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David Joins Sauls Family (1 Samuel 18:1-30)

Bill Hayden, Cartoon Artist

1 Now it came about when he had finished speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself. 2 And Saul took him that day and did not let him return to his father's house.70 3 Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. 4 And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, including his sword and his bow and his belt. 5 So David went out wherever Saul sent him, and prospered; and Saul set him over the men of war. And it was pleasing in the sight of all the people and also in the sight of Saul's servants.

6 And it happened as they were coming, when David returned from killing the Philistine, that the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy and with musical instruments. 7 And the women sang as they played, and said, “Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands.” 8 Then Saul became very angry, for this saying displeased him; and he said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, but to me they have ascribed thousands. Now what more can he have but the kingdom?” 9 And Saul looked at David with suspicion from that day on.

10 Now it came about on the next day that an evil spirit from God came mightily upon Saul, and he raved71 in the midst of the house, while David was playing the harp with his hand, as usual; and a spear was in Saul's hand. 11 And Saul hurled the spear for he thought, “I will pin David to the wall.” But David escaped from his presence twice. 12 Now Saul was afraid of David, for the LORD was with him but had departed from Saul. 13 Therefore Saul removed him from his presence, and appointed him as his commander of a thousand; and he went out and came in before the people.

14 And David was prospering in all his ways for the LORD was with him. 15 When Saul saw that he was prospering greatly, he dreaded him. 16 But all Israel and Judah loved David, and he went out and came in before them. 17 Then Saul said to David, “Here is my older daughter Merab; I will give her to you as a wife, only be a valiant man for me and fight the LORD'S battles.” For Saul thought, “My hand shall not be against him, but let the hand of the Philistines be against him.” 18 But David said to Saul, “Who am I, and what is my life or my father's family in Israel, that I should be the king's son-in-law?” 19 So it came about72 at the time when Merab, Saul's daughter, should have been given to David, that she was given to Adriel the Meholathite for a wife. 20 Now Michal, Saul's daughter, loved David. When they told Saul, the thing was agreeable to him. 21 And Saul thought, “I will give her to him that she may become a snare to him, and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.” Therefore Saul said to David, “For a second time you may be my son-in-law today.” 22 Then Saul commanded his servants, “Speak to David secretly, saying, 'Behold, the king delights in you, and all his servants love you; now therefore, become the king's son-in-law.'“ 23 So Saul's servants spoke these words to David. But David said, “Is it trivial in your sight to become the king's son-in-law, since I am a poor man and lightly esteemed?” 24 And the servants of Saul reported to him according to these words which David spoke. 25 Saul then said, “Thus you shall say to David, 'The king does not desire any dowry except a hundred foreskins of the Philistines, to take vengeance on the king's enemies.'“ Now Saul planned to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines. 26 When his servants told David these words, it pleased David to become the king's son-in-law. Before the days had expired 27 David rose up and went, he and his men, and struck down two hundred men among the Philistines. Then David brought their foreskins, and they gave them in full number to the king, that he might become the king's son-in-law. So Saul gave him Michal his daughter for a wife. 28 When Saul saw and knew that the LORD was with David, and that Michal, Saul's daughter, loved him, 29 then Saul was even more afraid of David. Thus Saul was David's enemy continually. 30 Then the commanders of the Philistines went out to battle, and it happened as often as they went out, that David behaved himself more wisely than all the servants of Saul. So his name was highly esteemed.

Introduction

When I taught school nearly 25 years ago, I encountered a young man who reportedly had been a member of a motorcycle gang. As the result of an accident, he had suffered brain damage and had come to the school where I was teaching for help. While I was talking to another student about Jesus Christ one day, the brain-damaged motorcyclist interrupted, pinned me against the wall, and then suspended me there by the neck until someone came to my rescue. The young man got away with it because it was assumed his actions were the result of his condition, not the result of his sin and rejection of the gospel. There has never been any doubt in my mind that his actions were coldly calculated and executed.

I think of my encounter with this hostile young man as I read our text in 1 Samuel 18. From all appearances, Saul’s behavior looks like the ravings of a mentally deranged man, who is not responsible for his actions. If Saul were charged with attempted murder for twice hurling his spear at David, there is little question he would plead “temporary insanity.” I believe our text portrays Saul in a different light, one that is far from flattering. In this incident and the one which follows, I believe we may have misunderstood the account of David joining Saul’s family. Let us listen carefully to the words of our text and to the voice of the Holy Spirit as He speaks to us through this intriguing chapter.

Preliminary Observations

A number of characteristics become apparent the more one reads and meditates on this text. Allow me to share some of these to prepare you for this exposition and to stimulate your own study of the passage.

First, a number of significant repetitions should be noted:73

  • David’s success (verses 5, 14, 15, 30)
  • The fact that God is with David (verses 12, 14, 28)
  • Love (verses 1, 13, 16, 20, 22, 28)
  • Saul’s fear (verses 12, 15, 29)
  • Saul’s emotions, inner thoughts or motives are revealed (verses 8-9, 11-12, 15, 17, 20-21, 29)

Second, the author seems to contrast Saul’s attitude toward David and his kingdom with Jonathan’s attitude toward David.

Third, there is a strong sense of progression or development in this chapter. On the one hand, Saul’s enthusiasm for David and his ministry deteriorates to suspicion and then to fear. On the other, David’s popularity and prominence in Israel are ever-growing. Every step upward for David seems to be a step downward for Saul. And every attempt Saul makes to squelch David’s popularity only enhances it.

Fourth, a subtle connection exists between Saul’s efforts to be rid of David and David’s later efforts to be rid of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband. Saul attempts to put David into dangerous military situations so that he will be killed in battle. This will get David out of the way in a manner that does not put Saul in a bad light (compare 1 Samuel 18:17 with 2 Samuel 11:14-17). Does David learn such underhandedness from Saul?

Fifth, Saul’s fear of David and his intentions to murder him are masked by Saul in chapter 18, but they are unveiled in chapter 19. In chapter 18, Saul tries to do away with David in an underhanded way. He seems to promote David by placing him in positions of authority over his army and then to reward David by offering him his daughter(s) in marriage. Underlying all of this, however, is a very sinister motive revealed to us in the text, but not publicly revealed to those living in that day. Saul speaks with the most pious vocabulary (“. . . be a valiant man for me and fight the Lord’s battles. . .” – verse 17), but his intent is utterly evil (“My hand shall not be against him, but let the hand of the Philistines be against him.” – verse 17). When all of these underhanded methods do not work, Saul’s opposition to David becomes public in chapter 19, where he orders Jonathan and his servants to kill David (19:1). Hypocrisy is everywhere in chapter 18, but it is set aside by open hostility in chapter 19. Thus, in chapter 18 we must not look at things the way they appear – the way Saul wants others to see them – but as they are, in the light of the revelations of Saul’s heart and mind, provided by the inspired author of 1 Samuel.

Sixth, chapter 18 (as with chapter 16) does not focus on David as much as it does upon Saul, Jonathan, and Michal. We might say this chapter “focuses on the family” of Saul. It begins with Jonathan’s love for David and ends with Michal’s love for him. All the way through, we learn of Saul’s growing fear and animosity toward David, who becomes his son-in-law as well as his superior.

Seventh, the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament some time in the second century, B.C.) leaves out a number of the verses found in the original Hebrew text (verses 1-5, 10-11, 17-19).

David “Has a Nice Day”
(18:1-5)

1 Now it came about when he had finished speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself. 2 And Saul took him that day and did not let him return to his father's house. 3 Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. 4 And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, including his sword and his bow and his belt. 5 So David went out wherever Saul sent him, and prospered; and Saul set him over the men of war. And it was pleasing in the sight of all the people and also the sight of Saul's servants.

This must have been a glorious day for David and a good day for Saul as well. The drawn-out stalemate between Israel and the Philistines has finally ended. Goliath, who frightens every Israelite soldier and proves to be a great embarrassment to Saul, is dead at the hand of David. This leads to a rout, with the bodies and spoils of the Philistines strewn from the battlefield to the gates of the principle cities of Philistia. When David returns from killing Goliath, he is brought before Saul by Abner. Saul ascertains, once again, who David’s father is. I am not as certain as I once was that this was to forgive his father’s taxes. It seems reasonable from the fact that Saul asks Jesse’s permission to hire David part-time (16:19) that Saul would once again ask his father’s permission to keep David with him full-time.

The conversation he has with his father, Saul, clinches matters for Jonathan (18:1). No doubt Jonathan is impressed by David’s victory over Goliath, but David’s words with his father seem to be what impresses Jonathan most. Is it David’s faith in God? Is it the fact that David is careful to give the glory to God? Is it David’s humility and humble spirit? Is it David’s care for the people of Israel? We are not told exactly what impresses Jonathan so much in this conversation, but it is clear that from this point in time onward these two men are kindred spirits.

Only a wicked and perverse generation could see in the words of our text an occasion to imply that the relationship between David and Jonathan is perverted. David and Jonathan are soul-mates. Jonathan loves David as himself. Is this not the way every believer should feel toward his brethren? Jonathan and David make a covenant on this day. While the details are not supplied, it is not difficult to infer what they are. On his part, Jonathan seems to recognize that David is the one God has chosen to be Israel’s next king. Jonathan is more than happy to relinquish his hopes for his father’s throne in deference to God’s choice – David.

I believe this is symbolized by Jonathan’s gift of his clothing and armor to David. From the Old Testament, we know that Joseph’s coat was a symbol of his authority (Genesis 37:3, 23). Before Aaron died, his priestly garments were removed, to be worn by his son, Eliezar (Numbers 20:22-28). Elijah placed his mantle over Elisha, who was to take his place (1 Kings 19:19-21).

In a footnote from his book, Looking on the Heart, Dale Ralph Davis refers to an Akkadian document, found at Ugarit, of a record about a thirteenth century king who divorced his wife. His son could choose which of the two of his parents he would live with, but if the crown prince chose to live with his mother, he had to relinquish his right to the throne. If he chose to live with his mother, and in so doing give up his right to the throne, he would indicate this symbolically by leaving his clothes on the throne.74 This seems to be so with Jonathan’s gift of his robe and his armor to David.75 Here is a magnificent man, with a spirit like that of John the Baptist (John 3:30) and Barnabas.76

Jonathan is willing to relinquish his right to the throne and to serve David as God’s choice for the next king. No such spirit is found in Saul. At best, Saul is excited about David because of what David can do for him. As usual (see 14:52), Saul is eager to add skilled military men to his forces. Thus, Saul promotes David to a full-time employee. As far as the biblical record is concerned, nothing is done about the rewards Saul had offered the man who would do away with Goliath. David is a faithful servant of Saul, going wherever he is sent, and prospering as he goes. All the people are impressed with David, even Saul’s servants (who must do so with a certain measure of risk, knowing how jealous Saul can be – see 16:2). David has the “Midas touch.” It is as though everything he touches prospers, and so it does because the hand of God is upon him (verse 12).

The Musicians Produce a Sour Note,
and the Dancers Step on Saul’s Toes
(18:6-9)

6 And it happened as they were coming, when David returned from killing the Philistine, that the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy and with musical instruments. 7 And the women sang as they played, and said, “Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands.” 8 Then Saul became very angry, for this saying displeased him; and he said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, but to me they have ascribed thousands. Now what more can he have but the kingdom?” 9 And Saul looked at David with suspicion from that day on.

You may have heard the words of a not-so-new song, “What a difference a day makes. . . .” Nothing could be more true of our text. It is hard to believe how short-lived David’s popularity is with Saul. One day, David steps forward in faith and defeats Goliath, which results in Israel’s victory over the Philistines (chapter 17). In the very midst of the celebration of this victory,77 Israelite women sing a victory song, and Saul’s respect and appreciation sours, leading to numerous attempts to put David to death. Verses 6-9 describe this watershed event, which forever changes the course of history78 for David and for Saul.

David apparently joined the Israelites as they pursued the fleeing Philistines and is now on his way back. Saul may not have even gone out with his troops as the final verses of chapter 17 seem to imply. If this were the case, the women of all the cities of Israel “came out singing and dancing to meet Saul” where he has been all along, and to greet David and the Israelite warriors as they return from pursuing the fleeing Philistines.

No one would have predicted the outcome of this celebration. This singing and celebration by the women does not seem to be unusual in Israel. We see it at the time God brought the Israelites out of Egypt and drowned the Egyptians in the Red Sea (see Exodus 15:1-21). The lyrics of the hastily composed song include this refrain:

“Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands.”

The first question we should ask is, “Is this true? Does Saul kill only thousands, while David kills his ten thousands?” While probably some poetic license is involved, I am inclined to think that in essence the lyrics are true. We know from chapter 14 that Israel’s victory over the Philistines is minimized due to Saul’s foolish decree that his soldiers not eat until evening. David’s victory (the victory Israel won because of David’s defeat of Goliath) seems more decisive. It seems that anything Saul does, or has done, David does better.

Do the women mean anything by what they are singing? I hardly think so. They are jubilant, rejoicing over the victory God has given them. Saul has contributed much in previous times; David has just contributed more. Saul, the man who was less than eager to become first in the land, is now greatly distressed that the people consider him second and David first. Here is a man who has been told that his kingdom will end, and he now has a very strong premonition (if the anointing of David has not become known to him somehow) that David is the one who will replace him. The women are singing and dancing, but Saul is not tapping his toe. His toes have been stepped on, and the song is not one that makes him wish to “sing along.” Everyone else is celebrating, joyful at the victory God brings about through David -- except Saul. There is now a very ugly look on his face, and from this moment on, he looks upon David with a suspicious eye.

Murder By a Maniac
or
Why Can’t David Get the Point!
(18:10-12)

10 Now it came about on the next day that an evil spirit from God came mightily upon Saul, and he raved in the midst of the house, while David was playing the harp with his hand, as usual; and a spear was in Saul's hand. 11 And Saul hurled the spear for he thought, “I will pin David to the wall.” But David escaped from his presence twice. 12 Now Saul was afraid of David, for the LORD was with him but had departed from Saul.

We all know that Saul has some really bad days brought about by the “evil spirit from the Lord,” which comes on him from time to time. David is hired, part-time, to play his harp for Saul and thus to calm his troubled soul (16:14-23). David is now a full-time employee of Saul, and part of his duties are to continue playing the harp when Saul is troubled. The trouble with Saul’s troubles is that David has become his biggest problem (in his mind, at least). Saul’s jealousy turns to murder in verses 10-12.

Before looking more carefully at these verses, a comment about the relationship between verses 6-9 and verses 10-12 may be helpful. Saul is jealous in verses 6-9, and the evil spirit is said to come upon him in verses 10-12. Some imply, or even insist, that demons are the source of most evils. I have heard of the “demon of jealousy,” the “demon of alcoholism,” the “demon of pride,” and so on. I am not trying to say that demon activity cannot produce such manifestations, but I must say that the Bible tells us these things come not from Satan, but from our own fleshly nature (see Galatians 5:16-21). In our text, Saul’s jealousy (verses 6-9) precedes the coming of the evil spirit mightily upon Saul (verse 10). I take it that the spirit’s coming upon Saul is to some degree a result of Saul’s jealousy. I believe Satan is an opportunist, who takes advantage of human weaknesses and sins (see, for example, 2 Corinthians 2:10-11). The use of illegal drugs (and perhaps some legal ones), surrendering oneself to illicit sex or to fits of rage, or other evils may well open the door for satanic and demonic attack. Let us be careful not to give Satan too much credit by making him the cause of evil, rather than an opportunist who simply promotes and enhances the evil within our fallen natures.

I am indebted to Dale Ralph Davis for suggesting that Saul’s murderous actions toward David in verses 10-12 (as in the entire chapter) are not yet recognized as such by David or others.79 Let me suggest why I agree with him. First, Saul’s intention to kill David is not even known to his son Jonathan until the first verse of chapter 19. Repeatedly the author tells us what Saul’s true motives are, as he does here in verse 11. But this is necessary only if Saul’s intentions are not apparent. Saul does have fits brought on by the “evil spirit,” but up to this point, it seems as though only Saul is affected. He is terrorized (16:14). Now, all of a sudden, Saul’s “fits” are homicidal acts – a spear thrown twice at David. I can hear Saul’s servants excuse him by saying, “You’ll have to excuse Saul, he’s just not himself today.” I contend that he is himself.

Part of the problem stems, in my opinion, from the translation, “raved,” in verse 10. The Hebrew term occurs over 100 times in the Old Testament. In the NASB, it is rendered “raved” only twice (here and in 1 Kings 18:29). It is never rendered “raved” in the King James Version. It is virtually always rendered “prophesy” in some form. The term can refer to the prophesying of a true prophet (e.g. Numbers 11:25-26; 1 Chronicles 25:2), or the deceptive prophecies of a false prophet (e.g. 1 Kings 22:10). It appears that even when some true prophets prophesied, they behaved in a different manner (see 1 Samuel 19:18-24), which might be considered “raving” by an on-looker.

The problem with the translation, “raved,” in our text is that it can too easily be misunderstood as some form of temporary insanity. Indeed, this may well be the way Saul’s behavior appears. It also could be what Saul wants people to think concerning his behavior. After all, if Saul “acts crazy” while throwing a spear at David, killing him in what seems to be a fit of insanity or an uncontrollable action prompted by the evil spirit, Saul is off the hook. The problem with viewing Saul as temporarily insane here is that we are told what he is thinking at the time he throws the spear at David: “I will pin David to the wall” (verse 11). Saul knows exactly what he is doing, and he does exactly what he intends. I must therefore wonder if Saul does not actually prophesy, perhaps in a way that is like the demons in the New Testament:

33 And there was a man in the synagogue possessed by the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, 34 “Ha! What do we have to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are-- the Holy One of God!” (Luke 4:33-34).

If Saul thus prophesies, he realizes that David is the coming king, which could prompt him to feign madness and seek to kill David in a way that looks like an uncontrollable fit brought on by a demonic spirit. In spite of Saul’s two-fold attempts to kill David, it does not work. Once again, David succeeds while Saul fails:

  • David: One stone hits Goliath between the eyes
  • Saul: Misses David with his spear in two tries

Because the Lord is with David, he cannot be killed before his time; because the Lord has left Saul, he cannot do anything right.

Kill ‘Em With Kindness
or
Murder in the Military
1 Samuel 18:13-30

13 Therefore Saul removed him from his presence, and appointed him as his commander of a thousand; and he went out and came in before the people. 14 And David was prospering in all his ways for the LORD was with him. 15 When Saul saw that he was prospering greatly, he dreaded him. 16 But all Israel and Judah loved David, and he went out and came in before them. 17 Then Saul said to David, “Here is my older daughter Merab; I will give her to you as a wife, only be a valiant man for me and fight the LORD'S battles.” For Saul thought, “My hand shall not be against him, but let the hand of the Philistines be against him.” 18 But David said to Saul, “Who am I, and what is my life or my father's family in Israel, that I should be the king's son-in-law?” 19 So it came about at the time when Merab, Saul's daughter, should have been given to David, that she was given to Adriel the Meholathite for a wife. 20 Now Michal, Saul's daughter, loved David. When they told Saul, the thing was agreeable to him. 21 And Saul thought, “I will give her to him that she may become a snare to him, and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.” Therefore Saul said to David, “For a second time you may be my son-in-law today.” 22 Then Saul commanded his servants, “Speak to David secretly, saying, 'Behold, the king delights in you, and all his servants love you; now therefore, become the king's son-in-law.'“ 23 So Saul's servants spoke these words to David. But David said, “Is it trivial in your sight to become the king's son-in-law, since I am a poor man and lightly esteemed?” 24 And the servants of Saul reported to him according to these words which David spoke. 25 Saul then said, “Thus you shall say to David, 'The king does not desire any dowry except a hundred foreskins of the Philistines, to take vengeance on the king's enemies.'“ Now Saul planned to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines. 26 When his servants told David these words, it pleased David to become the king's son-in-law. Before the days had expired 27 David rose up and went, he and his men, and struck down two hundred men among the Philistines. Then David brought their foreskins, and they gave them in full number to the king, that he might become the king's son-in-law. So Saul gave him Michal his daughter for a wife. 28 When Saul saw and knew that the LORD was with David, and that Michal, Saul's daughter, loved him, 29 then Saul was even more afraid of David. Thus Saul was David's enemy continually. 30 Then the commanders of the Philistines went out to battle, and it happened as often as they went out, that David behaved himself more wisely than all the servants of Saul. So his name was highly esteemed.

The mere sight of David in his home infuriates Saul, but he cannot seem to kill him there either, so he attempts to get David out of sight by making him a commander of a thousand. It is difficult to see this as a demotion in the overall scheme of this chapter, though it could be. I am inclined instead to see this as an apparent promotion. Saul thereby appears to show kindness to David, while in reality he is seeking an occasion to be rid of him. If the Philistines or some other enemy does not kill David, at least he will be out of sight, and hopefully out of the Israelites’ minds. Again, it simply does not work that way. Wherever David is sent, God causes him to prosper so that his status with the people continues to be enhanced. All of this is observed by Saul, whose fear of David continues to grow.

Saul must think he is on the right track in seeking to have David killed at the hand of one of Israel’s enemies, but he needs to entice David to attempt a more dangerous mission which is more certain of being too much for him. So Saul offers his daughter Merab to David as his wife (verse 17). This is not a gift from Saul in response to David’s killing Goliath. It should be (17:25), but it is not. It is as though Saul has forgotten his promise. Saul makes this look like a new offer, and all David needs to do is “earn” Merab by being “a valiant man for Saul and fighting the Lord’s battles” (verse 17).

What pious-sounding words. Thankfully the text is not “scratch and sniff,” because the smell would not be pleasant. I am reminded of the country western song, “Workin’ like the devil, Servin’ the Lord.” Were we to write a song about Saul, it would be, “Talkin’ like the Lord, Servin’ the devil.” His words are indeed pious, but his intent is exceedingly evil. Saul offers his daughter to David with the hope that she will be the death of him as he seeks to earn her hand by accomplishing great military feats.

Saul certainly is not prepared for David’s response. David rejects Saul’s offer. It is not that David is reluctant to endanger himself in battle. This he does willingly, without expectations of rewards such as a wife from the daughters of Saul. David is a truly humble man who considers his station in life unworthy of such a gift, and so he declines. Due to his decline of Saul’s offer, Merab is given to another man as his wife. This is not the result of Saul’s change of mind or his broken promise (not that Saul is incapable of such things), but the text simply does not support such a conclusion. A time is set, a deadline is given, within which David must meet certain criteria (see verses 19, 26). Because David declines Saul’s offer, he does not meet the requirements within the set time, and thus Merab is given to Adriel (verse 19). This does not reflect negatively on Saul as much as it does positively on David.

Greatly disappointed, Saul is sure that if he can get David interested in one of his daughters, David will do something foolish enough to get himself killed in battle. How happy Saul is when he hears that his younger daughter Michal is madly in love with David. This is his second chance. Since Michal is more than willing to marry David, with a little encouragement David just might accept the offer this time. There is still hope of getting rid of David.

This time, Saul is much more thorough. He offers Michal to David and then instructs his servants to promote the idea with David so that he will accept the offer this time. His servants speak to David, telling him that the king really likes him, and that everyone wants him to become the king’s son-in-law. David responds as we should expect, by pointing out his humble standing in life and his inability to pay an appropriate dowry for such a noble woman. What he could afford to pay would be an insult to Michal and to Saul. Here is where Saul appeals to David: he does not want David’s money -- David can pay the dowry in different currency -- Philistine foreskins! Now this catches David’s interest. He wants Michal, and he is eager to do battle for the Lord, so he accepts the offer. Instead of getting himself killed, however, David fights the Philistines and presents the king with double the number of foreskins he requests.

Much to his distress, Saul now must give David his daughter’s hand in marriage. This represents more than just having his plans fail, again -- and even worse, David succeeds, again. Now Saul, who greatly fears David and wants him eliminated, has two of his own family members bound to David by love and a covenant. The chapter begins with the account of Jonathan’s love for David and his covenant with him. The chapter now ends with Michal’s love for David and her marriage covenant with him. Somehow David has managed to win over two members of Saul’s immediate family. Now, the very ones Saul assumed he could depend on to help him be rid of David are on David’s side. Saul, his plans, and his kingdom are falling apart.

The marriage Saul offers to David is designed as an incentive for David to engage in bold military actions, and so he does. The only problem is that these dangerous duties do not rid Saul of David; they only serve to elevate David above all of the other military commanders. David acts more wisely than all of them, and because of this, he is highly esteemed.

Conclusion

Let us now step back for a broader look at what chapter 18 describes. First, in a most unusual and unexpected way, God is bringing to pass the things He has purposed and promised. In chapters 13 and 15, God indicates to Saul that his kingdom will end. In our text, we watch his reign unravel. Saul continues to lose a grip on his own life and on his kingdom. David is anointed as the new king of Israel in chapter 16, and we see how God prepares the way for David’s reign. David has very close links with Saul and his palace. Now, he is closely associated with two more members of Saul’s royal family, his son (now a close friend) and his daughter (now David’s wife). David now has authority in Saul’s army, and through experience, shows himself to be a brave man and a great leader. David is on his way up, and Saul is on his way down. It is not the way we expected this to happen, but then God’s plans seldom come about in ways we expect (see Isaiah 55:8-11; Romans 11:33-36; 1 Corinthians 2:6-16).

A second observation from our text is that God’s Word is absolutely certain and sure. God warns Saul of discipline to come if he does not repent, and Saul most certainly does not repent. God sees to it that Saul’s kingdom will be removed, in spite of Saul’s fervent efforts to prevent it. On the other hand, God has promised David a kingdom, and our text assures us that nothing short of the complete fulfillment of God’s promise should be expected. God keeps His promises, whether for prosperity and blessing, or for judgment.

Third, in Jonathan we see a most excellent illustration of the love which God requires of us. We are repeatedly instructed to “love our neighbor as ourselves” (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 19:19; 22:39, Mark 12:31; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8). This is precisely what Jonathan does with respect to David (see verse 1). Thus, Jonathan is an example to us of how we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. I do not see any reference to Jonathan loving himself first, as a kind of prerequisite to loving others. I do see self-sacrifice as Jonathan willingly gives up his kingdom to David (not to mention his robe and his armor). Jonathan is a loyal and faithful friend, and he will risk his own life to save David’s life. What a selfless, noble man this Jonathan is. So far as the Bible is concerned, his actions are not “above and beyond the call of duty;” they are the fulfillment of his duty, and ours.

Fourth, we see in Saul what we see in our Lord’s disciples during His earthly ministry, and what we often see in the church today – competition, jealousy, and self-assertion. David is the most faithful servant Saul has ever had, and yet Saul is threatened by David’s competence, by David’s success. The disciples were continually seeking to assert themselves, arguing over who was the greatest, and angry when another disciple seemed to outdo them. In the church today, God has purposely given each Christian a spiritual gift or gifts, to enable him or her to excel in a certain ministry. We can either rejoice in the strengths God has given others, and seek to benefit from their ministries, or we can resist them with a competitive spirit. One has to wonder how much the criticism of other Christians, their ministry, and their doctrine is really rooted in jealousy and envy, rather than in faithfulness to God and His Word. Let us beware of jealousy, no matter how pious the label we give it or its manifestations.

Jonathan and Saul each illustrate the two logical responses to the fact that Jesus is God’s King. David is God’s choice for Israel’s next king. Saul seems to know this, and he strongly opposes it, even to the point of endeavoring to put David to death. Jonathan seems to know this as well, and even though it means that David will reign in his place, Jonathan enters into a covenant relationship with David and relinquishes his right to reign.

God has appointed His Son, Jesus Christ, to establish the Kingdom of God and to rule over every creature on this earth, as well as in heaven. Like Saul, we can seek to prolong our own reign and resist the inevitable reign of God’s King. If we do, we do so to our own destruction. Or we can relinquish any thought of reigning and submit to God’s King, the Lord Jesus Christ, as Jonathan submitted to David. The only right choice is to relinquish any thought of attempting to maintain control and authority over our own lives, and to submit to Him alone who is qualified to reign. These are the only two choices God gives us. To fail to take Christ seriously is to reject His rule. To resist Christ’s reign is to bring judgment upon ourselves. To submit to Him is to enter into life eternal. Which will you choose? Whom will you be like --Saul or Jonathan? You will make no more important decision in life than this.


70 See 14:52.

71 The NIV, KJV and NKJV rightly (in my opinion) render the Hebrew term translated “raved” here “prophesied.” The original term is the normal word for “prophecy,” whether false or true. It is found elsewhere, for example, in 1 Samuel 10:5-6, 10-11, 13; 19:20-21, 23-24; 1 Kings 18:29; 22:8.

72 This translation best captures the sense of the text, as opposed to the KJV, NKJV, NRSV, which begin, “But. . . .” See my comments at this verse.

73 Most of these are noted by Dale Ralph Davis, Looking on the Heart: Expositions of the Book of 1 Samuel (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994), vol. 2, p. 53.

74 Dale Ralph Davis, Looking on the Heart, vol. 2, p. 52, fn. 2.

75 We should not forget that in 13:22, the only swords that could be found in Israel belonged to Saul and Jonathan.

76 Time does not permit us to play out the way Barnabas promotes Saul (later called Paul, the apostle) in the Book of Acts, so that he eventually overshadows this “son of exhortation,” but it is a wonderful thing to behold, albeit all too seldom.

77 I am tempted to say, “One day David is in Saul’s good graces; the next, he is viewed with suspicion.” It probably was not this quick. David seems to be returning from Israel’s pursuit and plundering of the Philistines, and the Israelite women have to come from various towns for “all the cities.” This must take several days at least. The point is that Saul’s change of heart towards David comes quickly, precipitated by the song of celebration sung by the Israelite women.

78 All of this, of course, is in the sovereign will of God.

79 Dale Ralph Davis, Looking on the Heart, vol. 2, pp. 53, 54.