His Early Experiences
1 Samuel 18
Human nature is quite apt to turn eyes of envy upon those who occupy exalted positions. It is commonly supposed that they who are stationed in seats of eminence and honor enjoy many advantages and benefits which are denied those beneath them; but this is far more imaginary than real, and where true is offset by the added responsibilities incurred and the more numerous temptations which are there encountered. What was before us in our last chapter ought to correct the popular delusion. David on the plains of Bethlehem was far better off than David in the kingís household: tending the sheep was less exacting than waiting upon Saul. Amid the green pastures he was free from jealous courtiers, the artificial etiquette of the palace, and the javelin of a mad monarch. The practical lesson to be learned by us is, to be contented with the lowly position which the providence of God has assigned us. And why should those who are joint-heirs with Christ be concerned about the trifles and toys of this world?
Resuming now at the point where we broke off, we next read, "And Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with him, and was departed from Saul" (1 Sam. 18: 12). The word for "afraid" here is a milder one than that employed in verse 15, and might be rendered "apprehensive." The king was becoming increasingly uneasy about the future. Consequent upon his disobedience, the prophet of God had plainly told Saul, "Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, He hath also rejected thee from being king," and then he added, "The Lord hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbour of thine, that is better than thou" (15: 23, 28). While he was probably ignorant of Davidís anointing (16:13), it is plain that Saul was now growing more fearful that the man who had vanquished Goliath was he whom Jehovah had selected to succeed him.
First, it was evident to all that the Lord had given the young shepherd the victory over Goliath, for none had dared, in his own courage, to engage the mighty giant. Second, Davidís behaving himself so wisely in every position assigned him, and his being "accepted in the sight of all the people, and also in the sight of Saulís servants" (18:5), indicated that he would be popular with the masses were he to ascend the throne. Third, the song of the women caused the jealous king to draw his own conclusion: "they have ascribed unto David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands, and what can he have more but the kingdom?" (v. 8). And now that his personal attack upon Davidís life had been frustrated (v. 11), Saul was apprehensive, for he saw that the Lord was with David, while he knew that He had forsaken himself.
"And Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with him" (v. 12). The proofs that the special favor of God rested upon David were too plain and numerous for Saul to deny. Jehovah was protecting and preserving, prospering and succeeding David, giving him victory over his enemies and acceptance in the sight of the people. Ah, my reader, when the smile of the Lord is resting upon any of His saints, even the wicked are obliged to take note of and acknowledge the same. The chief captain of Abimelechís host admitted to Abraham, "God is with thee in all that thou doest" (Gen. 21:22)ówhat a testimony was that from a heathen! When Joseph was in the house of Potiphar, we are told, "And his master saw that the Lord was with him" (Gen. 39:3). Can those among whom our lot is cast perceive that the special blessing of Heaven is resting upon us? If not, our hearts ought to be deeply exercised before God.
"And Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with him, and was departed from Saul." An additional cause of Saulís alarm was the knowledge that the Lord had departed from him, and therefore was he destitute of strength of mind and courage, wisdom and prudence, and had become mean and abject, and exposed to the contempt of his subjects. The reference is to chapter 16:14. A solemn warning is this for us. It was because of his rebellion against the Lord, that Saul was now deserted of God. How often God withdraws His sensible and comforting presence from His people, through their following of a course of self-will. "He that hath My commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me: and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him" (John 14:21).
"Therefore Saul removed him from him, and made him his captain over a thousand; and he went out and came in before the people" (v. 13). Solemn indeed is it to behold how Saul acted here. Instead of humbling himself before God, he sought to rid himself of the man whose presence condemned him. Instead of judging himself unsparingly for the sin which had caused the Spirit of God to leave him, the wretched king was loath to look any more at the one upon whom Jehovahís favor manifestly rested. Flow differently did sinning David act at a later date! Behold him as he cried, "For I acknowledge my transgression, and my sin is ever before me. Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight . . . . Cast me not away from Thy presence; and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me" (Ps. 51:3, 4, 11). Ah, here is the great difference between the unregenerate and the regenerate: the one harden themselves in their sin, the other are broken before God on account of it.
"Therefore Saul removed him from him, and made him his captain over a thousand; and he went out and came in before the people." But let us admire again the hand of God overruling, yea, directing, the reprobate monarchís actions to the carrying out of His own designs. Though it was hatred of his person that caused the king to remove David from the court, and perhaps partly to please his subjects and partly because he hoped he might be slain in battle, that our hero was now made captain over a regiment; yet this only served the more to ingratiate him with the people, by affording him the opportunity of leading them to victory over their enemies. Abundant opportunity was thus afforded to all Israel to become acquainted with David and all his ways.
Let us also take note of another line in the typical picture here. Though anointed king of Israel (16:13), David was, nevertheless, called upon to endure the hatred of the ruling power. Thus it was with Davidís Son and Lord. The One who lay in Bethlehemís manger was none other than "Christ (Ďthe Anointedí) the Lord" (Luke 2: 11), and "born King of the Jews" (Matthew 2:2); yet the king of Judea sought His life (Matthew 2:16)óthough fruitlessly, as in our type. So too at a later date, when His public ministry had begun, we read that, "the Pharisees went out and held a council against Him, how they might destroy Him" (Matthew 12:14). Blessed is it to see how that, instead of attempting to take things into his own hands, David was content to quietly wait the time which God had appointed for his coronation. In like manner, our blessed Lord willingly endured the "sufferings" before He entered into His "glory." May Divine grace grant unto us all needed patience.
"And David behaved himself wisely in all his ways; and the Lord was with him" (v. 14). Observe that little word "all," and turn it into prayer and practice. Whether on the farm, in the court, or on the battlefield, the man after Godís own heart conducted himself prudently. Here too he foreshadowed Him of whom it was declared "He hath done all things well" (Mark 7:37). Let this ever be our desire and aim. "And the Lord was with him," protecting and prospering. That word in 2 Chronicles 15:2 still holds good, "The Lord is with you, while ye be with Him: and if ye seek Him, He will be found of you; but if ye forsake Him, He will forsake you." If we diligently seek to cultivate a daily walk with God, all will be well with us.
"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" (vv. 15, 16). When the God-forsaken king perceived that he had gained no advantage against David, but that instead he succeeded in all his undertakings, and was more and more in favor with the people, Saul was greatly alarmed, lest the hour was drawing near when the kingdom should be rent from him and given to his rival. When the wicked discern that the awe and blessing of God is upon the righteous, they are "afraid" of them: thus we read that "Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy" (Mark 6:20). When it is known that God is in the assemblies of His saints, even the great ones of the earth are convicted and rendered uneasy: see Psalm 48:2-6.
"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 Lordís battles. For Saul said, Let not mine hand be upon him, but let the hand of the Philistines be upon him" (v. 17). This was said not in friendship and good-will to David, but as designed to lay a snare for him. Thoroughly obsessed with envy, the king was unable to rest. If it could be accomplished without incurring direct guilt, he was determined to encompass Davidís destruction. Formerly he had made a personal attack upon his life (18:11), but now he feared the people, with whom David was so popular (v. 16); so Saul deemed it wiser to devise this vile plot. He would have David work out his own doom. Remarkable is it to note that this was the very way in which Saulís own career was endedóhe was slain by the Philistines: see 1 Samuel 31:1-5.
"Only be thou valiant for me and light the Lordís battles. For Saul said, Let not mine hand be upon him, but let the hand of the Philistines be upon him." Was this incident before David when he wrote, "The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart; his words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords" (Ps. 55:21)! How unspeakably dreadful was this: here was a man with murder in his heart, deliberately plotting the death of a fellow-creature; yet, at that very moment, talking about "fighting the Lords battles"! O how often is the vilest hypocrisy cloaked with spiritual language! How easy it is to be deceived by fair words! How apt would be the bystanders who heard this pious language of Saul, to conclude that the king was a godly man! Ah, my reader, learn well this truth: it is actions which speak louder than words.
"And David said unto Saul, Who am I? and what is my life, or my fatherís family in Israel, that I should be son-in-law to the king?" (v. 18). Some of the commentators have supposed that Saul promised David his daughter to wife at the time when he went forth to engage Goliath; but there is nothing in Scripture which directly supports this. What is recorded in chapter 17:25 was the words of Israel, and not of the kingóthey supposed he would do this and more. When Saulís proposal was made known to him, the modesty and humility of David was at once manifested. Some think that the reference made by David to his "family," had in view his descent from Ruth the Moabitess.
It is blessed to behold the lowly spirit which was displayed by David on this occasion. No self-seeking time-server was he. His heart was occupied in faithfully performing each duty assigned to him, and he aspired not after earthly honors and fleshly advantages. "Who am I?" at once evidenced the mean estimate which he entertained of himself. Ah, that is the man whom the Lord uses and promotes: "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble" (James 4:6). "And what is my life?" breathes the same sentiment: the pitting of my life against the Philistine is no equivalent to receiving the kingís daughter in marriage. Here again we see the subject of these articles adumbrating the perfections of his Lord: "learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart" (Matthew 11:29) gives us what the modesty of David but imperfectly represented. Let writer and reader earnestly seek grace to heed that word "not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly" (Rom. 12:3).
"But it came to pass at the time when Merab Saulís daughter should have been given to David, that she was given unto Adriel the Meholathite to wife" (v. 19). What was the word of such a man worth? Be very slow, dear reader, in resting upon the promises of a fallen creature. No doubt the perfidy of the king is so grossly affronting David was designed to anger him. Such shameful treatment was calculated to stir up to mutiny one who had the right to claim the fulfillment of Saulís agreement; and thus the king thought he could gain an advantage against him. It is striking and solemn to discover that the curse of God rested upon that marriage; for the five sons born by Merab to the Meholathite (brought up by Michal) were delivered into the hands of the Gibeonites, and "hanged" (2 Sam. 21:8,9)!
"And Michal Saulís daughter loved David: and they told Saul, and the thing pleased him. 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" (vv. 20, 21). A new opportunity now presented itself unto the wicked kingís purpose. Michal, another of his daughters, fell in love with David: he therefore proposed to give her to him for a wife instead of Merab, hoping that he would now have opportunity of bringing about his death. But let us look beyond the devil-possessed monarch, and behold and admire the wondrous ways of Him who maketh "all things work together for good" to them that love Him. Just as of old the Lord turned the heart of the daughter of Pharaoh unto Moses and thus foiled the evil designs of her father to destroy all the male children of the Hebrews, so He now drew out the affections of Michal unto David, and used her to thwart the murderous intentions of Saul: see chapter 19: 11-17. What a proof that all hearts are in Godís hands!
Conscious that his own word would have no weight with him, the king slyly employed his servants to gain Davidís confidence. They were commanded to commune with him "secretly," and to assure him "the king hath delight in thee, and all his servants love thee: now therefore be the kingís son-in-law" (v. 22). When the secret restraints of God are withdrawn from them "the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil" (Eccl. 8:11). They will scruple at nothing, but employ any and every means to hand for accomplishing their evil designs: they will flatter and praise or criticize and condemn, advance or abase, the object of their spleen, as best serves their purpose.
When David was informed of the kingís intention, his reply again evidenced the lowliness of his heart: "Seemeth it to you a light thing to be a kingís son-in-law, seeing that I am a poor man, and lightly esteemed?"óby the king (v. 23). From what follows, it seems evident that David was here pointing out his inability to bring to the kingís daughter the dowry that might be expected: compare Genesis 29:18; 34:12; Exodus 22:16, 17. Beautifully has Matthew Henry, in his comments on this verse, pointed out: "If David thus magnified the honour of being son-in-law to the king, how highly then should we think of it to be the sons (not in law, but in Gospel) to the King of kings! ĎBehold what manner of love the Father bath bestowed upon us!í (1 John 3:1). Who are we that we should be thus dignified?" Utterly unable as we were to bring any "dowry" to recommend us unto God.
When his servants made known unto Saul Davidís reply, the real design of the king became apparent. "The condition of the marriage must be that he kill a hundred Philistine; and, as proof that those he had slain were uncircumcised, he must bring in their foreskins cut off. This would be a great reproach upon the Philistines, who hated circumcision, as it was an ordinance of God; and perhaps Davidís doing this would the more exasperate them against him; and make them seek to be revenged on him, which was the thing Saul desired and designed" (Matthew Henry). Even to such a stipulation David did not demur: knowing that God was with him, jealous of His glory to slay His enemies, he went forth and killed double the number required. Verily, God maketh the wrath of man to praise Himself (Ps. 76:10).