Sermon Discussion Questions:
What stood out to you the most?
Why is Jonathan, second only to David, the hero of 1 Samuel? How can grow to be more like him?
How is our ego like an elbow?
Saul's story is an extreme example of what happens when you are controlled by the approval of others. Do you see any strains of this temptation in your own life?
What unique resources does Christianity offer for those who struggle with being controlled by what others think of them? (see Isa 43:4)
Does God always get what He wants? Is His will ever frustrated? Just think of the last thing that frustrated you: maybe it is as simple as trying to get out of the house on time with young children, or maybe it is as serious as contemplating the last tragedy that is breaking in the news or last political scandal roiling our country. As we look at our life and the world, it is easy for us to feel frustrated. But, does God feel that?
“Our God is in the heavens, He does all that He pleases.” – Ps 115:3
That is an astounding truth. Whatever God wants to do, He does. “Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps,” (Ps 135:6).
Now, here is the question for us: does God’s unstoppable power and incontrovertible will cause you to rejoice, or to recoil? Does it make you happy, or worried? In our story today we will see two very different response to the providence of God—one of joy, the other of fear.
6 As they were coming home, when David returned from striking down the Philistine, the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with songs of joy, and with musical instruments. 7 And the women sang to one another as they celebrated,
“Saul has struck down his thousands,
and David his ten thousands.”
8 And Saul was very angry, and this saying displeased him. He said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands, and what more can he have but the kingdom?” 9 And Saul eyed David from that day on.
10 The next day a harmful spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he raved within his house while David was playing the lyre, as he did day by day. Saul had his spear in his hand. 11 And Saul hurled the spear, for he thought, “I will pin David to the wall.” But David evaded him twice.
12 Saul was afraid of David because the LORD was with him but had departed from Saul. 13 So Saul removed him from his presence and made him a commander of a thousand. And he went out and came in before the people. 14 And David had success in all his undertakings, for the LORD was with him. 15 And when Saul saw that he had great success, he stood in fearful awe of him. 16 But all Israel and Judah loved David, for he went out and came in before them.
- 1 Sam 18:6-15
The story picks up right after the fateful encounter between David and Goliath. David’s stunning display of courage and trust in God has inspired all of Israel. “As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. 2 And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father's house. 3 Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. 4 And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt,” (1 Sam 18:1-4).
Twice we are told that he loved David “as his own soul,” even making a covenant with David. Jonathan sees in David the same zeal and faith he has. If you compare the story of Jonathan storming the Philistine garrison with his armor-bearer in chapter fourteen with David and Goliath and you’ll see many similarities. In both all of Israel is paralyzed with fear at the power of the Philistine army, in both it is the faith of a young man who courageously challenges the Philistines against impossible odds, confident that God will deliver him. In both, they refer to the Philistines as the “uncircumcised.” And in both, Saul and the rest of the army sit back until it is evident that the battle is already decided in their favor.
Verse 4 of chapter 18 tells us that Jonathan gives to David his robe, armor, sword, bow, and belt. Many commentators remark that these items are likely symbols of royalty (cf. Esther 6:8, where permitting one to be clothed in the king’s robes was a high honor), but it is hard to tell if Jonathan is self-consciously saying, “David, you’re the king now,” by this act. This could just be a statement of how highly Jonathan regards David that, nevertheless, still ironically foreshadows David’s future royal status.
On the other hand, later in 1 Samuel Jonathan seems to be aware that David will be king soon. In a few chapters, Jonathan tells David, “You shall be king over Israel,” (1 Sam 23:17; cf. 20:14). Plus, it would seem likely that Jonathan is aware of Samuel’s rebukes back in chapter thirteen and fifteen, since they were given publicly: “The LORD has sought out a man after his own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be prince over his people,” (1 Sam 13:14) and “The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you,” (1 Sam 15:28). So, it is possible that Jonathan sees the faithfulness of David, his zeal for the Lord and realizes here is (1) a man after God’s own heart and (2) one who is better than his father. And perhaps even better than himself. Jonathan didn’t step forward to fight Goliath, but David did.
Jonathan is the unsung hero of 1 Samuel. There is no one in Samuel who is more committed in their love to David than Jonathan. Despite the fact that David’s continued rise certainly means that Jonathan will never be king (1 Sam 20:31-32). Jonathan is the eldest son of the king, the prime candidate for the next king in Israel, yet he loves David, his replacement. Jonathan is a John the Baptist character, content to see the Messiah increase, even though it means that he decreases. He knows that he isn’t the bridegroom, he is just the friend. He is the pastor of the small church who is praising God that revival has come, even though it is being poured out upon the church down the street.
What a great model for us. Consider Paul’s teaching: “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together,” (1 Cor 12:26; cf. Rom 12:15). How do you do that? I think it is more intuitively sensible to weep with those who weep—if someone else is struggling with barrenness while you have children of your own, it is easier to weep with them, to say, Man, I am so sorry. Because you are still in a position of having the thing that everyone wants. But if you are the barren one, the one without, how do you rejoice when someone else welcomes another child into their family? If you’re without work, how do celebrate someone else getting a promotion? If you are the heir apparent to the throne, and along comes someone else who is going to displace you, how do you rejoice as they rise to power? How do you not become jealous, or bitter?
1. You trust God’s providence. Trust not the Lord with feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace; Behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face. Jonathan doesn’t kick against the goads. He believes that the lines have fallen for him in pleasant places, and is content to see God’s plan unfold, even if it means he now has less power and status. But he is content, and you can be too. When it seems like the Passover is working in reverse, and God’s blessings seem to keep passing over your home, you trust that God can is masterfully weaving together all things for good (Rom 8:28). His purposes shall ripen fast, unfolding every hour; The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.
2. You pursue humility. Jonathan isn’t thinking about his advantages or disadvantages—he is thinking about God’s kingdom and glory. A truly humble person isn’t a person with the lowest self-esteem (that person is just as much enthralled to their own ego as the braggart). They aren’t thinking about themselves. They are thinking about other people—not for what they get out of them—but they are just genuinely interested in others. They have been set free from the suffocating closet of themselves to enjoy God and His creation and His image-bearers. I doubt many of you have thought about your elbow today--unless, of course, there is something wrong with it. Your elbow just quietly works without drawing attention to itself. That's how our ego should work, just quietly functioning without drawing attention to itself.
“[God] wants to bring…man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less)…glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another. [God] wants [man], in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favor that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbor's talents--or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall.” (Screwtape Letters, Letter XIV)
All throughout this chapter we are repeatedly told of just how much everyone loves David. Of course, right away, we are told that Jonathan loves David (1 Sam 18:1-4), but also that:
“But all Israel and Judah loved David,” (1 Sam 18:16a).
“Now Saul's daughter Michal loved David,” (1 Sam 18:20a).
Even back in chapter sixteen, we are told that Saul loved David greatly (1 Sam 16:21).
Why does everyone love David? Because he is the hero. Not only did he just conquered Goliath, but also because he is conquering everything: “And David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him, so that Saul set him over the men of war. And this was good in the sight of all the people and also in the sight of Saul's servants,” (1 Sam 18:5). We are repeatedly told all throughout this chapter that David is unstoppable in battle, and whatever he does, he succeeds. The final verse of the chapter tells us: “Then the commanders of the Philistines came out to battle, and as often as they came out David had more success than all the servants of Saul, so that his name was highly esteemed,” (1 Sam 18:30).
The word for “esteemed” there is the same word for “precious,” as in, rare precious metals, like gold (cf. Isa 13:12). This is what David’s name has become to all of Israel. His reputation is solid gold. Now, what does Saul think of that? Let’s quickly just chart out again Saul’s story:
- The genesis of Saul’s kingship begins before he is even on the scene, back in 1 Samuel 8, where it is literally the voice of the people who brings his role into existence. The prophet Samuel is told to “obey the voice of the people” (1 Sam 8:7, 9, 22), a starkly unusual command for a prophet to be given by God. Normally, a prophet’s role is to summon the people to obey God’s voice (cf. 1 Sam 12:14-15; 15:19, 22; 28:18).
- Saul is dragged against his will into the position of kingship by the people (1 Sam 10:23)
- Saul, afraid of losing the people, offers an unlawful sacrifice (1 Sam 13:11)
- Saul vows to kill his own son, Jonathan, because he violated his rash vow, but is overruled by the voice of the people (1 Sam 14:45)
- Saul confesses that he feared the people and obeyed their voice, and so he sinned by sparing Agag and the best of the livestock and plunder of the Amalekites (1 Sam 15:24). This final example forms an inclusion with the first: the first place we are told that someone is “obeying their voice” is Samuel’s charge by God to make Israel a king (Samuel is told 3x); the last place that phrase is used is in the mouth of Saul here in chapter fifteen. The point? Saul was created by the will of the people, and so he is a slave to the approval of the people.
So, what does Saul really care about? The voice of the people. He wants his name to be precious in their eyes, to be highly esteemed. But now, what does he hear coming from the voice of the people?
As they were coming home, when David returned from striking down the Philistine, the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with songs of joy, and with musical instruments. 7 And the women sang to one another as they celebrated,
“Saul has struck down his thousands,
and David his ten thousands.”
- 1 Sam 18:6-7
As Saul and David return back from the battle with the Philistines, the women have obviously heard of what has taken place, so as they rush forward to meet the men returning they break out into song, celebrating the magnitude of what David has done in contrast with Saul’s past victories. Notice, we are told that they run out to meet King Saul, but sing about David. The only role Saul plays is the benchmark to contrast with the surpassing greatness of David. And internally, something snaps in Saul. A good indicator that you're dealing with an idol is the depth of your reaction. Anyone who was in Saul's position would likely be offended by the crowds only using him as a benchmark to emphasize David's greatness. But because Saul worships the approval of the crowds, his reaction is extreme. He goes crazy.
It might be good for us to pause here and ask ourselves: how do we keep ourselves from turning into Saul? Do you find yourself controlled by what other people think of you? Anxious about how you are being perceived? Play back social settings in your mind, reevaluating how you could have done things differently? It might seem tempting to think that the answer is: don’t care about what people think of you! You need to learn to love yourself and accept yourself as you are. Boost your self-esteem with self-acceptance and self-love! But this assumes that your evaluation of yourself is weighty enough to buoy you up. But this kind of self-affirmation feels like a “How to lose weight without changing your diet or exercise!” schtick. We need more. We need a voice outside ourselves to affirm us, to encourage us, to look at us and say you matter.
“Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life,” (Isa 43:4). The word for "precious" here is the same word for "esteemed" in 1 Sam 18:30. This is what Saul is longing after from the crowds, but here this is what is freely given by the God that Saul is ignoring. What tender language from the King of the Universe. He loves you; He honors you; He finds you to be precious in His eyes. And what do we know that those in our story don’t? God doesn’t just give up anyone in exchange for our life, He gives up His Son. The One to whom David—in all his stunning faithfulness and success and fame—merely pointed to. How much does God love you? How precious and esteemed are you in His sight? Enough to give up His precious Son, Jesus Christ, to die for your sins, so that if you trust Him, you can be saved. This is the tonic we need to deliver ourselves from our slavery to approval—we need God’s approval. Satisfy your heart-hunger on God’s affirmation, and the scraps of this world will be less enticing.
Saul was blind to that; he didn’t see rightly.
“And Saul was very angry, and this saying displeased him. He said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands, and what more can he have but the kingdom?” 9 And Saul eyed David from that day on,” (1 Sam 18:8-9). David is the golden boy, the shiny new hero who is precious in everyone’s sight. So Saul begins to think conspiratorially—this kid thinks he is the one to supplant me! So he “eyes” David. The word for “eyed” there is actually the same word for “iniquity” (עָוֺן)—it is a clever play on words that draws our mind back to David’s anointing as king, where we are told that there is a wrong way to look, and a right way to look (1 Sam 16:7). Saul’s eyesight is literally evil (cf. 18:8, where “this saying displeased him” is literally, “the saying was evil in his sight”).
“The next day a harmful spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he raved within his house while David was playing the lyre, as he did day by day. Saul had his spear in his hand. 11 And Saul hurled the spear, for he thought, “I will pin David to the wall.” But David evaded him twice,” (1 Sam 18:10-11).
Saul has become a satanic figure, an antichrist, haunted by the demonic, an offspring of the serpent intent on killing the offspring of the woman (Gen 3:15). David is in the court serving King Saul as his court musician (cf. 1 Sam 16:14-23), yet Saul tries to kill him—twice! But David is able to escape. And this becomes the theme for the rest of the chapter (and really, the rest of the book of 1 Samuel). Saul attempts to kill David, but is constantly foiled. He attempts to offer his eldest daughter, Merab, to David in marriage with a promise from David that he will continue to fight the Philistines, secretly hoping that it will result in David’s demise (1 Sam 18:17-18). “But at the time when Merab, Saul's daughter, should have been given to David, she was given to Adriel the Meholathite for a wife,” (1 Sam 18:19). No reason given—Saul’s plan is foiled. But Saul tries again with his next daughter, Michal: “Saul thought, “Let me give her to him, that she may be a snare for him and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him,” (1 Sam 18:21).
And so Saul sets a grotesque bride price of 100 foreskins from the Philistines, hoping that this will result in David’s death. But, not only does it not kill David, but David comes back with double the required amount (1 Sam 18:25-27). “But when Saul saw and knew that the LORD was with David, and that Michal, Saul's daughter, loved him, Saul was even more afraid of David. So Saul was David's enemy continually,” (1 Sam 18:28-29). Evil hates good. Wickedness despises righteousness. But here, we see what lay at the heart: evil fears good. Everything that Saul has done to try to stop David, has done nothing—the last test has actually even made David’s fame rise even further.
What does this chapter teach us about God’s providence?
Jonathan: Happy in another’s blessing, even at his own expense. God isn’t merely useful to Jonathan, but beautiful. He loves God, and so when he sees God’s kingdom advance—whether by him or another—he is content.
Saul: Miserable in the triumph of the righteous. If God isn’t useful for his own advancement, then what’s the point? Saul thinks he can actually circumvent God’s providence. Nothing succeeds, nothing works. He is just as hemmed in by God’s providence as anyone else—note: the fact that we are told that “evil spirit” comes from God is a clear picture of this. Though Saul is in rebellion, he is not outside of God’s sovereignty. Satan is a wild dog on a leash held by the Lord. He is not a free agent.
David: “Saul was afraid of David because the LORD was with him but had departed from Saul. 13 So Saul removed him from his presence and made him a commander of a thousand. And he went out and came in before the people. 14 And David had success in all his undertakings, for the LORD was with him. 15 And when Saul saw that he had great success, he stood in fearful awe of him.” (1 Sam 18:12-15).
Nothing can stop him. Nothing can thwart his rise. This doesn’t mean his life is easy. In fact, his life is now about to become much, much more difficult. But He will be held in the hand of God’s tender providence. Every device of Satan to upend God’s providence will turn into another step by which God fulfills His master plan. Haman builds the gallows that will be used to execute himself; Saul will push David further and further into seasons of difficulty which will cement him deeper and deeper into his role as the King; the Pharisees, Herod, Pilate, and Judas do everything to silence the Son of David, only to find that they have played perfectly into His hand.
Jesus: “…for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place,’ (Acts 4:27-28).
Us: What was David’s secret weapon? The Lord was with Him. And the Lord is with you. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose,” (Rom 8:28).
“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet,” (Rom 16:20)
The word for “raved” here is actually the word “prophesy,” but I don’t think the point is that Saul is prophesying, but that he is just overcome by an intelligence and power that is not his own. The sentence “a…spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he raved” is nearly verbatim the same sentence from when Saul was anointed as king back in chapter 10, where we were told that “the Spirit of God rushed upon [Saul], and he prophesied,” (1 Sam 10:10). The author uses the same verbiage to demonstrate that Saul has become the exact inverse of what he once was.