Prosperity, the Presence of the Lord, and Persecution: The Early Years of David's Story
1 Samuel 18-204th Sunday after Pentecost – July 2, 2017 (am)
Lord God, help us to know your ways; teach us your paths. Lead us in your truth, and teach us, for you are the God of our salvation; for you we wait all the day. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Based on Psalm 25:4–5.
We return this morning to the book of Samuel, after a month-long hiatus for our Global Outreach Month. Our chapters for the morning, 1 Sam 18–20, pick up the story right on the heels of David’s famous victory over the towering and terrifying Goliath. If you have your Bibles, open them to 1 Sam 18. We’ll hit the ground running with a quick survey of the passage.
On the day David defeated Goliath, in vv. 1–4 of 1 Sam 18,[i] the soul of Jonathan, Saul’s son, is knit to the soul of David. David’s courage and zeal for God’s glory in battle with Goliath proved him to be a kindred spirit to Jonathan, who earlier exhibited the same qualities.[ii] So in 1 Sam 18 a deep friendship is formed, and Jonathan and David enter into a covenant together to give structure to their love and concern for one another.[iii] As part of this covenant making, Jonathan takes off his robe and armor and gives it to David, a show of incredible humility. For Jonathan isn’t giving meaningless clothing and weapons to David; he gives symbols of his responsibility and right to rule in Israel.[iv] Jonathan is the crown prince, King Saul’s son, the rightful heir to the throne. But he gives his royal robe[v] and his marks of authority over the armies of Israel to the young upstart David,[vi] because he recognizes God’s call on David’s life.
In vv. 5–9 of ch. 18, we read of David’s military victories over the Philistines. David is, v. 5 says, “successful wherever Saul sent him” and is put in charge “over the men of war.” In the following verses, David receives a hero’s welcome as he returns to “the cities of Israel.”[vii] The people of Israel come out to meet David with celebratory dancing and songs of joy, but Saul, we are told in vv. 8–9, begins to grow leery of David.[viii] What’s next for David but the kingdom? David’s successes lead Saul to conclude that something must be done about him.
This leads directly to the next scene in vv. 10–11, where Saul is tormented by a harmful spirit. To soothe Saul, David plays the lyre “with his hand” (as the best translations put it[ix]); meanwhile, Saul has his spear “in his hand.” Saul isn’t in the mood for being soothed; instead, he wants to play a game of pin-the-David-to-the-wall. So he tosses his spear David’s way. But he misses David, hitting nothing but wall, and David is able to escape.[x]
Saul then tries more stealthy means of doing away with David. In vv. 20ff., Saul offers his two daughters to David in marriage,[xi] intending to put David in harm’s way by demanding a dangerous-to-acquire dowry.[xii] David first refuses to marry Saul’s older daughter Merab in vv. 17–19. But when Saul offers his younger daughter Michal in marriage, David accepts. The only catch is, as v. 25 says, David must produce 100 Philistine foreskins as a dowry. As you can imagine, getting his hands on the needed goods would present David a few challenges. So Saul’s strategy for getting rid of him seems pretty strong. But things don’t work out as Saul planned. David comes back from the Philistines alive, with dowry in hand. And he goes beyond the call of duty; according to v. 27, he brings back not 100 but 200 foreskins to win his bride.[xiii] How romantic. Saul’s efforts to kill David simply result in David marrying into the royal family.
Chapter 19 has the feel of a replay of ch. 18. It begins in vv. 1–7 with David and Jonathan again in conversation, this time concerning Saul’s malice toward David. Jonathan intervenes before Saul, and is, at least for a time, successful at turning Saul’s wrath away from David. In v. 8, David again goes out to battle the Philistines and is again successful. And again this leads to Saul being tormented by a harmful spirit in v. 9. The characters then take their familiar places: Saul is in his palace with spear in hand; David is there, too, with lyre in hand. And, surprise, surprise, in v. 10 the spear again goes flying toward David’s head, missing his head but striking “into the wall.” And from here on out, David (prudently) no longer spends time in the palace, but spends most of the rest of 1 Samuel fleeing from Saul’s murderous pursuit.[xiv]
In vv. 11–17, Michal returns to the picture, as she helps David escape from Saul. Saul sets an ambush for David in his own home and nearly captures him, but Michal dresses up a household idol to look like David lying sick on his bed.[xv] The decoy buys David just enough time to escape from Saul’s men. Saul is none too happy, asking his daughter in v. 17, “Why have you deceived me?” And Michal tells him a lie about David threatening her life.[xvi]
Chapter 19 ends with a strange scene. Here we read of David fleeing to Samuel the prophet. Saul pursues him, only to fall into a trance-like state of prophetic ecstasy brought on by the Spirit of the Lord, leading people to ask in v. 24, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” This, you’ll recall, is what happened to Saul earlier in 1 Sam 10, with the same question being asked in 10:12, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” But here in ch. 19, unlike in ch. 10, Saul in his Spirit-induced trance “stripped off his clothes” in v. 24, and “lay naked all that day and night.” That didn’t happen back in ch. 10. I think the point is to underline how far Saul has fallen—from a promising beginning, to the shame of nakedness as a judgment for sin and unbelief.[xvii]
The lengthy ch. 20 is largely an extended dialogue between Jonathan and David. David tries to prove to Jonathan, once and for all, that Saul has murderous intentions.[xviii] To make a long story short, Saul’s true colors are revealed to Jonathan, as Saul’s rage is turned toward his son because of his alliance with David. In v. 33 of ch. 20, Saul hurls his ever-present spear now at Jonathan’s head. Those who follow God’s anointed one receive the same treatment that God’s anointed one receives. Saul reveals that he is well past the point of no return regarding David. So David flees from the palace, becoming a fugitive and an exile for the remainder of 1 Samuel.
That was a rather brisk survey of 1 Sam 18–20. Let’s take a breath and reconsider the story, with a focus on one of its clear themes—namely, the prosperity David. The narrative is emphatic about this in ch. 18. Four times in ch. 18, in vv. 5, 14, 15, and 30, the narrator tells us that David has great success or “prospers.”[xix] In the early going of David’s story, the narrator wants to drill into our heads that David prospers. His prosperity may be summarized in two statements: (1) everybody loves David (except Saul), and (2) everybody helps David (even Saul).
First, everybody loves David (except Saul, of course). It’s hard to miss this, so often does it come up.[xx] In v. 1 of ch. 18, we read, “The soul of Jonathan [Saul’s son] was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.”[xxi] Verse 20 tells us that “Saul’s daughter Michal loved David” as well.[xxii] Back up in v. 5, “all the people” and “Saul’s servants” seem to love David. In vv. 6–7, the women of the cities of Israel love the cute little redhead, writing celebratory songs for him. And in case we’ve missed the point, v. 16 states boldly, “all Israel and Judah loved David, for he went out and came in before them.”[xxiii] They love him as they would love a military leader, indeed a king, who goes out and fights their battles and returns to them victorious.[xxiv]
In contrast, it’s clear that Saul does not feel the same way about David.[xxv] In 18:8, he is “very angry” and “displeased” at Israel’s response to David’s victories over the Philistines. He grows suspicious. He attempts to kill David and schemes for David’s death. Saul clearly does not love David in these chapters, but it is, in large part, because everyone else does.
Everybody loves David (except Saul). And everybody helps David, often ironically or contrary to expectations. Jonathan commits himself to David and assists David throughout these chapters, but it’s at his own expense as the heir-apparent. Michal helps David escape by deceiving Saul. But she, like Jonathan, is Saul’s own child. We expect children to side with their parents, but Saul’s children are in league against him in favor of the one who will replace him on the throne. God’s anointed one brings not peace but a sword that divides families.[xxvi]
But the irony doesn’t end there. In this part of the story, everyone helps David, even Saul. In 18:13, Saul’s growing suspicion of David leads him to “remove David from his presence and make him commander of a thousand.” But in this new position, David has great “success in all his undertakings” and wins the hearts of Israel. Saul uses his daughters in an attempt to get David killed, but this results in David marrying into the royal family. Over and over, Saul inadvertently aids David’s successes and escapes. A repeated image from these chapters nicely sums up how things work out for Saul. Twice Saul attempts to “pin David to the wall” with his spear without harming David. But something is harmed by Saul’s spear—the walls of Saul’s own house, which get repeatedly struck in his outbursts of anxiety and jealous rage. Here in Samuel, Saul’s great efforts to kill David result only in the walls of his own house crumbling.[xxvii]
So everybody loves David, except Saul. And everybody helps David, even Saul. David keeps on prospering. Saul’s house, by contrast, increasingly crumbles, despite his best efforts. And why is it that David prospers while Saul’s purposes are frustrated? Why does everyone love David, and everyone, even Saul, help David? The answer is, according to 1 Sam 18:12, “the Lord was with him.” Or as 18:14 suggests, “the Lord was with him.” Or differently in 18:28, “the Lord was with David.” Such repetition is no accident. It is the narrator’s megaphone to make the source of David’s prospering clear. The ultimate reason for David’s successes and Saul’s decline is that the God of Israel is with David and against Saul. The King of the cosmos, for the good of his cosmos, is causing his anointed one to ascend to the throne of Israel. In these chapters, God is sovereignly, wisely, and lovingly protecting David and causing him to prosper.
This is, of course, only half of the story. The Lord is with David in these chapters, but so also, all too often, are Saul’s henchmen. David succeeds greatly in these chapters. But he also suffers greatly, as he flees family, friends, home. David prospers; and he is persecuted. Our chapters introduce suffering and persecution into David’s story. And it will only intensify in the coming chapters. Our chapters begin a very difficult season for David: Saul’s persecution begins and continues pretty much unabated for the rest of 1 Samuel; for the rest of the book David will be constantly on the run as a fugitive, frequently wandering about as an exile from the land, repeatedly fleeing flying arrows, regularly fearing for his life.[xxviii]
Yet for all that, David doesn’t forsake the God of Israel. As we continue reading the story, we find that David is steadfast in his faith in the Lord’s goodness to him throughout his season of suffering.[xxix] That is noteworthy, because it’s not always the case that faith in God’s goodness is sustained through suffering. For many, a heavy weight of affliction pressing down upon the heart presses out confident hope and gratitude and joy in God. For many, suffering leads to the abandonment of God. Like the seed from Jesus’ parable, trust in God’s goodness tends to be withered by the scorching sun of affliction and persecution, or choked out by the worries of the world. The greatest tragedy in suffering is often not what happens to us but what happens in us. Suffering is tragic when it causes our hearts to turn from or be embittered toward or grow distant to God, who is our only true hope in suffering.
Can we avoid such tragedy? I believe we can. I believe God gives us resources to draw upon that we might persevere. What might some of them be? That’s the question we need to explore today. How might we endure suffering faithfully? How do we battle the temptation to unbelief that affliction poses? How might we cultivate the kind of persevering faith that David lived out in our chapters of Samuel, so that we, too, might persevere till the end? In the time we have remaining, I want to offer three strategies, which I believe arise from our passage in 1 Samuel—three strategies or practices for cultivating faith that perseveres through suffering.[xxx]
We can highlight one strategy by making an obvious observation about the story: David is often preserved through the help of others. People like Jonathan and Michal and the prophet Samuel each lend their aid to David in time of need. David is not an isolated heroic figure who overcomes the odds by his own resourcefulness and intelligence and strength. He repeatedly relies on others. He is of the rare breed that is humble enough to ask others for help. His life is intertwined with others, intertwined by covenant in the case of Jonathan. And these relational commitments and ties and helps and dependences are what enable him to survive—physically, spiritually, and wholly and completely—in this story of Samuel.[xxxi]
In God’s economy, it is not isolated, individual believing units who succeed in the fight of faith, but a company of soldiers, a communion of saints. The fight of faith is a fight for one another’s faith. So if we would persevere in our faith through whatever suffering may come, let us not isolate ourselves from our brothers and sisters in Christ. That’s spiritual suicide. It’s what Saul does in our chapters. He retreats into private, isolated brooding, and it drives him to suspicion and rage and self-pity and madness.[xxxii] There is a better path, a path leading to life. Let us affirm our covenant commitment to one another; let us honor that commitment; let us live into our covenant commitments with one another in increasingly practical and purposeful ways. When the body of Christ earnestly pursues life together, when the members of the body serve one another in practical ways, when they notice and meet one another’s needs, when they uphold one another in prayer, when they join together in shared mission, when they gather together to worship the Lord with one voice, when they exhort and encourage one another, when they celebrate with one another and grieve with one another, then God’s saints are strengthened to endure patiently and faithfully and hopefully through suffering.
I believe a second strategy for battling unbelief in the face of suffering is hinted at by the odd but purposeful repetition of David’s posture each time Saul tries to skewer him to the wall in chs. 18 and 19. Look at 18:10—the NASB most closely reflects the Hebrew wording here (the ESV isn’t clear with the precise wording).[xxxiii] In the NASB, 18:10 reads, “David was playing the harp with his hand … and a spear was in Saul’s hand.” 19:9 reads similarly: Saul sat “with his spear in his hand” and David played “the harp with his hand.” The narrator is purposefully comparing and contrasting what’s in the hands of Saul and David. It’s easy to grasp the significance of Saul’s posture with spear in hand: this is a posture of attack, of battle, of war. The kings of the world wage war with weapons and violence.[xxxiv] That’s what it means for Saul to sit with spear in hand. But what does it mean that David sits with lyre in hand? To juxtapose Saul having spear in hand with David having lyre in hand is, I believe, to make a claim about how David battles. I think the point is that David joins in God’s holy war by making music. Like Saul, David is postured for battle; he has a weapon “in his hand.” But it is a surprising “weapon,” and a surprising set of battle tactics. In the most important warfare,[xxxv] David’s military strategy is musical. In the face of suffering and persecution, David sings and makes melody.
This isn’t the first time in the story that David’s music-making is featured. According to 1 Sam 16:23, “whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand,” so that “Saul was refreshed … and the harmful spirit departed from him.” David defeats the harmful spirit’s attack by making music. This is battle; it’s warfare. But it’s unlike the battle and warfare we’re most used to and get most excited about. This is spiritual warfare through song. And it’s not just in Samuel that we see God’s people fighting the forces of evil in this strange way. According to 1 Chr 25:1, “David and the commanders of the army” personally appoint in Israel the “sons of Asaph” as priestly musicians, who would play instruments and sing prophetic words of praise and thanksgiving at the Temple. What has the army of Israel to do with priestly musicians? In Scripture, everything, since songs of praise are the stuff of holy war. Earlier in the biblical storyline, when the Israelites experience victory over the city of Jericho, what is it that brings the walls down? It isn’t battering rams or heavy stones or fire; it’s the music of trumpets. In the book of Revelation, when God pours out his final judgments on the earth and defeats evil stage by stage, what is heard in the courts of heaven with each stage of victory? The singing of the heavenly choirs.
In the holy war that the Lord of Hosts wages on sin, death, and Satan, one of the main military strategies he uses is musical. In making music, we are waging war against darkness and wickedness. It might seem to our common sense that singing and melody-making is a poor and foolish battle strategy, but the foolishness of God has always been wiser than our wisdom.
There’s obviously a lot more to think through. Here I want simply to plant a seed thought and call to action: in God’s holy war, his army is a choir and his weapons are melodies and harmonies. So when we undergo persecution, or are afflicted by the devil, when it seems that evil is winning, let us fight back with songs to the God of Israel for deliverance. When unbelief threatens to overtake our hearts in the experience of suffering, let us battle unbelief with battle hymns. Let us take up the songs of the Lord on our lips. Let us learn how to sing and chant the psalms. Let us fill our homes with the melodies of Zion. Let us gather to join our voices together in songs of praise and supplication and confession and lamentation and thanksgiving. God supports and strengthens and mobilizes his soldiers with psalms and hymns and Spirit-empowered singing and melody-making. And in and through and in response to the church’s singing and music-making, God wins his kingly victories and overcomes unbelief.[xxxvi]
To identify our third and final strategy, let’s return to David and Saul, with spear and lyre, respectively, in hand. It’s a striking scene (though perhaps not striking enough to Saul’s liking[xxxvii]). The image of Saul hurling his spear David’s way would easily stick in our memories if it only appeared once in the story. But it appears not once but twice.[xxxviii] I take that as a clue that the author is up to something. I think the repeated event in chs. 18–19 alerts us to the fact that ch. 18 and ch. 19 mirror each other. Look at how ch. 18 unfolds. We have (1) a scene in vv. 1–4 featuring David and Jonathan; (2) a report in vv. 5–9 of David’s victories over the Philistines; (3) the familiar scene in vv. 10–11 about David’s lyre and Saul’s spear; and (4) a scene in vv. 17–30 involving David and Saul’s daughters Merab and Michal. How does ch. 19 unfold? (1) With a scene in vv. 1–7 featuring David and Jonathan; (2) a report in v. 8 of David’s victory over the Philistines; (3) the second scene starring the famous lyre and spear in vv. 9–10; and (4) a scene in vv. 11–16 involving David and Saul’s daughter Michal. Chapter 19 is a mirror image of ch. 18. But there’s a key difference: ch. 18 tells us over and over that the Lord is “with David,” causing David to “prosper”; ch. 19 is mum on the Lord’s presence with and prospering of David. In fact, in the remainder of 1 Samuel, for the rest of David’s experience of suffering and persecution, we are never again told that the Lord was “with him” and the Lord was “prospering” him.
The point is not that after ch. 18 God withdraws from David and David no longer prospers in the Lord’s purposes and protection. Rather, all the narrative comments to this effect are front-loaded in ch. 18, at the beginning of David’s story, to train us to read the rest of his story with the right theological lenses on. The absence of narrative comment about the Lord’s presence and David’s prosperity after ch. 18 assumes what is clearly established in ch. 18.
This strategy of biblical narrative writing suggests to me a third strategy for cultivating faith that perseveres through suffering. And it is this: front-load your life with affirmations of, and commitments to, and practical engagements with the presence and power and purposes and goodness and grace and glory and life and love of God. Early on, before suffering hits, learn patterns and practices of prayer. Drink deeply of the Lord’s kind word to us. Practice with the people of God how to name and engage the presence of the Father through the Son in the power of the Spirit. Get drilled in professions of faith like “the Lord is with us” and “the Lord is good” and “the Lord is our strength and shield” and “I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” Drill such practices and affirmations down deeply into your soul, so that they shape your thought-habits and your imagination and are worked into your spiritual muscle-memory. Do this in the early chapters of life, in seasons of light and stability and order, because it may be that in later chapters, in seasons of darkness and instability and chaos, the presence of the Lord and his goodness will not be readily apparent to the eyes of the flesh.[xxxix]
I speak of “practice” and building “spiritual muscle-memory” by way of analogy with sports. Think, for example, about baseball. If I’m playing short-stop, and a ball is hit to the gap in right field, I need my first step to be this way, away from the ball. Why? Because a ball to the gap means the runner may try to leg out a triple, and I need to get in position to field a cut-off throw to third base. That’s not a natural instinct, to run away from the ball, in a different direction, when it’s hit somewhere. So I need not only to know where to go, but also to re-train my muscles and instincts and impulses to respond reflexively, in an instant. If I don’t respond reflexively in an instant, it will be too late, the throw will already be coming and I won’t be in position.[xl] In the game of baseball, there are new thought-processes, and also new, and at first unnatural, instincts we need to develop, new habits, new muscle memory, in order to play the game well. And here’s the kicker: game-time is not the time to try to develop all that. If during the game, when the ball is hit, if I try to develop good instincts in that moment, if I stop for just the slightest instant to try to think through all the steps (all the “truths”) applicable and necessary to the moment, it will already be too late. The runs will have already scored. The game will be lost. Game-time is not the time for developing right thinking and habits and postures and muscle memory. That’s what practice time is for; that’s what the off-season is for.
It’s the same when it comes to persevering in faith through seasons of suffering. If you only try to cultivate faith when afflictions arrive, you’re at an incredible disadvantage. We need, as best we can, to get practiced in the faith before tribulation breaks out. When the suffering comes, everything will be turned on its head; you won’t have time to learn this or that about God; the intensity of the trial will drain you of physical and emotional resources, and you might not have the energy to open your Bibles or the eyesight to read them. And if you’re faith is thin, if the roots of your faith only reach the topsoil, you will wither.
Some of us are younger, in youthful seasons of life. I hope you are able to enjoy the relative peacefulness and stability and shelter that often comes with youth—with the constant provision of parents, with few weighty responsibilities on your shoulders, with day to day having an expected order. If that’s your experience, praise be to God! For others, we might find ourselves now in a season of relative peace and order and comfort. Praise be to God for that! But do not waste it. Don’t waste your youth. Don’t waste the season of comfort. God has given it to you to prepare. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that seasons of peace and comfort and security and rest are the end we work toward in this life. That gets reality backwards.[xli] The goal of life, in this age, is not to get to seasons of ease and comfort and security. The goal of life in this age is to use God-given seasons of safety and leisure to prepare for suffering and death. It is coming. In this age, we live under the shadow of death. When you lose the job, when the persecution breaks out, when the divorce tears the family apart, when you discover the terrifying new lump in your body, when the fire leaves you homeless, when the miscarriage happens, when mom or dad’s dementia sets in, when the suffering and affliction and pain and chaos comes—and it will come in some form—oh how I hope you are ready for it!
Don’t waste your season of peace. Use it to develop spiritual muscle-memory to turn to God with humble faith and submission and hope when your “natural” impulses might incline you otherwise. Let your roots of faith grow down deeply into the soil of God’s word and way and household and mission and goodness and glory, so that when the drought comes (and some droughts can last years!), your roots may still reach the water of life far below ground.
And for those of us who may be in the midst of the drought right now, for those of us whose present suffering is so intense it was all you could do just to get out of bed this morning, set your hope on this: the story of God’s anointed one does not end with suffering and death; it ends with kingly victory and life . David had a long season of suffering, but God was present with him and for him through that suffering, causing him finally to attain to the throne. And the new and true David, great David’s greater son Jesus experienced the supreme season of suffering and affliction, which culminated in being flayed and strung up on a cross, to hang until he suffocated to death. Yet that was not the end of the story for Jesus. The story of Jesus, God’s anointed one, ends with kingly victory and goodness and peace and life. The same future hope holds for all of us who are united to Jesus by faith, however great our suffering now. So look to God’s anointed one, Jesus Christ our Lord, believe the good news of the empty tomb, and know that the story—that your story—does not end in suffering and death, but in resurrection life, as you call upon the name of Jesus and cling to him as your life and hope.
Father God, build your church, we pray. Build us up on the solid rock of Christ, so that we may we stand firm in rain and flood, in the long day of distress and suffering you call us to endure. And may the light that shines from this house through the storms of this age draw the nations to you, that they might be saved, for your Son’s sake, who with you and the Holy Spirit reigns, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
[i] Curiously, these verses (more precisely, 18:1–5) together with 17:55–58 (the prequel to 18:1–4) do not appear in the LXX. While this may be an indication of differing Vorlagen, it has the effect in the LXX of smoothing out quite a few difficulties of chronology—17:54 flows much more smoothly directly into 18:6 than it does into 17:55–18:5 (note, in particular, the chronological displacement at 18:5; also the seeming strangeness of Saul not recognizing David after his defeat of Goliath in 17:55–58, given the preceding narratives in chs. 16–17).
[ii] This is, of course, speculation, since the text offers no express comment on the motives or reasons for Jonathan’s affection for David. Bodner speculates that what bound David to Jonathan’s heart was having something in common: “taking big risks against Philistine opponents” (1 Samuel, 192). Taking a larger look at the characterization of Jonathan and David thus far, I think we can discern a couple more specific points of commonality—namely, both acknowledged the “uncircumcision” of their enemies (see 14:7; 17:26, 36), which is to say that they both thought in covenantal terms; and both entrusted themselves to the God of Israel who was able to deliver against great odds (see 14:6; 17:37, 45–47).
[iv] The literarily sensitive and literarily expressive J. P. Fokkelman says that “with the cloak Jonathan is conveying to David the crown prince’s rights and claims to the throne” (qtd. in Alter, The David Story, 112).
[v] The kingdom has already been directly connected to a “robe” (מְעִיל) earlier in the narrative (15:27). If the narrative originated as an apologetic for David’s rule, the point could not be any clearer: David did not steal a claim to the throne that wasn’t rightfully his; it was freely given to him by none other than the crown prince.
[vi] David was likely about thirty years younger than Jonathan (see Leithart, A Son to Me, 101–2)! A character study of Jonathan would produce some really helpful results in several areas (narratological for the book of Samuel, biblical-theological in the larger flow of the plot-line of Scripture, ethical and moral for daily living in the present). For some intriguing points of contrast between Jonathan and Saul in the narrative, see Bodner, 1 Samuel, 192–93. For a typological reading that identifies Jonathan as a new and better Cain and a new and better Esau (“an anti-Cain and an anti-Esau”), see Leithart, A Son to Me, 99–102, 120.
[vii] The chronology has been inverted in vv. 5–6: David’s victories over the Philistines reported in v. 5 must have occurred after his defeat of Goliath “the Philistine” which he returns victorious from in v. 6. While not really addressing what point (if any) there is to the inversion itself, Bodner stresses a thematization of David as inevitably successful is at work in clustering his military successes together (18:5–7) prior to telling us of Saul’s response (18:8–9). The order of narration functions “to illustrate that the rise of David has a certain inevitability despite the actions or reactions of the incumbent king, Saul” (1 Samuel, 193).
[x] The text of v. 11 says he escaped twice. Apparently, David didn’t get the hint after the first throw. Or alternatively, the mention of two escapes in v. 11 may refer to his two escapes from Saul’s spear appearing first in 18:10–11 (just narrated) and second in 19:9–10 (still to come in the narrative). That is, the comment in v. 11 may be a proleptic summary of the two parallel scenes, in which case the narrator would be expressly linking 18:10–11 and 19:9–10. If so, this strengthens the suggestions I make below about narrative strategy.
[xi] With several others, I discern a thorough-going Jacob typology in these chapters of Samuel. Both David and Jacob are younger sons chosen by God; both have to deal with crafty and disingenuous (future) fathers-in-law (Laban, Saul); both David and Jacob are offered two daughters in marriage (Leah-Rachel, Merab-Michal); both pay “double” of what was initially asked for as a dowry (14 years of service vs. 7 years of service; 200 foreskins vs. 100 foreskins); in both stories teraphim are part of a daughter’s deception of her father (Rachel sitting on the teraphim, Michal dressing one up) and in each story the father asks, “Why have you deceived me?” (Gen 31:27; 1 Sam 19:17). The typology extends further into the story of Samuel—e.g., both Jacob and David undergo a period of fleeing in the wilderness; David must deal with Nabal (which is Laban spelled backwards). For further discussion, see Bodner, 1 Samuel, 200, 206–8, 223; Leithart, A Son to Me, 102, 115, 118; Alter, The David Story, 117, 120–21. If I had to posit some theological significance or meaning to this typology, I’d lean toward saying that it demonstrates the fundamentally representative and recapitulative nature of God’s anointed one: God’s anointed one represents, re-enacts, and fulfills the history of the people of God in himself.
[xiii] On the discrepancy between the LXX’s “one hundred” and the MT’s “two hundred” in 18:27, see Bodner, 1 Samuel, 200. Because of the thorough-going Jacob typology that I discern in the text (see above), I follow the MT’s reading. As Bodner comments, “The Deuteronomist does not specify what the king does with the dowry” (ibid., 201).
[xiv] The second attempt shifts the narrative to a new phase: previously David simply hid in a field from Saul; now he “flees” in 19:10, runs from his home in 19:12, 18, and is named by Saul for the first time publicly as an “enemy” in 19:17 (cf. Bodner, 1 Samuel, 205–7; see also Leithart, A Son to Me, 120). From this point on in 1 Samuel, David “has to live as a fugitive, hiding in caves and deserts of the earth, finally ending up, like the ark before him, in exile among the Philistines” (Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible, NSBT 15 [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003], 140).
[xv] The handling of the idol in the narrative is an implicit narrative criticism of the idol (what should we think of a god whose image is treated thus?), and it also suggests that it’s presence in David’s house was not owing to his or Michal’s reverence. Why David and Michal had the teraphim can only be left to speculation.
[xvi] For an exegetical and theological exploration of deception in the David narratives, which argues that deception is not categorically immoral but pays attention to what aims are involved, see Matthew Newkirk, Just Deceivers: An Exploration of the Motif of Deception in the Books of Samuel (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2015). On 60–68, Newkirk deals with Michal’s deception (he identifies two deceptions in the scene, first of Saul’s men with the teraphim and then of Saul himself in the concluding dialogue), categorizing Michal’s deceptions as deceptions “intended to prevent death or harm” and concluding that the narrator portrays Michal positively in the scene.
[xvii] Saul’s experience contrasts strikingly with that of his son Jonathan: Jonathan willingly takes off his royal robe to give it to God’s anointed; Saul sadly kicks against the will of the Lord and has his robes stripped from him (cf. Alter, The David Story, 122; Bodner, 1 Samuel, 210; Leithart, A Son to Me, 120). We might say, differently, that Jonathan’s is a willing humiliation, and it leads to his covenantal fellowship with God’s anointed one and blessing for his line (which we read of later in the narrative in 2 Samuel); Saul’s is an unwilling humiliation, a humiliation that leaves him “naked” (19:24).
[xviii] For some reason, Jonathan was blind to Saul’s intentions toward David. I’m not sure how he could have been so oblivious, but perhaps it is owing in part to a son’s commitment to his father, and in part to what would be a very good virtue of giving others the benefit of the doubt.
[xix] The term שׂכל in 18:5, 14–15, 30, likely has the sense of “exercising wisdom unto success” (see Daniel J. Brendsel, “Isaiah Saw His Glory”: The Use of Isaiah 52–53 in John 12, BZNW 208 [Berlin: de Gruyter, 2014], 162n28). I have argued that Isaiah draws upon David’s “wisdom unto success” (שׂכל) in his portrayal of the “suffering Servant” figure (see שׂכל in Isa 52:13; for discussion, see ibid., 60–64, and specifically 62).
[xx] As Peter Leithart notes, “Chapter 18 is built around a contrast, not so much between David and Saul (as in chapter 17) as between reactions to David,” and the consistent and repetitive reaction is one of love: “love is a key theme of chapter 18” (Leithart, A Son to Me, 110; cf. Alter, The David Story, 112; Bodner, 1 Samuel, 193).
[xxiii] The distinction of “Israel and Judah” here is surprising in a pre-divided kingdom context. The reference to “Israel and Judah” at this point may function in any or all of three ways. It could (1) underline the distinction and differentiation between north and south that already existed culturally at this time in Israel’s history. Thus, it could (2) highlight the importance of David (the Davidic king) as a unifier of the people. And it (3) foreshadows where the macro-story of Israel (more specifically, the Former Prophets, or the so-called Deuteronomistic History) is headed (for this third point, see Bodner, 1 Samuel, 197).
[xxv] Earlier in the story, in 16:21, we are told that Saul loved David greatly. After the deliverance that David secures by defeating Goliath and other military successes, Saul’s affections change dramatically.
[xxviii] That David experiences fear is likely a conclusion we all reach by common sense. In the narrative, we can detect his fear in one of the few places that he speaks—namely, in his meeting with Jonathan in ch. 20 (the only other place where David’s speech is reported in our chapters is in 18:18, 23, where he sees himself as of no account and “lightly esteemed” (this may be nothing more than political rhetoric and posturing—indeed, much of David’s speech throughout Samuel can be understood as political rhetoric—but it is suggestive of David’s sense of being at a disadvantage to the royal family). In ch. 20, v. 1, David says to Jonathan, “What have I done? What is my guilt? And what is my sin before your father, that he seeks my life?” He goes on at the end of v. 3, “Truly, as the LORD lives and as your soul lives, there is but a step between me and death.” Inside the narrative, in the thick of his experiences, he feels persecuted and experiences fear for his life.
I belabor the point because, interestingly, David doesn’t speak much in our chapters, and the narrator of Samuel doesn’t give us many glimpses into what David is thinking and feeling in 1 Samuel as a whole. In striking contrast, we are frequently told what other characters say and feel (e.g., Saul, his children). David (together with the narrator) isn’t forthcoming about his inner life. As Bodner puts it, David “certainly does not wear his (elected) heart on his sleeve at this point in the story” (1 Samuel, 193). Bodner’s comment is made with reference to Jonathan and David’s friendship and covenant. Curiously, in one of the most in-depth looks at a friendship that we have Scripture, we are told expressly of the affections of only one party in the relationship—namely, Jonathan’s. For Bodner, this does not mean “that the love is unrequited, but only that David has the air of the senior partner in these transactions” (ibid.). A similarly striking example in which we get no insight into David’s “inner life” is in his escape from Saul’s men through the help of Michal. In that scene, we get no reported speech from David and no narrative comment telling us that David was fearful or anxious or anything, but we do hear from Michal and Saul throughout (and words that Michal falsely reports David to have said); cf. Alter, The David Story, 120.
[xxix] I think we can discern David’s steadfast trust and hope in the Lord when we consider David’s actions, specifically in relation to King Saul, in the remainder of the book of 1 Samuel. In the coming chapters David has not one but two golden opportunities to kill Saul, and both times he refuses to do so (see 1 Sam 24 and 26). Twice Saul throws the spear at David’s head; twice David refuses to stretch out his hand in retaliation against Saul (on the ironic foreshadowing, see Bodner, 1 Samuel, 196, quoting Robert Polzin). David does not repay evil for evil but shows mercy. And the best explanation for this surprising behavior of David is his faith in God. On the one hand, Scripture is very clear that love to enemies is a virtue that is compelled and sustained by deep faith in God’s presence and goodness and promises (see, e.g., 1 Pet 3:9). If David consistently shows a rare and surprising love to his enemy, it is because he is entrusting himself to the Lord God of Israel as his hope and life. On the other hand, David expressly tells us in Samuel why he will not strike Saul down. On both chances David has to kill Saul he refuses, saying, “I will not put out my hand against my lord, for he is the LORD’s anointed” (this is David’s self-reported discourse in 1 Sam 24:10; see also 24:6; 26:9, 11). David will not retaliate against Saul because the Lord himself set Saul apart with anointing oil, chose Saul for the office of king, placed Saul in office. To put it clearly, David will not strike down Saul because David submits to the will of the Lord. Submission to the will and wisdom of the Lord, even when it might not seem to be in our best interest, is, together with love for one’s enemy, a hallmark of true faith in God, true faith in the Lord’s way, not our own, as our best good and surest hope.
Going outside of the book of Samuel, we could also note that Ps 59 is David’s open profession of faith in God through his experience of persecution in 1 Sam 19. The superscription of Ps 59 is clear about this. For discussion of the veracity of ascriptions of authorship and historical circumstances in the psalms’ superscriptions, see Tremper Longman III, How to Read the Psalms (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1988), 38–42. Longman basically trusts the authorship ascriptions (while recognizing the slipperiness of Hebrew prepositions) but is circumspect when it comes to the historical superscriptions. For my part, I take the superscription as providing canonical warrant for speaking of Ps 59 as David’s words, and for reading Ps 59 and 1 Sam 19 as mutually interpreting. In any case, the content of the psalm is easily applicable to David’s experience in 1 Sam 19 (see, e.g., Ps 59:3).
For some helpful pastoral reflections on David’s uprightness and wisdom in a complex situation and difficult season (i.e., in honoring one in a God-given position of authority who is, at the same time, the one who would hurt and destroy him), see Leithart, A Son to Me, 112–13.
[xxxi] To say it in a more directly theological way, God sustained David’s life and faith through his season of suffering, through his affliction and persecution, by means of his people’s care and help (cf. Dale Ralph Davis, 1 Samuel: Looking on the Heart, Focus on the Bible [Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2005; repr., Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988], 201). God was with David causing him to prosper throughout the story, but he was with David chiefly through the love and service of people like Jonathan and Michal and Samuel.
[xxxii] Bodner notes that as David ascends “to increasing public acclaim,” Saul descends “into private brooding” (1 Samuel, 194). Again, the pattern of Saul in these chapters can be described as follows: “in the midst of a collective ambiance of celebration, he withdraws” (ibid., 195).
[xxxiii] Actually, the KJV most closely reflects the Hebrew wording, since the NASB supplies the “the harp” (in italics) as the assumed object played “with the hand.” The key point is that in both 18:10 and 19:9, both Saul and David are portrayed as having contrasting objects בּיד.
[xxxiv] Saul, with spear in hand, is like an Israelite Goliath who has come out to do battle with David. The point I am making here is that David, for his part, to is ready for battle, but what he holds “in his hand” is, importantly, an implement of worship (see Leithart, A Son to Me, 113–14).
[xxxv] This qualification is needful in anticipation of the objection, “But doesn’t David also kill a whole lot of Philistines with the typical militaristic strategies?” He does, because there are other battles needful to fight.
[xxxvi] According to Ps 22:3, God is “enthroned upon the praises of Israel.” When we sing God’s praises as his gathered people, when we plead in song with God to overcome evil and unbelief and to let his kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven, God responds with and reveals his royal power and authority. Though only mention this in passing in the body above, this assumes that battle singing to God includes (indeed, a major part of it consists of) lamentation. In particular, imprecation would seem to be part of holy war through song. If the kingdom of darkness seems to be getting the upper-hand in our day, perhaps part of the reason may be because the church has more or less abandoned the singing and chanting and recitation of the imprecation psalms.
[xxxvii] The author of Samuel is likely playing on the attempt of Saul to “strike” David, in an effort to further contrast him with David. As Bodner notes, David who “strikes” (נכה) his target in 17:35 does not find a match in Saul who cannot “strike” (נכה) his target in 18:11 (Bodner, 1 Samuel, 196; cf. Alter, The David Story, 119, on the repetition in 19:10 of the verb נכה, together with the verb “to flee,” used of David’s victories in 19:8).
[xxxviii] Three times, if we divide the twofold attempt in 18:11 into two separate events (but see my comments above). Alter suggests that the repetition of the spear-throwing incident may be a literary demonstration of “Saul’s mental disturbance [which] involves compulsive repetition” (The David Story, 119).
[xxxix] We can think of this “front-loading” of life also at the micro-level of daily life. There is much wisdom in front-loading our individual days with reminders and confessions of and commitments to God’s sovereign goodness and wisdom over our lives. We can and should wake up each morning with a confession and commitment and prayer like, “You, Lord, are good; you, Lord, are with me. Into your good and sovereign and loving hands I commit this day; nothing will befall me except what you deem is for my best. Help me to trust that. Help me to live faithfully. Help me to love my neighbor and fulfill my vocation.” This prepares us for the day to come with all its challenges, and it has the added (and perhaps even greater practical advantage) of opening up to our attention and reception the days we live as days given to us by God (which they are). Much of our God-talk and God-thought is so inconsequentially tied to the actual life we live—the humdrum life of commerce and trade and diaper changing and dining and dating and education and politics. We are ignorant that God is in it all and that we live our lives ever before the face of God; we forget that and are oblivious much of the time. So we need to train our attentions and develop practices of receiving the day. By asking God at the outset for his presence and protection and provision for this day ahead, we are enabled at day’s end to thank God for what he actually did—namely, he answered our prayer. No prayer at the beginning, no practically relevant thanksgiving at the end of the day. All we’re left to “pray” about (if we do at all) is ahistorical feelings and ideas and “needs.” Our experience of God will continue to run at a level forever parallel to (rather than always intersecting with) mundane life.
[xl] This is true all over the softball field. If I’m an outfielder, I need my first step always to be back when the ball is hit to me, because it is way harder to run backwards than it is to charge forward, and a ball hit behind me, over my head, is never going to be caught if I make the mistake of charging in. But what could be more natural than running toward a ball if it’s hit to you? If I’m a catcher, I need to bolt down the line to first base immediately when a ground-ball is hit, so that I can be in position to back up a throw to first. But what’s more natural than to sit back and enjoy the scene before me?
[xli] We might say it is to not hope for the future new heavens and the new earth but to try to rearrange the present as a tolerable heaven. In other words, our impulse is more often than not toward over-realized eschatology, inasmuch as we are a people who “work to get to the weekend” and order our years around our vacations (the bigger the better) and seek to maximize our ability to play. A great need of the hour, it seems to me, is the developing of a healthy and biblically (narrative) shaped theology of leisure and recreation.