I Samuel 18: Saul’s Jealousy of David
Let’s just jump right into this one, shall we?
After his defeat of Goliath, David and Jonathan become very good friends. (Verse 1 tells us that Jonathan becomes “one in spirit with David.”) Saul decides to keep David in his service full time—meaning that David doesn’t return to his father’s house—and Jonathan gives David his armour (his robe and tunic, sword, bow, and belt). Saul also gives David a high rank in the army because everything he gives David to do, David does successfully. David’s new position pleases the people and it pleases Saul’s officers, so obviously it’s not just Saul who is impressed with David’s success and ability.
However, this doesn’t last long, in Saul’s eyes:
When the men were returning home after David had killed the Philistine, the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with tambourines and lutes. As they danced, they sang:
“Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.”
Saul was very angry; this refrain galled him. “They have credited David with tens of thousands,” he thought, “but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?” And from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David.
The next day, Saul’s evil spirit comes upon him in force, and he begins prophesying. (At least, I assume the prophesying is because of the spirit, and that Saul wasn’t prophesying before the spirit came upon him. The text isn’t quite clear on that.) David is playing his lute, as usual, but Saul gets the idea to take his spear and run David through, pinning him to the wall. He tries twice, but David eludes him both times.
I don’t know if it’s because of this event, or just the general way his mind is going, but Saul realizes that the LORD has left him, and is with David, and Saul becomes afraid of David. So he sends David away, in command over a thousand men, and David has great success leading them (because the LORD is with him). All of the Israelites love David, because of his success in leading them in their campaigns, which makes Saul continue to fear him.
And then Saul has an idea: He’ll give his daughter Merab to David in marriage, as long as David will serve him faithfully in fighting the Philistines. He’s hoping that David will be killed by the Philistines, and then Saul won’t have to raise his own hand against David—probably because he fears what the people will do, if Saul kills the man whom they are currently adoring. But Saul’s plan backfires, because David is too humble to marry the king’s daughter! He tells Saul that he can’t marry Merab, because he’s not worthy to become the king’s son-in-law. Verse 19 tells us that when it is time for Merab to be given to David, she is given in marriage to another man, instead, but since David had already said he wouldn’t marry Merab, I’m not sure why it ever would have been time for her to be given to him.
But then Saul gets a second chance: He finds out that his other daughter, Michal, is in love with David, and believes that he has a second chance for David to be killed by the Philistines. (He also says that Michal will be a “snare” to him (verse 21), but I’m not sure if he means because she’ll be the cause of David’s death at the hands of the Philistines, or if he is referring to some personality trait of Michal herself.) He tells David that he has a second chance to become his son-in-law, and then has his attendants approach David too, and tell him that the king is pleased with him, so he should go for it. But David won’t do it; he tells them that it’s no small thing to be the king’s son-in-law, and that he is too poor and little-known. (Actually, that last part is kind of funny; I’m sure David is one of the more well-known men in the land, at this point.) But this time, Saul comes up with a further idea: he’ll put a task before David, for David to earn Michal’s hand in marriage. All Saul asks is for David to bring him a hundred Philistine foreskins.
When David hears this, he is pleased to do it. I guess he feels that this time he’s actually earning his way into the family. David is not killed by the Philistines; he and his men go out and kill two hundred Philistines, and bring their foreskins to Saul. So Saul gives Michal in marriage to David. Once again, Saul sees how the LORD is with David, and he also sees how Michal is in love with him, and he becomes even more afraid. In fact, verse 29 tells us that he becomes David’s enemy, and remains so for the rest of his days.
But David seems unaware of this. Every time the Israelites go into battle with the Philistines, David meets with more success than Saul’s other officers (or, as an alternative suggested in the footnote, maybe he “acts more wisely”), and his name becomes well known.
I’m not sure what exactly it signifies when Jonathan gives David his armour/clothes. A sign of respect? Friendship? Equality?
Saul’s jealousy of David seems a bit much. But I think the evil spirit which is tormenting him has something to do with it. (Is that an obvious thing to say?) Especially when David refuses to marry Saul’s daughter, because he doesn’t feel worthy to become the king’s son-in-law—does that sound like the action of a man who wants to overthrow the king?
Speaking of which, it doesn’t explicitly say, but I think Saul’s fear of David is a fear that David will take away his kingdom. I don’t think he regards David as a judgement from God, or anything like that.
It might sound odd that Saul is asking David for Philistine foreskins—why not heads, or something like that?—but I’m guessing it’s a mix of practicality and contempt for non-Jewish people. Practicality because only the Israelites would be circumcised, nobody else would, so David wouldn’t be able to cheat and kill a hundred Israelite men for their foreskins. But the Israelites sometimes referred to non-Israelites as uncircumcised, with circumcision standing as a sign of Jewishness, so I wonder if that played a part, too.
For the most part, in this passage David seems unaware of Saul’s ill intent toward him. But if that’s so, I don’t know if he’s ignoring the incident where Saul tried to run him through with a spear, or if he’s just chalking it up to Saul’s insanity, caused by the evil spirit. Or maybe David is completely aware of what is going on, and just trying to deal with the cards God has dealt him.