1 Samuel 18
Pulpit Commentary
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.
Verse 1. - When he had made an end of speaking. This conversation took place as soon as the pursuit of the Philistines and the collecting of the spoil were over. There would then be a muster of the Israelites, and Abner would naturally present the youthful champion to the king, who is represented as having virtually forgotten him, and as anxious to learn his history; nor had his stay been long enough for Abner to remember him. As this conversation is narrated as an introduction to the account of Jonathan's friendship for David, the last four verses of ch. 17. ought to be prefixed to ch. 18. A new beginning commences with them, in which we are told of the commencement of this friendship, of the growth of Saul's hatred, and of the trials which befell David, proceeding on the king's part from bad to worse, till at last he was driven away and compelled to lead the life of an outlaw. But by his envy, cruelty, and bad government Saul was alienating the minds of the people from him, and preparing the way for his own downfall and David's ultimate triumph. The episode of Jonathan's love is as beautiful as Saul's conduct is dark, and completes our admiration for this generous and noble hero. The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David. These kindred spirits had so much in common that, as David with modest manliness answered the king's questions, an intense feeling of admiration grew up in the young warrior's heart, and a friendship was the result which ranks among the purest and noblest examples of true manly affection. The word rendered knit literally means knotted, tied together firmly by indissoluble bonds.
And Saul took him that day, and would let him go no more home to his father's house.
Verses 2-4. - Saul took him that day. Bent solely on war, Saul gladly took so promising, a young soldier as David to be one of his bodyguard (1 Samuel 14:52), and henceforward he was constantly with him. Thus in two ways, first as a musician, and now as a soldier, David was forced into those intimate relations with Saul, which ended so tragically. For a while, however, those happier results ensued summed up in 1 Samuel 16:21. Jonathan and David made a covenant. We are not to suppose that this happened immediately. David continued on friendly terms with Saul for a considerable period, during which he went on many expeditions, and grew in military renown (see ver. 5). And thus the love which began with admiration of David's prowess grew deeper and more confirmed by constant intercourse, till this solemn bond of mutual friendship was entered into by the two youthful heroes, by which they bound themselves under all circumstances to be true and faithful to one another. How nobly Jonathan kept the bond the history proceeds immediately to tell us; nor was David subsequently unmindful of it (2 Samuel 9:l, 7). Jonathan stripped himself of the robe, etc. In confirmation of the bond Jonathan gave David first his robe, the meil, which, as we have seen on 1 Samuel 2:19, was the ordinary dress of the wealthier classes; and next his garments, his military dress (see on 1 Samuel 17:38, 39), worn over the meil, and which here seems to include his accoutrements, - the bow, sword, and girdle, - though elsewhere distinguished from them (2 Samuel 20:8). In thus clothing David in his own princely equipments Jonathan was showing his friend the greatest personal honour (Esther 6:8), and such a gift is still highly esteemed in the East.
Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul.
And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle.
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.
Verse 5. - David went out. I.e. went on military expeditions (comp. ver. 30). As the verb has thus a technical signification, it makes a complete sense, and the verse should be translated, "And David went forth (i.e. on warlike enterprises); whithersoever Saul sent him he prospered, and Saul set him over the men of war." These expeditions were not upon a very large scale; for it is not until ver. 13 that we read of David being made "captain over a thousand." Still, even while only a centurion in rank, yet, as being in constant attendance upon the king, he would often temporarily have the command of larger bodies of men, or would go on campaigns as one of the king's officers. As it is mentioned that his promotion caused no envy because of his great merits, it follows that it was rapid enough to have given occasion to ill will under ordinary circumstances. Behaved himself wisely. This is the primary meaning of the verb; but as success is the result of wise conduct, it constantly signifies to prosper. This verse is a summary of events which may have occupied a very considerable space of time. It was only gradually that David's fame became so great as to rouse all the worst feelings in Saul's mind. SAUL'S HATRED OF DAVID (vers. 6-16).
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 musick.
Verse 6. - When David was returned from the slaughter of the Philistine. Or more probably, as in the margin, "of the Philistines." The allusion is not to the combat with Goliath, but to one of the expeditions referred to in ver. 5, in which David had gained some decisive victory. The women would not have described the slaughter of one champion as the slaying of ten thousand, nor would there have been any contrast between this act and the military enterprises of Saul. Probably he too would have looked with indifference upon this Oriental exaggeration of the daring bravery of a boy; but what galled him was David's continual success in repeated campaigns. The Philistine means the whole people of that name; and as the war between them and Saul lasted all the days of Saul's life, and was his main kingly work, he saw with envy the rapid growth of David's reputation; and when, after some noble achievement, the women gave David an ovation, and declared in their songs that he had achieved a success ten times as great as Saul, an outburst of ill feeling was the result. Saul suddenly became aware that the young captain on whose shoulders he had devolved the chief labours of the war had supplanted him in the popular estimation, and hatred took the place of the good feeling which he had previously entertained towards him. The women came out of all cities of Israel... to meet king Saul. It is evident that this refers to some grand occasion, and probably to the conclusion of a peace between the two nations. The battle in the valley of Elah was probably followed by several years of warfare, during which David developed those great military qualities which made him subsequently the founder of the wide empire over which Solomon reigned. It was unendurable for Saul, himself a great soldier, to find, when the war at last was over, that the people recognised in his lieutenant higher military qualities than they had discovered in himself. With tabrets. See on 1 Samuel 10:5. With joy. As this is placed between the names of two instruments of music, it must mean some kind of joyous shouting or singing to the sound of their tabrets. With instruments of music. Hebrew, with triangles, a very ancient but effective instrument for an outdoor procession accompanied with dancing.
And the women answered one another as they played, and said, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.
Verse 7. - The women answered. I.e. they sang alternately. It was this alternate singing which led to the psalms being composed in parallel sentences, and not in metre; and we from the temple service have inherited our method of chanting antiphonally. As they played. The word is ambiguous, and to an English reader would suggest the idea of the women playing upon the musical instruments. It usually refers to merriment, and so in Zechariah 8:5 it is used of the children playing in the streets, but especially it refers to dancing. Thus in 2 Samuel 2:14 it is used of a war dance ending in a real conflict; and again (2 Samuel 6:5, 21; 1 Chronicles 13:8; 1 Chronicles 15:29) of David dancing to instruments of music, before the ark. Michal probably would not have despised David for playing an instrument of music during a religious ceremony; it was the posturing of the dance which seemed to her beneath the dignity of a king. So these women danced in alternate choruses to the beating of their tambourines and triangles. In Judges 16:25, where, however, it is in a different conjugation, the verb is translated "to make sport." Really Samson was compelled to dance Israel's national war dance before the Philistines.
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?
Verses 8, 9. - What can he have more? etc. Literally, "And there is beside for him only the kingdom. Though many years had passed since Samuel pronounced Saul's deposition, and the choice of another in his place (1 Samuel 15:28), yet it was not a thing that a king could ever forget. No doubt he had often looked out for signs of the person destined to be his successor; and now, when he had stood powerless before the enemy, a shepherd boy had stepped forth and given him the victory. And this stripling, taken to be his companion in arms, had shown so great qualities that the people reckoned him at ten times Saul's worth. Had Saul been the high-minded man he was when appointed to the kingdom (1 Samuel 11:13), he would have thrust such thoughts from him. But his mind had become cankered with discontent and brooding thoughts, and so he eyed David from that day and forward. In many nations the eye of an envious man is supposed to have great power of injury. Here it means that Saul cast furtive glances at David full of malice and ill will.
And Saul eyed David from that day and forward.
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.
Verses 10, 11. - It came to pass on the morrow. The day had been a time of public triumph, and yet one of the chief actors goes home to a sleepless couch, because he thinks that another has received higher honour than himself. His melancholy deepens till a fit of insanity comes on. For the evil spirit from God came upon Saul. Literally, " an evil spirit (breath) of God descended mightily upon Saul" (see 1 Samuel 16:15). Just as all mighty enthusiasms for good come from God, so do strong influences for evil, but in a different way. In all noble acts men are fellow workers with God; when evil carries them away it is of God, because he it is who has made and still maintains the laws of our moral nature; but it is by the working of general laws, and not by any special gift or grace bestowed by him. Saul had brooded over his disappointment, and cherished feelings of discontent at his own lot and of envy at the good of others to such an extent that his mind gave way before the diseased workings of his imagination. And so he lost all control over himself, and prophesied. The conjugation employed here (Hithpahel) is never used of real, true prophecy (which is always the Niphal), but of a bastard imitation of it. Really Saul was in a state of frenzy, unable to master himself, speaking words of which he knew not the meaning, and acting like a man possessed. In all this there was something akin to the powerful emotions which agitated the true prophet, only it was not a holy influence, but one springing from violent passions and a disturbed state of the mind. In order to soothe him David played with his hand, as at other times, but without the desired effect. On the contrary, Saul brandished the javelin, which he carried as a sort of sceptre in his hand, with such violence that David twice had to escape from this threat of injury by flight. It is not certain that Saul actually threw the javelin. Had he done so it would be difficult to account for David escaping from it twice. After such an act of violence he would scarcely have trusted himself a second time in Saul's presence. Instead of Saul cast the javelin, the Septuagint in the Alexandrian codex and the Chaldee render lifted, i.e. retaining the same consonants, they put vowels which refer the verb to another root. But even with the present vowels it may mean "made as though he would cast," or aimed "the javelin." On a later occasion Saul actually threw the javelin, and struck the wall where David had been sitting (1 Samuel 19:10).
And Saul cast the javelin; for he said, I will smite David even to the wall with it. And David avoided out of his presence twice.
And Saul was afraid of David, because the LORD was with him, and was departed from Saul.
Verses 12-16. - Saul was afraid of David. new feeling. To his jealousy succeeded a sense of powerlessness, as knowing that a higher power was with David, while he had lost the Divine protection. This miserable feeling grew upon the unhappy king, till before the battle of Gilboa we find him with all his old heroic spirit gone, a miserable wreck, seeking for comfort at the hands of a woman of the most worthless kind (1 Samuel 28:5, 7, 20). In this despondent state of mind he dismisses David from attendance upon him, but in an honourable manner, giving him the command of a thousand men, at the head of whom he went out and came in before the people, i.e. in a public capacity, as an officer of state. As Saul seems entirely to have neglected the internal administration of the kingdom, this would refer to military expeditions (see on ver. 5); and in these David behaved himself wisely. Rather, "prospered" (see on ver. 5). His great success only increased Saul's fears; but both Israel and Judah loved David, now that in this higher command they had full opportunities for judging of his high qualities. Thus again his removal from his place in Saul's bodyguard only served to make him better known. The separate mention of Israel and Judah is an indication of the Books of Samuel having been written at a post-Solomonic date, though the distinction was a very old one (see on 1 Samuel 11:8). SAUL, UNDER PRETENCE OF A MARRIAGE WITH HIS DAUGHTER, PLOTS DAVID'S DEATH (vers. 17-30).
Therefore Saul removed him from him, and made him his captain over a thousand; and he went out and came in before the people.
And David behaved himself wisely in all his ways; and the LORD was with him.
Wherefore when Saul saw that he behaved himself very wisely, he was afraid of him.
But all Israel and Judah loved David, because he went out and came in before them.
And Saul said to David, Behold my elder daughter Merab, her will I give thee to wife: only be thou valiant for me, and fight the LORD'S battles. For Saul said, Let not mine hand be upon him, but let the hand of the Philistines be upon him.
Verses 17, 18. - Behold my elder daughter Merab. Saul had promised that he would give his daughter in marriage to whosoever should slay the giant (1 Samuel 17:25); and not only was there in this the honour of a close alliance with the royal house, but, as it was usual to give large presents to the father in return for the daughter's hand, the gift had also a substantial value. After long delay Saul now refers to this promise, not so much with the intention of fulfilling it, as of leading David on to enterprises which might cost him his life. The marriage may have been deferred at first on account of David's youth; the subject is now revived, but with evil intentions. My eider daughter is literally "my daughter, the great one," while Michal is "the little one," a way of speaking used only where there are but two daughters. Be thou valiant, etc. This exhortation would be natural under the circumstances; but Saul hoped that David, in order to secure so great a prize, would be encouraged to undertake rash adventures. For Saul said. I.e. in himself; his purpose was to urge David to perpetual fighting, that so in some rash undertaking he might be slam. Thus Saul s malice grows, and though not prepared as yet to put David to death himself, he would have felt relief if he had died by the fortune of war. David answers modestly and discreetly that he is not worthy of so great an honour. We are not to suppose that he discerned Saul's treachery, which only came-to light afterwards. What is my life, - i.e. my condition, - or my father's family? The or is not in the Hebrew, and the meaning is, What is my condition, even my father's family? etc. David's condition or rank in life was settled by the rank which his father held.
And David said unto 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?
But it came to pass at the time when Merab Saul's daughter should have been given to David, that she was given unto Adriel the Meholathite to wife.
Verse 19. - Merab... was given unto Adriel. A large dower was doubtless offered to Saul in return for his daughter, and, as he had never wished David to have her, he proved untrue to his word. For the unhappy death of the sons of Merab and Adriel see 2 Samuel 21:8.
And Michal Saul's daughter loved David: and they told Saul, and the thing pleased him.
Verses 20, 21. - Michal... loved David. Probably there was some short lapse of time between Merab's marriage and the growth of this affection, the news of which pleased Saul. He was not an ungenerous man, and possibly may have felt ashamed at having acted so meanly by David after having exposed him to danger. And yet evil thoughts again are uppermost, and his purposes are selfish; for either way Saul will be the gainer. David will probably be slain, he thinks, in trying to get the dowry asked of him; and if not, at all events he will himself be cleared of the stain of public dishonesty now resting upon him. Therefore Saul said to David. Not in person, which accounts for David giving no answer, but through his servants, as is recounted more fully afterwards.
And Saul said, I will give him her, that she may be a snare to him, and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him. Wherefore Saul said to David, Thou shalt this day be my son in law in the one of the twain.
And Saul commanded his servants, saying, Commune with David secretly, and say, Behold, the king hath delight in thee, and all his servants love thee: now therefore be the king's son in law.
Verses 22, 23. - Commune, etc. This is a more full and exact account of what was said summarily in ver. 21. We cannot suppose that Saul first spoke to David himself, and then told his servants to coax him, as this would also require us to suppose that when offered her by Saul, David refused Michal in marriage. But we may well believe that he was displeased at having been deceived, and that the renewed proposal of marriage with one of the king's daughters had to be made carefully, as he might naturally think that there was danger of his being cajoled a second time. David replies, in fact, very discreetly, saying that to be the king's son-in-law was indeed a great honour, but that he was too poor to provide a sufficient dowry. Strictly the promises given in 1 Samuel 17:25 bound Saul to give her without dowry; but it appears quite plainly from David's words that he had lost Merab because not able to purchase her as Adriel had done. For the custom of giving large sums to the bride's father see Genesis 34:12; Exodus 22:16, 17.
And Saul's servants spake those words in the ears of David. And David said, Seemeth it to you a light thing to be a king's son in law, seeing that I am a poor man, and lightly esteemed?
And the servants of Saul told him, saying, On this manner spake David.
Verses 24, 25. - David's answer exactly fell in with Saul's purposes, and he forthwith asked as a dowry proof of David having slain a hundred Philistines. As this slaughter would have to be effected not in regular warfare, but in a sort of private raid, there would be every likelihood of David being overpowered by a rapid gathering of the Philistines and slain in attempting it. It marks the unscrupulous character of ancient warfare that the lives of enemies should thus be taken, without any public provocation, for private purposes (comp. Judges 14:19).
And Saul said, Thus shall ye say to David, The king desireth not any dowry, but an hundred foreskins of the Philistines, to be avenged of the king's enemies. But Saul thought to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines.
And when his servants told David these words, it pleased David well to be the king's son in law: and the days were not expired.
Verses 26, 27. - It pleased David well to he the king's son-in-law. Besides the great honour, David, not suspecting any malicious purpose on Saul's part, may have hoped that this relationship would put an end to the miserable state of things which existed between him and Saul. He harboured no treasonable purposes, and would have gladly served Saul faithfully if he had been permitted. The nature also of the dowry fell in with his adventurous and war-loving disposition. The days were not expired. Wherefore, etc. A difficulty arises here from the wrong division of the verses, and from our translators having rendered the clauses as if they were independent of each other. The Hebrew is, "And the days were not full, and David arose, etc. The dowry was to be given within a fixed time, and before it had expired David, who had been forming his plans, set out with his men and made an incursion into the Philistine territory, whence he brought back to the king twice as many foreskins as had been stipulated; and thereupon Michal became David's wife.
Wherefore David arose and went, he and his men, and slew of the Philistines two hundred men; and David brought their foreskins, and they gave them in full tale to the king, that he might be the king's son in law. And Saul gave him Michal his daughter to wife.
And Saul saw and knew that the LORD was with David, and that Michal Saul's daughter loved him.
Verses 28, 29. - The failure of his evil purpose, and the knowledge that Michal loved her husband, and would protect him against his intrigues, and that the marriage had brought rank and influence to David, made Saul hate him all the more bitterly, because he could not now openly put to death one so closely connected with him.
And Saul was yet the more afraid of David; and Saul became David's enemy continually.
Then the princes of the Philistines went forth: and it came to pass, after they went forth, that David behaved himself more wisely than all the servants of Saul; so that his name was much set by.
Verse 30. - The princes of the Philistines went forth. See on ver. 5. This new war was the result of David's raid, but it only led to an increase of his fame and popularity. For he behaved himself more wisely. I.e. was more successful and skilful than any of Saul's other officers.

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