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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

1 Samuel 18

 

 

Introduction

XVIII

(1 Samuel 18:1-30) David with Saul. Jonathan and David. The Envy of Saul is excited by the People’s praises of David. He Marries King Saul’s daughter Michal.

EXCURSUS H: ON THE SCHOOLS OF THE PROPHETS (1 Samuel 19).

“Long before Plato had gathered his disciples round him in the Olive Grove, or Zeno in the Portico, these institutions (schools of the prophets) had sprung up under Samuel in Judæa.” (Stanley.)

Before the days of Samuel the name of “prophet” very rarely occurs; incidentally the title is once given to Abraham (Genesis 20:7), and Moses is on many occasions so styled. (See especially the great passage in Deuteronomy 18:15-18, where he is made the type of the old order.) Aaron, too (but in relation to Moses), was also called a prophet. At rare intervals we meet with the name: for instance, in the days of Gideon (Judges 6:8); and most probably in the reign of the high priest Eli (1 Samuel 2:27), in the person of the “man of God” who brought the stern message to Shiloh, we have another rare example. There is one solitary instance in those early days of a woman bearing the honoured name—Deborah, the judge and prophetess (Judges 4:4).

Samuel, however, was the true founder of the prophetic order. Samuel, the Prophet and the Seer, was the title by which this great and loved man was known not only in his own, but in all succeeding generations.

There is no doubt but that one of the great works of Samuel’s life was to call into existence “unions,” or, as they have been subsequently termed, “schools of the prophets.” We must not, however, conclude that all, or that even a large proportion of the people trained in these schools of Samuel were prophets in the sense of being able to make predictions, or even to write or speak as inspired men. This Divine gift, we must remember, was a gift of God, which He bestowed on whom He would. He, in His omniscience, knew who among men were fitted for this grave and important office.

But the trained in Samuel’s “Naioth,” in that school of his by Ramah—those known in later days as “Sons of the Prophets”—were taught the study of the Law and the story of the Divine guidance of Israel; they were most carefully trained in music and singing; and in these quiet homes of learning and religious exercises, the records of the past, we may be certain, were examined and copied with extreme care, and the materials out of which the Divine records were in after days compiled were, no doubt, there arranged and classified.

In Samuel’s schools by Ramah, we may assume, were trained, under their renowned master, David, Gad, Nathan, Heman, and others whose names as writers, prophets, and teachers subsequently became famous after the days of Samuel, during the reigns of David and Solomon, and of the earlier kings of Israel and Judah. After the separation, prophets are frequently mentioned—sometimes by name, as in the case of Gad and Nathan—sometimes we hear of a nameless prophet. We have to wait, however, until the days of Elijah and Elisha before we meet with a further allusion to these prophetic schools. Under the general name of “Sons of the Prophets,” these seminaries, or schools, appear in the times of these great prophets in several localities. Their numbers evidently were considerable. It is an indisputable fact that during the later years of the independent existence of the people, and also in the Captivity, and for a time after the return, the prophets exercised an enormous influence over the tribes.

We may, then, fairly assume that the new impulse given to religious education by Samuel was never suffered to die out, and that from his days onward the schools of the prophets flourished among the chosen people. The company of prophets gathered round Samuel in the Naioth by Ramah—the “Sons of the Prophets”—who acknowledged men like Elijah and Elisha as their revered masters, were the direct ancestors of the scribes and rabbis of later days.

When Samuel first founded the new order, there was, it must be remembered, an utter want of lofty spiritual teaching. The sanctuary of Shiloh had been destroyed, the Ark removed, the priesthood dishonoured and disgraced. Later, it is noticeable that it was in the northern kingdom of the ten tribes, in the provinces of which there was no temple, no priests, no sacrifice, where we find those great schools of the Sons of the Prophete, under the presidency of men like Elijah and Elisha. The prophetic order then, in the first place, owed its creation to a want of all spiritual guidance and influence, when Eli was dead and Shiloh desecrated; and further on, its development and rapid increase among the northern tribes is plainly attributable to the fact of there being no temple and no priestly order outside Jerusalem.


Verse 1

(1) The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David.—We have in this and the following chapters somewhat of a detailed account of David at the Court of Saul. In 1 Samuel 16 this Court life of the future king has been already touched upon, notably in 1 Samuel 18:21-23, where the affection of Saul for David was mentioned, where also the appointing of the young shepherd to a post about the king’s person is recorded. But this mention in 1 Samuel 16 considerably anticipated the course of events. In relating the results of this affection of Saul for David, the writer of what we may term the episode treating of the influence of music and poetry passed over, so to speak, the story of several years, in the course of which took place the single combat of David with the Philistine giant, and the victorious campaign in which the young hero took so distinguished a part. The history here takes up the thread of the future king’s life, after the campaigns which immediately followed the discomfiture of the Philistine champion (1 Samuel 18:6 and following). 1 Samuel 18:1-4 simply relate the beginning of the world-famous friendship between Prince Jonathan and David.

The Hebrew is rendered “was knit,” or better, was bound up. This is a strong term, and is used in Genesis 44:30 of Jacob’s love to Benjamin: “seeing that his life is bound up in the lad’s life.” Aristotle, Nicom. ix. 8, has noted that friends are called one soul.

Jonathan loved him as his own soul.—As has been before remarked, the character of the princely son of Saul is one of the most beautiful in the Old Testament story. He was the type of a true warrior of those wild, half-barbarous times—among brave men seemingly the bravest—a perfect soldier, whether fighting as a simple man-at-arms or as the general of an army—chivalrous and generous—utterty free from jealousy—a fervid believer in the God of Israel—a devoted and loyal son—a true patriot in the highest sense of the word, who sealed a devoted life by a noble death, dying as he did fighting for his king and his people. The long and steady friendship of Jonathan no doubt had a powerful and enduring influence on the after life of the greatest of the Hebrew sovereigns. The words, the unselfish, beautiful love, and, above all, the splendid example of the ill-fated son of Saul, have no doubt given their colouring to many of the noblest utterances in David’s Psalms and to not a few of the most heroic deeds in David’s life.

We read of this friendship as dating from the morrow of the first striking deed of arms performed by David when he slew the giant. It is clear, however, that it was not the personal bravery of the boy hero, or the rare skill he showed in the encounter, which so singularly attracted Prince Jonathan. These things no one would have admired and honoured more than the son of Saul, but it needed more than splendid gallantry and rare skill to attract that great love of which we read. What won Jonathan’s heart was the shepherd boy’s sublime faith, his perfect childlike trust in the “Glorious Arm” of the Lord. Jonathan and David possessed one thing in common—an intense, unswerving belief in the power of Jehovah of Israel to keep and to save all who trusted in Him.

The two were typical Israelites, both possessing in a very high degree that intense confidence in the Mighty One of Israel which was the mainspring of the people’s glory and success, and which, in the seemingly interminable days of their punishment and degradation, has been the power which has kept them still together—a people distinct, reserved yet for some mighty destiny in the unknown future.


Verse 3

(3) Made a covenant.—The son of the first Hebrew king recognised in David a kindred spirit. They were one in their God, in their faith, in their devotion to the Divine will. Jonathan recognised in the young shepherd, who unarmed went out alone to meet the mighty Philistine warrior, the same spirit of sublime faith in the Invisible King which had inspired him in days far back to go forth alone with his armour-bearer to attack and capture the Philistine stronghold, when he spoke those memorable words which enable us to understand the character of Jonathan: “It may be that the Lord will work for us: for there is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few” (1 Samuel 14:6).

The great friendship, which has been the admiration of succeeding generations, began with the strong faith in the Eternal common to the two friends. Throughout its duration the link which united them was an intense desire to do the will of Him who, as true Hebrew patriots, they felt loved Israel; and when the friends parted for the last time in the wilderness of Ziph, we are told how the elder (Jonathan) strengthened the younger (David’s) “hand in God” (1 Samuel 23:16).


Verse 4

(4) Gave it to David.—It has been suggested that the reason of this gift was to enable his friend David—then poorly clad—to appear at his father’s court in a fitting dress; but this kind of present was usual among friends in those remote ages. Glaucus and Diomed, for instance, exchanged armour of a very different value.

“Now change we arms, and prove to either host

We guard the friendship of the line we boast.

* * * * * *

For Diomed’s brass arms, of mean device,

For which nine oxen paid (a vulgar price),

He gave his own of gold, divinely wrought:

A hundred beeves the shining purchase bought.”

Iliad, vi. 286–295.


Verse 5

(5) And he was accepted.—The historian here calls especial attention to the strange power David was able to acquire over the hearts of men. It was not only over Saul and his great son that he rapidly won influence, but in the case of his colleagues at the Court and in the army, all of whom he was rapidly outstripping in the race for honour and distinction, he seems to have disarmed all jealousy. His rapid rise to high position was evidently looked upon with general favour. This is still farther enlarged upon in the next and following verses.


Verse 6

(6) When David was returned.—The triumphant return of the young soldier does not refer to the homecoming after the death of the giant, but to the close of the campaign which followed that event. Evidently a series of victories after the fall of the dreaded champion—perhaps spread over a very considerable period—had for a time restored the supremacy of Israel in Canaan. In this war, David, on whom after his great feat of arms the eyes of all the soldiery were fixed, established his character for bravery and skill.

Singing and dancing.—This was on some grand occasion—probably the final triumph at the end of the war. The Speaker’s Commentary, on the English rendering “singing and dancing,” remarks that “the Hebrew text is probably here corrupt, and suggests that for vau, ‘and,’ we ought to read beth, ‘with’ and that then the sense would be to sing ‘in the dance,’ or ‘with dancing.’ The action was for the women to dance to the sound of the timbrel, and to sing the Epinicium with strophe and antistrophe as they danced and played.” (Comp. Exodus 15:20-21; Judges 11:34.)

We know that music and song were originally closely connected with dancing. David, for instance, when a mighty king, on one great occasion in Jerusalem actually himself performed dances before all the people (2 Samuel 6:14; 2 Samuel 6:16). (See Note on Exodus 15:20.)


Verse 7

(7) Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.—These words, which sing of the early glory of David in battle, are quoted again in 1 Samuel 29:5. They were, no doubt, the favourite refrain of an old national or folk-song.


Verse 8

(8) What can he have more but the kingdom?—In this foreboding utterance of Saul there was involved not only a conjecture which the result confirmed, but a deep inward truth: if the king stood powerless before the subjugators of his kingdom at so decisive a period as this, and a shepherd boy came and decided the victory, this was an additional mark of his rejection.—V. Gerlach, quoted in Keil.

Some years had passed since he first heard from the lips of his old prophet-friend the Divine sentence of his rejection from the kingdom. In that sad period he had doubtless been on the look-out for the one destined by the Invisible King to be his successor. This dread expectation of ruin and dethronement had been a powerful factor in the causes which had led to the unhingement of Saul’s mind. Was not this gifted shepherd boy—now the idol of the people—the future hope of Israel?


Verse 9

(9) And Saul eyed David.—From the hour on which the king listened to the people’s lilt in honour of the young hero, in Saul’s distempered mind hate alternated with love. He still in his heart longed for the presence of the only human being who could charm away his ever-increasing melancholia, but he dreaded with a fierce jealousy the growing influence of the winning and gifted man whom he had taken from the sheep-folds; and now through the rest of the records of this book we shall see how the hate gradually obscured the old love. All our memories of Saul seem bound up with his life-long murderous pursuit of David.


Verse 10

(10) The evil spirit.—The evil spirit comes now over the unhappy king in quite a new form. Hitherto, when the dark hour came upon Saul the madness showed itself in the form of a dull torpor, a hopeless melancholia, an entire indifference to everything connected with life, as well in the lower as in the higher forms. This earlier phase of the soul’s malady has been exquisitely pictured by Browning in his poem of “Saul.” Now the madness assumes a new phase, and the king is consumed with a murderous jealousy, that fills his whole soul, and drives him now to open deeds of ruffianly violence—now to devise dark plots against the life of the bated one. What a fall for the hero- king of Israel, the anointed of the Lord, whose reign had begun so brilliantly and successfully!

And he prophesied.—In his wild phrenzy—under the control of a power higher than himself, had he not by his breaking off all communion with God, left his soul defenceless and prepared for the presence of the evil spirit?—in his wild phrenzy we read “Saul prophesied.” The Dean of Canterbury well calls attention here to the conjugation employed in the original Hebrew of the word rendered “prophesied”—the Hith-pael, which is never used by an Old Testament writer of real true prophecy, this being always expressed by the Niphal conjugation. This of Saul’s was but a bastard imitation.

Saul was in a state of phrenzy, unable to master himself, speaking words of which he knew not the meaning, and acting like a man possessed. In all this there was something akin to the powerful emotions which agitated the true prophet: only it was not a holy influence, but one springing from violent) passions.


Verse 11

(11) And Saul cast the javelin.—The Alexandrian MS. of the LXX. and the Chaldee Version translate the Hebrew here “lifted the javelin.” The probable meaning of the verb in this place is “brandished,” or “aimed.” It is hardly credible that if he actually threw it, David would have trusted himself a second time in the king’s chamber.


Verse 12

(12) And Saul was afraid of David.—Even after the scenes in the royal chamber just related, David remained at Court. He looked on such manifestations of bitter hatred as simple outbursts of a temporary insanity. His loyal nature would not believe in the enduring hate of one so great and noble as Saul; but we read here that even when the king recovered from the paroxysm, he feared David. Saul was conscious that his old vigour and ability were deserting him, and in David he recognised the presence of a power he knew had once been his. Not being able, even in his sane hours, to endure the presence of one whom he too surely felt would sooner or later take his place, the king dismissed him honourably from the Court, and invested him with an important military charge. Perhaps already the dark thought which some time later (see 1 Samuel 18:17; 1 Samuel 18:25) influenced the king had entered into his unhappy mind.


Verse 16

(16) But all Israel and Judah.—This distinct mention of the two great later divisions of the chosen people seems to point to the fact that the compiler of the Books of Samuel lived after the final separation of the ten tribes from Judah and Benjamin, in the reign of Rehoboam. It is, however, clear from other notices (see, for instance, 1 Samuel 11:8; 1 Samuel 15:4, in this book) that at a period long anterior to the final disruption between the north and south a marked distinction between the two had begun to exist.

In David’s case, however, although he was of Judah, the future king was equally popular with the northern tribes.


Verse 17

(17) Behold my elder daughter Merab, her will I give thee to wife.—This was but the fulfilment of a much earlier promise. The king had said he would give his daughter in marriage to the hero who should slay the Philistine giant champion. For one cause or other he had declined, or at least postponed, the carrying out of his pledge; and the dark thought crossed his mind, Could he not endanger the hated life, while seeming to wish to keep the old promise? He speaks of the Philistine war as the Lord’s battles. This was a feeling which inspired every patriotic Israelite. “He was,” when fighting with the idolatrous nations, “warring for the Lord”—so David felt when he spoke of the Philistine giant as having defied the ranks of the living God, and alluded to the battle as the Lord’s (1 Samuel 17:26; 1 Samuel 17:47). The same idea is expressed in the title of that most ancient collection of songs which has not been preserved to us—“Book of the Wars of the Lord” (Numbers 21:14).


Verse 18

(18) What is my life?—These words in David’s modest and wise answer have been variously interpreted. (a) They have been taken to refer to David’s personal life; but surely that has been alluded to in the preceding words, “Who am I?” (b) As referring to the condition of life in which he was born and to which he was accustomed; so Keil; but it is doubtful if the Hebrew word here used ever has this significance. (c) With a reference to David’s family; so Ewald and Lange. Ewald would translate, “What are my folks or relations?” Of these (c) is undoubtedly the preferable meaning.


Verse 19

(19) She was given unto Adriel.—Saul’s capricious wavering nature, so painfully prominent in the last part of his reign, displayed itself in this sudden change of purpose. It may have been brought about owing to some great fit of jealousy of David; or possibly the large gifts in money or valuables offered by the wealthy Adriel for the princess’s hand may have occasioned this arbitrary act of Saul. Such gifts to the father in return for the daughter’s hand were customary. In the case of such a prize as the Princess Merab, the gift would doubtless have been very costly. David, who was comparatively a poor man, was of course unable to show such liberality; besides, the young hero looked, no doubt, upon the marriage as the fulfilment of the old promise to the victor in the combat with the giant. The marriage, however, of the daughter of King Saul and Adriel was consummated, and was disastrous in its consequences. They had five sons, and they fell victims to the blood revenge exacted by the Gibeonites from the family of Saul: the five hapless youths were “hanged” (we read in 2 Samuel 21:9) “in the hill before the Lord.” These three verses (17-19) are entirely omitted by the LXX., apparently because they failed to see any reason for Saul’s sudden change of purpose.


Verse 20

(20) And Michal Saul’s daughter loved David.—But the love of the younger of the two royal princesses for her father’s brilliant officer gave the unhappy king a fresh excuse to expose David’s life to peril, while at the same time he appeared to be endeavouring to carry out an old formal promise.


Verse 21

(21) That she may be a snare to him.—Is it not possible that this dark plot of Saul against a life once so dear to him—a plot which in after days, when the enmity of the king was a matter of general notoriety, became of course known by David—suggested to him (David) the means by which, in the darkest hours of his life, he got rid of the brave Uriah, the husband of Bath-sheba, at the siege of Rabbah? (2 Samuel 11)

In the one of the twain.—More accurately translated. in this second time, or in this second way. The LXX. again leaves out this statement, no doubt because it refers back to the omitted passage in 1 Samuel 18:17-19.


Verse 22

(22) Behold, the king hath delight in thee.—Lange quaintly sees in this fluent discourse of the courtiers “something of the flattering, conciliatory tone usual in such circles.”


Verse 23

(23) I am a poor man.—David dwells upon this fact of his utter inability to give the expected costly offering for the princess. He evidently attributes to his poverty and his successful rival’s wealth his former disappointment in the case of Merab.

And lightly esteemed.—David looked upon himself as a mere successful soldier of fortune among the wealthy chiefs who surrounded Saul. His father—though, no doubt, “head man” or sheik in tiny Bethlehem—was, compared with the elders of Israel who formed the Court of Saul, a poor man.


Verse 25

(25) An hundred foreskins.—Wordsworth’s note here, which he derives from Theodoret, is curious. Foreskins! why not heads? Here is a sign of Saul’s suspicious and malignant spirit. He, judging for himself, impiously suspects that David would go forth and destroy some of the Israelites—Saul’s own subjects—as he himself desired to destroy David, his own deliverer; and the foreskins were required as a proof that they who were killed were not Israelites. Josephus, however, with a strange exaggeration, mentions 600 heads as the price of Michal.


Verse 26

(26) It pleased David well.—The king’s design succeeded well, and the prospect of the alliance with Saul spurred on this brave soldier to more daring achievements, and yet wilder feats of arms. The savage, half-barbarous state of the age, however, comes prominently into view when we reflect upon the ferocious cruelty of such an offer being made and accepted, and carried out with even more than the required number of victims.


Verse 28

(28) Saul saw . . . that the Lord was with David.—The success of the last savage enterprise, and the return of David with his ghastly spoils, filled the unhappy king with dismay. His daughter’s love, too, for the rising soldier contributed to his trouble. Saul felt that all that David undertook prospered—that surely another and a higher Power was helping him. So his fear grew, we read in 1 Samuel 18:29, and the paroxysms of jealous hatred deepened into a lifelong enmity.


Verse 30

(30) Went forth.—Probably to avenge the last raid of David (recounted in 1 Samuel 18:27). Wordsworth, quoting from the Rabbis, suggests that they were emboldened to make this attack, supposing that their successful foe would, according to the Hebrew Law, claim exemption from warfare for a year after marriage (Deuteronomy 24:5).

 


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 18:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/1-samuel-18.html. 1905.

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