissed each other, and wept for one another, "till David wept strongly," i.e., to such a degree that David wept very loud. הנּגב מאצל, "from the side of the south," which is the expression used to describe David's hiding-place, according to its direction in relation to the place where Jonathan was standing, has not been correctly rendered by any of the early translators except Aquila and Jerome. In the Septuagint, the Chaldee, the Syriac, and the Arabic, the statement in Sa1 20:19 is repeated, simply because the translators could not see the force of הנּגב מאצל, although it is intelligible enough in relation to what follows, according to which David fled from thence southwards to Nob.

Sa1 20:42

All that is given of the conversation between the two friends is the parting word spoken by Jonathan to David: "Go in peace. What we two have sworn in the name of the Lord, saying, The Lord be between me and thee, and between my seed and thy seed for ever:" sc., let it stand, or let us abide by it. The clause contains an aposiopesis, which may be accounted for from Jonathan's deep emotion, and in which the apodosis may be gathered from the sense. For it is evident, from a comparison of Sa1 20:23, that the expression "for ever" must be understood as forming part of the oath. - Sa1 21:1. David then set out upon his journey, and Jonathan returned to the town. This verse ought, strictly speaking, to form the conclusion of 1 Samuel 20.

(Note: In our English version it does; but in the Hebrew, which is followed here, it forms the opening verse of Sa1 21:1-15. In the exposition of the following chapter it has been thought better to follow the numbering of the verses in our version rather than that of the original, although the latter is conformed to the Hebrew. - Tr.)

The subject to "arose" is David; not because Jonathan was the last one spoken of (Thenius), but because the following words, "and Jonathan came," etc., are in evident antithesis to "he arose and went."

Next: 1 Kings (1 Samuel) Chapter 21