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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 19

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-17

A. David’s Rise as the New Anointed 16:1-19:17

According to Chuck Swindoll, more was written in the Bible about David than about any other character-66 chapters in the Old Testament plus 59 references to his life in the New Testament. [Note: Charles R. Swindoll, David: A Man of Passion and Destiny, p. 4.] This large amount of material reflects his great importance for Bible readers.

Verses 1-17

3. The results of God’s selection of David 18:1-19:17

Earlier the writer narrated Saul’s anointing, military success, and the popular reaction to him (chs. 10-11). Now he followed the same pattern by recording David’s anointing, military success, and the popular reaction to him (1 Samuel 16:1 to 1 Samuel 19:17). The popular reaction to Saul was fairly simple: most of the people supported him, though a few opposed him (1 Samuel 11:12-15). The popular reaction to David was much more complex and significant (1 Samuel 18:1 to 1 Samuel 19:17).

Verses 1-7

Jonathan’s attempt to protect David 19:1-7

Saul now abandoned pretense (1 Samuel 18:22) and ordered Jonathan and his soldiers to put David to death (cf. 1 Samuel 19:11). He "went public" with his attacks against David feeling driven, like the Pharaoh of the plagues, to more desperate measures. This created a conflict of loyalties for Jonathan who needed to honor his father and king, but who also loved David (cf. 1 Samuel 18:1; 1 Samuel 18:3). Jonathan chose to tell David what Saul’s intentions were, but he also tried to honor his father by urging him not to kill David. He appealed to Saul logically and rationally. He reminded Saul that he was the king and that David was his servant, that he needed to be fair with David, and that it was in Saul’s best interest to let David live (1 Samuel 19:4). He also reminded Saul that David was the Lord’s instrument who had defeated Israel’s enemies and that Saul had rejoiced in his success. Moreover he appealed for justice since David’s death was unwarranted (1 Samuel 19:5). Jonathan’s words echo Saul’s own statement when he had freed Jabesh-gilead earlier in his reign (1 Samuel 11:12-15). Then Saul had generously refused to punish his detractors. Perhaps it was this memory that moved him to promise Jonathan that he would be merciful to David.

Jonathan’s appeal was successful, at least temporarily, and resulted in Saul solemnly vowing not to kill David (1 Samuel 19:6), which vow he broke shortly (1 Samuel 19:10). Later Jonathan was not as successful (1 Samuel 20:28-29). Nevertheless this time his appeal resulted in David’s restoration to the court and his continuing ministry to the king (1 Samuel 19:7).

Verses 8-10

David’s continuing success and Saul’s renewed jealousy 19:8-10

This section records Saul’s fourth attempt to kill David. The writer set his account of these attempts in chiastic form.

A Saul directly tried to kill David. 1 Samuel 18:10-16

A’ Saul directly tried to kill David. 1 Samuel 19:8-10

This literary structure emphasizes how thoroughly Saul wanted to do away with his rival. Not only did those who desired the best for God love David, but those who desired the best for themselves hated him.

This is the third reference to an evil spirit afflicting Saul (cf. 1 Samuel 16:14; 1 Samuel 18:10). This influence overcame Saul’s good intentions and resulted in his breaking his vow to God (1 Samuel 19:6). Now David had to "flee and escape." This phrase occurs three times in this chapter (1 Samuel 19:10; 1 Samuel 19:12; 1 Samuel 19:18), and it contrasts with David being in Saul’s presence (1 Samuel 19:7). From now on David was no longer able to stay in Saul’s presence, but he had to flee and escape, seeking refuge from the king wherever he could find it. David’s days as a fugitive (living beyond the king’s reach), which began here, would continue until Saul died.

David’s experience is typical of that of all people who choose to commit themselves to following God faithfully. Because God blesses them and makes them a blessing to others, many people appreciate them. However, others who want those blessings for themselves, but are not willing to do what is necessary to get them, despise them.

Verses 11-17

Michal’s attempt to protect David 19:11-17

God’s preservation of His anointed servant David stands out in this section, as it does in the first one in this chapter (1 Samuel 19:1-7). In both cases it was one of Saul’s own children who came to David’s rescue. Jonathan protected David at the beginning of this section (1 Samuel 18:1-5), and Michal did so at its end (1 Samuel 19:11-17). These acts of devotion bracket the chiasm noted above.

Saul reactivated his mission of putting David to death, this time by using his men (cf. 1 Samuel 19:1). As Jonathan had done (1 Samuel 19:2), Michal told David what Saul was planning (1 Samuel 19:11). Then she aided his escape, first by helping him flee from a window, and then by fashioning a dummy in his bed and concocting a story that he was sick. The household idol (Heb. teraphim) was usually a small image three or four inches high that many people carried on their persons or set up in their homes as good luck charms. Archaeologists have found many such images in Palestine. Evidently Michal intended the presence of this image beside (Heb. ’el) the bed to convince Saul’s servants that David was seriously ill. Some interpreters believe the teraphim image was quite large and was in the bed. [Note: See the note on 1 Samuel 19:16 in the NET Bible.]

"Michal’s ruse was probably effected by piling clothing, carpets, or the like on David’s bed and covering it with a garment, allowing only the goats’ hair at the head to show." [Note: Youngblood, p. 716.]

The account of Michal’s plan to provide David enough time to escape portrays her as a woman who had not committed herself completely to God. Was the household idol hers or David’s? The text does not say, but other references to Michal and David elsewhere lead me to conclude that it was hers. The possessor of the household idols was sometimes the heir of the family in the ancient Near East, so perhaps Michal kept this idol for inheritance purposes as well as for worship. Perhaps teraphim had some connection with childbearing (fertility; cf. Genesis 31:19, where barren Rachel kept teraphim). [Note: On the disputed significance of possessing the family idols, see Stuart A. West, "The Nuzi Tablets," Bible and Spade 10:3-4 (Summer-Autumn 1981):70; Kenneth A. Kitchen, The Bible In Its World, p. 70; and Kenneth L. Barker, "The Antiquity and Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives," in A Tribute to Gleason Archer, p. 135.] It is noteworthy that Rachel and Michal both were the second daughters of their fathers, both deceived their fathers with teraphim, and both proved to be disappointments to their husbands.

Saul expected more loyalty from his daughter than he received. Jonathan had described David as Saul’s servant (1 Samuel 19:4), but Saul now called him his enemy (1 Samuel 19:17). Michal seems to have considered her lie justifiable (cf. 1 Samuel 19:11). Jonathan had not lied to Saul (1 Samuel 19:4-5). Both Jonathan and Michal’s words resulted in David’s safety temporarily, but Jonathan and Michal’s characters contrast in what they said to their father and king.

Saul’s daughter, as well as his son, was protecting David from death. God’s care for David resulted in the breaking of strong loyalties. In the ancient world, a daughter’s loyalty to her father normally remained strong even after marriage. God overcame what was natural to protect His anointed and faithful servant.

Verses 18-24

1. God’s deliverance in Ramah 19:18-24

How natural it was for David to seek refuge with the faithful prophet Samuel who resided less than an hour’s walk from Saul’s headquarters. Naioth was evidently a compound within Ramah where Samuel headed a school of prophets. The Hebrew word literally means "habitations." [Note: For extended notes on the schools of prophets, see Keil and Delitzsch, pp. 199-206, Edward J. Young, My Servants the Prophets, ch. V: "The Schools of the Prophets.," and Wood, The Prophets . . ., pp. 164-66.] God here rescued David, not by any human intermediary but directly by the overpowering influence of His Spirit. Prophesying involved praising the Lord (cf. 1 Samuel 10:10-13; 1 Chronicles 25:1-3). Saul’s three groups of messengers, and even the king himself, ended up serving God rather than opposing Him. The Holy Spirit overrode the king’s authority. In 2 Kings 1:9-16 King Ahaziah sent three groups of messengers to arrest Elisha, but the prophet called down fire from heaven and consumed the first two groups. The commander of the third group did not seek to oppose God’s anointed prophet and received mercy. Saul’s disrobing (1 Samuel 19:24) probably symbolized the loss of his regal dignity and status, as well as his personal dignity. [Note: Robert P. Gordon, "Saul’s Meningitis According to Targum 1 Samuel XIX 24," Vetus Testamentum 32:1 (January 1987):39.] Such a person was not fit to be king.

This reference to Saul’s prophesying (1 Samuel 19:23-24), which happened near the place where he prophesied shortly after his anointing (1 Samuel 10:12), became "an ironic comment on Saul’s life story." [Note: Baldwin, p. 134.] Saul had begun his reign with great potential plus God’s enabling Spirit, which resulted in his praising God (cf. 1 Chronicles 25:1-3; 1 Corinthians 12:3). Yet now he was almost a raving madman. This passage does not support the theory that the prophets became ecstatic when they prophesied. Neither do 1 Samuel 18:10; 1 Kings 18:29; 1 Kings 22:10-12; 2 Kings 9:1-12; Jeremiah 29:26; Hosea 9:7; or any other passages. [Note: See Wood, The Prophets . . ., pp. 40-56, 92-93.] Saul drove himself to the brink of insanity by refusing to submit to God, who still exercised sovereign control over him despite the king’s attempts to go his own way.

It is significant that this chapter closes with the repetition of the saying, "Is Saul also among the prophets?" This derogatory saying brackets the story of Saul’s contacts with Samuel and with the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Samuel 10:11). It reminds the reader that Saul had the potential to be a great king because of Samuel and the Spirit’s resources that were available to him. The narrative that the two occurrences of this saying enclose explains Saul’s failure. He lost the opportunity to found a dynasty, he lost his own throne, and he lost his personal dignity because he refused to act like a prophet. That is, he refused to put the honor, glory, and will of God before his personal ambitions and pride.

". . . To question the genuineness of Saul’s prophetic behavior was to question his legitimacy as king of Israel . . ." [Note: Youngblood, p. 717.]

Saul lost the privilege of reigning, he became a vessel unto dishonor, he created problems for others, and he eventually destroyed himself. Another Saul, Saul of Tarsus, perhaps learning from the experiences of Saul of Gibeah, who may have been his namesake, feared the possibility that he might similarly disqualify himself (1 Corinthians 9:27). We must not confuse disqualification from service with loss of salvation. The former is possible for every believer, but the latter is not (cf. Romans 8:31-39).

The three instances of David’s deliverance in this chapter show how God preserved His anointed. He used both natural and supernatural means to do so. Since God has anointed Christians with His Spirit (1 John 2:20), this record of how God preserves His anointed should be an encouragement to us.

Verses 18-42

B. David Driven out by Saul 19:18-20:42

The previous section of text (1 Samuel 16:1 to 1 Samuel 19:17) gave evidence that God was preparing David to become king. This one (1 Samuel 19:18 to 1 Samuel 20:42) narrates the events that resulted in the rift that separated Saul and David. There were two events that were especially significant: God’s overruling Saul’s hostility against David at Ramah (1 Samuel 19:18-24) and Jonathan’s failure to heal the breach between Saul and David (ch. 20).

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 19". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/1-samuel-19.html. 2012.
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