1 Samuel 26:5
And David arose, and came to the place where Saul had pitched: and David beheld the place where Saul lay, and Abner the son of Ner, the captain of his host: and Saul lay in the trench, and the people pitched round about him.
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(5) And David arose.—Immediately after the scouts informed him of the purpose of Saul, and of the near proximity of the royal army David seems to have resolved upon that night adventure which resulted in the episode told in this twenty-sixth chapter.

In the trench.—The English Version (Margin) has, “in the midst of his carriages”; Keil renders, “by the wagon rampart”; The LXX. translate the Hebrew word by “covered chariots.” The meaning is, no doubt, that the king lay down within the barricade or rampart formed by the baggage wagons.

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 26:5. David came to the place where Saul had pitched — Within sight of it; where he might observe how he lay. Saul lay in a trench — Hebrews במעגלbammanggal, in the carriage, or rather, within the circle of the carriages, that he might be safe from any sudden attack.

26:1-12 How soon do unholy hearts lose the good impressions convictions have made upon them! How helpless were Saul and all his men! All as though disarmed and chained, yet nothing is done to them; they are only asleep. How easily can God weaken the strongest, befool the wisest, and baffle the most watchful! David still resolved to wait till God thought fit to avenge him on Saul. He will by no means force his way to the promised crown by any wrong methods. The temptation was very strong; but if he yielded, he would sin against God, therefore he resisted the temptation, and trusted God with the event.The incident related in this chapter of the meeting between Saul and David bears a strong general resemblance to that recorded in 1 Samuel 24, and is of a nature unlikely to have occurred more than once. Existing discrepancies are explained by the supposition that one narrative relates fully some incidents on which the other is silent. On the whole the most probable conclusion is that the two narratives relate to one and the same event. (Compare the two narratives of the Creation, Genesis 1; Genesis 2:4 ff; the two narratives of David's war, 2 Samuel 8; and 2 Samuel 10; and those of the death of Ahaziah, 2 Kings 9:27 ff; and 2 Chronicles 22:9.) 1Sa 26:5-25. David Stays Abishai from Killing Saul, but Takes His Spear and Cruse.

5. Saul lay in the trench, and the people pitched round about him—Among the nomad people of the East, the encampments are usually made in a circular form. The circumference is lined by the baggage and the men, while the chief's station is in the center, whether he occupy a tent or not. His spear, stuck in the ground, indicates his position. Similar was the disposition of Saul's camp—in this hasty expedition he seems to have carried no tent, but to have slept on the ground. The whole troop was sunk in sleep around him.

Came to the place where Saul had pitched; came near to the skirts of Saul’s camp; which he might easily discover from some neighboring hill or wood, and yet not be discerned himself. And it is probable he came thither disguised, and towards night.

Saul lay in the trench, encompassed with his carriages for better security. Compare 1 Samuel 17:20.

And David arose, and came to the place where Saul had pitched,.... Came near it, within sight of it; so that he could take a view of it with his naked eye, and observe where and in what manner he was encamped:

and David beheld the place where Saul lay, and Abner the son of Ner,

the captain of his host; where he and his general had their quarters in the camp:

and Saul lay in the trench; or circuit; not in the foss or ditch thrown up, in which an army sometimes lies entrenched; but this is to be understood either of the camp itself, so called, as Ben Gersom, Abarbinel, and Ben Melech think, because it lay in a circular form, that all comers to it on every side might be seen; or else a sort of fortress all around the camp, made of carriages joined together; and as the word signifies a carriage, cart or chariot, it may design the chariot in which Saul slept, as kings have been used to do when not in their houses; and to this the Septuagint agrees, which uses a word that Procopius Gazaeus says signifies one kind of a chariot, and is used of a chariot drawn by mules, in the Greek version of Isaiah 66:20; Grotius observes, kings used to sleep in chariots where there were no houses; See Gill on 1 Samuel 17:20; though he rather seems to have slept, "sub die", in the open air:

and the people pitched round about him; both for the sake of honour, and for his greater security; this shows it could not be the loss he laid in, for then they could not pitch around him.

And David arose, and came to the place where Saul had pitched: and David beheld the place where Saul lay, and Abner the son of Ner, the captain of his host: and Saul lay in the trench, and the people pitched round about him.
5–12. Saul’s life again in David’s power

5. in the trench] See on 1 Samuel 17:20. The Sept. rendering “in a chariot” is a mistake.

Verse 5. - David arose. It seems as if David could scarcely believe that Saul would thus a second time pursue him; but when the scouts informed him that it was really so, he went in person to reconnoitre Saul's camp. From the opposite hill he was able to see that he lay in the trench, i.e. the barricade formed by the wagons. At night Saul's place would be in the centre, with Abner near him, while the rest would lie sleeping around, but all of them within the rampart. When David reconnoitred them they would probably be arranging their wagons to form this barricade. 1 Samuel 26:5Upon the receipt of this information, David rose up with two attendants (mentioned in 1 Samuel 26:6) to reconnoitre the camp of Saul. When he saw the place where Saul and his general Abner were lying - Saul was lying by the waggon rampart, and the fighting men were encamped round about him - he said to Ahimelech and Abishai, "Who will go down with me into the camp to Saul?" Whereupon Abishai declared himself ready to do so; and they both went by night, and found Saul sleeping with all the people. Ahimelech the Hittite is never mentioned again; but Abishai the son of Zeruiah, David's sister (1 Chronicles 2:16), and a brother of Joab, was afterwards a celebrated general of David, as was also his brother Joab (2 Samuel 16:9; 2 Samuel 18:2; 2 Samuel 21:17). Saul's spear was pressed (stuck) into the ground at his head, as a sign that the king was sleeping there, for the spear served Saul as a sceptre (cf. 1 Samuel 18:10).
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