1 Samuel 18:1-9
In some ways, reading 1 and 2 Samuel in the Bible
can be a lot like experiencing one of those old-time radio or television serials
– a story that plays out through installments
and in each one the main character finds themselves in a perilous situation
which either gets resolved or ends in a cliffhanger
– until the next chapter or installment.
Case in point. Previously or last time in the book of 1 Samuel…
The little, emerging nation that could, Israel,
was challenged yet again by her longtime adversary, the Philistines.
Despite confronting their most formidable foe yet
– a gigantic, imposing warrior-champion named Goliath,
the God of Israel, the Lord Almighty
once again saved the day and the life of His people.
YHWH showed up front and center through
the unexpected and surprising emergence of His newly anointed servant,
the divinely chosen, heir apparent,
future king of Israel, a teenager named David.
What was supposed to have been
a long, drawn-out cage match between two champions,
a fight card more than a month in the making,
ended before it even got started
with a single, not so lucky but actually, rather miraculous
head shot heard round the world.
As with the firing of David’s first stone from his slingshot,
Goliath took a bullet right between the eyes and fell down dead.
But dear listeners, as we return to our story, the conflict is far from over.
The greater battle is only just beginning as Israel’s true enemy
is revealed not to be out there but much closer to home.
For the fearsome and intimidating sight of Goliath is about to be eclipsed
by the dreaded but often overlooked green-eyed monster rear his ugly head.
As we turn the page and prepare to listen, a true friend will emerge
alongside the growing threat of an unnecessary and undesirable foe
– both from within the same family!
Two portraits of our very human nature will be placed side-by-side before us.
Contrasting pictures of the best and the worst we can become
as we either yield before the will of divine providence
or persist in trying to rebel and go our own way.
Which of these two images we will most relate to as we take a closer look?
Which of these reflections of our humanity,
will we choose to embrace in our ongoing journey of faith to follow Christ?
Let us ponder these very questions as we listen to
the beginning of our next episode from 1 Samuel, chapter 18.
King Saul still reigns as Israel’s monarch
but after his miraculous defeat of the Philistine champion named Goliath
young David’s star is on the rise.
For as we hear repeatedly throughout this chapter, the Lord was with David.
“…because the Lord was with David…” – 1 Samuel 18:12, 14, 28
God already has anointed David with His Spirit and thereby, His power.
Eventually, David will be installed as the next king of Israel,
but for now, David is a newly minted war hero.
As both King Saul and David along with
the rest of the army of Israel return home,
there is music and singing in the streets.
And the repeated chorus being sung goes like this:
“Saul has defeated his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.”
– 1 Samuel 18:7
This refrain will become so catchy, so memorable that
as we’ll discover over the next few weeks of the story of 1 Samuel
– even the Philistine kings will have heard these song lyrics.
King Saul, however, does not like this song.
To say the chorus “displeased him greatly” is a bit of an understatement.
“Saul was very angry; this refrain displeased him greatly.”
– 1 Samuel 18:8
Saul, upon hearing these words, becomes pretty hot – very angry
and extremely uncomfortable with all the recognition David is getting.
To be clear, those who were singing this song were not
actually trying to offend or critique King Saul; they were intending to honor him.
The dramatic increase in number
– from thousands to tens of thousands – in the song lyrics
was a way of stressing or intensifying the main point
– which was not David is better than Saul
but rather celebrating how the nation has been delivered from their enemies.
As the king of Israel, Saul shares in the credit of the nation’s champion,
one of his subjects, David.
David’s victory is Saul’s victory as the leader of his people.
But Saul doesn’t focus on this.
Instead, Saul fixates on the idea that someone is
being celebrated and honored more than he is.
Refusing to share the national spotlight and perceiving
that David’s rise in popularity threatens his own seat on the throne,
King Saul starts “keeping a close eye” on David.
“And from that time on Saul kept a close eye on David.”
-1 Samuel 18:9
This myopic perspective causes Saul to quickly and dramatically spiral downward.
We first witness King Saul’s descent into madness the very next day
as David settles back into his former duty as a court musician.
David got this gig based on a recommendation
from one of the palace servants.
King Saul, we might recall, often struggled with
regular bouts of depression and dark feelings.
David had been summoned to the royal court in order to play soothing music
that would ease Saul’s mental and emotional state
and thus make the king feel better.
And so far, David’s musical presence had proven to be
a reliable, healing tonic for Saul.
But this time around, David is no longer just another one of the king’s subjects.
Every time King Saul looks at David, he sees the one person
who he perceives the people love more than him.
Consumed by this thought, King Saul hurls the spear
he holds in his hand toward David – not once but twice!
“…while David was playing the lyre, as he usually did.
Saul had a spear in his hand and he hurled it,
saying to himself, “I’ll pin David to the wall.” But David eluded him twice.”
-1 Samuel 18:10 – 11
Despite Saul’s intentions of nailing him to the wall,
David evades certain death both times.
Finding himself unable to live by the adage,
“Keep your friends close but your enemies closer,”
King Saul sends David away – surprisingly promoting his perceived adversary
to command over a thousand of his royal troops.
However, if we read between the lines, Saul isn’t promoting David
as much as he is trying to put him in harm’s way
– in the line of fire of the battlefield and thus likely to be killed.
But King Saul’s plan backfires.
“David led the troops in their campaigns. In everything he did he had great success, because the Lord was with him. When Saul saw how successful he was, he was afraid of him. But all Israel and Judah loved David, because he led them in their campaigns.” – 1 Samuel 18:13 – 16
Rather than being killed in battle, David proves to be
both a powerful warrior and a leader.
He has consistent success, which brings him
even greater publicity and adulation among the people.
The people love David. The soldiers love David.
But King Saul only grows more and more resentful and fearful of David.
Saul, therefore, doesn’t give up in trying to orchestrate David’s downfall.
The third time around, Saul adopts something of a different tact.
The king shrewdly and deceitfully offers
the hand of his older daughter, Merab, in marriage to David.
But this offer comes with a price to be paid – a bride price
as it was known and was customary back in the ancient world.
David must continue fighting on the frontlines to earn her hand
– thus increasing the chances that he will be killed in battle.
Saul said to David, “Here is my older daughter Merab. I will give her to you in marriage; only serve me bravely and fight the battles of the Lord.”
For Saul said to himself, “I will not raise a hand against him.
Let the Philistines do that!” – 1 Samuel 18:17
David, however, responds to the king’s offer with great humility.
But David said to Saul, “Who am I, and what is my family or my clan in Israel, that I should become the king’s son-in-law?” – 1 Samuel 18:18
He recognizes his family isn’t worthy of such an honor, of such stature
– to become the king’s son-in-law.
And so, King Saul marries off his older daughter to someone else.
But Saul isn’t giving up just yet in pursuing the marriage option with David.
When the king hears his younger daughter, Michal, is in love with David,
Saul sees a better, second opportunity to ensnare David into his trap.
Now Saul’s daughter Michal was in love with David, and when they told Saul about it, he was pleased. “I will give her to him,” he thought,
“so that she may be a snare to him and so that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.” – 1 Samuel 18:20 – 21
Working more subtly behind the scenes, through his attendants,
King Saul appeals both to David’s pride and his military prowess.
The bride price this time around is not a lifetime of military service
but a specific military campaign, the death of 100 Philistines.
This time around, David takes up the offer of the king
– whose true motivations remain unchanged
– for David to fall by the hands of the Philistines.
But once again, King Saul’s plan seriously backfires.
David delivers double the asking price for Michal’s hand in marriage
– not just 100 but 200 dead Philistine soldiers.
Having kept his end of the arrangement,
David marries Michal and now becomes Saul’s son-in-law.
David is now even closer to the throne of the king of Israel.
Because of this, David’s marriage into Saul’s family leads the king
to divorce himself fully from any kinship or friendship with David.
King Saul, we are told, no longer views David as merely a threat
but as his enemy for the rest of his days.
When Saul realized that the Lord was with David and that his daughter Michal loved David, Saul became still more afraid of him,
and he remained his enemy the rest of his days.” -1 Samuel 18:28 – 29
This is sad, even tragic,
because David proves to be Saul’s most loyal subject
– securing the kingdom for Saul
by continually fighting successful battles for Israel.
It seems like only yesterday when King Saul confronted
what he believed, what he feared was the greatest threat
– not only to his crown but his very life
– in the bellowing, larger than life,
armed to the teeth gladiator named Goliath.
But now, whether he realizes or accepts it or not,
King Saul meets an even more powerful and deadly adversary.
And it’s not the enterprising and rising young David.
It is what William Shakespeare once coined in his play, Othello,
the “green-eyed monster” – a menacing and insidious villain
so universal in our human nature that it “mocks that very meat it feeds on.”
Perhaps you’re unfamiliar with what I’m talking about right now.
If so, let the emphasis on the color green be your guide
to recognizing this dangerous foe
that not just King Saul but that we all face.
The green-eyed monster that takes hold of poor Saul is jealousy or envy.
In the English language,
the words jealousy and envy are often used interchangeably
to distinguish between two emotional states.
The distinction between the two, according to modern psychology,
can be summed up as follows.
Envy describes a negative reaction caused by
wanting something that someone else has.
Jealousy describes a negative reaction caused by
a perceived attack on something we already have.
Another way to put this is envy is about the fear of lacking something
whereas jealousy is about the fear of losing something.
Though not exactly synonymous,
the difference between envy and jealousy is a fine one.
They are similar and are often experienced together.
Without a doubt, this is true in the case of King Saul.
On the one hand, Saul clearly envies the growing popularity,
the success, and the goodwill that David has.
At the same time, Saul also is jealous of David
– fearful that he will lose the throne to David.
Hence, when the spark of the king’s envy and jealousy are both lit,
Saul murmurs to himself,
“What more can he (David) get but the kingdom?” – 1 Samuel 18:8
The moment the king surrenders before the green-eyed monster,
as Saul continues to feed his jealousy and envy of David,
we watch him quickly unravel and lose himself.
We witness what a cancer the twin towers of jealousy and envy
can become in our lives
– obscuring our view of anything and everything else
except what we fear we don’t have;
what we fear we are going to lose.
First, envy and jealousy rob King Saul of his gratitude for his blessings
– for the victory God had secured for him & for the nation over the Philistines.
Next, Saul’s envy and jealousy spur him to make an enemy out of an ally
– as he impulsively lashes out seeking to harm the one person
who has been able to bring him some relief when he struggles with depression.
Then, envy and jealousy twist Saul’s heart to the point of
trying to use a brother’s zeal for God
– to fight the Lord’s battles and to defend the Lord’s people
– as a weapon against David – as a means of taking David out.
That envy and jealousy are all that Saul feeds on becomes apparent
as he doesn’t hesitate to use others – loved ones – his own daughters
– as pawns in his effort to end David’s life.
And as we’ll later see, the hydra that is Saul’s envy and jealousy
will only grow larger and even more lethal over the next few chapters.
Out of his insecurity, the king will make several more attempts to murder David.
As his cancer spreads, Saul will even curse and attempt to kill his own son
– and then a little later, strike down all the residents of a town
– a high priest and 85 other priests,
along with their wives, children, and friends – murdered in cold blood
all because of Saul’s envy and jealousy of David.
From this defining moment and for the rest of his tormented days,
envy and jealousy will eat the king alive.
Though the king never found any actual evidence
to support the specter raised by all his envy and jealousy,
Saul for the rest of his tormented days is willing
to take another man’s life to put his mind at ease.
He eventually will sacrifice his family and the nation
he was supposed to be serving in the effort to satisfy
the big, bad green-eyed monster.
Have we seen the green-eyed monster rear its ugly head in our lives lately?
Has envy of another person’s circumstances
– their influence, their success, their gifts
become an itch in our lives that we keep trying to scratch?
Has jealousy – the perceived threat of losing what we have to another
– our privilege, our position, our power, our significance
begun to preoccupy all our thoughts and our attention?
At first glance, we may not perceive any real risk in our lives
from either or both of these mindsets.
I mean we all get a little jealous,
a tad envious of people from time to time, don’t we?
Is it really that big of a deal?
Saul’s story is a cautionary tale for us in which we learn
the seedbed of jealousy and envy can quickly become one step short of murder.
The snare of jealousy and envy is one of those threats
where if we give an inch, both jealousy and envy will take a yard – or more
– gradually throwing us into a tailspin of
unhealthy obsession, continued misery, and ultimately our own demise.
We need to learn from the story of Saul to recognize from where
the green-eyed monster emerges in our hearts and minds.
Envy and jealousy fester and grow in the soil of our wounded pride.
Envy and jealousy take root when we are more focused on
the talent, wealth, reputation, and fruitfulness of others
— perceiving ourselves to be in competition with them
rather than being content and celebrating our own abilities,
resources, and relationships.
We may not throw spears at others or try to send them into harm’s way
by way of a marriage offer like King Saul,
but we can still act out of nagging, fuming jealousy
through words spoken in bitterness and resentment,
through actions marked by aggression and hostility or deceit and manipulation.
Is there anywhere in our lives right now
– in our relationships – our marriage, our family, our work, our friendships
where we can’t help comparing ourselves to others,
where we keep feeling like we’re not getting what we deserve,
where we find ourselves faunching at the bit
rather than rejoicing in the good fortune of others?
If, perhaps now, we are starting to see, through the struggles of Saul,
what we ourselves are capable of,
let us now find the necessary corrective
in the witness of Saul’s son, Jonathan.
For thankfully, Saul is not the only picture
we are given of our human potential in this passage.
There also is the reflection of our humanity in the person of Jonathan.
If we think about it, Jonathan had more reason than Saul
to be jealous or envious of David.
Let us remember before David was celebrated for defeating the Philistines,
Jonathan held that particular distinction himself.
A few chapters back, King Saul and his army
were seriously outnumbered and outgunned
as the Philistines prepared to make an assault against them.
And then Jonathan, like David,
relying on both the leading and power of the Lord,
led the Israelites not just in holding back the Philistines
but in accomplishing what first appeared to be
an impossible victory over them.
But whereas King Saul is unwilling to even share the limelight with David,
perceiving him as a rival,
Jonathan, in the aftermath of David’s victory over Goliath,
embraces David in a covenant of friendship.
“Jonathan became one in spirit with David…
And Jonathan made a covenant with David…” – 1 Samuel 18:1, 3
Jonathan as the crown prince of the kingdom of Israel
was the assumed heir to his father’s throne.
Jonathan potentially had much to lose with David’s continued rise.
And yet, Jonathan unlike his father, King Saul,
does not attempt to secure his place on the throne.
Instead, we are told,
Jonathan “took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David,
along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt.”
– 1 Samuel 18:4
In other words, Jonathan was symbolically yielding
all the signs of his position and leadership to David
– as if to communicate “You deserve all this more than me.”
Now, we may be tempted in viewing
these contrasting pictures of Saul and Jonathan
to label Jonathan as the better person.
And while Jonathan’s posture toward David,
Jonathan’s choices as a human being,
are without question better than Saul’s inclinations and decisions,
we need to realize what makes Jonathan’s posture and choices possible.
And the answer is,
Jonathan is looking at his life through the eyes of faith.
King Saul insisted on looking at
what he believed he could manage and control
– that is, holding back David and thus, holding onto the throne of Israel.
Jonathan, on the other hand, recognizes what Saul refuses to see
– what is repeated throughout this passage – that “the Lord was with David”
– that God clearly was moving in David’s life
– preparing him to be the next king of Israel.
Jonathan probably had no idea what that would mean for him.
And yet Jonathan chooses to live in dependence upon the Lord’s provision.
Jonathan believed all the fortune and prosperity
and success and gifts he had experienced
were gifts of grace, from the good hand of the perfect Father.
And so, Jonathan was content in trusting the Lord for what would come next.
Out that grateful reliance
rather than attempting to take control of his own destiny,
Jonathan embraces David
exactly the way Jesus taught us to engage each other.
Did we notice?
It’s repeated twice in verse 1 and verse 3.
“Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself.”
“And Jonathan made a covenant with David
because he loved him as himself.” – 1 Samuel 18:1, 3
Jonathan expressed his dependence on the Lord
by loving David as he loved himself.
The greatest commandment lived out for us in technicolor
on the pages of the Old Testament.
Jonathan’s love for David exemplifies a central Christian ethic
– to love God by loving your neighbor as yourself.
Jonathan loves David not because David necessarily loves him
– not based on the condition that David has promised him anything.
Jonathan loves David not in order to get
– to improve his situation or standing.
Jonathan loves David as himself.
Jonathan loves David in order to give – to give David the same freedom,
the same respect, the same grace
– that Jonathan understands the Lord has given him – Jonathan.
The freedom, the respect, and the grace for David,
like Jonathan to become all that God intends him to be
without perceiving David
as a threat to keep in check or a rival to conquer.
Understanding this offers us more insight into
exactly what jealous and envy are.
At their core, jealousy and envy derive from our dispute and displeasure
with the Lord’s reign over all creation – including our lives
– with the God who is the one who gives and takes away.
To be jealous or envious is, in essence,
to deny the goodness, the wisdom, the control of the Lord
– that Father God knows best.
Jealous and envy in provoking us to repeatedly say, “It’s just not fair…”
tempt us to believe we know better than the Lord
— that we need to take things over
because we can do a better job than God.
But attempting to play God never goes well for us.
God is always bigger
and the Lord remains, regardless of whatever we do or don’t do,
God remains in control.
For all our efforts to the contrary, the Lord’s will still gets done
and we just end up like
the elder son in that parable of the prodigal told by Jesus
standing outside the party that is the Kingdom of God refusing to go inside
– left with nothing more than our frustrations and discontent.
Once again, that’s where King Saul is at the end of this passage.
Again, did we notice?
Everything Saul did to try and harm or destroy David,
ironically worked to David’s advantage and Saul’s disadvantage.
The harder Saul worked at David’s downfall,
the more Saul just assisted David’s rise in fame and status
and the more corrupt and lost Saul found himself
before God and the nation.
The more Saul acted out of jealousy and envy,
the more Saul propelled the opposite of what he wanted.
And that’s not unique to Saul’s case.
That’s a repeated story, a pattern, throughout the Bible.
Just ask Cain. Just ask Jacob and Esau.
Just Leah and Rachel. Just ask Joseph’s brothers.
Just as the first generation of Israelites who wandered in the wilderness.
Jealousy and envy are mind-altering drugs.
Both warp our perception of reality.
Both poison and harm our relationships with others.
Both leave us trapped and, in the end, suffocated by misery and bitterness.
The antidote, our best and only defense against the green-eyed tyrant
is not to minimize the reality and the threat of envy and jealousy
but to both confess and repent of their lingering presence
in our daily lives.
For we are constantly encouraged and even manipulated by advertising
to compare ourselves with others.
We are repeatedly taught not to be satisfied or to appreciate what we have
but to be manically driven to get more
– to keep up with the Jones,
to become the envy of the neighborhood,
to make everyone else jealous.
It’s become a badge of honor and respect to accumulate more,
to stay ahead of, and to one up everyone else.
In many ways making others jealous or envious has become
the modern definition of success.
Biblically, however, indulging envy and jealousy is defined as the road to ruin.
To turn away from the green-eyed monster, we have to turn towards the Lord.
Daily, we must count our blessings
– for thankfulness and jealousy and envy don’t occupy the same heart.
Jealousy and envy are counting other people’s blessings rather than our own.
Jealousy and envy gain no quarter in our minds and hearts
when we remember the promises of the Gospel.
That our identity and security are not in what we accomplish or achieve or don’t,
but rest in our relationship with the Lord
– in the love God has for us,
in the love God has shown us in Jesus Christ,
in the eternal love Christ continues to express to us through His Word and Spirit,
by giving us each day all that we need – more than enough
– to take the next step on this journey of faith and flourish.
Let us then choose to look and live out of the faith that we have been given
– that God is good, that the Lord knows what’s best, and that God is in control.
Let us abide in our identity and security as children of the Kingdom of God,
no longer viewing other people as a threat to us
but embracing all persons as our brothers and sisters,
loving them as we love ourselves,
loving them as we are loved by God in Christ. Amen.