I Samuel 18
1. Now when he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.
Once David has finished his interview with Saul, it seems that Jonathan, Saul’s son, is eager to talk with him himself. It does not take long for Jonathan to be deeply drawn to David. If Saul, who had long since turned his back on the Lord, was impressed by the courage and confidence in God of this Spirit-filled young man, how much more would his zealous son Jonathan be impressed by him, seeing in David a kindred spirit with himself? David was just such a man as Jonathan must have been when he courageously fought the Philistines with only his armor-bearer by his side, convinced that the LORD would give them the victory over the entire Philistine army. How good it is for one who is passionate about God to find another person whose heart beats with the same love and zeal! Thus David’s appeal to Jonathan here.
We probably tend to think of these men as two friends close to equal in age, knowing that Jonathan was the son of Saul. Yet both Saul and Jonathan were older here than perhaps we might think. Jonathan was about forty at this time, and so he was about twenty-four years older than David. Therefore his love for David was fatherly, as well as coming from their common bond of zeal for the LORD.
When it says that Jonathan loved David as his own soul, we might not know what exactly this means. This is a case where the word “soul” is just used for “self.” The point is that Jonathan loved David like he loved himself.
2. Saul took him that day, and would not let him go home to his father’s house anymore.
Before this, as we have seen, David served sometimes as harpist for the king, but at others he traveled back home and continued to work for his father. Now, this arrangement comes to an end, and he is permanently stationed with Saul at the king’s insistence.
3. Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul.
Now these two friends make a covenant between them. The word “covenant” is one that has been taken up by theology and made much of, but really it is a much simpler word than many would make out. A covenant is more or less just a formal agreement between two parties. It might be along the lines of a contract, though it was not necessarily in writing, nor was there any “signature” that sealed it. Yet it was an agreement, and in their society, such an agreement was considered most binding. Their symbolism basically indicated that the proper penalty should be death for covenant-breakers, so to enter into such an agreement was a serious thing indeed. Yet these two enter into a covenant, and the reason we read that Jonathan does this is that he loves David as his own soul.
4. And Jonathan took off the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, even to his sword and his bow and his belt.
Jonathan gives his own, personal robe, armor, sword, bow, and belt to David. This was a very symbolical act, showing that Jonathan regarded David as he regarded himself, This was also a sign of Jonathan’s pledge of eternal friendship with David. It is good, indeed, when two people who are enthusiastic and love the LORD can find each other and fellowship in Him.
5. So David went out wherever Saul sent him, and behaved wisely. And Saul set him over the men of war, and he was accepted in the sight of all the people and also in the sight of Saul’s servants.
David becomes Saul’s servant, and proves himself to be a wise warrior and an obedient servant, so Saul makes him an army commander. He is successful at this too, and is very popular with his men and all the people he comes in contact with. He even becomes popular with Saul’s servants. In the reaction of these people to him we can see the kind of man David was: the very kind of man who would make a good and popular king. Yet it is not just David’s attractive personality that is at work here. God is also involved in this, causing David to become popular and well-known, setting up His plan to make him king over Israel. Certainly becoming known and liked would help when the time came.
6. Now it had happened as they were coming home, when David was returning from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women had come out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy, and with musical instruments.
It seems that the events that we read about in the previous five verses took place while the Israelite army was still in the field after the defeat of the Philistines and Goliath. What else might have been involved in this campaign we do not know, but certainly we might imagine that there were other things for them to do before they returned home. Whatever else they had to accomplish, it took long enough for Jonathan to love David as his own soul, for Saul to be impressed by David and promote him to the position of an army commander, and for David to become popular with the people and Saul’s servants. Yet now their work is accomplished, and they head back to Saul’s home in Gibeah.
Now this is the first time David has come back to Saul’s capital since the slaughter of the Philistines, and his fame has already spread through the land. As the army is returning victoriously, the women form a procession to celebrate and welcome back the victorious troops. They have composed songs and dances to celebrate the joyous occasion, and are playing tambourines and other musical instruments accompanying them.
7. So the women sang as they danced, and said:
“Saul has slain his thousands,
And David his ten thousands.”
No doubt there was a lot to the song, but there are two particular lines to the song that cause trouble. We do not know who composed this song, but whoever it was no doubt had no idea of the heartache this composition would bring about. In a desire to honor David for his great and courageous part in the victory just accomplished, this songwriter ascribes ten thousands of slain enemies to David, and only thousands to Saul the king.
8. Then Saul was very angry, and the saying displeased him; and he said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed only thousands. Now what more can he have but the kingdom?”
Saul is very angry at this lyric. He feels they already honor David more than him, and so would prefer David as king over him. It seems doubtful that the people really had any such idea in mind. David was the dashing young hero, and the nation was very proud of him. Yet it is unlikely that anyone really seriously had the thought that he should replace King Saul, who himself was very popular and well-liked. Could it be though that Samuel’s words to Saul that Jehovah was going to choose another man to be king instead of him had stuck with him? Perhaps at the back of his mind he has ever since been on the lookout for anyone who appears like he might be that man. So his jealousy is provoked at these lines of this song. With the accuracy of a guilty conscience, he probably rightly guesses that David is the “man after His Own Heart” Jehovah had chosen to take his place as king.
9. So Saul eyed David from that day forward.
Now that Saul’s suspicions have been aroused, he can never forget them. Therefore, Saul’s jealous eye is upon David from this point onward. Just this quickly the good relationship between the old King and his new, young hero is cast under a pall of hatred, jealousy, and suspicion from this day forward.
10. And it happened on the next day that the distressing spirit from God came upon Saul, and he prophesied inside the house. So David played music with his hand, as at other times; but there was a spear in Saul’s hand.
It seems that David’s new army duties do not exempt him from his former duties as a harpist. Thus when the distressing spirit comes on Saul again the next day after their return, David is called upon to play his calming music to sooth Saul’s troubled spirit. Yet this is going to be a dangerous concert for David, as Saul is holding a spear, and his jealousy is being driven to fever-pitch by the distressing spirit from God that is upon him.
11. And Saul cast the spear, for he said, “I will pin David to the wall!” But David escaped his presence twice.
At last, driven to distraction by his distrust and jealousy, Saul tries to skewer David and stick him to the wall with the spear. David manages to escape his thrusts twice. It seems rather strange that David would have come back into Saul’s presence a second time for Saul to try again. It could mean that Saul thrust at him twice on the same occasion before David finally escaped. Yet it could also be that in his distressed condition Saul sometimes did extreme and disturbed things, and it could be he hid his intention to kill David behind his illness, saying he was just driven on by the distressing spirit. If so, David had no reason to think he was in any more danger in Saul’s presence than anyone else, so he might have come back into Saul’s presence and started playing again to try to calm him down. Whatever the case, he twice escapes Saul’s murderous intentions.
It seems here that Saul thought he could save himself from Yahweh’s word that He would give the kingship to another by murdering His choice! This was an empty and foolish hope, as the will of Yahweh cannot be so easily undone. Yet this is often the way of sinful and rebellious men, to think that by their own power they can defeat the purposes of the almighty God. It would have been far better for Saul if he had submitted to the will of God. Certainly David was a most loyal man who loved his king like any good Israelite. Saul was in no danger from David, as he himself later would find out. Saul’s real problem was with Yahweh, and it is clear he would have put Yahweh to death as well if he could have. Saul is just the same kind of man as those who put our Lord Jesus Christ to death from jealousy and rage. No doubt if Christ had been on earth in his day, he would have tried to do the same thing!
12. Now Saul was afraid of David, because the LORD was with him, but had departed from Saul.
Saul is more afraid of David when he sees how he failed to kill him. Saul was a skillful man of war, and he no doubt had skewered many an enemy with his spear when the enemies were far more alert and ready for what he was about to do than David was. He recognizes from this that the LORD is with David, making sure that no harm can come to him, even as He has departed from Saul. Yet this realization only leads to fear of David, rather than of the LORD. Yet ultimately it was the LORD Who would bring about Saul’s final defeat and death. He ever blamed David, God’s man, when really it was God Whom he had the problem with.
13. Therefore Saul removed him from his presence, and made him his captain over a thousand; and he went out and came in before the people.
Seeing that God will not allow him to kill David, Saul decides to deal with the situation by removing David from his sight. Perhaps he tried to forget him, figuring out of sight, out of mind. It was not like he could really do anything to stop the plans that Jehovah had in mind anyway. Therefore he sets David up as captain over a thousand in his army. This was yet another promotion for David. Yet this does not really solve anything for Saul, as this just puts David directly in the view of the people to gain yet more popularity. Israel becomes even more attached to their handsome new hero, all innocent of the paroxysms of jealousy they are causing their King.
14. And David behaved wisely in all his ways, and the LORD was with him.
David continues to behave wisely in his new position, and Jehovah is with him in all he does. Indeed, David shines most brightly in this early part of his career. If only he had always behaved so wisely, and not fallen into the sinful and foolish things he did in his later days as king! Yet for now, his actions are all wise and Godly.
15. Therefore, when Saul saw that he behaved very wisely, he was afraid of him.
Saul’s fear increases as he sees the wisdom David has. No doubt he recognizes that this young man indeed has the qualifications to be a king, and so in the growing popularity of this young hero he sees God’s hand working against himself. With the unerring eye of jealousy and self-preservation, he sees what most everyone else in Israel missed: his successor being prepared for the throne. Knowing that he is being prepared to replace him, Saul is afraid.
16. But all Israel and Judah loved David, because he went out and came in before them.
No doubt his own tribe of Judah especially loves this new young hero who came from their number, but they are not the only ones to love David. All Israel loves David, and is proud to follow the career of this faithful man of God. Thus David continues to be in the spotlight, with every action and activity of his in the public eye and being discussed and talked about. He is growing in popularity constantly during this period. Though many troubles lie ahead before it happens, the people will remember this time when David was their popular young hero when the time finally comes to make him king.
17. Then Saul said to David, “Here is my older daughter Merab; I will give her to you as a wife. Only be valiant for me, and fight the LORD’s battles.” For Saul thought, “Let my hand not be against him, but let the hand of the Philistines be against him.”
Saul begins to scheme and plan in an attempt to eliminate David. His first plan is to try to use Israel’s great enemies of the day, the Philistines. To try to accomplish this end, he uses his older daughter Merab as bait. Merba means “Increase,” and was probably born after Saul’s accession to the throne, when his fortunes were on the increase. Of course, she was the one Saul had promised to whomever was brave enough to fight and kill Goliath. Since David had been the one the LORD used to do this, he by rights should have been married to her. Yet Saul holds back on his promise, suggesting that David must distinguish himself in battle first.
Saul doubtless is hoping that David is ambitious, and will see the opportunity of marrying a princess as a way to promote himself. Perhaps he hopes to lure David into fighting reckless battles with the goal of winning the hand of the princess in mind. He hopes that David will make a mistake, and that the Philistines will kill David for him. Knowing how popular David is, he knows any move he makes to kill David will turn people against him, so if the Philistines do the job for him, he can avoid the unpopularity any direct move against David would cause. Of course, this was an empty hope, for the LORD will protect David from the Philistines, just as He has already protected him from Saul.
18. So 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 does not show the ambition that Saul was hoping he would to try to get him to fall before the Philistines while trying to win Merab’s hand. David is simply too humble. He does not believe himself worthy to be son-in-law to the king, and he has no ambition to promote himself. Therefore, he does not go charging off recklessly to try to distinguish himself as Saul hoped. Being anointed by Samuel as the next king has definitely not gone to his head! In fact, if this had not been God’s plan, it seems that David would have been perfectly happy just being a commander under Saul his whole life. It was Jehovah’s choice, not David’s, to make him the next king.
19. But it happened at the time when Merab, Saul’s daughter, should have been given to David, that she was given to Adriel the Meholathite as a wife.
It is clear that Saul has no desire to offer David further honors. Remember that Saul’s daughter was promised to the man who defeated Goliath, as we read back in I Samuel 17:25.
25. So the men of Israel said, “Have you seen this man who has come up? Surely he has come up to defy Israel; and it shall be that the man who kills him the king will enrich with great riches, will give him his daughter, and give his father’s house exemption from taxes in Israel.”
Thus, David had already won Merab, and should have been married to her. Yet when Saul sees his plan to kill David failed, he gave her to Adriel, which means “Flock of God,” the Meholathite, a city whose name means “Of Dancing.” (We do not know where Meholah was.) So David is slighted by Saul. Clearly, he had no desire to marry his daughter to David unless it was to trip him up or harm him somehow.
20. Now Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved David. And they told Saul, and the thing pleased him.
Now the plot thickens, for Saul had two daughters. The older daughter Merab is now married to Adriel the Meholathite, but the younger is yet unmarried. Saul’s younger daughter is named Michal, which means “Who is like God?” She falls in love with David, although this was probably more along the lines of what we call a “crush” than real love. It should not surprise us that she would get a crush on him, for remember that David was the handsome young hero of Israel. Just like a young man in our day, often a Hollywood star or a pop singer, will become a heartthrob with all the young girls, so half the young girls in that part of Israel probably had a crush on David at this time. That one such girl would be the daughter of the king is not too surprising. Of course, having the advantage of being a princess means that she has a good chance to have her crush end up in a marriage, unlike most of the other girls who were probably in love with David at this time.
When Saul finds out that Michal is enamored with David, it pleases him, because he sees an opportunity in this to come up with a new scheme to eliminate David.
21. So Saul said, “I will give her to him, that she may be a snare to him, and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.” Therefore Saul said to David a second time, “You shall be my son-in-law today.”
Saul figures this is a win-win situation for him. Either he can use Michal to lure David to his death by sending him against the Philistines, or else if this does not work she can be a snare to him as his wife and help Saul plot against him. Why Saul thought his daughter would agree to such a plan against her husband, a husband she apparently had a deep crush on, is hard to say. Saul’s plans seldom seem to be very well thought out at this point. Therefore, Saul again promises his second daughter to David. After all, he had not specified which daughter the slayer of Goliath was to marry, and there was no reason it should not be the second rather than the first.
22. And Saul commanded his servants, “Communicate with David secretly, and say, ‘Look, the king has delight in you, and all his servants love you. Now therefore, become the king’s son-in-law.’”
Saul now commands his servants to whisper these things to David seeking to snare him with greed. They pretend to be telling him these things secretly, hiding the fact that they were really repeating to him the words of Saul. They tell David that the king has delight in him. How far this was from the truth, alas! But it seems doubtful that David fully realizes the extent of Saul’s hatred against him yet. They also point out that Saul’s servants love David, which was true. Therefore, they urge him to become the king’s son-in-law. What could be more fitting, when he is already in such favor with the king’s household?
23. So Saul’s servants spoke those words in the hearing of David. And David said, “Does it seem to you a light thing to be a king’s son-in-law, seeing I am a poor and lightly esteemed man?”
Saul’s servants carry out his orders and speak these words to David. David is not swayed by their words, however. He asks them if it seems such a small thing to them to become a king’s son-in-law? He points out that his family is poor, and therefore he has no way to pay the kind of dowry one would expect for a king’s daughter. By “lightly esteemed,” he probably refers to the fact that he is the youngest son of Jesse. If their family were to go all out to pay for an expensive dowry, it would doubtless be for the oldest son that they would do so, not for the youngest of eight! It is clear, then, that David is not seeking to promote himself. He honestly has no ambition or desire for power or prestige. It seems clear that, had God not chosen him to be the next king, he would have been happy to remain as the servant of Saul and Jonathan all his days.
24. And the servants of Saul told him, saying, “In this manner David spoke.”
Saul’s servants return to him and report David’s reply to Saul. David’s humble attitude, as striking as it is, must only have frustrated Saul, whose real motivations in dealing with David were bad.
25. Then Saul said, “Thus you shall say to David: ‘The king does not desire any dowry but one hundred foreskins of the Philistines, to take vengeance on the king’s enemies.’” But Saul thought to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines.
Saul is so deep in his jealousy that David’s lack of ambition does not make him stop and think that he does not need to fear David. Indeed, it is Yahweh Saul truly fears, believing He has chosen David over Saul to be King, as indeed He has. Therefore, he only sees in David’s words another obstacle to overcome in carrying out his scheme.
His next plot is to tell David that Saul wants nothing but a hundred foreskins of the Philistines as a dowry for Michal. Such a dowry even a poor man could pay; at least, if he were a man of war like David was. This was a bloody and disgusting dowry indeed! The Israelites were at war with the Philistines, but it seems doubtful that they were regularly in the habit of mutilating their bodies in this way. Surely it was less than flattering to Michal to ask such a thing in exchange for her hand. This idea shows the kind of mindset Saul had fallen into at this time. Yet remember that Saul has no intention of actually giving his daughter to David, for this is really meant as a trap. He believes David will die attempting to get these foreskins, if indeed he takes the bait.
26. So when his servants told David these words, it pleased David well to become the king’s son-in-law. Now the days had not expired;
Saul’s servants go to David and reveal to him this new information about Michal. If we assume that they were still hiding the fact that they were acting as Saul’s agents, which they probably were, this was probably presented to David as a kind of contest that the King had announced, as if he would be willing to marry her to any suitor who could bring him this bloody dowry. Therefore, they suggest that David could win Michal, rather than being given her by Saul for a dowry that must be less than kingly. That Saul might offer such a thing would not have struck David as unlikely, for he had already offered something much like this when he offered to marry his daughter to whoever killed Goliath. Of course, Saul had failed to make good on that promise! Yet that had partially been because David had not held him to it.
When David hears this, he likes the idea. Perhaps it was clear to him that Michal had a crush on him, and he was not averse to marrying into the king’s household. Indeed, he seems very much to like the king’s household. He is best friends with Jonathan, he is Saul’s servant, so why should he not marry Saul’s daughter and Jonathan’s sister as well?
This reference to the days expiring is a strange one. It seems that there was a time set when the princess was to be married, even though who the groom would be was not yet determined. David knows what this time is, and realizes he has time to go out and collect these foreskins before the day arrives.
27. therefore David arose and went, he and his men, and killed two hundred men of the Philistines. And David brought their foreskins, and they gave them in full count to the king, that he might become the king’s son-in-law. Then Saul gave him Michal his daughter as a wife.
Thus David goes into action along with his men, ready to commit this bloody deed suggested by Saul. Yet realize that the war with the Philistines was ongoing, so it was easy enough for David to go out and pick a battle with them. It was not like he went to murder a hundred innocent Philistines, but rather he went out to continue the war with their soldiers, who had already defied Israel and her God.
So Saul’s plan runs smoothly to this point, yet here it goes awry, for the LORD is with David. Far from being killed by the Philistines, David and his men are more than successful. The number of Philistines killed in the battle are two hundred, and so he gets twice the amount of foreskins required. He brings this disgusting dowry and presents them all to Saul. This time, David demands his bride, rather than being willing to give her up, so Saul has no choice but to give Michal to him as his wife.
28. Thus Saul saw and knew that the LORD was with David, and that Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved him;
Saul’s plan surely should have worked, as David’s singlehanded move against the Philistines must have been ill-advised. For David to have such success shows Saul that Jehovah is with David. Moreover, Saul now realizes that his second plan is also a failure, for Michal loves David and will not help Saul plot against him.
29. and Saul was still more afraid of David. So Saul became David’s enemy continually.
As Saul recognizes these things, his fear of David increases. It seems his attempts to kill David to this point have been the sporadic results of fits of passion against him, yet now this is no longer the case. Saul now becomes David’s continual enemy, and from this point on he will seek any means he can find to murder him.
30. Then the princes of the Philistines went out to war. And so it was, whenever they went out, that David behaved more wisely than all the servants of Saul, so that his name became highly esteemed.
The war with the Philistines continues, and they come out again and again to fight with Israel. In every part of this campaign, David proves himself to be the wisest warrior Saul has. Yahweh is working for David in spite of all Saul tries to do. Thus his name, that is his reputation, among the people increases all the more. This will all work out for his advantage, for when the time comes for Yahweh to promote him to the throne, the people will remember this time and the heroism of David, and it will be all for the better in convincing them that he is indeed the right choice as king.