April 1 Reading: I Samuel 18-20 Commentary
“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.'” (I Sam. 18:6-7)
I Samuel 18 – Saul’s Jealousy of David
After Saul’s failure in I Samuel 15, God instructed Samuel to go the house of Jesse the Bethlehemite. Turns out Jesse was the son of Obed, who was the son of Ruth and Boaz (see the book of Ruth). Here, God led Samuel to anoint Jesse’s son David as the next king of Israel.
David’s kingdom didn’t happen immediately, as Saul remained king. But David burst onto the public scene when he defeated the Philistine giant Goliath. This brought David into a great friendship with Saul’s son Jonathan (v. 1-4).
It also brought him more responsibility from the king. David went wherever Saul sent him and he was placed over the men of war (v. 5). Everyone accepted David into the inner circle, including Saul’s servants.
But David’s victory over Goliath also brought him great fame and recognition among the people. As they were coming home from the slaughter of the Philistines, women came out of the cities of Israel singing to Saul and David.
That seems innocent enough, given their joy over the victory. But it’s what they sang that shows their admiration for David. They said: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (v. 7).
That song changed Saul’s relationship with David forever. Of course, Saul became jealous and angry of David’s fame. He saw only one possible outcome. “Now what more can he have but the kingdom?” Saul proclaimed.
Saul’s jealousy escalated quickly. The next day when David was playing the harp to calm him down, Saul hurled a spear at David and tried to pin him to the wall. Fortunately, David escaped this attack. (vv. 10-11).
David and Michal
All of Israel loved David (v. 16). So did Michal, Saul’s daughter. When Saul found out, he was pleased with the development. But his motives were not pure. He hoped that Michal could somehow “be a snare to him, and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him” (v. 21).
David was reluctant about becoming the king’s son-in-law. That put him in a different position in relation to the throne than before. Additionally, he noted to Saul that “I am a poor and lightly esteemed man” (v. 23). Translation? David didn’t have the money to give Saul the proper dowry (gifts) for Michal’s hand.
Saul has an idea about that dowry. He told David the only thing he required as payment for Michal was “100 foreskins of the Philistines” (v. 25). Again, Saul’s motives were deceitful. He hoped that David would die trying to collect that payment.
However, this idea pleased David, knowing that he did not have to come up with any money or precious gifts to marry Michal. So, David took his men and killed 200 Philistines, twice the number Saul requested. And then when Saul received the gift, he gave Michal to be David’s wife (v. 27)
I Samuel 19 – Saul’s Persecution of David
Saul recognized that the Lord was with David (v. 28). At this point, his jealousy had turned into intense hatred. I Sam. 18:29 says that “Saul became David’s enemy continually.”
But David had a special bond with Jonathan. Jonathan knew about his father’s hatred for David and warned David to be on guard (v. 2). He decided to approach his father, speak kindly of David and talk his father down from harming him.
For a time, that worked. Jonathan convinced his father that David was no threat and only had good intentions for Saul and the people. David is innocent of wrong doing Jonathan says, and wants his father to back down on his threats (vv. 4-5).
Saul listened to his son and invited David back into his presence as before (v. 7). He assured Jonathan that David “shall not be killed” (v. 6).
But in time, after David had additional military victories (v. 8), Saul’s distressing spirit returned (v. 9). And one day, when David was playing music, Saul tried to pin him to the wall again with his spear (v. 10).
David again escaped and fled to his home. But he had to flee from his home as well because Saul’s messengers came after him there. With Michal’s help, he escaped through a window and fled to see Samuel at Ramah (vv. 11-18).
God rescued David while he was with Samuel by using unconventional means – sending his Spirit to make people prophesy who were coming to capture David. Even Saul got in on the prophesying when he came to find David himself after three failed attempts by his messengers (vv. 19-24). It’s God’s way of distracting all these people from their mission and protecting the next king of Israel.
I Samuel 20 – Friendship and Loyalty
Saul’s hatred for David is in strong contrast to his son Jonathan’s loyalty to David. One would think that family members would be aligned on their feelings towards a particular individual. As the saying goes, “Blood is thicker than water.”
However, that is not the case as David rightly points out to Jonathan: “What have I done? What is my iniquity, and what is my sin before your father, that he seeks my life?” (v. 1). Verse 2 is unclear as to whether Jonathan doesn’t believe David or just doesn’t want to believe what David said is true. But David has a sense about this (v. 3) – which probably comes from the two spears Saul hurled at him on separate occasions.
The two agree to set up a test to determine Saul’s feelings. The test all centered around David’s attendance at a New Moon festival Saul is hosting. David is leery that Jonathan will tell him the truth if he finds out Saul is intent on killing David. But Jonathan makes a special covenant with David, solidifying their relationship (vv. 11-23) and promises to be forthcoming with him no matter the news.
Saul’s Hatred Confirmed
At the New Moon festival, David didn’t show up on day one. Saul wasn’t too concerned about it (vv. 24-26). However, when David did not show up on day two, Saul questioned Jonathan about it (v. 27).
This is where Jonathan set their plan in motion to test his father’s intentions.
He told his father:
“David earnestly asked permission of me to go to Bethlehem. And he said, ‘Please let me go, for our family has a sacrifice in the city, and my brother has commanded me to be there. And now, if I have found favor in your eyes, please let me get away and see my brothers.’ Therefore he has not come to the king’s table” (vv. 30-31).
Saul is irate at hearing this news. He hurled insults at Jonathan saying, “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! Do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness? For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, you shall not be established, nor your kingdom. Now therefore, send and bring him to me, for he shall surely die.” (vv. 30-31)
That’s a pretty clear statement of intent. It’s also ironic that Saul was concerned about Jonathan ascending to the throne. After all, he already knew through Samuel’s prophecy that the kingdom was being given to another family (see I Sam. 15).
When Jonathan protested to his father asking, “Why should he be killed? What has he done?” (v. 32), Saul’s anger peaked. He hurled a spear at Jonathan in an attempt to kill his own son. Jonathan escaped the attempt and “knew that it was determined by his father to kill David” (v. 33).
Jonathan Delivers the Bad News
Jonathan went to see David the next morning at their designated meeting place. They had predetermined a way to signal to one another what Jonathan had found out, one way or the other. Jonathan executes the signal that means Saul is intent on killing David (vv. 35-40).
David is heartbroken. He “arose from a place toward the south, fell on his face to the ground, and bowed down three times. And they kissed one another; and they wept together, but David more so” (v. 41). David knows they will always be friends, but his days being around Jonathan are over.
Jonathan’s last words to David are touching: “Go in peace, since we have both sworn in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘May the Lord be between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants, forever.'” (v. 42)
And the two depart from one another for good.
Questions to Consider:
Have you ever had a situation where you had to choose between family and a friend?
A leader’s heart should be all about growing those who serve under them, so as to maximize their potential, even if that means those individuals grow beyond the capabilities of their leader. When one succeeds, everyone succeeds.
King Saul should have been thankful for David, who did everything to make Saul’s kingdom successful. Yet Saul became jealous of David’s popularity and tried to kill him. Instead of embracing his help, he rejected it. Whose help are you ignoring today? Why?
What other points would you want to know about in our I Samuel 18-20 commentary? Email us here with questions or comments.