1 Samuel 26–31: David’s Escape & Saul’s Death

Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 16: Tuesday

Then Abishai said to David, “Today God has surrendered your enemy into your hand; so now, please let me strike him with the spear to the ground with one stroke, and I will not strike him the second time.”
But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can send forth his hand against the anointed of Yahweh and be without guilt?”
David also said, “As Yahweh lives, surely Yahweh will smite him, or his day will come that he dies, or he will go down into battle and be swept away. Yahweh forbid that I should send forth my hand against the anointed of Yahweh; but now please take the spear that is at his head and the jug of water, and let us go.”
1 Samuel 26:8–11 LSB

In Tuesday’s Bible reading of 1 Samuel 26–31, David finds Saul asleep, and once again refuses to kill him. David’s character is again a sharp contrast to Saul’s actions.

When chapter 26 opens, David has again been betrayed when the Ziphites go to Saul and tell him where David is hiding. Joyce Baldwin comments on the events:

“The Ziphites, who had already betrayed David’s whereabouts to Saul (1 Sa. 23:19), and who would have brought about his downfall but for the Philistine raid that called for Saul’s intervention to the west, made another attempt to assist Saul. All David’s movements were carefully monitored.

“Saul still has his three ‘thousands’ of picked troops with which to pursue David (cf. 1 Sa. 24:2), while David has a mere six hundred in his army. Nevertheless, David is not afraid to reconnoitre on his own, so that he knows at first hand the enemy camp. His own base, by the time Saul arrives is in the wilderness, but he does not wait for Saul to find him; instead he takes the initiative, and notes from a distant vantage point how well protected Saul is, with Abner, his cousin, as his bodyguard, and the army encamped all round.”1

This occurs after David had refrained from killing Saul in 1 Samuel 24, but instead cut off a piece of his robe. Saul had wept at that time, acknowledged David was more righteous than he was, and returned home. Now he’s chasing David again. Saul’s regret in 1 Samuel 24 was obviously not true repentance because there was no turning back from hunting David.

This time David learns where Saul has camped, and he and Abishai go into the camp and find Saul sleeping surrounded by his men. Despite the urging of Abishai, David refuses to kill Saul. Instead David takes Saul’s spear and water jug.

Then David crossed over to the other side and stood on top of the mountain at a distance with a large area between them. And David called to the people and to Abner the son of Ner, saying, “Will you not answer, Abner?”
Then Abner answered and said, “Who are you who calls to the king?”
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 to destroy the king your lord. This thing that you have done is not good. As Yahweh lives, all of you must surely die because you did not keep watch over your lord, the anointed of Yahweh. So now, see where the king’s spear is and the jug of water that was at his head.”
1 Samuel 26:13–16 LSB

Saul acknowledges he has sinned, going so far to admit he’s played the fool and committed a serious error. He asks David to return and tells David that he will not harm him. David, however, knows Saul too well and is too astute to trust him.

Then David said in his heart, “Now I will be swept away one day by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than that I should utterly escape into the land of the Philistines. Saul then will despair of searching for me anymore in all the territory of Israel, and I will escape from his hand.”
1 Samuel 27:1 LSB

David takes refuge with Achish, a Philistine who is king of Gath. Achish gives him the city of Ziklag in which to live with his men, and their wives and children. David and his men live there for well over a year, and from there raid the Geshurites and the Girzites and the Amalekites. Baldwin comments:

“Ashish, in his role as king of a city-state with dependencies, had the feudal right to bestow land, and his choice of Ziklag for David was particularly suitable. In the first place it was a border-town in the foot­hills between Philistine and Simeonite territory; though allocated to Simeon (Jos. 19:5; 1 CH. 4:30), in Joshua 15:31 it is listed among Judah’s towns, but either it was never occupied or it was reconquered by the Philistines. From the time of Aschish’s gift, Ziklag belonged to the kings of Judah (v. 6). From David’s point of view Ziklag had the advantage of being well away from Saul’s territory and isolated from the Philistine pentapolis. It’s main disadvantage was that it tended to be the target of marauding bands from the desert, Amalekites particularly. Geshurites, mentioned in Joshua 13:2, lived between southern Philistia and Egypt, and need to be distinguished from people of the same name in northern Transjordan (2 Sa. 15:8). Girzites are not otherwise known.”2

At this point the Philistines begin to gather to go to war against the Israelites. Baldwin writes,

“This was the situation when Achish was preparing for war to gain supremacy over Israel. David found himself in a tight corner when Achish committed his army to fighting against Saul, and David to becoming chief bodyguard to Achish. David’s answer, designed to avoid a straight reply, satisfied Achish but left David wondering how he would escape this dilemma.”3

Samuel has died, and Saul no longer has the prophet’s counsel. Seeing the Philistine army, Saul seeks the Lord, but receives no answer.  Despite God’s forbiddance of mediums and spiritists, and even though Saul himself had expelled them, he seeks one out, asking her to bring up Samuel. Baldwin writes,

“The indication is that the woman was taken by surprise when Samuel appeared to her…The incident does not tell us anything about the veracity of claims to consult the dead on the part of mediums, because the indications are that this was an extraordinary event for her, and a frightening one because she was not in control.”4

The dead prophet reiterates that God has taken the kingdom from Saul to give to David and tells Saul he and his sons will be killed the next day by the Philistines. Ironically, when Samuel was alive, the prophecy Samuel made after Saul disobeyed God equated rebellion with divination.

And Samuel said,
“Has Yahweh as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
As in obeying the voice of Yahweh?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
And insubordination is as wickedness and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of Yahweh,
He has also rejected you from
being king.”
1 Samuel 15:22–23 LSB

The commander of the Philistines, upon seeing David and his men, doesn’t want them fighting for fear of betrayal in battle, and has Achish send them back to Ziglag. In God’ providence, David is protected from fighting against his own people, even against Jonathan, who is also there.

David had spared Saul, but the Philistines who gather against Saul do not. The end of Saul’s life is tragic. Saul and his sons are killed and the Philistines publicly exhibit their bodies in a demeaning display on the wall of Beth-shan. 1 Samuel closes with the men of Jabesh-gilead taking the bodies back to Jabesh. D. F. Payne writes:

“The first book of Samuel ends on a fitting note. Saul’s first royal act had been to rescue Jabesh-Gilead (ch. 11); its citizens now repaid him, posthumously.”5

A calamitous finish to the reign of Israel’s first king.

Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
“Behold the King’s Spear”: Paul Hardy. Public Domain.
1,2,3,4Joyce Baldwin,  1 and 2 Samuel (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1988) 154, 157, 157–158, 159
5D. F. Payne, “1 Samuel,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds. (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1970) 302.

I’m using Michael Coley’s Bible reading plan (one page PDF to print) to read through the Bible in 2023. Each day my posts are on different books because he divides Bible readings into seven categories, one for each day of the week: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy and Gospels. There’s more information on his plan and other ones at Read the Bible in 2023.

Copyright ©2021–2023 Iwana Carpenter

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