David's rise and Saul's demise...and for us, an attitude check.
Today we continue our journey through the story of 1st & 2nd Samuel, and specifically the life of David.
So far, we’ve seen howfirst God chose David, a humble shepherd boy, to be anointed by Samuel as the next king of Israel.This would disrupt the royalty of Saul’s bloodline. Saul, the first king of Israel is still in power, but has disobeyed God, leading to this chain of events bringing David forward as Saul begins to decline.The fact that God chose David instead of his 7 other brothers was a lesson that while humans see and judge based on appearance—outward, superficial factors—God looks much deeper, and judges based on our hearts, our motives, our thoughts and intentions.
Then, last week we looked at the really thrilling story of David & Goliath in chapter 17. It’s a vivid picture of God opposing the proud, while exalting the humble, and we talked a little about that concept of pride vs. humility. The importance of humility and the proper application of confidence and pride being in God and not in ourselves, but because of that we can have the boldness and courage to represent God in the ways in which he has called us.
We’re going to pick up in chapter 18 of 1st Samuel, so you can go ahead and find your place there if you’d like.
Last week marked a significant moment in bringing about this shift, this transition to David’s exaltation and Saul’s demise. This week we’ll see exactly how that plays out. When Saul first met David he had no idea that he’d be a threat to the throne. But in the wake of David defeating Goliath, Saul began to see him in an entirely new light.
In fact, we found Saul suddenly asking, “wait a minute, who’s this kid’s dad?” “Where did he come from?” Realizing that he promised his daughter in marriage, and tax exemption for life for whoever killed Goliath.
Meanwhile, Saul’s own sonJonathan declares loyalty to David which is a pretty unexpected move. That’s how chapter 18 begins, and it’s a crucial moment, so let's go ahead and read that together, 1 Samuel 18 beginning in verse 1:
1 After David had finished talking with Saul, he met Jonathan, the king’s son. There was an immediate bond between them, for Jonathan loved David. 2 From that day on Saul kept David with him and wouldn’t let him return home. 3 And Jonathan made a solemn pact with David, because he loved him as he loved himself. 4 Jonathan sealed the pact by taking off his robe and giving it to David, together with his tunic, sword, bow, and belt.
That’s a really serious friendship! It was beyond just a political or strategic alliance, and beyond just getting along superficially. They literally formed a covenant brotherhood; a loyalty and commitment to each other at the deepest level. It is mentioned here I think as a precedent to the role their friendship will play in the story later on.
Meanwhile, David is kept pretty busy! Starting in verse 5, we read:
5 Whatever Saul asked David to do, David did it successfully. So Saul made him a commander over the men of war, an appointment that was welcomed by the people and Saul’s officers alike.6 When the victorious Israelite army was returning home after David had killed the Philistine, women from all the towns of Israel came out to meet King Saul. They sang and danced for joy with tambourines and cymbals. 7 This was their song:
“Saul has killed his thousands,
and David his ten thousands!”
So his success as a military commander has made him quite famous! He’s leading the Israelite army in victories over the Philistines, and just skyrockets in popularity...he’s a household name now, even to the point where his name is being sung in celebration, alongside the name of king Saul himself.
And we see just these two lines, a couplet from their song, in which Saul is given credit for thousands, while David is given credit for ten thousands. Now, it’s not entirely clear whether that song was worded to intentionally throw shade on Saul, or if it was just an affirmation of his choice to put David in command, but either way Saul definitely took it as disrespect and an undermining of his own achievements:
8 This made Saul very angry. “What’s this?” he said. “They credit David with ten thousands and me with only thousands. Next they’ll be making him their king!” 9 So from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David.
This is the first time Saul explicitly realizes that David could be a genuine threat to the throne. We see him fully give in to the dark side of jealousy and resentment, instead of fondness, admiration, and gratitude. And however long he might have been able to hide that from David, it came to light eventually, as we see in the next few verses:
10 The very next day a tormenting spirit from God overwhelmed Saul, and he began to rave in his house like a madman. David was playing the harp, as he did each day. But Saul had a spear in his hand, 11 and he suddenly hurled it at David, intending to pin him to the wall. But David escaped him twice.
12 Saul was then afraid of David, for the Lord was with David and had turned away from Saul. 13 Finally, Saul sent him away and appointed him commander over 1,000 men, and David faithfully led his troops into battle.
14 David continued to succeed in everything he did, for the Lord was with him. 15 When Saul recognized this, he became even more afraid of him. 16 But all Israel and Judah loved David because he was so successful at leading his troops into battle.
So, Saul himself tried to kill David twice, unsuccessfully, then just sent him away to fight the Philistines. Saul is just descending into madness and fear while witnessing David just succeed at everything he does. And why did he succeed? Because Yahweh was with him.
Meanwhile, as Saul just simmered in hatred for David, the rest of Israel just loved him more and more with each new victory.
So, eventually Saul comes up with a scheme to try to get rid of David:
17 One day Saul said to David, “I am ready to give you my older daughter, Merab, as your wife. But first you must prove yourself to be a real warrior by fighting the Lord’s battles.” For Saul thought, “I’ll send him out against the Philistines and let them kill him rather than doing it myself.”
Well, that plan didn’t work out initially just because of David’s humility. He essentially answered by saying: “I’m a nobody, I don’t deserve to be the King’s son-in-law, so thanks but no thanks.” So that daughter ended up marrying someone else, while another daughter, Michal was actually falling in love with David. When Saul found out about that, he thought “Perfect! I’ll use her to set a trap for David!”
So he got some of his guys to try to convince David into marrying Michal, saying “come on, the king likes you, we likes you, just take him up on his offer!” But, once again, David said “No, I’m humble and poor, and I couldn’t afford the bride price anyway.”
So Saul comes back with this, skipping down to verse 25:
25 “Tell David that all I want for the bride price is 100 Philistine foreskins! Vengeance on my enemies is all I really want.” But what Saul had in mind was that David would be killed in the fight.
26 David was delighted to accept the offer. Before the time limit expired, 27 he and his men went out and killed 200 Philistines. Then David fulfilled the king’s requirement by presenting all their foreskins to him. So Saul gave his daughter Michal to David to be his wife.
I gotta say, last week’s topic was a lot more conducive to having some fun slides and visuals; I decided not to really go there with this one, so you’re welcome for that. But I have to imagine the shock factor was there even for Saul, who didn’t ever expect David to actually come through on this challenge. Not only did David fulfill the requirement by defeating 100 Philistines, he DOUBLED it, because why not?
At that point, Saul really had no choice. And he didn’t like it.
28 When Saul realized that the Lord was with David (as if it wasn’t already obvious?) and how much his daughter Michal loved him, 29 Saul became even more afraid of him, and he remained David’s enemy for the rest of his life.
30 Every time the commanders of the Philistines attacked, David was more successful against them than all the rest of Saul’s officers. So David’s name became very famous.
Those last few verses of chapter 18 really set the stage, and in some ways summarize the next 13 chapters to the end of 1st Samuel. Chapters 19-31 go on to describe the unfolding of drama and intrigue of pretty epic proportions! So let’s go ahead and read all 13 chapters together, right now.
Obviously, I’m kidding, we don’t have time to go over all of that in detail, but if you haven’t read through these chapters recently, then this week could be a good opportunity to do that. I’m going to just summarize a few key things, but there is a lot in there, so I definitely encourage you to fill in the details on your own time.
In the next couple chapters, Saul continues to go after David, trying to kill him. Meanwhile, his daughter Michal, who he intended as a trap for David, deceives Saul to save David’s life and help him escape. Then Saul’s own son Jonathan also stays loyal to David, encourages him, and stands up for him to his father. He tries to convince Saul to return to reason, but to no avail. Ultimately Jonathan collaborated with David to confirm there was really no chance of changing Saul’s mind, and helped him escape for good.
In chapter 21we find David officially on the run, in hiding and in a kind of survival mode. Again, there is a lot that happens in those last 10 chapters. But I think one of the most important takeaways from it all is how David’s true character, his motives and intentions, are once again revealed in contrast to Saul’s.
WhileSaul is on a jealousy and hatred fueled manhunt for David, David has multiple opportunities to kill Saul, but instead spared him. And not only did he just not kill him, he maintained a spirit of humility and respect and even loyalty to Saul, still recognizing him as his king. He remained steadfast in a conviction that it was not his place to seek retaliation or judgement on Saul for his sin, but rather trust God to take care of that.
I’m going to read just a little excerpt from chapter 24, in which David proclaims this conviction right to Saul’s face after sparing his life the first time. Chapter 24 beginning in verse 11 if you’d like to read along:
11 Look, my father, at what I have in my hand. It is a piece of the hem of your robe! I cut it off, but I didn’t kill you. This proves that I am not trying to harm you and that I have not sinned against you, even though you have been hunting for me to kill me.
12 “May the Lord judge between us. Perhaps the Lord will punish you for what you are trying to do to me, but I will never harm you. 13 As that old proverb says, ‘From evil people come evil deeds.’ So you can be sure I will never harm you. 14 Who is the king of Israel trying to catch anyway? Should he spend his time chasing one who is as worthless as a dead dog or a single flea? 15 May the Lord therefore judge which of us is right and punish the guilty one. He is my advocate, and he will rescue me from your power!”
Notice his tone, not of taunting, or gloating, but of deference and humility. He even refers to Saul as his “father” appealing to the fact that he did in fact become his son-in-law when he married Michal.
Just as he did with Goliath, David boldly and decisively did what he knew was the right thing, despite what everyone around him was saying (the guys he had with him wanted him to kill Saul!), and had faith in God’s ability AND willingness to oversee the outcome. In this case, it actually led to what seems like some repentance on Saul’s behalf, though it ended up being short-lived.
A very similar scenario happens yet again later, and this time David actually scolds Abner, Saul’s commander, for not keeping Saul safe! He says basically “Abner, dude, you’re not doing your job! I could have killed the king tonight, and here’s the proof! I have his spear and water bucket!” So, David is telling his enemy’s bodyguard to do a better job! How backwards is that!? But it again shows David’s trust in God.
I should also mention that we see the death of Samuel in these chapters as well (chapter 25), marking the official end of an era in one sense, though God would raise up subsequent prophets, Israel was now fully thrust into their era of kings.
Then, In the last few chapters, Saul just gets even weirder and more desperate, resorting to sorcery at one point (which he outlawed when he became king), and he’s just a mess.
Meanwhile David is busy just being awesome and victorious in battles! This whole section of Samuel is a really interesting and weird and compelling story...David actually joins up with the Philistines at one point, believe it or not.But most importantly through it all David manages to do the right thing again and again.
Now, we know David is human and he’s not perfect...we’ll see his flaws and his eventual downfall later on, but for now he’s riding that arc upward to greatness as a paragon of faith at this point in his story. While Saul is just on the opposite end of that spectrum.
1st Samuel eventually ends with Saul dying, rather gruesomely in battle. And it’s shortly after that, in 2nd Samuel that we’ll see David finally become king. But in the immediate aftermath of Saul’s death, what was David’s response? It was not to celebrate and rejoice in the final downfall of the guy who’s been hunting him down trying to kill him. It was not even to breathe a sigh of relief! I’m getting ahead into 2nd Samuel a little bit, but the response of David and his men, upon hearing of Saul’s death, was deep sorrow and mourning! Weeping, and fasting. And David even kills the guy who killed Saul.
At the end of Saul’s life, looking back on his story,the majority of his character serves as a warning to “Check yourself before you wreck yourself,” while David on the other hand is an example of trust, patience, and hope. These two characters, at least in this particular section of their lives, are presented to us as a lesson, to emulate the one and not the other.
So, without getting any further into the storyline for today, I want to take a minute to reflect some more on David’s attitude towards Saul throughout all of this. I’ve read through this book quite a few times, and that’s the one thing that really stood out to me this time as being the most profound lesson to take away from these last 13-14 chapters.
Like we saw with pride & humility last week, this is not an isolated principle found here in this story, rather it’s an illustration of a principle taught all throughout scripture.
We see it in the wisdom of Proverbs:
17 Don’t gloat when your enemy falls,
and don’t let your heart rejoice when he stumbles,
18 or the Lord will see, be displeased,
and turn his wrath away from him. (Proverbs 24:17-18)
If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat,
and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; (Proverbs 25:21)
You even find it in Leviticus, as part of Israel’s core, foundational teachings, in chapter 19 v. 18:
18 Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against members of your community, but love your neighbor as yourself;
David understood that revenge was not his to take, but God’s. In Deuteronomy 32:35 God says “Vengence is Mine” which Paul quotes in Romans 12:19 when he urges:
19 Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,
“I will take revenge;
I will pay them back,”
says the Lord.
He then of course follows that up with quoting Proverbs 25:21. Paul definitely got it. But it wasn’t always that way, was it? In fact, although Paul studied the Old Testament scriptures, including Proverbs and Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, for his whole life, it wasn’t until he encountered Christ that he understood what this meant. At least I think that’s a fairly safe assumption, given that his primary mission before that was to slaughter every Christian he could get his hands on.
At some point after his conversion, Paul was hit with the truth of the nature of God’s kingdom, of this kingdom principle that Jesus preached about. He said not only to love your neighbor, your community members, your family, but also to love your enemy, and pray for and do good for those who hate you and persecute you. (Matthew 5:44)
That was and is a radical teaching! It’s hard enough to love each other in our own families sometimes isn’t it?It tends to become less and less intuitive to be loving and forgiving, and to trust God, the further you extend that circle. Yet, it was fundamental to what Christ taught. You see it throughout the gospels and Paul’s letters.
Out of those, we have some memorable snippets we like to quote, like the “Golden Rule” from the sermon on the mount, of “do unto others as you would have done unto you” or one-liners like “turn the other cheek” which is from Matthew 5:38-48. We can say those things pretty flippantly, but that’s a pretty challenging passage. Jesus was not asking for something easy! This is a counter-intuitive, counter-cultural mindset.
And yet, Jesus certainly practiced what he preached, didn’t he? He lived this out to the fullest, when he subjected himself even to be crucified at the hands of his enemies. When, while hanging on the cross, an innocent man, beaten and torn to shreds for our sin, he cried out “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing.”
Meanwhile, none of us here today can say we are innocent, BUT for the blood of Christ. And that should give us all the more reason to extend that love which he showed us, forgiveness, and mercy, to our families, friends, neighbors, and even our enemies.
Of course, not all of us necessarily have enemiesin our day to day lives who are as overt as David’s or Jesus’s. But this applies just as much to more subtle situations. Whether it’s people at work, or in our families, or neighborhoods, schools, churches, etc. We need to assess ourselves and refrain from harboring any bitterness or resentment toward people in our lives.
So I guess today is another call for inner reflection, searching your heart for any jealousy, hatred, or any other toxic attitudes towards others. Replace that with trust in God, patience for him to accomplish his plan for you, and hope in knowing that he is a good and just God.
That doesn’t mean that every conflict in every relationship we have will necessarily resolve nicely. David & Saul were never reconciled, yet David on his endmaintained an attitude of love, humility, and trust that God would judge Saul fairly. If we practice that mindset and heart condition, we can of course then pray that God will use that to bring others into reconciliation with each other, and even more importantly, with God.
So let’s commit to practicing this very difficult principle, not just in a sing-songy, “it sounds nice” kind of way, but in a deep, real, internalized conviction to love because He first loved us, to trust in God’s ability and willingness to take care of us (even if that involves being uncomfortable), and patience for God to see his work through in his timing.