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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

1 Samuel 20



Verses 1-3

1 Samuel 20:1-10. David consults with Jonathan for his safety.

David fled from Naioth in Ramah, and came and said before Jonathan — He could not remain in Naioth, for he had strong reason to fear that when the religious fit, if we may so call it, was over, Saul would relapse into his usual fell and sanguinary temper. It may be thought that David acted imprudently in directing his flight to Gibeah. But he was evidently prompted to go thither by the most generous feelings - to inform his friend of what had recently occurred, and to obtain that friend‘s sanction to the course he was compelled to adopt. Jonathan could not be persuaded there was any real danger after the oath his father had taken; at all events, he felt assured his father would do nothing without telling him. Filial attachment naturally blinded the prince to defects in the parental character and made him reluctant to believe his father capable of such atrocity. David repeated his unshaken convictions of Saul‘s murderous purpose, but in terms delicately chosen (1 Samuel 20:3), not to wound the filial feelings of his friend; while Jonathan, clinging, it would seem, to a hope that the extraordinary scene enacted at Naioth might have wrought a sanctified improvement on Saul‘s temper and feelings, undertook to inform David of the result of his observations at home.

Verse 5

David said unto Jonathan, Behold, to-morrow the new moon, and I should not fail to sit with the king at meat — The beginning of a new month or moon was always celebrated by special sacrifices, followed by feasting, at which the head of a family expected all its members to be present. David, both as the king‘s son-in-law and a distinguished courtier, dined on such occasions at the royal table, and from its being generally known that David had returned to Gibeah, his presence in the palace would be naturally expected. This occasion was chosen by the two friends for testing the king‘s state of feeling. As a suitable pretext for David‘s absence, it was arranged that he should visit his family at Beth-lehem, and thus create an opportunity of ascertaining how his non-appearance would be viewed. The time and place were fixed for Jonathan reporting to David; but as circumstances might render another interview unsafe, it was deemed expedient to communicate by a concerted signal.

Verse 11

1 Samuel 20:11-23. Their covenant renewed by oath.

Jonathan said to David, Come, let us go into the field — The private dialogue, which is here detailed at full length, presents a most beautiful exhibition of these two amiable and noble-minded friends. Jonathan was led, in the circumstances, to be the chief speaker. The strength of his attachment, his pure disinterestedness, his warm piety, his invocation to God (consisting of a prayer and a solemn oath combined), the calm and full expression he gave of his conviction that his own family were, by the divine will, to be disinherited, and David elevated to the possession of the throne, the covenant entered into with David on behalf of his descendants, and the imprecation (1 Samuel 20:16) denounced on any of them who should violate his part of the conditions, the reiteration of this covenant on both sides (1 Samuel 20:17) to make it indissoluble - all this indicates such a power of mutual affection, such magnetic attractiveness in the character of David, such susceptibility and elevation of feeling in the heart of Jonathan, that this interview for dramatic interest and moral beauty stands unrivalled in the records of human friendship.

Verse 19

when thou hast stayed three days — either with your family at Beth-lehem, or wherever you find it convenient.

come to the place where thou didst hide thyself when the business was in handHebrew, “in the day,” or “time of the business,” when the same matter was under inquiry formerly (1 Samuel 19:22).

remain by the stone EzelHebrew, “the stone of the way”; a sort of milestone which directed travelers. He was to conceal himself in some cave or hiding-place near that spot.

Verse 23

as touching the matter which thou and I have spoken of — The plan being concerted, the friends separated for a time, and the amiable character of Jonathan again peers out in his parting allusion to their covenant of friendship.

Verse 24

1 Samuel 20:24-40. Saul, missing David, seeks to kill Jonathan.

Verse 25

the king sat upon his seat, as at other times … by the wall — The left-hand corner at the upper end of a room was and still is in the East, the most honorable place. The person seated there has his left arm confined by the wall, but his right hand is at full liberty. From Abner‘s position next the king, and David‘s seat being left empty, it would seem that a state etiquette was observed at the royal table, each of the courtiers and ministers having places assigned them according to their respective gradations of rank.

Jonathan arose — either as a mark of respect on the entrance of the king, or in conformity with the usual Oriental custom for a son to stand in presence of his father.

Verse 26

he is not clean — No notice was taken of David‘s absence, as he might be laboring under some ceremonial defilement.

Verse 27

on the morrow, which was the second day of the month — The time of the moon‘s appearance being uncertain - whether at midday, in the evening, or at midnight, the festival was extended over two days. Custom, not the law, had introduced this.

Saul said unto Jonathan his son, Wherefore cometh not the son of Jesse — The question was asked, as it were, casually, and with as great an air of indifference as he could assume. And Jonathan having replied that David had asked and obtained his permission to attend a family anniversary at Beth-lehem [Acts 20:28, Acts 20:29 ], the pent-up passions of the king burst out in a most violent storm of rage and invective against his son.

Verse 30

Thou son of the perverse rebellious woman — This is a striking Oriental form of abuse. Saul was not angry with his wife; it was the son alone, upon whom he meant, by this style of address, to discharge his resentment. The principle on which it is founded seems to be, that to a genuine filial instinct it is a more inexpiable offense to hear the name or character of a parent traduced, than any personal reproach. This was, undoubtedly, one cause of “the fierce anger” in which the high-minded prince left the table without tasting a morsel.

Verse 33

Saul cast a javelin at him — This is a sad proof of the maniacal frenzy into which the unhappy monarch was transported.

Verse 35

Jonathan went out into the field at the time appointed — or, “at the place appointed.”

Verse 36

he said unto his lad, Run, find out now the arrows which I shoot — The direction given aloud to the attendant was the signal preconcerted with David. It implied danger.

Verse 40

Jonathan gave his artillery unto his lad — that is, his missive weapons. The French word artillerie, signifies “archery.” The term is still used in England, in the designation of the “artillery company of London,” the association of archers, though they have long disused bows and arrows. Jonathan‘s boy being dispatched out of the way, the friends enjoyed the satisfaction of a final meeting.

Verse 41-42

1 Samuel 20:41, 1 Samuel 20:42. Jonathan and David lovingly part.

David … fell on his face to the ground, and bowed three times — a token of homage to the prince‘s rank; but on a close approach, every other consideration was sunk in the full flow of the purest brotherly affection.

Verse 42

Jonathan said to David, Go in peace — The interview being a stolen one, and every moment precious, it was kindness in Jonathan to hasten his friend‘s departure.


Copyright Statement
These files are a derivative of an electronic edition prepared from text scanned by Woodside Bible Fellowship.
This expanded edition of the Jameison-Faussett-Brown Commentary is in the public domain and may be freely used and distributed.

Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 20:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". 1871-8.

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