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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

1 Samuel 20

 

 

Introduction

C). Jonathan Acts On David’s Behalf In Order To Protect Him From Saul But They Finally Have To Say Farewell (1 Samuel 20:1-42).

In this subsection Jonathan at first refuses to believe David when he claims that Saul is trying to kill him (David) but determines to discover the truth. Meanwhile he renews a firm covenant with David and then attends the New Moon Festival where he discovers that David is right. He goes to Warn David and they say their final farewell.

Analysis.

a David Tells Jonathan That Saul Intends To Kill Him (David). Jonathan Does Not Believe It But Excuses David From Attendance At The New Moon Festival (1 Samuel 20:1-9).

b Jonathan Renews Covenant With David And Declares That He Will Discover His Father’s Intentions (1 Samuel 20:10-24 a).

b Jonathan Discovers Saul’s Intentions At The Moon Festival And Fasts Out Of Grief (1 Samuel 20:24-34).

a Jonathan Confirms To David That He Was Right And They Say Farewell (1 Samuel 20:35-42).

Chapter 20. David Finds Himself At Crisis Point, And Jonathan Is At Last Finally Convinced That His Father Means To Kill David.

It appears from the narrative that although he had now made two major attempts to arrest David, presumably for treason, Saul had gone to some pains to conceal his actions from Jonathan. He knew of his son’s deep friendship with David, and clearly felt that it was better for him not to know anything of what he was doing. Jonathan, who was an open and honest person, was thus in complete ignorance of Saul’s attempts to arrest David, and was satisfied that the agreement that he had made with his father about David’s safety (1 Samuel 19:6) still stood.

Meanwhile David was bewildered as to why Saul was treating him like an enemy. While he would not know the detailed workings of Saul’s mind he was certainly now aware that Saul was seeking to arrest him and that his life was in danger. And he was also equally confident that he had done nothing to deserve it. Indeed because he had at this time no designs on the throne, he was completely baffled by Saul’s behaviour. But he was also astute enough to recognise that the problem appeared to be permanent, something Jonathan could not be convinced of, until in the end he had no option but to be so.

Another problem that David had was that the new moon was approaching, and at this particular new moon all Saul’s courtiers and commanders were required to attend at the palace for the new moon celebrations. This put him in a quandary, for he knew that Saul had the intention of arresting him, which meant that he dared not attend, while on the other hand he knew that not to be present would be tantamount to rebellion and would give good cause for arresting him. It would be looked on as a deliberate insult to the king. So being a man who dealt wisely he sought out Jonathan in order to obtain a legitimate excuse from him for not attending the festival, an excuse which was valid because it was sealed by royal authority, the authority of Jonathan the crown prince. This would mean that he could then avoid attending without insulting the king, as he would basically have had royal permission for his absence.

In this chapter we have described for us Jonathan’s slow recognition that David’s position at court was hopeless, followed by his communication of the fact to David, and then their parting as he bids David ‘God speed’.

Central to the whole passage is the relationship between Jonathan and David. It is a moving account of the brotherly love between two men. But even more importantly, it provides us with the final evidence of David’s integrity, otherwise Jonathan, who was fully up with all political affairs (apart from those to do with David’s proposed demise) would not have stood by him like he did, and would not have made a firm covenant with him. Furthermore there is also here an indication that Jonathan himself recognises that in the end it is David who is bound for the throne, and is quite content that its should be so.


Verses 1-9

David Seeks Out Jonathan (1 Samuel 20:1-9).

While Saul was rendered incapable of doing anything by the working of God’s Spirit on him, David was able to flee from Naioth, and his first action was to take advantage of the fact that Saul was busy elsewhere to seek out Jonathan, presumably in Gibeah. He was genuinely puzzled as to why Saul was behaving in the way that he was because he did not know what he had done wrong. And if anyone would know, surely it would be Jonathan.

Analysis.

a And David fled from Naioth in Ramah, and he came and said before Jonathan, “What have I done? what is my iniquity? and what is my sin before your father, that he seeks my life?” (1 Samuel 20:1).

b And he said to him, “Far from it. You will not die. Look, my father does nothing, either great or small, but that he discloses it to me. And why should my father hide this thing from me? It is not so” (1 Samuel 20:2).

c And David swore moreover, and said, Your father knows well that I have found favour in your eyes, and he says, “Do not let Jonathan know this, lest he be grieved,” but truly as YHWH lives, and as your soul lives, there is but a step between me and death” (1 Samuel 20:3).

d Then Jonathan said to David, “Whatever your soul desires, I will even do it for you” (1 Samuel 20:4).

c And David said to Jonathan, “Look, tomorrow is the new moon, and I should not fail to sit with the king at meat, but let me go, that I may hide myself in the field until the third day in the evening. If your father misses me at all, then say, ‘David earnestly asked leave of me that he might run to Bethlehem his city, for it is the yearly sacrifice there for all the family.’ If he say thus, ‘It is well,’ your servant will have peace, but if he is angry, then know that evil is determined by him” (1 Samuel 20:5-7).

b “Therefore deal kindly with your servant, for you have brought your servant into a covenant of YHWH with you, but if there be in me iniquity, kill me yourself; for why should you bring me to your father?” (1 Samuel 20:8).

a And Jonathan said, “Far be it from you, for if I should at all know that evil were determined by my father to come on you, then would I not inform you?” (1 Samuel 20:9).

Note that in ‘a’ David declares that he is innocent and asks why Saul seeks his life, and in the parallel Jonathan basically declares by his words that his father does not seek his life. In ‘b’ Jonathan declares that Saul has no intention of putting David to death (‘it is not so’), while in the parallel David asks that if Jonathan knows of any evil in him, Jonathan himself will put him to death. In ‘c’ David stresses that that is Saul’s intention (‘there is but a step between me and death’), and in the parallel David asks Jonathan to put the question to the test so as to ascertain whether Saul does intend to put him to death. Central in ‘d’ is Jonathan’s heartfelt assurance that he will do whatever David desires.

1 Samuel 20:1

And David fled from Naioth in Ramah, and he came and said before Jonathan, “What have I done? what is my iniquity? and what is my sin before your father, that he seeks my life?” ’

Strictly ‘and David fled from Naioth in Ramah’ closes off the last passage. It is, however, also a connecting link between the two.

Having ‘fled’ he arrived at Jonathan’s house, and gaining admittance he asked Jonathan man to man what the problem was. He was genuinely concerned. He wanted to know what he had done that made Saul want to have him executed. Note the earnestness expressed by the three fold request, ‘What have I done?’, What is my iniquity?’ ‘What is my sin before your father?’ He was baffled.

1 Samuel 20:2

And he said to him, “Far from it. You will not die. Look, my father does nothing, either great or small, but that he discloses it to me. And why should my father hide this thing from me? It is not so.”

Jonathan, who was seemingly unaware of the attempts made to arrest David, was astounded, and thought that David must have got it wrong. He could not believe that his father could do such a thing without consulting him. Why, did not his father discuss everything with him? Why then should he hide this? Thus his conclusion was that David must be mistaken.

1 Samuel 20:3

And David swore moreover, and said, Your father knows well that I have found favour in your eyes, and he says, “Do not let Jonathan know this, lest he be grieved,” but truly as YHWH lives, and as your soul lives, there is but a step between me and death.” ’

David then asserted strongly to Jonathan (‘David swore’) that the reason why he did not know was because his father knew of the great bond that there was between them, and was thus trying to avoid grieving him. Saul no doubt felt that once David was safely dead he could then explain to Jonathan why it had been necessary. Men in Saul’s state of mind always think that they can justify what they do. David then further pressed Jonathan with the utmost force (‘as YHWH lives and as your soul lives’) to recognise that there could really be no doubt about it, and that in fact his life hung by a thread. He was but one step from death.

1 Samuel 20:4

Then Jonathan said to David, “Whatever your soul desires, I will even do it for you.” ’

Jonathan then assured David that he would do anything that he asked of him. He had only to make his request and it would be granted. This not only revealed his love for David, but also that there was not a shadow of doubt in Jonathan’s heart, that David was innocent.

1 Samuel 20:5-7

And David said to Jonathan, “Look, tomorrow is the new moon, and I should not fail to sit with the king at meat, but let me go, that I may hide myself in the countryside until the third day in the evening. If your father misses me at all, then say, ‘David earnestly asked leave of me that he might run to Bethlehem his city, for it is the yearly sacrifice there for all the family.’ If he say thus, ‘It is well,’ your servant will have peace, but if he is angry, then know that evil is determined by him.”

David then explained to him his dilemma. On the morrow it was the new moon festival. The new moon festival was a time for offering burnt offerings and sacrifices (and for partaking of some of them) and for the blowing of ram’s horns (Numbers 28:11-15; Numbers 10:10). It was a time of celebration of YHWH’s goodness, and was a special sabbath (Psalms 81:3). It was also seemingly a time for the most important men in the kingdom to express their loyalty to the king by their presence, although in this case it might be that it was a special new moon, such as one when it occurred on the day following the Sabbath, or at the new year. At that festival all courtiers and commanders were seemingly expected to attend, and not to do so without reasonable excuse would therefore be seen an insult to the king and to YHWH. What David certainly did not want to do at this stage was cause an irrevocable break if it was not necessary. He was no doubt still hoping that what Saul was doing was simply a phase of his illness and would pass.

In the affairs of kingdoms such situations often arise when men with whom the king is displeased find themselves in a position where tradition demands that they present themselves before him on some important occasion. Sometimes they simply solve the problem by means of the power of the forces that accompany them. At others they have to find reasonable grounds for exempting themselves.

David chose the latter course. What he required from Jonathan, therefore, was his royal authority to absent himself from the meal in order that he might attend at his family’s yearly sacrifice. Then if Saul asked why he was not there, Jonathan could explain, and there would be no insult because it would be an important family occasion, and he would have received royal permission to be absent, and what was more he would be attending a like festival in praise of YHWH. Thus he would not be failing in his religious duty.

Furthermore his thought was that Jonathan would then be able to discern from his father’s reaction what his intentions had been. If Saul was quite content with the idea of his absence and was calm about it, it would indicate that he had responded to what had happened to him at Naioth and was now reconciled in his heart towards David. On the other hand, if he was angry it would indicate that he still had designs on David’s life, for it would demonstrate that he had been planning to move against David at the feast. Meanwhile David would hide himself in the countryside for three days and await results. ‘Hide in the countryside’ may well have been intended to include attendance at Bethlehem for the family sacrifice, for Bethlehem was away from the centres of activity and could be said to be ‘in the countryside’. It did not mean that David’s excuse was a lie. Indeed such a lie would have been foolish, for it would have been uncovered later.

We should not underrate the importance of the new moon in Israel, and indeed in the ancient world. The new moon was the means by which time was determined. It determined when the ‘months’ of the year began and ended. Its arrival was therefore carefully observed. And it may well be that this particular new moon was that which commenced the seventh month, and therefore of special importance (Leviticus 23:24). The two day feast may well have been simply in order to ensure that in case there was an error in determining when the new moon took place the correct day was always celebrated.

1 Samuel 20:8

Therefore act in covenant love (chesed) with your servant, for you have brought your servant into a covenant of YHWH with you, but if there be in me iniquity, kill me yourself; for why should you bring me to your father?”

David then deliberately submitted himself to royal authority. He called on Jonathan, who has brought him into covenant with him, to act with covenant love towards him by being his judge in this case,. By this he emphasised the distinction in their positions. He acknowledged that he was in service to the royal household, and especially to Jonathan because Jonathan had entered into a solemn covenant of YHWH with him. Thus if he knew of any just cause against David let him act in accordance with their covenant and arrange for his execution. He was prepared to submit himself to Jonathan’s judgment, and die at Jonathan’s hands. If he really was guilty then it was unnecessary for Saul to be involved, for as the firstborn son of the royal household Jonathan had an equal right and responsibility to act as his judge. Let Jonathan then make his own decision about it. By citing this the writer is making David’s innocence absolutely clear. (It was not David’s fault what future YHWH had in store for him. All he could do was not make any move that suggested that he was aiming at the throne).

1 Samuel 20:9

And Jonathan said, “Far be it from you, for if I should at all know that evil were determined by my father to come on you, then would I not inform you?” ’

Jonathan dismissed the idea that David could be guilty. He was quite well aware that David was totally innocent. On the contrary, he made it clear that far from than wanting to pass judgment on David, if he had known of any evil determined against him by Saul he would have informed him of it.


Verses 10-23

Jonathan Explains His Plan For Letting David Know What The Situation Is, And Renews Their Firm Covenant (1 Samuel 20:10-24 a).

In response to David’s request Jonathan now outlined his plan for keeping David informed of whatever decision Saul showed himself to have come to, and at the same time renewed and expanded his covenant with David. He was now aware in his heart that the throne was not for him, and that YHWH eventually intended that David would sit on the throne of Israel. Indeed we have to consider it a good possibility that David had confided to him what Samuel had done in anointing him at Bethlehem. And Jonathan was seemingly quite satisfied with the situation. Unlike his father he had no overweening ambition.

Analysis.

a Then said David to Jonathan, “Who will tell me if perhaps your father answers you roughly?” And Jonathan said to David, “Come, and let us go out into the countryside. And they both went out to the countryside” (1 Samuel 20:10-11).

b And Jonathan said to David, “YHWH, the God of Israel, be witness. When I have sounded out my father about this time tomorrow, or the third day, behold, if there be good toward David, will I not then send to you, and disclose it to you? YHWH do so to Jonathan, and more also, should it please my father to do you evil, if I do not disclose it to you, and send you away, that you may go in peace. And YHWH be with you, as he has been with my father” (1 Samuel 20:12-13).

c “And you shall not only, while yet I live, show me the lovingkindness of YHWH, that I die not, but also you shall not cut off your kindness from my house for ever, no, not when YHWH has cut off the enemies of David every one from the face of the earth” (1 Samuel 20:14).

d So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “And YHWH will require it at the hand of David’s enemies” (1 Samuel 20:16).

c And Jonathan made David swear again, for the love that he had to him, for he loved him as he loved his own soul (1 Samuel 20:17).

b Then Jonathan said to him, “Tomorrow is the new moon, and you will be missed, because your seat will be empty. And when you have stayed three days, you shall go down quickly, and come to the place where you hid yourself when the business was in hand, and shall remain by the stone Ezel. And I will shoot three arrows on its side, as though I shot at a mark. And, see, I will send the lad, saying, ‘Go, find the arrows.’ If I say to the lad, ‘Look, the arrows are on this side of you, take them, and come, for there is peace to you and no hurt, as YHWH lives. But if I say thus to the boy, ‘Look, the arrows are beyond you’, go your way, for YHWH has sent you away. And as touching the matter which you and I have spoken of, behold, YHWH is between you and me for ever” (1 Samuel 20:18-23).

a So David hid himself in the countryside (1 Samuel 20:24 a).

Note than in ‘a’ they go out into the countryside, and in the parallel David hides himself in the countryside. In ‘b’ Jonathan speaks of the two day feast that is coming, and promises to connect with David on the third day in order to reveal the result of his testing out of Saul, and ends with a request that YHWH be with David as He has been with his father, and in the parallel he refers to the feast and to the three days, and explains how he will convey the information in such a way that no one will be suspicious, and ends with a request that YHWH will YHWH will be between them both for ever. In ‘c’ Jonathan asks that David will show him the lovingkindness of YHWH and will make a covenant with him, and in the parallel he makes David swear to that covenant again and it is because of his true love for David. Central in ‘d’ is the solemn nature of that covenant.

1 Samuel 20:10

Then David said to Jonathan, “Who will tell me if perhaps your father answers you roughly?”

David now raised the question as to how, if Saul’s verdict went against him, he was to obtain the information. Clearly he could not approach Jonathan openly because too many people would know about it, and it would be dangerous. And in view of what Saul knew about their friendship it was always likely that Jonathan’s movements would be watched. Who then would come and give him the information?

1 Samuel 20:11

And Jonathan said to David, “Come, and let us go out into the countryside.” And they both went out to the countryside.’

Jonathan then suggested that they leave the town and go out into the countryside. He was concerned that nothing that they discussed might be overheard. And once there he would show David what he intended to do. So that is what they both did.

1 Samuel 20:12

And Jonathan said to David, YHWH, the God of Israel, be witness. When I have sounded out my father about this time tomorrow, or the third day, behold, if there be good toward David, will I not then send to you, and disclose it to you?” ’

Once they were in the countryside Jonathan called on YHWH to witness the absolute certainty of what he was saying, and he confirmed that if Saul’s disposition turned out to be good he would immediately tell him of it.

1 Samuel 20:13

YHWH do so to Jonathan, and more also, should it please my father to do you evil, if I do not disclose it to you, and send you away, that you may go in peace. And YHWH be with you, as he has been with my father.”

On the other hand if he discerned that his father planned evil towards David, then he affirmed equally strongly that he would disclose it to David and send him away that he might go in peace. Then he added words which were very significant. It would seem clear from this that he recognised that David was destined for higher things, for he adds, ‘YHWH be with you, as he has been with my father.’ There is the underlying thought here that David was following in Saul’s footsteps and would one day be king. It seems that Jonathan did not have any particular desire to be king, and did not consider himself kingship material (although he would have made a better king than most). He was quite happy that his comrade-in-arms be king in his place.

1 Samuel 20:14-15

And you shall not only, while yet I live, show me the lovingkindness of YHWH, that I die not, but also you shall not cut off your kindness from my house for ever, no, not when YHWH has cut off the enemies of David every one from the face of the earth.”

One thing only he asked, and that was that, once YHWH had once for all removed all David’s enemies, David would himself show to him the lovingkindness of YHWH and guarantee his life (it was quite normal for men who took over a kingship to kill off all the close relatives of the previous king, especially the heir apparent), and also that he would guarantee that mercy for all who were descended from, or close relations of, Jonathan.

1 Samuel 20:16

So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “And YHWH will require it at the hand of David’s enemies.” ’

In this way Jonathan made a covenant with ‘the house of David’, and backed it up with a curse, namely that if David proved unfaithful to it then YHWH would require it of him by giving David’s enemies victory over him.

1 Samuel 20:17

And Jonathan made David swear again, for the love that he had to him, for he loved him as he loved his own soul.’

Thus did the heir apparent to the throne of Israel willingly yield his throne to David by covenant, because of the great love that he had for him, requiring only that he in return Jonathan honour himself and his descendants. It is apparent from this that Jonathan now recognised the seriousness of the situation and realised that they must soon part.

1 Samuel 20:18

Then Jonathan said to him, “Tomorrow is the new moon, and you will be missed, because your seat will be empty.”

Having confirmed the covenant between them Jonathan now went into the details of what was to happen in the next three days. Again we have it confirmed that David would be expected to take his place at the coming new moon celebration. And he would be missed, because his seat would be empty. Precedents as to who sat where were clearly firmly set at such festivals, and David, as the king’s son-in-law, would have a place set near the king.

1 Samuel 20:19-22

And when you have stayed three days, you shall go down quickly, and come to the place where you hid yourself when the business was in hand, and shall remain by the stone Ezel. And I will shoot three arrows on its side, as though I shot at a mark. And, see, I will send the lad, saying, ‘Go, find the arrows.’ If I say to the lad, ‘Look, the arrows are on this side of you, take them, and come, for there is peace to you and no hurt, as YHWH lives. But if I say thus to the boy, ‘Look, the arrows are beyond you’, go your way, for YHWH has sent you away.”

Jonathan then explained what David was to do in order to receive his prearranged signal. He was to come to the place where he had hidden himself when ‘the business was in hand’ (possibly the incident in 1 Samuel 19:1-7), and take up his place by the stone Ezel. And then he, Jonathan, would come there with a lad to practise archery. This would allay any suspicion that Jonathan had come out on some secret assignment. On arrival there he would shoot three arrows at the side of the stone, as though shooting at a mark. Then he would send the lad to find the arrows, and if he called out ‘the arrows are on this side’ David could take that as a signal that all was well and that he was in no danger. But if he yelled, ‘Look, the arrows are beyond you’ then that would be a signal for David to flee for his life. It would indicate that there was danger and that YHWH had thus sent him away. Note the regular assumption, common in the former prophets (Joshua-Kings), that whatever happened was due to the activity of YHWH.

“The stone Ezel.” This means literally, ‘the stone of departure’. Out of sentimentality Jonathan may well have chosen to pass on his message at this stone for that very reason. The name presumably commemorated some well known ‘departure’ in the past. Others, however, consider that it was named Ezel because of this incident.

The shooting of arrows symbolically may well have had an important and recognised significance in Israel, possibly signifying the certainty of final triumph, or as an indication of certain judgment on the enemy (Deuteronomy 32:23). We can compare how Elisha arranged for Joash to shoot an arrow as an acted out prophecy of coming victory for him and coming judgment on his enemies (2 Kings 13:14-19). Thus in this case arrows that went their full length indicated judgment determined on David, whereas arrows that fell short indicated that judgment like that would not reach David.

1 Samuel 20:23

And as touching the matter which you and I have spoken of, behold, YHWH is between you and me for ever.”

Jonathan then completed his words with a further reminder of the covenant and bond between himself and David. They were each to remember that they were bound to each other by YHWH.

1 Samuel 20:24

So David hid himself in the countryside.’

This does not necessarily mean that he did not attend at his family’s celebrations in Bethlehem. It may simply indicate that he kept out of the way of the large cities, and especially of Gibeah, thus remaining out of public view. He would know that he was safe while the feast at Gibeah was in progress. Or it may simply be indicating what he did after he had been to Bethlehem and the sacrifices were over.


Verses 24-34

Jonathan And Saul Fall Out Over David At The New Moon Festival (20:24b-34).

Every ‘day of the new moon’, which indicated the commencement of another ‘month’, and thus regulated the seasons and the days of the religious feasts, was treated specially, with the offering of offerings and sacrifices and the blowing of ram’s horns. And some new moon days would be even more special, such as those that fell on a Sabbath, or the day following the Sabbath, those that began the New Year, and those on which there were other special festivals. Thus this special gathering may not have occurred on every ‘day of the new moon’. But it is clear that on this particular day attendance was certainly expected by all courtiers and commanders, and places were set for those who should attend.

It was apparently a two day feast. This may have been so that if an error had been made about the correct date of the new moon it would ensure that the day was still properly celebrated by observing it on the next day (This certainly happened in later centuries). On the first day of the feast Saul was able to excuse David’s absence (he was probably not the only one absent) on the grounds of some temporary ceremonial ‘uncleanness’ which kept him at home ‘until the evening’. But when he was not present on the second day it necessarily raised the question as to why he was not there. And when Jonathan admitted that he had given David permission to go to his family in Bethlehem to feast at the family sacrifices Saul was furious. The result was that he berated Jonathan severely and in the end threw his spear at him, and the final consequence was that Jonathan realised that David had been right after all.

Analysis.

a And when the new moon was come, the king sat himself down to eat food. And the king sat on his seat, as at other times, even on the seat by the wall, and Jonathan stood up (arose), and Abner sat by Saul’s side, but David’s place was empty (1 Samuel 20:24-25).

b Nevertheless Saul did not say anything that day, for he thought, “Something has befallen him, he is not clean, surely he is not clean” (1 Samuel 20:26).

c And it came about that on the next day after the new moon, which was the second day, that David’s place was empty, and Saul said to Jonathan his son, “Why does not the son of Jesse come to the meal, neither yesterday, nor today?” (1 Samuel 20:27).

d And Jonathan answered Saul, “David earnestly asked leave of me to go to Bethlehem, and he said, ‘Let me go, I pray you, for our family has a sacrifice in the city, and my brother, he has commanded me to be there, and now, if I have found favour in your eyes, let me get away, I pray you, and see my brothers.’ That is why he is not come to the king’s table” (1 Samuel 20:28).

c Then Saul’s anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said to him, “You son of a perverse rebellious woman, do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness? For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the ground, you will not be established, nor your kingdom. Wherefore now send and fetch him to me, for he shall surely die” (1 Samuel 20:30-31).

b And Jonathan answered Saul his father, and said to him, “For what reason should he be put to death? What has he done?” And Saul cast his spear at him to smite him, by which means Jonathan knew that it was determined by his father to put David to death (1 Samuel 20:32-33).

a So Jonathan arose from the table in fierce anger, and ate no food the second day of the month, for he was grieved for David, because his father had behaved shamefully towards him (literally ‘had done him shame’) (1 Samuel 20:34).

Note first the inclusio in that in 1 Samuel 20:25 we find ‘and Jonathan arose’ and in verse 34 we again have ‘and Jonathan arose’, which forms a parallel between the two verses. In ‘b’ Saul is disturbed over David’s absence because he intends ill towards him and has been thwarted, and in the parallel he hurls his spear at Jonathan for the same reason. In ‘c’ he asks Jonathan why David has not come to the feast and in the parallel he commands Jonathan in anger to go and fetch David to the feast. Central in ‘d’ is given the reason why David has not come to the king’s table.

1 Samuel 20:24-25 (24b-25. e-Sword Note: For commentary on 1 Samuel 20:24 a, see the end of the commentary for 1 Samuel 20:23).

‘And when the new moon was come, the king sat himself down to eat food. And the king sat on his seat, as at other times, even on the seat by the wall, and Jonathan stood up, and Abner sat by Saul’s side, but David’s place was empty.’

When the day of the new moon came (commencing at twilight) the king sat down to eat. The seat by the wall would be the central seat reserved for the king, with his back to the wall and probably facing the entranceway. The mention of Jonathan ‘arising’ forms an inclusio with 1 Samuel 20:34. There are a number of possibilities as to its significance:

1). That Jonathan arose in order to demonstrate courtesy towards Abner, and in order to welcome him.

2). That Jonathan arose in order to give way to Abner, possibly because he was unhappy with what he saw in his father’s behaviour and wanted an excuse not to sit by him.

3). That Saul asked Jonathan to give way for Abner because he wanted to discuss with Abner plans for David’s arrest as soon as he arrived.

4). That we translate, ‘and Jonathan arose and sat down, and Abner (also sat down), by Saul’s side’. This would tie in with 1).

In deciding which option to take we might feel that we would expect Jonathan to sit at Saul’s right, and Abner, as commander-in-chief, at his left. This would favour 1). and 4). On the other hand the fact that Saul later hurled his spear at Jonathan does suggest that Jonathan had moved seats (although, of course, the spear hurling occurred on the second day which points to a more permanent change of seats, something which may well have annoyed Saul). This would favour 2). and 3).

The mention of the fact that David’s place was empty heightens the tension and prepares us for what is coming.

1 Samuel 20:26

Nevertheless Saul did not say anything that day, for he thought, “Something has befallen him, he is not clean, surely he is not clean.” ’

But Saul’s reaction to the fact that David’s place was empty was at first simply that because (no doubt like some others) David was ritually ‘unclean’ he had been unable to attend. The ritual uncleanness would last until the evening. Such ritual uncleanness could arise through a variety of reasons, and would be quite common.

1 Samuel 20:27

And it came about that on the next day after the new moon, which was the second day, that David’s place was empty, and Saul said to Jonathan his son, “Why does not the son of Jesse come to the meal, neither yesterday, nor today?” ’

However, when David’s place was still empty on the second day Saul turned to Jonathan and asked him if he could explain David’s absence on both days. Note Saul’s contempt for David, referring to him simply as ‘the son of Jesse’ (compare Isaiah 7:4-5 of ‘the son of Remaliah’).

1 Samuel 20:28

And Jonathan answered Saul, “David earnestly asked leave of me to go to Bethlehem, and he said, ‘Let me go, I pray you, for our family has a sacrifice in the city, and my brother, he has commanded me to be there, and now, if I have found favour in your eyes, let me get away, I pray you, and see my brothers.’ That is why he is not come to the king’s table.”

Jonathan then gave the explanation that David and he had agreed on. He informed Saul that David had sought his royal permission to absent himself from the new moon celebration because he had been required by his elder brother to go to the family sacrifice in Bethlehem, and wanted to go and see his brothers, and Jonathan had agreed to it. That was why David was not at the king’s table. There may well have been that about Jonathan’s attitude (compare how he had moved seats) which made clear to Saul his disapproval of what he saw that Saul was now planning, and even if not such a disapproval may well have been read in by a paranoid Saul.

New moon celebrations would, of course, have been going on all around the country. However, Saul would no doubt have considered that his own requirement for David’s presence, even if not openly expressed, should take precedence over any requirement coming from David’s elder brother. (The fact that it came from David’s elder brother suggests that Jesse, David’s father, was quite ill. We know from 22:3 that he was still alive). It is clear why he saw the excuse for what it was, an attempt to forestall him. With his suspicious mind he would not realise that it was not until the events at the actual meal that Jonathan had become suspicious of his intentions, and that that was why he had moved seats. He would think that Jonathan had known about his plans beforehand.

1 Samuel 20:30-31

Then Saul’s anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said to him, “You son of a perverse rebellious woman, do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness? For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the ground, you will not be established, nor your kingship. Wherefore now send and fetch him to me, for he shall surely die.” ’

As a result of Jonathan’s words Saul was so filled with rage that he turned on his son. To insult a man’s mother in front of him was to have the intention of paying him the greatest insult possible, but the words were intended to describe Jonathan (as being what his mother was), not his mother. He was describing him as going against nature and as rebelling against him. In a sense, of course, both were true. He was supporting David against his father’s perverseness, and he was going against Saul’s will. But he was doing it because he wanted to do what was right. And taking up such a position often means being seen as perverse and rebellious by a sinful world.

Furthermore Saul emphasised that he was bringing shame on himself by favouring David, and shame on his mother’s sufferings when she bore him. And in Saul’s eyes the reason that he was doing this was because by his actions he was risking losing the kingship. For to Saul keeping hold of the kingship was everything. Thus if losing the kingship would really have been a disgrace and a shame then Saul was right. But he only felt like that because he had become obsessed with his kingship. To him nothing else mattered. What he was determined to do was show Samuel that he was wrong, and that he could hold on to his kingship both for himself and his family. He was overlooking the fact that it was he who had caused Jonathan to lose the kingship by his own disobedience to YHWH (1 Samuel 13:13-14). To Jonathan, on the other hand, there was no shame in what he was doing, for he was doing it for the right reason, and that was because he considered that David would make the better king. Thus far from bringing shame on his mother he was ennobling her, because he was demonstrating that she had brought him up with the right values. Saul, however, in his obsession with kingship, could not see that.

It was true, of course, that as long as David lived Jonathan would not be established in his kingship, but Jonathan recognised that that was because David was the chosen of YHWH, not because of any lack in himself. And Jonathan had been big enough a man to recognise the fact and accept it. To Saul, however, with his obsession with the kingship, no disaster could have been greater. And so he demanded that Jonathan bring David to him that he might die.

1 Samuel 20:32

And Jonathan answered Saul his father, and said to him, “For what reason should he be put to death? What has he done?” ’

It was Jonathan who was keeping his cool, and he therefore replied by asking why a man who had done nothing wrong should be put to death. If his father wanted David to be executed, let him now justify it.

1 Samuel 20:33

And Saul cast his spear at him to smite him, by which means Jonathan knew that it was determined by his father to put David to death.’

This reply, to which he had no genuine answer, took Saul’s fury beyond bounds, and raising the ceremonial javelin that he carried as an emblem of his kingship, he hurled it at his son. As we have seen, Saul, as a result of his illness, which kept on interfering with his rational thinking, had got into the habit of expressing his fury precisely in this way when he was over-excited (1 Samuel 18:11; 1 Samuel 19:10), and he had, in fact, no doubt done it to a number of people when they had annoyed him when he was in one of his bad periods. It was not a genuine attempt to kill them, except perhaps in 1 Samuel 19:10, but it did put the person in danger nonetheless. Rather it meant that they had to be sharp in their reactions, which would be expected of courtiers in a military court. And as a result of Saul’s response, Jonathan, who normally had a close relationship with his father, knew, both from this act, and from Saul’s words, that it really did mean that Saul was determined to kill David. Now he could be in no doubt about it. It was clear that his father had gone beyond all reasoning.

Some have questioned whether Saul would have thrown his javelin at his own son, but people who have Saul’s illness do tend to see enemies, especially, when they displease them, in those closest to them, especially when they seem to be acting against what they think is in their best interests. Thus in that moment he saw Jonathan as the one who was trying to thwart him and demonstrated what he thought by his action. For those who have experience of people with such an illness this would come as no surprise at all.

1 Samuel 20:34

So Jonathan arose from the table in fierce anger, and ate no food the second day of the month, for he was grieved for David, because his father had behaved shamefully towards him (literally ‘had done him shame’).’

The recognition of his father’s attitude filled him with anger, and as we have seen he was not a man to be easily angered. Rising from the table he refused any food, seeking to demonstrate by that fact that in his view there was at present nothing to be thankful about. He was expressing as openly as he dared his displeasure at what Saul was doing. For he was grieved for David, and for the shameful way in which Saul was behaving towards him.

We note from all this the writer’s intention, both to emphasise David’s innocence, and to emphasise the fact that YHWH had destined him for the kingship. Although it was not yet openly known, he wanted his readers to know continually that David was the Lord’s Anointed and was now the one on whom was the Spirit of YHWH.


Verses 35-42

Jonathan Bids Farewell To David (1 Samuel 20:35-42).

Recognising that there was now no alternative open to them Jonathan made his way to his rendezvous with David at the time appointed, taking with him his bow and arrows, and a young lad as his servant, in order to give the impression that he was simply going out for some target practise. And there he bade farewell to David, with a reminder of the covenant that was between them. It was the last time they would meet face to face.

Analysis.

a And it came about that in the morning Jonathan went out into the countryside at the time appointed with David, and a little lad with him (1 Samuel 20:35).

b And he said to his lad, “Run, find now the arrows which I shoot.” And as the lad ran, he shot an arrow beyond him. And when the lad was come to the place of the arrow which Jonathan had shot, Jonathan cried after the lad, and said, “Is not the arrow beyond you?” (1 Samuel 20:36-37).

c And Jonathan cried after the lad, “Make speed, hurry, do not stop.” And Jonathan’s lad gathered up the arrows, and came to his master (1 Samuel 20:38).

d But the lad did not know anything. Only Jonathan and David knew the matter (1 Samuel 20:39).

c And Jonathan gave his weapons to his lad, and said to him, “Go, carry them to the city.” And as soon as the lad was gone, David arose out of a place toward the South, and fell on his face to the ground, and bowed himself three times, and they kissed one another, and wept one with another, until David exceeded (wept the more profusely) (1 Samuel 20:40-41).

b And Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, forasmuch as we have sworn both of us in the name of YHWH, saying, “YHWH shall be between me and you, and between my seed and your seed, for ever” (1 Samuel 20:42 a).

a And he arose and departed, and Jonathan went into the city (1 Samuel 20:42 b).

Note that in ‘a’ Jonathan went into the countryside, and in the parallel he returned to the city. In ‘b’ Jonathan indicates firmly by his arrows that David is to depart, and in the parallel he tells him to go in peace. In ‘c’ the lad gathers up the arrows and comes to his master, and in the parallel he takes his weapons into the city. Centrally in ‘d’ the lad knows nothing about the matter. Only Jonathan and David knew.

1 Samuel 20:35

And it came about that in the morning Jonathan went out into the countryside at the time appointed with David, and a little lad with him.’

At the time which Jonathan had appointed for his rendezvous with David he went out into the countryside. He took with him his bow and arrows, and a servant lad to gather up the arrows. He was seeking to give the impression that he was going out for target practise so that no one would suspect his real motive.

1 Samuel 20:36

And he said to his lad, “Run, find now the arrows which I shoot.” And as the lad ran, he shot an arrow beyond him.’

Once he had reached the spot near the rock Ezel (1 Samuel 20:19) he called on the servant lad to collect the arrows once he had fired them. And as the servant lad ran into position he shot an arrow beyond him. This was in order to indicate to David that he should flee for his life.

1 Samuel 20:37

And when the lad was come to the place of the arrow which Jonathan had shot, Jonathan cried after the lad, and said, “Is not the arrow beyond you?” ’

When the land reached the spot where the arrow had fallen Jonathan called out, “Is not the arrow beyond you?” He wanted to ensure that David had got the message.

1 Samuel 20:38

And Jonathan cried after the lad, “Make speed, hurry, do not stop.” And Jonathan’s lad gathered up the arrows, and came to his master.’

Then he called again to the lad, “Make speed, hurry, do not stop.” But really his words were for David. Meanwhile the unsuspecting lad gathered up the arrows, possibly feeling that his master was a bit out of sorts on this particular day.

1 Samuel 20:39

But the lad did not know anything. Only Jonathan and David knew the matter.’

The writer then emphasises that the lad knew nothing, and that only Jonathan and David knew, for what Jonathan was doing could have been interpreted as treason.

1 Samuel 20:40

And Jonathan gave his weapons to his lad, and said to him, “Go, carry them to the city.” ’

Satisfied that he had not been followed Jonathan then decided that he would say a proper ‘goodbye’ to David, and giving his bow and arrows to the servant he told him to take them into the city.

1 Samuel 20:41

And as soon as the lad was gone, David arose out of a place toward the South, and fell on his face to the ground, and bowed himself three times, and they kissed one another, and wept one with another, until David exceeded (wept the more profusely).’

Then as soon as the lad had gone, David came out from his hiding place and expressed his love and respect for Jonathan by falling on his face to the ground and bowing three times. Strictly speaking he would have knelt down and bowed his head to the ground three times, a typical oriental greeting to a superior. It should be noted that David never took advantage of their friendship in such a way as to dishonour Jonathan. Then they kissed one another in a comradely way, and both wept. And David wept the most profusely. It was after all he who was leaving, never to return while Jonathan was alive..

1 Samuel 20:42 a

‘And Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, forasmuch as we have sworn both of us in the name of YHWH, saying, “YHWH shall be between me and you, and between my seed and your seed, for ever.”

Then Jonathan said his farewell. ‘Go in peace’ was a typical Israelite farewell. But poignancy was added to it by reminding David that there was peace between them because of the covenant that they had with each other, a peace made sure because they had sworn to each other in the name of YHWH. And he called to mind their compact of permanent friendship, not only between them, but between those who would follow them. David would fulfil his part in this when he slew the murderers of Ishbosheth (2 Samuel 4:6-12) and took Mephibosheth under his wing (2 Samuel 9:7-8).

1 Samuel 20:42 b

‘And he arose and departed, and Jonathan went into the city.’

Their farewells tearfully ended David arose and departed, from that time on an outlaw through no fault of his own, and Jonathan returned to the city. They would meet once more after this occasion, when Jonathan sought David out to assure him of his continued support (1 Samuel 23:15-18).

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 20:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/1-samuel-20.html. 2013.

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