1 Samuel Chapters 18 – 20

These chapters in the life of David are curious ones. When last we left David, he had just killed Goliath and was introduced to King Saul. Although another earlier chapter had spoken of David as being brought to Saul to soothe his spirit, a commentary suggested that the timeline is not accurate, that some stories had been inserted at a later date.

These chapters speak of the relationship between Jonathan, Saul’s son, and David and about the attempts by Saul to kill David.

In Chapter 18 we read about the start of the friendship between Jonathan and David. From their very early friendship: “the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul”, it seems apparent that God was involved, that it was somehow a spiritual linkage. Then we learn that Jonathan gave David his cloak – probably the cloak of a prince where the fabric was much more sumptuous than the plain cloak of a shepherd – and his weapons which would have been valuable as a warrior depends on his weapons for his life. We read earlier in this book how only Saul and his son Jonathan had swords, and yet Jonathan gives his sword to David as well. The gifts were of great intrinsic value and had a deep meaning to them, as though Jonathan, from that moment, gave his very self to David.cloak and weapons

It isn’t long before we see the deep enmity that is developing between David and Saul. After David’s killing of Goliath and the rout of the Philistines by the Israelites, there is much joy in the nation. Yet the songs the women sing praise David more than Saul. Immediately Saul becomes angry for he recognizes that David has only to have the kingdom to be greater than Saul. He knows that Samuel has said that God has removed his favor from Saul and will give the kingdom to someone else. Perhaps that someone else is David.

The story tells us that “an evil  spirit from God rushed upon Saul”. In the time of the ancient Jews, everything was controlled by God. Although we believe that God does not send evil, when we disobey God, we open ourselves to evil and more sin. Saul became obsessed with thoughts of David; the more he thought about the praise David was receiving, the more he hated David. David’s success became something which was pointing to Saul’s disfavor with God. In Saul’s mind there was only one solution – remove the person who was making him feel so disheartened, so pitiful, so depressed. Although Saul was pleased that David was so successful in dealing with Israel’s enemies, with every success it diminished Saul’s belief in himself. So several times in these chapters, as David was seated beside Saul, playing his harp and singing for him, Saul tried to “pin David to the wall” with his spear.

David was promised one of Saul’s daughters for a wife after he killed Goliath. At first Saul promises him the oldest daughter Merab, then changes his mind at the last minute, giving her to someone else. Saul’s plan was to trade his daughter for David’s further attacks on the Philistines, hoping that David would be killed in battle – that Saul would let the enemy do “the dirty work.” David does not look on being the king’s son in law are a little thing, as David recognizes that his family is poor and has no standing in the community. But Saul  once again proposes that  David marry Michal, another daughter, as he recognizes that David and Michal love one another. He suggests that if David brings him proof that he has killed a hundred Philistines, Saul will give him his daughter as wife. David agrees and kills the Philistines and brings the proof. Saul realizes that the Lord is with David, and it is unlikely that the Philistines are going to kill David, so he must do the deed himself.

In Chapter 19 we see Jonathan interceding with his father for David, suggesting to Saul that David has not sinned against him but has given good service to him. At first Saul agrees that David should not be killed, but again an evil spirit comes upon Saul. He tries again to pin David to the wall with the spear. Seeing Saul on his throne playing with his spear should have been a sign that something was amiss. Why would anyone play with a spear when he was seated in a protected place? David escapes again and goes to his wife. There is some disagreement as to whether the next scenes occur on David’s wedding night or not, but David must escape from his house. His wife Michal provides a subterfuge to confuse the king’s men, places an “idol” in the bed and tells them that David is ill. When the trick is discovered, Saul questions his daughter who tells him that David had threatened her. So Saul’s children mistrust their father and lie to him.

David goes to Samuel in Ramah and tells him all that has transpired. The next verses are among the strangest. Samuel is among prophets who are in a frenzy – the Jerome commentary suggests that the frenzy is induced with drugs. Saul finds out where David is and sends his men to catch him. The men join the prophets in their frenzy. This happens three times with three different sets of men until Saul finally comes. He himself is caught up in the frenzy. He strips off his clothes and lays naked before Samuel for a day and a night. This seems to be an indication that he has truly given up the kingship, for he no longer wears his robes. Also, lying naked before someone speaks of total depravity, a total rejection of God’s law.

David's Flight From SaulChapter 20 we learn more of David and Jonathan’s friendship. Jonathan thinks his father will do nothing without telling him, but David reminds him that his father knows of their friendship, so he will hide what he is doing. They pledge their love for one another and ask God to be their witness. This is not homosexual love – this is a deep love between friends that has no sexual overtones – but it is a covenant. David promises that he will never forget Jonathan, that he will always honor him and his family.

Saul confronts Jonathan and tells him that David will take Jonathan’s place as king of Israel. When Jonathan defended David, Saul tries to kill him with his spear. In his grief Jonathan flees the scene and remains without food for that day at least. He then goes to David and tells him that he must flee; that his father will kill David when and if he finds him. They weep and ask that the Lord be between us and between our descendants forever.