David Spares Saul Again.* 1a Men from Ziph came to Saul in Gibeah, reporting that David was hiding on the hill of Hachilah at the edge of Jeshimon. 2So Saul went down to the wilderness of Ziph with three thousand of the best warriors of Israel, to search for David in the wilderness of Ziph. 3Saul camped beside the road on the hill of Hachilah, at the edge of Jeshimon. David, who was living in the wilderness, saw that Saul had come into the wilderness after him 4and sent out scouts, who confirmed Saul’s arrival. 5David then went to the place where Saul was encamped and saw the spot where Saul and his general, Abner, son of Ner, had their sleeping quarters. Saul was lying within the camp, and all his soldiers were bivouacked around him.b 6David asked Ahimelech the Hittite, and Abishai, son of Zeruiah and brother of Joab, “Who will go down into the camp with me to Saul?” Abishai replied, “I will.”c 7So David and Abishai reached Saul’s soldiers by night, and there was Saul lying asleep within the camp, his spear thrust into the ground at his head and Abner and his troops sleeping around him.
8Abishai whispered to David: “God has delivered your enemy into your hand today. Let me nail him to the ground with one thrust of the spear; I will not need to strike him twice!”d 9But David said to Abishai, “Do not harm him, for who can lay a hand on the LORD’s anointed and remain innocent? 10As the LORD lives,” David declared, “only the LORD can strike him: either when the time comes for him to die, or when he goes out and perishes in battle.* e 11But the LORD forbid that I lay a hand on the LORD’s anointed! Now take the spear at his head and the water jug, and let us be on our way.” 12So David took the spear and the water jug from their place at Saul’s head, and they withdrew without anyone seeing or knowing or awakening. All remained asleep, because a deep slumber* from the LORD had fallen upon them.f
David Taunts Abner. 13Crossing over to an opposite slope, David stood on a distant hilltop. With a great distance between them 14David called to the army and to Abner, son of Ner, “Will you not answer, Abner?” Then Abner shouted back, “Who is it that calls me?” 15David said to Abner: “Are you not a man? Who in Israel is your equal? Why were you not guarding your lord the king when one of his subjects came to assassinate the king, your lord? 16What you have done is not right. As the LORD lives, you people deserve death because you have not guarded your lord, the anointed of the LORD. Go, look: where are the king’s spear and the water jug that was at his head?”
Saul Admits His Guilt. 17Saul recognized David’s voice and asked, “Is that your voice, David my son?”* David answered, “Yes, my lord the king.” 18He continued: “Why does my lord pursue his servant? What have I done? What evil am I planning? 19Please, now, let my lord the king listen to the words of his servant. If the LORD has incited you against me, may an offering please the LORD. But if it is the people who have done so, may they be cursed before the LORD. They have driven me away so that today I have no share in the LORD’s heritage,* but am told: ‘Go serve other gods!’g 20Do not let my blood spill on the ground far from the presence of the LORD. For the king of Israel has come out to seek a single flea as if he were hunting partridge* in the mountains.” 21Then Saul said: “I have done wrong. Come back, David, my son! I will not harm you again, because you considered my life precious today even though I have been a fool and have made a serious mistake.” 22But David answered: “Here is the king’s spear. Let an attendant come over to get it. 23The LORD repays everyone’s righteousness and faithfulness. Although the LORD delivered you into my hands today, I could not lay a hand on the LORD’s anointed.h 24Just as I regarded your life as precious today, so may the LORD regard my life as precious and deliver me from all dangers.” 25Then Saul said to David: “Blessed are you, my son David! You shall certainly succeed in whatever you undertake.” David went his way, and Saul returned to his place.i
* [26:10] Perishes in battle: David’s words foreshadow how Saul will die (31:3–4). They also emphasize that David, unlike Saul, knows his proper place before God. David comes to the kingship innocent of Saul’s blood, although the king pursues him like an enemy and David has had two opportunities to kill him.
* [26:19] The LORD’s heritage: the land and people of Israel (Dt 32:8–9; Ps 33:12). If driven from the land, David could not take part in worship of Israel’s God; nonetheless, God has blessed David (cf. v. 25).
* [26:20] Partridge: lit., “the caller.” The metaphor is built on clever wordplay: in v. 14, David calls out to the army and Abner asks the caller’s identity. David calls out the answer: “the caller” is the object of the king’s pursuit.