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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker

1 Samuel 18

 

 

Verses 1-11

Discipline

1 Samuel 18:9

WE now enter upon scenes which show that long and most painful discipline is compatible with divine election to high office. David had been anointed, yet he afterwards was hunted as a beast of prey. The secret of the Lord was in his soul, yet the hand of an enemy was madly against him day and night. The inference of mere reason was obvious,—it was this: "Samuel has deceived me the old prophet has mistaken me for another man; and now through his blunder I am exposed to intolerable vexations and injuries: had God chosen me, he would have set me on a high mountain, where no evil hand could have reached me, or hidden me in a defence far away from the storm." This reasoning, as a mere intellectual effort, would have been sound and unanswerable. Yet David never uttered words so reproachful and distrustful. He accepted his ill-fortune in a spirit of Wisdom of Solomon , and went in and out before his enemy with a circumspection more terrible than anger. "Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with him." Saul himself could see the divine presence. There is an indefinable something about elect men which guards them without display, and announces them without ostentation.

Let us gather what instruction and comfort we can from a study of the severe discipline which David underwent immediately after victory. Remembering the undoubted anointing of David, let us see what untoward and heart-breaking experiences may befall men whom God has sealed as the special objects of his favour and the high ministers of his empire. Given, a man called of God to a great work, and qualified for its execution, to find the providences which will distinguish his course. A child might answer the easy problem: His career will be brilliant; his path will be lined with choice flowers; he will be courted, blessed, honoured on every hand. Look at the history of David for a contradiction of this answer. We shall find persecution, hatred, difficulty, hunger, cold, loneliness, danger upon danger; yet he who endures them all is an anointed man—a favourite of Heaven.

The history shows four things respecting the discipline of an anointed man:—

1. That great honours are often followed by great trials.—The graciousness of this arrangement in human training. These trials not to be looked at in themselves but in their relation to the honours which went before. Imagine a garden discussing the year as if it were all winter. Look at the temptation assailing David in the fact that he alone had slain the enemy of Israel. Something was needed on the other side to chasten his feeling. Men must be taught their weakness as well as their power.

2. That great trials generally bring unexpected alleviations,—"The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul." "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 love of one true soul may keep us from despair. Love is fertile and energetic in device. See what Jonathan did. Love is more than a match for mere power. Love is most valued under such circumstances as David"s. "There is a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother."

3. That no outward trials can compare in severity with the self-torment of wicked men.—We are apt to think that Saul did all the mischief, and David suffered it. That is an incomplete view of the case. Saul was himself the victim of the cruellest torment. When the women came out of all cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tabrets, with joy, and with instruments of music, they said, "Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands." Then there entered into Saul the cruellest of all infernal spirits, the spirit of jealousy. "Saul was very wroth, and the saying displeased him; and he said, They have ascribed unto David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed but thousands: and what can he have more but the kingdom? And Saul eyed David from that day and forward." And truly, even in suffering, Saul had the worst of it. See how unjust is jealousy,—the great work of David undervalued. Saul was the slave of jealousy, and as such all his peace was destroyed. There was bitterness in his wine; the charm of sleep had perished; the bloom of summer had faded; there was a cruel serpent gnawing at his heart. "The way of transgressors is hard." Let us not suppose that unjust opposition or enmity has an easy life. Better be the martyr than the persecutor, the oppressed than the oppressor. Read Saul"s inner life,—anger, envy, madness, murder, evil scheming, chagrin,—hell!

4. That great trials, though calling for self-scrutiny, may not call for self-accusation.—This is a point which should be put with great delicacy, because we are too apt to exempt ourselves from self-reproach. David would be utterly at a loss to account for his treatment so far as his own behaviour was concerned; for he had the distinct consciousness that God was with him: and as to his outward relations, it is upon record that "David behaved himself wisely in all his ways," and that Saul was afraid of him because of the wisdom of his behaviour.

The question which the tried man generally asks himself Isaiah , What have I done? Days of misery have been spent in brooding over that inquiry. The question is only good so far as it goes. It should be succeeded by another—What is God doing? Imagine the silver in the refining fire asking, What have I done? not knowing that it is being prepared to adorn the table of a king! Imagine the field asking, What have I done, that the plough should cut me up? We are strong only so far as we see a divine purpose in the discipline of our life. "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." "Let patience have her perfect work." We are polished by sharp friction. We are refined by divine fire. Sorrow gives the deepest and sweetest tone to our sympathy. We should be driven mad by uninterrupted, ever-augmenting prosperity. Over every jealous soul the hand of the Lord is omnipotent. Look at Saul, and the case of David is hopeless; look beyond him, and see how by a way that he knew not the shepherd was being trained to be mighty among kings, and chief of all who sing the praises of God.

Selected Note

"And the women answered one another as they played, and said, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands" ( 1 Samuel 18:7).—This is quite characteristic of the manners of the East. Everywhere in that part of the world the people are accustomed in this manner to hail the arrival of those who have been any time absent from them. More especially do they do so on the return of a victorious army. Multitudes then issue from the towns and villages through which they are expected to march, in order to form a triumphal procession to celebrate their valour, the principal part being composed of women and children, who band together, and, as they go along, gratify the heroes with dancing, music, and songs in honour of their martial deeds, particularly of such of the chiefs as have greatly distinguished themselves. We find this custom in Persia, Turkey, etc Mr. Campbell, the missionary, witnessed it even in Africa. When he was leaving the city of Lattakoo, he fell in with a party of men who were returning from a distant expedition, after an absence of several months. The news of their approach had reached the town, and the women were hastening to meet them. On joining the party the females marched at their head, clapping their hands and singing with all their might, till they arrived at their homes in the town.


Verses 12-30

1 Samuel 18:12-30

SAUL was afraid of David. This is most remarkable, for was not Saul the king, and David but the servant? Why then should a king be afraid of a harper? The king had the resources of the nation at his command. In a moment he could have surrounded David by an overpowering force; yet, notwithstanding these advantages, Saul was afraid of the young musician. There must be some explanation of this remarkable fear. What is it? It is the mystery of spiritual character, and that in very deed is the explanation of all the deadliest fear which paralyses the spirit of tyranny and oppression. There was something about David which Saul could not comprehend. Not his physical power, not his social descent, not his musical genius,—there was again and again a look in the young face which haunted the king like a ghostly revelation. That face beamed with Wisdom of Solomon , darkened with unexplained apprehensions, and was lifted into dignity as if by a spirit of judgment. That young face haunted the king, followed him into his slumbers, reproved him in the midst of his vices, set up before him the image and aspect of an immeasurable kingdom. It is in this direction that we should look for the greatest and best influences of society. What are weapons of war, or mere strength of arms, or largeness of wealth, or the whole pomp and circumstance of monarchy? When the wise man ceases out of the land the power of the land is dead; schools, churches, institutions devoted to the culture of knowledge and the promotion of Wisdom of Solomon , these are the strongest bulwarks and defences of any nation. Hence the peculiar dignity and authority of the highest moral teaching. Righteousness not only exalteth a nation in certain moral senses, but it throws upon the observing enemy all the force of a spiritual fear, because, in striking at such a nation he feels that he is striking at the supreme power and sensitiveness of the universe. As Judas was afraid of Christ in the garden, and fell back to the ground when he saw the embodied holiness of the Son of God, so every king evilly disposed like Saul, or every ruffian band, or murderer like Iscariot, will fall back in fear from the truly righteous and noble character. David exerted no conscious influence; it was no purpose of his to affright King Saul; he attended to his daily business, cultivated communion with God, walked in the ways of goodness, and his quietly and simply doing these things invested him with that weird power before which the kingly heart quailed.

"Therefore Saul removed him from him, and made him his captain over a thousand; and he went out and came in before the people. And David behaved himself wisely in all his ways; and the Lord was with him. Wherefore when Saul saw that he behaved himself very wisely, he was afraid of him" ( 1 Samuel 18:13-15).

A new idea appears to have occurred to Saul, and one which would seem to be inspired by magnanimity. Saul now takes the course up, according to David military promotion. The object was to get David out of the way by sending him to some distant part of the kingdom on any pretence that might arise. The method is a common one today. No matter what honour is given to an enemy if the honour only take him away from sight, and break up his immediate local influence. Men should look into the motives of their honours, for possibly in that motive they may discover reason for humility rather than boasting. A humiliating sight it is to observe a man making an investment of his magnanimity and earning credit for being generous, when in his heart he is inexpressibly mean. As with honours so with gifts, for not seldom are they also oblations to self rather than tributes to the receiver. Study the object of Saul, and then see how his acts fell into relation to it: if we miss the object we cannot but misunderstand the policy; Saul"s object was to get rid of David by any means; attempted murder having failed, flattery and promotion were dragged into service. To what extremes are men driven by corrupt motives! The first effort of malice leads in a murderous direction; that is the natural and proper course for malice to take if consistent with itself; but even malice can suspend its fury to play the tricks of generosity. Can a man be really malicious when he offers his supposed enemy a captaincy in his army? This would seem to be impossible, yet it is the plainest prose of every-day life. People who do not search into reason and motive would instantly be led away by the kingly nobleness of conferring honour upon David. Knowing this to be the case it should be our solemn business to interrogate ourselves as to the motives by which our conduct is actuated. Is there a single action in life which will bear analysis as to its moral elements in the sight of God? At this period of the world"s history it is more and worse than ignorance to pretend that an action has to be judged by its social aspects. Life is profoundly metaphysical. To shrink from inquiring into motive is to trifle with life; yet, to inquire truly into motive is often to shatter the fairest appearances. "How should man be just with God?" "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?" These inquiries may seem to enshroud life in distressing melancholy, yet they are not the less the inquiries which will bring life into a tone of reality and establish it in a position of complete responsibility.

David continued in his undisturbed course of wise consideration and noble prudence. There was no stoop of servility in his attitude towards the king, yet there was neither aspect nor tone of defiance. David simply took the task that was assigned to him, and wrought out its detail with wisdom and care. This is the way to treat every enemy. Instead of directly attacking hostility and so creating partisanship on its behalf, it is infinitely wiser to go about the daily task with simple faith and obvious Wisdom of Solomon , as if content to serve in the lowliest or highest capacity. Patience by long continuance constitutes itself into a solid argument. David shows us how possible it is for a man to be justified by his deeds rather than to be vindicated by the eloquence of mere words. No hint is given that David ever replied to Saul, charging him with injustice or any form of evil-mindedness. The silence of David is not the least remarkable characteristic of this whole incident. What defence can really be made in words? It is possible to all men,—men of the slowest speech and least aptitude in controversy, to answer malignant criticism by a useful life. Nor did David commit himself with any of the courtiers around him. He saw much, but said nothing. He observed men with quiet penetration, and bore himself in relation to them with frankness and dignity. Even our enemies must sooner or later discover our wisdom and earnestness. They who are most keenly alive to the necessity of finding faults in our spirit and conduct must in the long run take knowledge of the general wisdom and rectitude of a well intended life. Let no man suppose that because he is not placed in the romantic circumstances which surrounded David, that therefore he is unobserved and unpursued by criticism or ill-will. The criticism comes up in various ways, and is applied according to the capacity and conditions of the individual life, and the one thing to be remembered is that the profound and unanswerable reply to criticism is a simple, true, faithful, and beneficent course of action. In the long run, this is always crowned with honour. When the enemy has nothing to quote but deeds, and when those deeds are all of a useful kind, the quotation must finally tell in favour of the man who in silence has erected a fabric of useful service.

The religious explanation given in the case of David is marked by beautiful naturalness. Wherever there is true wisdom there is always the presence of the Lord to account for it. "The Lord was with him," is not an expression limited to any one set of circumstances or one class of favoured men. The Lord will be with the least of us, and direct the way of the humblest of his creatures. Take nothing with your own hands as if by your own strength and skill you could accomplish your purpose: in all thy ways acknowledge God and he will direct thy path. "When a man"s ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him." Observe that Saul"s eye was still upon David, and that when he saw that David behaved himself wisely he was afraid of him. Could Saul have seen one mistake! Had David but committed himself in one rash utterance! We know what consequences would have followed from the least error on David"s part; the sword would have fallen upon him in a moment, and no cry of his could have touched the heart of Saul"s revenge. But David gave Saul no such opportunity. Mark here, the dignity and the utility of self-control. It is hard, no doubt, to live under the eye of malignant criticism, but there is no help for it in this world. The Christian life is lived under daily criticism, and when the enemy can discover any lapse or flaw in Christian conduct, how triumphant is the cry of malevolence! Hard, no doubt, awfully hard, and harder for some men than for others, and indeed utterly impossible but for the daily ministry of grace. Yet what is all this but an aspect of necessary discipline? We follow One who was subjected to the same cruel observation, yet who was without sin. That gracious and mighty Christ will be our defence in the day of danger, and help us to pass through every criticism without the smell of fire being found upon us. "Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe." "Still all my cry shall be, Nearer, my God, to thee." Let all young men in critical circumstances, all older men in higher positions, all men clothed with supreme responsibilities take heed that the eye of society see nothing in them by the grace of God, but wisdom of purpose and action. But are we always to be considering that the eye of society is upon us, and is life to be a daily reply to social criticism? Certainly not, in any sense that involves selfish calculation. The great thing to be remembered Isaiah , "Thou God seest me," and under that solemn conviction all the rest will follow in constant and happy sequence.

Saul being foiled in this direction betook himself to another course of conduct towards David. Saul proposed to further honour the young courtier by making him his Song of Solomon -in-law. In a tone of feigned cheerfulness the king said, "Only be valiant for me, and fight the Lord"s battles." How the divine name has been dragged into unworthy and unholy uses! What is this but the most corrupt of all hypocrisy? For Saul said, "Let not mine hand be upon him, but let the hand of the Philistines be upon him." So far, therefore, David"s good conduct has gone for almost nothing in the way of appeasing the king"s ill-feeling. We are told that if men will be wise and good and useful they are sure to be popular in society. It would not be difficult to establish the contrary proposition upon a strong historical basis. When the worst human passions are aroused holy character and lofty purpose go for nothing. Let the life of Jesus Christ be the one complete answer to the discouraging suggestion that if we ourselves were good, society would adopt a just policy towards us. See in Saul the true quality of malice: there is nothing too mean for it to do; there is no course too tortuous for it to adopt; lies, hypocrisy, cruelty, these are the weapons with which it will fight its way to its destiny.

How Saul uncrowns himself in the twenty-second verse!

"And Saul commanded his servants, saying, Commune with David secretly, and say, Behold, the king hath delight in thee, and all his servants love thee: now, therefore, be the king"s Song of Solomon -in-law." ( 1 Samuel 18:22)

The course of fear still continued, Saul was yet the more afraid of David; and Saul became David"s enemy continually; but David behaved himself more wisely than all the servants of Saul, so that his name was much set by. An awful education truly, and only some great end could justify a process so bitter and exasperating. Judged at intermediate points the course of Providence towards David might well be pronounced severe and almost cruel, but not until we come to the end may we permit ourselves to form a compact and final judgment upon the divine action. No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous but grievous, nevertheless afterwards it yieldeth the peaceable fruits of righteousness to them that are exercised thereby. It is to the "afterward" we must look. Great surprises of delight are in store for those who lovingly resign themselves to the divine will, and patiently persevere in the course which is divinely appointed. Hope on, hope ever. The seedtime may be rough and bleak, but the harvest will make the heart glad with unutterable joy. Paul was able to say that he gloried in tribulation, and that he was exceedingly glad in all his sorrow. Jesus Christ himself endured the cross, despising the shame, as he looked onward to the joy that was set before him. Let us learn from history the solemn and inspiring lesson that God will never leave nor forsake those who diligently serve in his cause and whose one motive is to know his holy will and do it all. This is the confidence of the good Prayer of Manasseh , and in it he must spend his days, not working for a measurable reward, but for the joy of serving him whose law is life and whose life is immortal blessedness.

Prayer

The tabernacle of God is with men upon the earth. It makes our houses homes; it consecrates all space; it is the gate of heaven. We long for the opening of the gates of thy house that we might come in with many hymns and loud psalms and cheerful praises. We have said we would make the whole day resound with psalms of adoration and anthems of triumph. The day is too short for our music. Behold, our hearts are alive with thankfulness, and our spirits lift themselves up as upon the wings of eagles. Thou hast given a plentiful rain to thine inheritance. Thou hast crowned princes in thy church, and thou hast gathered up the little ones in thine arms and given them the honour of a shepherd"s embrace. There is not one without some token of thy care. In every house there is a lamp of thy lighting; in every life thy signature can be found. Thy mercy endureth for ever. He that built all things is God. Thou art building our temple-life—a wondrous structure! Thou didst lay the foundation; every stone is of thine own laying; the topstone shall be brought on with shouting of "Grace, grace unto it;" and when the whole is finished, thy glory will rise upon it and within it, and it shall be God"s own sweet home. We bless thee for every life which shows us that the hills do not girdle us in, but beyond the hills are all the summer gardens and largest spaces and liberties celestial. Sometimes we hear, as it were, a voice of singing and banqueting and great joy—one glad thunder of gratitude and delight and consecration. It is the angel bands that sing, the heaven-garnered souls that vent their energy in praise; and we, too, are moving onward, upward, heavenward, to blend our contribution with theirs, to swell the thunder of the fame of him who once despised the shame and submitted to the death of the cross. We thank thee for this religious joy, this Sabbath in the soul, this summer in the life. It makes us glad, it makes us free. This is the Lord"s miracle, this is the triumph of the cross. Bind us all to that sacred Tree with closer bonds. May we feel its nearness, answer its pathos, be subdued by its mystery, and be inspired by its sacrifice. Amen.

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 18:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/1-samuel-18.html. 1885-95.

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