Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 26:1
The repetition not only of the treachery of the Ziphites, but also of the sparing of Saul by David, furnishes no proof in itself that the account contained in this chapter is only another legend of the occurrences already related in 1 Samuel 23:19-24:22. As the pursuit of David by Saul lasted for several years, in so small a district as the desert of Judah, there is nothing strange in the repetition of the same scenes. And the assertion made by Thenius, that "Saul would have been a moral monster, which he evidently was not, if he had pursued David with quiet deliberation, and through the medium of the same persons, and had sought his life again, after his own life had been so magnanimously spared by him," not only betrays a superficial acquaintance with the human heart, but is also founded upon the mere assertion, for which there is no proof, that Saul was evidently no so; and it is proved to be worthless by the fact, that after the first occasion on which his life was so magnanimously spared by David, he did not leave off seeking him up and down in the land, and that David was obliged to seek refuge with the Philistines in consequence, as may be seen from Sa1 27:1-12, which Thenius himself assigns to the same source as 1 Samuel 24. The agreement between the two accounts reduces it entirely to outward and unessential things. It consists chiefly in the fact that the Ziphites came twice to Saul at Gibeah, and informed him that David was stopping in their neighbourhood, in the hill Hachilah, and also that Saul went out twice in pursuit of David with 3000 men. But the three thousand were the standing body of men that Saul had raised from the very beginning of his reign out of the whole number of those who were capable of bearing arms, for the purpose of carrying on his smaller wars (Sa1 13:2); and the hill of Hachilah appears to have been a place in the desert of Judah peculiarly well adapted for the site of an encampment. On the other hand, all the details, as well as the final results of the two occurrences, differ entirely from one another. When David was betrayed the first time, he drew back into the desert of Maon before the advance of Saul; and being completely surrounded by Saul upon one of the mountains there, was only saved from being taken prisoner by the circumstance that Saul was compelled suddenly to relinquish the pursuit of David on account of the report that the Philistines had invaded the land (Sa1 23:25-28). But on the second occasion Saul encamped upon the hill of Hachilah, whilst David had drawn back into the adjoining desert, from which he crept secretly into Saul's encampment, and might, if he had chosen, have put his enemy to death (Sa1 26:3.). There is quite as much difference in the minuter details connected with the sparing of Saul. On the first occasion, Saul entered a cave in the desert of Engedi, whilst David and his men were concealed in the interior of the cave, without having the smallest suspicion that they were anywhere near (Sa1 24:2-4). The second time David went with Abishai into the encampment of Saul upon the hill of Hachilah, while the king and all his men were sleeping (Sa1 26:3, Sa1 26:5). It is true that on both occasions David's men told him that God had given his enemy into his hand; but the first time they added, Do to him what seemeth good in thy sight; and David cut off the lappet of Saul's coat, whereupon his conscience smote him, and he said, "Far be it from me to lay my hand upon the Lord's anointed" (Sa1 24:5-8). In the second instance, on the contrary, when David saw Saul in the distance lying by the carriage rampart and the army sleeping round him, he called to two of his heroes, Ahimelech and Abishai, to go with him into the camp of the sleeping foe, and then went thither with Abishai, who thereupon said to him, "God hath delivered thine enemy into thy hand: let me alone, that I may pierce him with the spear." But David rejected this proposal, and merely took away the spear and water-bowl that were at Saul's head (Sa1 26:6-12). And lastly, notwithstanding the fact that the words of David and replies of Saul agree in certain general thoughts, yet they differ entirely in the main. On the first occasion David showed the king that his life had been in his power, and yet he had spared him, to dispel the delusion that he was seeking his life (Sa1 24:10-16). On the second occasion he asked the king why he was pursuing him, and called to him to desist from his pursuit (Sa1 26:18.). But Saul was so affected the first time that he wept aloud, and openly declared that David would obtain the kingdom; and asked him to promise on oath, that when he did, he would not destroy his family (Sa1 24:17-22). The second time, on the contrary, he only declared that he had sinned and acted foolishly, and would to David no more harm, and that David would undertake and prevail; but he neither shed tears, nor brought himself to speak of David's ascending the throne, so that he was evidently much more hardened than before (Sa1 26:21-25). These decided differences prove clearly enough that the incident described in this chapter is not the same as the similar one mentioned in 1 Samuel 23 and 24, but belongs to a later date, when Saul's enmity and hardness had increased.
The second betrayal of David by the Ziphites occurred after David had married Abigail at Carmel, and when he had already returned to the desert of Judah. On Sa1 26:1 and Sa1 26:2 compare the explanations of Sa1 23:19 and Sa1 24:3. Instead of "before (in the face of) Jeshimon" (i.e., the wilderness), we find the situation defined more precisely in Sa1 23:19, as "to the right (i.e., on the south) of the wilderness" (Jeshimon).
When David saw (i.e., perceived) in the desert that Saul was coming behind him, he sent out spies, and learned from them that he certainly had come (אל־נכון, for a certainty, as in Sa1 23:23).
Upon the receipt of this information, David rose up with two attendants (mentioned in Sa1 26:6) to reconnoitre the camp of Saul. When he saw the place where Saul and his general Abner were lying - Saul was lying by the waggon rampart, and the fighting men were encamped round about him - he said to Ahimelech and Abishai, "Who will go down with me into the camp to Saul?" Whereupon Abishai declared himself ready to do so; and they both went by night, and found Saul sleeping with all the people. Ahimelech the Hittite is never mentioned again; but Abishai the son of Zeruiah, David's sister (Ch1 2:16), and a brother of Joab, was afterwards a celebrated general of David, as was also his brother Joab (Sa2 16:9; Sa2 18:2; Sa2 21:17). Saul's spear was pressed (stuck) into the ground at his head, as a sign that the king was sleeping there, for the spear served Saul as a sceptre (cf. Sa1 18:10).
When Abishai exclaimed, "God hath delivered thine enemy into thy hand: now will I pierce him with the spear into the ground with a stroke, and will give no second" (sc., stroke: the Vulgate rendering gives the sense exactly: et secundo non opus erit, there will be no necessity for a second), David replied, "Destroy him not; for who hath stretched out his hand against the anointed of the Lord, and remained unhurt?" נקּה, as in Exo 21:19; Num 5:31. He then continued (in Sa1 26:10, Sa1 26:11): "As truly as Jehovah liveth, unless Jehovah smite him (i.e., carry him off with a stroke; cf. Sa1 25:38), or his day cometh that he dies (i.e., or he dies a natural death; 'his day' denoting the day of death, as in Job 14:6; Job 15:32), or he goes into battle and is carried off, far be it from me with Jehovah (מיהוה, as in Sa1 24:7) to stretch forth my hand against Jehovah's anointed." The apodosis to Sa1 26:10 commences with חלילה, "far be it," or "the Lord forbid," in Sa1 26:11. "Take now the spear which is at his head, and the pitcher, and let us go."
They departed with these trophies, without any one waking up and seeing them, because they were all asleep, as a deep sleep from the Lord had fallen upon them. שׁאוּל מראשׁתי stands for שׁ ממראשׁתי, "from the head of Saul," with מ dropped. The expression "a deep sleep of Jehovah," i.e., a deep sleep sent or inflicted by Jehovah, points to the fact that the Lord favoured David's enterprise.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 26:13
"And David went over to the other side, and placed himself upon the top of the mountain afar off (the space between them was great), and cried to the people," etc. Saul had probably encamped with his fighting men on the slope of the ill Hachilah, so that a valley separated him from the opposite hill, from which David had no doubt reconnoitred the camp and then gone down to it (Sa1 26:6), and to which he returned after the deed was accomplished. The statement that this mountain was far off, so that there was a great space between David and Saul, not only favours the accuracy of the historical tradition, but shows that David reckoned far less now upon any change in the state of Saul's mind than he had done before, when he followed Saul without hesitation from the cave and called after him (Sa1 24:9), and that in fact he rather feared lest Saul should endeavour to get him into his power as soon as he woke from his sleep.
David called out to Abner, whose duty it was as general to defend the life of his king. And Abner replied, "Who art thou, who criest out to the king?" i.e., offendest the king by thy shouting, and disturbest his rest.
David in return taunted Abner with having watched the king carelessly, and made himself chargeable with his death. "For one of the people came to destroy thy lord the king." As a proof of this, he then showed him the spear and pitcher that he had taken away with him. ראה is to be repeated in thought before את־צפּחת: "look where the king's spear is; and (look) at the pitcher at his head," sc., where it is. These reproaches that were cast at Abner were intended to show to Saul, who might at any rate possibly hear, and in fact did hear, that David was the most faithful defender of his life, more faithful than his closest and most zealous servants.
When Saul heard David's voice (for he could hardly have seen David, as the occurrence took place before daybreak, at the latest when the day began to dawn), and David had made himself known to the king in reply to his inquiry, David said, "Why doth my lord pursue his servant? for what have I done, and what evil is in my hand?" He then gave him the well-meant advice, to seek reconciliation for his wrath against him, and not to bring upon himself the guilt of allowing David to find his death in a foreign land. The words, "and now let my lord the king hear the saying of his servant," serve to indicate that what follows is important, and worthy of laying to heart. In his words, David supposes two cases as conceivable causes of Saul's hostility: (1) if Jehovah hath stirred thee up against me; (2) if men have done so. In the first case, he proposes as the best means of overcoming this instigation, that He (Jehovah) should smell an offering. The Hiphil ירח only means to smell, not to cause to smell. The subject is Jehovah. Smelling a sacrifice is an anthropomorphic term, used to denote the divine satisfaction (cf. Gen 8:21). The meaning of the words, "let Jehovah smell sacrifice," is therefore, "let Saul appease the wrath of God by the presentation of acceptable sacrifices." What sacrifices they are which please God, is shown in Psa 51:18-19; and it is certainly not by accident merely that David uses the word minchah, the technical expression in the law for the bloodless sacrifice, which sets forth the sanctification of life in good works. The thought to which David gives utterance here, namely, that God instigates a man to evil actions, is met with in other passages of the Old Testament. It not only lies at the foundation of the words of David in Psa 51:6 (cf. Hengstenberg on Psalms), but is also clearly expressed in Sa2 24:1, where Jehovah instigates David to number the people, and where this instigation is described as a manifestation of the anger of God against Israel; and in Sa2 16:10., where David says, with regard to Shimei, that God had bade him curse him. These passages also show that God only instigates those who have sinned against Him to evil deeds; and therefore that the instigation consists in the fact that God impels sinners to manifest the wickedness of their hearts in deeds, or furnishes the opportunity and occasion for the unfolding and practical manifestation of the evil desire of the heart, that the sinner may either be brought to the knowledge of his more evil ways and also to repentance, through the evil deed and its consequences, or, if the heart should be hardened still more by the evil deed, that it may become ripe for the judgment of death. The instigation of a sinner to evil is simply one peculiar way in which God, as a general rule, punishes sins through sinners; for God only instigates to evil actions such as have drawn down the wrath of God upon themselves in consequence of their sin. When David supposes the fact that Jehovah has instigated Saul against him, he acknowledges, implicitly at least, that he himself is a sinner, whom the Lord may be intending to punish, though without lessening Saul's wrong by this indirect confession.
The second supposition is: "if, however, children of men" (sc., have instigated thee against me); in which case "let them be cursed before the Lord; for they drive me now (this day) that I dare not attach myself to the inheritance of Jehovah (i.e., the people of God), saying, Go, serve other gods." The meaning is this: They have carried it so far now, that I am obliged to separate from the people of God, to fly from the land of the Lord, and, because far away from His sanctuary, to serve other gods. The idea implied in the closing words was, that Jehovah could only be worshipped in Canaan, at the sanctuary consecrated to Him, because it was only there that He manifested himself to His people, and revealed His face or gracious presence (vid., Psa 42:2-3; Psa 84:11; Psa 143:6.). "We are not to understand that the enemies of David were actually accustomed to use these very words, but David was thinking of deeds rather than words" (Calvin).
"And now let not my blood fall to the earth far away from the face of the Lord," i.e., do not carry it so far as to compel me to perish in a foreign land. "For the king of Israel has gone out to seek a single flea (vid., Sa1 24:15), as one hunts a partridge upon the mountains." This last comparison does not of course refer to the first, so that "the object of comparison is compared again with something else," as Thenius supposes, but it refers rather to the whole of the previous clause. The king of Israel is pursuing something very trivial, and altogether unworthy of his pursuit, just as if one were hunting a partridge upon the mountains. "No one would think it worth his while to hunt a single partridge that had flown to the mountains, when they may be found in coveys in the fields" (Winer, Bibl. R. W. ii. p. 307). This comparison, therefore, does not presuppose that קרא must be a bird living upon the mountains, as Thenius maintains, so as to justify his altering the text according to the Septuagint. These words of David were perfectly well adapted to sharpen Saul's conscience, and induce him to desist from his enmity, if he still had an ear for the voice of truth.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 26:21
Moreover, Saul could not help confessing, "I have sinned: return, my son David; I will do thee harm no more, because my life was precious in thine eyes that day." A good intention, which he never carried out. "He declared that he would never do any more what he had already so often promised not to do again; and yet he did not fail to do it again and again. He ought rather to have taken refuge with God, and appealed to Him for grace, that he might not fall into such sins again; yea, he should have entreated David himself to pray for him" (Berleb. Bible). He adds still further, "Behold, I have acted foolishly, and have gone sore astray;" but yet he persists in this folly. "There is no sinner so hardened, but that God gives him now and then some rays of light, which show him all his error. But, alas! when they are awakened by such divine movings, it is only for a few moments; and such impulses are no sooner past, than they fall back again immediately into their former life, and forget all that they have promised."
David then bade the king send a servant to fetch back the spear and pitcher, and reminded him again of the recompense of God: "Jehovah will recompense His righteousness and His faithfulness to the man into whose hand Jehovah hath given thee to-day; and (for) I would not stretch out my hand against the anointed of the Lord."
"Behold, as thy soul has been greatly esteemed in my eyes to-day, so will my soul be greatly esteemed in the eyes of Jehovah, that He will save me out of all tribulation." These words do not contain any "sounding of his own praises" (Thenius), but are merely the testimony of a good conscience before God in the presence of an enemy, who is indeed obliged to confess his wrong-doing, but who no longer feels or acknowledges his need of forgiveness. For even Saul's reply to these words in Sa1 26:25 ("Blessed art thou, my son David: thou wilt undertake, and also prevail:" תּוּכל יכל, lit. to vanquish, i.e., to carry out what one undertakes) does not express any genuine goodwill towards David, but only an acknowledgment, forced upon him by this fresh experience of David's magnanimity, that God was blessing all his undertakings, so that he would prevail. Saul had no more thoughts of any real reconciliation with David. "David went his way, and Saul turned to his place" (cf. Num 24:25). Thus they parted, and never saw each other again. There is nothing said about Saul returning to his house, as there was when his life was first spared (Sa1 24:22). On the contrary, he does not seem to have given up pursuing David; for, according to Sa1 27:1-12, David was obliged to take refuge in a foreign land, and carry out what he had described in Sa1 26:19 as his greatest calamity.