Fleeing From Saul
1 Samuel 19
At the close of 1 Samuel 18 there is a striking word recorded which supplies a most blessed line in the typical picture that was furnished by the man after Godís own heart. There we read, "David behaved himself more wisely than all the servants of Saul; so that his name was much set by"óthe marginal reading is still more suggestive: "so that his name was precious." What a lovely foreshadowing was this of Him whose "Name" is "as ointment pouted forth" (Song of Solomon 1:3)! Yes, both to His Father and to His people the name of Christ is "much set by." He has "obtained a more excellent name" than angels bear (Heb. 1:4); yea, He has been given "a name which is above every name" (Phil, 2:9). "Precious" beyond description is that Name unto His own: they plead it in prayer (John 14: 13); they make it their "strong tower" (Prov. 18:10).
"And Saul spake to Jonathan his son, and to all his servants, that they should kill David" (1 Sam. 19:1). How vivid and how solemn is the contrast presented between the last sentence of the preceding chapter and the opening one of this! And yet perhaps the spiritually minded would hardly expect anything else. When the "name" of the "Beloved" (for that is what ĎDavid" signifies) is "much set by," we are prepared to see the immediate raging of the enemyópersonified here by Saul. Yes, the picture here presented to our view is true to life. Nothing is more calculated to call into action the enmity of the Serpent against the womanís Seed than the extolling of His "name," with all that that scripturally includes. It was thus in the days of the apostles. When they announced that "There is none other Name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12), the Jewish leaders "commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus" (v. 18); and because they heeded not, the apostleís were "beaten" and again commanded "not to speak in the name of Jesus" (Acts 5:40).
The previous plot of Saul upon Davidís life had failed. Instead of his being slain by the Philistines, they fell under the hand of David, and the consequence was that the son of Jesse became more esteemed than ever by the people. His name was held in high honor among them. Thus it was too with his Antitype: the more the chief priests and Pharisees persecuted the Lord Jesus, the more the people sought after Him: "From that day forth, they took counsel together for to put Him to death . . . and the Jewsí passover was nigh at hand: and many went out of the country up to Jerusalem before the passover, to purify themselves. Then sought they for Jesus" (John 11:53, 55, 56). So it was after His ascension: the more His witnesses were persecuted, the more the Gospel prospered. There seems little room for doubt that the death of Stephen was one of the things used by God to convict him who afterwards became the mighty apostle to the Gentiles. When the early church was assailed, we are told, "Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the Word" (Acts 8:4). Thus does God make the wrath of man to praise Him.
Saul was growing desperate, and now hesitated not to make known unto his own son his fierce hatred of David. Yet here again we may behold and admire the directing hand of Providence, in the kingís not concealing his murderous designs from Jonathan. The son shared not his fatherís enmity, accordingly we read, "But Jonathan Saulís son delighted much in David: and Jonathan told David, saying, Saul my father seeketh to kill thee: now therefore, I pray thee, take heed to thyself until the morning, and abide in a secret place, and hide thyself: and I will go out and stand beside my father in the field where thou art, and I will commune with my father of thee; and what I see, that I will tell thee" (9:2, 3). It is blessed to see such true and disinterested friendship, for it should not be forgotten that Jonathan was the natural heir to the throne. Here we see him faithfully acquainting David of his danger, and counseling him to take precautionary measures against it.
Not only did Jonathan warn his beloved friend of the evil intentions of his father, but he also entreated the king on his behalf. Beautiful it is to see him interceding before Saul (vv. 4, 5), at the imminent risk of bringing down his anger upon his own head. Jonathan reminded Saul that David had never wronged him; so far from it, he had delivered Israel from the Philistines, and had thus saved the kingís throne; why then should he be so set upon shedding "innocent blood"? Jonathan must not here be regarded as a type of Christ, rather is he a vivid contrast. Jonathanís plea was based upon Davidís personal merits. It is the very opposite in the case of the Christianís Intercessor. Our great High Priest appears before the King of the universe on behalf of His people not on the ground of any good they have done, but solely on the ground of that perfect satisfaction or obedience which He offered to divine justice on their behalf; no merits of theirs can He plead, but His own perfect sacrifice prevails for them.
Jonathanís intercession was successful: "And Saul hearkened unto the voice of Jonathan" (v. 6). He not only gave his son a fair hearing, but was duly impressed by the arguments used, and was convicted for the present that he was wrong in seeking the life of David. Yet here again the intercession of Jonathan and that of the Lord Jesus for His people are in striking contrast: the former had naught but a temporary and transient effect upon his father, whereas that of our Advocate is eternally efficaciousóforever be His name praised. "And Saul sware, As the Lord liveth, he shall not be slain" (v. 6). Once more we see how easy it is for wicked men to make use of pious expressions, and appear to superficial observers godly men. The sequel shows of what little value is the solemn oath of a king, and warns us to place no confidence in the engagements of earthly rulers. They who are acquainted with the Scriptures are not surprised when even national and international treaties become only worthless "scraps of paper."
Reassured by Jonathan, David returned to Saulís household (v. 7). But not for long: a fresh war (probably local, and on a small scale) broke out with the Philistines. This called for David to resume his military activities, which he did with great success (v. 8), killing many of the enemy and putting the remainder to flight. A blessed example does the man after Godís own heart here set us. Though serving a master that little appreciated his faithful efforts, nay, who had vilely mistreated him, our hero did not refuse to perform his present duty. "David continues his good services to his king and country. Though Saul had requited him evil for good, and even his usefulness was the very thing for which Saul envied him, yet he did not therefore retire in sullenness, and decline public service. Those that are ill paid for doing good, yet must not be weary of well-doing, remembering what a bountiful benefactor our heavenly Father is" (Matthew Henry).
"And the evil spirit from the Lord was upon Saul, as he sat in his house with his javelin in his hand" (v. 9). The opening word of this verse seems to intimate that the fresh victory of David over the Philistines stirred up the spiteful jealousy of the king, and thus by "giving place to the devil" (Eph. 4:26, 27) became susceptible again to the evil spirit. "And David played with his hand," no doubt upon the harp. One who had been so successful upon the battlefield, and was held in such honor by the people, might have deemed such a service as beneath his dignity; but a gracious man considers no ministry too humble by which he may do good to another. Or, he might have objected on the basis of the danger he incurred the last time he performed this office for Saul (18:10), but he counted upon God to preserve him in the path of duty.
"And Saul sought to smite David even to the wall with the javelin" (v. 10). In view of his so recently acceding to his sonís intercession and swearing that David should not be slain, our present verse furnishes an illustration of a solemn and searching principle. How often unsaved people, after sudden conviction have resolved to break from their evil doings, and serve the Lord, but only after a short season to return to their course of sin, like a washed sow to her wallowing in the mire (2 Peter 2:22), Where there has been no miracle of mercy wrought within the heart, no change of disposition, and where there is no dependence upon divine grace for needed strength, resolutions, however sincere and earnest, seldom produce any lasting effect. Unmortified lusts quickly break through the most solemn vows; where the fear of God does not possess the heart, fresh temptations soon arouse the dormant corruptions, and this gives Satan good opportunity to regain complete mastery over his victim.
But he slipped away out of Saulís presence, and he smote the javelin into the wall; and David fled, and escaped that night" (v. 10). How wonderful is the care of God for His own! Though invisible, how real are His protecting arms! "Not a shaft of hate can hit, till the God of love sees fit." What peace and stability it brings to the heart when faith realizes that "The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them" (Ps. 34:7). Men may be filled with malice against us, Satan may rage and seek our destruction, but none can touch a hair of our heads without Godís permission. The Lord Almighty is the "Shield and Buckler," the "Rock and Fortress" of all those who put their trust in Him. Yet note that David was not foolhardy and reckless. Faith is not presumptuous: though we are to trust Him, we are forbidden to tempt the Lord; therefore it is our duty to retire when men seek our hurt (cf. Matthew 10:23).
Saul also sent messengers unto Davidís house, to watch him, and to slay him in the morning: and Michal Davidís wife told him, saying, If thou save not thy life tonight, tomorrow shalt thou be slain" (v. 11). Saul was thoroughly aroused: chagrined by his personal failure to kill David, he now sent his guards to assassinate him. These were to surround his house and wait till daylight, rather than enter and run the risk of killing some one else, or allowing him to make his escape during the confusion and darkness. But man proposes, and God disposes. The Lord had other services for David to perform, and the servant of God is immortal until the work allotted him has been done. This time the kingís own daughter, who had married David, was the one to befriend him. In some way she had learned of her fatherís plan, so at once took measures to thwart it. First, she acquainted her husband of his imminent danger.
Next we are told, "so Michal let David down through a window; and he went, and fled, and escaped" (v. 12). In like manner, Rahab had let down the spies from her house in Jericho, when the kingís messengers were in quest of him; and as the disciples let down the apostle Paul at Damascus, to preserve him from the evil designs of the Jews. Though the doors were securely guarded, David thus escaped through a window, and fled swiftly and safely away. It is of deep interest at this point to turn to the fifty-ninth Psalm, the heading of which (inspired, we believe) tells us it was written "when Saul sent, and they watched the house to kill him." In this critical situation, David betook himself to prayer: "Deliver me from mine enemies, O my God: defend me from them that rise up against me. Deliver me from the workers of iniquity, and save me from bloody men. For, lo, they lie in wait for my soul: the mighty are gathered against me; not for my transgression, nor for my sin, O Lord" (Psalm 59:1-3). Blessed is it to see that ere he completed the Psalm, full assurance of deliverance was his: "But I will sing of Thy power, yea, I will sing aloud of Thy mercy in the morning"(v. 16).
"And Michal took an image, and laid it in the bed, and put a pillow of goatsí hair for his bolster, and covered it with a cloth, and when Saul sent messengers to take David, she said, He is sick" (vv. 13, 14). Water will not rise above its own level. We cannot expect the children of this world to act according to heavenly principles. Alienated as they are from the life of God (Eph. 4:18), utter strangers to Him in experience (Eph. 2:12), they have no trust in Him. In an emergency they have no better recourse than to turn unto fleshly schemings and devisings. From a natural viewpoint Michalís fidelity to her husband was commendable, but from a spiritual standpoint her deceit and falsehood was reprehensible. The one who commits his cause and case unto the Lord, trusting also in Him to bring to pass His own wise purpose and that which shall be for his own highest good (Ps. 37:5), has no need to resort unto tricks and deceits. Does not Davidís having yoked himself to an unbeliever supply the key to his painful experiences in Saulís household!
"And Saul sent the messengers again to see David, saying, Bring him up to me in the bed, that I may slay him" (v. 15). Bent on Davidís destruction, the king gave orders that, sick or no, he should be carried into his presence, and this for the specific purpose of slaying him by his own hand. Base and barbarous was it to thus triumph over one whom he thought was sick, and to vow the death of one that, for all he knew, was dying by the hand of nature. Spurred on by him who is "a murderer from the beginning" (John 8:44), the savage cruelty of Saul makes evident the extreme danger to which David was exposed: which, in turn, intensifies the blessedness of Godís protection of him. How precious it is for the saint to know that the Lord places Himself as the Shield between him and his malicious foe! "As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about His people from henceforth even forever" (Ps. 125:2).
When the servants returned to and entered Michalís house, her plot was exposed and the flight of David discovered (v. 16). Whereupon the king asked his daughter, "Why hast thou deceived me so, and sent away mine enemy, that he is escaped?" (v. 17). How thoroughly blurred is the vision of one who is filled with envy, anger and hatred! He who had befriended Saul again and again, was now regarded as an "enemy." There is a solemn lesson for us in this: if pride, prejudice, or self-seeking rule our hearts, we shall regard those who are our wisest counselors and well-wishers as foes. Only when our eye be single is our whole body full of light. Solemn is it to note Michalís answer to Saul: "He said unto me, Let me go; why should I kill thee?" (v. 17), thereby representing David as a desperate man who would have slain her had she sought to block his escape. Still more solemn is it to find the man after Godís own heart married to such a woman!
"So David fled, and escaped, and came to Samuel to Ramah, and told him all that Saul had done to him. And he and Samuel went and dwelt in Naioth" (v. 19). It was by Samuel he had been anointed, and through him he had first received the promise of the kingdom. Probably David now sought Godís prophet for the strengthening of his faith, for counsel as to what he should do, for comfort under his present troubles, for fellowship and prayer: it was through Samuel he was now most likely to learn the mind of the Lord. And too, he probably regarded asylum with Samuel as the most secure place in which he could lodge. Naioth was close to Ramah, and there was a school of the prophets: if the Philistines gave no disturbance to the "hill of God" and the prophets in it (10:5), it might be reasonably concluded that Saul would not.
"And it was told Saul, saying, Behold, David is at Naioth in Ramah." And Saul sent messengers to take David: and when they saw the company of the prophets prophesying and Samuel standing as appointed over them, the Spirit of God was upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied" (vv. 19, 20). Notwithstanding the sacredness of the place David was in, Saul sent servants to arrest him. But again the Lord interposed, by causing His Spirit to fall upon Saulís messengers, who were so much taken up with the religious exercises, they neglected the errand on which they had been sent. How this reminds us of the Pharisees and chief priests sending officers to apprehend Christ, but who instead of executing their commission, returned to their masters, saying, "Never man spake like this Man" (John 7:32,45,46)! Saul sent others of his servants, a second and a third time, to seize David, but before he reached the place where David was, the Spirit of God came upon him and threw him into a kind of trance, in which he continued all day and night; giving David plenty of rime to escape. Such strange methods does Jehovah sometimes employ in bringing to naught the efforts of His enemies against His servants.