David and Saul – 1 Samuel 18–19

Read the Passage: 1 Samuel 18-19

Saul Resents David (18:1–16)

Although David had been in the employment of Saul and royal court for some time, as his harpist and armor-bearer (cf. 1 Sam. 16:21), Saul apparently did not know David in a personal capacity. This is evident in the narrative that follows David’s slaying of Goliath (cf. 1 Sam. 17:55–56). So, while we’re told Saul “loved him greatly” (1 Sam. 16:21), it was apparently David’s musical ability, not his person that Saul loved. Jonathan, however, was quick to recognize David as God’s anointed, even giving him his royal robe and armor, which were symbols of his position as a prince and an heir to the throne. Unlike his son, Saul initially refused to admit that David was the one who would succeed him, although he seems to have eventually recognized this fact (cf. 1 Sam. 18:8). Consequently, in 1 Samuel 18 we learn that Saul refused to allow David to return home, preferring instead to keep him in the royal court, where he could better keep an eye on him.

We learned in 1 Sam. 16:14 that part of God’s judgment upon Saul was the presence of a distressing spirit. This vexing spirit—which was an evil spirit that apparently produced anxiety, worry, and confusion in Saul—was allowed to inflict Saul after David’s defeat of Goliath (cf. 1 Sam. 18:10). As in times past, David was assigned to play music to sooth Saul’s disposition. Yet, unlike in times past, the narrative here reports that Saul was not at all calmed, but rather he was enraged by David’s presence and tried to kill him. The fact that David escaped Saul’s spear attack on this occasion, as well as a second later attack, testifies to God’s divine protection of him. David’s escape served to make Saul more afraid of him (cf. 1 Sam. 18:12). Saul’s response was to give David a military commission as a captain over 1,000 men. This position would serve to keep David under Saul’s control and perhaps, thought the king, would lead to David’s death in battle.

David Marries Michal (18:17–30)

At 1 Sam. 17:25 it was reported that Saul promised his daughter to the man who killed Goliath. It seems to have taken some time for this promise to be fulfilled, but at 1 Sam. 18:17 Saul decreed that David should marry his daughter Merab. While they may have been betrothed, at the time for the marriage to be consummated Saul gave Merab to a different man. This is reminiscent of Laban withholding Rachel from Jacob and deceitfully giving him Leah. Following this, Saul offered his daughter Michal to David as wife. The dowry price specified was one hundred Philistine foreskins. It is reported at 1 Sam. 18:25 that Saul’s motivation was the possible death of David. Note that David himself would later use this same tactic in murdering Uriah (cf. 2 Sam. 11:15). In spite of Saul’s treachery, David successfully defeated the Philistines and married Michal, whom we learn loved David.

Saul Persecutes David (19:1–24)

The narrative of Saul’s downfall as king is almost comical at places, as his ineptitude builds. First, Jonathan, the heir, loved David in part because he recognized David’s anointing at future king (cf. 1 Sam. 20:14). Second, Saul sends David to battle in order to kill him (cf. 1 Sam. 18:13, 25), but David experiences great success (cf. 1 Sam. 18:27–30; 19:8). Third, Saul intends for Michal to be a snare to David (cf. 1 Sam. 18:21), but she actually loves him (cf. 1 Sam. 18:20). Finally, exasperated and more afraid of David than ever (cf. 1 Sam. 18:29), Saul drops his pretense and orders his son and servants to kill David. In 1 Sam. 19:2–7 the godly character of Jonathan is seen as he confronts his father and argues that David is not worthy of death, but of honor. Perhaps Jonathan’s argument convicted Saul, for he rescinded the death sentence rather quickly and David again began to serve Saul as in times past.

Yet, once again the distressing spirit from God afflicted Saul. In the narrative it seems that Saul, who is progressively becoming more and more mentally unhinged, is set off by David’s continued military successes (cf. 1 Sam. 19:8). For at least the second time, and possibly the third time, Saul tried to kill David with a javelin. This caused David to flee to Samuel at Ramah. In 1 Sam. 19:11–17 we read of Michal’s assistance to David during his escape. The narrative in 1 Sam. 19:18–24 contains the interesting account of Saul’s attempt to wrest David from Ramah. Yet, the two parties of men whom Saul sent are irresistibly led to join in praising God with David, Samuel, and the prophets. Likewise, when Saul arrives in Ramah he too is moved by the Spirit of God to begin prophesying. Note that the seemingly odd removal of Saul’s clothing is a picture of his removal from being king.

Application Questions:

  1. Given that Saul had twice been told by God that his reign was over (cf. 1 Sam. 13:14; 15:26), should he have been suspicious of David, even persecuting him?
  2. What does Saul’s reaction to the peoples’ song about David reveal about his character? What did Saul desire most as he served as king?
  3. Why do you think Saul withheld Merab from marrying David, but then allowed David to marry Michal? Do you think Michal really loved David?
  4. Why did Saul openly decree that David should be killed? Why did he listen to Jonathan’s argument and rescind his decree so quickly?
  5. Why did the men whom Saul sent to capture David begin to prophesy when they arrived in Ramah? Why did Saul himself do the same (cf. Prov. 21:1)?