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Clarke's Commentary on the Bible
The Ziphites inform Saul of David's hiding place, 1 Samuel 26:1. Saul, with three thousand men, goes in pursuit of him, 1 Samuel 26:2, 1 Samuel 26:3. David sends out spies; and finds where Saul had pitched his camp; and he and Abishai come to the camp by night, find all asleep, and bring away Saul's spear, and the cruse of water that was at his head, 1 Samuel 26:4-12. David goes to the opposite hill; awakes Abner, captain of Saul's host; chides him for being so careless of his master's life; and calls on Saul to send one of his servants for the spear; and severely chides him for his continued hostility to him, 1 Samuel 26:13-24. Saul humbles himself to David; promises to persecute him no more; and returns to his own place, 1 Samuel 26:25.
1And the Ziphites came unto Saul to Gibeah, saying, Doth not David hide himself in the hill of Hachilah, which is before Jeshimon?
The Ziphites came - This is the second time that these enemies of David endeavored to throw him into the hands of Saul. See 1 Samuel 23:19.
2Then Saul arose, and went down to the wilderness of Ziph, having three thousand chosen men of Israel with him, to seek David in the wilderness of Ziph.
Three thousand chosen men - Though they knew that David was but six hundred strong, yet Saul thought it was not safe to pursue such an able general with a less force than that mentioned in the text; and, that he might the better depend on them, they were all elect or picked men out of the whole of his army.
3And Saul pitched in the hill of Hachilah, which is before Jeshimon, by the way. But David abode in the wilderness, and he saw that Saul came after him into the wilderness.
4David therefore sent out spies, and understood that Saul was come in very deed.
5And David arose, and came to the place where Saul had pitched: and David beheld the place where Saul lay, and Abner the son of Ner, the captain of his host: and Saul lay in the trench, and the people pitched round about him.
David arose - As David and his men knew the country, they had many advantages over Saul and his men; and no doubt could often watch them without being discovered.
Saul lay in the trench - The word במעגל bammaegal, which we translate in the trench, and in the margin in the midst of his carriages, is rendered by some in a ring of carriages, and by others in the circle, i.e., which was formed by his troops. Luther himself translates it wagenburg, a fortress formed of wagons or carriages.
As עגל agal signifies any thing round, it may here refer to a round pavilion or tent made for Saul, or else to the form of his camp. The Arabs, to the present day, always form a circle in their encampments, and put their principal officers in the center.
6Then answered David and said to Ahimelech the Hittite, and to Abishai the son of Zeruiah, brother to Joab, saying, Who will go down with me to Saul to the camp? And Abishai said, I will go down with thee.
Abishai the son of Zeruiah - She was David's sister; and therefore Abishai and Joab were nephews to David.
7So David and Abishai came to the people by night: and, behold, Saul lay sleeping within the trench, and his spear stuck in the ground at his bolster: but Abner and the people lay round about him.
8Then said Abishai to David, God hath delivered thine enemy into thine hand this day: now therefore let me smite him, I pray thee, with the spear even to the earth at once, and I will not smite him the second time.
God hath delivered thine enemy into thine hand - Here Abishai uses the same language as did David's men, when Saul came into the cave at En-gedi, (see 1 Samuel 24:4, etc.), and David uses the same language in reply.
9And David said to Abishai, Destroy him not: for who can stretch forth his hand against the LORD'S anointed, and be guiltless?
10David said furthermore, As the LORD liveth, the LORD shall smite him; or his day shall come to die; or he shall descend into battle, and perish.
The Lord shall smite him - He shall die by a stroke of the Divine judgment; or his day shall come to die - he shall die a natural death; which in the course of things must be before mine, and thus I shall get rid of mine enemy; or he shall descend into the battle, and perish - he shall fall by the enemies of his country. These are the three ordinary ways by which man accomplishes, as a hireling, his day. Murder David could not consider to be lawful; this would have been taking the matter out of God's hand, and this David would not do.
11The LORD forbid that I should stretch forth mine hand against the LORD'S anointed: but, I pray thee, take thou now the spear that is at his bolster, and the cruse of water, and let us go.
12So David took the spear and the cruse of water from Saul's bolster; and they gat them away, and no man saw it, nor knew it, neither awaked: for they were all asleep; because a deep sleep from the LORD was fallen upon them.
David took the spear and the cruse - The spear, we have already seen, was the emblem of power and regal dignity. But it is usual, in Arab camps, for every man to have his lance stuck in the ground beside him, that he may be ready for action in a moment. The cruse of water resembled, in some measure, the canteens of our soldiers. In such a climate, where water was always scarce, it was necessary for each man to carry a little with him, to refresh him on his march.
A deep sleep from the Lord - It is the same word which is used, Genesis 2:21, to describe the sleep which God caused to fall upon Adam, when he formed Eve out of his side.
13Then David went over to the other side, and stood on the top of an hill afar off; a great space being between them:
14And David cried to the people, and to Abner the son of Ner, saying, Answerest thou not, Abner? Then Abner answered and said, Who art thou that criest to the king?
15And David said to Abner, Art not thou a valiant man? and who is like to thee in Israel? wherefore then hast thou not kept thy lord the king? for there came one of the people in to destroy the king thy lord.
Art not thou a valiant man? - This is a strong irony. Ye are worthy to die; ye are sons of death - ye deserve death for this neglect of your king. And had not Saul been so deeply affected with David's generosity in preserving his life, he had doubtless put Abner and his chief officers to death; though they were not to blame, as their apparent neglect was the effect of a supernatural sleep.
16This thing is not good that thou hast done. As the LORD liveth, ye are worthy to die, because ye have not kept your master, the LORD'S anointed. And now see where the king's spear is, and the cruse of water that was at his bolster.
17And Saul knew David's voice, and said, Is this thy voice, my son David? And David said, It is my voice, my lord, O king.
18And he said, Wherefore doth my lord thus pursue after his servant? for what have I done? or what evil is in mine hand?
19Now therefore, I pray thee, let my lord the king hear the words of his servant. If the LORD have stirred thee up against me, let him accept an offering: but if they be the children of men, cursed be they before the LORD; for they have driven me out this day from abiding in the inheritance of the LORD, saying, Go, serve other gods.
Let him accept an offering - If God have stirred thee up against me, why, then, let him deliver my life into thy hand, and accept it as a sacrifice. But as the word is מנחה minchah, a gratitude-offering, perhaps the sense may be this: Let God accept a gratitude-offering from thee, for having purged the land of a worker of iniquity; for, were I not such, God would never stir thee up against me.
But if they be the children of men - If men have, by false representations, lies, and slanders, stirred thee up against an innocent man, then let them be cursed before the Lord. If I am guilty, I deserve to die; if not, those who seek my life should be destroyed.
Saying, Go, serve other gods - His being obliged to leave the tabernacle, and the place where the true worship of God was performed, and take refuge among idolaters, said in effect, Go, serve other gods.
20Now therefore, let not my blood fall to the earth before the face of the LORD: for the king of Israel is come out to seek a flea, as when one doth hunt a partridge in the mountains.
As when one doth hunt a partridge - It is worthy of remark that the Arabs, observing that partridges, being put up several times, soon become so weary as not to be able to fly; they in this manner hunt them upon the mountains, till at last they can knock them down with their clubs.
It was in this manner that Saul hunted David, coming hastily upon him, and putting him up from time to time, in hopes that he should at length, by frequent repetitions of it, be able to destroy him. See Harmer.
21Then said Saul, I have sinned: return, my son David: for I will no more do thee harm, because my soul was precious in thine eyes this day: behold, I have played the fool, and have erred exceedingly.
I have sinned - Perhaps the word חטאתי chatathi, "I have sinned," should be read, I have erred, or, have been mistaken. I have taken thee to be a very different man from what I find thee to be. Taken literally it was strictly true. He often purposed the spilling of David's blood; and thus, again and again, sinned against his life.
22And David answered and said, Behold the king's spear! and let one of the young men come over and fetch it.
23The LORD render to every man his righteousness and his faithfulness: for the LORD delivered thee into my hand to day, but I would not stretch forth mine hand against the LORD'S anointed.
24And, behold, as thy life was much set by this day in mine eyes, so let my life be much set by in the eyes of the LORD, and let him deliver me out of all tribulation.
25Then Saul said to David, Blessed be thou, my son David: thou shalt both do great things, and also shalt still prevail. So David went on his way, and Saul returned to his place.
Thou shalt both do great things, and also shalt still prevail. - The Hebrew is גם עשה תעשה וגם יכל תוכל gam asoh thaaseh, vegam yachol tuchal; "Also in doing thou shalt do, and being able thou shalt be able; which the Targum translates, also in reigning thou shalt reign, and in prospering thou shalt prosper; which in all probability is the meaning.
There is a vast deal of dignity in this speech of David, arising from a consciousness of his own innocence. He neither begs his life from Saul, nor offers one argument to prevail upon him to desist from his felonious attempts, but refers the whole matter to God, as the judge and vindicator of oppressed innocence. Saul himself is speechless, except in the simple acknowledgment of his sin; and in the behalf of their king not one of his officers has one word to say! It is strange that none of them offered now to injure the person of David; but they saw that he was most evidently under the guardian care of God, and that their master was apparently abandoned by him. Saul invites David to return, but David knew the uncertainty of Saul's character too well to trust himself in the power of this infatuated king. How foolish are the counsels of men against God! When he undertakes to save, who can destroy? And who can deliver out of his hands?