The David Saga, Episode 3 – Saul’s Jealousy

For week 3 of the Story of David, please read 1 Samuel 18-22. This week’s story is about Saul’s murderous jealous rage towards David which culminates in the massacre of the priestly village of Nob.

Last Week

In Episode 2 last week, David comes on the scene with his singular victory over the Philistine champion warrior Goliath of Gath. In this battle of champions, it was David that stepped forward with a deep faith in his God and his Deliverer to face down and kill the giant. In contrast, Saul was seen cowering behind his soldiers too afraid to face Goliath and too afraid to lead his men into battle. David was the one who acted like a king.

This Week

As we begin these readings, remember that Saul is not a king, like Louis XIV, living in a palatial castle surrounded by a formal court and generals. Rather, Saul is more of a warlord, like we see in Afghanistan or the eastern Congo. Israel doesn’t have great walled cities, but generally simple villages. And Saul’s job as king is to protect these villages from Philistine incursion. This is more tribal warfare than a clash of large organized armies.

In this week’s episode, the difference between King Saul and his young upstart challenger David becomes more distinct. Think about where David comes from. He is the youngest and forgotten son. In ancient Israel, the ideal family was seven sons and three daughters (Job 42:13) and David was son number eight. When Samuel came to Jesse and asked him to present all of his sons, he forgets about David. David’s brothers just want him to know his place and keep silent. In Psalm 69:8, David laments that he is a stranger to his brothers who treat him as if he is an alien. We know nothing of his upbringing except he was told to go watch the sheep and be an errand boy for his father. And when David is invited into Saul’s household, Saul repeatedly tries to kill him.

From this humble and overlooked background, as often happens, David (which means beloved) has that certain charisma that causes everyone he meets to become captivated, fall in love with him, and be willing to do anything for him. God’s great gift to David is his ability to bring everyone along with him. It is this gift that allows David to escape Saul’s murderous intention is this episode and for David to become a welcomed king later in the story. It is this gift that also gets David in trouble.

Everyone Loves David: (Ch. 18)

This week’s episode begins with the conclusion of Israel’s military rout of the Philistines after the death of Goliath. Saul brings David into his household, and David soon enamors himself with everyone. The episode opens with the development of an intimately close friendship between David and Saul’s son Jonathan. Scripture repeatedly tells us that Jonathan loved David as he loved his own soul and that this love was reciprocated. (18:3, 20:17). In Jonathan, David finds the love and acceptance that he never received from his biological family. This is quite the unusual friendship because Johnathon is the crown prince and is the natural successor to Saul, and David is God’s chosen messiah to succeed Saul. Their futures are wholly incompatible. However, only Saul seems to see the contradiction in the abiding love between his two successors. (20:31).

At first, Saul sees David as someone who can perform minor military raids for him. (18:5) This leads us to see that David was probably not a boy when he killed Goliath, but more of a scrawny teenager. In his exploits for Saul David is more of a brigand raiding Philistine villages than a general in an organized army. Like with Goliath, however, David is successful whatever his mission. David’s continued success enamors David with the people of Israel and even Saul’s other officers (18:5, 28). Everyone loves David. (18:16) He is young, captivating, and full of promise, and is a young man of whom the women of Israel sing songs. He has rapidly gone from being a forgotten shepherd-boy in a small out-of-the-way village to being the toast of all of Israel.   

With the women singing of David’s exploits, Saul realizes that he is being eclipsed by this upstart young man. Saul becomes angry at (18:8) and afraid of (18:12, 29) David. Saul’s anger and fear will drive the rest of this week’s story as Saul seeks to eliminate David. Saul’s daughter, Michal, also falls in love with David. (18:20) This is the only time in the Hebrew Scriptures that it says a woman loves a man. Saul sees this love as an opportunity to exploit. He permits the marriage upon David’s payment of the bride price of a hundred Philistine foreskins! (18:25) David and his band collect two hundred, and the marriage is held. What we will see throughout the story this week is that however Saul seeks to eliminate David, David rises to the occasion and enhances his reputation even more to the detriment of Saul.     

Saul Seeks David’s Life: (Chs. 19, 20)

The Philistines having failed to kill David during his bride-price raids, Saul decides to take David’s death into his own hands. He first (19:1-7) instructs Jonathan and his other officials in his household that they are to kill David upon sight. We can see Saul and his men gathered together around a candle-lit table receiving the instructions that they are to kill one of their fellow military leaders. It’s not unlike Michael giving the order to take out Tessio in the Godfather. Jonathan, however, talks Saul into rescinding his order and reconciles David and Saul.

Later (19:8-10), after David was once more successful against the Philistines and reconciled to Saul, David was back in the presence of Saul. Saul throws his spear at David seeking to kill him by pinning him to the wall of his home. David flees out of Saul’s presence and to his own home for shelter. 

A third time (19:11-17), Saul seeks David’s life. He sends men to watch David’s house at night so that David may be killed in the morning. This time, it is Saul’s daughter and David’s wife Michal who saves him. She lowers David down through a window and places the household idol in the bed dressed as David. (The Scripture doesn’t seem to care that Michal has a household idol.) When Saul’s men raid the house to kill David, he is gone. Michal lies to her father and says that David threatened to kill her if she did not let him go. She could not tell her father that it was she that hatched the escape plan and prodded David to escape. Tradition holds that David wrote Psalm 59 arising from this experience.

David then flees to Samuel in the town of Ramah where Samuel resides with the prophets (19:18-24). Saul and his men arrive outside of town. Saul sends a company of his men to take David, but they become overwhelmed by the Spirit and begin prophesying. This happens three times. Finally, Saul himself enters the town to slay David, and the same Spirit slays Saul. Saul strips off his clothes and prophecies naked. This time it is not the love of his friend, nor the love of his wife that saves David, but the love of God that intervenes. 

Having left Ramah, David seeks refuge and counsel from Jonathan, hoping that Jonathan can once more talk Saul out of his murderous intentions. For a fifth time, however, Saul seeks David’s life (ch. 20). Unlike before, Saul recognizes that Jonathan is working on behalf of David. A conversation between Saul and Jonathan takes place while they are gathered at the dinner table. Saul lets forth a series of invectives against Jonathan, including insulting his mother (and Saul’s wife). Saul cannot understand how Jonathan can take the side of someone else against the family. Saul rightly points out that so long as David lives, Jonathan’s ability to be king is in jeopardy. Saul’s anger is such that he throws his spear at Jonathan at the table. Jonathan leaves the table in great anger against his father.

The Massacre at Nob: (Chs. 21, 22)

David next seeks refuge from Saul with the chief priest Ahimelech in the town of Nob. (21:1-9). David arrives at the town alone and without provisions or a weapon. Presumably, Ahimelech knows that Saul and his men are seeking to kill David. Ahimelech is afraid to give David any assistance for fear of Saul. David lies to Ahimelech. He tells the priest that he is on a secret mission for Saul. David’s charm and charisma carry the day and Ahimelech gives David the holy bread of Presence and gives David Goliath’s sword. Unknown to David or Ahimelech, an agent of Saul, Doeg the Edomite, overhears the conversation. David certainly would have known Doeg as an official in Saul’s court, and so we can picture Doeg hiding behind a structure or a tree listening in to the conversation and concealing his location and identity. 

Doeg the Edomite reports back to Saul. (22:6-19). Tradition holds that David wrote Psalm 59 about this report. Saul summons Ahimelech and the priests of Nob to appear before him. Saul rebukes Ahimelech wanting to know why the priest has betrayed him by giving comfort to David. Imagine Ahimelech unsuccessfully pleading his ignorance and his innocence before Saul. Saul pronounces sentence and instructs his guard to kill Ahimelech and all of the priests. These Israelites refuse the order, but Doeg the Edomite steps forward and strikes down all the priests. Only Ahimelech’s son Abiathar escapes. Doeg and his men then proceed to Nob itself and put to death everyone – men, women, and children – and everything – sucklings, oxen, asses, and sheep. David’s charming lie to Ahimelech has led to the wholesale destruction of the village.

David the Outlaw (Chs. 21, 22):

During Saul’s slaughter of Nob, David seeks refuge with foreign leaders. First, he goes to the Philistine city of Gath, Goliath’s hometown. (21:10-15) There he feigns madness with an antic disposition. Instead of destroying David, the king of Gath merely expels him from the City.

David then goes to the Cave of Adullam located about fifteen miles from Bethlehem. (22:1-2) Tradition holds that David wrote Psalm 59 as a result of this experience. David is joined by his entire family presumably because they too were in danger from Saul’s anger. There David also gathers around him about 400 other outlaws who are distressed, discontented, or indebted. Scripture tells us the names of many of these men and these exploits. 2 Sam. 23:8-39. One of these men is Uriah the Hittite, the first husband of Bathsheba. (2 Sam. 23:39)

David then goes to Moab, and leaves his family there. A prophet tells him to return to Judah, and he and his merry men take up residence in a forest. (22:3-5). We can picture David, like Robin Hood, setting up camp with other fugitives in this forest trying to determine their move against those who wish them harm. Abiathar, the sole remaining priest from Nob, joins David here. (22:20)

MEANING:  Paul writes that “All scripture (Old Testament) is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” 1 Tim. 3:16. So what is the Spirit trying to tell us in these passages about David? There are at least three takeaways to train us up in righteousness.

First, we see that God protects David when he is being pursued by the Enemy. At times this protection comes from other people in David’s life, such as his good friend or his wife. They warn him of pending assaults and he listens to them. Although David has the brash self-confidence to fight giants, he nonetheless is not above taking advice and help from others. We also see that at other times God intervenes directly to protect David. And so it is with us as well. When are those times that God has placed people in your life for protection? Did you heed their help? And when was it that God intervened directly for your aid?

Second, when David is cornered and under stress, he forsakes his faith, like many of us. He lies to Ahimelech. He uses his spiritual gift of charismatic leadership to talk Ahimelech into helping him out. In doing so, he directly causes the death of Ahimelech and the entire village of Nob. David’s faith waned and he uses his spiritual gift in a self-centered manner. Death ensues. How many times do we give up on God’s protection and look inward during stressful times? How often do we use our gifts only for ourselves and in the process injure others?

Finally, David draws to himself all manner of people, regardless of their ethnicity, religion, socio-economic status, or even legal status. The first army that David raises on his own was composed of outlaws, illegals, and deplorables. Jesus reminds us that it is the sick who seek out a physician, which is why the tax collectors and sinners sought him out. Mark 2:15-17.  God’s anointed ones will always gladly draw the outcast and marginalized to them. The question for us therefore, is who is drawn to us? What company do we keep? Do we have a heart for those who society disregards?

Next Week

In next week’s episode, 1 Samuel 23-26, we will read about David’s life on the run as an outlaw leading his mighty men.

Rescue me from my enemies, O God; *
 protect me from those who rise up against me.

Rescue me from evildoers * 
 and save me from those who thirst for my blood.

For you have become my stronghold, *
   a refuge in the day of my trouble.

To you, O my Strength, will I sing; *
   for you, O God, are my stronghold and my merciful God.

Psalm 59:1-2, 19-20

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