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Saul, Jonathan, and David
Throughout Chapter 18 we see a progressive deterioration in Saul's apparent initial enthusiasm for David and his ministry which descends into suspicion and then to fear, while David's popularity and prominence in Israel are ever-growing. Every step upward for David seems to be a step downward for Saul. And every attempt Saul makes to crush David's popularity only enhances it. This change is such a contrast from the beginning of the chapter which does not focus on David as much as it does upon Saul, Jonathan, and Michal and begins with Jonathan's love for David and ends with Michal's love for him demonstrated in marriage, but with Saul's hatred.
All the way through the chapter we learn of Saul's growing fear and animosity toward David, who becomes his son-in-law as well as his superior but David and Jonathan became close friends as David began to serve in the court of Saul. We note that, since David was thirty years of age when he began to reign as king in Judah, he was born in 1040B.C. Jonathan was approximately twenty to twenty-two years old in 1048 B.C., which means he was born about 1068-70 B.C. and was twenty-five to thirty years older than David.6 David was a teen-age boy about sixteen years old and Jonathan a middle-aged man, about forty to forty-two years old, and therefore old enough to be his father when the two became friends, rather than as two teenagers growing up together as many Sunday School lessons have inferred through the years. 1 Samuel 18, verses 3 and 4, state:
Then Jonathan and David made a covenant because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle.
The conversation Jonathan had with his father, Saul, seemed to reach right into his heart (18:1). No doubt Jonathan was impressed by David's victory over Goliath, but David's words with his father seem to be at least a partial source of Jonathan's clearly revealed love and admiration for David. We can ask ourselves, particularly in the light of what follows between these three men, whether it is David's faith in God, or the fact that David is careful to give the glory to God? It might be David's humble spirit or his care for the people of Israel? We are not told exactly what impresses Jonathan so much in this conversation, but it is clear that from this point in time onward these two men are kindred spirits.
Only a wicked and perverse generation could see in the words of our text an occasion to imply that the relationship between David and Jonathan is perverted - as some today have done. David and Jonathan are soul-mates. Jonathan loves David as himself. Is this not the way every believer should feel toward his brethren? Jonathan and David make a covenant on this day and, while the details are not supplied, it is not difficult to infer what they are. On his part, Jonathan seems to recognize that David is the one God has chosen to be Israel's next king. Jonathan is more than happy to relinquish his hopes for his father's throne in deference to God's choice of David and it has been suggested that this is symbolized by Jonathan's gift of his clothing and armour to David. We learn from the Old Testament that Joseph's coat was a symbol of his authority (Genesis 37:3, 23). Before Aaron died, his priestly garments were removed, to be worn by his son, Eleazar (Numbers 20:22-28). Elijah placed his mantle over Elisha, who was to take his place (1 Kings 19:19-21). Dale Ralph Davis, in Looking on the Heart,6 refers to an Akkadian document, found at Ugarit, recording details of a thirteenth century king who divorced his wife. His son could choose which of the two of his parents he would live with but, if the crown prince chose to live with his mother, he had to relinquish his right to the throne. If he chose to live with his mother, and in so doing give up his right to the throne, he would indicate this symbolically by leaving his clothes on the throne. This seems to be so with Jonathan's gift of his robe and his armour to David (we should not forget that we learnt, in 1 Samuel 13:22, that the only swords that could be found in Israel belonged to Saul and Jonathan). Here is a magnificent man, with a spirit like that of Barnabas, who promoted Saul (later called Paul, the apostle) in the Book of Acts, so that he eventually overshadowed this "son of exhortation," or John the Baptist (John 3:30) when he said, of the ministry of our Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ: "He must increase and I must decrease." In Jonathan we see an excellent illustration of the love which God requires of us. We are repeatedly instructed to "love our neighbour as ourselves" (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 19:19; 22:39, Mark 12:31; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8) which is precisely what Jonathan does with respect to David (v1). Jonathan is a wonderful example to us of how we are to love our neighbour as ourselves and there is no reference to Jonathan loving himself first, as a kind of prerequisite to loving others, as some are teaching today. We see self-sacrifice as Jonathan willingly gives up his kingdom to David, and we need this spirit in our own lives so that we rejoice at the way God uses other men and women rather than growing envious of their successes and the way in which God uses them.
David prospered whenever he was sent to battle and Saul set him over his men of war and it was pleasing to all the people. He soon became a national hero and we read in 1 Samuel 18:6-92 of David returning from battle:
6 And it happened as they were coming, when David returned from killing the Philistine, that the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy and with musical instruments. 7 And the women sang as they played, and said, "Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands." 8 Then Saul became very angry, for this saying displeased him; and he said, "They have ascribed to David ten thousands, but to me they have ascribed thousands. Now what more can he have but the kingdom?" 9 And Saul looked at David with suspicion from that day on.
The spontaneous words of the women: "Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousand" cause Saul's anger and his realisation: "What can he have more but the kingdom?" There follows a progressive deterioration in Saul's enthusiasm for David and his ministry which descends into suspicion and then to fear, while David's popularity and prominence in Israel are ever-growing. Every step upward for David seems to be a step downward for Saul. And every attempt Saul makes to crush David's popularity only enhances it. From that time on, he looks at David with suspicion. Could he know already that David was his prophesied successor?
However, even though from David's point of view it appeared that everything was going his way, there was a dark, ominous side to the picture. Saul rapidly moved from underhanded methods to outright murderous confrontation as the "evil spirit from the Lord," (18:10) comes on him again. David has already been a great blessing to the king playing his harp for Saul and thus driving away the spirit and calming his troubled soul (16:14-23). Although David is now a full-time employee of Saul, when Saul is troubled it is because of the presence and exploits of David and Saul's fear and jealousy, which were masked in the beginning of chapter 18, turns to murder as revealed in 1 Samuel 18:10-122:
10 Now it came about on the next day that an evil spirit from God came mightily upon Saul, and he raved in the midst of the house, while David was playing the harp with his hand, as usual; and a spear was in Saul's hand. 11 And Saul hurled the spear for he thought, "I will pin David to the wall." But David escaped from his presence twice. 12 Now Saul was afraid of David, for the Lord was with him but had departed from Saul.
We see a dramatic contrast in the king's family for, whereas his son Jonathan showed that he was a kindred spirit with David, Saul planned to have David killed at the hand of one of Israel's enemies, but needed to entice David to attempt a more dangerous mission to try and make certain of his death. So Saul offered his daughter Merab to David as his wife (v 17). This was not a gift from Saul in response to David's killing of Goliath as it should have been (17:25), for it is as though Saul has forgotten his promise. Instead, Saul makes this look like a new offer, and that all David needs to do is "earn" Merab by being "a valiant man for Saul and fighting the Lord's battles" (v17). But Saul was not prepared for David's rejection of his offer. It is not that David was reluctant to endanger himself in battle. This he does willingly, without expectations of rewards such as a wife from the daughters of Saul. David is a truly humble man who considers his station in life unworthy of such a gift, and so he declines. Due to his decline of Saul's offer, Merab is given to another man as his wife. Greatly disappointed, Saul is sure that if he can get David interested in one of his daughters, David will do something foolish enough to get himself killed in battle. How happy Saul is when he hears that his younger daughter Michal is in love with David. This is his second chance. Since Michal is more than willing to marry David, with a little encouragement David just might accept the offer this time. There is still hope of disposing of David.
This time, Saul was much more thorough. He offered Michal to David and then instructed his servants to promote the idea with David so that he would accept the offer this time. His servants spoke to David, telling him that the king really liked him, and that everyone wanted him to become the king's son-in-law (18:22-26). David responded as we should expect, by pointing out his humble standing in life and his inability to pay an appropriate dowry for such a noble woman. What he could afford to pay would be an insult to Michal and to Saul. Here is where Saul appeals to David: he does not want David's money for he will allow him to pay the dowry in different currency - Philistine foreskins! This offer appealed to David's interest for he may want Michal as a wife, for we read that "it pleased David to become the king's son-in-law", v26), and he is certainly eager to do battle for the Lord, so he accepted the offer and, instead of getting himself killed as Saul hoped, David fought the Philistines and presented the king with double the number of foreskins he requested!
Much to his distress, Saul now had to give David his daughter's hand in marriage. This represented more than just having his plans fail again. It was even worse that David succeeded again. Now Saul, who greatly feared David and wanted him eliminated, had two of his own family members bound to David by love and a covenant. The chapter began with the account of Jonathan's love for David and his covenant with him and ends with Michal's love for David and her marriage covenant with him. Somehow David managed to win over two members of Saul's immediate family and the very ones Saul assumed he could depend on to help him be rid of this thorn in his side are on David's side! Saul, his plans, and his kingdom are falling apart and the misguided plans of Saul have only served to elevate David above all of the other military commanders, for David acted more wisely than all of them (v30) and, because of this, he was highly esteemed. David is on his way up, and Saul is on his way down. It is not the way the world would have expected this to happen, but then God's plans seldom come about in ways we expect, as we learn from Scripture (Romans 11:33-362):
33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became his counselor? 35 or who has first given to him that it might be paid back to him again? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. (cf. Isaiah 55:8-11; 1 Corinthians 2:6-16)
Everything he touched prospered, and everything Saul did went wrong. In the eyes of Saul, it was a bad omen. As a result, he became even more afraid of David. Verse 29 says, "And Saul became David's enemy continually."
Can this be the shepherd boy of a few years earlier? In his highest dreams and aspirations he could never have imagined that, within a very few years, he would be taken from the pasture where he tended the sheep, to have a place of honour in the house of the king, and that one day he would reign on the throne of Israel. When all of these underhanded methods failed, Saul's opposition to David becomes public in chapter 19, verse 1, when he ordered Jonathan and his servants to kill David, but Jonathan warned David of Saul's intention, and defended David in the presence of his father. We begin now to see more and more the vacillating, irrational, mental state of Saul because, when he heard his son Jonathan re-count the exploits of David, which were done in honour of Saul and for Saul, he relented and said David should not be put to death.
Sadly, we also learn of a distressing connection between Saul's efforts to be rid of David and David's later efforts to cover up his sin with Bathsheba by ridding himself of Uriah, her husband, by sending him into battle so that David's hand would not be against him, but the hand of the enemy would be against Uriah. When we compare 1 Samuel 18:17 with 2 Samuel 11:14-17 we notice that Saul's attempts to put David into dangerous military situations so that he would be killed in battle, but be removed in a manner that did not put Saul in a bad light, are exactly mimicked by David later! We must wonder whether David learnt such underhandedness from Saul but there is a massive difference for, although there was also a price to pay in the death of his and Bathsheba's child (2 Samuel 12), we learn that, unlike Saul, David showed genuine and contrite repentance not only in the presence of Nathan the prophet, but more fully in Psalm 51.
We can also see from our text that God's Word is absolutely certain and sure, for He warned Saul that there would be consequences of his disobedience and, despite being given many years to repent Saul continues to go his won way, and slides into depravity by seeking to kill God's anointed. God sees to it that Saul's kingdom will be removed, in spite of Saul's fervent efforts to prevent it. On the other hand, God has promised David a kingdom, and our text assures us that nothing short of the complete fulfilment of God's promise should be expected, for God keeps His promises, whether for prosperity and blessing, or for judgment.
We see in Saul what we see in our Lord's disciples during His earthly ministry, and what we often see in the church today - competition, jealousy, and self-assertion. David is the most faithful servant Saul has ever had, and yet Saul is threatened by David's competence and success. The disciples were continually seeking to assert themselves, arguing over who was the greatest, and angry when another disciple seemed to outdo them. In the church today, God has purposely given each Christian a spiritual gift or gifts ( Romans 12; Ephesians 4; 1 Corinthians 12), to enable him or her to excel in a certain ministry. We can either rejoice in the strengths God has given others, and seek to benefit from their ministries, or we can resist them with a competitive spirit. One has to wonder how much the criticism of other Christians, their ministry, and their doctrine is really rooted in jealousy and envy, rather than in faithfulness to God and His Word. Let us beware of jealousy, no matter how pious the label we give it or its manifestations.
From the same family we see that Jonathan and Saul each illustrate the two logical responses to David as a type of Christ - and thus to the individuals' response to the fact that Jesus is God's King. David is God's choice for Israel's next king and Saul seems to know this and strongly opposes it, even to the point of endeavouring to put David to death. Jonathan seems to know this as well and, even though it means that David will reign in his place, Jonathan enters into a covenant relationship with David and relinquishes his right to reign. God has appointed His Son, Jesus Christ, to establish the Kingdom of God and to rule over every creature on this earth, as well as in heaven. Like Saul, we can seek to prolong our own reign and resist the inevitable reign of God's King. If we do, we do so to our own destruction. Or we can relinquish any thought of reigning and submit to God's King, the Lord Jesus Christ, as Jonathan submitted to David. The only right choice is to relinquish any thought of attempting to maintain control and authority over our own lives, and to submit to Him alone who is qualified to reign. These are the only two choices God gives us. To fail to take Christ seriously is to reject His rule and to resist Christ's reign is to bring judgment upon ourselves - but to submit to Him is to enter into life eternal. We each have the choice of who we will be like - Saul or Jonathan?
(Continued on page 551)