David had not now to evade merely the sudden paroxysms of Saul’s wrath, but his fixed and avowed purpose of effecting his destruction, in the face of the oath which had been made to Jonathan. Any step he might now take was of the utmost importance to David, and might be pregnant with ulterior consequences. He, therefore, wisely resolved to repair to Samuel at Ramah, to obtain the advantage of his counsels and experience. Whether there had been any intercourse between them during the years which had passed since the anointing of David, we do not learn. On account of the suspicious character of Saul, and the probability that too close an intercourse would have led him to suppose that some collusion existed between them, and that Samuel was preparing to bring the son of Jesse forward, as the worthier man destined to fill the throne, it is probable that there had been little, if any, communication between him and David. It was not needed. They knew enough of each other without it. David knew that Samuel had relinquished all part in public affairs, and was solely occupied in his religious duties as prophet, and in the superintendence and instruction of the college of religious young men, which he had established at the rural hamlet of Naioth, in the vicinity of Ramah. There they were instructed in sacred learning and religious exercises, and were led to cultivate, especially by psalmody and music, the devotional feelings which might fit them, when occasion called, to become the messengers of God and teachers of the people. Samuel, on his part, could not have been ignorant of the public history of David; and we may conceive the interest with which he beheld the providence of God gradually leading this young man forward in his appointed path and to his destined station. The purposes of God were ripening every hour; and he was content to wait, knowing well what the end must be.
David not only sought counsel of Samuel, but probably thought that with him he might find safety and protection. The school at Naioth formed a sanctuary which even Saul, he might think, would not be likely to invade. Besides that, the presence of Samuel alone must surely be a sufficient protection from outrage. It is true this step might confirm the suspicions of Saul as to his being the man Samuel had announced as the heir of his throne. Yet the movement would not be in itself conclusive, seeing that it was no doubt still the practice for every one who was in great perplexity, to repair to the venerable prophet for counsel and advice.
At Ramah David reported to Samuel all the particulars of Saul’s conduct towards him; and on hearing this, the prophet took him to his college at Naioth, as if to put him into sanctuary there. At this place the son of Jesse remained some time before Saul learned where he was. These were no doubt happy days with him. Here he was in an atmosphere congenial to his best feelings, his highest tastes, and holiest aspirations; and here his accomplishments, in sacred minstrelsy and song, had ample scope and exercise, enabling him to join heart and soul in their harmonious “prophesyings,” and doubtless endearing him greatly to the good men who had their quiet dwelling there. There were probably moments when, feeling sick of the turmoil of public life, and tired of the persecutions and suspicions which followed him, he had been content to abandon his high career for the peaceful and holy life he was now allowed to share. It may even be possible that such was his intention, and that he hoped this voluntary retirement would abate the suspicions of Saul, and mollify his hatred.
But it was not so to be. When Saul learned to what place David had retired, he sent a body of men to apprehend him. These men, however, no sooner came to the sacred place, and beheld the prophets engaged in their sacred exercises, led by the venerable Samuel, than their hearts were smitten. They felt that they dared not attempt any violence, and they stood contentedly, swelling by their voices the loud chorus of praise to God.
This occurred to two other sets of emissaries—three in all; and at last Saul determined to go himself, and execute on the spot the fell purposes of his will. So forth he went. On his approach to Ramah, he came to the great well of Sechu, and finding there a number of people who had come from the town for water, he inquired of them where Samuel and David then were. On hearing that they were at Naioth, he turned his steps in that direction; but he had proceeded only a little way, when the spirit which had moved his messengers, fell upon him also—with this difference, that they had not thus been moved till they reached the presence of Samuel and his pupils; whereas Saul felt the spirit come upon him while he was on the road, giving him, for the time, the heart of another man. This is very remarkable; the messengers, as Saul himself on a former occasion, may be supposed to have been influenced by a sympathy with what they saw and heard, when they came into the presence of the prophets; but now the heart of Saul is moved in the absence of all such associations, as if purposely to show, that the change wrought in him was the immediate work of Him who holds the hearts of all men in his hand. It showed, also, that this power was not confined to place or persons, and that the prophesyings at Naioth were owing to no influence of example—to no intoxicating vapors, or to the temperature of the air, as was suspected of some of the heathen oracles of old.
Thus the king went on, singing in high excitement the praises of God; and when he came to Naioth, and entered the presence of Samuel—between whom and him an angry scene might have been expected but, for this Divine intervention—he cast off his weapons, and the outer robes which belonged to his rank, and stood among the sons of the prophets as one of themselves, taking his part in their holy chants. Thus disarrayed of all that marked the king or the warrior, Saul, when the “prophesyings” were ended, lay down exhausted or entranced all the remainder of that day, and all the ensuing night. It is said that “he lay down naked,” which we have interpreted to mean, that he divested himself of his outer raiment, which from its looseness could be easily slipped off, and remained in his closer inner vesture and girdle. This is not the only instance in which the term “naked” is thus applied in Scripture. We have another in the order to the prophet Isaiah to put off his sackcloth and “go naked and barefoot” for three years. This was to denote, that the Egyptians and Arabians were to be carried away captives in the like guise by the Assyrians. It was not, however, the custom to strip captives altogether naked; but only to deprive them of good clothes and flowing vestures, and to give them others more sordid and shorter, that they might be the more fit for service. Apart from this, no one who reflects on the matter will imagine that the prophet literally remained three whole years without any covering, in a climate the winter cold of which is much more severe than we are apt to think. The same employment of the term “naked,” may be recognized among other ancient nations. Thus Aurelius Victor relates, that those who were sent to summon L. C. Cincinnatus to assume the dictatorship, found him “naked,” plowing on the other side of the Tiber. This can hardly mean that he was entirely naked; and that it does merely signify that he wrought with no clothing but his inner garment, is intimated by Livy, who, in relating the same occurrence, says that, on being thus summoned, Cincinnatus called to his wife Rucca for gown or toga, that he might appear fit to accompany them.
Indeed, we need not go far to look for illustrations of this limited signification of the word “naked;” for it is common enough with ourselves, especially among women, to say that one is “naked” who has not adequate clothing.
It will appear, then, that Saul’s being naked consisted in his being without the outer robes which he usually wore in public; and this is the same sense in which David was “naked” when he played on his harp before the ark of God.