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Clarke's Commentary on the Bible
David complains to Jonathan of Saul's enmity against him; Jonathan comforts him, 1 Samuel 20:1-10. They walk out into the field, and renew their covenant, 1 Samuel 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, 1 Samuel 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, 1 Samuel 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, 1 Samuel 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, 1 Samuel 20:40-42.
1And David fled from Naioth in Ramah, and came and said before Jonathan, What have I done? what is mine iniquity? and what is my sin before thy father, that he seeketh my life?
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.
2And he said unto him, God forbid; thou shalt not die: behold, my father will do nothing either great or small, but that he will shew it me: and why should my father hide this thing from me? it is not so.
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 1 Samuel 19:6; and at any rate, that he would do nothing against David without informing him.
3And David sware moreover, and said, Thy father certainly knoweth that I have found grace in thine eyes; and he saith, Let not Jonathan know this, lest he be grieved: but truly as the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, there is but a step between me and death.
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."
4Then said Jonathan unto David, Whatsoever thy soul desireth, I will even do it for thee.
5And David said unto Jonathan, Behold, to morrow is the new moon, and I should not fail to sit with the king at meat: but let me go, that I may hide myself in the field unto the third day at even.
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 Numbers 10:10; Numbers 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, 1 Samuel 20:6.
6If thy father at all miss me, then say, David earnestly asked leave of me that he might run to Bethlehem his city: for there is a yearly sacrifice there for all the family.
7If he say thus, It is well; thy servant shall have peace: but if he be very wroth, then be sure that evil is determined by him.
8Therefore thou shalt deal kindly with thy servant; for thou hast brought thy servant into a covenant of the LORD with thee: notwithstanding, if there be in me iniquity, slay me thyself; for why shouldest thou bring me to thy father?
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.
9And Jonathan said, Far be it from thee: for if I knew certainly that evil were determined by my father to come upon thee, then would not I tell it thee?
10Then said David to Jonathan, Who shall tell me? or what if thy father answer thee roughly?
Who shall tell me? - Who shall give me the necessary information? What means wilt thou use to convey this intelligence to me?
11And Jonathan said unto David, Come, and let us go out into the field. And they went out both of them into the field.
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.
12And Jonathan said unto David, O LORD God of Israel, when I have sounded my father about to morrow any time, or the third day, and, behold, if there be good toward David, and I then send not unto thee, and shew it thee;
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.
13The LORD do so and much more to Jonathan: but if it please my father to do thee evil, then I will shew it thee, and send thee away, that thou mayest go in peace: and the LORD be with thee, as he hath been with my father.
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.
14And thou shalt not only while yet I live shew me the kindness of the LORD, that I die not:
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.
15But also thou shalt not cut off thy kindness from my house for ever: no, not when the LORD hath cut off the enemies of David every one from the face of the earth.
16So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, Let the LORD even require it at the hand of David's enemies.
17And Jonathan caused David to swear again, because he loved him: for he loved him as he loved his own soul.
18Then Jonathan said to David, To morrow is the new moon: and thou shalt be missed, because thy seat will be empty.
19And when thou hast stayed three days, then thou shalt go down quickly, and come to the place where thou didst hide thyself when the business was in hand, and shalt remain by the stone Ezel.
20And I will shoot three arrows on the side thereof, as though I shot at a mark.
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.
21And, behold, I will send a lad, saying, Go, find out the arrows. If I expressly say unto the lad, Behold, the arrows are on this side of thee, take them; then come thou: for there is peace to thee, and no hurt; as the LORD liveth.
22But if I say thus unto the young man, Behold, the arrows are beyond thee; go thy way: for the LORD hath sent thee away.
23And as touching the matter which thou and I have spoken of, behold, the LORD be between thee and me for ever.
24So David hid himself in the field: and when the new moon was come, the king sat him down to eat meat.
25And the king sat upon his seat, as at other times, even upon a seat by the wall: and Jonathan arose, and Abner sat by Saul's side, and David's place was empty.
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.
26Nevertheless Saul spake not any thing that day: for he thought, Something hath befallen him, he is not clean; surely he is not clean.
27And it came to pass on the morrow, which was the second day of the month, that David's place was empty: and Saul said unto Jonathan his son, Wherefore cometh not the son of Jesse to meat, neither yesterday, nor to day?
28And Jonathan answered Saul, David earnestly asked leave of me to go to Bethlehem:
29And he said, Let me go, I pray thee; for our family hath a sacrifice in the city; and my brother, he hath commanded me to be there: and now, if I have found favour in thine eyes, let me get away, I pray thee, and see my brethren. Therefore he cometh not unto the king's table.
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.
30Then Saul's anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said unto him, Thou son of the perverse rebellious woman, do not I know that thou hast chosen the son of Jesse to thine own confusion, and unto the confusion of thy mother's nakedness?
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.
31For as long as the son of Jesse liveth upon the ground, thou shalt not be established, nor thy kingdom. Wherefore now send and fetch him unto me, for he shall surely die.
32And Jonathan answered Saul his father, and said unto him, Wherefore shall he be slain? what hath he done?
33And Saul cast a javelin at him to smite him: whereby Jonathan knew that it was determined of his father to slay David.
34So Jonathan arose from the table in fierce anger, and did eat no meat the second day of the month: for he was grieved for David, because his father had done him shame.
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.
35And it came to pass in the morning, that Jonathan went out into the field at the time appointed with David, and a little lad with him.
36And he said unto his lad, Run, find out now the arrows which I shoot. And as the lad ran, he shot an arrow beyond him.
37And when the lad was come to the place of the arrow which Jonathan had shot, Jonathan cried after the lad, and said, Is not the arrow beyond thee?
38And Jonathan cried after the lad, Make speed, haste, stay not. And Jonathan's lad gathered up the arrows, and came to his master.
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.
39But the lad knew not any thing: only Jonathan and David knew the matter.
40And Jonathan gave his artillery unto his lad, and said unto him, Go, carry them to the city.
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.
41And as soon as the lad was gone, David arose out of a place toward the south, and fell on his face to the ground, and bowed himself three times: and they kissed one another, and wept one with another, until David exceeded.
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.
42And Jonathan said to David, Go in peace, forasmuch as we have sworn both of us in the name of the LORD, saying, The LORD be between me and thee, and between my seed and thy seed for ever. And he arose and departed: and Jonathan went into the city.