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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 24–34
Verses 24–34

Jonathan is here effectually convinced of that which he was so loth to believe, that his father had an implacable enmity to David, and would certainly be the death of him if it were in his power; and he had like to have paid very dearly himself for the conviction.

I. David is missed from the feast on the first day, but nothing is said of him. The king sat upon his seat, to feast upon the peace-offerings as at other times (1 Sam. 20:25), and yet had his heart as full of envy and malice against David as it could hold. He should first have been reconciled to him, and then have come and offered his gift; but, instead of that, he hoped, at this feast, to drink the blood of David. What an abomination was that sacrifice which was brought with such a wicked mind as this! Prov. 21:27. When the king came to take his seat Jonathan arose, in reverence to him both as a father and as his sovereign; every one knew his place, but David’s was empty. It did not use to be so. None more content than he in attending holy duties; nor had he been absent now but that he must have come at the peril of his life; self-preservation obliged him to withdraw. In imminent peril present opportunities may be waived, nay, we ought not to throw ourselves into the mouth of danger. Christ him self absconded often, till he knew that his hour had come. But that day Saul took no notice that he missed David, but said within himself, “Surely he is not clean, 1 Sam. 20:26. Some ceremonial pollution has befallen him, which forbids him to eat of the holy things till he has washed his clothes, and bathed his flesh in water, and been unclean until the evening.” Saul knew what conscience David made of the law, and that he would rather keep away from the holy feast than come in his uncleanness. Blessed be God, no uncleanness is now a restraint upon us, but what we may by faith and repentance be washed from in the fountain opened, Ps. 26:6.

II. He is enquired for the second day, 1 Sam. 20:27. Saul asked Jonathan, who he knew was his confidant, Wherefore cometh not the son of Jesse to meat? He was his own son by marriage, but he calls him in disdain, the son of Jesse. He asks for him as if he were not pleased that he should be absent from a religious feast; and so it should be example to masters of families to see to it that those under their charge be not absent from the worship of God, either in public or in the family. It is a bad thing for us, except in case of necessity, to omit an opportunity of statedly attending on God in solemn ordinances. Thomas lost a sight of Christ by being once absent from a meeting of the disciples. But that which displeased Saul was that hereby he missed the opportunity he expected of doing David a mischief.

III. Jonathan makes his excuse, 1 Sam. 20:28, 29. 1. That he was absent upon a good occasion, keeping the feast in another place, though not here, sent for by his elder brother, who was now more respectful to him than he had been (1 Sam. 17:28), and that he had gone to pay his respects to his relations, for the keeping up of brotherly love; and no master would deny a servant liberty to do that in due time. He pleads, 2. That he did not go without leave humbly asked and obtained from Jonathan, who, as his superior officer, was proper to be applied to for it. Thus he represents David as not wanting in any instance of respect and duty to the government.

IV. Saul hereupon breaks out into a most extravagant passion, and rages like a lion disappointed of his prey. David was out of his reach, but he falls upon Jonathan for his sake (1 Sam. 20:30, 31), gives him base language, not fit for a gentleman, a prince, to give to any man, especially his own son, heir apparent to his crown, a son that served him, the greatest stay and ornament of his family, before a great deal of company, at a feast, when all should be in good humour, at a sacred feast, by which all irregular passions should be mortified and subdued; yet he does in effect call him, 1. A bastard: Thou son of the perverse rebellious woman; that is, according to the foolish filthy language of men’s brutish passion now a day, “Thou son of a whore.” He tells him he was born to the confusion of his mother, that is, he had given the world cause to suspect that he was not the legitimate son of Saul, because he loved him whom Saul hated and supported him who would be the destruction of their family. 2. A traitor: Thou son of a perverse rebellion (so the word is), that is, “thou perverse rebel.” At other times he reckoned no counsellor or commander that he had more trusty and well-beloved than Jonathan; yet now in this passion he represents him as dangerous to his crown and life. 3. A fool: Thou hast chosen the son of Jesse for thy friend to thy own confusion, for while he lives thou shalt never be established. Jonathan indeed did wisely and well for himself and family to secure an interest in David, whom Heaven had destined to the throne, yet, for this, he is branded as most impolitic. It is good taking God’s people for our people and going with those that have him with them. It will prove to our advantage at last, however for the present it may be thought a disparagement, and a prejudice to our secular interest. It is probable Saul knew that David was anointed to the kingdom by the same hand that anointed him, and then not Jonathan, but himself, was the fool, to think to defeat the counsels of God. Yet nothing will serve him but David must die, and Jonathan must fetch him to execution. See how ill Saul’s passion looks, and let it warn us against the indulgence of any thing like it in ourselves. Anger is madness, and he that hates his brother is a murderer.

V. Jonathan is sorely grieved and put into disorder by his father’s barbarous pa 1e66 ssion, and the more because he had hoped better things, 1 Sam. 20:2. He was troubled for his father, that he should be such a brute, troubled for his friend, whom he knew to be a friend of God, that he should be so basely abused; he was grieved for David (1 Sam. 20:34), and troubled for himself too, because his father had done him shame, and, though most unjustly, yet he must submit to it. One would pity Jonathan to see how he was put, 1. Into the peril of sin. Much ado that wise and good man had to keep his temper, upon such a provocation as this. His father’s reflections upon himself made no return to; it becomes inferiors to bear with meekness and silence the contempts put upon them in wrath and passion. When thou art the anvil lie thou still. But his dooming David to die he could not bear: to that he replied with some heat (1 Sam. 20:32), Wherefore shall he be slain? What has he done? Generous spirits can much more easily bear to be abused themselves than to hear their friends abused. 2. Into the peril of death. Saul was now so outrageous that he threw his javelin at Jonathan, 1 Sam. 20:33. He seemed to be in great care (1 Sam. 20:31) than Jonathan should be established in his kingdom, and yet now he himself aims at his life. What fools, what savage beasts and worse does anger make men! How necessary it is to put a hook in its nose and a bridle in its jaws! Jonathan was fully satisfied that evil was determined against David, which put him out of frame exceedingly: he rose from table, thinking it high time when his life was struck at, and would eat no meat, for they were not to eat of the holy things in their mourning. All the guests, we may suppose, were discomposed, and the mirth of the feast was spoiled. He that is cruel troubles his own flesh, Prov. 11:17.