His Early Experiences
1 Samuel 18
Had we sought a topical title for this chapter, "The Price of Popularity" might well have been selected. The seventeenth chapter of 1 Samuel closes by recounting the memorable victory of David over Goliath the Philistine giant; the eighteenth chapter informs us of a number of things which formed the sequel to that notable achievement. There is much which those who are ambitious and covetous of earthly honor do well to take to heart. An accurate portrayal is given of different phases and features of human nature that is full of instruction for those who will duly ponder the same. Much is condensed into a small compass, but little imagination is required in order to obtain a vivid conception of what is there presented. One scene after another is passed in rapid review, but amid them all, the man after God’s own heart acquitted himself admirably. May the Lord enable each of us to profit from what is here recorded for our learning.
"And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul" (1 Sam. 18:1 and cf. verses 3, 4). Let us admire here the tender grace of God, and behold an illustration of a blessed principle in His dealings with us. Jonathan was the son of Saul, and, therefore (ordinarily), "heir apparent to the throne." But, as we have seen, David had been anointed unto that position. There was, therefore, occasion for Jonathan to look upon David as his rival, and to be filled with jealousy and hatred against him. Instead, his heart is united unto him with a tender affection. This should not be attributed to the amiability of his character, but is to be ascribed unto Him in whose hand are all our hearts and ways.
What we have just called attention to above, is not sufficiently recognized and pondered in these evil days, no, not even by the people of God. There is nothing recorded of Jonathan which really shows that he was a saved man, but not a little to the contrary—particularly in the closing scenes of his life. When, then, the heart of a man of the world is drawn out to a saint, when he shows kindness unto him, we should always discern the secret workings of God’s power, graciously exercised for us. He who employed ravens to feed His servant Elijah (1 Kings 17), often moves the hearts and minds of unregenerate people to be kind toward His children. It was the Lord who gave Joseph "favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison" (Gen. 39:21), the Israelites "favour in the sight of the Egyptians" (Ex. 3:21) at the time of their exodus, Esther in the sight of king Ahasuerus (Esther 5:2). It is so still; and we only honor God when we perceive and own this, and praise Him for it.
David’s finding favor in the eyes of Jonathan was the more noteworthy, in that the envy and enmity of Saul was soon stirred against him. What a mercy from God was it, then, for David to have a true friend in his enemy’s household! The value of it will come before us later. It was by this means that our hero received warning and his safety was promoted. In like manner, there are few of God’s children unto whom He does not, in critical seasons, raise up those who are kindly disposed toward them, and who in various ways help and succor them. Thus it has been in the life of the writer, and we doubt not, with many of our readers also. Let us admire the Lord’s goodness and adore His faithfulness in thus giving us the sympathy and assistance of unsaved friends in a hostile world.
"And Saul took him that day, and would let him go no more home to his father’s house" (v. 2). The purpose of God concerning David was beginning to ripen. First, He had so overruled things, that Saul had sent for him to attend the king occasionally in his fits of melancholia. But now David was made a permanent member of the court. This was but fitting in view of the promise which had been made to him by the king before he encountered Goliath: that if victorious, Saul’s daughter should be given to him to wife (17:25). Thus was David being fitted for his royal duties. It is blessed when we are able to realize that each providential change in our lives is another step toward the accomplishing of the divine counsels concerning us.
"And David went out whithersoever Saul sent him, and behaved himself 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" (v. 5). Beautiful it is to behold here the humility and fidelity of the one upon whom the anointing oil already rested: diligently had he fulfilled his trust in the sheepfold at Bethlehem, dutifully did he now carry out the orders of the king. Let this be duly laid to heart by any who are tempted to chafe under the situation which they now occupy. "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might" (Eccl, 9:10), defines the duty of each one of us. The teaching of the New Testament is, of course, the same: "Not slothful in business; Fervent in spirit" (Rom, 12:11). Whatever position you occupy, dear reader, no matter how humble or distasteful, "whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men" (Col. 3:23).
"And behaved himself wisely." How very few do so! How many have, through injudicious conduct, not only hindered their spiritual progress, but ruined their earthly prospects. Such a word as the one now before us needs to be turned into prayer—believing, fervent, persevering. Especially is that counsel timely unto the young. We need to ask God to enable us to carry ourselves wisely in every situation in which He has placed us: that we may redeem the time, be on our guard against temptations, and perform each duty to the very best of our ability. "Be ye wise as serpents, and harmless as doves" (Matthew 10:16), does not mean, be compromisers and temporizers, tricky and deceitful; but, take into consideration the fickleness of human nature and trust none but God. In David’s behaving himself "wisely" he points again unto Him of whom God said, "Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently" (Isa. 52:13).
Saul now set David "over the men of war": though not made commander-in-chief, some high military office was given him, possibly over the king’s bodyguard. This was a further step toward the equipping of David for his life’s work: there was much fighting ahead of him, powerful enemies of Israel which had to be conquered; thus was God making all things "work together" for his good. What a change from the obscurity and peace of pastoral life, to becoming a courtier and soldier. "And he was accepted in the sight of all the people, and also in the sight of Saul’s servants." God gave their future ruler favor in the eyes both of the common people and of the court. How this reminds us of what is recorded of the Antitype: "And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man" (Luke 2:52).
"And it came to pass as they came, when David was returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women came out of all cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet king Saul, with tabrets, with joy, and with instruments of music. And the women answered as they played, and said, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands" (vv. 6, 7). How this incident served to make manifest the low spiritual state into which the nation of Israel had now sunk. "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh" (Matthew 12:34): the language we employ, is a sure index to the condition of our souls, "They are of the world, therefore speak they of the world" (1 John 4:5). It is indeed distressing, yet ought not to be surprising, that so few professing Christians in their general conversation with each other, "minister grace unto the hearers" (Eph. 4:29)—not surprising, because the great majority of them are strangers to the power of godliness.
The language used by the women of Israel when celebrating the .death of Goliath and the defeating of the Philistines, gave plain indication that their hearts and minds were occupied only with the human victors. "God was not in all their thoughts" (Ps. 10:4). Alas that this is so often the case today: we are living in an age of hero worship, and Christendom itself is infected by this evil spirit. Man is eulogized and magnified on every hand, not only out in the world, but even in the so-called churches, Bible conferences, and religious periodicals—seen in the advertising of the speakers, the printing of their photos, and the toadying to them. O how little hiding behind the Cross, how little self-effacement there is today. "Cease ye from man" (Isa. 2:22), needs to be placed in large letters over the platforms of all the big religious gatherings in this man-deifying age. No wonder the Holy Spirit is "grieved" and "quenched," yet where are the voices being raised in faithful protest?
"And the women answered as they played, and said, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands." What a sad contrast was this from what we find recorded in Exodus 15! A far greater overthrow of the enemy was witnessed by Israel at the Red Sea, than what had just taken place in the valley of Elah (1 Sam. 17:19). Yet we do not find the mothers of these women of Israel magnifying Moses and singing his praises. Instead, we hear Miriam saying to her sisters, "Sing ye to the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea" (v. 21). Jehovah was there given His true place, the victory being ascribed to Him and not to the human instruments. See to it, dear reader, that—no matter what the common and evil custom be to the contrary—you give all the glory to Him unto whom alone it rightfully belongs.
"And Saul was very wroth, and the saying displeased him; and he said, They have ascribed unto David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed but thousands: and what can he have more but the kingdom?" (v. 8). The song of the women was not only dishonoring to God, but was impolitic as well. As we saw in verse 15, David "behaved himself wisely"; but the conduct of Israel’s daughters was in sharp contrast therefrom. The honoring of David above Saul, was more than the king’s proud heart could endure: the activity of the "flesh" in the women acted upon the "flesh" in him. Unable to rejoice in what God had wrought through another, Saul was envious when he heard the superior praises of David being sung; he could not tolerate the thought of being second.
Perhaps someone may be inclined to raise the question, Why did not God restrain those women from exalting David in song above Saul (as He could easily have done), and thus prevented the rising of the king’s jealousy? Several answers may be returned to this query: it subserved God’s purpose, arid promoted the spiritual good of David. God often withholds His curbing hand in order that it may the better appear what is in fallen and unregenerate man. Were He not to do so, the distinction between the children of God and the children of the devil would not be so evident. Moreover, David was being flattered, and flattery is ever a dangerous thing; therefore does God often wisely and mercifully check our proud hearts from being unduly elated thereby, by causing some to think and speak evil of us.
"For every great and good work a man must expect to be envied by his neighbor: no distinction or pre-eminence can be so unexceptionably obtained, but it will expose the possessor to slander and malice, and perhaps to the most fatal consequences. But such trials are very useful to those who love God, they serve as a counterpoise to the honour put upon them, and check the growth of pride and attachment to the world; they exercise them to faith, patience, meekness, and communion with God; they give them a fair opportunity of exemplifying the amiable nature and tendency of true godliness, by acting with wisdom and propriety in the most difficult circumstances; they make way for increasing experience of the Lord’s faithfulness, in restraining their enemies, raising them up friends, and affording them His gracious protection; and they both prepare them for those stations in which they are to be employed, and open their way to them: for in due time modest merit will shine forth with double lustre" (T. Scott).
Ere passing on, let it be remembered that each detail of this chapter, and every thing in the Old Testament Scriptures, is "written for our learning" (Rom. 15:4). Especially does it need to be emphasized for the benefit of the young, that lavish commendations from those who admire and love us, in such a world as this, often prove a real injury; and in all cases every thing should be avoided which can excite envy and opposition—except the performance of our duty to God and man. "Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you" (Luke 6:26). During the twelve years He was in the pastorate, the writer deemed it expedient to retire into the vestry as soon as the service was over: the "flesh" loves to hear the eulogies of the people, but they are not conducive to humility. "Seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not" (Jer. 45:5).
"And Saul eyed David from that day and forward" (v. 9). Perceiving that David was looked upon favorably by the people (v. 5), jealous of the praise which was accorded him (v. 7), fearful that he might soon lose the kingdom (v. 8), Saul now regarded the slayer of Goliath with a malignant eye. Instead of looking upon David with esteem and gratitude, as he should have done because of his gallant behavior, he jealousy observed his ways and actions, biding his time to do him injury. What a solemn example does this provide of the inconstancy of poor human nature! Only a little before Saul had "loved him greatly" (16:21), and now he hated him. Beware, my reader, of the fickleness of the human heart. There is only One who can truthfully say "I change not" (Mal. 3:6).
If David was counting upon the stability of Saul’s affection for him, if he concluded that his military prowess had established him in the king’s favor, he was now to meet with a rude awakening. Instead of gratitude, there was cruel envy; instead of kindly treatment, his very life was sought. And this too is recorded for our instruction. The Holy Scriptures not only unveil to us the attributes of God, but they also reveal to us the character of man. Fallen human nature is faithfully depicted as it actually is. The more attentively God’s Word be pondered and its teachings and principles absorbed, the better will we be fortified against many a bitter disappointment. There is no excuse for any of us being deceived by people: if we took to heart the solemn warnings which the Bible furnishes, we should be far more upon our guard, and would heed such exhortations as are found in Psalm 146:3; Proverbs 17:18; Jeremiah 9:4; 17:5; Micah 7:5.
"And it came to pass on the morrow, that the evil spirit from God came upon Saul, and he prophesied in the midst of the house. And David played with his hand, as at other times; and there was a javelin in Saul’s hand. And Saul cast the javelin; for he said, I will smite David even to the wall. And David avoided out of his presence twice" (vv. 10, 11). How swiftly troubles follow on the heels of triumphs! What a contrast between hearing the acclaiming songs of the women, and dodging a murderous weapon! And yet how true to life! Well, then, does each of us need to seek grace that we may learn to hold everything down here with a light hand. Rightly did one of the Puritans counsel, "Build not thy nest in any earthly tree, for the whole forest is doomed to destruction." It is only as the heart is set upon things above that we find an object which will never disappoint nor pall.
"The evil spirit came from God upon Saul." Yes, the wicked as well as the righteous, evil spirits as well as holy angels, are under the absolute and immediate control of God, cf. Judges 9:23. But let us not miss the solemn connection between what is recorded in verse 9 and in verse 10: when we indulge jealousy and hatred, we give place to the devil (Eph. 4:26, 27). "And he prophesied:" all prophesyings are not inspired by the Holy Spirit, that is why we need to heed I John 4:1. Observe the enemy’s subtilty: no doubt Saul’s prophesying was designed to take David off his guard—he would least expect an attempt on his life at such a time. Blessed is it to note that after avoiding the deadly weapon cast at him, David did not pick it up and hurl it at Saul: instead, he quietly withdrew from his presence. May like grace be granted unto both writer and reader when tempted to retaliate upon those who wrong us.