Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
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?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.
And he said unto him, God forbid; thou shalt not die: behold, my father will do nothing either great or small, but that he will shew it me: and why should my father hide this thing from me? it is not so.2. nothing either great or small] i.e. absolutely nothing. Cp. 1 Samuel 22:15, 1 Samuel 25:36.
shew it me] Lit. “uncover mine ear,” and so in 1 Samuel 20:12. See on 1 Samuel 9:15.
it is not so] Bearing in mind Saul’s oath (1 Samuel 19:6), and attributing his recent violence to temporary madness, Jonathan refuses to believe that his father has any deliberate design against David’s life.
And David sware moreover, and said, Thy father certainly knoweth that I have found grace in thine eyes; and he saith, Let not Jonathan know this, lest he be grieved: but truly as the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, there is but a step between me and death.3. And David sware moreover] Added an oath to the assertion in 1 Samuel 20:1. The Sept. however reads simply, “And David answered Jonathan and said.”
Thy father certainly knoweth, &c.] Jonathan’s confidence that Saul would tell him all beforehand clearly implies that be supposed his father to be ignorant of the close friendship between him and David. David undeceives him on this point.
there is but a step, &c.] He stands, as it were, upon the very brink of a precipice.
Then said Jonathan unto David, Whatsoever thy soul desireth, I will even do it for thee.
And David said unto Jonathan, Behold, to morrow is the new moon, and I should not fail to sit with the king at meat: but let me go, that I may hide myself in the field unto the third day at even.5. the new moon] The New Moon or first day of the lunar month was celebrated with special sacrifices and blowing of trumpets. See Numbers 28:11-15; Numbers 10:10; Psalm 81:3. It was observed as a day of rest (Amos 8:5), and apparently used as an opportunity for religious instruction (2 Kings 4:23).
to sit with the king at meat] To join as a member of the royal household in the sacrificial feast (1 Samuel 20:24) which lasted for two days at least (1 Samuel 20:27).
let me go] As the sequel proved, the plan was well devised for ascertaining whether the lesson of Naioth had wrought any change in Saul, or whether in his sane moments he was now deliberately resolved to kill David.
If thy father at all miss me, then say, David earnestly asked leave of me that he might run to Bethlehem his city: for there is a yearly sacrifice there for all the family.6. a yearly sacrifice there for all the family] This request incidentally throws light on the religious customs of the age. The annual meeting of the family or clan for sacrifice may have been a partial observance of the command in Deuteronomy 12:5 ff.; but in the unsettled state of religion the obligation to go up to the central sanctuary was neglected. It is not clear whether David really wanted to go to Bethlehem, and meant to hide “in the field” afterwards, or whether he regarded the story as a justifiable deception to avoid exciting Saul’s anger.
If he say thus, It is well; thy servant shall have peace: but if he be very wroth, then be sure that evil is determined by him.
Therefore thou shalt deal kindly with thy servant; for thou hast brought thy servant into a covenant of the LORD with thee: notwithstanding, if there be in me iniquity, slay me thyself; for why shouldest thou bring me to thy father?8. thou hast brought, &c.] The initiative had been on Jonathan’s side (1 Samuel 18:3). David calls their league of friendship “a covenant of Jehovah” as being ratified in His name by solemn oath. See 1 Samuel 20:12 ff.
And Jonathan said, Far be it from thee: for if I knew certainly that evil were determined by my father to come upon thee, then would not I tell it thee?9. Far be it from thee] i.e. Do not suppose that I could either slay thee myself or give thee up to my father. The same phrase is rendered “God forbid” in 1 Samuel 20:2.
Then said David to Jonathan, Who shall tell me? or what if thy father answer thee roughly?10. Who shall tell me, &c.] The double question answers to Jonathan’s double promise in 1 Samuel 20:12-13, that he will let David know the result in either event. But perhaps the words should be rendered simply, who shall tell me if haply thy father answer thee roughly?
And Jonathan said unto David, Come, and let us go out into the field. And they went out both of them into the field.11–23. David and Jonathan renew their covenant
11. into the field] To escape observation they leave the city, in which the conversation has been held hitherto.
And Jonathan said unto David, O LORD God of Israel, when I have sounded my father about to morrow any time, or the third day, and, behold, if there be good toward David, and I then send not unto thee, and shew it thee;12. O Lord God] Jonathan begins by addressing Jehovah, but afterwards instead of putting the verb in the second person (so mayest Thou do) he repeats the divine Name.
about to-morrow any time, or the third day] About this time to-morrow or the day after.
The LORD do so and much more to Jonathan: but if it please my father to do thee evil, then I will shew it thee, and send thee away, that thou mayest go in peace: and the LORD be with thee, as he hath been with my father.13. The Lord do so, &c.] See on 1 Samuel 3:17.
the Lord be with thee, &c.] Cp. 1 Samuel 18:12. Jonathan already foresees David’s destiny, as is clear from the following verses. See also 1 Samuel 23:17.
And thou shalt not only while yet I live shew me the kindness of the LORD, that I die not:14, 15. Convinced that David will succeed to the kingdom, Jonathan exacts from him a promise to shew kindness to his posterity after his death as well as to himself during his life time. His words, like Saul’s in ch. 1 Samuel 14:21, are prompted by a fear lest even David should conform to the barbarous Oriental custom by which the first king of a new dynasty often tried to secure himself on the throne by murdering his predecessor’s family. Cp. 1 Kings 15:29; 1 Kings 16:11; 2 Kings 10:6; 2 Kings 11:1. David fulfilled his promise by shewing kindness to Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 9:1 ff; 2 Samuel 21:7). This is clearly the general sense of the passage, though the exact rendering is doubtful. (1) Retaining the Heb. text we may translate: “And wilt thou not, if I am still alive (when thou comest to the throne), yea wilt thou not shew me the kindness of Jehovah, that I die not? And thou shalt not cut off, &c.” But this involves a very harsh construction, and it is perhaps best (2) to alter the text slightly, and translate: “And mayest thou, if I am still alive, yea mayest thou shew me the kindness of Jehovah: and if I die, thou shalt not cut off thy kindness from my house for ever, &c.”
But also thou shalt not cut off thy kindness from my house for ever: no, not when the LORD hath cut off the enemies of David every one from the face of the earth.
So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, Let the LORD even require it at the hand of David's enemies.16. So Jonathan, &c.] (1) The E. V. treats this as a remark of the historian: and apparently understands Jonathan’s words “Let the Lord, &c.” to mean “Let the Lord exact vengeance from David by the hand of his enemies if he fails to fulfil the covenant.” But this involves an unusual construction. We should expect, “Let the Lord require it at the hand of David,” if he fails to fulfil the covenant (cp. Deuteronomy 23:21): and possibly “David’s enemies” is an euphemism for “David,” substituted by a scribe in later times. Cp. note on 1 Samuel 25:22. (2) The Sept. points to a text making the whole of 1 Samuel 20:16 part of Jonathan’s speech: “And when the Lord hath cut off, &c. let not the name of Jonathan be cut off from the house of David, and may the Lord take vengeance on the enemies of David.”
And Jonathan caused David to swear again, because he loved him: for he loved him as he loved his own soul.17. caused David to swear again, because, &c.] Jonathan exacted another oath beside that implied in 1 Samuel 20:16, because the intensity of his love impelled him to bind David by the strongest possible obligation. The Sept. however reads: “And Jonathan swore yet again to David.”
Then Jonathan said to David, To morrow is the new moon: and thou shalt be missed, because thy seat will be empty.18. thy seat will be empty] At the sacrificial feast. See 1 Samuel 20:5; 1 Samuel 20:25.
18–42. This section is the Haphtarah for the New Moon when it falls on the first day of the week.
And when thou hast stayed three days, then thou shalt go down quickly, and come to the place where thou didst hide thyself when the business was in hand, and shalt remain by the stone Ezel.19. when the business was in hand] Lit. “on the day of the business,” either the incident recorded in 1 Samuel 19:1-7, or some unknown matter.
the stone Ezel] The name “stone of departure” may have been given in remembrance of the parting of David and Jonathan beside it. The Sept. however, (cp. 1 Samuel 20:41), reads “beside yonder heap of stones;” either some natural rocks or a heap of ruins, which might serve for a hiding-place. The rendering of E. V. marg. “the stone that sheweth the way” comes from the Targum, which gives “sign-stone.”
And I will shoot three arrows on the side thereof, as though I shot at a mark.20. I will shoot, &c.] This sign was arranged in case Jonathan should be watched by Saul’s spies, and prevented from getting an interview with David without endangering him. No suspicion would be excited by Jonathan’s carrying the bow which was his usual weapon (1 Samuel 18:4).
And, behold, I will send a lad, saying, Go, find out the arrows. If I expressly say unto the lad, Behold, the arrows are on this side of thee, take them; then come thou: for there is peace to thee, and no hurt; as the LORD liveth.
But if I say thus unto the young man, Behold, the arrows are beyond thee; go thy way: for the LORD hath sent thee away.22. the young man] The stripling, as in 1 Samuel 17:56.
the Lord hath sent thee away] Bids thee depart. Jonathan is prepared to recognise the Divine Will in the banishment of David from Saul’s court. God had another school in which the future king must be trained.
And as touching the matter which thou and I have spoken of, behold, the LORD be between thee and me for ever.23. as touching the matter, &c.] The reciprocal covenant of friendship just renewed and ratified.
the Lord, &c.] As the witness of our covenant, and the avenger of any breach of it. Cp. Genesis 31:49; Genesis 31:53.
So David hid himself in the field: and when the new moon was come, the king sat him down to eat meat.24–34. Saul’s intention tested by Jonathan
24. meat] Lit. bread. “Meat” in the E. V. signifies food in general, and is nowhere limited to the modem meaning flesh. This usage survives in some provincial dialects.
And the king sat upon his seat, as at other times, even upon a seat by the wall: and Jonathan arose, and Abner sat by Saul's side, and David's place was empty.25. upon a seat by the wall] Saul occupied the place of honour at the top or the centre of the table opposite the entrance.
and Jonathan arose] This appears to mean that Jonathan first occupied his usual seat by Saul’s side, but when Abner entered resigned the place to him, probably not wishing to sit next his father in David’s absence. The Sept. has a different reading, “And he preceded Jonathan,” which is equally obscure. Josephus says, “When they had sat down beside Saul, Jonathan on the right, and Abner on the left.”
Nevertheless Saul spake not any thing that day: for he thought, Something hath befallen him, he is not clean; surely he is not clean.26. he is not clean] Persons who were ceremonially unclean were peremptorily excluded from participating in a religious festival. See Leviticus 7:20-21; 1 Samuel 16:5.
And it came to pass on the morrow, which was the second day of the month, that David's place was empty: and Saul said unto Jonathan his son, Wherefore cometh not the son of Jesse to meat, neither yesterday, nor to day?
And Jonathan answered Saul, David earnestly asked leave of me to go to Bethlehem:
And he said, Let me go, I pray thee; for our family hath a sacrifice in the city; and my brother, he hath commanded me to be there: and now, if I have found favour in thine eyes, let me get away, I pray thee, and see my brethren. Therefore he cometh not unto the king's table.29. my brother] The eldest brother probably made the arrangements in Jesse’s old age. The Sept. reads “my brothers.”
Then Saul's anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said unto him, Thou son of the perverse rebellious woman, do not I know that thou hast chosen the son of Jesse to thine own confusion, and unto the confusion of thy mother's nakedness?30. Thou son of the perverse rebellious woman] “To any Oriental, nothing is so grievously insulting as a reproach cast upon his mother.… The mother herself is not held to be affronted in such cases, but the son who hears such words applied to her is insulted, and meant to be insulted, beyond expiation.” Kitto, Bible Illustr. The words might also be rendered, “thou son of perverse rebellion,” i.e. according to a common Heb. idiom (cp. 1 Samuel 1:16), “thou perverse rebel.”
that thou hast chosen] The Sept. reads, “that thou consortest with.”
to thine own confusion, &c.] Thy unfilial conduct disgraces both thyself and the mother who bare thee.
For as long as the son of Jesse liveth upon the ground, thou shalt not be established, nor thy kingdom. Wherefore now send and fetch him unto me, for he shall surely die.31. he shall surely die] Lit. “he is a son of death.” Cp. 2 Samuel 12:5; Psalm 102:20; Matthew 23:15; John 17:12.
And Jonathan answered Saul his father, and said unto him, Wherefore shall he be slain? what hath he done?
And Saul cast a javelin at him to smite him: whereby Jonathan knew that it was determined of his father to slay David.33. cast a javelin] Or, as in 1 Samuel 18:11, lifted his spear: brandished it threateningly, without actually casting it.
So Jonathan arose from the table in fierce anger, and did eat no meat the second day of the month: for he was grieved for David, because his father had done him shame.34. had done him shame] Saul had insulted and wronged David by publicly charging him with treasonable intentions (1 Samuel 20:31). “The generosity of Jonathan’s character is very apparent. He did not resent the injury and insult offered to himself so much as the wrong done to his friend.” Speaker’s Comm.
And it came to pass in the morning, that Jonathan went out into the field at the time appointed with David, and a little lad with him.35–42. The parting between Jonathan and David
35. at the time appointed] Better, to the place appointed (1 Samuel 20:19).
a little lad] Who would not suspect the real purpose of Jonathan’s shooting: a vivid touch of reality in the narrative.
And he said unto his lad, Run, find out now the arrows which I shoot. And as the lad ran, he shot an arrow beyond him.
And when the lad was come to the place of the arrow which Jonathan had shot, Jonathan cried after the lad, and said, Is not the arrow beyond thee?
And Jonathan cried after the lad, Make speed, haste, stay not. And Jonathan's lad gathered up the arrows, and came to his master.38. the arrows] It is implied that the three arrows agreed upon were shot, but the narrator does not think it necessary to repeat full details thrice.
But the lad knew not any thing: only Jonathan and David knew the matter.
And Jonathan gave his artillery unto his lad, and said unto him, Go, carry them to the city.40. his artillery] i.e. his bow and quiver. From Lat. ars, used in late Latin to mean ‘an implement,’ came the late Latin artillaria, and O. Fr. artillerie, ‘machines or equipment of war.’ The word was used of missile weapons long before the invention of gunpowder. See Bible Word-Book, p. 37.
And as soon as the lad was gone, David arose out of a place toward the south, and fell on his face to the ground, and bowed himself three times: and they kissed one another, and wept one with another, until David exceeded.41. out of a place toward the south] Lit. “from the side of the south,” i.e. from a hiding-place to the south of the stone Ezel. But the expression is anomalous, and it is best to adopt the Sept. reading, “from beside the heap of stones,” as in 1 Samuel 20:19.
fell on his face, &c.] As a token of reverence and loyalty to the king’s son. Cp. Genesis 33:3; Genesis 42:6. An Oriental when he meets a superior, kneels down and touches the ground with his forehead.
And Jonathan said to David, Go in peace, forasmuch as we have sworn both of us in the name of the LORD, saying, The LORD be between me and thee, and between my seed and thy seed for ever. And he arose and departed: and Jonathan went into the city.42. forasmuch as, &c.] It is better to follow the marginal rendering in assuming an aposiopesis, which corresponds with Jonathan’s deep emotion. “That which we have sworn, &c.”—remember! Jonathan’s parting charge reminds David of their mutual vow.