1 Samuel 20:1
And David fled from Naioth in Ramah, and came and said before Jonathan, What have I done? what is mine iniquity? and what is my sin before thy father, that he seeketh my life?
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(1) And David fled from Naioth in Ramah, and came and said before Jonathan.—The strange course of events in the prophetic schools by Ramah, while warning David that even the home of his old master, the great seer, was no permanent sanctuary where he could safely rest, still gave him time to fly, and to take counsel with his loved friend, the king s son. It was, no doubt, by Samuel’s advice that he once more betook himself to the city of Saul, but his return was evidently secret.

Alone with his friend, he passionately asserts his entire innocence of the crimes laid to his charge by the unhappy, jealous Saul. His words here are found in substance in not a few of his Psalms, where, in touching language, he maintains how bitterly the world had wronged and persecuted a righteous, innocent man.

1 Samuel


1 Samuel 20:1 - 1 Samuel 20:13

The friendship of Jonathan for David comes like a breath of pure air in the midst of the heavy-laden atmosphere of hate and mad fury, or like some clear fountain sparkling up among the sulphurous slag and barren scoriae of a volcano. There is no more beautiful page in history or poetry than the story of the passionate love of the heir to the throne for the young champion, whom he had so much cause to regard as a rival. What a proof of the victory of love over self is his saying, ‘Thou shalt be king over Israel, and I shall be next unto thee’! {1 Samuel 23:17}. Truly did David sing in his elegy, ‘Thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women’; for in that old world, in which the relations between the sexes had not yet received the hallowing and refinement of Christian times, much of what is now chiefly found in these was manifested in friendship, such as that of these two young men. Jonathan is the foremost figure in it, and the nobility and self-oblivion of his love are beautifully brought out, while David’s part is rather that of the loved than of the lover. The scene is laid in Gibeah, where Saul kept his court, and to which all the persons of the story seem to have come back from Samuel’s house at Kamah. Saul’s strange subjugation to the hallowing influences of the prophet’s presence had been but momentary and superficial; and it had been followed by a renewed outburst of the old hate, obvious to David’s sharpened sight, though not to Jonathan. In the interview between them, David is pardonably but obviously absorbed in self, while Jonathan bends all his soul to cheer and reassure his friend.

There are four turns in the conversation, in each of which David speaks and Jonathan answers. David’s first question presupposes that his friend knows that his death is determined, and is privy to Saul’s thoughts. If he had been less harassed, he would have done Jonathan more justice than to suppose him capable of knowing everything without telling him anything; but fear is suspicious. He should have remembered that, when Saul first harboured murderous purposes, Jonathan had not waited to be asked, but had disclosed the plot to him, and perilled his own life by his remonstrances with his father. He should have trusted his friend. His question breathes consciousness of innocence of any hostility to Saul, but unconsciously betrays some defect in his confidence in Jonathan. The answer is magnanimous in its silence as to that aspect of the question, though the subsequent story seems to imply that Jonathan felt it. He tries to hearten David by strong assurances that his life is safe. He does not directly contradict David’s implication that he knew more than he had told, but, without asserting his ignorance, takes it for granted, and quietly argues from it the incorrectness of David’s suspicions. Incidentally he gives us, in the picture of the perfect confidence between Saul and himself, an inkling of how much he had to sacrifice to his friendship. Wild as was Saul’s fury when aroused, and narrow as had been his escape from it at an earlier time {1 Samuel 14:44}, there was yet love between them, and the king made a confidant of his gallant eldest son. They ‘were lovely and pleasant in their lives.’ However gloomy and savage in his paroxysms Saul was, the relations between them were sweet. The most self-introverted and solitary soul needs some heart to pour itself out to, and this poor king found one in Jonathan. All the harder, then, was the trial of friendship when the trusted son had to take the part of the friend whom his father deemed an enemy, and had the pain of breaking such close ties. How his heart must have been torn asunder! On the one side was the lonely father who clung to him: on the other, the hunted friend to whom he clung. It is a sore wrench when kindred are on one side, and congeniality and the voice of the heart on the other. But there are ties more sacred than those of flesh and blood; and the putting of them second, which is sometimes needful in obedience to earthly love or duty, is always needful if we would rightly entertain our heavenly Friend.

Jonathan’s soothing assurances did not satisfy David, and he ‘sware’ in the earnestness of his conviction. David gives a very good reason for his friend’s ignorance, which he has at once believed, in the suggestion that Saul had not taken him into his confidence, out of tenderness to his feelings. Their friendship, then, was notorious, and, indeed, was an element in Saul’s dread of David, who seemed to have some charm to steal hearts, and had bewitched both Saul’s son and his daughter, thus making a painful rift in the family unity. It does not appear how David came to be so sure of Saul’s designs. The incident at Ramah might have seemed to augur some improvement in his mood; and certainly there could have been no overt acts, or Jonathan could not have disputed the suspicions. Possibly some whispers may have reached David through his wife Michal, Saul’s daughter, or in the course of his attendance on the king, which he had now resumed, his quick eye may have noticed ominous signs. At all events, he is so sure, that he makes solemn attestation to his friend, and convinces him that, in the picturesque phrase which has become so familiar, ‘There is but a step between me and death.’ Such temper was scarcely in accordance with ‘the prophecies which went before on’ him. If he had been walking by faith, he would have called Samuel’s anointing to mind, and have drawn arguments from the victory over Goliath, for trust in victory over Saul, as he had done for the former from that over the lion and the bear. But faith does not always keep high-water mark, and we can only too easily sympathise with this momentary ebb of its waters.

None the less is it true that David’s terror was unworthy, and showed that the strain of his anxious position was telling on his spirit, and making him not only suspect his earthly friend, but half forget his heavenly One. There was but a step between him and death; but, if he had been living in the serenity of trust, he would have known that the narrow space was as good as a thousand miles, and that Saul could not force him across it, for all his hatred and power.

Jonathan does not attempt to alter his conviction and probably is obliged to admit the justice of the explanation of his own ignorance and the truth of the impression of Saul’s purposes. But he does what is more to the purpose; he pledges himself to do whatever David desires. It is an unconditional desertion of his father and alliance with David; it is the true voice of friendship or love, which ever has its delight in knowing and doing the will of the beloved. It answers David’s thoughts rather than his words. He will not discuss any more whether he or David is right; but, in any event, he is his friend’s.

The touchstone of friendship is practical help and readiness to do what the friend wishes. It is so in our friendships here, which are best cemented so. It is so in the highest degree in our friendship with the true Friend and Lover of us all, the sweetness and power of our friendship with whom we do not know until we say, ‘Whatsoever thou desirest, I will do it,’ and so lose the burden of self-will, and find that He does for us what we desire when we make His desires our law of conduct.

Secure of Jonathan’s help, David proposed the stratagem for finding out Saul’s disposition, which had probably been in his mind all along. It says more for his subtlety than for his truthfulness. With all his nobility, he had a streak of true Oriental craft and stood on the moral level of his times and country, in his readiness to eke out the lion’s skin with the fox’s tail. It was a shrewd idea to make Saul betray himself by the way in which he took David’s absence; but a lie is a lie, and cannot be justified, though it may be palliated, by the straits of the liar. At the same time it is fair to remember the extremity of David’s danger and the morality of his age, in estimating, not the nature of his action, but the extent of his guilt in doing it. The same relaxation of the vigour of his faith which left him a prey to fear, led him to walk in crooked paths, and the impartial narrative tells of them without a word of comment. We have to form our own estimate of the fitness of a lie to form the armour of a saint. The proposal informs us of two facts,-the custom of having a feast for three days at the new moon, and that of having an annual family feast and sacrifice, neither of which is prescribed in the law. I do not here deal with the grave question as to the date of the ceremonial law, as affected by these and similar phenomena; but I may be allowed the passing remark that the irregularities do not prove the non-existence of the law, but may be accounted for by supposing that, in such unsettled times, it had been loosely observed, and that many accretions and omissions, some of them inevitable in the absence of a recognised centre of worship, had crept in. That is a much less brilliant and much more old-fashioned explanation than the new one, but perhaps it is none the worse for that. This generation is fond of making ‘originality’ and ‘brilliancy’ the tests of truth.

David’s words in 1 Samuel 20:8 have a touch of suspicion in them, in their very appeal for kind treatment, in their reminder of the ‘covenant’ of friendship, as if Jonathan needed either, and still more in the bitter request to slay him himself instead of delivering him to Saul. He almost thinks that Jonathan is in the plot, and means to carry him off a prisoner. Note, too, that he does not say, ‘We made a covenant,’ but ‘Thou hast brought me into’ it, as if it had been the other’s wish rather than his. All this was beneath true friendship, and it hurt Jonathan, who next speaks with unusual emotion, beseeching David to clear all this fog out of his heart, and to believe in the genuineness and depth of his love, and in the frankness of his speech. True love ‘is not easily provoked,’ is not soon angry, and his was true in spite of many obstacles which might have made him as jealous as his father, and in the face of misconstruction and suspicion. May we not think of a yet higher love, which bears with our suspicions and faithless doubts, and ever answers our incredulity by its gentle ‘If it were not so, I would have told you’?

David is not yet at the end of his difficulties, and next suggests, how is he to know Saul’s mind? Jonathan takes him out into the privacy of the open country {they had apparently been in Gibeah}, and there solemnly calls God to witness that he will disclose his father’s purposes, whatever they are. The language is obscure and broken, whether owing to corruption in the text, or to the emotion of the speaker. In half-shaped sentences, which betray how much he felt his friend’s doubts, and how sincere he was, he invokes evil on himself if he fails to tell all. He then unfolds his ingenious scheme for conveying the information, on which we do not touch. But note the final words of Jonathan,-that prayer, so pathetic, so unselfish in its recognition of David as the inheritor of the kingdom that had dropped from his own grasp, so sad in its clear-eyed assurance of his father’s abandonment, so deeply imbued with faith in the divine word, and so resigned to its behests. Both in the purity of his friendship and in the strength of his faith and submission, Jonathan stands here above David, and is far surer than the latter himself is of his high destiny and final triumph. It was hard for him to believe in the victory which was to displace his own house, harder still to rejoice in it, without one trace of bitterness mingling in the sweetness of his love, hardest of all actively to help it and to take sides against his father; but all these difficulties his unselfish heart overcame, and he stands for all time as the noblest example of human friendship, and as not unworthy to remind us, as from afar off and dimly, of the perfect love of the Firstborn Son of the true King, who has loved us all with a yet deeper, more patient, more self-sacrificing love. If men can love one another as Jonathan loved David, how should they love the Christ who has loved them so much! And what sacrilege it is to pour such treasures of affection at the feet of dear ones here, and to give so grudgingly such miserable doles of heart’s love to Him!

1 Samuel 20:1. David fled, and came and said before Jonathan — Saul’s being thrown into a trance, as mentioned in the foregoing verse, gave David time to escape, and he went from Naioth to Gibeah, where Jonathan was. “It was happy for David that he had such a friend at court, when he had such an enemy on the throne.” — Henry. What have I done? What is mine iniquity? — He appeals to Jonathan himself concerning his innocence, and endeavours to convince him that, notwithstanding he had committed no iniquity, Saul sought his life.

20:1-10 The trials David met with, prepared him for future advancement. Thus the Lord deals with those whom he prepares unto glory. He does not put them into immediate possession of the kingdom, but leads them to it through much tribulation, which he makes the means of fitting them for it. Let them not murmur at his gracious appointment, nor distrust his care; but let them look forward with joyful expectation to the crown which is laid up for them. Sometimes it appears to us that there is but a step between us and death; at all times it may be so, and we should prepare for the event. But though dangers appear most threatening, we cannot die till the purpose of God concerning us is accomplished; nor till we have served our generation according to his will, if we are believers. Jonathan generously offers David his services. This is true friendship. Thus Christ testifies his love to us, Ask, and it shall be done for you; and we must testify our love to him, by keeping his commandments.While Saul was under the constraining influence of the spirit of prophecy, David escaped from Naioth, and, probably by Samuel's advice, returned to Saul's court to commune with Jonathan. Nothing could be a better evidence of his innocence than thus putting himself in Jonathan's power. Perhaps something passed between Samuel and Saul on the subject, since it appears from 1 Samuel 20:5, 1 Samuel 20:25, 1 Samuel 20:27, that Saul expected David at the feast of the new moon. CHAPTER 20

1Sa 20:1-10. David Consults with Jonathan for His Safety.

1-3. David fled from Naioth in Ramah, and came and said before Jonathan—He could not remain in Naioth, for he had strong reason to fear that when the religious fit, if we may so call it, was over, Saul would relapse into his usual fell and sanguinary temper. It may be thought that David acted imprudently in directing his flight to Gibeah. But he was evidently prompted to go thither by the most generous feelings—to inform his friend of what had recently occurred, and to obtain that friend's sanction to the course he was compelled to adopt. Jonathan could not be persuaded there was any real danger after the oath his father had taken; at all events, he felt assured his father would do nothing without telling him. Filial attachment naturally blinded the prince to defects in the parental character and made him reluctant to believe his father capable of such atrocity. David repeated his unshaken convictions of Saul's murderous purpose, but in terms delicately chosen (1Sa 20:3), not to wound the filial feelings of his friend; while Jonathan, clinging, it would seem, to a hope that the extraordinary scene enacted at Naioth might have wrought a sanctified improvement on Saul's temper and feelings, undertook to inform David of the result of his observations at home.David complaineth to Jonathan of Saul: he comforteth him; can hardly believe what David saith of his father; promiseth to give him notice how his absence was taken: they renew a covenant of friendship, and swear to each other, 1 Samuel 20:1-17. Their sign, 1 Samuel 20:18-23. Saul asketh for David at the feast of the new moon, 1 Samuel 20:24-27. Jonathan execuseth David: Saul incensed hereat, revileth Jonathan, and seeketh to kill him, 1 Samuel 20:28-34. Jonathan advertiseth David, 1 Samuel 20:35-40. They part with tears, 1 Samuel 20:41,42.

David fled, whilst Saul lay in an ecstasy,

from Naioth in Ramah to Gibeah, where Jonathan was, taking the opportunity of Saul’s absence.

What is my sin before thy father? what is it which thus incenseth thy father against me? what crime doth he charge me with?

That he seeketh my life, to wit, to destroy it, as this phrase is oft used, as 1 Samuel 22:23 Psalm 38:12 54:3 63:9.

And David fled from Naioth in Ramah,.... While Saul was prophesying, or lay in a trance there:

and came; to Gibeah, where Saul dwelt, and had his palace, and kept his court:

and said before Jonathan; whom he found there, and for whose sake he thither fled to have his advice, and to use his interest with his father, and be his friend at court:

what have I done? what is mine iniquity? and what is my sin before thy father, that he seeketh my life? surely, as if he should say, I must have been guilty of some very great crime, and yet I am not sensible of it; canst thou tell me what it is that has so provoked thy father, that nothing will satisfy him but the taking away of my life, which he seeks to do?

And David {a} fled from Naioth in Ramah, and came and said before Jonathan, What have I done? what is mine iniquity? and what is my sin before thy father, that he seeketh my life?

(a) For Saul was detained, and prophesied a day and a night by God's providence, that David might have time to escape.

Ch. 1 Samuel 20:1-10. David’s consultation with Jonathan

1. David fled from Naioth] While Saul lay helpless in his trance, David, perhaps by Samuel’s advice, returned to consult with Jonathan. It may seem surprising that he could think of venturing back to Gibeah after Saul’s late outbreak; but he on his part would be unwilling to break with Saul and become an outlaw till absolutely forced to do so; while Jonathan, knowing David’s value to the kingdom, would use every effort to effect a reconciliation. This he might still hope for, since all Saul’s actual attempts upon David’s life had been made in his fits of, insanity.

What have I done] The three questions are a virtual assertion of his innocence. Compare the passionate protests of the Seventh Psalm, written probably somewhat later, during his flight, but reflecting the feelings of this time. See on 1 Samuel 24:9.

Verse 1. - David fled from Naioth. While Saul was under the influence of the prophetic enthusiasm David escaped; but it is evident that this visit to Samuel, and the extraordinary occurrences which attended it, were not without, a good influence for the time upon Saul's mind. Some sort of reconciliation must have been patched up, probably by the mediation of Samuel; for David assumed that at the new moon be would be expected to dine at the king's table (ver. 5), and that Saul would look for him as a matter of course (ver. 6). We find, moreover, that his place was made ready, not only on the new moon (ver. 25), but also on the following day (ver. 26). But whatever professions Saul may have made to Samuel, it is evident that no promise had been made personally to David, and taught by past experience that the intention of slaying him had grown more and more fixed in the king's mind, he feels that his position is full of danger, and takes counsel with Jonathan, with the view of learning whether he might venture once again to take his place as a member of Saul s family. 1 Samuel 20:1After the occurrence which had taken place at Naioth, David fled thence and met with Jonathan, to whom he poured out his heart.

(Note: According to Ewald and Thenius, this chapter was not written by the author of the previous one, but was borrowed from an earlier source, and 1 Samuel 20:1 was inserted by the compiler to connect the two together. But the principal reason for this conjecture - namely, that David could never have thought of sitting at the royal table again after what had taken place, and that Saul would still less have expected him to come - is overthrown by the simple suggestion, that all that Saul had hitherto attempted against David, according to 1 Samuel 19:8., had been done in fits of insanity (cf. 1 Samuel 19:9.), which had passed away again; so that it formed no criterion by which to judge of Saul's actual feelings towards David when he was in a state of mental sanity.)

Though he had been delivered for the moment from the death which threatened him, through the marvellous influence of the divine inspiration of the prophets upon Saul and his messengers, he could not find in this any lasting protection from the plots of his mortal enemy. He therefore sought for his friend Jonathan, and complained to him, "What have I done? what is my crime, my sin before thy father, that he seeks my life?"

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