1. Now the Ziphites came to Saul at Gibeah, saying, “Is David not hiding in the hill of Hachilah, opposite Jeshimon?”
As they did back in chapter 23, the Ziphites once again betray David’s location to Saul. They had decided to throw in their lot with the current king, in spite of the fact that they were from Judah, David’s own tribe. Thus, they figured to go all in, and hope for the victory of Saul resulting in their own advancement. Fortunately for them, David was not a vengeful person. Yet certainly their hopes of advancement by siding with Saul did not come to fruition.
The Ziphites come to Saul at his home in Gibeah, and report to him that David is in the hill of Hachilah opposite Jeshimon. This was the same place he was in when they betrayed him back in I Samuel 23:19! Apparently he was as yet unaware of the treachery of the Ziphites, and so he had returned to this old hiding place, not realizing that his trust in the local peoples had been betrayed. Of course, it was also true that Saul was not supposed to be pursuing David anymore, as he had sworn to him back in I Samuel 24:22.
2. Then Saul arose and went down to the Wilderness of Ziph, having three thousand chosen men of Israel with him, to seek David in the Wilderness of Ziph.
Greed for advancing in the king’s favor causes the Ziphites to take this opportunity to betray David, and it seems that Saul cannot ignore this chance to get at David, in spite of his word given. Indeed, his own word meant little to Saul, as he had already broken his word to his own firstborn son Jonathan that he would not try to kill David. Therefore it should not surprise us that he would break it once again in this instance. Saul could not long contain his jealousy.
Thus Saul rises up and travels to the Wilderness of Ziph. Saul picks three thousand chosen men out of his army to go with him to search for David.
3. And Saul encamped in the hill of Hachilah, which is opposite Jeshimon, by the road. But David stayed in the wilderness, and he saw that Saul came after him into the wilderness.
Saul camps at the hill of Hachilah, opposite Jeshimon, and by the road. That is where the Ziphites reported to him David’s location, but David is no longer there. Instead, he is camped in the wilderness of Jeshimon nearby. Yet there in the wilderness David hears a report that Saul has come looking for him once again.
4. David therefore sent out spies, and understood that Saul had indeed come.
It seems David is reluctant to believe this report. Perhaps he had felt that Saul spoke from his heart when he had promised him before to let him go, and he was loath to believe that Saul’s heart really was so fickle. Yet it certainly was just that fickle, and Saul was a man with little integrity left. Not that he could not lose still more of it, as we will see in chapter 28! Yet David does not want to believe this of Saul, and so he sends spies, and thus discovers that Saul has indeed come to find him once again.
5. So David arose and came to the place where Saul had encamped. And David saw the place where Saul lay, and Abner the son of Ner, the commander of his army. Now Saul lay within the camp, with the people encamped all around him.
David does not immediately flee from Saul. Instead, he and his men go to scout the place where Saul is encamped. When David arrives there, he sneaks close enough to see Saul himself and Abner the son of Ner his army commander sleeping in the middle of the camp, with his army encamped all around him. David and his men were brave indeed to get this close to a large force of their enemies!
6. Then David answered, and said to Ahimelech the Hittite and to Abishai the son of Zeruiah, brother of Joab, saying, “Who will go down with me to Saul in the camp?”
And Abishai said, “I will go down with you.”
We learn the name of the two men of David who are accompanying him in this bold scouting expedition. First is Ahimelech, which means “My Brother is King,” the Hittite. Hittite means “Fear” or “Terror.” They were descendents of Heth, who was the second son of Canaan. Therefore the Hittites were one of the Canaanite nations Israel was to destroy for their wickedness when the LORD gave them the land. However, as we know from the book of Judges, Israel failed to destroy them all, and so some of these nations were living among them still at this time. Generally the Canaanites had a bad effect on the Israelites. This is often the case, that the bad influence works more effectively than the good! Yet it seems that in a few cases it worked the other way around. Sometimes the good influence wins out, and so we see, as here among David’s men, a few commendable and Godly Hittites.
The second brave scout who is accompanying David is Abishai, which means “My Father is a Gift.” He is the son of Zeruiah, which means “Balsam.” Zeruiah is a woman’s name, and she is David’s siste. Therefore Abishai is David’s nephew, as is his brother Joab.
David now asks his two companions who is willing to go with him into Saul’s camp. It seems this even more daring adventure is too much for the courage of Ahimelech, but Abishai bravely volunteers to go down into the camp with his uncle.
7. So David and Abishai came to the people by night; and there Saul lay sleeping within the camp, with his spear stuck in the ground by his head. And Abner and the people lay all around him.
So David and Abishai carry out their plan and sneak into the camp at night. There they find Saul sleeping in the camp with his spear stuck into the ground beside his head. Abner and all the army are lying all around him, protecting him in the middle, it would seem. Yet little good this protection does Saul now, with David and Abishai able to sneak right up to him!
8. Then Abishai said to David, “God has delivered your enemy into your hand this day. Now therefore, please, let me strike him at once with the spear, right to the earth; and I will not have to strike him a second time!”
Abishai is very excited by this turn of events. He suggests to David, no doubt in whispers, that God has delivered Saul into their hands. As we will see in a few verses, there was some truth to this, as God had cast an unusually heavy sleep over Saul and his army. Thus Abishai wants to use this opportunity to take Saul’s own spear and to run him through with it, pinning him to the ground. He argues that his skill with the spear is such that he will not have to strike Saul a second time. He will kill him with one blow, and even if the blow is heard, he and David should be able to get away in the confusion.
Notice that this is a very similar situation to what had happened in the cave in chapter 24. David had refused to let his men harm Saul then, and his kindness to his old master had justified itself when Saul had been so moved he had let David and his men go and had returned home. Yet Saul had now proven completely untrustworthy. Twice he had attempted to murder David in spite of his word that he would not do so again. It was now clear that nothing Saul said could be trusted. If he could go back on his heartfelt words before, spoken with tears, it is clear that he could go back on any word of his. Nothing short of his death will stop Saul from wishing to kill David. Therefore, Abishai suggests that now is the time to bring that death about. Certainly one could not argue that Saul did not deserve it!
9. But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him; for who can stretch out his hand against the LORD’s anointed, and be guiltless?”
David’s answer to Abishai is the same as it was to his men before. The fact that Saul had seemed to let him go before and then gone back on it changed nothing of the rightness or the wrongness of him assassinating Saul. David will still not allow the LORD’s anointed to be destroyed. Who can stretch out his hand to harm the LORD’s anointed and be guiltless, David wonders? Of course the answer is that no one can. Saul, for all his faults, was still the one anointed by the LORD to be king of Israel. Until the LORD Himself removed him, it was not right for David or anyone else to try to do so for him. David knows this, and so restrains his eager but violent nephew.
“Do not destroy” is a postscript of many of David’s Psalms. We find it in the postscript of Psalms 56, 57, 58, and 74. In most of our modern Bibles, this postscript is erroneously put in the title of the following Psalms, which makes it mean very little. Yet when we attach the words to the correct psalm, we can see that these Psalms all express the same sentiment: that the LORD will not allow David, His anointed, to be destroyed. Well, David would not allow any other one anointed by the LORD to be destroyed either as long as he had any say in it. This was good and right, yet it must have been somewhat hard for David to do after all Saul had put him through, and realizing as he must have by now that nothing would change Saul’s mind about trying to kill him. Yet David was willing to do the right thing even though it cost him. He was a Godly man indeed, and we can see why the LORD chose him to be king.
10. David said furthermore, “As the LORD lives, the LORD shall strike him, or his day shall come to die, or he shall go out to battle and perish.
David will leave Saul’s fate in the hands of Jehovah. As Jehovah lives, it must come eventually, since he has promised the throne to David after Saul. Perhaps He will bring him to his end by striking him. David had recently seen him do just that to Nabal, who had merely insulted him. How much more could Jehovah do this to Saul, who was dead set against His purposes? Yet it could be that this will not happen, but it will merely come about that his day will come and he will die of old age. David is much younger than Saul, so he could wait for this to happen and still have time to take the throne. Or it could be that Saul will meet his end by going out to battle and perishing in the conflict. We know by hindsight that this is what actually happened, but of course David could not know that when he said this.
11. The LORD forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the LORD’s anointed. But please, take now the spear and the jug of water that are by his head, and let us go.”
David swears in Yahweh’s name that he will not hurt Saul by his own hand, and of course that included the power of any men who were under his command. He simply will not allow Saul’s murder. Yet he does want to do something similar to the last time Saul was in his power in the cave. Therefore, he commands Abishai to take his spear and his water jar that are sitting by his head on the ground, and then they will both leave.
12. So David took the spear and the jug of water by Saul’s head, and they got away; and no man saw or knew it or awoke. For they were all asleep, because a deep sleep from the LORD had fallen on them.
This says that David took the spear and the jug of water by Saul’s head, but since he had commanded Abishai to do it, this probably means that he fetched them and then gave them to David. Now they take these things and go. No one hears them or wakes up or knows they were ever there, for they were all sleeping. This was not a natural sleep, and their going undetected was not just a result of their own cleverness and stealth, for we read that Yahweh had caused a deep sleep to fall upon Saul and his army. He was watching out for David once again.
13. Now David went over to the other side, and stood on the top of a hill afar off, a great distance being between them.
Having taken his two tokens, David now crosses to another hill nearby, but which is separated from Saul’s camp by a deep valley. Remember that something very like this happened back in chapter 24, but that time, after cutting off the corner of Saul’s robe, David only waited until Saul had left the cave he was in before calling to Saul and letting him know he had been there. He trusted at that time that his honesty and integrity would impress Saul, and that he would not dare shame himself by capturing David then, after David had so clearly proven that he himself had no ill intentions against Saul. That had proven to be the case. Though Saul had had David surrounded by his army, he had let him go. Yet now, David knows that Saul has come out against him in spite of what had happened the last time. Saul has proven that, in his jealousy, he does not care whether or not David has any ill feelings towards him. He has ill feelings towards David, and he wants to kill him whether David returns his enmity or not. Since Saul has revealed that this is in his heart, he does not trust Saul so much this time as he did the last time. He feels that, whether he has proof that he has spared Saul or not, Saul might well execute him if he can get his hands on him. Thus, David gives himself the protection of distance before daring to wake Saul.
14. And David called out to the people and to Abner the son of Ner, saying, “Do you not answer, Abner?”
Then Abner answered and said, “Who are you, calling out to the king?”
Once he is well away from Saul, David cries out to the people of Saul in his camp. However, he does not cry out specifically to Saul, but rather to Abner, Saul’s cousin and army commander. Abner, this reminds us, was the son of Ner, the brother of Kish, Saul’s father. David asks Abner to answer. Abner awakens and asks who cries to the king. Of course, to cry out to the army commander in company with the king was to cry out to the king himself as well.
15. So David said to Abner, “Are you not a man? And who is like you in Israel? Why then have you not guarded your lord the king? For one of the people came in to destroy your lord the king.
David calls out and speaks again to Abner. His two questions here must be combined to get his meaning: that Abner is a man of high position in Israel, with none to compare with him save Saul the king. As Saul’s army commander, he was to protect his lord, and while sleeping he was closest to King Saul. Why has he not then guarded and protected him? For, David informs him, one of the people came in to destroy his lord, King Saul. David does not say so, but we realize that the one he is referring to is Abishai, his nephew and companion who had argued with David that he should allow him to assassinate Saul. As we saw, David in fact had been the one who had to spare Saul’s life. David here blames Abner for not protecting the king his lord.
16. This thing that you have done is not good. As the LORD lives, you deserve to die, because you have not guarded your master, the LORD’s anointed. And now see where the king’s spear is, and the jug of water that was by his head.”
David scolds Abner for having done a thing not good. He even asserts and swears by the LORD that Abner is worthy of death for failing in his duty as bodyguard to the king, the LORD’s anointed. Whether or not he really wanted Abner executed is hard to say, but his point is to inform Saul along with Abner that he has come close to death today, and only David’s interference had kept him from dying. He proves his assertion by pointing out that the king’s spear and water jar are missing.
We would notice that David does not actually name the one who wanted to kill Saul, Abishai, to the king. David no doubt did not want to add his friend and nephew to the list of people whom Saul’s paranoia would fix on as one who threatened him and needed to die. This was probably a wise course of action on David’s part. Yet by doing so, he also does nothing to try to deflect Saul’s fixation on himself. He could have tried to spread Saul’s fear around, but he does not. David is willing to remain as Saul’s primary target, and does not act to try to alleviate that at his companion’s expense.
Notice also that David calls Saul the LORD’s anointed. In Hebrew, this is the word meshiyach, which we get through the New Testament transliteration as “messiah.” In the New Testament, this word is translated as “Christ.” We think of this word as being an exclusive title of our Lord Jesus, but it is not. The kings of Israel Saul, David, Solomon, Hezekiah, and even their last king Zedekiah are all called “messiah” or the LORD’s anointed. The high priest is called the “anointed,” since he was marked out by God to be the priest, though not the king. Cyrus is prophetically called the LORD’s anointed in Isaiah 45:1, though this refers to a future Cyrus at the start of the kingdom of God. Whether this is the same King Cyrus of the Persians of times past or some new Cyrus is hard to say. Finally, even the patriarchs are called the LORD’s anointed in Psalm 105:15, for they were marked out by Him as anointed as well. So while the Lord Jesus is THE Anointed One of God, God has other anointed ones, as a study of the Scriptures will clearly show.
So Saul was the LORD’s anointed, though he often disappointed the LORD and did not live up to his anointing. Yet the fact that he was the LORD’s anointed remained, and David always looked at him as this and called him this. David himself was the LORD’s anointed as well, and he seems to have taken seriously treating Saul as he would have hoped others would have treated him. Saul may have not lived up to the high standard that being the LORD’s anointed should have led him to, but it was up to the LORD to deal with him about that. David could only yield to the LORD’s anointing and treat Saul accordingly. This he always was careful to do.
17. Then Saul knew David’s voice, and said, “Is that your voice, my son David?”
David said, “It is my voice, my lord, O king.”
This time Abner does not answer, perhaps dismayed by David’s accusation and the proof he offers of it. Instead, Saul answers. He recognizes David’s voice, and asks if it is him speaking. He uses the same words as he did the last time this very same thing happened, as we read in I Samuel 24:16.
16. So it was, when David had finished speaking these words to Saul, that Saul said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” And Saul lifted up his voice and wept.
Notice, though, that on that former occasion, realizing what David had done caused Saul to weep. But this time he does not weep! This time, he has pursued David in spite of knowing that David is innocent of any kind of plot against him. This time, his heart is becoming harder. This is bound to happen: the more times you violate your own conscience, the weaker it becomes. No doubt David was wise to get well away from Saul before waking him. Counting on his good graces this time would have been a foolish thing to do!
David responds to Saul’s question, positively identifying himself as David.
18. And he said, “Why does my lord thus pursue his servant? For what have I done, or what evil is in my hand?
David again appeals to Saul, even as he did the last time. Why is his master pursuing his servant? What wrong did he ever do Saul, that he pursues him? What calamity did he ever plot against Saul? Of course, Saul realizes by now that David had done nothing against him at all. David might well have pointed out here that Saul’s pursuit of him should have ended after the last time, but he does not. He deals most patiently with Saul. As I have said before, I believe David liked Saul, and honestly wished that Saul could put aside his jealousy, and they could have been companions once again. Alas, as we know, Saul’s heart was too hard for that to ever take place!
19. Now therefore, please, let my lord the king hear the words of his servant: If the LORD has stirred you up against me, let Him accept an offering. But if it is the children of men, may they be cursed before the LORD, for they have driven me out this day from sharing in the inheritance of the LORD, saying, ‘Go, serve other gods.’
Now David humbly calls upon Saul as a suppliant, asking Saul to hear his words and consider his request. Is it Jehovah Who has stirred Saul up against David? If so, David offers to make an offering to appease Him. Is it the sons of Adam? Then he wishes them cursed before Jehovah, for they are seeking to drive him out of Israel, Jehovah’s inheritance, into other lands.
Remember that the religion which God gave Israel was really only meant to be kept in the land of Israel. It was not truly transportable. You could not take Jehovah’s religion and carry it out in a strange land. It was meant to be performed at Jehovah’s tabernacle and before His ark, and it could not truly be performed elsewhere. If David, then, is driven into other lands, he will be put in a place where he is unable to truly worship God according to the religion Jehovah had given. This is besides the obvious fact that in these other lands, he and his men will be pressured to serve other gods, the gods of the lands they are sojourning in. Thus, if men are pressuring Saul to drive David away, he wishes a curse upon those men for doing so.
This should be something we take into consideration as we examine the actions of Saul. We realize that he acted in a most dishonorable way, and seemed always paranoid against the actions of David. Yet we must also consider that there may have been men who were driving him to view things this way. Men who sought high position in Saul’s court and who feared a reconciliation with David would have meant a threat to their own position might well have stirred Saul up to further jealousy and enmity against David. These men were acting dishonorably and deserved David’s curse, but there can be little doubt that such men did indeed exist and were partially responsible for Saul’s ignoble actions against his son-in-law and servant David.
20. So now, do not let my blood fall to the earth before the face of the LORD. For the king of Israel has come out to seek a flea, as when one hunts a partridge in the mountains.”
So now, in light of the proof he has offered of his own care for Saul’s life, he calls upon Saul not to kill him or to allow his blood to fall to the earth before the face of Yahweh. This is perhaps a reference back to Genesis 4:10, wherein Yahweh told Cain that his brother’s blood cried out to Him from the ground. David suggests that for Saul to orchestrate or even allow his death would be similar to the murder of innocent Abel. He calls upon Saul not to let this happen.
David again asserts that the mighty Saul, the king of Israel, is coming as against a flea when he comes out to seek him. In other words, what significance can David possibly have to Saul that he would leave his home and throne behind to spend his time seeking David? David compares his hunt to a partridge hunt in the mountains. Surely Saul is merely wasting his time!
21. Then Saul said, “I have sinned. Return, my son David. For I will harm you no more, because my life was precious in your eyes this day. Indeed I have played the fool and erred exceedingly.”
Saul admits that he has sinned once again in coming out to seek after David. He urges David to return, which seems to be an offer to allow him to return to his home, or even to return to Saul’s court to take his former position in his army. He claims he will seek David’s harm no more, since he knows that David has valued his soul and spared him from death this day. David’s generous actions have proved him a fool and in a great error by the way he has treated David.
Note that the word translated “life” here by the New King James Version is actually the word nephesh or “soul” in Hebrew. David has valued Saul’s soul when he valued his life and did not allow him to be assassinated this day.
22. And David answered and said, “Here is the king’s spear. Let one of the young men come over and get it.
David seems to totally ignore Saul’s words. He does not seem to trust Saul this time. Perhaps if Saul had made this offer the first time this had happened, David might have had reason to believe him. However, when he had already proven all this to Saul before and Saul still came out again to murder him, he is not ready to trust anything Saul says. And well might he mistrust Saul, for surely, even if Saul meant what he said here, his generous spirit would have worn off even more quickly than it did the first time, and he soon would have been back to his old ways of seeking David’s death. Therefore, David knows by long and sad experience that Saul’s words and offer to restore David are just empty wind.
So what David answers instead is to allow Saul to send a messenger to him to fetch back his spear, one of his young men. David did not take it to steal it, but merely to make his point to Saul, and now Saul can have it back.
23. May the LORD repay every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness; for the LORD delivered you into my hand today, but I would not stretch out my hand against the LORD’s anointed.
David knows he will never receive a proper repayment from Saul for his actions today. Therefore, he calls on the LORD to repay him for his righteousness and for his faithfulness to his anointed master. He counts on the LORD to deliver him in the future from Saul, since He has delivered Saul into David’s power this day, and yet David would not use the power he had to harm him. Even though Saul’s life was in his power, he would not harm the LORD’s anointed. This was a noble course for David to take, no doubt!
24. And indeed, as your life was valued much this day in my eyes, so let my life be valued much in the eyes of the LORD, and let Him deliver me out of all tribulation.”
David repeats what he said in verse 23 in a slightly different way for emphasis, as the Hebrews often did. Saul’s soul was valued much this day in David’s eyes, in spite of all Saul’s actions against him. David therefore wishes that Jehovah would likewise much value his soul in His eyes, and would deliver him out of all trouble. Again, the word used here is the Hebrew nephesh or soul. To value someone’s soul is to value his life and the continuation of it.
25. Then Saul said to David, “May you be blessed, my son David! You shall both do great things and also still prevail.”
So David went on his way, and Saul returned to his place.
Saul responds by wishing David to be blessed. He also acknowledges that he had a great future ahead of him, wherein he would do great things. He even acknowledges that David will prevail, and that he will not succeed in murdering him. Yet Saul seems to have given up on trying to convince David to return with him. He probably realizes that David has not trusted his offer, and probably likewise realizes that David was wise to do so. Perhaps he even meant it as a ruse to kill him. If not, he was at least honest enough with himself to realize that his promise was worth nothing. Therefore, he simply wishes David well and departs.
So David departs from Saul in peace, and Saul returns home. Yet ultimately David does not trust Saul, and so he does not at all take up his offer to return out of hiding. He well knows that this is not the end of it, and that Saul will be ready to try some other means of murdering him as soon as he sees a possibility for doing so. Sad that a man like Saul had started out to be could come to such a place where he could say a thing one day and go back on it the next, making his word completely meaningless. Saul’s fickleness meant his most solemn oath was mere pretense and bluster. Saul could not be trusted, and David knew it. Yet he would not work to bring about Saul’s death, but would leave his punishment and David’s own ascension to the throne in Yahweh’s hands. He will soon bring those things about, as we will read in the coming chapters.