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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

1 Samuel 18

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 18. The Rise Of David.

In this chapter we will learn of the developments that followed David’s victory over Goliath, a victory which had naturally thrown him into prominence. It opens by telling us of the love that grew in Saul’s firstborn son for David (1 Samuel 18:1; 1 Samuel 18:3), continues by telling us that all Israel and Judah grew to love David (1 Samuel 18:16) and ends by telling us of the love that grew in the heart of Saul’s second daughter for David (1 Samuel 18:28). Only one person is mentioned as being against him and as afraid of him, and that is Saul, the one from whom YHWH has departed (1 Samuel 18:12).

It explains how he was appointed a military commander and how he prospered more and more in that role because of his sagacity. It describes Saul’s growing suspicions concerning David and awareness that he was probably the man of whom Samuel had spoken in 1 Samuel 13:14, and of the wild attempts to do him harm that resulted, attempts that were typical of his illness. And it portrays how in the end he fulfils his promise to give David one of his daughters as his wife, while at the same time David’s military career continually prospers.

It should be noted that at the heart of the whole passage is the fact that David ‘behaved himself wisely’. He did not let anything go to his head. He walked circumspectly both in peace and at war. It reminds us that there is nothing more difficult than to be wise when all men praise you. But David was, and this is brought out three times throughout the chapter:

· “And David went out wherever Saul sent him, and behaved himself wisely” (1 Samuel 18:5).

· “And David behaved himself wisely in all his ways, and YHWH was with him” (1 Samuel 18:14).

· “As often as they (the Philistines) went forth, David behaved himself more wisely that all the servants of Saul, so that his name was much set by” (1 Samuel 18:30).

There is nothing more important for a servant of God than to behave wisely. So much has been lost so often because chosen servants have become foolish. It had happened to Saul. But it did not happen to David.

And all this time there was clearly a state of continual to and fro between Israel and the Philistines, but as far as the writer was concerned that was only a background to the main events, for his main concern was to explain the rise and establishment of David, the anointed of YHWH, in contrast with the ambivalence of a God-forsaken Saul. He wants it to be recognised that it was the one on whom the Spirit of YHWH had now fallen who was saving Israel.

SECTION 3B. The Rise of David And His Triumphs Over The Philistines, Followed By Saul’s Attempts To Destroy Him Which Result In David Having To Flee From Him (18:5-20:1a).

This subsection covers the rise of David and his continual defeating of the Philistines, which results in Saul’s jealousy reaching unparalleled heights, and his determination that David must die. It may be analysed as follows:

Analysis.

B). Saul’s Aim To Destroy David At Court (1 Samuel 18:5 to 1 Samuel 20:1 a).

a David’s Military Success And Saul’s Growing Suspicion - Saul Prophesies And Tries To Spear David (1 Samuel 18:5-14).

b Saul Seeks To Use Marriage To His Daughters As A Means Of Arranging For The Philistines To Kill David. David Marries Michal (1 Samuel 18:15-30).

c David Must Die! Jonathan Successfully Intercedes For David (1 Samuel 19:1-7).

b Further Attempts on David’s Life By Spearing And Arrest. David Is Saved By Saul’s Daughter Michal (1 Samuel 19:8-17).

a David Flees To Samuel. Saul Follows, Is Rendered Helpless And Prophesies (1 Samuel 19:18 to 1 Samuel 20:1 a).

Note that in ‘a’ Saul prophesies and tries to smite David, and in the parallel he prophesies and is prevented from arresting David and executing him. In ‘b’ Saul tries to use his daughters as a weapon against David, and in the parallel one of those daughters protects David from Saul. Central in ‘c’ is the thought that David must die.

However, in this passage we also have a similar sandwich arrangement to the one we saw in 1 Samuel 2:11 to 1 Samuel 4:1 a. There the pattern was one of the spiritual growth of Samuel, which was interspersed by references to the iniquities of Eli’s sons, here it is of the growing success of David, followed by his having to flee from Saul, which is interspersed with examples of Saul’s growing jealousy and determination to see David killed. Thus the growth of David as a war-leader here can be seen as paralleling the growth of Samuel as a prophet in 1 Samuel 2:11 to 1 Samuel 4:1 a, with David eventually being welcomed by the prophet Samuel, who has rejected Saul, as he flees from Saul. Then when Saul seeks to come against them Saul is resisted by the Spirit of God.

It is a sad reminder that there is no one more dangerous to the work of God than one who has outwardly experienced the blessings of God and has then turned away from it. It was Saul’s responsibility as king to ensure the safety of the kingdom, but instead, in contrast with Jonathan his son, having sunk into open disobedience, he then sought to destroy the one most responsible for that safety whom God had raised up in his place. All the depredations of the Philistines that follow must therefore be laid at his door, for he had removed Israel’s bulwark. As a result, from this point onwards there is a lull in the fortunes of Israel, which will go on until finally, after Saul’s death, David is restored.

This subsection can therefore be further analysed as follows, with the David verses marked with an ‘A’ and the Saul verses marked with a ‘B’:

Further Analysis.

A ‘And David went out wherever Saul sent him, and behaved himself wisely, and Saul set him over the men of war, and it was good in the sight of all the people, and in the sight of Saul’s servants.’ (1 Samuel 18:5).

B Saul grows jealous and seeks to spear David with his ceremonial javelin (18:6-13).

A ‘Therefore Saul removed him from him and made him his captain over a large military unit, and he went out and came in before the people. And David behaved himself wisely in all his ways and YHWH was with him.’ (1 Samuel 18:13-14).

B Saul plans David’s marriage to one of his daughters with the aim of having David killed at the hands of the Philistines (1 Samuel 18:15-29).

A ‘Then the princes of the Philistines went forth, and it came about that as often as they went forth, David behaved himself more wisely than all the servants of Saul, so that his name was much set by.’ (1 Samuel 18:30).

B Saul calls for the death of David, but is persuaded from it by Jonathan (1 Samuel 19:1-7).

A ‘And there was war again, and David went out and fought with the Philistines, and slew them with a great slaughter, and they fled before him.’ (1 Samuel 19:8 ).

B Saul again seeks to smite David with his ceremonial javelin (1 Samuel 19:9-10 a ).

A ‘And David fled and escaped that night.’ (1 Samuel 19:10 b ).

B Saul is prevented from arresting David by the actions of Saul’s daughter Michal (1 Samuel 19:11).

A ‘Now David fled, and escaped, and came to Samuel to Ramah and told him all that Saul had done to him, and he and Samuel went and dwelt in Naioth (1 Samuel 19:18).

B Saul first sends two arresting parties and then goes himself in order to arrest David, but is prevented by the Spirit of God coming on him (1 Samuel 19:19-23).

A ‘And David fled from Naioth in Ramah.’ (1 Samuel 20:1 a).

Note that the ‘David’ verses follow a systematic pattern as follows:.

· Three incidents of David’s ascendancy as war-leader, in each of which ‘he behaves himself wisely’ (1 Samuel 18:5; 1 Samuel 18:13-14; 1 Samuel 18:30).

· Centrally David defeats the Philistines and ‘they fled before him’ (1 Samuel 19:8).

· Three incidents where, instead of the Philistines fleeing before David, David flees before Saul (1 Samuel 19:10 b, 18,; 20:1a). Saul thus destroys Israel’s bulwark against the Philistines.

The ‘Saul verses follow a systematic pattern as follows:

· Saul seeks to spear David 1sa (1 Samuel 18:6-13).

· Saul uses his daughters against David and arranges for him to marry Michal (1 Samuel 18:15-29).

· Saul prepares for the arrest of David but is persuaded against it by his son Jonathan (1 Samuel 19:1-7).

· Saul seeks to spear David (1 Samuel 19:9-10 a).

· Saul’s purposes are prevented by his daughter Michal (1 Samuel 19:11).

· Saul prepares for the arrest of David but is prevented by YHWH (1 Samuel 19:19-23).

We must now look at the narrative in detail.


Verses 1-4

Jonathan’s Comradely Love For David (1 Samuel 18:1-4).

Verse 1 follows directly on after 1 Samuel 17, taking up where that chapter left off, so that what follows is to be seen in its light. And the first important result of David’s triumph was that Jonathan, Saul’s firstborn son, took a great liking to David, so much so that they became comrades-in-arms..

It was in fact one of the ironies of life for Saul, and an evidence of YHWH’s love for David, that the more Saul hated David, the more some of Saul’s close family loved him and tried to protect him. For in this chapter we learn that first Jonathan and then Michal, Saul’s daughter, acted on David’s behalf to save him from Saul. Unfortunately this serves to bring out the insaneness of Saul’s jealousy and hatred for David, for it is portrayed as in direct contrast with their love for him. But that would come a little later and this first passage brings out Jonathan’s love for David, a love which resulted in a covenant between them

Analysis.

a And it came about when he had made an end of speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David (1 Samuel 18:1 a).

b And Jonathan loved him as his own soul (1 Samuel 18:1 b).

c And Saul took him that day, and would let him go no more home to his father’s house (1 Samuel 18:2).

b Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul (1 Samuel 18:3).

a And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him, and gave it to David, and his (military) clothing, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle (1 Samuel 18:4).

Note that in ‘a’ Jonathan’s inner self is knit with that of David, and in the parallel this is made apparent by Jonathan giving to David all his own military dress including his armour. In ‘b’ Jonathan loved David ‘as his own soul’, and in the parallel he made a covenant with him because he loved him with his own soul. Centrally in ‘c’ Saul took David into his court as a permanent member of it.

1 Samuel 18:1

And it came about when he had made an end of speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.’

Impressed by David’s bravery and audacity, which blended well with his own, Jonathan, Saul’s firstborn son, was attracted to him from the start. And the result was that a great love and friendship developed between them, the friendship of fellow comrades-in-arms, a kind of friendship which is as strong as any friendship known to man. From then on these two would be closer than brothers. A similar phrase is used of Jacob’s special love for his youngest son Benjamin in Genesis 44:30. It was a pure, true and spiritual love.

1 Samuel 18:2

And Saul took him that day, and would let him go no more home to his father’s house.’

Saul was also impressed, at least for the time being, and took him on that day as a permanent member of his staff and would no longer allow him to return to his father’s house. This did not, of course, mean that he was never allowed to go and see his family. It simply indicated permanent employment in the king’s service which was different from his previous on and off employment. He was now an established member of the court.

1 Samuel 18:3

Then Jonathan and David made (cut) a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul.’

The comradeship between Jonathan and David was such that they made a binding pact of friendship, because of the warmth of the undying friendship that lay between them. This was sealed in the form of a covenant, and witnessed in a way that demonstrated Jonathan’s regard for David. (‘Cut a covenant’ does not necessarily mean that blood was shed. The verb had become usable of the making of any covenant whether sealed with blood or not).

1 Samuel 18:4

And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him, and gave it to David, and his (military) clothing, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle.’

The friendship and the covenant were then sealed by Jonathan giving to David his own armour and weapons, a token of his great esteem and affection, and an indication that he now saw him as his ‘other self’ (loved him as his own soul). It was a singular honour for David to receive such gifts from the king’s son. It bound the two together as true comrades, and was a reminder to all of their close bond. This comradeship was in distinct contrast with Saul’s forthcoming attitude towards David and emphasises the personal nature of the latter. It is being made clear that even Saul’s close family found no fault with David. Any enmity was therefore due solely to Saul’s own personal suspicions, and of course the paranoia and delusion that went with his illness.

Note on the use of clothes as a symbolic gesture in 1 Samuel.

A man’s outer garments were generally seen as indicating both his position and status and also something of himself. Thus at Ugarit when an heir apparent to the throne was given the choice of remaining with his father and thus continuing as crown prince, or going with his divorced mother and losing that privilege, he was to demonstrate his decision by either retaining his clothes denoting his status, or by leaving them on the throne when he departed. There are a number of references in 1 Samuel to a similar use of clothes as a symbolic gesture.

1). Saul clothed David in his own armour in order to demonstrate that he went out to meet Goliath as Saul’s champion (1 Samuel 17:38). This act was intended to confirm all that David was Saul’s representative.

2). Here Jonathan stripped himself of his war apparel and gave it to David. This was seemingly his way of indicating that they were bound together in a covenant (1 Samuel 18:3-4). From then on they would look out for each other as though they were closer than twins, and from then on they would share each other’s honour and each other’s problems.

3). When Saul later approaches Samuel with a view to arresting David, Saul, unable to help himself, strips himself of his outer clothing and prophesies before Samuel and lays down, ‘undressed’ as he is, all day and all night (1 Samuel 19:22-24). This would seem to be suggesting that in spite of himself he had no choice but to divest himself of his authority before YHWH’ prophet and His Spirit. YHWH was seen to be still his Overlord.


Verses 5-9

David’s Military Success And Saul’s Growing Suspicion And Awe Of David (1 Samuel 18:5-14).

It will be noted that this passage comes between two inclusios in 1 Samuel 18:5 and 1 Samuel 18:15. In 1 Samuel 18:5 we are told that David ‘behaved himself wisely’ and in verse 15 this is confirmed. David’s military success, both in defeating Goliath and in what followed, was such that it made Saul jealous, and it probably confirmed to him the suspicion that this might be the one of whom Samuel had spoken when he said that YHWH had Saul’s replacement in mind. Thus he began to watch David closely and to be in awe of him, and it affected him so much that in one of his ‘mad fits’ he sought to kill him.

Analysis.

a And David went out wherever Saul sent him, and behaved himself wisely, and Saul set him over men of war, and it was good in the sight of all the people, and also in the sight of Saul’s servants (1 Samuel 18:5)

b And so it was, as they came, when David returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet king Saul, with timbrels, with joy, and with instruments of music (1 Samuel 18:6).

c And the women sang one to another as they played, and said, “Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7).

d And Saul was very angry, and this saying displeased him, and he said, “They have ascribed to 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 (1 Samuel 18:8-9).

e And it came about on the morrow, that an evil spirit from God came mightily on Saul, and he prophesied in the midst of the house (1 Samuel 18:10 a).

d And David played with his hand, as he did day by day, and Saul had his spear in his hand, and Saul cast the spear, for he said, “I will smite David even to the wall.” And David avoided out of his presence twice (1 Samuel 18:10-11).

c And Saul was afraid of David, because YHWH was with him, and had departed from Saul (1 Samuel 18:12).

b Therefore Saul removed him from him, and made him his commander over a military unit, and he went out and came in before the people (1 Samuel 18:13).

a And David behaved himself wisely in all his ways, and YHWH was with him (1 Samuel 18:14).

Note that in ‘a’ David behaved himself wisely and Saul, and the people, and all Saul’s courtiers were with him, and in the parallel David behaved himself wisely and ‘YHWH was with him’. In ‘b’ David was welcomed by the people in the shape of the women of Israel singing and dancing, and in the parallel he went out and then back in among the people. In ‘c’ the women are seen as exalting David above Saul, indicating that YHWH is with him, and in the parallel is afraid of David because YHWH is with him and has departed from Saul. Note the repetition of ‘YHWH was with him’ in 1 Samuel 18:12 and 1 Samuel 18:14. In ‘d’ Saul is jealous of David and ‘eyes him’ from that day on, and in the parallel that envy and suspicion erupts into violence. Centrally in ‘e’ we have the explanation for Saul’s behaviour and the recognition of his fall from YHWH’s favour. He no longer has the Holy Spirit coming mightily upon him, but ‘an evil spirit from God’, with the result that he babbles.

1 Samuel 18:5

And David went out wherever Saul sent him, and behaved himself sagaciously, and Saul set him over men of war, and it was good in the sight of all the people, and also in the sight of Saul’s servants.’

From this time on David served Saul faithfully and wisely, and did whatever he asked him, and Saul set him over a military detachment, and in spite of his youth everyone approved, even Saul’s closest adviser and supporters.

“The men of war”. The article need only indicate ‘the men of war over whom he was set’. It does not mean that he was made commander-in-chief.

1 Samuel 18:6

And so it was, as they came, when David returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet king Saul, with timbrels, with joy, and with instruments of music.’

When the victorious army of Israel returned home after the slaughter of Goliath and the routing of the Philistine army , they passed through a number of cities, and as they did so they were greeted by the women of those cities who sang and danced and played their musical instruments in order to welcome Saul with joy.

This reaction of the women was a common one after victories as we can see from Exodus 15:20-21; Judges 11:34; compare also Psalms 68:25; Psalms 149:3. The timbrels were probably hand drums, but a number of musical instruments were used.

1 Samuel 18:7

And the women sang one to another as they played, and said, “Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands.” ’

But news had reached them of how David had downed the feared Philistine champion, and it was inevitable that he was the darling of their hearts, as he must indeed have been, for the time being at least, the darling of almost the whole army. And thus as they played they sang “Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands.” It was typical of the hero-worship of young girls for a handsome and popular hero which a wiser head would have laughed at and even teased David about. It was not intended to be a calculated insult. They simply had in mind his victory over Goliath and assumed the rest. They were not intending their words to be analysed.

1 Samuel 18:8

And Saul was very angry, and this saying displeased him; and he said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed but thousands, and what can he have more but the kingdom?” ’

But Saul was both suspicious and jealous of David, and thus became very angry. It made him feel that both he and his crown were being demeaned. For Saul always now carried about with him the awareness of his own rejection, and Samuel’s warning of his eventual replacement, and this seemed to accentuate it. And so he was both displeased and angry. If David’s popularity was ten times more than his own, what more could he have than the kingdom as well? And thus his suspicions of David began to grow.

1 Samuel 18:9

And Saul eyed David from that day and forward.’

And the result was that he ‘eyed David’ from that day on. He had him marked down as a possible fulfiller of Samuel’s words. We must remember that paranoia is one feature of the disease that Saul suffered from, for David never made any attempt to exalt himself. But it would have huge consequences.


Verses 10-14

As A Result Of His Illness Saul Tries To Harm David And Dismisses Him From His Personal Entourage, But David Prospers All The More (1 Samuel 18:10-16).

The fact that what follows is stated to have been ‘on the morrow’ brings out the connection between the praise heaped on David and the return of Saul’s clinical depression. Saul once again moves into one of his states of ‘madness’.

1 Samuel 18:10-11

And it came about on the morrow, that an evil spirit from God came mightily on Saul, and he prophesied in the midst of the house, and David played with his hand, as he did day by day. And Saul had his spear in his hand, and Saul cast the spear, for he said, “I will smite David even to the wall.” And David avoided out of his presence twice.’

The impact of the women’s greetings, and of his own response to them, brought on an even worse fit of mania than usual, with the result that Saul went about the palace babbling and talking to himself. And when David came in to play for him as he regularly did, Saul eyed him jealously had the mad thought of attaching David to the wall with the spear that he had in his hand at the time. The spear was not specifically a war spear, but would be the equivalent of a sceptre as an indication of Saul’s royal authority. But it could be effective enough in use. Such a desire to see blood can often result from the type of mental illness that Saul had, (as I have witnessed myself), and indeed he seems to have made the attempt twice (which suggests that David did not see it as a deliberate and serious attempt on his life, but simply as a manifestation of Saul’s illness). David, of course, was in the difficult position that he was in the presence of the king and could not leave without the king’s permission. But he probably also recognised that the actions were due to the king’s illness and not a pre-planned attempt on his life (that would come later). They were after all rough days, and men were used to violence, in play as well as in earnest.

“An evil spirit from God came mightily on Saul.” This language is used as a clear parody on 1 Samuel 10:10 and therefore need only indicate that Saul’s severe mental illness has replaced the Spirit of YHWH. In the same way his ‘mad’ babbling is described as ‘prophesying’ as a parody on his experience in 1 Samuel 10:11-13. Instead of being a man possessed by God, he is now a man possessed by mental illness.

1 Samuel 18:12-13

And Saul was afraid of David, because YHWH was with him, and had departed from Saul. Therefore Saul removed him from him, and made him his commander over a military unit, and he went out and came in before the people.’

Saul’s morbid fear of David continued to grow because he could see that YHWH was with him, while at the same time having departed from Saul. So he removed him from his personal entourage and made him a commander in the field over a military unit on active service. He probably hoped by this means to be rid of him. He was aware that mortality in the field could be very high, especially for men like David who led from the front. Notice the repetition of ‘YHWH was with him’ in 1 Samuel 18:12 and 1 Samuel 18:14. This is to be seen as in contrast with Saul of whom that had once been true, but was so no longer.

1 Samuel 18:14

And David behaved himself wisely in all his ways, and YHWH was with him.’

But while brave, David was not foolhardy. He commanded his men well, was careful in his behaviour both in war and in peace, doing nothing foolish. And what was most important was that YHWH was with him. Thus he was invariably triumphant. The verse sums up 1 Samuel 18:5 and 1 Samuel 18:12, and seals off the whole.


Verse 15-16

Saul Sees The Possibility Of Using His Promise That The Victor Over Goliath Should Marry His Daughter As A Means Of Trapping David, But In The End It Backfires On Him (1 Samuel 18:15-30).

In this passage we again have an inclusio based on David’s behaving wisely (compare 1 Samuel 18:5 and 1 Samuel 18:14). In 1 Samuel 18:15 ‘Saul saw that he behaved wisely’ and in verse 30 ‘David behaved himself more wisely than all the servants of Saul’ with the result that his reputation grew. This brings out that the two passages indicate parallel situations in that in both of them Saul is plotting David’s downfall.

In this passage Saul plans to use his promise that he would give his daughter to the victor over Goliath so as to destroy David by the hand of the Philistines. The fact is emphasised (see 1 Samuel 18:17; 1 Samuel 18:21; 1 Samuel 18:25). It is a further indication of his distorted thinking. It is the kind of inverted cunning often found in cases of schizophrenia.

Analysis.

a And when Saul saw that he behaved himself very wisely, he stood in awe of him (1 Samuel 18:15).

b But all Israel and Judah loved David, for he went out and came in before them (1 Samuel 18:16).

c And Saul said to David, “See, my elder daughter Merab, I will give her to you for a wife, only be you valiant for me, and fight YHWH’s battles” (1 Samuel 18:17 a).

d For Saul said, “Let not my hand be on him, but let the hand of the Philistines be on him” (1 Samuel 18:17 b).

e And 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?” (1 Samuel 18:18).

f And it came about that, at the time when Merab, Saul’s daughter, should have been given to David, she was given to Adriel the Meholathite to wife (1 Samuel 18:19).

g And Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved David, and they told Saul, and the thing pleased him (1 Samuel 18:20).

h And Saul said, “I will give him her, that she may be a snare to him, and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him” (1 Samuel 18:21 a).

g Which is the reason why Saul said to David, “You shall this day be my son-in-law” a second time (1 Samuel 18:21 b).

f And Saul commanded his servants, saying, “Speak with David secretly, and say, Behold, the king delights in you, and all his servants love you, now therefore be the king’s son-in-law” (1 Samuel 18:22).

e And Saul’s servants spoke those words in the ears of David. And David said, “Does it seem to you a light thing to be the king’s son-in-law, seeing that I am a poor man, and lightly esteemed?” (1 Samuel 18:23).

d And the servants of Saul told him, saying, “In this way spoke David.” And Saul said, “Thus shall you say to David, The king does not want any dowry, but a hundred foreskins of the Philistines, to be avenged of the king’s enemies.” Now Saul thought to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines (1 Samuel 18:24-25).

c And when his servants told David these words, it pleased David well to be the king’s son-in-law. And the days were not expired, and David arose and went, he and his men, and slew of the Philistines two hundred men; and David brought their foreskins, and they gave them in full number to the king, that he might be the king’s son-in-law. And Saul gave him Michal his daughter to wife (1 Samuel 18:26-27).

b And Saul saw and knew that YHWH was with David, and Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved him. And Saul was yet the more afraid of David, and Saul was David’s enemy continually (1 Samuel 18:28-29).

a Then the princes of the Philistines went forth, and it came about that, as often as they went forth, David behaved himself more wisely than all the servants of Saul; so that his name was much set by (1 Samuel 18:30).

Note that in ‘a’ Saul saw that David behaved himself very wisely, and in the parallel David behaved himself very wisely. In ‘b’ all Israel and Judah loved David, and in the parallel Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved David. In ‘c’ Saul says that David can marry his daughter Merab if he is valiant for him and fights YHWH’s battles, and in the parallel he goes out and is valiant for Saul and slays many Philistines and as a result marries Michal, his other daughter. In ‘d’ Saul’s aim is that David fall at the hands of the Philistines, and in the parallel his aim is the same. In ‘e’ David declares his unfitness to be the king’s son in law, and in the parallel declares the same. In ‘f’ Merab is given to someone else, and in the parallel David is given a second opportunity to marry one of Saul’s daughters. In ‘g’ Saul was pleased that his daughter loved David, and in the parallel tells David that he has another opportunity to be his son-in-law. Centrally in ‘g’ Saul’s aim is that David might be ensnared into being slain by the Philistines (a theme of the passage, see verses 17b, 21, 25b).

1 Samuel 18:15-16

And when Saul saw that he behaved himself very wisely, he stood in awe of him. But all Israel and Judah loved David; for he went out and came in before them.’

And when Saul saw the discreet and wise way in which David conducted himself he stood in awe of him. As David grew in status and popularity Saul recognised more and more that he was dealing with someone with whom he would have to be extremely careful. For meanwhile the whole of Israel and Judah had grown to love David as he moved among them and efficiently performed his duties, which, of course, included going out and defending them from the Philistines. Note again the distinction between ‘all Israel’ and ‘Judah’. The whole people loved him, but especially those of his own tribe to whom he had, of course, brought great prestige.

“But all Israel and Judah loved David.” This is the second reference in the chapter to people who loved David. The first was Jonathan in verse 1, and a third will be Michal in 1 Samuel 18:28. The more Saul is against him, the more popular he becomes.

“For he went out and came in before them.” Compare 1 Samuel 18:13 where ‘he went out and came in before the people’. Because of his triumphs he was constantly in the eyes of the people.

In all this there is a reminder to all of us of the importance of behaving well and discreetly, even when we consider that the Spirit of God is upon us. Spiritual experience is never a good excuse for sloppy behaviour and living. We are called on to be ‘perfect in all our ways’, and that includes being honourable in the eyes of all men (as far as is consistent with our Christian testimony).


Verses 17-27

Bound By His Promise Saul Seeks To Fulfil It By Giving One Of His Daughter’s To David To Be His Wife (1 Samuel 18:17-27).

Saul had publicly promised that to the victor over Goliath he would give him one of his daughters to be his wife (1 Samuel 17:25), and it was thus not a promise that he could avoid facing up to. But of course David was still young, which may help to explain the course of events which follow. He may not have wanted to be saddled with a wife who was not of his choosing. On the other hand you did not tell the king that. Thus there appears to have been some prevarication taking place, which was not necessarily all Saul’s fault.

1 Samuel 18:17

And Saul said to David, “See, my elder daughter Merab, I will give her to you for a wife, only be you valiant for me, and fight YHWH’s battles.” For Saul said, “Let not my hand be on him, but let the hand of the Philistines be on him.’

Saul now approached David about the promise that he had made to give his daughter as wife to the man who slew Goliath, and accordingly offered him his eldest daughter as his wife, in return for his loyalty and true service, both towards him and towards YHWH. Outwardly he was fulfilling his promise. But we learn that underneath Saul was still hoping that David would be slain by the Philistines. He would become a special target once he was the king’s son-in-law.

1 Samuel 18:18

And 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?” ’

David replies with a show of humility which what follows points to as containing some truth in it. He really does appear to have felt that he was not worthy to be connected with the royal family, and indeed could not afford it. (It was now many years since Saul himself had been’ ‘ordinary’, and it had been before David’s time). On the other hand this expression of humility by David could have been a polite acceptance, for it was quite normal to accept such offers with such an act of humility, but if that was so, it is then difficult to understand why the marriage did not go through, or why he accepted Michal later on different terms. In context, therefore, it is more probable that David was simply here politely indicating that he would prefer not to accept the offer. This could have been for a number of reasons:

1). Because he genuinely did not feel that he was worthy of the offer (compare 1 Samuel 18:22).

2). Because he genuinely thought that he could not afford to pay the necessary dowry. This would help to explain Saul’s later offer (compare 1 Samuel 18:25).

3). Because he knew that Merab looked down on him as a mere commoner. This would help to explain why Saul was so pleased when he found out that Michal loved David. She would therefore not be seen by David as looking down on him.

What David said would certainly have been said in such a way that both parties knew what the situation was. There was a way of doing these things which would have been familiar at the time. Thus Saul would have immediately recognised that David was not happy at the thought of marrying Merab. Of course had he insisted David would have had no option but to accept, but what happened subsequently does suggest that Saul took the hint and recognised that David did not want to marry Merab, whether through humility, size of dowry or some other reason, and did not want to press it.

1 Samuel 18:19

And it came about that, at the time when Merab, Saul’s daughter, should have been given to David, she was given to Adriel the Meholathite to wife.’

Thus at the time when she would have been expected to marry David, Merab was married to someone else. That was probably in order to prevent her from being shamed by the situation. Everyone would have been anticipating her marriage to the hero of Israel, and her marriage to Adriel would make it clear to all that that was not what had been intended, and that she had already previously been committed. It would leave Saul to be able to fulfil his promise in another way. As the eldest daughter Merab inevitably had to be married before another daughter could be offered to David (compare Genesis 29:26). It is not really likely that Saul deliberately snubbed David. That would have brought Saul into disrepute.

1 Samuel 18:20

And Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved David, and they told Saul, and the thing pleased him.’

Then news that his other daughter, Michal, loved David was brought to Saul, and Saul was delighted, for he saw in this the opportunity to fulfil his promise and at the same time to entrap David. (We must remember that he was not thinking normally). Marriage to Michal might be more acceptable to David because for one thing the younger daughter would not be expected to receive so great a dowry as the elder. For another her love for David would also mean that Michal would not be seen as disdaining marriage to him as a commoner. The mention of this does suggest that that may have been one problem between David and Merab

1 Samuel 18:21

And Saul said, “I will give him her, that she may be a snare to him, and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.” Which is the reason why Saul said to David, “You shall this day be my son-in-law” a second time.’

But Saul’s reasoning was not straightforward. Indeed it was treacherous. His plan was that by giving his daughter to David and binding him to him in service, he could then send him out on the most dangerous assignments, as his son-in-law, while the Philistines would also especially be eager to kill him because of whom he now was. It would thus put him in great danger. This then was why he said to David a second time, ‘You shall this day be my son-in-law.’ The only problem now was how to persuade David to accept the offered privilege.

1 Samuel 18:22

And Saul commanded his servants, saying, “Speak with David secretly, and say, Behold, the king delights in you, and all his servants love you, now therefore be the king’s son-in-law.”’

With this in mind Saul privately told his servants to have a quiet word in David’s ear and tell him that the king delighted in him, and that all Saul’s servants loved him, and that he should therefore be willing to become Saul’s son-in-law, because everyone important was in agreement about it.

1 Samuel 18:23

And Saul’s servants spoke those words in the ears of David. And David said, “Does it seem to you a light thing to be the king’s son-in-law, seeing that I am a poor man, and lightly esteemed?”

But David continued to point out that he was only a poor man and not one who held high position or was greatly esteemed. He genuinely did not see becoming Saul’s son-in-law as a real possibility. He had too high a regard for Saul, and he also did not feel that he could afford the dowry that would be required, or live up to what would then be expected of him.

1 Samuel 18:24

And the servants of Saul told him, saying, “In this way spoke David.” ’

Saul’s servants then informed Saul of what David had said, which set Saul to thinking the problem over.

1 Samuel 18:25

And Saul said, “Thus shall you say to David, The king does not want any dowry, but a hundred foreskins of the Philistines, to be avenged of the king’s enemies.” Now Saul thought to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines.’

Then Saul had an inspiration. He told them to tell David that the only dowry that he would require would be a hundred foreskins of (dead) Philistines so that the king might be avenged of his enemies. He did this in the hope that David might be killed by the Philistines as he sought to obtain them.

We may cringe a little at the idea of warriors taking the foreskins of their enemy, but some kind of physical proof had to be brought back in order to demonstrate that the one hundred who had been killed were Philistines. As Philistines were the only uncircumcised people around this would be proof that the hundred who had been killed really were Philistines. Saul may also have been associating the foreskins with what would result from their presentation to him. They represented the future productivity of David’s house as contrasted with the fact that no more Philistine warriors would be produced by these Philistines, and may even have been seen as contributing towards that end. They would thus be seen as a very suitable ‘wedding gift’ in those raunchier days.

1 Samuel 18:26-27

And when his servants told David these words, it pleased David well to be the king’s son-in-law. And the days were not expired, and David arose and went, he and his men, and slew of the Philistines two hundred men; and David brought their foreskins, and they gave them in full number to the king, that he might be the king’s son-in-law. And Saul gave him Michal his daughter to wife.’

Once he recognised that all barriers to being the king’s son-in-law could be solved David was well pleased and decided that it was a very worthwhile idea. And as the period in which he had had to make his decision about Michal had not expired he arose and took his men and killed two hundred Philistine warriors, and brought their foreskins to Saul and thereby presented him with double the dowry which was required for becoming the king’s son-in-law. (Thereby indicating his high esteem for Saul). And Saul then, in accordance with what he had promised, gave his daughter Michal to David to be his wife.

All now appeared rosy on the outside, and David had by this leaped from being a commander of a military unit to being the king’s son-in-law, thereby gaining at least a foothold on the path to the throne, although that was certainly not Saul’s intention.


Verses 28-30

David Continues To Prosper (1 Samuel 18:28-30).

Saul continued to recognise that YHWH was with David, and was thus all the more afraid of him because he saw in him a potential threat to his throne, and especially to his descendants’ likelihood of inheriting it (1 Samuel 20:31). The result was that he continually looked on David with enmity. In contrast, however, his daughter loved David, and meanwhile David continued to prosper and behave sanguinely, and was so successful that he outdid all Saul’s other servants, and became a name in the land as a successful commander against the Philistines.

1 Samuel 18:28

And Saul saw and knew that YHWH was with David, and Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved him.’

Aware of his own rejection by YHWH, and that an unknown successor had already been selected by YHWH, it galled him to see that YHWH was clearly with David. It must have raised the question in him as to whether David might be the successor that YHWH had in mind. Meanwhile Michal continued to love David, as did Jonathan (1 Samuel 18:1-4). (These swift contrasts are typical of the writer). Not all Saul’s family were against him.

1 Samuel 18:29

And Saul was yet the more afraid of David, and Saul was David’s enemy continually.’

And it was because of these fears that Saul was more and more afraid of David, and that he was continually David’s enemy. He was obsessed with the thought that David was after his throne. We can note the growth of Saul’s hostility through the chapter as he commenced by taking David into his court and ended by being his continual enemy:

· “And Saul took him that day and would let him go no more home to his father’s house” (1 Samuel 18:2).

· “And Saul was very angry and this saying displeased him (that he had slain his thousand but that David had slain his ten thousands) -- and he eyed David from that day forward” (1 Samuel 18:8-9).

· “And Saul was afraid of David because YHWH was with him and had departed from Saul” (1 Samuel 18:12).

· “And when Saul saw that he behaved himself wisely he stood in awe of him” (1 Samuel 18:15).

· “And Saul saw and knew that YHWH was with him --- and was yet more afraid of David, and Saul was David’s enemy continually” (1 Samuel 18:29).

So as David continually and successfully held the Philistines at bay, and became more and more popular, Saul’s jealousy and enmity grew greater and greater.

1 Samuel 18:30

Then the princes of the Philistines went forth, and it came about that, as often as they went forth, David behaved himself more wisely than all the servants of Saul, so that his name was much set by.’

Meanwhile the Philistine aristocracy continued their assaults on Israel, but each time that they did so they discovered that David and his men were always a match for them because of David’s astuteness, far more so than Saul’s other commanders. And the consequence was that, young though he was, David’s reputation grew and grew, resulting in his gaining great prestige. His name was found on everyone’s lips, from the smallest to the greatest.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 18:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/1-samuel-18.html. 2013.

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