1 Samuel 18 – Conflict Between Saul and David
A. David, Jonathan, and Saul.
1. (1-4) The friendship between David and Jonathan.
Now when he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. Saul took him that day, and would not let him go home to his father’s house anymore. Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan took off the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, even to his sword and his bow and his belt.
a. When he had finished speaking to Saul: When David finished the “after-killing-Goliath” conversation with Saul, his fame in Israel was assured. He performed a remarkably heroic deed and was initially welcomed by the leadership of Israel.
b. The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul: Jonathan, the son of Saul, appeared before in 1 Samuel 14. He was the brave man of faith who initiated a one-man war against the Philistines.
i. Jonathan was a lot like David. They were approximately the same age, though Jonathan was probably at least five years older. They both were bold, both were men of great trust in God, and both were men of action. Most of all, both had a real relationship with God.
ii. At the same time, Jonathan and David were different. Jonathan was the first-born son of a king (1 Chronicles 9:39) and David was the last-born son of a farmer. This made Jonathan more than a prince, he was the crown prince. By everyone’s expectation Jonathan would be the next king of Israel.
c. The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David: This happened after David had finished speaking to Saul. Jonathan heard David give an extended explanation of his heart, his faith in the living God, and Jonathan knew that he and David had the same heart. They could not be such close friends until Jonathan knew that about David.
i. The way most people think, Jonathan was the one who had the most to fear from David’s success. Yet he loved David, because what they had in common – a real relationship with the LORD God – was bigger than any difference.
d. Saul took him that day: David would never again be just a shepherd. David still had a shepherd’s heart but would be more than a shepherd.
e. Then Jonathan and David made a covenant: Two men, each on track for the same throne – yet they made a covenant of friendship that would prove stronger than jealousy, than envy, than ambition.
f. Jonathan took off the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, even to his sword and his bow and his belt: When Jonathan gave David the robe and his armor, he said by this action, “You will be the next king of Israel. You should be dressed and armed as the crown prince. God’s hand is on you and these rightfully belong to you.” Because Jonathan was surrendered to God he could see the hand of the LORD upon David. He knew David’s destiny and was perfectly willing to set aside his ambition to honor the LORD’s choice.
g. Gave it to David: For his part, David received the robe and Jonathan’s armor. But he did not then say or think, “Good Jonathan. We all see who is boss around here. Now get out of my way because I’m going to replace your father as soon as I can.” It would be some 20 years until David would receive the throne of Israel and replace Saul. If Jonathan was ready to recognize David as God’s choice for the next king, David was willing to let God put him on the throne, and to do it in God’s timing. Both of these men were thoroughly submitted to the LORD.
i. David couldn’t receive Saul’s armor but David did receive Jonathan’s armor, and not only because they were more similar in size. More importantly, they shared the same soul. They both loved God and lived more for Him and for others than for themselves. David and Jonathan both knew that if the circumstances were reversed, David would do the exact same thing for Jonathan – because they had the same soul.
ii. If the issue of “who will be the next king?” were not settled in the hearts of Jonathan and David, they could never have had this kind of close love and friendship. They loved each other more than the throne of Israel because they loved the LORD more than the throne of Israel.
iii. Some people read a homosexual relationship into the love between David and Jonathan. They suppose that two men cannot love each other without it being something the Bible clearly says is immoral. But the relationship between David and Jonathan shows the Bible doesn’t condemn real love between men, only a sexual relationship between men.
2. (5-9) Saul’s jealousy of David.
So David went out wherever Saul sent him, and behaved wisely. And Saul set him over the men of war, and he was accepted in the sight of all the people and also in the sight of Saul’s servants. Now it had happened as they were coming home, when David was returning from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women had come out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy, and with musical instruments. So the women sang as they danced, and said:
“Saul has slain his thousands,
And David his ten thousands.”
Then Saul was very angry, and the saying displeased him; and he said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed only thousands. Now what more can he have but the kingdom?” So Saul eyed David from that day forward.
a. David went out wherever Saul sent him, and behaved wisely: David was fully submitted to Saul and sought to serve him wisely in every way. David knew the way to be blessed. It was to work hard to be a blessing to his boss. He would not undercut Saul’s position or authority in any way.
i. Where did Saul send David? Saul set him over the men of war. This was a remarkable promotion – a man perhaps in his young twenties was now a “general” in the army of Israel.
b. He was accepted in the sight of all the people and also in the sight of Saul’s servants: David quickly became popular both among the people and among the leaders (Saul’s servants). This was not because David was a yes-man-people-pleaser-sycophant kind of man. David did not seek this popularity and did not depend on any of those carnal tools to gain it. David became popular because he was a man after God’s own heart and people could see the love, the wisdom, and the peace of God in him.
i. We might imagine Saul’s initial reaction was positive. “Good,” he thought. “My new assistant is well received. Everyone thinks I made a brilliant choice in bringing him on staff. This is working out well.”
c. Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands: David became unexpectedly popular. When the people of Israel started singing everyone knew David was more popular than Saul.
i. When women sing and dance in your honor, you are popular. When it happens in all the cities of Israel, you are popular. This song was the number one hit in Israel! David wisely received this popularity because 1 Samuel 18:14 says of this period in David’s life, And David behaved wisely in all his ways, and the LORD was with him. In this environment of praise and popularity, David behaved wisely in all his ways.
ii. When you are praised and popular, it isn’t wise to let it go to your head. David was happy to hear these affirming words, but he didn’t let it dominate his thinking or change his opinion of himself. He kept the heart and the mind of a shepherd, even in a season of great success.
iii. This wasn’t easy. This was a test, one the devil wanted to use to bring David down and one the LORD wanted to use to build David up. David never received this kind of affirmation when he kept the sheep. The sheep never danced and sang a song praising him. Now David faces the challenge of success. Many people who handle adversity well enough fall under the challenge of success.
iv. But because David could be so content and so happy before the LORD in keeping sheep with no praise or popularity, it put his heart in the right place to handle it when he received praise and popularity. Out in the shepherd’s field David had his heart set: “I’m doing this for the LORD. I love the LORD, and my reward is from Him.” Because his heart was right in the shepherd’s field, David behaved wisely in all his ways when praise and popularity came.
v. We also see this by David’s reaction to the scorn and criticism from his brother Eliab (1 Samuel 17:28-30). When Eliab scorned and criticized him, David didn’t like it but it didn’t crush him. It didn’t deter him. Most people are corrupted by praise and popularity to the same degree they are crushed by scorn and criticism. Because of what God built in him out in the shepherd’s field, David could live his life more for the LORD than for people. It wasn’t that David didn’t care about people or what they thought, but he could put the opinion of man in the right perspective because he cared more about the opinion of God.
d. Then Saul was very angry: Knowing his character, we are not surprised by Saul’s reaction. Saul did not have a right or close relationship with the LORD. All he had to affirm his heart was the praise of man so when David was more praised it really bothered Saul.
i. It is a bad sign in a leader when they resent or feel threatened by the success of a subordinate. It is a certain sign of weakness in the leader.
ii. Now what more can he have but the kingdom? This is a typical over-reaction in the proud and insecure. Saul could have thought, “David did well, and he has his glory today. I’ll keep serving the LORD and have this kind of praise another day.” Instead, he over-reacted and said, “Now what more can he have but the kingdom?”
iii. However, there is another dynamic at work in Saul: a guilty conscience. He remembered the prophet Samuel told him, “The LORD has rejected you from being king over Israel.” Saul knew his sin disqualified him from being king, and he clung to the throne in the energy of his flesh. An honorable man would step down, but if Saul were an honorable man, he wouldn’t be in this mess. Instead, Saul constantly worried, “When will God cast me off the throne? Who will He raise up to replace me?” This insecurity, borne of guilt, also made Saul over-react to the praise and popularity given to David.
iv. Yet the crowds did praise Saul. They did sing, “Saul has slain his thousands.” For Saul, it wasn’t enough to slay thousands as long as someone else was slaying ten thousands.
e. So Saul eyed David from that day forward: Now Saul’s mind is filled with suspicion towards David. He began to hear nearly everything David said with suspicious ears. He looked at David’s actions with suspicious eyes. His thoughts were twisted by suspicion.
i. “He gave way to that devilish vice of envy, which was henceforth as a fire in his bosom, as a worm continually gnawing upon his entrails…. He looked upon him with an evil eye: prying into all his actions, and making the worst of everything.” (Trapp)
B. Saul’s first attempt to kill David.
1. (10) The scene in Saul’s royal court.
And it happened on the next day that the distressing spirit from God came upon Saul, and he prophesied inside the house. So David played music with his hand, as at other times; but there was a spear in Saul’s hand.
a. The distressing spirit from God came upon Saul: This distressing spirit was first mentioned in 1 Samuel 16:14. It came upon Saul, permitted by the LORD, when the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul (1 Samuel 16:14). David was brought into Saul’s royal court to play music so that Saul would be ministered to and soothed when suffering from the distressing spirit.
b. And he prophesied inside the house: Why would a distressing spirit make Saul prophesy? Saul wasn’t speaking from the LORD at all, and prophesied is a bad translation here. The Hebrew grammar here can be used of idle ravings as well as of prophecy from the LORD. Saul simply babbled like a man not in his right mind.
i. “He was beside himself; made prayers, supplications, and incoherent imprecations: ‘God preserve my life,’ ‘Destroy my enemies,’ or such like prayers, might frequently escape from him in his agitated state.” (Clarke)
c. So David played music with his hand: The same hands that had killed Goliath and carried the trophy of his severed head now sweetly played music to the LORD, ministering to a troubled king.
i. David obviously had skillful hands, both in war and in music ministry. More remarkable was his humble heart. Most men, after the fame that came to David, would consider this kind of service “beneath” them. David was a general in the army, famous in all Israel, and had women dancing and singing his praises. Yet he faithfully performed this job of personally ministering to Saul in music.
d. But there was a spear in Saul’s hand: David held a harp and played music with his hand. But there was violence in Saul’s hand.
2. (11) Saul throws a spear at David.
And Saul cast the spear, for he said, “I will pin David to the wall!” But David escaped his presence twice.
a. And Saul cast the spear: If a spear is in your hand, you’ll probably use it. As Saul held the spear the distressing spirit moved upon him, and instead of receiving ministry from David’s music the distressing spirit prompted Saul to strike out at David.
i. We must say that the distressing spirit did not “make” Saul do this. But the spirit prompted it. Saul was able to choose, “Will I do this or not?” and he chose to cast the spear.
ii. This same music ministry once soothed Saul, and made him refreshed and well, giving him relief from the distressing spirit (1 Samuel 16:23). Now, it is of no effect at all, and Saul even responds to David’s music ministry with a murder attempt. David’s music ministry or heart did not change – Saul did, and for the worse. Saul refused to receive from David’s ministry and that refusal set the stage for this kind of violence.
b. For he said, “I will pin David to the wall!” This wasn’t an accident. Saul may have wanted it to seem like an accident. Though he wouldn’t admit it, his heart was set on killing David. He didn’t want to just frighten or wound David. He wanted the spear to deliver a fatal blow, completely through the body.
c. But David escaped his presence: Saul threw the spear, and it missed David. Perhaps Saul’s aim was bad, affected by his poor mental and emotional state. Perhaps David saw the spear and ducked. Perhaps God simply supernaturally guided the spear to miss. However it happened, the spear missed and was on the floor. And David escaped his presence.
i. Of many of us it would be written, “And so-and-so picked the spear up off the floor went over to Saul saying, ‘If Goliath couldn’t scare me, you sure can’t. If Goliath couldn’t kill me, you sure can’t.’ And with one thrust of the spear, so-and-so pinned Saul to the wall.”
ii. But David didn’t pick up the spear. He didn’t throw it back. He simply escaped his presence. No one could blame David if he struck back; it could easily be called self-defense. But David had a different heart. It wasn’t a matter of what he could get away with, but it was a matter of what God’s heart wanted. David was determined to leave the situation in God’s hands, and not take the throne himself. God would have to take care of Saul because David wouldn’t do it.
iii. David said, “LORD, you put Saul on the throne. And I know I’m supposed to the be next king because You gave me Your promise and Your anointing. But getting Saul out of the way is Your business. I won’t touch it, because he is an authority appointed by You. You started his reign, so You have to end it.”
d. But David escaped his presence twice: Perhaps the most remarkable word in this chapter is twice. This means that Saul threw the spear twice. This means that Saul missed twice. This means that after the first miss, David came back and played again.
i. This is where many draw the line. “Look, I’ll sit with the bullseye on my chest once, and I’ll dodge the spear. I’ll even leave the spear on the floor and resist the temptation to throw it back. But one spear rushing by my head is enough. One miss and I’ve paid my dues. Once is submission to the LORD. Twice is stupidity.”
ii. We might even say that David’s submission didn’t begin until he sat back down to play for Saul again after the first attempt on his life. Now he knew the danger, now he knew Saul’s heart, and now he had to trust God.
iii. If David struck back after resisting the temptation the first time we can suppose that David still would become king. We can suppose that we would still admire David’s heart in not throwing the spear back the first time, and we would understand how he struck back the second time. But if David did this, he would have surrendered his destiny to be the greatest king of Israel. He still would be a king, but not the king the LORD destined him to be.
iv. “In doing this small feat of returning thrown spears, you will prove many things. You are courageous. You stand for the right. You boldly stand against the wrong. You are tough and can’t be pushed around. You will not stand for injustice or unfair treatment. You are the defender of the faith, the keeper of the flame, detector of all heresy. You will not be wronged. All of these attributes then combine to prove that you are also obviously a candidate for kingship. Yes, perhaps you are the Lord’s anointed. After the order of King Saul.” (Gene Edwards, Tale of Three Kings)
3. (12-16) David is transferred from the palace to the army.
Now Saul was afraid of David, because the LORD was with him, but had departed from Saul. Therefore Saul removed him from his presence, and made him his captain over a thousand; and he went out and came in before the people. And David behaved wisely in all his ways, and the LORD was with him. Therefore, when Saul saw that he behaved very wisely, he was afraid of him. But all Israel and Judah loved David, because he went out and came in before them.
a. Now Saul was afraid of David, because the LORD was with him: By all outward appearance, Saul is in control. Saul has the throne. Saul has the army. Saul has the spears. Yet Saul was afraid of David because the LORD was with him.
b. But had departed from Saul: This made Saul uncomfortable with David and made it hard for Saul to have David around (Therefore Saul removed him from his presence).
c. Made him his captain: Saul’s desire was not to bless David, but to set him up for harm. Saul’s jealousy has made him manipulative, working a hidden, secret agenda against David.
i. “This was under pretense of doing him honour, when it was in effect only to rid himself of the object of his envy.” (Clarke)
d. David behaved wisely in all his ways, and the LORD was with him: It isn’t easy to behave wisely when spears are being thrown at you. It isn’t easy to behave wisely when you are put out of the palace. It isn’t easy to behave wisely when you have powerful and determined enemies. Even in the midst of all those terrible circumstances, you can behave wisely in all your ways as the LORD is with you.
e. But all Israel and Judah loved David: David became even more popular because God was with him. David was tempted to use this popularity as a spear against Saul, but he refused.
f. Because he went out and came in: This is a Hebrew figure of speech meaning, “David conducted successful military operations.” God’s hand of success was with David even though Saul was against him. Saul might attack and pain David in any number of ways, but God would not allow Saul to have the victory.
i. David was never a victim. He looked like a victim, because he was attacked. But David behaved wisely in all his ways, so he did not give into the victim’s state of mind, thinking that his fate was in the hands of the one attacking him. David knew his fate was in God’s hands, and could have peace in that.
C. Saul sets a trap for David, but he escapes and is blessed.
1. (17-19) Saul intends to kill David.
Then Saul said to David, “Here is my older daughter Merab; I will give her to you as a wife. Only be valiant for me, and fight the LORD’s battles.” For Saul thought, “Let my hand not be against him, but let the hand of the Philistines be against him.” So David said to Saul, “Who am I, and what is my life or my father’s family in Israel, that I should be son-in-law to the king?” But it happened at the time when Merab, Saul’s daughter, should have been given to David, that she was given to Adriel the Meholathite as a wife.
a. Here is my older daughter Merab: Saul had promised to give his daughter to the man who killed Goliath (1 Samuel 17:25). Now, Saul made good on the promise, offering his older daughter Merab to David.
b. Let my hand not be against him, but let the hand of the Philistines be against him: The marriage offer seemed like a gesture of kindness and goodness on Saul’s part. David was supposed to believe, “Saul has forgiven. He has let bygones be bygones. He threw two spears at me before, but all of that is over now.” But Saul didn’t think that way at all. In his heart was a different motive.
i. This was a trap because of the dowry that Saul would demand. In that day, a dowry was required whenever a man married. The dowry was paid to the bride’s father, and the more important and prestigious the bride and her family, the higher the dowry price. Since David was from a humble family, there was no way he could pay the dowry for the daughter of a king. Saul knew this and will demand that David kill 100 Philistines as a dowry. Saul figured that the job was too big and too dangerous for David, and he would be killed gaining the dowry to marry a king’s daughter.
ii. Saul still wanted David dead and gone. But now, instead of throwing spears himself, he used cunning manipulation to have David killed. He thought, “The Philistine spears and swords are just as sharp as mine. I can let them do the work for me.” From a fleshly standpoint, this was a pretty smart plan on Saul’s part.
iii. It was smart in the flesh, but God would not honor Saul’s manipulation. Manipulation uses hidden agendas and concealed motives. It is sneaky and secretive. Manipulation tries to maneuver people and events to accomplish a hidden agenda. It can be smart in the flesh but will never be blessed by God.
c. Only be valiant for me, and fight the LORD’s battles: Saul works as a clever manipulator. He takes advantage of David’s loyalty and patriotism (only be valiant for me). He takes advantage of David’s courage and heart for the LORD (fight the LORD’s battles).
d. So David said to Saul, “Who am I…that I should be son-in-law to the king?”David was not out-maneuvering Saul. David had no idea what was going on in Saul’s heart. David simply had a humble heart before the LORD, and God protected him against Saul’s manipulation.
i. The question “Who am I?” shows David’s humble heart. He was nationally famous. All Israel loved him. All Saul’s staff loved him. Jonathan the crown prince loved him. All over Israel women sang and danced in his honor. Yet when the hand of Merab is offered to David he didn’t think, “Well, this is about time. I’m glad someone noticed.”
e. At the time when Merab, Saul’s daughter, should have been given to David, that she was given to Adriel: When David was initially hesitant to marry Merab, Saul tried another strategy. He suddenly gave her to another man, to try and make David angry or jealous.
i. Saul “treacherously withdrew the offer as the time of nuptials approached – the intention being to arouse his ardent spirit to retaliate, and so become liable to the charge of treason. But all his efforts failed to arouse even a transient impulse for revenge.” (Meyer)
2. (20-25) David’s agreement to marry Michal.
Now Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved David. And they told Saul, and the thing pleased him. So Saul said, “I will give her to him, that she may be a snare to him, and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.” Therefore Saul said to David a second time, “You shall be my son-in-law today.” And Saul commanded his servants, “Communicate with David secretly, and say, ‘Look, the king has delight in you, and all his servants love you. Now therefore, become the king’s son-in-law.’” So Saul’s servants spoke those words in the hearing of David. And David said, “Does it seem to you a light thing to be a king’s son-in-law, seeing I am a poor and lightly esteemed man?” And the servants of Saul told him, saying, “In this manner David spoke.” Then Saul said, “Thus you shall say to David: ‘The king does not desire any dowry but one hundred foreskins of the Philistines, to take vengeance on the king’s enemies.’” But Saul thought to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines.
a. Now Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved David: Saul was happy to hear this (the thing pleased him). It doesn’t surprise us that Michal was attracted to David, because of his character, qualities, and fame. But as is evident later in David’s marriage to Michal, she was not really attracted to David’s heart for the LORD.
b. That she might be a snare to him: This may be meant in two ways. First, Saul obviously wanted David to be snared by the dowry. But it may also be that Saul knew Michal’s character and heart and knew that she would be a snare for him as a wife, as turned out to be the case in some regard (2 Samuel 6:16-23).
c. The king does not desire any dowry but one hundred foreskins of the Philistines: Now, Saul builds on his clever plan. “David won’t marry Michal because he doesn’t have a big enough dowry. He’s too humble to ask me for terms, so I will suggest them.” Even the way he phrases it is clever: “The king does not desire any dowry.” That makes it sound like Saul doesn’t want anything from David. “But one hundred foreskins of the Philistines.” That makes it sound like Saul isn’t asking for much, when he is really asking for something far greater than a lot of money. He asks David to put his life in great jeopardy because Saul wants him dead.
i. Even the specific request – one hundred foreskins of the Philistines–was manipulative. It was designed to goad David on (“Go get those uncircumcised Philistines”). It was designed to be difficult because the Philistines would obviously have to be dead. And it was designed to make the Philistines completely outraged at David, because from their perspective, not only were their men killed but also their dead bodies were desecrated. “Here is a fair glove drawn upon a foul hand.” (Trapp)
3. (26-27) David fulfills Saul’s request for a dowry and marries Michal.
So when his servants told David these words, it pleased David well to become the king’s son-in-law. Now the days had not expired; therefore David arose and went, he and his men, and killed two hundred men of the Philistines. And David brought their foreskins, and they gave them in full count to the king, that he might become the king’s son-in-law. Then Saul gave him Michal his daughter as a wife.
a. It pleased David well: David had such a pure, humble heart that he seemed to be blind to Saul’s manipulation and cunning. A simple man can survive amid such treachery when God is with him.
i. David had a humble heart. Many men would say, “Dowry? You want a dowry? You promised to give your daughter to the man who killed Goliath. If you want to see my dowry, look at the ten-foot grave in the Valley of Elah. That’s enough of a dowry. I demand my rights!” But David humbly agreed to Saul’s demand for a dowry.
b. Therefore David arose and went, he and his men, and killed two hundred men of the Philistines: David answered Saul’s attempt at manipulation by taking control of the situation and being a humble servant, and by giving more than what was required.
c. And David brought their foreskins, and they gave them in full count to the king: There are many times we wish we had a visual Bible or could see Biblical events exactly as they happened. This is one instance where we are happy the Bible is not illustrated.
4. (28-30) David’s constantly growing popularity.
Thus Saul saw and knew that the LORD was with David, and that Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved him; and Saul was still more afraid of David. So Saul became David’s enemy continually. Then the princes of the Philistines went out to war. And so it was, whenever they went out, that David behaved more wisely than all the servants of Saul, so that his name became highly esteemed.
a. Thus Saul saw and knew that the LORD was with David: Saul did not use this knowledge to stop trying to kill David. He did not find it in his heart to respect David and make a way for the LORD’s choice to smoothly come to the throne. Instead, the closer David got to the LORD, the further he got from Saul and Saul was still more afraid of David.
b. Then the princes of the Philistines went out to war: Saul’s cunning plan against David continued. No doubt, the Philistines went out to war against David in retaliation for what they felt was a terrible disgrace against the Philistine people. Saul wanted to make David a marked man, and he succeeded.
c. David behaved more wisely than all the servants of Saul, so that his name became highly esteemed: Saul’s plan has completely backfired. David is not only alive but also more popular and closer to the LORD than ever. Saul isn’t finished and will use more manipulation, cunning, and outright violence to attack David.
i. David’s wise behavior and high esteem were both closely connected to his humble heart. The same is true (in a far greater sense) of the Son of David, Jesus Christ. Philippians 2:9 says of Jesus, Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name. Why was it that the name of Jesus became highly esteemed? Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross (Philippians 2:5-8). This mind, this heart, was in David. This mind, this heart, is in Jesus. God wants this mind, this heart, to be in each of us.