Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 26

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Verses 1-3


In this chapter we see David again at a spiritual high point, while in the next chapter he fails again. We also saw that in 1 Samuel 24-25. It teaches us that we are constantly dependent on grace in all things.

Saul Pursues David

We have also seen the Ziphites before as the traitors of David (1 Samuel 23:19). Now they betray again to Saul where David is. Their communication is reason for Saul to continue his pursuit of David. Although Saul knows that the LORD is with David, he is tireless in his attempts to eliminate David. Saul does not want to hand over the kingdom to the hand of the man God has chosen in his place.

It is the attitude of every man who does not bow to the authority of Christ, still rejected today, while God has already “made Him both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Christ means ‘Anointed’. He is the anointed King of God. In Saul’s attitude we see how the flesh is. It never gives in; it never bends before God. We will always have to be careful that it does not assert itself in our lives.

Verses 4-7

David Goes to Saul

David does not go for rumors but wants to know for sure if it is true that Saul is looking for him again. That is why he sends out spies. If the messages turn out to be correct, David takes the initiative to go to Saul. David’s approach this time is different than in 1 Samuel 24. He does not flee further but goes towards Saul. What happens next is remarkably like what we read in 1 Samuel 24.

Yet he exposes himself to much greater dangers here. In the first case Saul, without knowing it, came close to David. It was an accidental ‘meeting’. Here David goes to Saul himself. Saul is not alone here, but is in the circle of the camp, surrounded by his soldiers. What David does seems overconfident, but God is with him, for he puts a deep sleep upon Saul and all who are with him (1 Samuel 26:12).

With his action David puts his life again at risk. He must have a great deal of peace in his heart to venture this adventure. He asks two men to go with him. Abishai has the same courage as David and offers to join him. The sense of this action of David seems to be a new attempt to prove his innocence.

Striking is again the remark about Saul’s spear, which says that Saul “stuck in the ground at his head”. He has the spear within reach to seize it at the slightest threat of danger. It is the spear with which he has tried to kill David several times.

Verses 8-12

The Spear and the Jug

When David and Abishai are with Saul, Abishai speaks to David that it is God’s guidance to deal with his enemy now. Last time, when Saul came into the cave with David and his men, his men made the same proposal and with the same motivation (1 Samuel 24:5). There they said David could do whatever he wanted with Saul. It seems that Abishai learned from last time that David himself will not do it and that he therefore offers to do it. He would do it with Saul’s own spear, with the certainty that one stroke is sufficient. With great self-confidence he says that a second time will not be necessary.

Would it not be a just retribution to kill Saul with the weapon with which he himself wanted to kill David several times? Would this not fulfill the Word of God that whoever digs a pit for another, falls into it himself (Proverbs 26:27)?

As for Abishai’s remark that it is God’s guidance that David Saul has in his hands, there is still a lesson to be learned. In some faith communities, it is common for someone to say to another what God wants that other person to do. This can even be introduced with the words ‘thus saith the Lord’, a way of saying which we do not find anywhere in the New Testament regarding the church. Such a use of words can sound impressive, but it is usually manipulation and, in any case, arrogant.

Someone may say that we must do something and appeal to the will of the Lord, but we must first be convinced ourselves that something is the will of the Lord. Others cannot determine for us the will of the Lord. God makes His will known to each of His own personally through His Word. By reading it ourselves, or by testing what someone else has said about it, we can get to know His will for our lives.

David resists the temptation with the same argument as last time. Saul is still for him “the LORD’s anointed”. Here again we see that beautiful character trait in David that he recognizes the authority established by God. He does not look at the character of the dignitary, but at the position of the dignitary. This is an important lesson for us in our attitude towards government, to which the same applies (Romans 13:1-Exodus :).

In 1 Samuel 24 David gave the matter into the hands of the LORD. He does the same here, but he also says how Saul will come to an end. David knows that the LORD will deal with Saul. The LORD can deal with him by striking him that he dies, as He did to Nabal (1 Samuel 25:38). He can also let him die in battle, which indeed happens later. Faith awaits God’s actions and does not take them forward by taking the matter into its own hands.

David does something else. He takes Saul’s spear and jug with him. With this he deprives Saul of his defense or royal dignity and his refreshment. The spear is still the symbol of Saul’s power. He is a weak person without a spear.

Verses 13-16

David Addresses Abner

Before David addresses his pursuers, he first makes sure that there is a large area between him and them. It also indicates the enormous spiritual distance between David and Saul. They live in two worlds that have nothing in common. David is connected to God; Saul thinks only of his own position. Between these two ways of life yaws a large gap, which is impossible to bridge.

When David has come at a safe distance from Saul and his men, he calls the people and Abner awake. In 1 Samuel 24 it is a matter between David and Saul, but here David speaks to the ears of all the people. This time he has not only to do with Saul, but also with Abner, the commander of Saul, who has a better character than his commander, Joab. Abner must realize that he is fighting for a lost cause. Saul must realize that he cannot count on any human help. He first addresses Abner. Abner’s reaction shows that he understands that it is about Saul.

David expresses his respect for Abner, but at the same time shows him that he has failed. As proof of this he points Abner to the spear and the jug and mentions the place where they stood. It is clear that David was close to Saul, without anyone noticing. In a sense, this failure means the death of the king. It is due to the inattentiveness of Abner, who guarantees the king’s safety, that Saul was under an immediate threat of death.

In David’s words, there seems to be an invitation for Abner to join him. However, Abner seems to be taking a neutral position. He is not a great supporter of Saul, because his guarding of Saul is not done with real dedication.

Verses 17-20

David Addresses Saul

While David is talking to Abner, Saul wakes up. He hears the conversation and recognizes the voice of David. David then addresses Saul, as he did in 1 Samuel 24. Yet it is not in the same way. David speaks more clearly here, there is more indignation in it, but without insulting Saul. He asks Saul a few questions, from which Saul must be able to see that he is completely wrong. Can Saul mention just one reason that can justify his pursuit? Is there anything evil in David to point out?

David sees only two possibilities that make Saul pursue him so much. It may be that the LORD does it. If so, an offering is his only protection against the LORD’s wrath. In the picture it speaks of the fact that only an appeal to the fullness of the Lord Jesus in His God-dedicated life can deliver him from the wrath of God. Although there is no apparent evil with David, David knows of himself that he is not without sin. Only the Lord Jesus is without sin. It is also possible that David means that the LORD is angry with Saul and incites him to this wrong action and that David says to Saul how he can be pleasing to the LORD.

But if they are men, then they take upon themselves the curse of the LORD, for then they are the guilty because he had to leave his inheritance that the LORD gave him. Without directly accusing Saul, David is forced by Saul to leave his inheritance. The people who charge him with Saul chase him away from God’s land and in fact say that he should go and serve other gods, the idols. David knows that the LORD is with him, but he is not insensitive to all that he misses.

If people slander us, it can bring us to the point where we no longer enjoy the Lord’s things. There is even the danger of resorting to methods originating from the flesh. We see that in the next chapter even literally happen with David. His stay outside the place of blessing brings him into the realm and under the power of demons.

David knows that Saul is out on his blood. Although Saul does not have him in his hands, he asks Saul not to let his blood on the ground far away from the LORD’s face. David attributes to Saul the deed he intends to do. In doing so, he puts Saul’s plan on the same level as its execution.

Verses 21-25

A Final Separation

Saul’s reaction is a cheap “I’ve sinned”. It sounds good, but it is just words. It is not the language of a convinced conscience. Saul acknowledges that David has shown him grace by letting him live and that his life is precious in David’s eyes. On the other hand, he says of himself that he has “played the fool”, that is, he acted as a wicked, and “a serious error”. Unfortunately, there is no acknowledgement of sin before the LORD. There is no question of “sorrow that is according to [the will of] God”, for only that sorrow “produces a repentance without regret, [leading] to salvation” (2 Corinthians 7:10). Saul’s sorrow is “sorrow of the world” and that sorrow “produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10).

His request to David to return and his promise that he will not harm David any more are implausible. David does not respond to his words. He does not take them seriously. He hands over the judgment of his own conduct and that of Saul to Him Who judges righteous. For himself he knows that he has done nothing evil. As proof of this he mentions what Abishai gave as justification to kill Saul (1 Samuel 26:8).

David acknowledges that the LORD has indeed given Saul into his hand, not to kill him, but to show him grace. Saul’s life has been important in David’s eyes, and he expects his own life to be just as important in the LORD’s eyes. To Him he entrusts his life and he expresses the desire that the LORD will save him from all need.

Here David is still completely focused on the salvation by the LORD. A few verses further, at the beginning of the next chapter, he thinks that he will perish through Saul’s hand and makes his own decisions. This does not take away the sincerity of the wish of his heart that the LORD will be with him in all need. It does show that a sincere desire must be followed by a persevering trust in the Lord.

In the last words we have from Saul to David, he acknowledges that David will prevail. These are prophetic words and they come from the lips of the man who searched for David’s misfortune from the beginning. He can only testify of the faithfulness of this man of God’s choice (cf. Revelation 3:9).

In the same way, the world has often had to acknowledge that God was with those they persecuted. The same will happen when the Lord Jesus returns with all His saints, “to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed” (2 Thessalonians 1:10). The whole company of the lost, Satan and all his angels, together with all who rejected Christ, will unite in the acknowledgment of the blessing of the redeemed by Christ and their victory by the blood of the Lamb.

Then David and Saul separate. They will never see each other again. Saul is facing his downfall. David goes “on his way”. What way that is, we see in the following chapter. It is its own way.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op 1 Samuel 26". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.