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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 18

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-5

Jonathan’s love for David 18:1-5

We have already seen that Jonathan was a man of faith and courage (1 Samuel 14:1-15). Jonathan found a soul brother in David, a man who committed himself to trusting and obeying God as he did. This common purpose on the deepest level of life is what accounts for the love Jonathan and David shared for one another (1 Samuel 18:1). Jonathan loved David as he loved himself (1 Samuel 18:1; 1 Samuel 18:3; cf. Leviticus 19:18). He loved David, as he should have, since David had committed himself to glorifying God and fulfilling His will even at the expense of his personal safety.

Some homosexuals have tried to use the writer’s statements of Jonathan’s love for David as support that their lifestyle has good biblical precedent. [Note: E.g., Tom Horner, Jonathan Loved David: Homosexuality in Biblical Times, pp. 20, 26-28, 31-39.] However the Hebrew word ’aheb, translated "love" here, nowhere else describes homosexual desire or activity. Rather, when homosexual relations are in view, the Holy Spirit used the word yada, translated "know" in the sense of "have sex with" (cf. Genesis 19:5; Judges 19:22).

Saul responded to Jonathan’s affection for David, and presumably David’s bravery, by keeping David with him even more than the king had done previously (1 Samuel 18:2; cf. 1 Samuel 14:52). Evidently Jonathan realized David’s gifts and God’s will for David’s life (cf. 1 Samuel 23:17), and he humbly deferred to him (1 Samuel 18:3-4).

"This is a virtual abdication by Jonathan, the crown prince." [Note: Gordon, p. 159.]

The crown prince of Israel gives us one of the classic examples of self-humbling for the glory of God and the welfare of His people that we have in all of Scripture (cf. Philippians 2:5-8). Jonathan’s humility is all the more remarkable since chronological references in Samuel seem to indicate that Jonathan was about 30 years older than David. [Note: See the chronological chart at the beginning of these notes.] His response to David’s anointing was appropriate, and it contrasts sharply with Saul’s response, which follows.

". . . when Jonathan took off his robe (a symbol of the Israelite kingdom; cf. 1 Samuel 15:27-28 . . .) and gave it to David (1 Samuel 18:4), he was in effect transferring his own status as heir apparent to him . . ." [Note: Youngblood, p. 707. Cf. Gunn, p. 80.]

"The covenant of friendship referred to in 1 Samuel 18:3 was a unilateral (binding on one party only) covenant in which Jonathan committed himself to David with complete disregard for self. The gift given by Jonathan served to ratify the covenant and honor David." [Note: Laney, p. 61.]

Jonathan’s selfless action reflects his submission to Samuel’s oracle that Saul would not have a continuing dynasty (1 Samuel 13:13-14). Rather than trying to perpetuate Saul’s dynasty, as Abner later tried to do (2 Samuel 2:8-9), godly Jonathan turned over the symbols of the crown prince to David.

"In our political world, where power plays such an important role, what would be thought of a prince who voluntarily renounced his throne in favor of a friend whose character and godly faith he admired?" [Note: Baldwin, p. 129.]

David’s commitment to God resulted in his prospering (the fertility motif). David acted wisely, the literal meaning of the Hebrew word translated "prospered" (1 Samuel 18:5; 1 Samuel 18:14-15), also because God was with him (1 Samuel 18:12; 1 Samuel 18:14; cf. 1 Samuel 16:13). Not only did Jonathan love David, but all the people, including even Saul’s servants, those people who were most loyal to the king, did too (1 Samuel 18:5). God blesses personally those who relate to Him properly. They also become channels of blessing to others (cf. 1 Samuel 2:30; Genesis 12:2).

Saul may or may not have known at this time that Samuel had anointed David. His growing jealousy seems to have mounted as a result of David’s increasing ability, success, and popularity with the people that stemmed from God’s help (grace).

Verses 1-17

3. The results of God’s selection of David 18:1-19:17

Earlier the writer narrated Saul’s anointing, military success, and the popular reaction to him (chs. 10-11). Now he followed the same pattern by recording David’s anointing, military success, and the popular reaction to him (1 Samuel 16:1 to 1 Samuel 19:17). The popular reaction to Saul was fairly simple: most of the people supported him, though a few opposed him (1 Samuel 11:12-15). The popular reaction to David was much more complex and significant (1 Samuel 18:1 to 1 Samuel 19:17).

Verses 6-9

David’s popularity with the people 18:6-9

These verses show how David had captured the affection of many Israelites by his victory over Goliath. Successful military heroes still do so today. Notwithstanding David’s popularity, not everyone was ready to join David’s fan club, as the text proceeds to clarify. He became a controversial figure in Israel. Apparently Saul suspected that with such popularity David might attempt to overthrow his government. However, it was personal jealousy that took root in Saul’s mind and led to his downfall. The women’s song did not intend to insult Saul. It is typical Hebrew parallelism in which both heroes received honor for slaying multitudes of Israel’s enemies, albeit David received the higher commendation. While David’s actions pleased the people (1 Samuel 18:5), they displeased the king (1 Samuel 18:8). The problem was Saul’s desire to be popular with the people more than with God. Contrast humble John the Baptist, who wanted Jesus to receive more honor than himself (John 1:26-27; John 3:30).

Verses 10-16

Saul’s first direct attempt to kill David 18:10-16

The evil spirit from the Lord (cf. 1 Samuel 16:4, whatever it was) afflicted Saul the very next day. David and Saul each had something in their hand. David held a harp with which he sought to help the king by playing soothing music. Saul held a spear with which he sought to harm his helper. The writer stated the reason Saul attempted to pin David to the wall clearly in 1 Samuel 18:12. God was with David, and He had withdrawn from Saul (cf. 1 Samuel 18:14).

Saul’s unchecked jealousy bred the symptoms of paranoia; he began to think that his most loyal subject was his mortal enemy. Contrast Jonathan’s implicit confidence in David. The difference was that Saul saw David as a threat to his security, whereas Jonathan saw him as the savior of God’s people. [Note: For a very interesting comparison of Saul, David, and Absalom, that emphasizes David’s submissive responses to his enemy’s attacks, see Gene Edwards, A Tale of Three Kings.]

"The writer H. G. Wells says of one of his strange characters, Mr. Polly, ’He was not so much a human being as a civil war.’ [Note: H. G. Wells, The History of Mr. Polly, p. 5.] I think that is a perfect description of Saul. He became a living civil war, miserable, possessed of an evil spirit, mentally breaking, a suspicious, angry, jealous man. As a result, he struck out against the most trusted and trustworthy servant in his camp-David." [Note: Swindoll, p. 60.]

Next, Saul sent David out from the palace, evidently so he would not be a constant aggravation to the king. Saul placed David, whom he had already appointed as his commander-in-chief (1 Samuel 18:5), over a large unit of soldiers in the field (1 Samuel 18:13). The Hebrew word eleph can mean either 1,000 or a military unit. However, Saul’s decision only gave David more exposure to the people and increased his popularity with them. When Saul observed what was happening, he dreaded David even more (1 Samuel 18:15), but the people of both Israel and Judah loved him even more (1 Samuel 18:16; cf. 1 Samuel 18:1; 1 Samuel 18:3; 1 Samuel 18:20). The terms "Israel" and "Judah" reflect the division of the kingdom in later years and suggest that the writer wrote this account after that event. However, even during David’s reign these names appear to have been characterizing the northern and southern parts of Israel. [Note: See Zechariah Kallai, "Judah and Israel-A Study in Israelite Historiography," Israel Exploration Journal 28:4 (1978):251-61.] God was causing the wrath of Saul to praise Him, to contribute toward the fulfillment of His plans. 1 Samuel 18:13 through 16 set the growing approval of the people and the mounting disapproval of Saul in vivid contrast.

Verses 17-30

Saul’s indirect attempts to kill David 18:17-30

Since he had been unsuccessful in murdering David himself, Saul also tried to get other people to kill him (cf. 2 Samuel 11:15). Saul had promised his daughter in marriage to Goliath’s victor (1 Samuel 17:25). In spite of this, Saul now added the condition that David also had to fight more battles for his king. David, on the other hand, did not aspire to marry the king’s daughter even though such a marriage would have advanced his career greatly (1 Samuel 18:18; cf. 1 Samuel 16:18). He evidently dismissed this possibility since he could not afford the dowry (bridal price, 1 Samuel 18:23). Saul went back on his promise to give David his older daughter, Merab, anyway (1 Samuel 18:19; cf. Judges 14:20 to Judges 15:2).

Michal, like her brother Jonathan, had come to love David (1 Samuel 18:20). Evidently Saul meant that Michal would become a snare to David (1 Samuel 18:21) because as the son-in-law of the king David would have been in line for the throne. This would have made David an even more important target for the Philistines in battle. This time Saul tried to break down David’s humble resistance to becoming his son-in-law by sending servants (courtiers, leading men of the kingdom) to persuade him. They assured David that his lack of wealth would not be a problem. Normally grooms paid their prospective fathers-in-law a price to compensate for the loss of their daughter. [Note: See Edwin Yamauchi, "Cultural Aspects of Marriage in the Ancient World," Bibliotheca Sacra 135:539 (July-September 1978):244.] But Saul was willing to take 100 uncircumcised Philistine foreskins instead. He probably thought that David would respond to the challenge and perhaps die in the encounter with the Philistines. Saul used Michal as the bait to lure David into what he thought would be a fatal encounter with the Philistines.

God protected David, however, and he was able to provide the king with twice as many foreskins as Saul had specified (1 Samuel 18:27). David’s accomplishment was similar to scalping practices in the Indian wars in the United States. This time Saul gave David his daughter. [Note: For a study of four important women in David’s life, see Adele Berlin, "Characterization in Biblical Narrative: David’s Wives," Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 23 (July 1982):69-85.] Saul saw in these events evidence that Yahweh’s blessing was with David (1 Samuel 18:28), and this made him even more fearful of him (1 Samuel 18:29). Ironically, Saul from then on became David’s enemy continually (1 Samuel 18:29), even though David had become his son-in-law, as well as his faithful commander-in-chief and his effective field general. By setting himself against David, Saul was setting himself against God since David was the Lord’s anointed (cf. Genesis 12:3).

"Saul’s playing the part of a latter-day Laban (cf. Genesis 29:15-30) has rebounded upon himself, for now a second member of his own family has made her special contribution to the theme ’all Israel and Judah loved David’ (1 Samuel 18:16)." [Note: Gordon, p. 162.]

David’s behavior and wisdom in battle, guided and provided by God’s Spirit, caused him to become increasingly effective and appreciated in Israel (1 Samuel 18:30). David had regarded himself as lightly esteemed (1 Samuel 18:23), but God made him highly esteemed (1 Samuel 18:30; cf. 1 Samuel 9:2).

Throughout this chapter the writer balanced statements that credit God for David’s successes (1 Samuel 18:12; 1 Samuel 18:14; 1 Samuel 18:28) with others that credit David for them (1 Samuel 18:5; 1 Samuel 18:14-15; 1 Samuel 18:30). Both reasons were true. God’s choice of David and David’s choice of God worked together to make him successful. The opposite was also true of Saul. The Lord had forsaken Saul, but Saul had also forsaken the Lord, and the result was tragedy.

This chapter illustrates the fact that the godly often suffer through no fault of their own. It shows too that God causes even the worst intentions of the ungodly to strengthen the godly (cf. Psalms 7:12-16; Romans 8:28). We see here that the selfishness of the ungodly can produce irrational behavior (e.g., paranoia, 1 Samuel 18:12, and schizophrenia, 1 Samuel 18:11; 1 Samuel 18:17), and it leads to their ruin. I am not implying that this is the only cause of these mental problems. If we allow jealousy to take root in our hearts, it will devour us like a cancer. We should desire God’s glory, as Jonathan did, rather than our own glory, as Saul did.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 18". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/1-samuel-18.html. 2012.
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