DAVID IN SAUL’S COURT 1 Samuel 18–20
“When Saul saw how successful [David] was, he was afraid of him” (1 Sam. 18:15).Character is often revealed in how a person reacts to success. Especially the success of others!
Jonathan is one of the most attractive of Old Testament characters. Though heir to Saul’s throne, Jonathan remained close to David and confronted his father for treating David unjustly. When Jonathan learned that Saul had made up his mind to kill David, Jonathan warned his brother-in-law. Aware that God intended to strip the throne from his father’s house because of Saul’s sins, Jonathan pledged to support David, and David promised to do good to Jonathan and his family. After Jonathan was killed in battle and David became king, David kept that promise. Jonathan’s unselfish love for David continues to serve Christians as a model for friendship.
The success of David, now an officer in Saul’s army, made the king jealous and fearful (18:1–19). Saul attempted to use his daughter Michal’s love for David to get him killed in battle, but David again succeeded and married into the royal family (vv. 20–30). David avoided several attempts on his life by Saul (19:1–24). When Prince Jonathan, David’s friend, realized Saul was determined to kill his son-in-law, he helped David flee (20:1–42).
Understanding the Text
“Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with David but had left Saul” 1 Sam. 18:1–16. The defeat of Goliath won David high rank in Saul’s army. David’s military successes were so spectacular, and his popularity so great, that Saul became intensely jealous. Earlier Saul had shown that he was more concerned with being honored by his people than with being faithful to God (15:30). David’s popularity made Saul intensely jealous. When Saul realized that David’s success was due to his relationship with the Lord—a relationship which Saul had forfeited—Saul also feared David. Terrified that David might supplant him as king, Saul himself twice tried to kill David (18:11). When Saul offered David his eldest daughter, as he had pledged before the battle with Goliath, David realized this would place him in even greater danger and refused. “She may be a snare to him” 1 Sam. 18:20–30. As David’s popularity grew, Saul hesitated to attack him directly. Learning that Michal, his youngest daughter, was in love with David, Saul had court officials tell David that the king truly wanted him as a son-in-law. Saul waved the normal dowry, or bride price, which for a king’s daughter would have been extremely high. Instead Saul said he would settle for trophies proving David had killed a hundred Philistines. Saul’s whole purpose in this was to get David killed by Israel’s enemy so that he could not be blamed. When David succeeded, Saul could do nothing but keep his promise. Yet this added evidence of God’s blessing made Saul an even more determined enemy. What is sometimes overlooked is Saul’s cruel use of Michal. He cared nothing for the fact that she loved David, and thought nothing of the misery David’s death would cause his youngest girl. Later, after David fled, Saul married Michal off to another. The brutal disregard of her father, as well as of others, undoubtedly contributed to the bitterness and anger she later exhibited toward David and toward God (cf. 2 Sam. 6:20–23). Actions motivated by jealousy and anger always are harmful—to the individual and to everyone around him or her. “Jonathan spoke well of David” 1 Sam. 19:1–7. A reconciliation affected by Jonathan was short-lived, despite Saul’s promise not to put David to death. It’s not uncommon in intimate relationships for a person who strikes out and hurts another to show remorse and promise, “I’ll never do it again.” But when a pattern develops, with repeated apologies followed by repeated fits of jealousy and rage, be warned. “Michal let David down” 1 Sam. 19:9–17. At last Saul determined to murder David openly and have done with it. Michal got word of the plot and helped David escape. Recent research suggests that teraphim, the object Michal laid on David’s bed and covered with blankets, does not necessarily mean “idol” in this context. How significant that two of Saul’s children took sides with David against their own father. We too need to act on what we believe is right, whatever the cost. “Is Saul also among the prophets?” 1 Sam. 19:18–24 When Saul heard that David had gone to Samuel and that the two were together at Ramah, he sent men to capture David. However, when Saul’s men approached Samuel, they were overcome by God’s Spirit and “prophesied.” Many believe that here “prophesy” is some form of ecstatic speech, perhaps a corollary to the New Testament gift of tongues. Saul himself went to Ramah, and he too experienced the Spirit of the Lord coming on him. Remember the limited meaning in the Old Testament of the Spirit “coming upon” a person. This was no sign of spirituality, or even of faith. After all, the Spirit once enabled a donkey to speak to the pagan seer, Balaam (Num. 22). “We have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord” 1 Sam. 20:1–42. In an angry confrontation with his father, Jonathan was at last convinced that Saul would never stop trying to kill David. Jonathan warned David, and the two pledged eternal friendship. What an example these two are for Christians. Potential rivals for the same throne, each set aside personal interests out of the deep affection they had for each other. Jonathan risked his father’s anger, and even his life, on behalf of David. Later David restored the fortunes of Jonathan’s youngest son, despite the fact that Jonathan’s line had a claim to the throne and might produce a rival. These two each display the attitude that Paul later exhorted all Christians to have. “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4).
Dealing with Jealousy (1 Sam. 18)
Insecure people are likely to be threatened by the success of others. What David experienced isn’t uncommon at all. Some husbands are threatened when their wives are promoted at work or earn a college degree. Bosses are frequently threatened by bright, competent employees. Others are threatened when a friend proves popular, or is attractive, or even dresses well. Like Saul, such insecure people are likely to express their jealousy as anger and strike out. Usually they strike with words intended to humiliate or belittle, or to rob another of credit. In a way we should be sorry for the person who is so insecure that he or she has to cut others down in an effort to build himself up. But it still hurts when someone strikes out at us. So the question is, what can we do in a situation where we, like David, are innocent victims of another’s vindictiveness? First Samuel 18 suggests three principles. (1) Keep on trying to do well. David didn’t let Saul’s antagonism rob him of his enthusiasm for his work as an army officer or destroy his effectiveness. (2) Stay close to the Lord. Part of Saul’s antagonism was rooted in his awareness that the Lord was with David. David’s success grew out of that relationship, as God blessed David’s efforts. Staying close to the Lord when victimized by others will comfort us. And it will enable us to keep on living successfully. (3) Maintain a humble demeanor. David wisely refused to become Saul’s son-in-law when first offered the privilege. David was honestly humble. But he was also wise enough to realize that Saul was insincere in his offer. The best way to avoid traps others may set for us is to be honestly humble. Later David set this principle aside and married a daughter of the king. God protected David, but the marriage did nothing to bring David to the throne. It only confirmed Saul’s hostility toward David. There is little we can do to change a person who is determined to be hostile toward us. But if we follow David’s example, we can keep our own hearts pure, and limit the damage a hostile person may do.
It’s usually wiser to avoid hostile individuals than battle them.