1 Samuel 26:21
Then said Saul, I have sinned: return, my son David: for I will no more do you harm, because my soul was precious in your eyes this day: behold, I have played the fool, and have erred exceedingly.
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(21) I have played the fool.—There seems something more in these words of Saul than sorrow for the past. He seems to blame himself here, as the Dean of Canterbury well suggests, for putting himself again in David’s power through overweening confidence in his own strength. He reproaches himself with the unguarded state of his camp, but he pledges himself to do no harm to David for the future. He even begs that he will return to his court. But in these words, and also in his blessing of David (1Samuel 26:25), there is a ring of falseness; and this was evidently the impression made on the outlaw, for he not only silently declined the royal overtures, but almost immediately removed from the dominions of Saul altogether, feeling that for him and his there was no longer any hope of security in the land of Israel so long as his foe, King Saul, lived.

Here the two whom Samuel had anointed as kings—the king who has forfeited his crown, and the king of the golden future—parted for ever. They never looked on each other’s faces again; not even when the great warrior Saul by dead was his former friend able to take a farewell look at the face he once loved so well. The kindest services his faithful subjects of Jabesh Gilead could show to their king’s dishonoured remains, for which they had risked their lives, was at once, with all solemnity and mourning, to burn the disfigured body, and to draw a veil of flame over the mutilated corpse of Saul.

1 Samuel


1 Samuel 26:5 - 1 Samuel 26:12
; 1 Samuel 26:21 - 1 Samuel 26:25.

It is fashionable at present to regard this incident and the other instance of David’s sparing Saul, when in his power, as two versions of one event. But it if not improbable that the hunted outlaw should twice have taken refuge in the same place, or that his hiding-place should have been twice betrayed. He had but a small choice of safe retreats, and the Ziphites had motive for a second betrayal in the fact of the first, and of its failure to secure David’s capture. The whole cast of the two incidents is so different that it is impossible to see how the one could have been evolved from the other, and either they are both true, or they are both unhistorical, or, at best, are both the product of fancy working on, and arbitrarily filling up, a very meagre skeleton of fact. Many of the advocates of the identity of the incident at the bottom of the two accounts would accept the latter explanation; we take the former.

Saul had three thousand men with him; David had left his little troop ‘in the wilderness,’ and seems to have come with only his two companions, Ahimelech and his own nephew, Abishai, to reconnoitre. He sees, from some height, the camp, with the transport wagons making a kind of barricade in the centre-just as camps are still arranged in South Africa and elsewhere,-and Saul established therein as in a rude fortification. A bold thought flashes into his mind as he looks. Perhaps he remembered Gideon’s daring visit to the camp of Midian. He will go down, and not only into the camp, but ‘to Saul,’ through the ranks and over the barrier. What to do he does not say, but the two fierce fighters beside him think of only one thing as sufficient motive for such an adventure. Abishai volunteers to go with him; no doubt Ahimelech would have been ready also, but two were enough, and three would only have increased risk. So they lay close hid till night fell, and then stole down through the sleeping ranks with silent movements, like a couple of Indians on the war-trail, climbed the barricade, and stood at last where Saul lay, with his spear, as the emblem of kingship, stuck upright at his head, and a cruse of water for slaking thirst, if he awoke, beside him. Those who should have been his guards lay sleeping round him, for a ‘deep sleep from Jehovah was fallen upon them.’ What a vivid, strange picture it is, and how characteristic of the careless discipline of unscientific Eastern warfare!

The tigerish lust for blood awoke in Abishai. Whatever sad, pitying, half-tender thoughts stirred in David as he looked at the mighty form of Saul, with limbs relaxed in slumber, and perhaps some of the gloom and evil passions charmed out of his face, his nephew’s only thought was,’ What a fair mark! what an easy blow!’ He was brutally eager to strike once, and truculently sure that his arm would make sure that once would be enough. He was religious too, after a strange fierce fashion. God-significantly he does not say ‘Jehovah’; his religion was only the vague belief in a deity-had delivered Saul into David’s hands, and it would be a kind of sin not to kill him. How many bloody tragedies that same unnatural alliance of religion and murderous hate has varnished over! Very beautifully does David’s spirit contrast with this. Abishai represents the natural impulse of us all-to strike at our enemies when we can, to meet hate with hate, and do to another the evil that he would do to us.

David here, though he could be fierce and cruel enough sometimes, and had plenty of the devil in him, listens to his nobler self, which listens to God, and, at a time when everything tempted him to avenge himself, resists and overcomes. He is here a saint after the New Testament pattern. Abishai had, in effect, said, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.’ David’s finely-tuned ear heard, long before they were spoken on earth, the great Christian words, 11 say unto you, Love your enemies; do good to them that hate you.’ He knew that Saul had been ‘rejected,’ but he was ‘Jehovah’s anointed,’ and the unction which had rested on that sleeping head lingered still. It was not for David to be the executor of God’s retribution. He left himself and his cause in Jehovah’s hands, and no doubt it was with sorrow and pitying love, not altogether quenched by Saul’s mad hate, that he foresaw that the life which he spared now was certain one day to be smitten. We may well learn the lesson of this story, and apply it to the small antagonisms and comparatively harmless enmities which may beset our more quiet lives. David in Saul’s ‘laager,’ Stephen outside the wall, alike lead up our thoughts to Jesus’ prayer,’ Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.’

The carrying off of the spear and the cruse was a couch of almost humour, and it, with the ironical taunt flung across the valley to Abner, gives relief to the strain of emotion in the story. Saul’s burst of passionate remorse is morbid, paroxysmal, like his fits of fury, and is sure to foam itself away. The man had no self-control. He had let wild, ungoverned moods master him, and was truly ‘possessed.’ One passion indulged had pushed him over the precipice into insanity, or something like it. Let us take care not to let any passion, emotion, or mood get the upper hand. ‘That way madness lies.’ ‘He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, without walls.’

And let us not confound remorse with repentance ‘The sorrow of the world worketh death.’ Saul grovelled in agony that day, but tomorrow he was raging again with more than the old frenzy of hate. Many a man says, ‘I have played the fool,’ and yet goes on playing it again when the paroxysm of remorse has stormed itself out. David’s answer was by no means effusive, for he had learned how little Saul’s regrets were to be trusted. He takes no notice of the honeyed words of invitation to return, and will not this time venture to take back the spear and cruse, as he had done, on the previous occasion, the skirt of Saul’s robe. He solemnly appeals to Jehovah’s righteous judgment to determine his and Saul’s respective ‘righteousness and faithfulness.’ He is silent as to what that judgment may have in reserve for Saul, but for himself he is calmly conscious that, in the matter of sparing Saul’s life, he has done right, and expects that God will deliver him ‘out of all tribulation.’ That is not self-righteous boasting, although it does not exactly smack of the Christian spirit; but it is faith clinging to the confidence that God is ‘not unrighteous to forget’ his servant’s obedience, and that the innocent will not always be the oppressor’s victim.

What a strange, bewildered, self-contradictory chaos of belief and intention is revealed in poor, miserable Saul’s parting words! He blesses the man whom he is hunting to slay. He knows that all his wild efforts to destroy him are foredoomed to failure, and that David ‘shall surely prevail’; and yet he cannot give up fighting against the inevitable,-that is, against God. How many of us are doing the very same thing-rushing on in a course of life which we know, when we are sane, to be dead against God’s will, and therefore doomed to utter collapse some day!1 Samuel 26:21. Then said Saul, I have sinned — This second instance of David’s tenderness wrought more upon Saul than the former. He owns himself melted, and quite overcome by David’s kindness to him. My soul was precious in thine eyes — which I thought had been odious. He acknowledges he had done very ill to persecute him: I have acted against God’s law; I have sinned: and against my own interest; I have played the fool — In pursuing thee as an enemy, who wast, indeed, one of my best friends. And herein I have erred exceedingly — Have wronged both thee and myself. Nothing can be more full and ingenuous than this confession. God surely now touched his heart. And he promises to persecute him no more: nor does it appear that he ever attempted it afterward.26:21-25 Saul repeated his good words and good wishes. But he showed no evidence of true repentance towards God. David and Saul parted to meet no more. No reconciliation among men is firm, which is not founded in an cemented by peace with God through Jesus Christ. In sinning against God, men play the fool, and err exceedingly. Many obtain a passing view of these truths, who hate and close their eyes against the light. Fair professions do not entitle those to confidence who have long sinned against the light, yet the confessions of obstinate sinners may satisfy us that we are in the right way, and encourage us to persevere, expecting our recompence from the Lord alone.If the Lord have stirred thee up - The meaning is clear from the preceding history. "An evil spirit from God troubling him" was the beginning of the persecution. And this evil spirit was sent in punishment of Saul's sin 1 Samuel 16:1, 1 Samuel 16:14. If the continued persecution was merely the consequence of this evil spirit continuing to vex Saul, David advises Saul to seek God's pardon, and, as a consequence, the removal of the evil spirit, by offering a sacrifice. But if the persecution was the consequence of the false accusations of slanderers, then "cursed" be his enemies who, by their actions, drove David out from the only land where Yahweh was worshipped, and forced him to take refuge in the country of pagan and idolaters (compare Deuteronomy 4:27; Deuteronomy 28:36). 20. as when one doth hunt a partridge—People in the East, in hunting the partridge and other game birds, pursue them, till observing them becoming languid and fatigued after they have been put up two or three times, they rush upon the birds stealthily and knock them down with bludgeons [Shaw, Travels]. It was exactly in this manner that Saul was pursuing David. He drove him from time to time from his hiding-place, hoping to render him weary of his life, or obtain an opportunity of accomplishing his destruction. He not only confesseth, but aggravateth his fault, because his conscience was fully convinced, though his heart was not changed. Then said Saul, I have sinned,.... Which is more than he acknowledged before, and yet, it is to be feared he had no true sense of his sin, and real repentance for it; but, like Pharaoh, his guilty conscience for the present forced this confession from him; see Exodus 9:27,

return, my son David: meaning to his own house, or rather to his palace, since he had disposed of his wife to another man:

for I will no more do thee harm: or seek to do it by pursuing him from place to place, as he had done, which had given him a great deal of trouble and fatigue:

because my soul was precious in thine eyes this day; and therefore spared, when he could have taken it away; which showed that his life was dear to him, of great worth and value in his account; and therefore he would neither take it away himself, nor suffer another to do it:

behold, I have played the fool, and erred exceedingly: in seeking after his life, and pursuing him again, when he had such a convincing proof of his sincerity and faithfulness, and of his cordial affection for him, when he only cut off the skirts of his garment in the cave, and spared his life.

Then said Saul, I have sinned: return, my son David: for I will no more do thee harm, because my soul was {k} precious in thine eyes this day: behold, I have played the fool, and have erred exceedingly.

(k) Because you saved my life this day.

21. I have sinned, &c.] Compare and contrast 1 Samuel 24:16 ff.Verse 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. David in return taunted Abner with having watched the king carelessly, and made himself chargeable with his death. "For one of the people came to destroy thy lord the king." As a proof of this, he then showed him the spear and pitcher that he had taken away with him. ראה is to be repeated in thought before את־צפּחת: "look where the king's spear is; and (look) at the pitcher at his head," sc., where it is. These reproaches that were cast at Abner were intended to show to Saul, who might at any rate possibly hear, and in fact did hear, that David was the most faithful defender of his life, more faithful than his closest and most zealous servants.
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