In this chapter, we get what is essentially a repeat of the story from 1 Sam. 24. A few details are different, but many are the same. In several places, the wording is even identical.

We begin once again with the Ziphites reporting on David’s whereabouts to Saul. When I read chapter 24, the wording had suggested to me that they were complaining to Saul and asking him to do something about David. When I got a different vibe from chapter 26, I read back again and realized that I’d brought my own assumptions into the chapter 24 narrative. It seems that the Ziphites are merely betraying David’s whereabouts to their king. This doesn’t preclude my original reading, but it makes it by far the less obvious one.

Saul heads into Ziph, again with his 3,000 soldiers, and David can apparently feel his approach. He sends out spies to confirm his intuition. When Saul makes camp for the night, David finds out that he is sleeping in the middle of the camp.

There’s a note here about some of David’s followers, which includes an Ahimelech the Hittite. I think it’s safe to assume that this is a different Ahimelech, not the priest. The characters are named as though they should be familiar to the reader – Abishai is named as “Joab’s brother” and “the son of Zeruiah” (1 Sam. 26:6). Of his companions, it is this Abishai that David decides to take along with him.

Together, they sneak into the camp and stand over Saul’s sleeping body. Abishai urges killing Saul, now that they have him so vulnerable. David, however, refuses – “who can put forth his hand against the Lord’s anointed, and be guiltless” (1 Sam. 26:9). Though he has lost God’s favour, Saul is still the anointed king. If God wants him gone, he’ll have to take care of it himself. Not to skip ahead in our narrative, but David displays quite a bit of prescience when he suggests that perhaps God will take care of the monarchy problem by having Saul die in battle (1 Sam. 26:10).

David Sparing Saul, by C.F. Vos

David Sparing Saul, by C.F. Vos

Instead of killing Saul, or perhaps cutting off a piece of his robe, this time David takes a spear and a jug of water that had been placed by Saul’s head. I can’t help but wonder if the taking of Saul’s spear might not be a nod to 1 Sam. 18:10-11, 1 Sam. 19:10, and 1 Sam. 20:33. Finally someone thinks to take Saul’s spear away from him!

More cautious this time than in chapter 24, David stands at a safe distance before he he calls out – this time to Abner, Saul’s general. He taunts Abner, showing him the jug and the spear, berating him for having failed to keep adequate guard over his king. “As the Lord lives, you deserve to die, because you have not kept watched over your lord, the Lord’s anointed” (1 Sam. 26:16).

Saul overhears David’s yelling at Abner and recognizes his voice. In identical words to those used in 1 Sam. 24:16, he asks: “Is this your voice, my son David?” (1 Sam. 26:17).

As in chapter 24, David reproves Saul for being such a meanie, asking him what he’s done to deserve such treatment. This time, there’s an added detail: David argues that by driving him out, Saul is cutting him off from the assembly of God, sending him into the arms of foreign gods (1 Sam. 26:19).

If I understand correctly, David is talking about being cut off from the sanctuaries of YHWH – either because it’s too dangerous for him to show his face in such places (as the episode at Nob in 1 Sam. 22 amply illustrates), or it’s a reference to David’s later defection to Philistia. It’s a hint that perhaps David’s faith wasn’t quite as unwavering as the account otherwise portrays.

As before, Saul agrees that he has done wrong, and he promises that he will not try to harm David again. This seems rather silly following, as it does, so closely on the heals of a nearly identical reconciliation that clearly amounted to very little. Those who argue against the multi-source cobbling hypothesis use this as evidence of Saul’s mental instability, though that does not exactly explain David’s apparent memory problems.

With that, Saul and David part ways.