Psalm relevant to this chapter: Psalm 59.
A. Jonathan defends David before his father Saul.
1. (1a) Saul plots the murder of David, attempting to enlist the help of Jonathan and his servants.
Now Saul spoke to Jonathan his son and to all his servants, that they should kill David.
a. Jonathan his son: Saul put Jonathan in a difficult place. Jonathan loved David, and God made a wonderful bond of friendship between them, sealed by a covenant (1 Samuel 18:1-4). Jonathan knew David was destined to be the next king of Israel, even though Jonathan was officially the crown prince. At the same time, his father and king told him to kill David.
b. And to all his servants: Saul put his servants in a difficult place. They all loved David (1 Samuel 18:5) yet they were commanded by their king to kill David.
c. That they should kill David: Saul put David in a difficult place. Who can he trust? Even if he trusted Jonathan he surely knew there was at least one ambitious man on Saul’s staff who would do whatever Saul said, without regard to right or wrong.
2. (1b-3) In loyalty to David, Jonathan warns David.
But Jonathan, Saul’s son, delighted greatly in David. So Jonathan told David, saying, “My father Saul seeks to kill you. Therefore please be on your guard until morning, and stay in a secret place and hide. “And I will go out and stand beside my father in the field where you are, and I will speak with my father about you. Then what I observe, I will tell you.”
a. But Jonathan, Saul’s son, delighted greatly in David: Without doubt Saul and many on his staff criticized David. They looked for anything they could to bring against him, and if they could find nothing, they made something up. Jonathan got an earful of this, but it didn’t change his opinion of David. He still delighted greatly in David.
b. So Jonathan told David: This made Saul furious, but Jonathan knew he did the right thing. He should not kill David because his father and king told him to do something that was clearly disobedient to God. Jonathan knew the Bible said, You shall not murder (Exodus 20:13). The Bible was clear, and Saul was on record as saying that they should kill David (1 Samuel 19:1).
i. We are under authority and commanded to submit to God’s order of authority in many different arenas. There is a Biblical submission of children to their parents, of citizens to their government, of employees to their employers, of Christians to their church leadership, and of wives to their husbands. But in all these relationships, we are never excused from sin because we obeyed an authority that told us to sin. In this case, it would be wrong for Jonathan to obey his father and kill David.
ii. This was a case where Jonathan could say what the apostles said when they were told to stop preaching the gospel: We ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). But Jonathan also had the heart of the apostles in Acts 5; they were beaten severely and were willing to suffer for what was right before God, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer for His name (Acts 5:40-41). Jonathan was willing to pay the price for obeying God, and he did not whine about it.
c. My father Saul seeks to kill you. Therefore please be on your guard until morning, and stay in a secret place and hide: Jonathan did more than refuse to help Saul. He helped David. Jonathan could have said, “Look, I want no part of this. I’m not going to help my father do something I know is wrong. But I won’t try to stop it either. I’ll just be neutral and let God work it out.” But Jonathan didn’t take that attitude.
3. (4-5) In loyalty to David, Jonathan speaks to Saul.
Thus Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father, and said to him, “Let not the king sin against his servant, against David, because he has not sinned against you, and because his works have been very good toward you. For he took his life in his hands and killed the Philistine, and the LORD brought about a great deliverance for all Israel. You saw it and rejoiced. Why then will you sin against innocent blood, to kill David without a cause?”
a. Now Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father: Jonathan did more than secretly help David with information, he also spoke well of David to Saul his father. Jonathan let Saul know, “Father you have a certain opinion of David. But I don’t share that opinion. I love and support David. You should also.” That took a lot of courage, and it was the right thing for Jonathan to do.
i. “Jonathan spake good of David, which he could not do without hazard to himself. Herein therefore he performed the duty of a true friend, and of a valiant man.” (Poole)
b. Let not the king sin against his servant: Jonathan was bold enough to tell his father that his anger and jealousy against David was sin, and to say, “he has not sinned against you.” Saul felt that David had sinned against him in some manner and he felt righteous in his cause. Jonathan delivered a needed word of correction.
c. For he took his life in his hands and killed the Philistine, and the LORD brought about a great deliverance for all Israel: Jonathan reminded Saul of these events because Saul colored them with a meaning that justified his jealous desire to murder David.
i. Saul knew that David killed the Philistine, but he could not believe that David did it for a righteous reason. He thought, “David did it just to become famous and to take my throne. He’s a grasping traitor. I’m justified in killing him because I have to kill him before he kills me.”
ii. Jonathan tried to bring Saul back to reality. He reminded his father: “You saw it and rejoiced.” It was as if Jonathan said, “When David first killed Goliath, you rejoiced just like everyone. Now Satan has filled your mind with envy and jealousy. Go back to how you thought before.”
d. Why then will you sin against innocent blood, to kill David without a cause? In Saul’s mind, there was a cause. In Saul’s mind, David was not innocent. But the truth was that David was innocent, and there was no cause to kill him. Jonathan calls Saul back to reality.
4. (6-7) The reconciliation between Saul and David.
So Saul heeded the voice of Jonathan, and Saul swore, “As the LORD lives, he shall not be killed.” Then Jonathan called David, and Jonathan told him all these things. So Jonathan brought David to Saul, and he was in his presence as in times past.
a. So Saul heeded the voice of Jonathan: This took real humility for Saul. It was easy to say, “I’m the king and I’m right. I don’t care what you say.” But in this case, Saul heeded the voice of Jonathan.
b. Saul swore, “As the LORD lives, he shall not be killed”: This shows that the LORD had genuinely touched Saul’s heart. God used Jonathan, but it wasn’t the work of Jonathan. It was the work of the LORD, and Saul recognized this by declaring this oath.
c. So Jonathan brought David to Saul and he was in his presence as in times past: It seems to have all worked. The command to kill David is revoked. Saul and David are together again as in previous days.
5. (8-10) David escapes another attempt on his life.
And there was war again; and David went out and fought with the Philistines, and struck them with a mighty blow, and they fled from him. Now the distressing spirit from the LORD came upon Saul as he sat in his house with his spear in his hand. And David was playing music with his hand. Then Saul sought to pin David to the wall with the spear, but he slipped away from Saul’s presence; and he drove the spear into the wall. So David fled and escaped that night.
a. And there was war again: In context, this speaks of more war between Israel and the Philistines, but it was also true spiritually. At the end of 1 Samuel 19:7, there was a truce in the spiritual war involving David and Saul. But whenever we are at a time of cease-fire in the spiritual war, we know the battle will begin again before long. It can always be said of our lives “and there was war again.”
b. David went out and fought with the Philistines, and struck them with a mighty blow, and they fled from him: Spiritually, these are warning clouds of a coming storm. It was David’s success that aroused Saul’s jealousy before. When David was successful again, surely Saul would be tempted to jealousy again.
c. Now the distressing spirit from the LORD came upon Saul: Evil spirits were more than ready to attack Saul where he was most vulnerable. The attack was on the way.
d. Saul…sat in his house with his spear in his hand: Saul is in a bad place. He is tempted and spiritually attacked, and now he has put himself in a potentially sinful situation. David was playing music with his hand, but Saul knew spears better than praise music.
e. Then Saul sought to pin David to the wall with the spear: Saul wavered from his change of heart and broke his oath to not kill David. All of that was thrown away as easily as the spear was thrown. But it didn’t “just happen.” Saul was unprepared to handle temptation, unprepared to handle spiritual attack, and had the opportunity to sin close at hand. Most of us will trip up under those circumstances.
f. But he slipped away from Saul’s presence; and he drove the spear into the wall: David was gone, but the spear remained. The thing Saul didn’t need – the spear – was left. The one thing Saul really did need – the person David – was gone. Saul was a loser on both counts.
g. So David fled and escaped that night: David never returned to the palace until he was the king of Israel – perhaps some 15 years later! From now until the day Saul dies David lives as a fugitive.
B. David flees from Saul.
1. (11-12) David escapes with the help from his wife Michal.
Saul also sent messengers to David’s house to watch him and to kill him in the morning. And Michal, David’s wife, told him, saying, “If you do not save your life tonight, tomorrow you will be killed.” So Michal let David down through a window. And he went and fled and escaped.
a. Saul also sent messengers to David’s house to watch him and to kill him: Previously, Saul swore, “As the LORD lives, he shall not be killed” (1 Samuel 19:6). Now for the second time Saul goes back on that oath.
b. Michal, David’s wife, told him: She saved the day. Michal was Saul’s daughter, so this was a conflict of loyalties for Michal. Should she act in her father’s interests or in her husband’s interests? Here, she made the right choice and supported her husband David.
i. Michal acts according to the principle of Genesis 2:24: Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. Though the Genesis passage speaks specifically of the husband it expresses a principle that applies to both partners in a marriage: that the former family loyalties and obligations take a back seat to the loyalty and obligation to the new family.
c. Told him: Michal helped by warning David. She perhaps saw the assassins coming before he did, and she also knew the character of her father better than David did. Michal was probably less surprised than David was to find that her father sent assassins to kill David.
i. David did well to receive this warning from his wife. Sometimes men are so hard-headed and so hard-hearted that they never hear how God might warn them through their wives. If David would have ignored this warning because he didn’t like the source, he might have ended up dead.
d. Michal let David down through a window: As David decided on a course of action, she was there to support and help him put it into practice. Michal’s help was successful, because David fled and escaped.
i. During this night, when men watched his house and David escaped, he composed a song to the LORD found in Psalm 59. The introduction of that Psalm says, when Saul sent men, and they watched the house in order to kill him. In a time of danger David could sing to the LORD.
2. (13-17) Michal deceives the men who come to kill David.
And Michal took an image and laid it in the bed, put a cover of goats’ hair for his head, and covered it with clothes. So when Saul sent messengers to take David, she said, “He is sick.” Then Saul sent the messengers back to see David, saying, “Bring him up to me in the bed, that I may kill him.” And when the messengers had come in, there was the image in the bed, with a cover of goats’ hair for his head. Then Saul said to Michal, “Why have you deceived me like this, and sent my enemy away, so that he has escaped?” And Michal answered Saul, “He said to me, ‘Let me go! Why should I kill you?’”
a. Michal took an image: The image was a teraphim, a figurine used as a household idol or as a fertility and good luck charm. In ancient Israel, teraphim were intended as aids in worshipping the true God. They didn’t think of the teraphim as other gods, but as representing the God of Israel.
i. Clearly God’s people had no business having or using an image like this. We can’t imagine that this image, this household idol, belonged to David; so it shows that Michal didn’t have the kind of relationship with God she should have had. This weak relationship with God will reveal itself in Michal as the story of David’s life unfolds (2 Samuel 6:16-23). “When we read of these images we are not surprised by the defects of character which we see in Michal.” (Blaikie)
b. Bring him up to me in the bed, that I may kill him: This means Saul was not taken in by his daughter’s deception. This also shows something of the depth of Saul’s hatred for David because he wanted to deliver the death-blow himself (bring him up to me…that I may kill him).
c. My enemy: These are the saddest words in this passage. Saul, when describing David, calls him my enemy. David was really Saul’s friend and David did more to help Saul than just about anyone else. David was only the enemy of Saul because Saul wanted to see him that way.
C. David, pursued by Saul, flees to Naioth.
1. (18) David visits Samuel at Ramah.
So David fled and escaped, and went to Samuel at Ramah, and told him all that Saul had done to him. And he and Samuel went and stayed in Naioth.
a. Went to Samuel at Ramah and told him all that Saul had done to him: David did the right thing when in a difficult and confusing situation. He spent some time with a godly man. We can imagine David pouring out his heart to the prophet: “Samuel, you anointed me king and look what happened! I guess it isn’t time yet, but why is it so hard? Does God want me dead? Why is the LORD allowing this?”
b. Stayed in Naioth: The word Naioth comes from the Hebrew word for residence. This spoke of Samuel’s home (which may have had the “Naioth” title itself), or it may have been some landmark or specific place in Ramah. Whenever Naioth is mentioned, it is associated with Ramah.
2. (19-21) Saul sends messengers to capture David, but they are touched by the Holy Spirit and prophesy in the presence of Samuel and other prophets.
Now it was told Saul, saying, “Take note, David is at Naioth in Ramah!” Then Saul sent messengers to take David. And when they saw the group of prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as leader over them, the Spirit of God came upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied. And when Saul was told, he sent other messengers, and they prophesied likewise. Then Saul sent messengers again the third time, and they prophesied also.
a. Saul sent messengers to take David: Saul is wicked, but persistent. We never admire the devil’s work, but we can admire the devil’s work ethic.
b. When they saw the group of prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as leader over them: When the messengers of Saul came to capture David, they came in the middle of a worship meeting. Samuel and his “students” (the group of prophets) were waiting on the LORD, worshipping Him, speaking to the LORD and hearing from Him.
i. When it says that they were all prophesying it isn’t that they were all predicting the future. The Hebrew word simply has the idea of speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. They probably all gave spontaneous and inspired praise to God.
c. The Spirit of God came upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied: They were caught up in the atmosphere of worship and devotion to God, and the Spirit of God came upon them.
i. This was an unusual work of the Holy Spirit – to come upon men who did not seek after God, who did not long to be filled with the Spirit. God did this to protect David, and this was His way of “disarming” those who came to capture David.
ii. This was also the Holy Spirit’s warning to these men and to Saul. It is as if the Spirit said, “I don’t want David captured. I am sending these men home empty handed. Instead of seeking to kill David, you should seek to be filled with the Spirit of God.”
d. He sent other messengers: Saul didn’t get the message. So, he sent other messengers, but the same thing happened – they prophesied likewise. Saul still didn’t get the message, so he sent messengers again the third time, and they prophesied also. Three sets of messengers came back, and God said the same thing each time through each of them.
3. (22-24) Saul pursues David himself, but he also prophesies in the presence of Samuel and the prophets.
Then he also went to Ramah, and came to the great well that is at Sechu. So he asked, and said, “Where are Samuel and David?” And someone said, “Indeed they are at Naioth in Ramah.” So he went there to Naioth in Ramah. Then the Spirit of God was upon him also, and he went on and prophesied until he came to Naioth in Ramah. And he also stripped off his clothes and prophesied before Samuel in like manner, and lay down naked all that day and all that night. Therefore they say, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”
a. Then he also went to Ramah: Three times, the Holy Spirit said to Saul, “Leave David alone. My Spirit is stronger than you are. You will never win this battle against Me and against David.” But Saul didn’t listen. Instead, to an even greater degree, Saul took matters into his own hands: he also went to Ramah.
b. Then the Spirit of God was upon him also: As before, the Holy Spirit worked to prevent David’s capture. Through this, God also told Saul, “Hands off My servant David. I am in charge here.”
i. There may have been an additional message to Saul in this: “Saul, you are prophesying now, speaking beautiful words of praise and wonder to Me. This is how I could work in you all the time if you were humble and willing.”
c. He also stripped off his clothes and prophesied: The Spirit prompted Saul to do this as an expression of deep humility. Saul would not humble himself before God, and so God would find a way to humble him.
i. It is unlikely – though possible – that Saul stripped himself bare. The Hebrew word for naked can indicate just stripping down to the undergarments. Saul probably took off all the royal robes that said “prestige” and “royalty,” and laid himself out before the LORD in his plain linen undergarments. It was a way for the LORD to say, “You really aren’t a king anymore, Saul. I’ve stripped you of your royal glory.”
ii. A person can be affected by the power of God (resulting in amazing experiences), but not surrendered to the power of God, which results in a changed life.
d. Is Saul also among the prophets? This phrase was first mentioned in 1 Samuel 10:10-12, and it expressed astonishment that someone became a religious enthusiast. Saul was an unspiritual man who became very spiritual at the moment the Spirit of the LORD came upon him.