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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries

1 Samuel 26



Verses 1-25




1 Samuel 26:1

The Ziphites came unto Saul. There are so many points of similarity between this narrative and that contained in 1 Samuel 23:19-24; 1 Samuel 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—

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 1 Samuel 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 (1 Samuel 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 On the previous occasion Saul had withdrawn from his men, but here he lies in his camp surrounded by them, when David, accompanied only by Abishai, undertakes this bold enterprise, which was entirely in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 (1 Samuel 22:18, 1 Samuel 22:19). 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 1 Samuel 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.

1 Samuel 26:2-4

Three thousand chosen men. Not chosen for this expedition, but the force which Saul always kept under arms (1 Samuel 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 1 Samuel 26:6 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 1 Samuel 23:23).

1 Samuel 26:5

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 reconnoitre 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 centre, with Abner near him, while the rest would lie sleeping around, but all of them within the rampart. When David reconnoitred them they would probably be arranging their wagons to form this barricade.

1 Samuel 26:6

Ahimelech the Hittite. Though a portion of this once powerful people (Genesis 15:20; 1:26) was reduced to the position of bondmen (1 Kings 9:20), yet others had retained their independence, and their kings even are spoken of (ibid. 10:29; 2 Kings 7:6). As Ahimelech is mentioned before Abishai, he must have held an honourable place with. David, as did subsequently another Hittite, Uriah (2 Samuel 11:3). Abishai the son of Zeruiah. Zeruiah is described in 1 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 (2 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 (1 Chronicles 11:6, 1 Chronicles 11:20, 1 Chronicles 11:26), 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.

1 Samuel 26:7, 1 Samuel 26:8

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 1 Samuel 26:5, and his spear, the sign of his royal authority, stuck in the ground; not at his bolster, but "at his head; and so in 1 Samuel 26:11, 1 Samuel 26:12, 1 Samuel 26:16. The word literally signifies "the place where the head is." Like David's men in 1 Samuel 24:4, Abishai sees in Saul's defenceless 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 A.V. 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 outcry.

1 Samuel 26:9-11

David forbids the deed as before (1 Samuel 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 (2 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 honourably, not by the hand of a subject, but in battle with Israel's enemies. Jehovah forbid. The same phrase as in 1 Samuel 24:6. Cruse of water. i.e. water bottle, as in 1 Kings 19:6.

1 Samuel 26:12

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 centre of a considerable army, and remove the king's sceptre and water bottle from his side, could only be accounted for by the interference of Providence in their behalf.

1 Samuel 26:13-16

The top of a hill. Hebrew, "the top of the hill," the particular mountain from which David had reconnoitred Saul's camp (1 Samuel 26:5). 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. No special valour 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 1 Samuel 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.

1 Samuel 26:17-19

Is this thy voice? So 1 Samuel 24:16. In the darkness the only way of recognising 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 1 Samuel 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 (1 Samuel 24:4, 1 Samuel 24:6). 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" (2 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 mowng of David's mind by Jehovah to number Israel (2 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 odour 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 (Psalms 42:2; Psalms 63:2; Psalms 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.

1 Samuel 26:20

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 1 Samuel 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 1 Samuel 23:19).

1 Samuel 26:21

I have sinned. Saul's answer here is very different from that in 1 Samuel 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.

1 Samuel 26:22-24

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. 1 Samuel 26:24 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.

1 Samuel 26:25

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 1 Samuel 24:20, 1 Samuel 24:21, where Saul expressed his conviction that David Would be king, and intrusted his family to his care. The poverty of sentiment here, and the mere vexation expressed in 1 Samuel 24:21, 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 verse. 21 was the most evanescent of good purposes, while the king went back to his place, his home at Gibeah.


1 Samuel 26:1-12

The moral use of Biblical difficulties.

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 1 Samuel 23:19-26; 1 Samuel 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—

I. THE MORAL USE OF BIBLICAL DIFFICULTIES. The difficulty 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:—

1. 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 1:1-31 and Genesis 2:1-25, 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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 noonday.

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.

II. THE SPECIAL TRUTH EMBODIED IN THE FACTS WHICH CONSTITUTE THE DIFFICULTY OF THIS SECTION. The object of 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 1 Samuel 24:1-8, and 1 Samuel 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 trims of the persecuted Church suggested the expediency of rising in armed endeavour 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.

General lessons:—

1. A reverent spirit will prove a good solvent of many Biblical difficulties, and will extract many lessons from them.

2. Where there is not concern for spiritual life the verbal and historical difficulties of the Bible will not assume great importance.

3. It is a matter of gratitude that the way of life is clear to the most unlettered of men (Isaiah 35:8).

4. While we are waiting and doing our best as God's servants, his providence is quietly at work to realise the purpose of our life.

5. In dealing with men who urge expediency, it is safe to appeal to God's word and his unceasing government of men.

6. No man ever regretted fidelity to principle; many have mourned over the bitter fruits of expediency.

1 Samuel 26:13-25

Afflictions and righteousness.

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 recognising 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:—

I. That IT IS CONSISTENT WITH SUBMISSION TO THE WILL OF GOD TO ENDEAVOUR TO REMOVE THE HUMAN CAUSES OF 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 (1 Samuel 26:19), 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.

II. That THERE IS A DOUBLE BASIS OF APPEAL TO MEN BENT 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 recognise 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 labour on in confidence as long as they present the truth of God in an earnest and prayerful spirit.

III. That THE DEFECTIVE MORAL CONDITION OF WEAK MINDS LAYS THEM OLDEN TO THE PERNICIOUS CONTROL OF BASE 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 for 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.

IV. That a RECOGNITION OF RIGHT AND WRONG IN CONDUCT MAY BE PERFECTLY SINCERE, BUT DESTITUTE OF GOVERNING POWER OVER THE LIFE. Under the appeal to 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.

V. That THE PAIN OF SEPARATION FROM THE PRIVILEGES OF WORSHIP IS ONE OF THE SEVEREST TRIALS OF GODLY MEN. 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 (Psalms 41:1-4). 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.

VI. That INTEGRITY OF CONDUCT IS A CONDITION OF RECEIVING GOD'S BLESSING, AND MAY WITH ALL HUMILITY 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.

VII. That MEN WHOSE LIVES ARE CONSCIOUSLY WRONG AND UNSATISFACTORY INWARDLY RECOGNISE THE SUPERIORITY OF THOSE THEY OPPOSE, and discern the signs of coming success. Saul felt David to be the nobler man, and under the transitory influence of truth he openly avowed what was always felt (verse 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 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 success.


1 Samuel 26:1-12. (THE HILL OF HACHILAH.)

The man worthy of the sceptre.

"And David took the spear and the cruse of water from Saul's bolster" (1 Samuel 26:12).

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" (1 Samuel 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 (1 Samuel 23:19), he started in pursuit with his 3000 men (1 Samuel 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 (1 Samuel 26:18). 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 (1 Samuel 26:16); 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 sceptre (an emblem of royal authority—Genesis 49:10; Numbers 24:17; Psalms 45:6) and his cruse of water (a necessary sustenance of life—1 Samuel 25:11), but only to restore them into his hand (1 Samuel 26:22).

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 sceptre, 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 1 Samuel 13:14) by—

I. PRE-EMINENT ABILITY (1 Samuel 26:4-7). 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.—

1. Sagacity, skill (Psalms 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.

2. Vigilance. His experiences in the desert had taught him to be ever on the alert, and he watched while others slept (1 Samuel 26:4, 1 Samuel 26:16).

3. Courage. "Who will go down with me to Saul to the camp?" (1 Samuel 26:6). Even the brave Hittite dared not accept the challenge, and only Abishai (afterwards David's pre-server—2 Samuel 21:17) would accompany him. They went fearlessly (like Jonathan and his armour bearer) right into the midst of danger.

4. 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, Psalms 18:29, Psalms 18:33, 81).

II. LOWLY REVERENCE, submission, and obedience. "The Lord forbid that I should stretch forth mine hand against the Lord's anointed" (1 Samuel 26:11; 1 Samuel 24:6). There was in David (as there should be in others)—

1. 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.

2. Profound respect for every authority ordained by God. Saul had been anointed king, and was still openly reigning by Divine permission; 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:—

3. 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.

4. 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" (1 Samuel 26:23). "Commit thy way unto the Lord," etc. (Psalms 37:5-9).

III. NOBLE GENEROSITY. "Destroy him not," etc. (1 Samuel 26:8-11; Psalms 57:1-11; 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—

1. 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," etc. (Matthew 18:22-35).

2. 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 (1 Samuel 26:8). None else would witness the deed. Moral restraint alone prevented his permission of it.

3. 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 (1 Samuel 25:32).

4. His fixed determination to leave the matter entirely with God (1 Samuel 26:10). "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 fulfil 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 intrusted to him.

IV. DIVINE APPROVAL. "A deep sleep from the Lord was fallen upon them" (1 Samuel 26:12), indicative of the fact that the Lord 6, 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 sceptre 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 sceptre of uprightness." The highest realisation of these principles appears in One greater than David, and alone "worthy to receive" the sceptre of universal dominion (1 Samuel 2:10; 2 Samuel 23:2; Philippians 2:9; Hebrews 1:8; Revelation 5:5, Revelation 5:12).—D.

1 Samuel 26:13-16. (THE HILL OF HACHILAH.)


"Art not thou a man?" (1 Samuel 26:15). 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), forevery 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, 'Self-culture').

"A beam ethereal, sullied and absorpt;

Though sullied and dishonoured, still Divine!" (Young).

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" (1 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,

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, 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" (1 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 not" (Psalms 4:6).

"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 favour desired above all earthly dignities. "Reverence thyself" (1 Samuel 22:22).

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" (1 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 endeavour to be like him.

7. The present life must be a preparations for the future. Man is made to live forever, 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" (1 Samuel 26:16). "Look up to heaven, look down to hell, live for eternity!"—D.

1 Samuel 26:13-25. (THE HILL OF HACHILAH.)

David's last meeting with Saul.

1. This meeting took place at night. The encampment of Saul was over against the desert by the way (1 Samuel 26:3). 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 defenceless 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 (1 Samuel 26:12). 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 (1 Samuel 26:19), and could not but convince them of David's integrity and future success (1 Samuel 26:25).

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 (1 Samuel 25:32). David could have destroyed Saul, but he would not; 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—

I. THE CONSCIOUS INTEGRITY OF AN UPRIGHT HEART. After asking, "Wherefore doth my lord pursue after his servant?" etc; David said, "If the Lord have stirred thee up against me," etc. (1 Samuel 26:19, 1 Samuel 26:20); and again, "The Lord render to every man his righteousness," etc. (1 Samuel 26:23, 1 Samuel 26:24). His conscious integrity appears in—

1. 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. (Jam1 Samuel 1:13, 1 Samuel 1:14). 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 honour, 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 endeavour after holiness, his exalted estimation of the Divine favour and help, and was as desirous that Saul should stand in a right relation to God as of his own deliverance from persecution (Psalms 141:2). "The way in which he addresses Saul is so humble, so gentle, and so reverent that we may sufficiently thence recognise the goodness of his heart."

2. Solemn invocation of Divine judgment on wicked men who incite to wickedness. "If it be the children of men," etc. (1 Samuel 26:19). 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; Matthew 23:13-39; Acts 8:20; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Timothy 4:4), and the inferior position occupied by saints under the Old Testament dispensation (see commentaries on the Psalms by Tholuck, Perowne, and others). "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 by the showing of mercy to the penitent; but also by the executing of judgment on the impenitent" (Kurtz).

3. Fervent entreaty of an enemy to abandon his unjust, unpitying, and unworthy designs. "Now, therefore," etc. (1 Samuel 26:20). "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).

4. Confidently appealing to the perfect justice of God and his merciful interposition on his behalf. "The Lord render to every man," etc. (1 Samuel 26:23, 1 Samuel 26:24). This is not the language of boastfulness or self-righteousness, but "the answer of a good conscience toward God." He desired that God would deal with him as he had dealt with others (Psalms 7:4, Psalms 7:5), 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 (Psalms 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; Psalms 63:1-11; 'Longing in the wilderness for the presence of God in the sanctuary' (see inscription; verses 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.

Psalms 18:1-50; 'An idealised representation of the experience of Divine deliverances' (see inscription; 2 Samuel 22:1-51.). Other psalms have also been referred by many to the same period as "the fruitful soft of David's psalm poetry," viz; Psalms 6:1-10; Psalms 11:1-7; Psalms 12:1-8; Psalms 13:1-6; Psalms 17:1-15; Psalms 22:1-31; Psalms 27:1-14; Psalms 31:1-24; Psalms 35:1-28; Psalms 40:1-17; Psalms 56:1-13; Psalms 58:1-11; Psalms 59:1-17; Psalms 64:1-10; Psalms 69:1-36; Psalms 109:1-31; Psalms 120:1-7; Psalms 140:1-13; Psalms 141:1-10.

II. THE UNCONSCIOUS INSINCERITY OF AN EVIL HEART. "And Saul said, I have sinned," etc. (verses 21, 25). He acknowledged the sin and folly of his past conduct (though not with tears, as before), 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 occasion)—"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—

1. The most corrupt heart is capable of good impressions, emotions, and purposes. History and observation afford innumerable instances of the fact.

2. It is apt to be the subject of them under special circumstances (1 Samuel 24:16-22), and particularly when convinced of the futility of sinful endeavours, 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!

3. 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 never transformed into settled principle.

4. The removal of tint influences by which they are produced, and the occurrence of favourable 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." On the contrary, he soon afterwards renewed his persecution, and ceased not until David was wholly beyond his power (Psalms 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" (Tennyson).—D.

1 Samuel 26:21. (THE HILL OF HACHILAH.)

Playing the fool.

"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" (1 Samuel 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).

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 (1 Samuel 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, 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 (1 Samuel 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 (1 Samuel 26:21), thereby destroying his moral power, and hardening himself in sin.

6. When he contends against the Divine purposes in the vain hope of succeeding (1 Samuel 26:25). 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 repair it.—D.


1 Samuel 26:21

A fool returns to his folly.

I. THE BIBLE IS FULL OF REDUPLICATION. It teaches by line upon line, precept upon precept, 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 12:1-20.) seem to be all repeated (Genesis 20:1-18.), 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 26:1-35.). 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 truth.

II. 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 favourable 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.

III. SUPERFICIAL REPENTANCE MAY BE EXPECTED TO END IN 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. 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.

IV. ONE MAY MUCH ADMIRE NOBLE CONDUCT AND YET NEVER IMITATE IT. Saul retained enough of his early magnanimity to feel the moral superiority of David's behaviour—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 honour to which he was entitled, or relieve him of the harassing sense of insecurity. So we often see that it is one thing to recognise 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. Unless the tree be made good from the root, it is vain to expect good fruit on its branches.

V. A SELF-ACCUSER MAY BE PROUDER THAN ONE WHO 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 Christ Jesus. 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 sincerity.—F.


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 26:4". The Pulpit Commentary. 1897.

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