I Samuel 18:1 – 16
18 After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself. 2 From that day Saul kept David with him and did not let him return home to his family. 3 And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. 4 Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt. 5 Whatever mission Saul sent him on, David was so successful that Saul gave him a high rank in the army. This pleased all the troops, and Saul’s officers as well. 6 When the men were returning home after David had killed the Philistine, the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with timbrels and lyres. 7 As they danced, they sang: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” 8 Saul was very angry; this refrain displeased him greatly. “They have credited David with tens of thousands,” he thought, “but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?” 9 And from that time on Saul kept a close eye on David. 10 The next day an evil spirit from God came forcefully on Saul. He was prophesying in his house, while David was playing the lyre, as he usually did. Saul had a spear in his hand 11 and he hurled it, saying to himself, “I’ll pin David to the wall.” But David eluded him twice. 12 Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with David but had departed from Saul. 13 So he sent David away from him and gave him command over a thousand men, and David led the troops in their campaigns. 14 In everything he did he had great success, because the Lord was with him. 15 When Saul saw how successful he was, he was afraid of him. 16 But all Israel and Judah loved David, because he led them in their campaigns. After a brief pleasant relationship between Saul and David, Saul chooses to be increasingly jealous of David while Jonathon chooses to develop a lasting and warm friendship with him. It is deeply tragic to watch the gradual darkening of the once bright light, side by side with the irresistible increase in brilliance of the new star. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Those words have such a fine ring to them when spoken by John the Baptist who wanted Jesus to succeed, but how awful they are in the bitter mouth of jealous Saul. Instead of meekly accepting God’s choice in David, Saul’s gloomy spirit struggled against him, like storm waves against a breakwater. And, like those waves, Saul too was shivered into foam in the vain effort.
1. The Brief Pleasant Relationship 1–5
The results of David’s conversation with Saul include the famous friendship between David and Jonathon. Jonathon became one in spirit with David. It says twice (vs. 1 & 3) that Jonathon loved David as he loved himself. The Hebrew word signifies a chain forming a firm union and inseparable unity of souls in friendship. Their inner feeling for each other work deeply and so each has perpetually fast hold of the other. Almost in all languages friendship is a union of souls bound together by the band of love.
If God gives you a friend, you are blessed. True friendship is a gift of God. When it comes, God is to be thanked for it. The friendship which God establishes between His children is almost indescribable. Two souls made one is an incomprehensible blessing.
True and genuine love delights to show itself also by outward signs. They are true friends who help not only in prosperity but also in necessity. A league of friendship, which for sincerity, constancy, and romantic pathos, is unrivaled in the annals of history, whether sacred or profane. These two men loved each other truly in God, to whose service they had both devoted themselves. Friendship is about something. Two people unite in common desire or project that is bigger than they are.
To love good people in such a way that one loves and esteems them for the good he sees in them, is a sign of good character—that one is good himself.
To firmness is added innerness of friendship, the complete identity of two souls. They pledged mutual and perpetual friendship. This is shown by the gift of his own upper garment and weapons Jonathon gave to David. The poorly clad David is enabled by this gift to appear at court in proper clothes. The weapons make his war-outfit complete. Jonathon honored David as a military hero. Jonathon too had led a great victory against the Philistines in chapter 14 and was a hero in Israel. Sealing their friendship was proof that these two heroes, equally crowned by God with victory, could love one another, and that Jonathon was far from feeling any envy or jealousy.
Jonathan took the initiative in keeping with his position at court as the king’s son in respect to the young shepherd. By clothing David with his own war-dress he demonstrated his hearty friendship and set aside any barrier his rank and position could have raised between them. The prince and heir to the throne honored the poor yet valiant shepherd. The gift of a garment by royalty to another is still the highest mark of honor. In Esther, Mordecai is clothed in the king’s garment.
David did not keep Saul’s armor on when he briefly wore it, but he does accept Jonathon’s. He had not earned Saul’s, he was not a king. But he had behaved like a prince that day and was willing to wear what Jonathan gave him.
David receiving and wearing Jonathon’s princely clothes reminds us that we now “wear” the righteousness of Jesus who not only gave that to us, but also took our unrighteousness on Himself. Jonathon merely gave David his princely clothes and weapons; he did not put on David’s poor shepherd’s clothes. Furthermore, some day God will give us all new robes.
Jonathon’s treatment of David stood in stark contrast to Saul’s later treatment of David. Yet Jonathon was the one who was bound to lose the most if David became king in his place. No one had as much reason as Jonathan to dislike David, but Jonathan loved David the most. When we are governed by wisdom and grace we do not allow our affections to be moved by secular or selfish considerations.
In giving David his armor Jonathon illustrated that in true friendship we make ourselves vulnerable. Here is my sword. I will not use it against you. Here are my tools for self-defense. I will not defend myself against you. I will accept your instruction or critique; I am vulnerable to you.
David had proven himself an obedient son to Jesse, now he must prove himself an obedient servant to Saul.
2. Saul’s Jealousy of David’s Fame as a Warrior 6–9
David’s troubles now began. They not only tread on the heels of his triumphs, but take rise from them; this demonstrates the vanity of things in this world which only seem great.
Selfishness can produce deadly jealousy. It makes one grudge the favors God grants others. Proud men cannot endure to hear anyone praised but themselves.
The women chant and Saul rages. The words of their chant were fearlessly plain-spoken, and became more insulting to Saul’s selfish ears. They were likely sung by two answering groups, one of which sang out, “Saul has killed his thousands,” while the other responded even more loudly and joyously, “And David, his ten thousands.”
To be brought into comparison with this unknown shepherd boy was bitter enough, but to be used as the lesser in the comparison to emphasize David’s superiority was too much. Few men in high position would be able to take that graciously. What general, statesman, orator, or star would accept that?
Poor Saul had to drink the bitter cup, which all who love the sweet drink of popular applause have to taste sooner or later. But before we judge Saul, we need not think of him only as a monster because he found it bitter. After all, we all have had that experience.
It is more to our purpose that we take care to not allow the very same thing in our private lives; for envy and jealousy of those who threaten to out-shine, or in any way to out-do, us is not limited to people of great reputations in high places. The roots are in all of us, and the only way to keep them from growing in our hearts is to think less of our reputation and more of our duty; little what men think of us, and much of what God thinks.
How many inner circles of this world have similar mixtures of love, friendship, jealousy, and hatred if we were to see inside the curtain that removes them from public eye?
Verse 9 says Saul “kept a jealous eye on David.” Where will that lead? What happened in Saul that night? How did Saul make way for the event of the next day? What spiritual condition made a place for the evil spirit to work? What kind of prophesying (vs. 10) did this lead to?
3. The Attempt on David’s Life 10 – 11
These verses show how the moody suspicion with which Saul eyed David came to surprisingly swift and murderous action. Saul is a terrible example of how suspicion and jealousy, working without self-control, carry us to wildest extremes.
We must not be so startled as to miss the truth that Saul by his own whirl of sinful passions and acts had himself prepared the place for the evil spirit to work in him. Saul brought it on himself; the consequences were ‘natural.’ Apparently, Saul was intentional in his hatred, not spontaneous. “. . . saying to himself, ‘I’ll pin David to the wall’” (vs. 11). This was worse than what a spontaneous thought would have been. Any man who lets his own baser nature have full swing invites the devil.
Saul, worn with passion and swept away by ungovernable impulses, ‘prophesying’ or ‘raving’ with wild gestures and uttering wilder sounds is a striking contrast to David, young, calm, giving forth melodies on his harp and songs from his lips, that sought to soothe the fits of fury.
The youthful harpist would not have tried to escape if Saul were merely shaking his spear. A man, raging mad and madly hostile, would not be likely to waste breath in mere threats. The attempt on David’s life was real. It was a serious one, and the spear, flung by an arm made stronger than ever by insane hatred, quivered in the wall very near the lithe athlete who had agilely escaped it. Envy, allowed to have its way, becomes murderous. Let us stop its beginning. A tiger pup can be held in human hands and its claws cut, but a full-grown tiger cannot.
David had recently killed a giant bigger than Saul; he did not have to flee. But he showed the same noble character in running from Saul as he did in running toward Goliath; he did not fear God’s enemy, but would not fight with Saul. He rather honored him.
4. Saul Puts David out of Sight 12 – 16
Both verses 12 and 15 say that Saul was “afraid” of David. The expression of it in verse 15, however, is much stronger. Saul had no reason to be afraid. His mental anguish made him miserable. This is a pathetic picture of some nameless terror gradually creeping over a strong man. Ever-thickening folds of cold dread, like a wet mist, wrap a soul once bright and energetic. I see two possible reasons: One, God had left that tempestuous, rebellious soul because it had left him and, two, in its desolate loneliness with no trace of softening or penitence, that once enlightened soul knew the sunshine, it had rejected, was now pouring on David.
Saul’s suspicions were hardened into certainties. He was sure that what his jealousy had whispered when the women chanted their chorus was now grim fact. He could only helplessly watch his successor’s steady advance in favor with men and God. The two processes of growing darkness and growing light go on side by side in the two men, and each makes the other more striking by contrast. Twice it is stated that Saul was in awe of David. Twice it is stated that Jehovah was with David, and that he “behaved himself wisely.” The last statement includes in the Hebrew word the idea of prudence and also that of success. So, on the one hand, there is a steady growth in all good, godly, and happy qualities and experiences; and on the other, a tragic increase of darkness, gloom, godlessness, and despair.
Saul’s plan backfired. In sending David from him, Saul unwittingly provided David an opportunity to again serve his nation. David is once more “demoted,” from the king’s court, but does his service so well that it, not the position, promotes him. So “. . . all Israel and Judah loved David, because he led them in their campaigns” (vs. 16).
The history of sin in Saul’s inner life shows a steady and rapid progress in evil after it had gained footing and mastery in his heart. When a man once yields to bad attitudes, he comes more and more into their power, and is at last completely ruled by them, and driven even more violently on from sin to sin. He that sins is a slave to sin.
On the other hand, in sharp contrast, as the story of Saul and David progresses we will notice that the sufferings David experienced because of the cruelties of Saul provided him with broader and higher experiences of inner and outer growth and greater tasks assigned to him for the kingdom of God. The more willingly we enter the school of suffering and conflict as David did, the more we will grow in humility, obedience, and childlike submission to God’s will and the more we learn the truth that God gives grace to the humble and makes the road smooth for the upright.
In both Saul’s regress toward evil and David’s progress in righteousness, the Bible never reveals a neutral position in moral issues of life. It always holds up the mighty “either this or that.” Man has to decide whether he will move forward, giving up his own will in humble obedience to the will of God, or walk backwards with the unstoppable degeneration which always occurs when man resists God’s guiding hand—bringing calamity on himself.
Yet Saul had begun so well! Saul might have been what David was—blessed with God’s companionship, prosperous, and the hero of his people. Two souls stand side by side in the beginning verses of this chapter for a moment on the same platform. From here on in the drama between them the one steadily rises, while the other steadily sinks. How awful are the endless possibilities of progress in either direction that lie open for every man—between which we ourselves choose?
So, what is your choice? Will you pray earnestly that as you seek to be the Christian leader God wants you to be, you will study David’s life and seek to follow his example in the areas in which he is exemplary? Or will you slip easily into the Saul’s human and natural inclination to seek to be great in your own eyes and consider every “David” who enters your life to be a threat to your success? As we proceed through this series of lessons the contrast between these two alternatives will become clearer and more distinct.