1 Samuel 21:13
And he changed his behaviour before them, and feigned himself mad in their hands, and scrabbled on the doors of the gate, and let his spittle fall down upon his beard.
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(13) He changed his behaviour.—These very words (with the substitution of Abimelech for Achish, a name which, as has been above suggested, seems to have been the “nomen dignitatis” for generations of Philistine kings) are found in the title of Psalms 34. The poem in question is, however, of a general, not of an historical character, and especially celebrates Jehovah’s guardian care of the righteous. Its “acrostic” arrangement, however, suggests a later date than the time of David. If, as is quite possible, the royal psalmist was the original author, and that the deliverance on the present occasion suggested the theme, then it must have been brought into its present form by some later temple musician.

Feigned himself mad.—Literally, he roamed hither and thither, restless and in terror.—Dean Payne Smith. “In their hands,” that is, “in their presence.” Some have supposed that the madness was not “simulated,” but real. Wrought upon by excitement of fear and terrible anxiety, it has been suggested that the mind for a time lost its balance, and that David became temporarily really insane; but the sense of the narrative plainly indicates that the madness was feigned.

Scrabbled on the doors of the gate.—Scratched on them; “scrabble” being probably a diminutive of “scrape” (Richardson, Dictionary). By others it is connected with “scribble.” the root in either case being ultimately the same. The LXX. and Vulg. apparently translate from a slightly different word, and instead of “scrabbled,” render “drummed” (impingebat) on the wings of the doors.

Let his spittle fall.—That is, allowed the foam which comes from the mouth of a madman to hang about his beard. It has been cleverly suggested that David was only too well acquainted with all the signs of madness, from his long and intimate association with King Saul in his darker hours of insanity. There are other well-authenticated examples in history of great heroes, in seasons of sore danger, feigning madness like David, with a view of escaping from their enemies. For instance, according to the Shâhnâmeh, Kai Khosrev feigned idiocy in face of mortal peril.

1 Samuel 21:13. He feigned himself mad — That he might escape out of their hands. And herein he showed great sagacity and penetration. How great danger he was in, appears plainly from the 34th and 56th Psalms, which he composed upon this occasion. And he had indeed need to consider it, as he does in the first of those Psalms, as a wonderful deliverance wrought for him by God himself. He now learned by experience what he afterward taught us, Psalm 118:9, That it is better to trust in the Lord than to put any confidence in princes.

21:10-15 God's persecuted people have often found better usage from Philistines than from Israelites. David had reason to put confidence in Achish, yet he began to be afraid. His conduct was degrading, and discovered wavering in his faith and courage. The more simply we depend on God, and obey him, the more comfortably and surely we shall walk through this troublesome world.Scrabbled - literally, made marks (margin), namely, the mark of the "tau" (t), which in the ancient Hebrew and Phoenician was in the shape of a cross. (See Ezekiel 9:4.)

On the doors of the gate - The gate of Achish's palace-yard or court, in which the attendants waited. The house itself stood in this court. (Compare Esther 2:19, Esther 2:21.)

13. feigned himself mad—It is supposed to have been an attack of epilepsy, real or perhaps only pretended. This disease is relieved by foaming at the mouth.

let his spittle fall down upon his beard—No wonder that Achish supposed him insane, as such an indignity, whether done by another, or one's self, to the beard, is considered in the East an intolerable insult.

His behaviour; his speech and gesture; and, it may be, his habit also.

Feigned himself mad; which they might the more easily believe, partly because of the disappointment of his great hopes, and his extreme danger and trouble from Saul, which might well make him mad; and partly because he had put himself into their hands, which they supposed none but a fool or a madman would have done. And David counterfeited this madness, that he might procure both their pity and their contempt; that they being freed from jealousies and fears of future mischief from David, and from his wise conduct, of which they had sad experience, might be secure of him, and so spare him.

In their hands, i.e. whilst he was in their power, and before them.

And he changed his behaviour before them,.... Behaved like a fool, or a madman: or changed his "taste" (s); which some understand of his reason, acted as if he was deprived of it; and others of his speech, his words and the accent of them, drawled them out, as such persons do:

and feigned himself mad in their hands; for in their hands he was, being taken by them, as the title of the fifty sixth psalm shows, Psalm 56:1; and this stratagem he used to get himself out of their hands, acting the part of a madman, delirious, and out of his senses:

and scrabbled on the doors of the gate; as if he was writing something there, and making marks upon them:

and let his spittle fall down upon his beard; slavered, as idiots and madmen do; and however mean this may seem in David to act such a part, it cannot be condemned as wicked, since it was only a stratagem to deliver himself, out of an enemy's hand, and stratagems are always allowed to be used against an enemy; and such a method as this has been taken by men of the greatest sense and wit, as by Brutus (t) and Solon (u); and yet, according to the Vulgate Latin and Septuagint versions, this case of his was real and not feigned; that through the surprise of being known in the court of Achish, he was seized with an epilepsy; that his countenance was changed, and his mouth distorted, as persons in such fits are; that he fell among them as one convulsed, and fell at, and dashed against the doors of the gates, and foamed at the mouth, as such persons do; see Luke 9:39; and so in the following words the Greek version is, ye see the man is an epileptic; I do not want epileptics; but the thirty fourth and fifty sixth psalms, composed by him at this time, show that as he was of a sound mind, so in good health of body, and not subject to such fits as here represented, see Psalm 34:1; which would have rendered him unfit for such composures.

(s) "sensum suum", Montanus, Vatablus; "sermonem suum", Pagninus. (t) Liv. Hist. l. 1. c. 56. Aurel. Victor. de Vir. Illustr. c. 13. (u) Justin e Trogo, l. 2. c. 7.

And he changed his behaviour before them, and feigned himself mad in their hands, and {i} scrabbled on the doors of the gate, and let his spittle fall down upon his beard.

(i) By making marks and toys.

13. changed his behaviour] Psalms 34. is ascribed by its title to this occasion, but the contents do not bear out the reference. The title of Psalms 56. states that it was written by David “when the Philistines laid hold on him in Gath,” and though it is not expressly said here that he was arrested, the words “feigned himself mad in their hands” together with the mention of his escape in 1 Samuel 22:1, seem to imply that he was a prisoner.

feigned himself mad] So that they might suppose him harmless. The Philistines moreover may have shared the Oriental feeling which regards madness with a kind of reverence. See Smith’s Dict. of the Bible, Art. Madness.’ “Aghyle Aga, a well-known modern Arab chief, escaped from the governor of Acre in like manner, pretending to be a mad dervish.” Stanley, Lect. II. 52.

scrabled on the doors of the gate] i.e. scratched, or made marks. The word is still used in some provincial dialects. The Sept. however reads “drummed on the doors of the gate,” which is a more suitable gesture for a raving madman. “The doors” meant are probably those of the court of Achish’s palace.

Verse 13. - He changed his behaviour. The same word is used in the title of Psalm 34. Literally it means "his taste," and, like the Latin word sapientia, is derived from the action of the palate, and so from the faculty of discriminating flavours it came to signify the power of discrimination generally. Thus "to change his taste" means to act as if he had lost the power of distinguishing between objects. Feigned himself mad. Literally, "he roamed hither and thither" restlessly and in terror. In their hands. I.e. before them, in their presence. Scrabbled on the doors of the gate. The Vulgate and Septuagint read drummed upon them. Literally the verb means "to make the mark of a Tau," the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and which anciently was in the form of a cross. The gate, on the leaves of which David scrawled, was probably that of the court or waiting room, in which the servants of Achish passed their time when in attendance upon him. Possibly David had witnessed these symptoms of madness in Saul's case during his fits of insanity. The idea of some of the older commentators, that David really for a time went out of his mind, is opposed to the general sense of the narrative. 1 Samuel 21:13But David took these words to heart, and was in great fear of Achish, lest he should treat him as an enemy, and kill him. In order to escape this danger, "he disguised his understanding (i.e., pretended to be out of his mind) in their eyes (i.e., before the courtiers of Achish), behaved insanely under their hands (when they tried to hold him as a madman), scribbled upon the door-wings, and let his spittle run down into his beard." The suffix to וישׁנּו is apparently superfluous, as the object, את־טעמו, follows immediately afterwards. But it may be accounted for from the circumstantiality of the conversation of every-day life, as in 2 Samuel 14:6, and (though these cases are not perfectly parallel) Exodus 2:6; Proverbs 5:22; Ezekiel 10:3 (cf. Gesenius' Gramm. 121, 6, Anm. 3). ויתו, from תּוה, to make signs, i.e., to scribble. The lxx and Vulgate render it ἐτυμπανίζειν, impingebat, he drummed, smote with his fists upon the wings of the door, which would make it appear as if they had read ויּתף (from תּפף), which seems more suitable to the condition of a madman whose saliva ran out of his mouth.
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