1 Samuel 26:13-25
Then David went over to the other side, and stood on the top of an hill afar off; a great space being between them:…
1. This meeting took place at night. The encampment of Saul was over against the desert by the way (ver. 3). The light of the stars, or of the moon, and the flickering campfires, together with the intense silence of the place, would enable the quick eye and ear of David to perceive its position and defenceless condition. And it may have been early morning when, on his return from his adventurous and successful enterprise, the voice of David rang across the ravine which separated him from it. "Answerest thou not, Abner?'
2. The conversation that followed occurred in the presence of the followers of Saul, and was doubtless heard by them, on awaking, like Abner, out of the deep sleep that had fallen upon them (ver. 12). At the former interview Saul was alone with David and his men, and, having no reason for concern about the manner in which his royal dignity, of which he was always so jealous, might be regarded by others, his feelings were less restrained and his expressions more explicit. What was now said must have shown them the evil of the course he pursued; it was a public testimony against the wickedness of the men who incited him to it (ver. 19), and could not but convince them of David's integrity and future success (ver. 25).
3. It took place under circumstances which made it impossible for Saul to do him harm. David's distrust of him was such that he took care to gain a safe position before speaking. The temptation to get him into his power was always too strong for Saul to resist. He was not morally, but physically, restrained from effecting his purpose (1 Samuel 25:32). David could have destroyed Saul, but he would not; Saul would have destroyed David, but he could not; he was under the dominion of a depraved will, even when he expressed his determination to abandon his evil designs, and seemed to himself and others sincerely penitent. In this interview then we see -
I. THE CONSCIOUS INTEGRITY OF AN UPRIGHT HEART. After asking, "Wherefore doth my lord pursue after his servant?" etc., David said, "If the Lord have stirred thee up against me," etc. (vers. 19, 20); and again, "The Lord render to every man his righteousness," etc. (vers. 23, 24). His conscious integrity appears in -
1. Earnestly urging the adoption of proper means to overcome temptation. "Pray to God that he take the temptation from thee" (Bunsen). "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God," etc. (James 1:13, 14). But God often affords him opportunity to manifest the evil that is in his heart, with a view to his conviction of sin and turning from it; and "if he does not repent, the forms in which sin exhibits itself are no longer under his control, but under God's dispensation, who determines them as pleases him, as accords with the plan of his government of the world, for his own honour, and, so long as he is not absolutely rejected, for the good of the sinner" (Hengstenberg). And he has respect to the offering that is presented to him in righteousness (Genesis 4:7). The meat offering (minchah) here meant "was appended to the burnt and peace offerings to show that the object of such offerings was the sanctification of the people by fruitfulness in well doing, and that without this the end aimed at never could be attained" (Fairbairn). David spoke from his deep experience of temptation, his faithful endeavour after holiness, his exalted estimation of the Divine favour and help, and was as desirous that Saul should stand in a right relation to God as of his own deliverance from persecution (Psalm 141:2). "The way in which he addresses Saul is so humble, so gentle, and so reverent that we may sufficiently thence recognise the goodness of his heart."
2. Solemn invocation of Divine judgment on wicked men who incite to wickedness. "If it be the children of men," etc. (ver. 19). This is in accordance with the tone which pervades the imprecatory psalms, and should be interpreted in the light of his personal conduct toward Saul, his zeal for the kingdom and righteousness of God, the facts of the Divine treatment of evil men, similar expressions in the New Testament (Matthew 11:21; Matthew 23:13-39; Acts 8:20; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Timothy 4:4), and the inferior position occupied by saints under the Old Testament dispensation (see commentaries on the Psalms by Tholuck, Perowne, and others). "When David's whole career is intelligently and fairly viewed, it leaves on the mind the impression of a man of as meek and placable a temper as was ever associated with so great strength of will and such strong passions" (Binnie, 'The Psalms'). "David is the Old Testament type of the inviolable majesty of Christ, and therefore his imprecations are prophetic of the final doom of the hardened enemies of Christ and his Church. As such they are simply an expansion of the prayer, 'Thy kingdom come.' For the kingdom of God comes not only by the showing of mercy to the penitent; but also by the executing of judgment on the impenitent" (Kurtz).
3. Fervent entreaty of an enemy to abandon his unjust, unpitying, and unworthy designs. "Now, therefore," etc. (ver. 20). "This speech of David was thoroughly suited to sharpen Saul's conscience and lead him to give up his enmity, if he still had an ear for the voice of truth" (Keil).
4. Confidently appealing to the perfect justice of God and his merciful interposition on his behalf. "The Lord render to every man," etc. (vers. 23, 24). This is not the language of boastfulness or self-righteousness, but "the answer of a good conscience toward God." He desired that God would deal with him as he had dealt with others (Psalm 7:4, 5), and fully vindicate his "righteousness and faithfulness" by delivering him "out of all tribulation." Only one who was consciously upright in heart could speak thus; and similar expressions often occur in the Psalms (Psalm 17:1-5). "The Psalmist is not asserting his freedom from sin, but the uprightness and guilelessness of his heart toward God. He is no hypocrite, no dissembler; he is not consciously doing wrong" (Perowne). In addition to the eight psalms previously mentioned as referred by their inscriptions to the time of Saul's persecution, there are two others, viz., Psalm 63., 'Longing in the wilderness for the presence of God in the sanctuary' (see inscription; vers. 19, 20): -
"O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee.
My soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh pineth for thee,
In a dry and weary land where no water is. Psalm 18., 'An idealised representation of the experience of Divine deliverances' (see inscription; 2 Samuel 22.). Other psalms have also been referred by many to the same period as "the fruitful soft of David's psalm poetry," viz., Psalm 6., 11., 12., 13., 17., 22., 27., 31., 35., 40., 56., 58., 59., 64., 69., 109., 120., 140., 141.
II. THE UNCONSCIOUS INSINCERITY OF AN EVIL HEART. "And Saul said, I have sinned," etc. (vers. 21, 25). He acknowledged the sin and folly of his past conduct (though not with tears, as before), invited David to return, and promised no more to do him harm, uttered a benediction upon him, and predicted that he would "do great things and prevail" (omitting, however, any allusion to his royal dignity, as on the former occasion) - "at once a vindication of David's conduct in the past, and a forecast of his glory in the future." He doubtless meant at the time what he said, but it is to be observed that -
1. The most corrupt heart is capable of good impressions, emotions, and purposes. History and observation afford innumerable instances of the fact.
2. It is apt to be the subject of them under special circumstances (1 Samuel 24:16-22), and particularly when convinced of the futility of sinful endeavours, and restrained by a power which cannot be effectually resisted. "Behold, thou hast spoken and done evil things as thou couldest" (Jeremiah 3:5). So long as the power to do evil things is possessed, it is exercised; but when it is taken away men often seem sincerely penitent and fully determined to do good. But how seldom does the "goodness" exhibited in such circumstances prove really sincere and enduring!
3. The experience of them is no certain evidence to a man himself or others of a right state of heart. They are liable to deceive, and can only be depended upon when expressed and confirmed by corresponding and continuous acts. Strong feeling is often temporary and never transformed into settled principle.
4. The removal of tint influences by which they are produced, and the occurrence of favourable opportunities for the manifestation of the true character, commonly prove its utter insincerity. It was thus with Saul. He did not repent in deeds of righteousness, nor "bring forth fruits meet for repentance." On the contrary, he soon afterwards renewed his persecution, and ceased not until David was wholly beyond his power (ch. 27:1). "They return, but not to the most High: they are like a deceitful bow" (Hosea 7:16). He was under the dominion of an evil disposition and depraved will, and with every broken promise of amendment his moral condition became worse, until he sank into despair. "The only good thing in the world is a good will" (Kant).
"But ill for him who, bettering not with time,
Corrupts the strength of heaven descended Will,
And ever weaker grows through acted crime,
Or seeming genial venial fault,
Recurring and suggesting still!
He seems as one whose footsteps halt,
Toiling in immeasurable sand,
And o'er a weary, sultry land,
Far beneath a blazing vault,
Sown in a wrinkle of the monstrous hill,
The city sparkles like a grain of salt"
(Tennyson) = - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then David went over to the other side, and stood on the top of an hill afar off; a great space being between them:
WEB: Then David went over to the other side, and stood on the top of the mountain afar off; a great space being between them;