And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves to him; and he became a captain over them: and there were with him about four hundred men.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Every one that was in distress.—Ewald writes on this statement:—“The situation of the country, which was becoming more and more melancholy under Saul, . . . drove men to seek a leader from whom they might hope for better things for the future . . . David did not send away these refugees, many of them distinguished and prominent Israelites, but organised them into a military force. He foresaw that while commanding such a company as this, he might, without injuring his king and former benefactor, be of the very greatest use to the people, and protect the southern frontiers of the kingdom—sadly exposed in these later years of King Saul—from the plundering incursions of the neighbouring nomadic tribes. This state of things, with a few interruptions, really came to pass, and David won great repute and popularity among the protected districts during these years when he was a wanderer and an outlaw—a popularity which in after years stood him in good stead.”
These persons “in distress” were especially those who were persecuted by Saul and his men for their attachment to David. The several statements of the refugees who took shelter in David’s armed camp, of course go over a considerable time. They did not all flock to his standard at once. Some went to him in the first days of his exile, others after the massacre at the sanctuary at Nob, others later, and thus gradually 400 gathered round him. Soon after, these numbers were swelled to 600, and these probably only were the chosen men-at-arms of the little force, which, no doubt, was numerically far greater.
And every one that was in debt.—Throughout the whole long story of Israel this unhappy love of greed and gain has been a characteristic feature of the chosen race, ever a prominent and ugly sin. In the Mosaic Law, most stringent regulations were laid down to correct and mitigate this ruling passion of avarice among the Jews. (See such passages as Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:36; Deuteronomy 23:19.) The poor, improvident, or perhaps unfortunate, debtor was protected by wise laws against the greedy avaricious spirit of his merciless creditor. These beneficent regulations of the great lawgiver had, under the capricious, faulty rule of King Saul, of course fallen into abeyance, and a terrible amount of misery, no doubt, was the consequence. In the Divine record sad scenes (see 2Kings 4:1-7), exemplifying this pitiless spirit, are casually related, but they are so woven into the mosaic of the history, as to show us they were, alas! no uncommon occurrence in the daily life of the people. In Proverbs, for instance, we have some conspicuous instances. The chronicles of the Middle Ages in all countries teem with similar stories about the chosen people. Our own great dramatist, some three centuries ago, evidently without attempt at exaggeration, selects the avaricious, grasping Jew as the central figure of one of his most famous dramas. In our own time the same spirit, as is too well known, is still abroad, and constitutes the bitterest reproach which the many enemies of the strange, deathless race can promulgate against a people evidently walled in by a Divine protection and a changeless eternal love.
And he became a captain over them.—It was evidently no undisciplined band, these outlaws of Adullam and the hold of Moab, of Hareth and Keilah, of Ziph and Engedi. David quickly organised the refugees, among whom, by degrees, many a man of mark and approved valour and ability were numbered.
To complete the picture of this First Book of Samuel, we must unite in one the scattered notices of this same period which occur in the Second Book of Samuel and in the Books of Kings and Chronicles. (See Excursus I. at the end of this Book.)1 Samuel 22:2. Every one that was in distress — אישׁ מצוק, ish matsok, the man straitened or oppressed. And every one that was in debt — אשׁר לו נשׁאasher lo noshee, the man that had a creditor. Probably poor debtors, whom their creditors were obliged to spare, Exodus 22:25. And others, whose lands and goods their creditors might seize when their persons were with David. It must be observed that the Jews frequently used their debtors with great severity, (see Nehemiah 5:5,) taking forcible possession of their lands and vineyards, and bringing their children into bondage. Every one that was discontented — Hebrew, מר נפשׁMark nephesh, the man bitter of soul, aggrieved in his mind, made uneasy and discontented, “probably,” says Dr. Dodd, “with Saul’s tyrannical government, and his implacable persecution of David, who, by this time, must have been well known to have been the intended successor of Saul.” It does not appear, from this description, that these were men of abandoned characters and profligate principles, as some have thought, who joined themselves to David purposely to cheat their creditors, and for the sake of the plunder they were in hopes of getting under him. Indeed, had this been the case, David would not have been able to have kept them under that strict order and discipline under which we find he did keep them, but we should have read of their plundering, and murdering, and committing other outrages. Nor would they have continued with him so long, and abode with him in dreary forests, destitute of most of the conveniences and comforts of life; or have followed him whithersoever he was disposed to lead them. This is not the temper or behaviour of men of profligate principles. And, therefore, there is reason to conclude, that they were persons who were brought into distress and poverty by other causes, such as, in the course of divine providence, are frequently permitted to afflict the best of men, for their trial, humiliation, or correction. But if they were not virtuous when they resorted to David, that they became so by his discipline, influence, and example, is sufficiently evident from their subsequent behaviour. And he became a captain over them — Being forced to take this course in his own defence, that he might not be suddenly surprised. But David did not take these men into his service, till by information from Jonathan, and by many other certain proofs, it evidently appeared that his life was in imminent danger. And then he neither assaulted any place with them, nor sought for an occasion to fight, but avoided it by seeking for secret and secure places of retreat, sometimes in the deserts, sometimes, in foreign nations, always taking care not to hurt his countrymen, and never allowing his men to make incursions upon any but the enemies of Israel.1 Samuel 30:6; 2 Samuel 17:8.) The phrase here denotes those who were exasperated by Saul's tyranny. Every one that was in distress, through want, or oppression, or otherwise.
Every one that was in debt. How could David receive and countenance such persons to the wrong of their creditors?
1. David might be ignorant of their debts; and it is most likely they concealed that, and pretended other causes of their coming to him, as the protection of the innocent, and the defence of his just rights, &c.
2. They might be, and probably were, poor debtors, whom their creditors were obliged to spare and favour, Exodus 22:25. And though their persons were with David, yet their land and goods were liable to their creditors.
Every one that was discontented, or, bitter in soul, i.e. in an afflicted and calamitous condition.
He became a captain over them; he did not justify nor maintain any injustice or wickedness, which some of them possibly might be guilty of; but, on the contrary, he instructed and obliged them to the practice of all justice and honesty; as appears from 1 Samuel 25:15; and he only used them for his just defence.
and everyone that was in debt; and not able to pay their debts, and whose creditors were pressing upon them:
and everyone that was discontented; with Saul's government and conduct: or "bitter in soul" (x); distressed and uneasy in their minds, being pinched with want, or pressed with sore afflictions, which made them very disconsolate: these
gathered themselves unto him; to help him, or rather to be helped by him; hoping in time things would take a favourable turn with him, and he should be advanced to the throne, and so their circumstances would be mended thereby:
and he became a captain over them; they enlisted themselves in his service, and he took the command of them; he might not know the circumstances of those in debt, nor of any of them thoroughly, nor their views in joining him; however he meant not to shelter them from paying their just debts if able, nor to encourage them in disloyalty to their king, only to make use of them for his own preservation for the present. In this he was a type of Christ, who receives sinners distressed with a sense of sin, discontented in their present state, and in debt, and, unable to pay their debts; see Matthew 11:28,
and there were with him about four hundred men; among whom some think were the three mighty men spoken of in 2 Samuel 23:13.And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them: and there were with him about four hundred men.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)2. And every one, &c.] To the cave of Adullam resorted some who were smarting under the oppression of Saul’s tyranny; some who were involved in debt through the neglect of the laws concerning usury (Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:35-37); some who were in despair at the condition of the kingdom, and desired a leader from whom they might hope for better things.
he became a captain over them] That he could keep such a motley band in order is an evidence of David’s natural genius for ruling, which was further developed by this training.
about four hundred men] Soon increased to six hundred (1 Samuel 23:13). Among them were the three heroes who brought water from the well at Bethlehem (2 Samuel 23:13 ff.; 1 Chronicles 11:15 ff.); possibly the stalwart Gadites whose names are given in 1 Chronicles 12:8-15; and also the detachment from Judah and Benjamin led by Amasai (1 Chronicles 12:16-18).Verse 2. - Everyone that was in distress,... in debt, or discontented (Hebrew, bitter of soul), gathered themselves unto him. Had Saul's government been just and upright David would have had no followers; but he never rose above the level of a soldier, had developed all that arbitrariness which military command fosters in self-willed minds, and seems entirely unaware of its being his duty to attend to the righteous administration of the law. The Israelites had in him the very king they had desired, but they found that a brave general might at home be a ruthless tyrant. Debt was one of the worst evils of ancient times. The rate of usury was so exorbitant that a loan was sure to end in utter ruin, and not only the debtor, but his children might be made slaves to repay the debt (2 Kings 4:1). It was one of the first duties of an upright governor to enforce the Mosaic law against usury (Leviticus 25:36); but all such cares Saul despised, and there were probably many in the land impoverished by Saul's own exactions and favouritism (ver. 7), and made bitter of soul by his cruelty and injustice. All such were glad to join in what seemed to them the banner of revolt. Afterwards at Ziklag David was joined by nobler followers (see on 1 Samuel 27:6). With David we may compare Jephthah's case in the old days of anarchy (Judges 11:3-6), and note that bad government leads to lawlessness just as surely as no government. Psalm 34, according to the standing title of the Philistian princes at Gath. The fact that David fled at once out of the land, and that to the Philistines at Gath, may be accounted for from the great agitation into which he had been thrown by the information he had received from Jonathan concerning Saul's implacable hatred. As some years had passed since the defeat of Goliath, and the conqueror of Goliath was probably not personally known to many of the Philistines, he might hope that he should not be recognised in Gath, and that he might receive a welcome there with his few attendants, as a fugitive who had been driven away by Saul, the leading foe of the Philistines.
(Note: This removes the objection raised by modern critics to the historical credibility of the narrative before us, namely, that David would certainly not have taken refuge at once with the Philistines, but would only have gone to them in the utmost extremity (Thenius). It is impossible to see how the words "he fled that day for fear of Saul" (1 Samuel 21:11) are to prove that this section originally stood in a different connection, and are only arbitrarily inserted here (Thenius). Unless we tear away the words in the most arbitrary manner from the foregoing word ויּברח, they not only appear quite suitable, but even necessary, since David's journey to Abimelech was not a flight, or at all events it is not described as a flight in the text; and David's flight from Saul really began with his departure from Nob. Still less can the legendary origin of this account be inferred from the fact that some years afterwards David really did take refuge with Achish in the Philistian country (1 Samuel 27:1-12 and 1 Samuel 29:1-11), or the conjecture sustained that this is only a distorted legend of that occurrence. For if the later sojourn of David with Achish be a historical fact, that popular legend could not possibly have assumed a form so utterly different as the account before us, to say nothing of the fact that this occurrence has a firm historical support in Psalm 34:1.)
But in this he was mistaken. He was recognised at once by the courtiers of Achish. They said to their prince, "Is not this David the king of the land? Have they not sung in circles, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands?" (cf. 1 Samuel 18:6-7). "King of the land" they call David, not because his anointing and divine election were known to them, but on account of his victorious deeds, which had thrown Saul entirely into the shade. Whether they intended by these words to celebrate David as a hero, or to point him out to their prince as a dangerous man, cannot be gathered from the words themselves, nor can the question be decided with certainty at all (cf. 1 Samuel 29:5).
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