What Happens Here Is David Spares Saul’s Life For The Second Time?

abigailIn my last blog post on Samuel, we concluded the episode in David’s life when Abigail interceded in her husband, Nabal’s, fight with David by convincing David that he should not take vengeance into his own hands.

God is David’s avenger and surely He will act to punish Nabal for his lack of charity and the disrespect shown to God’s anointed nagid (King in waiting) for Israel.

David relented, and the Scriptures make it clear that it was in David’s best interests that he left the matter in the Lord’s hands. Had he not he would have committed the sin of bloodguilt (unjustifiable killing of a man), and while there is no way for us to know for sure it is likely that this would have derailed David’s opportunity to be King of Israel. Because the sin of bloodguilt is among the worst possible trespasses against the Lord and there is no atonement available for it.

Would God have allowed such a man to replace an already failed King? It is highly questionable.

Sure enough in but a matter of days, Nabal had a stroke and died. While the verses don’t explicitly say that Nabal’s death was Yehoveh avenging David, it is made clear that Nabal’s death was indeed perceived as being a divine act. David certainly felt it was God’s justice at work and yet, what exactly was Nabal’s crime?

So far as we know, it was primarily insulting David and acting without charity and perhaps behaving unfairly according to the customs of the day. But even acknowledging that Nabal was a godless fool (as attested by his name), there appears to be no direct violation of Torah Law worthy of capital punishment.

So the question is: was Nabal’s death directly to avenge David? The answer, I doubt it. Nabal was merely a wicked and unsavory man, and apparently, the Lord determined that his death would serve Kingdom purposes more than to continue living.

I can assure you that if this happened today, it would be said that while coincidental to the conflict with David, Nabal died of natural causes. The Lord gives and takes away life at His good pleasure, and for reasons that are rarely apparent to the living. And this is an attribute of God that is among the most mysterious, bothersome and trying to accept, and yet it is so.

Knowing a good thing when he saw one David sent messengers to Nabal’s widow, Abigail, and asked her to become his wife. She immediately agreed.

The same passage at the end of chapter 25 tells us two other things about David’s marital status:


  1. First, he married another woman as well as Abigail; her name was Achinoam.
  2. Second, King Saul spitefully took David’s first wife, Michal, and gave her as a wife to another man, Palti.


Since there was no divorce by David of Michal, essentially Michal was married to two men simultaneously. Now whether Saul’s rash act was the result of getting word of David’s two new wives and being offended by it or it was a way of severing official familial connections with David, we don’t know. It matters not for the results were the same. All hope of reconciliation between David and Saul ended.

So as of the end of chapter 25 David technically had three wives: Michal, Achinoam, and Abigail. Practically speaking he had only two; but the two he had were as much about politics as was his original bride, Saul’s daughter Michal.

Achinoam and Abigail were from two different and significant clans of the tribe of Judah. David’s marriage to these families built up goodwill and gave him access and influence with these three influential groups within the tribe of Judah when counting his clan (the clan of Yishai, Jesse). Now, this would help pave the way for his eventual coronation as King of Judah.

Let’s pick up David’s story in 1st Samuel chapter 26.


Read 1 Samuel 26.


Here we find David in an all too familiar situation: Saul was once again in pursuit of him and his men. It didn’t take long for the anti-King to forget and rationalize-away his tearful words to David (as recorded in 1st Samuel 24) when Saul told David that undoubtedly David was God’s anointed King and worthy of the position.

Saul was so sure of David’s rise to the throne (and of YHWH’s hand in it) that he asked him to promise that he wouldn’t kill Saul’s children and descendants but instead would show them kindness.

Since David will be the focus of our study for months on end, Tom Bradford, our commentator, would like to make a couple of comments. As he was looking at what various Hebrew sages and Christian commentators thought about this ongoing transition from Saul to David, and whether we can count on the accuracy of the Scriptures in this regard, there were some startling conclusions.

Rabbis and Hebrew scholars tend to make David as nearly flawless and thus have no real problem with the Scriptures as written (except to fancifully explain away David’s foopahs).

The more liberal Christian scholars and disciples of the Literary Criticism approach to Bible Study have always felt that what we read in Samuel regarding David is more propaganda than divine truth. That essentially what we are learning is a lot of after-the-fact rewriting of history by those loyal to David to make David look good, and thus to accomplish this Saul had to appear (unfairly) in their eyes as a super-villain.

Early on in our study of 1st Samuel, Bradford explained that we needed to view Saul as a type of Anti-King/Anti-Christ as opposed to David as a type of God-anointed Messiah. And that this was a pattern that would persist right on through Revelation. Unapologetically he says that Saul ought to be viewed as we view Hitler or even Lucifer.

Otto Thenius
Here, however, is the view of Otto Thenius, a leading Christian commentator from Germany writing in the mid-1800 when Germany was the center of modern Christian exegesis and doctrinal development. Those views remain the prominent views of Christianity in our time. Here then is Thenius’ view on King Saul:


“Saul would have been a moral monster, which he evidently was not, if he had pursued David with quiet deliberation, and through the medium of the same persons, and had sought his life again after his own life had been so magnanimously spared by (David)….”


I hope you caught the essence of Thenius’ thinking on the matter because he represents a prevalent approach to analyzing Holy Scripture since the late 1700’s. And it is that particular Bible passages are not be trusted if an intellectual Bible Scholar feels that they have a better solution.

And this is the same approximate period that the modern allegorical method of approaching the Bible also erupted; a technique that dominates the institutional Church today. The thinking is that Saul couldn’t possibly be all that bad because no human could be so mean or morally depraved as to have their own life spared and then to determine to kill the person who saved it.

Therefore the only logical conclusion for an intelligent person is that the Scripture is faulty, corrupt and instead we need to see Saul more sympathetically and David as significantly less approved-by-God than what we read. We need to give Saul and David a better, more even, balance. And of course, this view is embedded in most of what is written and taught on the matter for the last two centuries.

Not only is there no evidence to back up such a view (but instead it revolves solely around a learned scholar’s personal opinions and agenda), but also such a conclusion has done great violence to the Bible itself. For if we are going to pick and choose which parts to believe and which parts to discredit or even discard then what credence can we give to any of it?

This narrative of 1st Samuel chapter 26 tells of a second opportunity for David to end Saul’s life and then accelerate by his hand his rise to the throne of Israel (a possibility which David refuses).

Wilderness of ZiphVerse 1 explains that the residents of Ziph again betrayed David by going to Saul and informing him of David’s whereabouts. Why the leaders of Ziph are so adamantly against David one can only speculate. Saul took 3000 soldiers with him, as he had before when seeking David, and left immediately.

In the earlier incident when the members of Ziph came to Saul with similar intelligence, the king was grateful but not convinced that the men of Ziph knew where David was. So he asked them to verify it and then report back (Saul was not about to send 3000 men on an expedition without some assurances).

It turned out that the men of Ziph were correct, even though after Saul had surrounded David he had to withdraw because the Philistines took that opportunity to invade Israel. So this time when the men of Ziph came to him concerning David’s location he believed them and responded without hesitation.

When Saul and his troops arrived at the wilderness area surrounding Ziph, they camped by the road that led up to the hill of Hachilah where apparently David and his men were currently residing. David’s spies spotted Saul’s army and informed David, and David sent more spies to reconnoiter.

Once David got the surveillance information that he sought, he waited for an opportune moment and snuck up on the encampment after nightfall. He saw that Abner (the supreme general of Saul’s army) had come along this time and that Saul was sleeping in a protected area with soldiers all around him. Abner was nearest to Saul, acting as his bodyguard.

In verse 6 David asks among his most trusted men who would go with him down to the enemy camp and a fellow named Abishai volunteered. We’re told that Abishai (which means “my father is Yishai or Jesse”) was the son of Zeruiah, the brother of Joab.

As we might expect, Abishai was a close relative of David because it was customary (and safer) to have your inner circle consist primarily of family members who have a lot to gain by seeing to your good health.

Thus the name Abishai lets everyone know that he is part of Jesse’s clan. Zeruiah was Jesse’s daughter and David’s sister, so Abishai was David’s nephew. Zeruiah was the mother of Abishai, Joab, and Asahel. Abishai is commander of David’s army, and so naturally it is he who can’t refuse to go with David down to Saul’s camp because the army commander is also the leader’s chief protector.

Why did David want to go down to Saul’s camp? Had he changed his mind and now wanted to confront Saul and finish him off? No: I am sure that Avishai thought so, but David was still intent on proving his innocence to the King (as naïve as that may be). God blessed those intentions, as risky and unwise as they were.

The men that were supposed to be guarding Saul not only fell into a night of sleep, but a deep sleep. We are to understand that the Lord induced in them this soundness of sleep such that the ordinarily super-aware warriors who would stir at the sound of a stick cracking would be oblivious to David and Abishai’s presence in their camp.

david-steals-king-sauls-spearNoiselessly the two creep closer until they stand to loom over King Saul himself. Saul’s spear (which had become his scepter, the symbol of his reign and authority) was stuck in the ground next to him with Abner, Saul’s chief general, but inches away.

Abishai naturally concluded that as unlikely as it is that they could get this close to the king and still be alive it could only mean that the God of Israel has His hand in this and has turned King Saul over to them for execution.

In verse 8 Abishai essentially says, “Let me do it!” He says that using Saul’s spear that he’ll kill him in one stroke, there certainly won’t be a need for a 2nd one. But David stays Abishai’s hand and tells him not to “destroy” Saul because nobody can raise his hand against Adonai’s anointed king without becoming guilty himself.

For David, Saul is still the king (the rightful God-appointed king), and he cannot bring himself to have Saul killed because he sees it as an insult to God. He goes on to say that if Adonai wants to kill him, or if Saul dies in battle, that’s another matter; but David will not kill him or have him killed. In fact, David is probably saying that it is certain that Saul will be executed at the Lord’s hand in the Lord’s timing (he is undoubtedly thinking back to what happened with Nabal).

When David tells Abishai to “not destroy” Saul, it is a little different than saying “don’t kill him.” The Hebrew is al tashitehu, and it means to mutilate or to deface or corrupt.

And the idea is that while killing the king would bring on the sin of bloodguilt; there is also another sin piled on if one would kill the king in a way that disgracefully disfigures him (something that just isn’t done to a king). Actually this statement mostly represents the customs of the times when even an enemy king is seen as above most mortals, so he must be accorded special privileges even in his death.

Instead, the two men flee with Saul’s spear and his water canteen as proof of their presence, and they leave as stealthily as they arrived, and once they were sufficiently far away so as not to be captured, David shouts towards Saul’s camp and the blearily eyed soldiers awaken to their embarrassment.

David calls explicitly out Abner’s name, to humiliate him and to utilize unrestrained sarcasm David wants to know how it is that Saul’s highest officer and best warrior has allowed the enemy to stand over his king, able to kill him in an instant, and neither Abner nor his soldiers be aware of it?

And he holds up the king’s spear and personal water jug as proof of his claim. By all rights, Abner and his men should be executed by the king for being derelict in their duty to guard him. It is the first duty of all the soldiers to protect their king at all costs, and they have failed miserably.

Saul awakens amid all the shouting and confusion. He hears a familiar voice and rhetorically asks if it’s the voice of “his son” David. David confirms it. Abner is stunned, humiliated and so is silent as the King inquires after David and David respond by politely and submissively asking for permission to speak.

And David is still searching for the cause of this irrational hatred of Saul against him and so tells the king that if it is God who has instigated this conflict, then they should make an offering to God in hopes He will reverse course and take away Saul’s anger.

What David says is, “May God ruakh Minchah” and it means may God smell the smoke of a sacrifice. The smoke of the offering was seen as all-important because the idea was that the smoke wafted up to the heavens where God would smell it and be appeased because it meant that His people were obedient to his commandments to make sacrifices of atonement.

The bottom line is that if God as some punishment has brought about Saul’s paranoia, then may the Lord show mercy; but if this is just the wicked inclination of men at work, may they be cursed.

The last part of verse 19 expresses at least part of David’s concern for himself; it is that he has been driven out and so he no longer has any part in the Lord’s inheritance. What does that mean?

Do you remember what the Lord’s inheritance is? It is the land; every Hebrew’s legacy is the Land of Canaan. So David is saying that because of this irrational and unjust war upon him he has been denied the ability to live peacefully within the Promised Land.

Thus those who are doing this to him are essentially telling David to go and worship other gods. What has exile from the Promised Land got to do with worshipping other gods?

We are dealing with the ancient superstition that still held that gods are territorial (and David and Saul also believed that). Each nation had its gods, and when you crossed a national boundary into another country you left one set of gods behind, and you came into the sphere of influence of the gods of the territory you have entered.

So if David were unable to live in Israel, then he would have no choice but to live in some other nation and worship that nation’s gods since Yehoveh had no influence anywhere but in Israel. That’s the thinking.

So for Saul to unjustly chase one of God’s chosen out of his inheritance and away from God’s presence amounted to a capital offense against the God of Israel who owns the land of Israel and rules over them through a king. So David is saying he certainly doesn’t want to die outside of Israel and away from God’s presence. And even this had to do with the ancient mindset of ancestor worship and what happens after you die.

PartridgeThe last few words of verse 20 lose their meaning when translated into English. Those Scriptures say that the King of Israel is chasing a worthless man as though he was hunting partridge.

Actually there was some interesting wordplay going on here; let me see if I can explain it briefly. The Hebrew word for partridge is haqoreh, and it means “the caller.”

So we have David standing on a mountain “calling” to Abner and Saul, and he parallels Saul’s chasing after him to the hunting of “the caller” (partridges). In verse 14 Abner says, “mi atta haqoreh?” or “who is it that calls?” or most literally “who are you, O caller?”

So David turns the tables and mocks Abner’s words by referring to himself as haqoreh, the caller, (I David am the caller, the haqoreh. David says that he is the calling bird (a partridge) who is hunted in the mountains by Saul and Abner.

Remember that this story (like all other stories in the Bible) was handed down by word of mouth for generation after generation before it was eventually written down. So this interesting wordplay was undoubtedly a highlight of the story and brought on laughter from the audience as it was retold around the campfire.

Reminiscent of their encounter in En-Gedi, Saul turns mushy on David, calls him “his son” and pleads with him to come home to the king’s palace. He promises that he won’t do evil to David anymore and that once again David has proven his loyalty by sparing Saul’s life. David has figured out that Saul’s word means nothing, so basically, his response ignores Saul’s offer.

David instead offers to return the Kings spear (which is Saul’s scepter) and tells Saul to send one of his soldiers to come and fetch it. David has come to grips (even though only perhaps momentarily) with the divine reality that our reward for righteousness and faithfulness comes not from other men but the Lord.

While it ought to be reasonably expected that Saul would return good for good, in reality, the only guarantor of receiving a blessing for our righteous behavior is God in heaven and that may not even come in this life, but later. This foundational but critical God-principle is found in the New Testament in a number of forms:


Matthew 6:1-4 TLV
Beware of practicing your righteousness before others to be seen by them; otherwise, you have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you do tzedakah (righteousness), do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, so that they may be glorified by men. Amen, I tell you, they have their reward in full! But when you do tzedakah (righteousness, good deeds), do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your tzedakah may be in secret; and your Father, who sees in secret, shall reward you.


CJB Romans 2:7
To those who seek glory, honor, and immortality by perseverance in doing good, he will pay back eternal life.


Saul has the final word; he bestows a blessing, a berachah, on David and says that whatever David undertakes he will undoubtedly achieve. The two men parted, and in life, they would never see each other again.

Soon, just as the Lord took care of matters with Nabal he would take care of things with Saul, and David would avoid any blood on his hands at least as far as dealing with Saul. But the reality is that heroes are some of the most flawed men on the planet and David is chief among them; this will be well demonstrated in the next chapter.


Read 1 Samuel 27.


Here is a chapter that shoots a lot of holes in liberal Theologians’ theories that most of the book of Samuel was created as propaganda to validate David’s dynasty replacing Saul’s. No writer or editor whose goal is to make David seem worthy, let alone perfect, would justify his position by including what we have just read in 1 Samuel 27.

If ever there was a time when David had the blood of innocents dripping from his hands; and when his mouth contorted with his lies and deceptions, this is the one. But I think as we delve into this episode you’ll see that it might be even worse than it appears at first glance.

Something has shifted in David’s thinking. It may have been the encounter in chapter 26 in the Ziph wilderness, but it probably was equally as much that Saul had viciously given David’s wife Michal to another man.

It’s hard to put into words the extreme injury and insult to David’s honor that occurred with that act. Nonetheless, David no longer believed he could remain in Judah.

So David concluded that Saul would hound him until one or the other of them was dead, so David took the drastic step of once again going to the Philistines. He went back to the same place, Gath, where he feigned insanity only a few years earlier to survive.

But there is a difference: David first went to Gath as a lone fugitive looking for sanctuary and mercy and rejected. This time he went as the leader of a substantial army and had something to offer: services to the King of Gath in return for a good living and protection from King Saul. At the least, the King of Gath would “divide and conquer” so to speak by allowing David to come and stay.

David was probably the single most influential force within the tribe of Judah, and therefore the territory of Judah. There is little chance that any clan of Judah would now give their full loyalty to Saul, a leader of the northern coalition of Israelite tribes, so Achish undoubtedly figured that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Even if Achish didn’t entirely trust David, David was Saul’s mortal enemy, and that was useful for the Philistines. Judah would be more co-operative with the Philistines with David as an ally and a resident so that they could focus their military assets on the remainder of Israel in the north.

It seems that this time Achish welcomed David and housed David and his small army in the city of Gath as his guests. It is clear that David’s two wives Achinoam and Abigail went with him. When Saul heard of what happened, he abandoned his pursuit of David (as David had hoped he would).

Some time passed. Verse 5 has David approaching the king of Gath and asking to be given territory of his own rather than continuing to live under Achish’s nose; the Philistine area, of course, is what he had in mind.

What we find is that David has essentially become a favored vassal to the Philistine King as Achish grants him his request. Now, this is not at all unlike the feudal system of old in Eastern Europe; David supplies military assistance to the king, and in return, the king grants David some territory to lord over and have a little more independence.

No doubt for Achish it made sense to give David a little space. It could not have looked good for this foreigner with his army, loyal only to David, to live in the capital city of their supposed master. Moving them out to the countryside solved that problem, but it also removed the somewhat irksome restraints that David would have been under for obvious political reasons.

So we see in verse 6 that “that very day” (meaning Achish didn’t have to think about David’s request for long) the city of Ziklag was assigned to David. It was a logical choice as Ziklag previously belonged to Judah but now was under Philistine control.

But even being considered part of Judah was a recent development. Moses and Joshua initially assigned Ziklag to the tribe of Simeon; that it became part of Judah demonstrates something we have discussed before. It is that in a tribal system there is no end to each tribe attempting to increase their influence and to become the most dominant in the region.

Already during Saul’s reign, the tribe of Simeon was substantially absorbed by the tribe of Judah. And this was not accomplished by pleasantries but by tribal warfare for the most part. By the time David died, and Solomon took over, Simeon essentially all but disappeared as a separate tribal entity, and the people and the territory of Simeon became rolled into Judah.

We’ll stop here and continue with David’s time in Philistia in my next blog post.





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