Containing The Interval Of Thirty Two Years.
From The Death Of Eli To The Death Of Saul.
How David, When He Had Twice The Opportunity Of Killing Saul Did Not Kill Him, Also Concerning The Death Of Samuel And Nabal.
1. ABOUT this time it was that David heard how the Philistines had made an inroad into the country of Keilah, and robbed it; so he offered himself to fight against them, if God, when he should be consulted by the prophet, would grant him the victory. And when the prophet said that God gave a signal of victory, he made a sudden onset upon the Philistines with his companions, and he shed a great deal of their blood, and carried off their prey, and staid with the inhabitants of Keilah till they had securely gathered in their corn and their fruits. However, it was told Saul the king that David was with the men of Keilah; for what had been done and the great success that had attended him, were not confined among the people where the things were done, but the fame of it went all abroad, and came to the hearing of others, and both the fact as it stood, and the author of the fact, were carried to the king's ears. Then was Saul glad when he heard David was in Keilah; and he said,
"God hath now put him into my hands, since he hath obliged him to come into a city that hath walls, and gates, and bars."
So he commanded all the people suddenly, and when they had besieged and taken it to kill David. But when David perceived this, and learned of God that if he staid there the men of Keilah would deliver him up to Saul, he took his four hundred men and retired into a desert that was over against a city called Engedi. So that when the king heard he was fled away from the men of Keilah, he left off his expedition against him.
2. Then David removed thence, and came to a certain place called the New Place, belonging to Ziph; where Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to him, and saluted him, and exhorted him to be of good courage, and to hope well as to his condition hereafter, and not to despond at his present circumstances, for that he should be king, and have all the forces of the Hebrews under him: he told him that such happiness uses to come with great labor and pains: they also took oaths, that they would, all their lives long, continue in good-will and fidelity one to another; and he called God to witness, as to what execrations he had made upon himself if he should transgress his covenant, and should change to a contrary behavior. So Jonathan left him there, having rendered his cares and fears somewhat lighter, and returned home.
Now the men of Ziph, to gratify Saul, informed him that David abode with them, and [assured him] that if he would come to them, they would deliver him up, for that if the king would seize on the Straits of Ziph, David would not escape to any other people. So the king commended them, and confessed that he had reason to thank them, because they had given him information of his enemy; and he promised them, that it should not be long ere he would requite their kindness. He also sent men to seek for David, and to search the wilderness wherein he was; and he promised that he himself would follow them.
Accordingly they went before the king, to hunt for and to catch David, and used endeavors, not only to show their good-will to Saul, by informing him where his enemy was, but to evidence the same more plainly by delivering him up into his power. But these men failed of those their unjust and wicked desires, who, while they underwent no hazard by not discovering such an ambition of revealing this to Saul, yet did they falsely accuse and promise to deliver up a man beloved of God, and one that was unjustly sought after to be put to death, and one that might otherwise have lain concealed, and this out of flattery, and expectation of gain from the king; for when David was apprized of the malignant intentions of the men of Ziph, and the approach of Saul, he left the Straits of that country, and fled to the great rock that was in the wilderness of Maon.
3. Hereupon Saul made haste to pursue him thither; for, as he was marching, he learned that David was gone away from the Straits of Ziph, and Saul removed to the other side of the rock. But the report that the Philistines had again made an incursion into the country of the Hebrews, called Saul another way from the pursuit of David, when he was ready to be caught; for he returned back again to oppose those Philistines, who were naturally their enemies, as judging it more necessary to avenge himself of them, than to take a great deal of pains to catch an enemy of his own, and to overlook the ravage that was made in the land.
4. And by this means David unexpectedly escaped out of the danger he was in, and came to the Straits of Engedi; and when Saul had driven the Philistines out of the land, there came some messengers, who told him that David abode within the bounds of Engedi: so he took three thousand chosen men that were armed, and made haste to him; and when he was not far from those places, he saw a deep and hollow cave by the way-side; it was open to a great length and breadth, and there it was that David with his four hundred men were concealed. When therefore he had occasion to ease nature, he entered into it by himself alone; and being seen by one of David's companions, and he that saw him saying to him, that he had now, by God's providence, an opportunity of avenging himself of his adversary; and advising him to cut off his head, and so deliver himself out of that tedious, wandering condition, and the distress he was in; he rose up, and only cut off the skirt of that garment which Saul had on: but he soon repented of what he had done; and said it was not right to kill him that was his master, and one whom God had thought worthy of the kingdom;
"for that although he were wickedly disposed towards us, yet does it not behoove me to be so disposed towards him."
But when Saul had left the cave, David came near and cried out aloud, and desired Saul to hear him; whereupon the king turned his face back, and David, according to custom, fell down on his face before the king, and bowed to him; and said,
"O king, thou oughtest not to hearken to wicked men, nor to such as forge calumnies, nor to gratify them so far as to believe what they say, nor to entertain suspicions of such as are your best friends, but to judge of the dispositions of all men by their actions; for calumny deludes men, but men's own actions are a clear demonstration of their kindness. Words indeed, in their own nature, may be either true or false, but men's actions expose their intentions nakedly to our view. By these, therefore it will be well for thee to believe me, as to my regard to thee and to thy house, and not to believe those that frame such accusations against me as never came into my mind, nor are possible to be executed, and do this further by pursuing after my life, and have no concern either day or night, but how to compass my life and to murder me, which thing I think thou dost unjustly prosecute; for how comes it about, that thou hast embraced this false opinion about me, as if I had a desire to kill thee? Or how canst thou escape the crime of impiety towards God, when thou wishest thou couldst kill, and deemest thine adversary, a man who had it in his power this day to avenge himself, and to punish thee, but would not do it? nor make use of such an opportunity, which, if it had fallen out to thee against me, thou hadst not let it slip, for when I cut off the skirt of thy garment, I could have done the same to thy head."
So he showed him the piece of his garment, and thereby made him agree to what he said to be true; and added,
"I, for certain, have abstained from taking a just revenge upon thee, yet art thou not ashamed to prosecute me with unjust hatred. (23) May God do justice, and determine about each of our dispositions."
- But Saul was amazed at the strange delivery he had received; and being greatly affected with the moderation and the disposition of the young man, he groaned; and when David had done the same, the king answered that he had the justest occasion to groan,
"for thou hast been the author of good to me, as I have been the author of calamity to thee; and thou hast demonstrated this day, that thou possessest the righteousness of the ancients, who determined that men ought to save their enemies, though they caught them in a desert place. I am now persuaded that God reserves the kingdom for thee, and that thou wilt obtain the dominion over all the Hebrews. Give me then assurances upon oath, That thou wilt not root out my family, nor, out of remembrance of what evil I have done thee, destroy my posterity, but save and preserve my house."
So David sware as he desired, and sent back Saul to his own kingdom; but he, and those that were with him, went up the Straits of Mastheroth.
5. About this time Samuel the prophet died. He was a man whom the Hebrews honored in an extraordinary degree: for that lamentation which the people made for him, and this during a long time, manifested his virtue, and the affection which the people bore for him; as also did the solemnity and concern that appeared about his funeral, and about the complete observation of all his funeral rites. They buried him in his own city of Ramah; and wept for him a very great number of days, not looking on it as a sorrow for the death of another man, but as that in which they were every one themselves concerned. He was a righteous man, and gentle in his nature; and on that account he was very dear to God. Now he governed and presided over the people alone, after the death of Eli the high priest, twelve years, and eighteen years together with Saul the king. And thus we have finished the history of Samuel.
6. There was a man that was a Ziphite, of the city of Maon, who was rich, and had a vast number of cattle; for he fed a flock of three thousand sheep, and another flock of a thousand goats. Now David had charged his associates to keep these flocks without hurt and without damage, and to do them no mischief, neither out of covetousness, nor because they were in want, nor because they were in the wilderness, and so could not easily be discovered, but to esteem freedom from injustice above all other motives, and to look upon the touching of what belonged to another man as a horrible crime, and contrary to the will of God. These were the instructions he gave, thinking that the favors he granted this man were granted to a good man, and one that deserved to have such care taken of his affairs.
This man was Nabal, for that was his name, - a harsh man, and of a very wicked life, being like a cynic in the course of his behavior, but still had obtained for his wife a woman of a good character, wise and handsome. To this Nabal, therefore, David sent ten men of his attendants at the time when he sheared his sheep, and by them saluted him; and also wished he might do what he now did for many years to come, but desired him to make him a present of what he was able to give him, since he had, to be sure, learned from his shepherds that we had done them no injury, but had been their guardians a long time together, while we continued in the wilderness; and he assured him he should never repent of giving any thing to David. When the messengers had carried this message to Nabal, he accosted them after an inhuman and rough manner; for he asked them who David was? and when he heard that he was the son of Jesse, he said,
"Now is the time that fugitives grow insolent, and make a figure, and leave their masters."
When they told David this, he was wroth, and commanded four hundred armed men to follow him, and left two hundred to take care of the stuff, (for he had already six hundred, (24)) and went against Nabal: he also swore that he would that night utterly destroy the whole house and possessions of Nabal; for that he was grieved, not only that he had proved ungrateful to them, without making any return for the humanity they had shown him, but that he had also reproached them, and used ill language to them, when he had received no cause of disgust from them.
7. Hereupon one of those that kept the flocks of Nabal, said to his mistress, Nabal's wife, that when David sent to her husband he had received no civil answer at all from him; but that her husband had moreover added very reproachful language, while yet David had taken extraordinary care to keep his flocks from harm, and that what had passed would prove very pernicious to his master. When the servant had said this, Abigail, for that was his wife's name, saddled her asses, and loaded them with all sorts of presents; and, without telling her husband any thing of what she was about, (for he was not sensible on account of his drunkenness,) she went to David. She was then met by David as she was descending a hill, who was coming against Nabal with four hundred men. When the woman saw David, she leaped down from her ass, and fell on her face, and bowed down to the ground; and entreated him not to bear in mind the words of Nabal, since he knew that he resembled his name. Now Nabal, in the Hebrew tongue, signifies folly. So she made her apology, that she did not see the messengers whom he sent.
"Forgive me, therefore," said she, "and thank God, who hath hindered thee from shedding human blood; for so long as thou keepest thyself innocent, he will avenge thee of wicked men, (25) for what miseries await Nabal, they will fall upon the heads of thine enemies. Be thou gracious to me, and think me so far worthy as to accept of these presents from me; and, out of regard to me, remit that wrath and that anger which thou hast against my husband and his house, for mildness and humanity become thee, especially as thou art to be our king."
Accordingly, David accepted her presents, and said,
"Nay, but, O woman, it was no other than God's mercy which brought thee to us today, for, otherwise, thou hadst never seen another day, I having sworn (26) to destroy Nabal's house this very night, and to leave alive not one of you who belonged to a man that was wicked and ungrateful to me and my companions; but now hast thou prevented me, and seasonably mollified my anger, as being thyself under the care of God's providence: but as for Nabal, although for thy sake he now escape punishment, he will not always avoid justice; for his evil conduct, on some other occasion, will be his ruin."
8. When David had said this, he dismissed the woman. But when she came home and found her husband feasting with a great company, and oppressed with wine, she said nothing to him then about what had happened; but on the next day, when he was sober, she told him all the particulars, and made his whole body to appear like that of a dead man by her words, and by that grief which arose from them; so Nabal survived ten days, and no more, and then died. And when David heard of his death, he said that God had justly avenged him of this man, for that Nabal had died by his own wickedness, and had suffered punishment on his account, while he had kept his own hands clean.
At which time he understood that the wicked are prosecuted by God; that he does not overlook any man, but bestows on the good what is suitable to them, and inflicts a deserved punishment on the wicked. So he sent to Nabal's wife, and invited her to come to him, to live with him, and to be his wife. Whereupon she replied to those that came, that she was not worthy to touch his feet; however, she came, with all her servants, and became his wife, having received that honor on account of her wise and righteous course of life. She also obtained the same honor partly on account of her beauty. Now David had a wife before, whom he married from the city Abesar; for as to Michal, the daughter of king Saul, who had been David's wife, her father had given her in marriage to Phalti, the son of Laish, who was of the city of Gallim.
9. After this came certain of the Ziphites, and told Saul that David was come again into their country, and if he would afford them his assistance, they could catch him. So he came to them with three thousand armed men; and upon the approach of night, he pitched his camp at a certain place called Hachilah. But when David heard that Saul was coming against him, he sent spies, and bid them let him know to what place of the country Saul was already come; and when they told him that he was at Hachilah, he concealed his going away from his companions, and came to Saul's camp, having taken with him Abishai, his sister Zeruiah's son, and Ahimelech the Hittite. Now Saul was asleep, and the armed men, with Abner their commander, lay round about him in a circle. Hereupon David entered into the king's tent; but he did neither kill Saul, though he knew where he lay, by the spear that was stuck down by him, nor did he give leave to Abishai, who would have killed him, and was earnestly bent upon it so to do; for he said it was a horrid crime to kill one that was ordained king by God, although he was a wicked man; for that he who gave him the dominion would in time inflict punishment upon him.
So he restrained his eagerness; but that it might appear to have been in his power to have killed him when he refrained from it, he took his spear, and the cruse of water which stood by Saul as he lay asleep, without being perceived by any in the camp, who were all asleep, and went securely away, having performed every thing among the king's attendants that the opportunity afforded, and his boldness encouraged him to do. So when he had passed over a brook, and was gotten up to the top of a hill, whence he might be sufficiently heard, he cried aloud to Saul's soldiers, and to Abner their commander, and awaked them out of their sleep, and called both to him and to the people. Hereupon the commander heard him, and asked who it was that called him. To whom David replied,
"It is I, the son of Jesse, whom you make a vagabond. But what is the matter? Dost thou, that art a man of so great dignity, and of the first rank in the king's court, take so little care of thy master's body? and is sleep of more consequence to thee than his preservation, and thy care of him? This negligence of yours deserves death, and punishment to be inflicted on you, who never perceived when, a little while ago, some of us entered into your camp, nay, as far as to the king himself, and to all the rest of you. If thou look for the king's spear and his cruse of water, thou wilt learn what a mighty misfortune was ready to overtake you in your very camp without your knowing it."
Now when Saul knew David's voice, and understood that when he had him in his power while he was asleep, and his guards took no care of him, yet did not he kill him, but spared him, when he might justly have cut him off, he said that he owed him thanks for his preservation; and exhorted him to be of good courage, and not be afraid of suffering any mischief from him any more, and to return to his own home, for he was now persuaded that he did not love himself so well as he was loved by him: that he had driven away him that could guard him, and had given many demonstrations of his good-will to him: that he had forced him to live so long in a state of banishment, and in great fears of his life, destitute of his friends and his kindred, while still he was often saved by him, and frequently received his life again when it was evidently in danger of perishing. So David bade them send for the spear and the cruse of water, and take them back; adding this withal, That God would be the judge of both their dispositions, and of the actions that flowed from the same,
"who knows that then it was this day in my power to have killed thee I abstained from it."
10. Thus Saul having escaped the hands of David twice, he went his way to his royal palace, and his own city: but David was afraid, that if he staid there he should be caught by Saul; so he thought it better to go up into the land of the Philistines, and abide there. Accordingly, he came with the six hundred men that were with him to Achish, the king of Gath, which was one of their five cities. Now the king received both him and his men, and gave them a place to inhabit in. He had with him also his two wives, Ahinoam and Abigail, and he dwelt in Gath. But when Saul heard this, he took no further care about sending to him, or going after him, because he had been twice, in a manner, caught by him, while he was himself endeavoring to catch him. However, David had no mind to continue in the city of Gath, but desired the king, that since he had received him with such humanity, that he would grant him another favor, and bestow upon him some place of that country for his habitation, for he was ashamed, by living in the city, to be grievous and burdensome to him.
So Achish gave him a certain village called Ziklag; which place David and his sons were fond of when he was king, and reckoned it to be their peculiar inheritance. But about those matters we shall give the reader further information elsewhere. Now the time that David dwelt in Ziklag, in the land of the Philistines, was four months and twenty days. And now he privately attacked those Geshurites and Amalekites that were neighbors to the Philistines, and laid waste their country, and took much prey of their beasts and camels, and then returned home; but David abstained from the men, as fearing they should discover him to king Achish; yet did he send part of the prey to him as a free gift. And when the king inquired whom they had attacked when they brought away the prey, he said, those that lay to the south of the Jews, and inhabited in the plain; whereby he persuaded Achish to approve of what he had done, for he hoped that David had fought against his own nation, and that now he should have him for his servant all his life long, and that he would stay in his country.
(23) The phrase in David's speech to Saul, as set down in Josephus, that he had abstained from just revenge, puts me in mind of the like words in the Apostolical Constitutions, B. VII. Ch. 2.,
"That revenge is not evil, but that patience is more honorable."
(24) The number of men that came first to David, are distinctly in Josephus, and in our common copies, but four hundred. When he was at Keilah still but four hundred, both in Josephus and in the LXXX; but six hundred in our Hebrew copies, 1 Samuel 23:3; see 30:9, 10. Now the six hundred there mentioned are here estimated by Josephus to have been so many, only by an augmentation of two hundred afterward, which I suppose is the true solution of this seeming disagreement.
(25) In this and the two next sections, we may perceive how Josephus, nay, how Abigail herself, would understand, the
"not avenging ourselves, but heaping coals of fire on the head of the injurious," (Proverbs 25:22; Romans 12:20),
not as we do now, of them into but of leaving them to the judgment of God,
"to whom vengeance belongeth," (Deuteronomy 32:35; Psalms 94:1; Hebrews 10:30),
and who will take vengeance on the wicked. And since all God's judgments are just, and all fit to be executed, and all at length for the good of the persons punished, I incline to think that to be the meaning of this phrase of
"heaping coals of fire on their heads."
(26) We may note here, that how sacred soever an oath was esteemed among the people of God in old times, they did not think it obligatory where the action was plainly unlawful. For so we see it was in this case of David, who, although he had sworn to destroy Nabal and his family, yet does he here, and 1 Samuel 25:32-41, bless God for preventing his keeping his oath, and shedding of blood, which he had swore to do.