If we could say one thing about our current society, it would be that tension is rising. We see rising tension from terrorists in the multiple attacks from ISIS around the world. We see rising tension in our nation’s presidential race as we get closer to November. We see rising racial tension in recent shootings this past week and before. Probably closer to home, we see rising tension in our nation’s view of Christians and Christian theology as we’re seen more and more as old-fashioned and arrogant. There is much lacking in this present world, but the one thing we do not lack in our day today is tension. And in this regard we must take caution, because if we linger on these things long enough we can grow fearful and anxious, perhaps even suppressed by a rising tension that feels so thick you could cut it as a knife. I bring up the rising tension in the world because we also see rising tension in our text today. The tension between Saul and David that has been looming underneath the surface in 1 Samuel 16-17 rises up and shows its ugly head in 1 Samuel 18, and when we see it it’s ripe, it’s full of potential disaster, it’s also thick enough that you can cut it with a knife.
As the previous chapter ends we see David triumphant over Goliath, and we see Israel triumphant over the Philistines in David’s victory. When our present chapter begins it doesn’t skip a beat. David was triumphant over the champion of Gath, and now we see the results of his victory. Three points to see today:
A Royal Status (18:1-5)
The first result of David’s triumph over the champion of Gath is a high status within the royal family. v1 says Jonathan, the son of Saul, found in David a kindred spirit and his soul was knit to David’s, so much so that Jonathan loved him as he loved himself. And rather than allowing David to return home to his family and to his sheep v2 says Saul also thought so highly of David that he took him and put him into his service so that he would always be beside him. So the young shepherd boy turned giant slayer, is now serving the royal family. Jonathan then makes a covenant with David in v3-4 giving him his royal robes, armor, sword, bow, and belt. This is not a mere agreement, this is a deep friendship, this is a bond that would cost Jonathan much. By giving David his royal clothes and weapons Jonathan was doing more than just providing this sheep herder with royal attire. He was willingly renouncing his position as heir to the throne and was transferring, as far as he is concerned, his right of succession to David.
This action would have been just as baffling to those in their day as it is to us in our day. Not much has changed in people’s political preferences over the course of history. Power, not humility, takes supreme position as the all-important factor in a political leader. We don’t see presidential elections where the candidates seek to outdo one another in kindness and decency, no, we see candidates who boast about their own achievements and strength and abilities. Someone who voluntarily renounces his rightful throne and gives it to his prized friend would be seen as an alien to those in the Ancient Near Eastern culture and to American culture. You have to wonder not only why did Jonathan do this, but what did the people think of this? And in particular, what did his father think of this? Well, perhaps Jonathan saw in David, someone who was worthy of being king, someone who the people could follow, and was so happy to see it that he humbly got out of the way so that David could in fact be king one day. Whatever took place in Jonathan that caused him to do such things, we know one thing for sure. Willingly taking the lesser position is a Christ-like deed that shows forth the glory of God to the watching world. In Jonathan’s action here we’re reminded of what Christ did in the incarnation, we’re reminded that the Son of God became man so that men could become sons of God. That He willingly left His Father’s side and laid aside His privileges to purchase His bride. That Jonathan’s action remind us of Christ’s incarnation also reminds us that we’re to be those who do similarly humble things to those around us.
As Jonathan willingly laid aside his privilege as heir to the throne, and as Christ willingly became flesh to purchase us, so too we’re to be people who are characterized by our willingness to serve others in humility. So how would someone characterize you? Would they see how you live your life and conclude you to be and a man or woman who is willing to step to the side and allow others to lead while you serve in the background? Or would they conclude you to be someone who always wants the spotlight? This is, I believe, the primary difference between Jonathan and Saul, as well as the primary difference between Christians and the world. Worldly Saul yearned to be first, while Christ-like Jonathan was willing to be last.
As this first section ends in v5 we see that wherever Saul sent David he had success. All of the people and all of Saul’s servants loved him. But as we’ll see, this was just one side of the story.
Attempted Homicide (18:6-16)
Now begin David’s troubles. It’s interesting to notice that they come on the heels of his recent victory and from his recent victory, only in a fallen world could such a thing be a reality. Well, after this great victory Saul, his troops, and David returned to the city and when they did the people came out to the streets to welcome and celebrate their return. This was a common custom for this time, and something like it is still common in our own and many other cultures around the world. So when the soldiers came into town the women began singing a song that had a memorable line in it, ‘Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands.’ We can most likely conclude that the women didn’t mean to be rude or offensive to Saul by singing this song (maybe the person who wrote the song did), but in v8 it says Saul took offense and was angry when he heard it. He then said (probably to himself), ‘What more can David have but the kingdom?’
David’s victory had saved Israel, thrust him into the spotlight, and everyone loved him and hailed him as a great hero…all except Saul. v9 marks a shift in how Saul viewed David from that moment forward, ‘And Saul eyed David from that point on.’ Think about that song: the words weren’t sung to make Saul feel inferior to David; the numbers weren’t meant to be exact, rather, you really could interpret the words of the song to mean that Saul and David make a great team. Yet Saul grew jealous and gave room to thoughts of David becoming, not a greater and greater servant to him, but a greater and greater potential rival to the throne. Rather than seeing him as the asset he was, he looked on him with suspicion. Do you see what’s happening with Saul? He’s been eyeing David, he’s jealous of him, and he’s allowed that jealousy to grow in his mind and heart, Saul has grown proud. A proud man cannot stand when other men are praised. Proud men are offended when they’re talents and gifts aren’t publicly recognized. Proud men design harm for others by deceiving themselves that others are intending to harm themselves.
Notice what happens next. In v10 we see what happens when you allow a certain sinful thought to grow and take root inside the soul – it doesn’t go away or diminish, it grows. See here what Saul’s deep-seated jealousy leads to. While Saul was in his house, he went into another of his fits because God was distressing him. v10 says he ‘raved (literally ‘prophesying’) within his house’ while David was playing the lyre to sooth him. In his distress, Saul took a spear and hurled it at David to try and pin him to the wall and kill him, not once…but twice. David probably didn’t think his life was in danger or that Saul was jealous of him, remember Saul hadn’t publicly disclosed his suspicion of David yet, David probably just thought these murderous attempts on his life were side effects of Saul’s condition.
But we as the reader know the truth of what’s really going on deep down inside of Saul. v12 tells it to us, ‘Saul was afraid of David because the LORD was with him, but had departed from Saul.’ So what did Saul do to David now that he was afraid of him? He made him a commander of a thousand men in v13. We may pause and ask, ‘Why promote him? Why didn’t Saul just kill him?’ Well, Saul is employing the ‘law of averages’ here. He knows if David is a commander of an army he’s going to consistently be in war, and if he’s around enemies that want to kill him long enough, eventually one of those enemies will succeed. So rather than doing his jealous and fearful dirty work himself, Saul is sneaky and conniving, trying to plot and plan the end of David. Yet, how frustrating was it for Saul? v14-16 show us the result of Saul’s plotting. He promoted him so that he’d die, but David not only was successful in his military campaigns, the people loved him more and more. Saul now not only feared him, but it says in v15 that ‘he stood in fearful awe of him.’
A Ludicrous Bride-Price (18:17-30)
When we come to this last section of our passage, we come to a strange sequence of events. Saul had made David the commander of a thousand men, and David had done very well because the Lord was with him. So in v17 Saul offers to give David his oldest Daughter Merab (who was the supposed the be the prize for killing Goliath) and makes him promise that he’ll continue to be valiant and fight the LORD’S battles. David’s humble response in v18 contrasts his godliness with Saul’s wickedness. Saul was still hoping David would die while leading military campaigns against the Philistines, but when it didn’t happen, he sought out another way to kill him. v19 says when it came time to give Merab to David, Saul gave her to another man. Why? He was probably trying to provoke David to act out against him, because if David acted out against king Saul, Saul would be able to have him killed. But how did David respond to this treachery? He does absolutely nothing. In fact, a little later another of his daughters, Michal, approaches Saul and asks him permission if she can marry David. Saul agrees and encourages David to become his son in law so that he can perhaps create another situation in which he can trap David. David agrees with another humble response in v23, and Saul then thinks of a barbaric plan. v25, ‘Thus you shall say to David, ‘The King desires no bride-price except a hundred foreskins of the Philistines, that he may be avenged of the king’s enemies.’’ Clearly we now see the reason Saul encouraged Michal to marry David, he was seeking an opportunity to have David killed by a ludicrous bride-price. Seems that Saul is employing his ‘law of averages’ again. Surely if David tries to do this he’ll be killed, or become such a stench to the Philistines that they won’t ever stop hunting him down. Saul’s ways are bankrupt. He clothes his manipulation in kindness. In v22 he sought to persuade David to become his son in law through kindness even though he was aiming at his ruin and death. Proud wicked men not only hate it when other men become great and are praised, proud wicked men seek to get back at other men by deceptively appearing to be genuinely and sincerely concerned for their well being.
David again shows us much that is worthy of admiration. He accepts bride-price and adds another hundred onto it. We think Saul’s bride-price was crazy, how much crazier is David’s bride-price when he gives Saul double the amount of Philistine foreskins! Saul found himself at a loss, a sort of defeat, and gave in. In v27 he gave Michal to David, and in v28 he grew even more afraid of David because he knew the LORD was with him. Then as we’ve seen in v5 and v16, v30 has a similar closing statement, ‘…David had more success than all the servants of Saul, so that his name was highly esteemed.’ You know, I think Saul knew why he was increasingly declining and David was increasingly escalating before the people – God was with David. Every time David succeeded it was a painful reminder of how much he had failed. This reveals that Saul didn’t really have a problem with David as much as he had a problem with God.
So take note of all we’ve seen in this chapter: royal status, attempted homicide, a false promise of marriage, and a ludicrous bride-price: these are all the ingredients needed for an Old Testament soap opera.
But of course there is more to be seen here than just soap opera dramatic tension, much more. Let me conclude with these following things, perhaps they’ll be an encouragement to you:
i) The favor of God appears brightly though quietly in this chapter. Do you see how God protects David from danger that he is largely unaware of? As the chapter progressed we saw two things clearly: a) the more jealous Saul became the more he sought to kill David, yet b) the more Saul sought to kill David the more God seemed to protect him and frustrate the designs of Saul. And David is largely unaware of God’s intervention in each of these cases. The evil of man and the favor of God, clearly the latter is much stronger than the former. Remember, God has the ability to turn the wrath of man to serve His own designs and bring Him praise. In our day of rising tension we need to remember this, that though the world may seem out of control, God is quietly working all things according to the purpose of His will, and in this we rejoice, because God reigns as King over all He has made.
ii) The evil of Saul appears horrid in this chapter, and once again I must remind you that rather than seeing Saul as an example of what we should not do, see him as an example of what we naturally do. Apart from the grace of God changing our hearts through the gospel, it is our nature to act like Saul – to plot, plan, connive, deceive, and fear man. Yet once God changes our hearts through the gospel we still feel the lingering effects of sin in us, and we must fight it. Rather than giving these Saul type deceptions and manipulations free reign in our thoughts and hearts we must embrace the lifestyle of Jonathan displayed here. His humility gives us a not only a great example to follow, it gives us a foreshadow of Jesus Christ. Giving up what was rightfully his, to secure the position of another.
Be reminded here Church, we’re called to live Jonathan like lives of humility and David like lives of simple trust just as we’re called to put away the prideful life of Saul. But be reminded of our problem, we’re all far too like Saul. The pressing question of this chapter seems to be one we see again and again in Scripture: the tension between what we’re called to do, and what we’re prone to do. Since we’re called to do something we can’t naturally do, where is our hope? Well, our hope is in accepting that we can’t naturally do it, and in accepting that God can supernaturally do it in us and through us.
Think of it like this: our sermon series through 1 Samuel is called Collision, and so far we’ve seen many collisions in this book. But up to this point I haven’t mentioned the greatest collision of all: when God’s divinity meets our depravity there is a beautiful collision. Seeing that collision changes our hearts, and slowly but surely as God sanctifies us throughout our life, we come to look more like Jonathan than Saul, and more like Christ than ourselves.
We’ve spoken of the rising tension we see in the world today, but you know where we see it the clearest? In us. Praise God, one day He’ll remove this tension within.