I Samuel 18:17-30
17 Saul said to David, “Here is my older daughter Merab. I will give her to you in marriage; only serve me bravely and fight the battles of the Lord.” For Saul said to himself, “I will not raise a hand against him. Let the Philistines do that!” 18 But David said to Saul, “Who am I, and what is my family or my clan in Israel, that I should become the king’s son-in-law?” 19 So[a] when the time came for Merab, Saul’s daughter, to be given to David, she was given in marriage to Adriel of Meholah. 20 Now Saul’s daughter Michal was in love with David, and when they told Saul about it, he was pleased. 21 “I will give her to him,” he thought, “so that she may be a snare to him and so that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.” So Saul said to David, “Now you have a second opportunity to become my son-in-law.” 22 Then Saul ordered his attendants: “Speak to David privately and say, ‘Look, the king likes you, and his attendants all love you; now become his son-in-law.’” 23 They repeated these words to David. But David said, “Do you think it is a small matter to become the king’s son-in-law? I’m only a poor man and little known.” 24 When Saul’s servants told him what David had said, 25 Saul replied, “Say to David, ‘The king wants no other price for the bride than a hundred Philistine foreskins, to take revenge on his enemies.’” Saul’s plan was to have David fall by the hands of the Philistines. 26 When the attendants told David these things, he was pleased to become the king’s son-in-law. So before the allotted time elapsed, 27 David took his men with him and went out and killed two hundred Philistines and brought back their foreskins. They counted out the full number to the king so that David might become the king’s son-in-law. Then Saul gave him his daughter Michal in marriage. 28 When Saul realized that the Lord was with David and that his daughter Michal loved David, 29 Saul became still more afraid of him, and he remained his enemy the rest of his days. 30 The Philistine commanders continued to go out to battle, and as often as they did, David met with more success than the rest of Saul’s officers, and his name became well known.
Saul tried to kill David earlier in this chapter. Notice how Saul progresses in evil and David in virtue.
1. The Second Murderous Plot and Escape 17 - 19
After Saul’s attempt to himself kill David in the house failed, he developed an even more evil murderous plot. Saul’s second attempt on David’s life, in connection to one daughter and then the other, shows Saul’s willingness to prepare a way for David’s death in battle with the Philistines. He intended to artfully get rid of David by requiring David to inflict heavy defeat on them.
“Only serve me bravely and fight the battles of the Lord” (v 17). Saul lays this obligation on David for the ‘honor’ of becoming his son-in-law. This is no problem to the noble David. The text does not say that David declined—only that he humbly reacted and did not aggressively seek the honor. Since in his continued wars against the Philistines, Saul needed valiant heroes as leader of his soldiers, it could have been a natural request. Yet there is irony in Saul’s use of words. He expressed the same idea David expressed in chapter 17, “because he has defied the armies of the living God,” “for the battle is the Lords” (vs. 36 and 47). These were the same words as David’s, but they are made wicked in Saul’s mouth.
David would qualify himself for the honor Saul designed for him which was to marry Saul’s eldest daughter. But, in fact, he had already merited this by killing Goliath. David’s noble character is demonstrated in that he did not confront Saul on this. A mighty prayer warrior will claim God’s promise in prayer, but a prudent team-member may need to remain wisely quiet when denied the fulfillment of a promise by another. This is a hard lesson to learn.
Saul hoped the Philistines would some time be the death of David, but how could he hope for this when he clearly saw that God was with David?
God needs to oppose these enemies of his people. But behind this proper language of warfare was hidden Saul’s cunning and wickedness toward David. “Saul said to himself” the same expression as in vs. 11 when he stretched out his own hand and spear though he failed then. Here Saul determines that David shall not die by his hand, but deceit will achieve his end anyway. So low had Saul fallen that he wanted now to avoid the outward action of killing David with his own hands but would rather plot his death by someone else’s hand. The wicked heart and criminal hand are only surpassed by a more wicked tongue which speaks of zeal for the Lord’s battles while plotting murder. Whether he kills with a spear thrown by his own arm or by the spears of the Philistines to whom he threw David, Saul would murder David. That malicious design against David was as truly murder before God as if Saul had killed him with his own spear and hands.
Years later, in his attempt to cover up his affair with Bathsheba, David did the same thing to Uriah and Uriah died in battle. David murdered Uriah with the enemy’s sword—a tactic he perhaps learned from Saul. Why is it so easy to learn evil? Friendlier face, worse rascal! Therefore try the spirits of men and trust in God. David prayed: “Do not drag me away with the wicked, with those who do evil, who speak cordially with their neighbors but harbor malice in their hearts” (Ps 28:3). David trusted God: “My companion attacks his friends; he violates his covenant. His speech is smooth as butter, yet war is in his heart; his words are more soothing than oil, yet they are drawn swords. Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall. But you, O God, will bring down the wicked into the pit of corruption; bloodthirsty and deceitful men will not live out half their days. But as for me, I trust in you” (Ps 55:20-23).
David’s honesty and simplicity stands in great contrast with Saul’s hatred. In humility he hesitates to become the son-in-law of the king even though he had earned it in killing Goliath. I can’t become the king’s son-in-law, “who am I?” And to this is added “and what is my family or my father’s clan in Israel?” In his own eyes David seems too insignificant in person, family, and the house of his father.
This humility of David may teach us much. He knew well that he was to be king, and that God had caused him to be anointed well before the drama of his earlier role as court harpist and then later at the battle with Goliath. Yet he never spoke of such favor, but rather gives it to be understood how utterly nothing he is, and how unworthy he thought himself.
2. Saul’s Treachery 19
“she (Merab) was given in marriage to Adriel” (v 19). Saul gave the daughter promised to and earned by David to another—Adriel. We will now learn through the silence of scripture. How did David react? He did not fight, sulk, argue, or complain.
It is possible that David did not like the older daughter? We don’t know. It was not true that David did not want to marry. He did a number of times. We know that later the younger daughter loved David. Was that feeling mutual? There is much we do not know and much we should not assume. The lesson to be learned, the lesson that is clear, is that in the face of injustice David did not fight back.
3. The Third Murderous Attempt 20 – 24
Another chance occurred. That Michal loved David does not mean that Merab did not love him and was therefore not given to him. The reason is not given—evidently Saul’s procedure was arbitrary. Maybe wars distracted him? “Now you have a second opportunity” (v 21). The first time by the promise of Merab, afterwards broken off, and the second time by the actual marriage with Michal.
“so that she may be a snare to him” (v 21). Perhaps Saul hoped that she would, even after her marriage to David, take part with her father against her husband and give Saul an opportunity of doing damage or bring death to David.
David had as much reason as any man to value himself and his own family heritage. He was of an ancient and honorable family of Judah, a handsome young man, a great statesman and soldier; his achievements were great, for he had won Goliath’s head and Michal’s heart. He knew himself destined by the divine counsels to the throne of Israel, and yet when offered the opportunity to become the king’s son-in-law, he humbly answers the first time: “Who am I, and what is my family or my father’s clan in Israel, that I should become the king’s son-in-law?” (v 18) and the second time “Do you think it is a small matter to become the king’s son-in-law? I’m only a poor man and little known” (v 23). Both times he displayed humility.
David answered in two parts. “He affirms the great importance of such a step as marrying the king’s daughter—referring to the distance between himself and honor. And he declared himself too poor to furnish a suitable bride price for a king’s daughter.
He must bring in their foreskins cut off; this would be a just reproach upon the Philistines, who hated circumcision as it was an ordinance of the God of the Israelites; and perhaps David, in doing this, would increase their hatred against him—make them seek to get revenge against him. This would be just what Saul would want. “Saul’s plan was to have David fall by the hands of the Philistines” (vs. 25).
“Now you have a second opportunity to become my son-in-law” (v 21). But Saul hated David in his heart. They were sweet sounding words hiding hatred in a jealous heart.
When becoming the king’s son-in-law was offered the second time to David, he responded with all possible modesty and humility. Being a crowned head, he speaks of even Saul and the royal family with all due respect. The New Testament teaches us to render honor to those to whom honor is due.
4. David’s Success Through Humility and Bravery 26-30
By his success and wise behavior David obtained Saul’s ill-will. Yet, more importantly, he also obtained God’s favor. In Ps 101:2 David says, “I will be careful to lead a blameless life—when will you come to me? I will walk in my house with blameless heart.” His behavior during this period of his life well illustrates what David meant by saying he will be blameless and have a blameless heart. God certainly answered his prayer—the story repeatedly says that the Lord was with him.
However God has advanced us, let us always have low thoughts of ourselves. He who humbles himself shall be exalted. If David magnified the honor of being son-in-law to the king, how should we magnify the honor of being son (not in law) to the King of kings?
David responded honorably to Saul’s offer of receiving 100 foreskins of Philistines—he doubled it. It appears that David was a brave soldier and true lover, but can you imagine what fear for him Michal might have had—if her love for David were true?
Whatever Saul hoped, David did not fear falling by the Philistines, though he must expose himself to danger by such an assignment.
The law provided that men did not need to go to war the first year of their marriage. “If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married” (Duet 24:5). But David loved his country and took his military career for it so seriously that he did not claim this right.
We may assume that David acted from generous principles and honorable character, but it does raise the question: Is it right to decline provisions God has made for our good?
Saul gave him his daughter to be a snare to him, but it was a benefit to him since being Saul’s son-in-law made it seem all the more natural to obtain the crown. The marriage not only made succeeding Saul more natural but also provided exposure for practical preparation for government through experience.
Saul thought by putting him into a dangerous battle with the Philistines he could kill him, but that very service increased David’s popularity and facilitated his more naturally becoming the next king. God makes the wrath of men praise him and serve his design of kindness and his own people by it. “. . . in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” (Rom. 8:28).
The story indicates that not only was God with David, but that Saul knew it. Earlier Jonathon’s love and now Michal’s love for David and Saul’s hatred (which had grown into a permanent state) are in sharp contrast.
David, whose brilliant exploits against the Philistines and rising reputation still more inflamed the jealousy and hatred of Saul, went on and on behaving himself wisely and succeeding.
David’s prudence is shown in the perils of sudden prosperity: (1) The shepherd-youth is honored with the friendship of the prince, the cheering and singing of the crowd, a military command and the prospect of entering the royal family, but he behaved wisely and prospered all the more! Those who climb fast have need of good heads and good hearts.
(2) In the plots of jealous rivals—Saul and evidently other members of the court—David avoids the javelin of rage and the foils the cunning of hypocrisy.
(3) In provocations to anger by promises broken (vs.19) and fresh demands (vs.25), the brilliant young warrior and poet remains prudent as a sage statesman. How was all this possible? See verse 12 “the Lord was with him,” 14 “the Lord was with him,” and 28 “the Lord was with David.”
Man or woman of God, if God is with you, you too will succeed again and again even when you are given impossible if not difficult leadership assignments. Conduct yourself honorably and humbly so that God is with you. Then you will succeed to His glory.