I Samuel 26





   Saul, on Information from the Ziphites, Again Seeks to Destroy David

                                                (vs. 1-3)


1 “And 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

unto Saul. There are so many points of similarity between this narrative and that

contained in ch.23:19-24; 24:1-22, that it has been argued that in these two accounts

we have substantially the same fact, only modified by two different popular

traditions, and not recorded until a late subsequent period, at which the

narrator, unable to decide which was the true form of the story, determined

upon giving both. The main points of similarity are:


(1) The treachery of the Ziphites (v. 1; ch. 23:19).

(2) David’s position in the hill Hachilah (vs.1, 3; ch. 23:19).

(3) Saul’s march with 3000 men (v. 2; ch. 24:2).

(4) The speech of David’s men (v. 8; ch. 24:4).

(5) David’s refusal to lay hands on the anointed of Jehovah (vs. 9,11; ch. 24:6).

(6) Saul’s recognition of David’s voice (v. 17; ch. 24:16).

(7) David’s comparison of himself to a flea (v. 20; ch. 24:14).


Besides these there are several remarkable verbal coincidences; but some

other matters which have been enumerated are either such as must have

happened, supposing the two events to have occurred, or are even points

of difference. Of these there are many. Thus the first occasion on which

David spared Saul’s life was in a cave at En-gedi; the latter was in Saul’s

entrenched camp. In this second narrative David’s return to Maon was the

natural result of his marriage with Abigail, and when the Ziphites report his

presence there to Saul, which they were sure to do for fear of David’s

vengeance for their former betrayal of him, he awaits Saul’s attack,

whereas before he fled in haste, and was saved for the moment by the

wonderful ravine which Conder has so unmistakably verified (see on

ch. 23:26), and finally by an invasion of the Philistines. Mr. Conder’s

visit to the ground, and the way in which the difficulties in the previous

narrative are cleared up by what he saw, sets the historical credibility of

that account above all reasonable doubt. Had there been a mountain

between David and his pursuers, he would have been safe enough; but as it

was he was in full sight of his enemies, and the ravine alone enabled him to

escape from Saul’s vengeance. The number of Saul’s army, 3000, was the

number of the chosen men whom he always had in attendance upon him

(ch. 13:2); and it is Saul who encamps on the hill Hachilah, while

David, instead of being all but caught as before, had scouts to watch Saul’s

movements, and was himself safe in the wilderness on the south. On the

previous occasion Saul had withdrawn from his men, but here he lies in his

camp surrounded by them, when David, accompanied only by Abishai,

undertakes this bold enterprise, which was entirely in accordance with his

growing sense of security. The argument, moreover, that Saul must have

been a “moral monster” thus to seek David’s life after his generous

conduct towards him keeps out of view the fact that Saul was scarcely

accountable for his actions. We have seen that he was subject to fits of

madness, and that the form which it took was that of deadly hatred against

David. Even this was but a form of the ruling passion which underlies all

Saul’s actions, namely, an extreme jealousy of everything that in the

slightest degree seemed to trench upon his royal prerogative and

supremacy. To what an extreme length his ferocity was capable of

proceeding in punishing what he regarded as an overt act of resistance to

his authority we have seen in the account of the massacre of the priests at

Nob with their wives and children (ch. 22:18-19). No worse act

is recorded of any man in history, and we may hope that Saul would not

have committed such a crime had not his mental faculties been disturbed.

Nor was Saul alone in his estimate of what was due to him as Jehovah’s

Messiah; David had equally high views of Saul’s rights and position, and

regarded them as fenced in by religious sanctions. But in Saul’s case the

passion had grown till it had become a monomania, and as he brooded over

his relations to David, and thought of him as one that was to usurp his

crown, and was already a rebel and an outlaw, the sure result was the

return of his hatred against David, and when news was brought him that his

enemy was so near, he gladly welcomed another opportunity of getting him

into his power. On the hill of Hachilah. See ch.23:19. It is there said to be

on the right hand,” but here “over against,” i.e. facing the

desert which lies on the northeastern coast of the Dead Sea.


2 “Then 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.  3 And 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.  4 David therefore sent out spies,

and understood that Saul was come in very deed.”  Three thousand chosen men.

Not chosen for this expedition, but the force which Saul always kept under arms

(ch. 13:2). By the way. The high road which led down to Arad. David abode

in the wilderness. Hebrew, “abides.” Instead of fleeing in haste as before,

he remains apparently on the higher ground, as he speaks in v. 6 of going

down to Saul’s camp. And he saw. I.e. learned, was told. It was only when

his scouts brought him their report that he knew that Saul was come in

very deed, or “for a certainty” (see ch.23:23).


5 “And 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. It seems as if David could scarcely believe that

Saul would thus a second time pursue him; but when the scouts informed

him that it was really so, he went in person to reconnoiter Saul’s camp.

From the opposite hill he was able to see that he lay in the trench, i.e. the

barricade formed by the wagons. At night Saul’s place would be in the

center, with Abner near him, while the rest would lie sleeping around, but

all of them within the rampart. When David reconnoitered them they would

probably be arranging their wagons to form this barricade.


6 “Then 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.”  Ahimelech the Hittite. Though a portion of this once powerful

people (Genesis 15:20; Judges 1:26) was reduced to the position of bondmen

(I Kings 9:20), yet others had retained their independence, and their kings even

are spoken of (ibid. 10:29; II Kings 7:6). As Ahimelech is mentioned before Abishai,

he must have held an honorable place with. David, as did subsequently another

Hittite, Uriah (II Samuel 11:3). Abishai the son of Zeruiah. Zeruiah is described in

I Chronicles 2:16 as sister to Jesse’s sons, but apparently only by adoption,

as both she and Abigail seem to have been daughters of the king of Ammon

(II Samuel 17:25), whence probably the absence of any direct reference

to their father. Abishai, who was probably about David’s age, and his two

brothers were high in rank among David’s heroes (I Chronicles 11:6, 20, 26),

and apparently he was one of the three captains who, when David

was in the cave of Adullam, broke through the host of the Philistines to

fetch him water from the well of Bethlehem. Who will go down? It is

evident that David and his men remained upon the mountains, which

extend from Maon far to the southwest. Saul’s camp, being “by the way,”

i.e. near the road, would be on the lower ground. David having personally

examined it, and seen that the watches were ill kept, asks which of the two

will accompany him for the more hazardous enterprise of penetrating into

it. Ahimelech seems prudently to have declined, but Abishai at once offers

his services.


7 “So 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.  8 Then 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.” The two accordingly go by night, or “at night,” as

soon as night came on, and find Saul asleep within the trench, i.e. inside the

wagon rampart, as in v. 5, and his spear, the sign of his royal authority,

stuck in the ground; not at his bolster, but “at his head; and so in vs. 11-12, 16.

The word literally signifies “the place where the head is.” Like David’s men

in ch. 24:4, Abishai sees in Saul’s defenseless condition a proof that it was

God’s will that he should die, but there is a difference of language in the Hebrew

which the Authorized Version does not represent.  There the word rendered

deliver is really give; here it is “hath locked up.”  At once. Hebrew, “once.”

Abishai would pierce him through with a single stroke so thoroughly that no

second blow would be necessary. The purpose of this would be to prevent an



9 “And David said to Abishai, Destroy him not: for who can stretch

forth his hand against the LORD’s anointed, and be guiltless?

10 David 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.  11 The 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.”

David forbids the deed as before (ch. 24:6), because of Saul’s office. As we there

saw, this was an ingrained principle in David’s mind on which he constantly acted.

Present with equal strength in Saul’s mind, it was the cause of moral ruin to the

one, and of a noble forbearance and self-control to the other. David therefore leaves

him in Jehovah’s hand, saying, As Jehovah liveth, Jehovah shall smite him; or

his day, etc. Literally, “As Jehovah liveth (I will not smite him), but

Jehovah shall smite him; either his day shall come and he shall die; or he

shall go down into battle and perish.” Whenever he falls, it shall be

Jehovah’s doing, whether he die a natural death, or a violent one in battle.

“The smiting of Jehovah” does not imply a sudden death. God smites men

with disease (II Kings 15:5) and other troubles. What David means is

that he will leave the matter entirely to God, but that if Saul’s death is to be

a violent one, he must fall honorably, not by the hand of a subject, but in

battle with Israel’s enemies. Jehovah forbid. The same phrase as in ch.24:6.

Cruse of water. i.e. water bottle, as in I Kings 19:6.


12 “So 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.”  And no man saw it, etc. The Hebrew text describes the

occurrence in a much more lively manner: “And none saw, and none knew,

and none awaked.” A deep sleep from Jehovah, etc. So surprising a fact

as that two men could penetrate into the very center of a considerable

army, and remove the king’s scepter and water bottle from his side, could

only be accounted for by the interference of Providence in their behalf.



The Man Worthy of the Scepter (vs. 1-12)


“And David took the spear and the cruse of water from Saul’s bolster” (v. 12).


1. David’s innocence with respect to any evil design against Saul was fully

vindicated at their previous meeting. Saul himself was melted to tears,

confessed, “Thou art more righteous than I,” etc., prayed that the Lord

might reward his preserver, and declared, “I know well that thou shalt

surely be king” (ch. 24:17-20); but his insincerity, instability, and.

perversity were such that as soon as he was informed by the treacherous

Ziphites that David was again in the hill of Hachilah (ch. 23:19),

he started in pursuit with his 3000 men (ch. 13:2). His sin was now

greater than before because of its opposition to his clearer conviction

of the integrity of David and the purpose of God, and there are indications

in this interview of the increased obduracy of his heart.


2. The aim of David is not so much to afford a further vindication of

himself as to stay the persecution of Saul, and induce him to act in

accordance with his former confession (v. 18). For this purpose he

proves to him that although he might have the power to deprive him of his

authority and life, he has no wish to do so, and is his most faithful guardian

(v. 16); appeals to his best feelings, and warns him that he is fighting

against God and exposing himself to His righteous judgment. He takes

away his spear scepter (an emblem of royal authority — Genesis 49:10;

Numbers 24:17; Psalm 45:6) and his cruse of water (a necessary

sustenance of life — ch. 25:11), but only to restore them into his hand (v. 22).


3. In acting thus David shows his incomparable superiority to Saul, and

that he alone is worthy to reign over Israel, even as he has been ordained to

succeed to that exalted dignity. “Behold now, once more, our David, as he

goes away with Saul’s spear, the emblem of his sovereign power. At that

moment he presents a symbolically significant appearance. Unconsciously

he prophesied of his own future, while he stands before us as the projected

shadow of that form in which we must one day behold him. In the counsel

of the invisible Watcher it was indeed irrevocably concluded that the

Bethlehemite should inherit Saul’s scepter, and here we see before us a dim

pre-intimation of that fact” (Krummacher). As the man most worthy to

rule, and furnishing in some respects a pattern to others, he was

distinguished (see ch. 13:14) by:


  • PRE-EMINENT ABILITY (vs. 4-7). In the enterprise which he

undertook during the night (either with the express intention of doing what

he did, or from some internal impulse) he displayed those qualities for

which Saul and his ablest general, Abner, were noted, and in a higher

degree than they, viz.:


Ø      Sagacity, skill (Psalm 78:72), and practical wisdom; perceiving what

was defective in the condition of his adversaries and how to take advantage

of it. Tact, although by no means one of the highest mental endowments, is

an indispensable qualification in a successful ruler.


Ø      Vigilance. His experiences in the desert had taught him to be ever on the

alert, and he watched while others slept (vs. 4, 16).


Ø      Courage. “Who will go down with me to Saul to the camp?” (v. 6).

Even the brave Hittite dared not accept the challenge, and only Abishai

(afterwards David’s preserver — II Samuel 21:17) would accompany

him. They went fearlessly (like Jonathan and his armor bearer) right into

the midst of danger.


Ø      Energy and activity, by which alone he could achieve success. Mental

and physical strength is of God, should be ascribed to him and employed

for him.


“For by thee I can scatter a troop,

And by my God do I break down walls;

Who maketh my feet like hinds’ feet,

And setteth me on my high places;

Who traineth my hands for war,

So that mine arms can bend a bow of brass”

(Perowne, Psalm 18:29, 33, 34).



forbid that I should stretch forth mine hand against the Lord’s anointed”

(v. 11; ch.24:6). There was in David (as there should be in others):


Ø      An unbounded reverence for God as the source of power, justice, order,

and ALL EXCELLENCE. This was the principle from which his conduct

toward Saul proceeded.


Ø      Profound respect for every authority ordained by God. Saul had been

anointed king, and was still openly reigning by Divine permission (his

rejection having been only privately declared to him); his person was

therefore regarded by David as sacred. “Liable as the Israelite kings were

to interference on the part of priest and prophet, they were, by the same

Divine power, shielded from the unholy hands of the profane vulgar; and it

was at once impiety and rebellion to do injury to the Lord’s anointed”

(Kitto, ‘Cyc. of Bib. Lit.’). “He gives two reasons why he would not

destroy Saul, nor permit another to do it:


o        It would be a sinful affront to God’s ordinance.

o        It would be a sinful anticipation of God’s providence”

(Matthew Henry).


Ø      Due subordination of the claims of every such authority to the claims of

God; which both rulers and subjects, who have proper reverence for Him,

must observe.


Ø      Entire subjection of personal impulses, purposes, and aims to the will of

God, in the assurance that He will “render to every man his righteousness

and his faithfulness” (v. 23). “Commit thy way unto the Lord,” etc.

(Psalm 37:5-9).


  • NOBLE GENEROSITY. “Destroy him not,” etc. (vs. 8-11; Psalm

57., inscription, Altaschith = Destroy not; see Hengstenberg). The

opportunity of slaying his enemy was again placed in his hands, and in

sparing him a second time David showed still greater forbearance than

before, because of:


Ø      The renewed persecution to which he was subjected, and the increased

hopelessness of turning Saul from his purpose. “I say not unto thee, Until

seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.”  (Matthew 18:22-35).


Ø      The peculiar circumstances of the case. He was there alone with Abishai

in the night, and his companion entreated that he might be permitted to

give but one stroke (v. 8). None else would witness the deed. Moral

restraint alone prevented his permission of it.


Ø      His not entertaining the temptation for a moment; even the thought of it

could find no place in his breast. Recent experience had evidently

strengthened his spirit (ch. 25:32).


Ø      His fixed determination to leave the matter entirely with God (v. 10).

“It is evident that David’s faith in God was one of the great roots out of

which all these fruits of forbearance and compassion grew. He was

confident that God would in His own way and in His own time fulfill the

promises which had been made, and, therefore, instead of taking the matter

into his own hands, he could rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him”

(C. Vince). And He alone who will exercise power in mercy as well as in

justice is worthy to have it entrusted to Him.


  • DIVINE APPROVAL. “A deep sleep from the Lord was fallen upon

them (v. 12), indicative of the fact that the Lord “favoured David’s

enterprise.” He was providentially preserved from harm, and this, along

with many other circumstances (all concurring with his eminent personal

qualifications), manifested it to be the will of God that he should rule over

His people. The scepter which he had no desire to wrest from the hand of

Saul would be given to him by the hand of God, and be “a scepter of

uprightness.” The highest realization of these principles appears in One

greater than David, and alone “worthy to receive” the sceptrer of universal

dominion (ch. 2:10; II Samuel 23:2; Philippians 2:9; Hebrews 1:8;

Revelation 5:5, 12).



The Moral Use of Biblical Difficulties (vs. 1-12)


The facts are:


1. At the request of the Ziphites, Saul goes out in pursuit of David, who by

spies ascertains his true position.

2. David, observing Saul’s camp, goes to it by night with Abishai while all

are asleep.

3. Abishai urges David to seize the opportunity to slay Saul, but is rebuked

by the declaration that if Saul dies it shall be in such way as God may

ordain, and not by the self-chosen hand of David.

4. David carries off Saul’s spear and cruse of water.


Expositors raise the question as to whether this narrative is identical in point of time

and main circumstance with that of ch. 23:19-26; 24:1-15. That question is

dealt with elsewhere. Our business is with the fact of the difficulty and with

the teaching it involves. We may therefore consider:



raised in reference to this section is only one of a class on which for ages

much ingenuity and learning have been spent, and which have been the

occasion of no little trouble and anxiety to certain minds in consequence of

their supposed bearing on the reality of revelation and the authority of

Scripture. The enemies of Christianity have not been slow to take

advantage of any apparent discrepancies or confused statements. The

following considerations may be of service from a practical point of view:


Ø      These various difficulties teach us the vanity of our wisdom in relation to

the unfolding of the purposes of God. God has certainly revealed His will to

mankind, and wrought out a merciful purpose in Christ. None but those

who reject plainest evidence can doubt that He has been pleased to give this

revelation concerning His merciful purpose in the Bible as we have it. The

presence of variations in narrative, as here and in Genesis 1 and 2, and in

the Gospels, is the fact which causes great perplexity. Now had we the

construction of a vehicle of revelation intended for man, our wisdom

would have suggested its freedom from all such difficulties to its reception.

Is not this the real feeling of many? Man would have left no room for

hesitation. All should have been so clear that no adverse criticism should be

possible. Facts, however, are against this wisdom. It is shown to be

inadequate to deal with the vast problems of universal life. God’s ways are

not our ways.


Ø      These difficulties enable us to believe in the honesty of the writers of the

sacred history. As soon as our wisdom is assessed we discern in the

variations and free representations of the same or similar events clear

evidence that the book could not have been the work of cunning men intent

on making out a consistent theory of their own. For such men would have

made each document to square in detail with the one preceding, and

compilers intent on furthering a theory handed down by tradition would

have been careful to exclude all separate documents not manifestly

coherent with others.


Ø      We can use the Bible, with these variations in it, with deeper interest

because of the intensely human character of its narratives. Had all been so

sifted and reduced to such mathematical precision and sameness of

statement as to eliminate any possible appearance of discrepancy, we

should have felt the non-human character of the historic record. As it is, we

see human life in its pages, and trace human idiosyncracies in its varieties

of representation, and as “one touch of nature makes the whole world kin,”

so this human element in the Bible lays hold of men, and excites in them a

greater interest in its narratives.


Ø      The careful reader also, by means of these variations, sees in stronger

light the one spiritual purpose running through the whole. The great

revelation of God in Christ is more conspicuous in its oneness and

continuity by reason of the very diversities and sometimes irreconcilable

differences of the narrative. Our appreciation of the spiritual is the higher

because we see that not one great truth is in the slightest degree affected

by any verbal, chronological, or historical difficulties. Admit them all, if

need be, and THE REAL SAVING TRUTH is as clear as the sun at



5. The difficulties in question are a means of wholesome discipline. All

historic studies furnish scope for the exercise of caution, discrimination,

patience, reticence, and suspended judgment because of the necessary

incompleteness of all historic records. This is especially true of the Bible,

the more so as we do not always know the particular reason of the

selection or omission of items, while we do know that we have not a

thousandth part of the actual events associated with the unfolding in the

long line of human history of the great purpose of God in Christ. The light

thrown on obscure passages by advancing discoveries is an additional

reason for the exercise of patience and cautious reserve. God is educating

us by the intricate lessons, written often with an appearance of confusion,

in the rocks that form the crust of the globe; and likewise in the peculiar

manner in which he has been pleased to allow his revelation to man to be

incorporated by human hands with narratives of events.




the narrative is evidently to point out that David was under a strong

temptation to forestall the order of Providence by forcing events with his

own hand, and that he, with true spiritual heroism, resisted the suggestions

of expediency. As we have dwelt on this topic in treating of chps. 24:1-8, and

25:36-44, it may suffice here to note how, in this triple reference to the same

form of trial, the historian was impressed with the persistence of this peculiar

temptation during this period of David s life.  Doubtless other unrecorded

instances of the same, in one form or another, occurred during the period of his

persecution, but these three representations are enough to indicate the fact. The

persistence of the temptation to desire the disposal of events to be in our own

hands, by wishing something to be done which God does not do, or to take the

disposal into our hands by actually doing what is not warranted by religious

principle, but only by the rules of a contracted expediency, is real in the

lives of many of God’s servants. Our Saviour Himself was tempted to it

again and again. There is an hypothesis that even Judas was induced to

betray Christ to force him to assert His power, and so hasten the

establishment of His kingdom. The trials of the persecuted Church

suggested the expediency of rising in armed endeavor to defend and

extend their principles. The slow progress of Christianity suggests to some

the adoption of methods other than apostolic. The safe rule for us is that of

David — God carries on His cause on earth according to laws which He

Himself has ordained, and no improvement can be made on them, even

though their working appears to us to be too slow and painful. Saul was

anointed by God’s command; David was chosen to succeed Saul He who

appointed Saul had power to end his life; till He did this of his own will, and

in His own way, David must wait as the coming king. So the laws of the

human mind, of the social forces at work in the world, and of the spiritual

agencies that operate on the soul of man are of God; the cause of Christ

among men is to be established by action in harmony with these; we are to

resist any temptation to seek to set them aside by the introduction of

agencies not spiritual, and are not to wish that other agencies operating

according to other laws were in existence. The principle of living and

acting according to law will also apply to private life and enterprise.




Ø      It is a matter of gratitude that the way of life is clear to the most

unlettered of men (Isaiah 35:8).

Ø      While we are waiting and doing our best as God’s servants, His

providence is quietly at work to realize the purpose of our life.


13 “Then David went over to the other side, and stood on the top of an

hill afar off; a great space being between them:  14  And 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?

15 And 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.

16 This 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.”  The top of a hill. Hebrew, “the top of the hill,” the

particular mountain from which David had reconnoitered Saul’s camp (v. 5).

A great space being between them. At En-gedi Saul was alone, and

had placed himself in David’s power; he therefore had followed him

closely. Here Saul had his army round him, and David had entered his

camp by stealth. It is not, therefore, till he had placed an ample interval

between them that he calls to Abner, and asks in derision, Art thou not a

man? The irony is enfeebled by the insertion of the word valiant (compare

ch. 4:9). No special valor was needed any one worthy of the name of man

ought to have guarded his master better. Who is like to thee — Hebrew,

who is as thou” — in Israel? Among all Saul’s subjects there

was no one so powerful and highly placed as the commander-in-chief, and

he ought to have shown himself worthy of his pre-eminence. Justly,

therefore, for neglecting his duty and exposing the king to danger, he and

his people were worthy to die. Hebrew, “sons of death” (see on ch. 20:31).

Finally David bids him search for the king’s spear and water bottle, that

he may understand how completely Saul had been in his power. It has been

suggested that Abner was probably a personal enemy of David, with whom

he could never have held the high position which he occupied with his near

relative Saul. Possibly instead of dissuading Saul from persecuting David,

he stirred up his ill feelings. Still absolutely there is nothing in this banter

which was not justified by Abner’s official position.



Manliness (vs. 13-16)


“Art not thou a man?” (v. 15). A man should prove worthy of himself;

his nature, power, dignity, and responsibility. Every man should do so (not

only everyone who, like Abner, occupies an exceptional position), for every

man (fallen though he be) is great. “Let us not disparage that nature which

is common to all men; for no thought can measure its grandeur. It is the

image of God, the image of His infinity; for no limits can be set to its

unfolding. He who possesses the Divine powers of the soul is a great

being, be his place what it may. You may clothe him with rags, may

immure him in a dungeon, may chain him to slavish tasks; but he is Still

great. Man is a greater name than president or king” (Channing, ‘Selfculture’).


“A beam ethereal, sullied and absorpt;

Though sullied and dishonored, still Divine!”



In order that he may act according to his true nature, and not unworthily of it:


1. The body must be the servant of the soul. It was designed, with its

various passions, to obey, and not to rule; and to keep it “in subjection”

(I Corinthians 9:27) requires watchfulness, self-control, and manly strength.


        “Call to mind from whence ye sprang;

Ye were not form’d to live the life of brutes, (See II Peter 2:12-15)

But virtue to pursue and knowledge high”

(Dante, ‘Inferno’).


2. The mind must be faithful to THE TRUTH; esteeming it as more precious

than gold (Psalm 19:10), searching for it as for hid treasure, receiving it on proper

evidence, cleaving to it when discovered, and confessing it without fear.

Here is room for the exercise of the highest virtue or martial courage. “In

understanding be men” (I Corinthians 14:20).


3. The heart must be set on the supreme good; resisting and overcoming

the temptation to set its affections on wealth, pleasure, fame, that “satisfy



“Let thy heels spurn the earth, and thy raised ken

Fix on the lure which heaven’s eternal King

Whirls in the rolling spheres.


       O ye misguided souls!

Infatuate, who from such a good estrange

Your hearts, and bend your gaze on vanity,

Alas for you!” (Dante).


4. The conscience must be reverenced as the king; its integrity defended

against all foes, its voice obeyed at all risks, and its favor desired above all

earthly dignities.


5. The will must be fixed on doing the will of God — resolutely, firmly,

and constantly; in striving against sin, advancing in holiness, and promoting

His kingdom. “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be

strong (I Corinthians 16:13).


     “Be as the tower that, firmly set,

Shakes not its top for any blast that blows.”


6. The character must be conformed to that of “the man Christ Jesus,” the

highest and only perfect pattern of true manhood (John 13:15; Ephesians 4:13;

Philippians 2:5), and the Saviour and Helper of all who endeavor to be like Him.


7. The present life must be a preparations FOR THE FUTURE!  Man is made to

live FOR EVER, and it is not manly to live only for the passing moment. He

who sleeps at his post of duty and neglects to watch and pray is surely

worthy to die” (v. 16). “Look up to heaven, look down to hell, live for



17 “And 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.

18 And he said, Wherefore doth my Lord thus pursue after his

servant? for what have I done? or what evil is in mine hand?

19  Now 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.”

Is this thy voice? So ch.24:16. In the darkness the only way of recognizing

David was by his voice. If Jehovah have stirred thee up, etc. This is one of the

many passages indicative of the intensity with which the Israelites had grasped the

idea of the omnipresence of the Deity, and of His being the one power by whose

energy all things exist and all acts are done (see on ch. 2:2). Alike evil and good

come from God, for He alone is the source of all; but it does not therefore

follow that everything which He makes possible, or to which His providence

seems to lead, is therefore right for man to do (ch. 24:4, 6). On

the contrary, all leadings of providence are to be judged by God’s

immutable law, and the conduct of a Shimei may be absolutely wrong and

unjustifiable, even though “Jehovah had bidden him do it” (II Samuel

16:11). If, indeed, an external command come by the hand of a properly

accredited person, it may take the same high position as the published law

of God, and so override the conscience; but Shimei’s bidding came through

the working of his own passions, and was no more binding than the moving

of David’s mind by Jehovah to number Israel (II Samuel 24:1). David,

then, here sets forth the two only possible cases: first, Saul may be stirred

up by Jehovah to persecute David, i.e. the temptation may come by the

working of his own mind under those strong impulses which to the Israelite

had in them always something Divine. But this was an impulse to break

God’s law, and was therefore to be resisted; and just as in modern phrase

we should bid a person when strongly moved to some act to carry it to

God’s throne in prayer, so David urges Saul to seek for the quieting of his

emotions in religion. Under holy influences these fierce passions would

pass away, and Jehovah would accept an offering. Hebrew, “would smell

it,” because the offering, minchah, consisting of flour and frankincense,

was burnt for a sweet odor before God. But, secondly, Saul might be

stirred up by the calumnies of wicked men, in which case David prays that

they may be cursed before Jehovah; because by forcing him to leave the

covenant land of Israel they virtually say to him, Go, serve other gods. To

a mind so intensely religious as David’s, not only was the private devotion

of the heart a necessity, but also the taking part in the public worship of the

Deity (Psalm 42:2; 63:2; 84:2); and, therefore, to deprive him of this

privilege and expel him from the inheritance of Jehovah, i.e. the earthly

limits of Jehovah’s Church, was to force him, as far as his enemies could

do so, to be a heathen and a worshipper of strange gods.


20 “Now 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.”  Let not my blood fall to the earth before

the face of Jehovah. Hebrew, “far from the presence of Jehovah.” The point of

David’s appeal is not that his life may be spared, but that he may not thus

be driven far away from the land where Jehovah manifests Himself; nor

does he seem so much to contemplate Saul’s putting him to death as the

probability that sooner or later the life of an exile will be cut short by one

or other of the many dangers by which he is surrounded. A flea. Hebrew,

a single flea,” as in ch. 24:14. A partridge. Many emendations

of the text have been proposed on the supposition that partridges are only

to be found in plains. But Mr. Condor tells us that partridges are among

the few living creatures which still tenant these wilds; and, speaking of the

precipitous cliffs which overhang the Dead Sea, he says, Here, among “the

rocks of the wild goats, the herds of ibex may be seen bounding, and the

partridge is still chased on the mountains, as David was followed by the

stealthy hunter Saul” (‘Tent Work,’ 2:90: see also ch. 23:19)


21 “Then 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. Saul’s answer here is very different from that in

ch. 24:17-21, where the main idea was wonder that David should

with such magnanimity spare the life of an enemy so manifestly delivered

into his hand. Here a sense of vexation seems uppermost, and of

annoyance, not merely because his purpose was frustrated, but because his

own military arrangements had been so unsoldierlike. I have played the

fool. His first enterprise had ended in placing his life in David’s power, and

it was folly indeed a second time to repeat the attempt. But though the

words of Saul convey the idea rather of vexation with himself than of

sorrow for his maliciousness, yet in one point there is a sign of better

things. He bids David return, evidently with reference to the grief

expressed with such genuine feeling by David at being driven away from

Jehovah’s land. It was of course impossible, as Saul had given David’s wife

to another, and David had himself married two other women, but at least it

expressed a right and kindly feeling.



Playing the Fool (v. 21)


“Behold, I have played the fool, and have erred exceedingly.” At his first

wrong step it was said to Saul by Samuel, “Thou hast done foolishly”

(ch. 13:13); and now (a man of about sixty years of age), looking

back upon a long course of disobedience and self-will, and more especially

upon his recent persecution of David, he himself said, “I have sinned...

Behold, I have done foolishly, and have erred exceedingly.” “There is no

sinner so hardened but that God gives him now and then a ray of

illumination to show him all his error.” And under its influence many a

man, in reviewing the past, has been constrained to make a similar

confession. With reference to the case of Saul, a man plays the fool:


1. When he suffers illusive thoughts and sinful passions to find a place

within him. This was the root of Saul’s wasted and miserable life. How

different would it have been if he had adopted proper means to expel such

thoughts and passions from his breast, and prevent their return! “How long

shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee?” (Jeremiah 4:14).  (I highly

recommend Jeremiah 4 – Spurgeon Sermon – Bad Lodgers and How to

Treat Them – #789 - this website – CY – 2016)


2. When he listens to the false representations of wicked men, insinuating,

it may be, suspicions of his best friend, and urging him to regard him as his

worst enemy (ch. 24:9).


3. When he acts in opposition to what he knows to be right. Saul had done

so continually, following the impulses of “an evil heart of unbelief”  (Hebrews

3:12), instead of the dictates of reason and conscience. “Therefore to him

that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17).


4. When he rests in feelings merely, and does not translate them into

deeds (ch. 24:17). They are “dead without works.” Every delay

to act in accordance with them weakens their power, renders it less likely

that they will ever be acted upon, and prepares the way for the return of

the “evil spirit.”


5. When he makes good resolutions and immediately breaks them (v. 21),

thereby destroying his moral power, and hardening himself in sin.


6. When he contends against the Divine purposes in the vain hope of

succeeding (v. 25). Sooner or later he must be crushed. “Who hath

hardened himself against him and prospered?” (Job 9:4).


7. When he expects to find happiness except in connection with holiness.

The illusion is dispelled, if not before, at the hour of death and the dawn of

eternity, and he has to confess his folly WHEN IT IS TOO LATE TO




A Fool Returns to His Folly (v. 21)


  • THE BIBLE IS FULL OF REDUPLICATION. It teaches by “line upon

line, precept upon precept” (Isaiah 28:10), and narrative upon narrative.

There are repetitions of the same story or song. There are also separate and

independent narratives which go over similar ground, and teach the same

lessons, the second confirming the first. Joseph is described as having had

duplicate dreams with one and the same meaning. So also Pharaoh.

Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of empires is followed by Daniel’s dream of the

same. And there are duplicate parables of Jesus Christ. Then actual events

described are followed by other events so closely resembling them that they

might almost be taken for the same — e.g. Abraham’s weakness, Sarah’s

danger, and Pharaoh’s respect for the sanctity of marriage (Genesis 12.)

seem to be all repeated (Genesis 20.), with the Abimelech of Gerar

substituted for the Pharaoh of Egypt. And then all the incidents are told

again of Isaac and Rebekah, and the Abimelech of their time (Genesis 26.).

We have Moses fetching water from the rock in Horeb, and the same

prophet fetching water from a rock at Kadesh Barnea; Jesus Christ

anointed by a woman in the house of Simon the Pharisee, and the same

Divine Master anointed by a woman in the house of Simon the leper.

Again, we have Jesus feeding 5000 men, besides women and children, from

a small stock of bread and fish, and then the same Lord feeding 4000,

besides women and children, from a similar inadequate supply. The

similarity of the story in this chapter to that which we have read in the

twenty-fourth chapter of this book need not surprise us, or raise a

suspicion that they are independent reports of the same adventure admitted

into the pages of the history by a clumsy compiler. The reduplication is in

harmony with Biblical usage; nay, more, it is in harmony with historical



  • HISTORY IS FULL OF REPETITION. In private life the same

conditions recur with startling precision; and in public affairs the same

emergencies occur again and again, and lead to the same line of action, the

same remedies, and even the same blunders. Why should it be thought

incredible, or even improbable, that Saul fell back into his former mood of

hostility to David? Alas, what is more common than that fools forget

admonition, and return to their folly; sinners, after promises of amendment,

relapse into their old sins? The amendment goes against secret inclination,

whereas the sin indulges some constitutional propensity or passion. So it is

that a man who has grown too fond of strong drink, after abstaining from it

for a time, goes back to his bottle. A libertine, after a short attempt to live

purely, goes back to his intrigues. And in like manner Saul, being

passionately jealous, forbore from the pursuit of David only for a season,

and then, at the first offer of help from the Ziphites, went back to his cruel

pursuit of the son of Jesse. There are cases in which history repeats itself

on the favorable side, in a return to goodness; but such is man, that the

more frequent experience is of a return to evil courses, obliterating the very

traces of a short-lived, superficial repentance.



RELAPSE. We mean by superficial repentance a mere emotional effect,

while the root of sin lies undisturbed in the unrenewed will. A man of

impulsive constitution can repent in this fashion again and again, with no

conscious insincerity, and yet remain at heart the same; nay, grow worse in

the very habit of lamenting without abandoning his besetting sin. There is

some indication of such a falling off in Saul. On the first occasion, when his

life was spared at Engedi, he shed tears over David’s magnanimity and his

own folly, and he openly confessed that the man whom he had sought to

kill was more righteous than himself, and was destined to fill the throne.

On the second occasion, at Hachilah, he was ready again to confess his

fault and to promise abandonment of his unnatural and unjust pursuit of

David, but we hear nothing of tears. There is a ring of vexation rather than

of contrition about his confession: “I have sinned. I have played the fool.”

Cases of superficial repentance leading to relapse and deterioration are not

rare. Emotion fades away; and some temptation is sure to come, as the

Ziphites came to Saul and induced him to resume what he had renounced.

So it happens that converts from among the heathen, who are changed only

on the surface, and not in heart, but are baptized and endure well for a

while, relapse under temptation into their old customs. (Matthew 13:19-22)

Criminals in our own country, who have to all appearance sincerely repented,

and have, after undergoing punishment, begun a new course of life, relapse

after a while into the old roguery, tired of honest industry. In fact, it is not so

difficult to induce men to turn over a new leaf as to keep them, after

turning it, from turning back again.



NEVER IMITATE IT. Saul retained enough of his early magnanimity to

feel the moral superiority of David’s behavior — his grand forbearance

and chivalrous loyalty. He acknowledged the contrast between David’s

conduct and his own, and yet he never imitated what he admired. He

turned back from the pursuit, as he had done before, but he did not

reinstate his son-in-law in the honor to which he was entitled, or relieve

him of the harassing sense of insecurity. So we often see that it is one thing

to recognize and applaud what is good, another thing to do it. How many

admire great and generous characters in history, poetry, and romance, and

yet themselves remain small minded and ungenerous! How many applaud

good men and kind actions, and yet continue in their own bad habits and

selfish lines of conduct, without any vigorous effort to follow what they

praise! After all, a man is himself, and not another, and as his heart is, so

will his action be. (Proverbs 23:7)  Unless the tree be made good from the

root, it is vain to expect good fruit on its branches.  (Matthew 12:33)



PROTESTS HIS INNOCENCE.  A careless reader might think better of

Saul confessing his folly so frankly than of David appealing to God for his

integrity. But he who appeared so humble was still proud and obstinate,

and he who maintained his rectitude was of a lowly and tender heart. A

certain amount of self-reproach is quite easy to a pliant nature, which takes

emotion quickly on its surface, and yet is quite unchanged beneath. Such

was Saul’s confession, which did not for a moment change his character or

delay his fate. On the other hand, self-vindication against misrepresentation

and unjust treatment may issue from a man who entirely abhors self-

righteousness and self-praise. It is this which we trace in David and the

prophets; in the Apostle Paul, and in the greatest and lowliest, THE MAN

JESUS CHRIST!  A servant of God breaks no rule of humility when he repels

calumny, and asserts his innocence or his integrity. In this view read the

seventeenth and eighteenth Psalms, the latter of which has a significant title

“Of David, the servant of God.” All the Psalms are for the servants of

the Lord. Sometimes, alas, they can chant none but those which are

penitential, because sin has prevailed against them and defiled them. But in

their experience of the mercies and deliverances of the Lord THEY CAN

SING PRAISES;  and in the consciousness of the cleanness of their hands,

their innocence and integrity of purpose and action towards their fellow men,

they may even venture to go through the hundred and nineteenth Psalm in

all that wonderful strain of devout feeling which combines with cries for

Divine pardon and direction, assertions of loyal obedience and entire



22 “And David answered and said, Behold the king’s spear! and let one

of the young men come over and fetch it.  23 The 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.  24 And, 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.”  Behold the king’s spear. Rather, “Behold the

spear, O king.” The other is an unnecessary correction of the Kri. Having restored

to Saul this ensign of his authority, David prays that Jehovah may render

to every man his righteousness, i.e. may requite David for his upright

conduct towards Saul, and by implication punish Saul himself for his unjust

conduct. And also his faithfulness, his fidelity, and steady allegiance. This

refers exclusively to David, who gives as proof of his faithfulness to his

king that he had spared his life when it was delivered into his power. In

return for which act God, he affirms, will protect his life. V. 24 would be

better translated, “And behold, as thy life was great (in value) in my sight

this day, so shall my life be great (in value) in the sight of Jehovah, and He

shall deliver me out of every strait,” every narrowness and difficulty into

which Saul’s persecution might drive him.


25 “Then 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, etc. Better, “Thou shalt both do mightily,

and thou shalt surely prevail.” The words are very general as compared

with those in ch. 24:20-21, where Saul expressed his conviction

that David Would be king, and entrusted his family to his care. The poverty

of sentiment here, and the mere vexation expressed in v. 21, justify Keil’s

remark that Saul’s character had deteriorated in the interval, and that he

was more hardened now than on the previous occasion. And so they parted

— David still leading the life of a fugitive, for Saul’s return in v. 21 was

the most evanescent of good purposes, while the king went back to his

place, his home at Gibeah.




Afflictions and Righteousness (vs. 13-25)


The facts are:


1. David seeks to arouse the attention of Saul by an appeal to Abner,

blended with reproof of his negligence.

2. Saul, on recognizing David’s voice, is answered by him in terms

expressive of loyal homage.

3. David appeals to Saul with respect to his conduct, pointing out its

harshness and unreasonableness.

4. Saul, valuing his own life just spared, admits the force of the plea, and

promises to desist from persecution.

5. David reasserts his integrity, and expresses the hope that God would

accept his motives and actions.

6. Saul acknowledges the moral superiority of David, and professes to

foresee his success in life.


As the persistence of trial is set forth by the various items of the history, so the

integrity of David is also variously illustrated. Afflictions and righteousness are

most conspicuous features of his experience during the period prior to his

accession to power; beautifully suggestive to us of the conditions of our attaining

to fitness for the higher service of Christ (Acts 14:22). The general teaching of

the section may be arranged under the following statements:




TROUBLE. The life and writings of David prove his trust in God and

acquiescence in his appointments; at the same time he spared no pains to

get rid of the troubles of his life by removing the causes of them as existing

in the mind of Saul. In this fresh appeal he declares to Saul that if God be

the mover of his spirit to do these things (v. 19), he has no more to say,

only let it be proved. His appeal to Abner was an additional effort to

remove the trouble, since not Saul only, but the general and army would

now see in his abstinence from violence the purity of his motives. The same

course is proper for all in tribulation. Trials are permitted, and are blessed

in their effects when rightly received (Hebrews 12:6-11); but we have

to do with preventible causes, and may seek to remove them. Even the

failure of effort to remove causes of trouble which, being human, ought not

to operate, in becoming itself a trial is the more blessed in its effects

because of our having done our duty. God’s secret purposes and methods

are not the rules of our action, and any fruitless action of ours performed in

reverent submission to His unsearchable will is itself a means of grace,

because of His turning it to spiritual profit.



ON A WRONG COURSE which should regulate our dealings with them.

David addresses himself to Saul’s sense of right and to his reasoning

powers. “What have I done?” The answer was clear in Saul’s conscience.

“Now, therefore, I pray thee, let my lord the king hear the words of his

servant.” The reasoning powers of Saul gave heed and were convinced by

the subsequent argument. In our private controversies, in our efforts to win

men over to Christ, and in our treatment of the young, we are on safe

ground when we address the moral and rational nature. A wise appeal to

the two cannot be wholly lost. Man is compelled by force of his nature to

recognize right when placed before the eye of conscience, and the laws of

thought insure the acquiescence of reason when the argument is

intrinsically as well as formally sound. It is this necessary recognition of

truth and right which forms the philosophical ground for faith in the final

triumph of Christianity, and wise teachers as well as private Christians may

labor on in confidence as long as they present the truth of God in an

earnest and prayerful spirit.




MEN OF STRONGER MIND. David hit the mark when he said, “If they

be the children of men.” The strong-willed men at the court of Saul, and

referred to in the Psalms, had obtained influence over him, and by lies and

slanders had embittered his spirit against David. But it was the decayed

piety and persistently impenitent spirit in Saul which exposed him to this

danger; for even a weaker intellect will resist the stronger in matters of

moral conduct when the heart is sound in its spiritual tendencies. A man’s

moral condition has more to do with his superiority to the devices and

urgencies of the strong and crafty than his knowledge or force of intellect.

Moral affinities are powerful for good or evil, and moral repulsions are

life’s safeguards for the good. Hence the supreme importance of A NEW

HEART AND A RIGHT SPIRIT!   Hence, also, the profound wisdom of

the New Testament teaching and the mercy of THE PROVISION OF OUR

RENEWAL!  The bearing of this on our education of youth, on personal

resistance of temptation, and on the means for counteracting the influence

of powerful but unholy men, is obvious.





conscience and reason Saul admitted his wrong and folly, and David’s right

and wisdom. Being just then keenly alive to the value of deliverance from

death, he was prompted to let right and reason exercise a legitimate sway

over his thoughts, and thus was honest in his declaration. Yet the

recognition was, so to speak, intellectual, and not moral. It was admission

of truth, not response to its power over the life. Men are not governed in

conduct by thoughts, or propositions, or formal confessions of right and

propriety, but by positive tendencies of their moral nature. And as Saul’s

tendencies were not altered by the interview with David, his recognition of

right failed to become a power over his conduct in days hence.  We often

see how men delude themselves by regarding a recognition of right as

tantamount to a healthy moral condition for the time being. Here again we

come upon the fundamental truth that a radical change of nature is the only

hope of salvation and safeguard of daily life.




Of hunger and thirst David said nothing, nor of loss of social position; but

he dwelt with emphatic language on the grievous wrong of driving him

from “the inheritance of the Lord,” virtually saying, “Go, serve other

gods.” As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so did his soul pant after

God (Psalm 42:1-4). As the patriot feels the anguish of exile, so more

keenly does a servant of God feel banishment by man from the fellowship

and hallowed joys of the sanctuary. Those in authority should be very

careful lest by harsh conduct they drive away into godless regions of

thought and association men of noble, reverent spirit. Origen, Luther, and

others have shared the bitterness of David; and even our Lord was cast out

from the Jewish Church, and was taunted with the suggestion of going to

teach the Gentiles” (John 7:35). Our love to the house of the Lord and

for the communion of saints is a test of the reality of our piety.




BE ASSERTED. David was most deeply conscious of being a loyal, loving

subject, free from ambition or desire to do other than good to his king. He

referred to his sparing Saul in evidence of this, and now, as in the presence

of God, affirms that, so far as his conduct toward Saul was concerned, he

was quite prepared to abide by the Divine rule of rendering’ to every man

his righteousness and his faithfulness.” So far as his own personal

deliverance from tribulation was to be measured to him according to his

treatment of Saul, he was quite satisfied that it would be complete. Here is

no trusting to personal goodness for pardon and eternal life, no glorying in

his own virtues; but a strong assertion of his integrity of conduct in one

particular, and a belief that, so far as integrity in this case was a condition

of being blessed, he would not come short of the blessing. The Old

Testament is one with the New in the conditions of pardon and eternal life,

and also in the condition of godly men being prospered in their way. When

challenged with reference to a particular deed, it is legitimate to affirm our

righteousness with all solemnity, and with a deep sense of our general

unworthiness before God.





SUCCESS.  Saul felt David to be the nobler man, and under the transitory

influence of truth he openly avowed what was always felt (v. 25). Much of the

resentment cherished against him had arisen from the conviction, so

unwelcome to the envious, of his being endowed with qualities that would

justify the anointing by Samuel. The silent homage to goodness is

universal. Instances have occurred in biographies testifying that while in

former antagonism to Christian truth and Christian men the writer was

sensible of the beauty and power of Christian character, and saw in it

elements of future happiness not in his own. The tone of the opposition to

Christ and His apostles reveals the same fact. The character built up by a

true piety is A CREATION OF GOD,  and is among His noblest works,

as it is also THE MOST PERMANENT!  The more we can present such

a character before men, the more shall we multiply the evidences of

Christianity, and reveal to mankind in what lies the germ of permanent





David’s Last Meeting with Saul (vs. 13-25)


1. This meeting took place at night. The encampment of Saul was over

against the desert by the way (v. 3). The light of the stars, or of the

moon, and the flickering campfires, together with the intense silence of the

place, would enable the quick eye and ear of David to perceive its position

and defenseless condition. And it may have been early morning when, on

his return from his adventurous and successful enterprise, the voice of

David rang across the ravine which separated him from it. Answerest thou

not, Abner?’


2. The conversation that followed occurred in the presence of the followers

of Saul, and was doubtless heard by them, on awaking, like Abner, out of

the deep sleep that had fallen upon them (v. 12). At the former interview

Saul was alone with David and his men, and, having no reason for concern

about the manner in which his royal dignity, of which he was always so

jealous, might be regarded by others, his feelings were less restrained and

his expressions more explicit. What was now said must have shown them

the evil of the course he pursued; it was a public testimony against the

wickedness of the men who incited him to it (v. 19), and could not but

convince them of David’s integrity and future success (v. 25).


3. It took place under circumstances which made it impossible for Saul to

do him harm. David’s distrust of him was such that he took care to gain a

safe position before speaking. The temptation to get him into his power

was always too strong for Saul to resist. He was not morally, but

physically, restrained from effecting his purpose (ch. 25:32).


  1. David could have destroyed Saul, but he would not;
  2. Saul would have destroyed David, but he could not!


He was under the dominion of a depraved will, even when he expressed his

determination to abandon his evil designs, and seemed to himself and others

sincerely penitent. In this interview then we see:



asking, “Wherefore doth my lord pursue after his servant?” etc., David

said, “If the Lord have stirred thee up against me,” etc. (vs. 19-20); and

again, “The Lord render to every man his righteousness,” etc. (vs. 23-24).

His conscious integrity appears in:


Ø      Earnestly urging the adoption of proper means to overcome temptation.

“Pray to God that he take the temptation from thee” (Bunsen). “Let no

man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God,” etc. (James 1:13-14).

But God often affords him opportunity to manifest the evil that is in

his heart, with a view to his conviction of sin and turning from it; and “if he

does not repent, the forms in which sin exhibits itself are no longer under

his control, but under God’s dispensation, who determines them as pleases

Him, as accords with the plan of His government of the world, for His own

honor, and, so long as He is not absolutely rejected, for the good of the

sinner” (Hengstenberg). And He has respect to the offering that is

presented to Him in righteousness (Genesis 4:7). The meat offering

(minchah) here meant “was appended to the burnt and peace offerings to

show that the object of such offerings was the sanctification of the people

by fruitfulness in well doing, and that without this the end aimed at never

could be attained” (Fairbairn). David spoke from his deep experience of

temptation, his faithful endeavor after holiness, his exalted estimation of

the Divine favor and help, and was as desirous that Saul should stand in a

right relation to God as of his own deliverance from persecution (Psalm

141:2). “The way in which he addresses Saul is so humble, so gentle, and

so reverent that we may sufficiently thence recognize the goodness of his



Ø      Solemn invocation of Divine judgment on wicked men who incite to

wickedness. “If it be the children of men,” etc. (v. 19). This is in

accordance with the tone which pervades the imprecatory psalms, and

should be interpreted in the light of his personal conduct toward Saul, his

zeal for the kingdom and righteousness of God, the facts of the Divine

treatment of evil men, similar expressions in the New Testament

(Matthew 11:21; 23:13-39; Acts 8:20; I Corinthians 5:5; II Timothy 4:4),

and the inferior position occupied by saints under the Old

Testament dispensation. “When David’s whole career is intelligently and

fairly viewed, it leaves on the mind the impression of a man of as meek and

placable a temper as was ever associated with so great strength of will and

such strong passions” (Binnie, ‘The Psalms’). “David is the Old Testament

type of the inviolable majesty of Christ, and therefore his imprecations are

prophetic of the final doom of the hardened enemies of Christ and His

Church. As such they are simply an expansion of the prayer, ‘Thy kingdom

come.’ For the kingdom of God comes not only:


o        by the showing of mercy to the penitent; but also

o        by the executing of judgment on the impenitent”



Ø      Fervent entreaty of an enemy to abandon his unjust, unpitying, and

unworthy designs. “Now, therefore,” etc. (v. 20). “This speech of David

was thoroughly suited to sharpen Saul’s conscience and lead him to give

up his enmity, if he still had an ear for the voice of truth” (Keil).


Ø      Confidently appealing to the perfect justice of God and His merciful

interposition on his behalf. “The Lord render to every man his

righteousness and his faithfulness,”  etc/ (vs. 23-24). This is not the

language of boastfulness or self-righteousness, but “the answer of a good

conscience toward God.”  (I Peter 3:21)  He desired that God would

deal with him as He had dealt with others (Psalm 7:4, 5), and fully

vindicate his “righteousness and faithfulness” by delivering him “out of all

tribulation.” Only one who was consciously upright in heart could speak

thus; and similar expressions often occur in the Psalms (Psalm 17:1-5).

“The Psalmist is not asserting his freedom from sin, but the uprightness and

guilelessness of his heart toward God. He is no hypocrite, no dissembler;

he is not consciously doing wrong” (Perowne). In addition to the eight

psalms previously mentioned as referred by their inscriptions to the time of

Saul’s persecution, there are two others, viz., Psalm 63., ‘Longing in the

wilderness for the presence of God in the sanctuary’ (see inscription;

here, vs. 19-20):


“O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee.

My soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh pineth for thee,

In a dry and weary land where no water is.


Psalm 18., ‘An idealized representation of the experience of Divine

deliverances’ (see inscription; II Samuel 22.). Other psalms have also been

referred by many to the same period as “the fruitful soil of David’s psalm

poetry,” viz., Psalm 6., 11., 12., 13., 17., 22., 27., 31., 35., 40., 56., 58.,

59., 64., 69., 109., 120., 140., 141.



Saul said, I have sinned,” etc. (vs. 21, 25). He acknowledged the sin and

folly of his past conduct (though not with tears, as before ch. 24:1), invited

David to return, and promised no more to do him harm, uttered a benediction

upon him, and predicted that he would “do great things and prevail”

(omitting, however, any allusion to his royal dignity, as on the former

occasionibid. vs. 17-22) — “at once a vindication of David’s conduct

in the past, and a forecast of his glory in the future.” He doubtless meant

at the time what he said, but it is to be observed that:


Ø      The most corrupt heart is capable of good impressions, emotions, and

purposes. History and observation afford innumerable instances of the fact.


Ø      It is apt to be the subject of them under special circumstances (ch.24:16-22),

and particularly when convinced of the futility of sinful endeavors, and

restrained by a power which cannot be effectually resisted. “Behold, thou

hast spoken and done evil things as thou couldest (Jeremiah 3:5).

So long as the power to do evil things is possessed, it is exercised; but

when  it is taken away men often seem sincerely penitent and

fully determined to do good. But how seldom does the “goodness”

exhibited in such circumstances prove really sincere and enduring!


Ø      The experience of them is no certain evidence to a man himself or

others of a right state of heart. They are liable to deceive, and can only be

depended upon when expressed and confirmed by corresponding and

continuous acts. Strong feeling is often temporary and rarely

transformed into settled principle.


Ø      The removal of the influences by which they are produced, and the

occurrence of favorable opportunities for the manifestation of the true

character, commonly prove its utter insincerity. It was thus with Saul. He

did not repent in deeds of righteousness, nor “bring forth fruits meet for

repentance.” (Luke 3:8)  On the contrary, he soon afterwards renewed his

persecution, and ceased not until David was wholly beyond his power

(ch. 27:1). “They return, but not to the most High: they are like a deceitful

bow (Hosea 7:16). He was under the dominion of an evil disposition and

depraved will, and with every broken promise of amendment his moral

condition became worse, until he sank into despair. “The only good thing

in the world is a good will” (Kant).


“But ill for him who, bettering not with time,

Corrupts the strength of heaven-descended Will,

And ever weaker grows through acted crime,

Or seeming genial venial fault,

Recurring and suggesting still!

He seems as one whose footsteps halt,

Toiling in immeasurable sand,

And o’er a weary, sultry land,

Far beneath a blazing vault,

Sown in a wrinkle of the monstrous hill,

The city sparkles like a grain of salt.”



“It is storied of a merchant that in a great storm at sea vowed to Jupiter, if

he would save him and his vessel, to give him a hecatomb (a sacrifice

of 100 oxen). The storm ceaseth, and he bethinks that a hecatomb was

unreasonable; he resolves on seven oxen. Another tempest comes, and now

again he vows the seven at least. Delivered, then also he thought that seven

were too many, and one ox would serve his turn. Yet another peril comes,

and now he vows solemnly to fall no lower; if he might be rescued,

an ox Jupiter shall have.  Again freed, the ox sticks in his stomach, and

he would fain draw his devotion to a lower rate; a sheep was sufficient.

But at last, being set ashore, he thought a sheep too much, and purposeth

to carry to the altar only a few dates. But by the way he eats up the dates,

and lays on the altar only the shells. After this manner do many perform

 their vows” (Adams, vol. 1. p. 112).



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