1 Samuel 17:15
But David went and returned from Saul to feed his father's sheep at Bethlehem.
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(15) Returned from Saul to feed his father’s sheep.—This short statement was, no doubt, introduced by the compiler of the First Book of Samuel to show that, in spite of this apparent introduction of David into the history for the first time in this chapter (see 1Samuel 17:12 and following verses), and the inquiry of King Saul from Abner respecting the young hero’s father (see 1Samuel 17:55-58), he, the compiler, was perfectly aware that David had already visited the court of Saul in the capacity of a musician (see 1Samuel 16:18-23). As has been already suggested, these historical books of the Old Testament are, no doubt, made up from contemporaneous documents, stored up most probably in one or other of the prophetic schools. It is, therefore, to be expected that certain facts will be found occasionally repeated. The circumstances connected with the healing influence of the music of David in the case of the soul malady of King Saul were of course preserved with great care and detail in these “schools,” where music and poetry were so highly cultivated and esteemed. We have here many of the very words of the original narrative preserved to us. Similarly the story of the first exploit of David is incorporated in the history probably unchanged. Each of these ancient and favourite “memories” of David, as being complete in themselves, would of course contain some of the same details.

The apparent ignorance of Saul and Abner respecting the young shepherd’s family will be discussed in the note on 1Samuel 17:55-58.

17:12-30 Jesse little thought of sending his son to the army at that critical juncture; but the wise God orders actions and affairs, so as to serve his designs. In times of general formality and lukewarmness, every degree of zeal which implies readiness to go further, or to venture more in the cause of God than others, will be blamed as pride and ambition, and by none more than by near relations, like Eliab, or negligent superiors. It was a trial of David's meekness, patience, and constancy. He had right and reason on his side, and did not render railing for railing; with a soft answer he turned away his brother's wrath. This conquest of his own passion was more honourable than that of Goliath. Those who undertake great and public services, must not think it strange if they are spoken ill of, and opposed by those from whom they expect support and assistance. They must humbly go on with their work, in the face not only of enemies' threats, but of friends' slights and suspicions.David went ... - "Was gone," referring to 1 Samuel 16:19-20. Had he been Saul's armour-bearer at this time it is highly improbable that he would have left him to feed sheep. 1Sa 17:12-58. David Accepts the Challenge, and Slays Him. From Saul; either,

1. From Saul’s court; where having been entertained by Saul, to relieve him in his melancholy fits, he was permitted to go to his father’s house, to be sent for again upon occasion. Or,

2. From Saul’s camp, whither he used to come to visit his brethren; as appears from 1 Samuel 17:17. But David went, and returned from Saul,.... Or "from above Saul"; Josephus (u) says, the physicians of Saul advised to get a man to stand , "over his head", and sing psalms and hymns to him; and Saul being recovered from his frenzy and melancholy, by means of David's music, he was dismissed from him, or had leave to go home, or he returned upon Saul's taking the field; though one would think, if he was now his armourbearer, he would have gone with him, see 1 Samuel 16:21. It seems that when he was called to the court of Saul, that he did not continue there, but was going and coming, was there at certain times when Saul wanted him; and so when in the camp he might go and return as there was occasion for it:

to feed his father's sheep at Bethlehem; for though he was anointed king, and was called to court, yet such was his humility, that he condescended to attend this employment of keeping sheep; and though Jesse knew all this, yet he kept him at home to this business, when it might be more reasonably thought he would have lain in the way of preferment, had he followed Saul to the camp, and appeared in the army; but he chose to leave things to the providence of God to work the way for him, and by which he was directed to take the following step, though perhaps without any design to his son's future promotion.

(u) Antiqu. l. 6. c. 8. sect. 2.

But David {c} went and returned from Saul to feed his father's sheep at Bethlehem.

(c) To serve Saul, 1Sa 16:19.

15. David went and returned from Saul] From 1 Samuel 16:21-23 it might have been supposed that David was already permanently resident at Saul’s court. This verse however states that he returned home when his services were not required at court, and at the time of the Philistine war was with his father at Bethlehem. We must assume either that 1 Samuel 16:21 describes by anticipation what happened eventually after the Philistine war; or that the appointment as armour-bearer was a nominal commission, and that, as he was young and inexperienced, his attendance in camp was not yet required. Joab had ten armour-bearers (2 Samuel 18:15), and Saul probably many more.Verse 15. - David went and returned from Saul. This is a very important statement, as it shows that the writer, in spite of what is said in vers. 55-58, knew that David had visited Saul at his court, and become personally known to him. Apparently it had been but a short visit, possibly because after the fit of melancholy had passed away there was no return of it for the present; and if David had been back at Bethlehem for two or three years, a young man changes so much in appearance at David's time of life that it is no wonder that neither Saul nor Abner recognised him in his shepherd's dress. For some reason, then, or other David had not remained with Saul at Gibeah, but had resumed his pastoral life at Bethlehem, and the statements made in 1 Samuel 16:21-23 belong to the time immediately after the combat with Goliath, and not before. "If he can fight with me, and kill me, we will be your servants; if I overcome him, and slay him, ye shall be our servants, and serve us." He then said still further (1 Samuel 17:10), "I have mocked the ranks of Israel this day (the mockery consisted in his designating the Israelites as servants of Saul, and generally in the triumphant tone in which he issued the challenge to single combat); give me a man, that we may fight together!"
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