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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 13–20
Verses 13–20

David having got safely from Saul’s camp himself, and having brought with him proofs sufficient that he had been there, posts himself conveniently, so that they might hear him and yet not reach him (1 Sam. 26:13), and then begins to reason with them upon what had passed.

I. He reasons ironically with Abner, and keenly banters him. David knew well that it was from the mighty power of God that Abner and the rest of the guards were cast into so deep a sleep, and that God’s immediate hand was in it; but he reproaches Abner as unworthy to be captain of the lifeguards, since he could sleep when the king his master lay so much exposed. By this it appears that the hand of God locked them up in this deep sleep that, as soon as ever David had got out of danger, a very little thing awakened them, even David’s voice at a great distance roused them, 1 Sam. 26:14. Abner got up (we may suppose it early in a summer’s morning) and enquired who called, and disturbed the king’s repose. “It is I,” says David, and then he upbraids him with his sleeping when he should have been upon his guard. Perhaps Abner, looking upon David as a despicable enemy and one that there was no danger from, had neglected to set a watch; however, he himself ought to have been more wakeful. David, to put him into confusion, told him, 1. That he had lost his honour (1 Sam. 26:15): “Art not thou a man? (so the word is), a man in office, that art bound, by the duty of thy place, to inspect the soldiery? Art not thou in reputation for a valiant man? So thou wouldst be esteemed, a man of such courage and conduct that there is none like thee; but now thou art shamed for ever. Thou a general! Thou, a sluggard!” 2. That he deserved to lose his head (1 Sam. 26:16): “You are all worthy to die, by martial law, for being off your guard, when you had the king himself asleep in the midst of you. Ecce signum—Behold this token. See where the king’s spear is, in the hand of him whom the king himself is pleased to count his enemy. Those that took away this might as easily and safely have taken away his life. Now see who are the king’s best friends, you that neglected him and left him exposed or I that protected him when he was exposed. You pursue me as worthy to die, and irritate Saul against me; but who is worthy to die now?” Note, Sometimes those that unjustly condemn others are justly left to fall into condemnation themselves.

II. He reasons seriously and affectionately with Saul. By this time he was so well awake as to hear what was said, and to discern who said it (1 Sam. 26:17): Isa. this thy voice, my son David? In the same manner he had expressed his relentings, 1 Sam. 24:16. He had given his wife to another and yet calls him son, thirsted after his blood and yet is glad to hear his voice. Those are bad indeed that have never any convictions of good, nor ever sincerely utter good expressions. And now David has as fair an opportunity of reaching Saul’s conscience as he had just now of taking away his life. This he lays hold on, though not of that, and enters into a close argument with him, concerning the trouble he still continued to give him, endeavouring to persuade him to let fall the prosecution and be reconciled.

1. He complains of the very melancholy condition he was brought into by the enmity of Saul against him. Two things he laments:—(1.) That he was driven from his master and from his business: “My lord pursues after his servant, 1 Sam. 26:18. How gladly would I serve thee as formerly if my service might be accepted! but, instead of being owned as a servant, I am pursued as a rebel, and my lord is my enemy, and he whom I would follow with respect compels me to flee from him.” (2.) That he was driven from his God and from his religion; and this was a much greater grievance than the former (1 Sam. 26:19): “They have driven me out from the inheritance of the Lord, have made Canaan too hot for me, at least the inhabited parts of it, have forced me into the deserts and mountains, and will, ere long, oblige me entirely to quit the country.” And that which troubled him was not so much that he was driven out from his own inheritance as that he was driven out from the inheritance of the Lord, the holy land. It should be more comfortable to us to think of God’s title to our estates and his interest in them then of our own, and that with them we may honour him then that with them we may maintain ourselves. Nor was it so much his trouble that he was constrained to live among strangers as that he was constrained to live among the worshippers of strange gods and was thereby thrust into temptation to join with them in their idolatrous worship. His enemies did, in effect, send him to go and serve other gods, and perhaps he had heard that some of them had spoken to that purport of him. Those that forbid our attendance on God’s ordinances do what in them lies to estrange us from God and to make us heathens. If David had not been a man of extraordinary grace, and firmness to his religion, the ill usage he met with from his own prince and people, who were Israelites and worshippers of the true God, would have prejudiced him against the religion they professed and have driven him to communicate with idolaters. “If these be Israelites,” he might have said, “let me live and die with Philistines;” and no thanks to them that their conduct had not that effect. We are to reckon that the greatest injury that can be done us which exposes us to sin. Of those who thus led David into temptation he here says, Cursed be they before the Lord. Those fall under a curse that thrust out those whom God receives, and send those to the devil who are dear to God.

2. He insists upon his own innocency: What have I done or what evil is in my hand? 1 Sam. 26:18. He had the testimony of his conscience for him that he had never done nor ever designed any mischief to the person, honour, or government, of his prince, nor to any of the interests of his country. He had lately had Saul’s own testimony concerning him (1 Sam. 24:17): Thou art more righteous than I. It was very unreasonable and wicked for Saul to pursue him as a criminal, when he could not charge him with any crime.

3. He endeavours to convince Saul that his pursuit of him is not only wrong, but mean, and much below him: “The king of Israel, whose dignity is great, and who has so much other work to do, has come out to seek a flea, as when one doth hunt a partridge in the mountains,” 1 Sam. 26:20—a poor game for the king of Israel to pursue. He compares himself to a partridge, a very innocent harmless bird, which, when attempts are made upon its life, flies if it can, but makes no resistance. And would Saul bring the flower of his army into the field only to hunt one poor partridge? What a disparagement was this to his honour! What a stain would it be on his memory to trample upon so weak and patient as well as so innocent an enemy! Jas. 5:6; You have killed the just, and he doth not resist you.

4. He desires that the core of the controversy may be searched into and some proper method taken to bring it to an end, 1 Sam. 26:19. Saul himself could not say that justice put him on thus to persecute David, or that he was obliged to do it for the public safety. David was not willing to say (though it was very true) that Saul’s own envy and malice put him on to do it; and therefore he concludes it must be attributed either to the righteous judgment of God or to the unrighteous designs of evil men. Now, (1.) “If the Lord have stirred thee up against me, either in displeasure to me (taking this way to punish me for my sins against him, though, as to thee, I am guiltless) or in displeasure to thee, if it be the effect of that evil spirit from the Lord which troubles thee, let him accept an offering from us both—let us join in making our peace with God, reconciling ourselves to him, which may be done, by sacrifice; and then I hope the sin will be pardoned, whatever it is, and the trouble, which is so great a vexation both to thee and me, will come to an end.” See the right method of peace-making; let us first make God our friend by Christ the great Sacrifice, and then all other enmities shall be slain, Eph. 2:16; Prov. 16:7. But, (2.) “If thou art incited to it by wicked men, that incense thee against me, cursed be they before the Lord,” that is, they are very wicked people, and it is fit that they should be abandoned as such, and excluded from the king’s court and councils. He decently lays the blame upon the evil counsellors who advised the king to that which was dishonourable and dishonest, and insists upon it that they be removed from about him and forbidden his presence, as men cursed before the Lord, and then he hoped he should gain his petition, which is (1 Sam. 26:20), “Let not my blood fall to the earth, as thou threatenest, for it is before the face of the Lord, who will take cognizance of the wrong and avenge it.” Thus pathetically does David plead with Saul for his life, and, in order to that, for his favourable opinion of him.