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Saul’s encampment near the hill of Hachilah 26:1-5
The Ziphites betrayed David a second time (cf. 1 Samuel 23:19). David was again hiding by the hill of Hachilah (1 Samuel 23:19). When Saul came down from Gibeah with his 3,000 (or three military units of) soldiers, he camped near the main road. David had only 600 men (1 Samuel 23:13; 1 Samuel 25:13). David evidently stayed on the other side of the hill (1 Samuel 26:3). Perhaps he went up on the hill at night to survey Saul’s encampment and there spotted Saul and Abner in the middle of the camp (1 Samuel 26:5). Saul should have been very secure, surrounded as he was by his men, but really he was very vulnerable (cf. 1 Samuel 26:12).
Abishai’s offer to kill Saul 26:6-12
Ahimelech the Hittite may have been a foreign mercenary (cf. Uriah the Hittite, 2 Samuel 11:3). The writer may have mentioned his Hittite connection to show the extent of David’s appeal. Abishai was David’s nephew, one of the sons of his sister Zeruiah (cf. 1 Chronicles 2:15-16). Joab, who later became David’s commander-in-chief, was Abishai’s brother.
Saul had used his spear to attack David three times (cf. 1 Samuel 18:10; 1 Samuel 19:9-10; 1 Samuel 20:33). It was, therefore, an instrument of death. It was also the symbol of Saul’s rule, similar to a scepter (cf. 1 Samuel 22:6). Abishai’s viewpoint was carnal. He concluded that because God had given David the upper hand he should use it to do away with his rival (1 Samuel 26:8; cf. 1 Samuel 24:4). David had used similar words when he promised to kill Goliath (cf. 1 Samuel 17:46), as had Saul in describing how he would kill David with his spear (cf. 1 Samuel 18:11).
David believed, however, that since God had anointed Saul it was not his place to do him harm (1 Samuel 26:9; cf. 1 Samuel 24:6-7). His reply to Abishai begins (1 Samuel 26:9) and ends (1 Samuel 26:11) with the reason David would not permit Abishai to kill Saul: he was the Lord’s anointed. In the middle of this reply, David mentioned alternative ways by which God might terminate Saul’s life (1 Samuel 26:10). He might die from some physical affliction, as Nabal had (cf. 1 Samuel 25:38), or of natural causes, or in battle (cf. ch. 31). David reminded Abishai that God could deal with Saul without their help.
David’s reason for entering Saul’s camp was not to kill him but to teach him a lesson. By taking Saul’s spear, David would teach the king that he had the power of death, but chose to spare Saul’s life rather than take it. This symbolic act also communicated that the right to rule would be David’s eventually. By taking his water jug, a life-giving vessel since life in the Judean wilderness depended on drinking water, David taught him that he had the power to take Saul’s life. Perhaps the jug of water also symbolized that refreshment and blessing would also be David’s portion from the Lord. It was really the Lord who defended David by making Saul and all of his men sleep soundly (1 Samuel 26:12).
David’s rebuke of Abner 26:13-16
David crossed a ravine to put some distance between himself and Saul. David addressed Abner because he was responsible for leaving the Lord’s anointed unprotected. The person who came to destroy Saul was Abishai (1 Samuel 26:15; cf. 1 Samuel 26:8). David, rather than Saul’s bodyguard Abner, was responsible for sparing his life. Abner deserved to die for his failure in duty, but David spared his life too. David more faithfully defended Saul’s life than even Saul’s most trusted servant.
David’s appeal to Saul 26:17-20
Evidently the realization that David or Abishai again could have killed him but did not, led Saul to respond to David tenderly, calling him his son (1 Samuel 26:17; cf. 1 Samuel 26:21; 1 Samuel 26:25). Indeed, David had behaved as a loyal son toward Saul. David, however, did not now address Saul as his father, as he had previously (cf. 1 Samuel 24:11). He had come to view Saul less affectionately since he continued to hound David without cause after repeated promises to stop doing so. Moreover Saul was no longer David’s father-in-law (cf. 1 Samuel 25:44).
David said that if violation of the Mosaic Law had prompted Saul to hunt him down, he was ready to offer the sacrifice the Law prescribed to atone for it (1 Samuel 26:19). However, if David’s enemies had stirred up Saul’s hostility without cause, David prayed that God would judge them for that. Saul’s attacks had resulted in David’s separation from the Lord’s inheritance (i.e., the blessings God had given Israel, especially rest in the Promised Land) since he had to live as a fugitive. David’s enemies had in effect encouraged him to abandon Yahweh by driving him out of his home territory (1 Samuel 26:19). [Note: On the possibility that God had incited Saul to seek David’s life, and the larger issue of God’s use of deception to judge sinners, see Chisholm, "Does God Deceive?" pp. 11-12, 19-21.] The common conception in the ancient Near East was that gods ruled areas. Evidently some people were saying that because David had departed from his area the Lord would not protect him. David appeared to be seeking the protection of other gods by living in areas that they supposedly controlled (e.g., Philistia and Moab). [Note: See Youngblood, Faith of Our Fathers, p. 84; and Daniel Isaac Block, The Gods of the Nations: Studies in Ancient Near Eastern National Theology.] This looked like David was violating the first commandment (Exodus 20:3). Nevertheless David wanted to live and die in the center of God’s will and presence (1 Samuel 26:20).
David again compared himself to a mere flea, essentially harmless but annoying to Saul (1 Samuel 26:20; cf. 1 Samuel 24:14). He was making a word play on Abner’s question, "Who are you who calls (Heb. qarata) to the king?" (1 Samuel 26:14) by referring to himself as a "partridge" (1 Samuel 26:20, Heb. haqqore, lit. caller-bird). The partridge darts from one bush to another when a hunter pursues it, as David had been doing, though it tires fairly quickly and then can be caught easily. [Note: Youngblood, "1, 2 Samuel," p. 771.] David’s point in comparing himself to a partridge and a flea was that Saul’s search for such an insignificant person as David was beneath the king’s dignity.
David’s trust in God 26:21-25
Saul again confessed that he had sinned, as he had done when he had sacrificed at Gilgal (1 Samuel 26:21; cf. 1 Samuel 15:24; cf. 1 Samuel 15:30) and when David had spared his life in the cave (1 Samuel 24:17). Nevertheless he seems to have failed again to follow through with genuine repentance (cf. 1 Samuel 27:1). He also admitted that he had played the fool (similar to Nabal) and had committed a serious error. Contrast Paul’s testimony in 2 Timothy 4:7. The writer did not record Saul as having gone this far in admitting his faults in the preceding chapters. Even though Saul’s words went further in confession, his behavior continued unchanged
David returned Saul’s spear to him (1 Samuel 26:22), the symbol of the right to rule. Perhaps David did not return the jug of water to remind Saul that he still had the power to end Saul’s life. He felt confident that God would repay each of them eventually, and he determined to wait for Him to do so (1 Samuel 26:23). David acknowledged that Yahweh was his real deliverer (1 Samuel 26:24). This may have been the occasion when David composed Psalms 54 (see its title) the last verse of which ascribes David’s deliverance from his enemies to Yahweh. Saul could have overwhelmed David’s smaller band of followers. Instead he departed with a prophetic declaration of David’s final success (1 Samuel 26:25; cf. 1 Samuel 24:20). The text does not record another meeting of David and Saul before Saul died.
The main lesson of chapter 26 appears in 1 Samuel 26:23: "the Lord will repay" (cf. Proverbs 20:22; Proverbs 24:29; Romans 12:17; Romans 12:19). The Lord Jesus Christ is our greatest example of one who trusted the Father to vindicate Him (cf. Luke 23:46). Our vindication does not always come in this lifetime, as David’s did. Sometimes it comes after death, as Jesus’ did. Another great revelation is God’s patience with Saul. God gave him many opportunities to repent and to experience God’s blessing within the sphere of his judgment (cf. 1 Samuel 15:26), but Saul did not repent.
David had borne witness twice to Saul’s guilt before God (chs. 24 and 26; cf. Numbers 35:30). God proceeded to put him to death not long after this (ch. 31). David became God’s instrument in passing judgment on Saul for his sin and so became a blessing to all Israel.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 26". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20