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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 18

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-4


1 Samuel 18:1. “The soul of Jonathan was knit,” literally, “chained itself.” (Kiel). “In almost all languages friendship is considered as a union of souls bound together by the band of love.” (Clericus). “Loved him as his own soul.” “To the conception of firmness is here added the idea of innerness of friendship, the complete identification of essence of two souls.” (Erdmann).

1 Samuel 18:2. “Would let him go no more home.” See last comments on 1 Samuel 17:54 of the preceding chapter.

1 Samuel 18:3. “Made a covenant.” “Such covenants of brotherhood are frequent in the East. They are ratified by certain ceremonies, and in presence of witnesses, that the persons covenanting will be sworn brothers for life.” (Jamieson).

1 Samuel 18:4. “Stripped himself of the robe,” etc. “The mention of several weapons, which together make a complete war outfit, suggests that Jonathan wished to honour David as the military hero.… His clothing David with his own war-dress sets aside the barrier which his rank and position would raise between them in the first instance on the common ground of the theocratic chivalry, as whose representatives they had come to love one another.” (Erdmann). “The gift of one’s own garment, especially by a prince to a subject, is in the East still the highest mark of honour.” (Philippson). See Esther 6:8.



I. The possession of analogous moral qualities will breed mutual love. There are material substances which have a singular affinity for each other because there are elements in each which are mutually attractive. The steel filings in the midst of a mass of other material will find their way to the magnet if it is placed anywhere near to them, and cleave to it with persistent force. And there are many bodies which possess elements which give them so strong an affinity the one for the other, that when the chemist places them together they lose their separate identity and the hitherto distinct substances become but one. So human characteristics and qualities—especially human excellences—form a basis of mutual affinity between those who are like-minded. A bold and courageous man is attracted to another who shows that he is also bold and courageous, and a man of strong emotions feels a drawing to another of an emotional nature. Jonathan and David evidently possessed some kindred excellences of character. If the shepherd boy had shown his courageous faith by meeting the giant single handed, the prince had displayed the same trustful boldness when he scaled the rock and entered the Philistine garrison, and they were evidently both possessed by an ardent concern for the welfare of their people, and by that humility of heart which is an accompaniment of all true greatness. When, therefore, the youthful son of Jesse stood before Saul, and both by his bearing and his word revealed what motives had prompted his action, the presence of kindred qualities in the breast of Jonathan sent his soul out to David, and that friendship was formed which will be renowned so long as the world shall last.

II. Love based upon affinity of soul is strong and will bear a great strain. Jonathan loved David “as his own soul.” Self-love is strong and deep and is a Divinely commanded love. We are but obeying an instinct implanted within us by God when we manifest a due regard to our own personal welfare—in fact it is inconceivable that any being should be a stranger to such a feeling. Our Lord Himself tells us that our own spiritual well-being is to be the first object of our care when He asks, “What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:27), and it is natural and right that our lower and secondary interests should be dear to us also. But there is a love which sets all these latter below the interests and the welfare of another, and such a love was that which David bore to Jonathan. It affords an example of the intensity to which love often grows when it is founded upon similarity of moral tastes and aspirations. It is then often equal to any test which can be brought to bear upon it, and forms a tie stronger than mere blood relation, making a man willing to forego all his earthly advantages for the good of his friend. The brook which is but a few inches deep will soon dry up under the rays of the summer’s sun, or freeze when visited by the frosts of winter, but the deep broad river rolls on without being affected by either. So there are superficial friendships which vanish altogether when circumstances change, but the love born of kinship of soul outlives all the heats of prosperity and the frosts of adversity. Such was the love which Jonathan bore to David—a love which was as deep and abiding when his friend was an outlaw and a fugitive as when he was the favourite of the court, and a love which took no account of the fact that David was destined to occupy the place which Jonathan had once hoped to fill, and the duties of which he was fully competent to discharge. Although he never sat upon a throne, Jonathan’s conduct to his rival gives full proof of his kingly nature.


1 Samuel 18:1-4. Jonathan, the man of generous soul.

1. Generous in admiring. (a) Not jealous, though his own military fame is eclipsed, (b) Fully appreciating the merit of a new and obscure man. (c) Admiring not only a brilliant exploit, but modest, grateful, and devout words.

2. Generous in proposing friendship where he might so naturally have indulged jealousy (as his father did).

3. Generous in giving what was not only valuable and suitable to his friend’s present wants, but honourable as being associated with himself. Generosity, shown in mutual appreciation and mutual benefits, is the basis of sweet and lasting friendships, and in general is one of the noblest traits of human character.—Trans. of Lange’s Commentary.

This was not a worldly friendship in which one, in loving another, in reality loves only himself and his own personal interests, but one of a higher nature, which formed the uniting bond. They loved each other truly in God, to whose service they had devoted themselves in the hours of holy consecration, … and friendship which thus grows up and blossoms, rooting itself in a similarity of sanctified dispositions, takes a first place among our earthly blessings and possessions. There that communion of heart so unites together that one man becomes to another like a living canal, through which the inner life pours forth to him a stream of enriching and never-failing fulness of refreshing consolations and enjoyments.… A Cleophas and his companion on the way to Emmaus; a Peter and the disciple who lay on Jesus’ bosom; a Paul and his Timothy—how lovely are these double stars of sacred history pouring forth their rays upon us from heaven.… Whoever is the object of such affectionate friendship, let him esteem it as a treasure of high and precious worth. Whoever, on the contrary, complains that he enjoys no such friendship, let him seek the cause of this, not in others, but in himself; since to him, without doubt, there are a-wanting, if not every endeavour after that which is noble, yet at least the heart-attracting virtues of humility, of purity, and love.—Krummacher.

There are, I fear, few such friendships between those who are nearly equals in eminence in the same profession. The proverb says, that “two of a trade never agree,” and it takes high-toned principle to rejoice in the rise, to an equal position with ourselves, of one who is in the same calling with us. Provided there be sufficient distance between us, either in excellence, or success, the difficulty is not felt on either side. The young statesman, just entering on public life, has neither jealousy nor envy of the veteran leader who has by genius and perseverance made his way to the front rank of politicians, and the leader, in his turn, feels it easy to be cordial and encouraging to the young aspirant. But let the one see the other as nearly as possible on a level with himself, even in his own chosen department of excellence, and feel that he must probably soon consent to be second to him, and the case is altered. Then, almost in spite of themselves, jealousies and envyings will spring up between them; they will look askance at each other, and though they may not break out into open foes, there will be what I may call a sort of armed watchfulness between them, and a very little matter will set them in direct antagonism. The nearer individuals come into competition with each other, the greater is their tendency to be spiteful toward each other. It is easy to be a patron, and, stooping down from a lofty height, to take by the hand some struggling beginner; it is easy, too, to be an admiring pupil of one who is acknowledged to be a great way above us; but it is a much harder, and therefore a much nobler thing, to be the warm appreciative friend of one who is in the same calling with ourselves, and who is bidding fair to outshine and surpass us. But it was just this hard and noble thing that Jonathan did, when he took to his heart the youthful David.—Dr. W. M. Taylor.

Similitude of dispositions and estates ties the fastest knots of affection. A wise soul hath piercing eyes, and hath quickly discerned the likeness of itself in another; as we do no sooner look into the glass of water, but face answers to face, and, where it sees a perfect resemblance of itself, cannot choose but love it with the same affection that it reflects upon itself.
No man saw David that day, which had so much cause to disaffect him; none in Israel should be a loser by David’s success, but Jonathan. Saul was sure enough settled for his time: only his successor should forego all that which David should gain; so as none but David stands in Jonathan’s light; and yet all this cannot abate one jot or dram of his love. Where God uniteth hearts, carnal respects are too weak to dissever them, since that, which breaks off affection, must needs be stronger than that which conjoineth it.—Bishop Hall.

In merciful adaptation to the infirmities of his human spirit, God opened to David this stream in the desert, and allowed him to refresh himself with its pleasant water; but to show him, at the same time, that such supplies could not be permanently relied on, and that his great dependence must be placed, not on the fellowship of mortal man, but of the ever-living and ever-loving God, Jonathan and he were doomed, after the briefest period of companionship, to a life-long separation, and the friendship which had promised to be a perpetual solace to his trials, only aggravated their severity when Providence deprived him of its comforts … In another view, David’s intercourse with Jonathan served an important purpose in his training. The very sight he had of Saul’s outrageous wickedness might have nursed a self-righteous feeling—might have encouraged the thought so natural to man, that as Saul was rejected by God for his wickedness, so David was chosen for his goodness. The remembrance of Jonathan’s singular virtues and graces was fitted to rebuke this thought; for, if regard to human goodness had decided God’s course in the matter, why should Jonathan not have been chosen? From the self-righteous ground on which he might have been tempted to stand, David would thus be thrown back on the providence of God, and in deepest humility constrained to acknowledge that it was by God’s grace only that he was made to differ from others.—Blaikie.

Verses 5-30


1 Samuel 18:5. “David went out.” “That this refers to war and not to general business is plain, not only from the following account, which mentions not only military undertakings for Saul, but also from the statement of the position of general which he received in consequence of his success.” (Erdmann).

1 Samuel 18:6. “When David was returned.” “The as they came refers to the return of the whole army from the happily-ended war (comp. 1 Samuel 17:53); at the same time is mentioned David’s return, with especial reference to this victory over Goliath, which had determined the successful issue of the war, in order to bring into its proper historical connection the honour which then accrued to him. This return of David, therefore (along with the whole army), is not synchronous with his return to Saul in 1 Samuel 17:57 immediately after the killing of the giant, but occurred after the victory over the whole Philistine army was completed.… There is, therefore, no contradiction between the statement that Saul kept David by him and gave him a military command, and the following statement that in consequence of the honour shown David he conceived a lasting hatred against him” (Erdmann). “The women came out.” “This is a characteristic trait of Oriental manners. On the return of friends long absent, and particularly on the return of a victorious army, bands of women and children issue from the towns and villages to form a triumphal procession to celebrate the victory, and as they go along, gratify the soldiers with dancing, instrumental music, and extempore songs, in honour of the generals who have earned the highest distinction” (Jamieson). “Tabrets, or timbrels.” “Musical instruments resembling the modern tambourine.” “Joy.” “This word, standing between two instruments of music, must denote the joyful cry which accompanied the beating of the tabrets” (Erdmann). “Instruments of music,” rather “triangles.”

1 Samuel 18:9. “Eyed him.”Looked askance at him.” (Kiel.)

1 Samuel 18:10. “He prophesied.” Rather, “he raved” (so Keil and Erdmann). “Saul’s condition is neither that of simple madness nor that of true prophecy. He is under the control of a power higher than himself, but it is an evil power. For the precise expression of this supernaturally-determined condition of mind and soul, in which the whole spiritual energy of the man moves freely, yet in a sphere into which it is supernaturally brought, becoming for the time one with the spirit, the Hebrew has no other word than naba, and the English no other word than prophecy.” (Translator of Lange’s Commentary.)

1 Samuel 18:11. “Saul cast the javelin.” “David’s eluding him twice presupposes that Saul hurled the javelin twice, that is to say, he probably swung it twice without letting it go out of his hand—a supposition which is raised into certainty by the fact that it is not stated here that the javelin entered the wall, as in 1 Samuel 19:10.” (Keil.) “If Saul actually threw the spear, we could not understand David’s twice retiring. Saul held the spear in his hand, and David stood so near him that he could save himself only by withdrawing.” (Bunsen.)

1 Samuel 18:13. “Captain over a thousand.” This is a different military position from that mentioned in 1 Samuel 18:5; whether it was a promotion cannot be determined.

1 Samuel 18:19. “Adriel the Meholathite.” Nothing is known of this man.

1 Samuel 18:21. “In the one of the twain.” Literally, in two. Some commentators therefore understand that Saul offers his two daughters to David, purposing to take Merab from Adriel, and so lead David to make a double marriage. But the words may be rendered “a second time,” and Kiel renders it “In a second way thou mayest become my son-in-law.”

1 Samuel 18:22. “Saul commanded his servants.” David evidently paid no attention to Saul’s second proposal, having so recently proved his fickleness with regard to Merab. Saul is therefore obliged to employ some of his courtiers to persuade David.

1 Samuel 18:25. “Desireth not any dowry.” “In Eastern countries the husband purchases his wife either by gifts or service. As neither David nor his family were in circumstances to give a suitable dowry for a princess, the king intimated that he would be graciously pleased to accept some gallant deed in the public service.” (Jamieson.) “Foreskins.” Why not heads? Here is a sign of Saul’s suspicious and malignant spirit; he, judging from himself, impiously suspected that David would go forth and destroy some of the Israelites, Saul’s own subjects, as he himself desired to destroy David, his own deliverer; and the foreskins were required as a proof that they who were killed were not Israelites. This passage, and 2 Samuel 1:20, where the Philistines are styled “the uncircumcised,” seems directly at variance with a well-known statement by Herodotus of the fact that circumcision was practised, not only by the Egyptians and Ethiopians, but by the Syrians of Palestine and the Phœnicians. But the two statements, though apparently conflicting, are capable of becoming adjusted. Subsequently to the time of Saul a great change took place in the population of the Philistine cities, and a considerable Egyptian element practising circumcision had probably been introduced.” (Jamieson.)

1 Samuel 18:26. “The days were not expired;” that is, “the time to the marriage, or the time set by Saul for the performance of the warlike deed.” (Erdmann.)

1 Samuel 18:30. “The princes of the Philistines went forth” “To battle, in order to avenge David’s act, and perhaps supposing (as the Rabbis suggest) that according to the Hebrew law he would claim exemption from warfare for a year after his marriage.” (Wordsworth.)



I. The method of David’s external elevation. It may be regarded as a general social law, that men who possess gifts which fit them for prominent and powerful positions amongst their fellow men, find their way sooner or later to those positions. And, although we recognise the operation of an overruling and Divine Providence in this fact, in relation to all men, yet it is not accomplished by any special interposition of the hand of God, but is the outcome of a natural law. The generality of men can discern, and are willing to acknowledge real greatness in their fellow creatures, and a man who is worthy of honour will, as a rule, be honoured. And if his social position has been an obscure one, he will soon be called to fill one which is more prominent. But the first step in his elevation will be in the hearts and consciences of his fellow men, and the other will follow as a necessary consequence. David’s exaltation in the estimation of the people must have begun immediately after his victory over Goliath, and therefore, before Saul conferred any distinction upon him. He was elevated by the homage of his fellow-subjects before he was set over them by the king, and it is not unlikely the known sentiment of the nation had some influence upon Saul’s treatment of him. For at this period the external honours bestowed by the monarch seem to have kept pace with the growing esteem of the people, and to have been the seal of their regard. Even the courtiers, who were the most likely to be displeased with this new favourite of the king and people, “accepted” the youthful shepherd boy, and veteran warriors yielded to him their willing obedience. The whole narrative is a lesson on the only effectual means of obtaining elevation in life, namely, to seek to deserve it.

II. The method of Saul’s internal downfall. Although this chapter leaves Saul where it finds him as to external position, yet it gives in detail some of the steps by which he descended from one moral platform of character to others lower and lower still. As David grew more and more fitted for the position he was to fill, so Saul, by the deterioration of his character, became more and more disqualified to be king of Israel. He reveals himself first as a jealous man. It became more and more apparent to him that David’s popularity was increasing, and the inevitable consequence of allowing his mind to dwell upon this fact was the awakening within him of, perhaps, the most tormenting passion that can dwell in a human soul. It is not an easy thing for a man to feel no bitterness of spirit when he finds that another is gradually displacing him from a position of influence and honour which was once exclusively his own, and that the esteem and love which have hitherto been accorded to him are now being transferred to a successor. It requires great self-abnegation, and much unselfish love, to enable anyone in such circumstances to say without a pang, “He must increase, but I must decrease,” and the task is difficult in proportion as the man who is being supplanted feels that he deserves to be so. Saul must have felt that it was his own lack of faith and obedience that had alienated the confidence of Israel, but he was only mortified, not humbled, by the consciousness. In such a state of mind he could not see David’s rise without that painful sense of his own loss which constitutes jealousy. The step from jealousy to envy is soon taken. When impatience of rivalry developes into hatred of the rival the more deadly demon of envy has taken hold of the man, and when he yields himself to its sway no crime is too great for him to commit. A man may invite into his home a visitor of questionable character, and offer him a seat at his board and at his fireside, and feel confident that no harm will come of it. But he may one day find that he has been entertaining his murderer. It behoves us to beware whom we admit into our house, but it is far more important that we should beware what feelings we harbour in our minds, and many a man who has at first only admitted jealousy as a passing guest has found to his cost that he has by so doing given place to a devil that has murdered his happiness, and perhaps ruined his character entirely. It was so with Saul. He had already taken more than one downward step, and now, by yielding to jealousy and envy, he descends lower still. For envy soon transforms him into a murderer in intention, though not in action, and henceforward gives him no rest, but hurries him on from one desperate act to another, until he becomes his own murderer on the mountains of Gilboa. Probably no human life whose history has been recorded reads to us so plainly as Saul’s the terribly fatal consequences that may be involved in the first departure from the path of right. The man who, in his early public life, revealed a noble indifference to personal wrongs (chaps. 1 Samuel 10:27; 1 Samuel 11:13), became in after years a miserable slave to envy, and allowed this passion so to rule him that the one aim of his life became the murder of an innocent man and of one whom he knew was especially honoured and approved by God.


In the character-pictures which it represents to us (as is clear in the history of Saul and David), Holy Scripture never exhibits a pause in religious-moral life, but always holds up the mighty “Either.” … “Or,” which man has to decide,—either forward on the way in which man walks at the hand of God with giving up of his own will and humble obedience to the will of God, or backwards with uncheckable step, when man puts God’s guidance from him, and, following his own will, suffers not God’s will to be accomplished in, on, and through himself.—Lange’s Commentary.

We can scarcely conceive of a single trying situation in life in which David, at some period of his earthly course, did not find himself placed. Even for his own sake, that he might not be too much elevated by the abundant favours that were heaped upon him, he stood in need of being continually reminded of his dependence on Him who dwells in the high and holy place, and with those who are of broken and contrite spirit. Besides this, however, David was to become, even for thousands of years, a beloved and comforting companion to the oppressed and the miserable of every kind, and therefore from him must no cup of affliction pass untasted. Through what depths of affliction might not his way have led him? But into every darkness which cast its shadow around him the light of the opened heavens penetrated; and after every storm which raged against him there followed the gentle breathings of Divine consolation, that all his followers on their pathway of sorrow might thereby be encouraged. Thus is he qualified for being the harper for all afflicted and oppressed souls, just as he once was for the king of Israel; and to this day it is true, that wherever the melody of his psalms sounds and echoes in the heart, there the shadows of sorrow and sadness are scattered, and courage, and peace, and joy return and take possession of the soul.—Krummacher.

We may gather up some lessons for our modern life from this ancient chapter of sacred history.
In the first place we may see the evil of centring our thoughts and plans entirely on ourselves. This was the root of Saul’s misery. He was one of the most ardent selfists that ever lived. He had made self his god. He looked only and always at his own interests. “How will this affect me?” was his constant question as each new event transpired; and whensoever he imagined that he was to be injured by any other man’s elevation or advancement, he was stirred up to seek his ruin. Thus he was ever moody and unhappy. He hugged himself to his heart, and as a punishment God left him to himself, and no companionship could have been more miserable.

We may see here, in the second place, that the servant of God may expect to encounter adversity in an early stage of his career. David was not to be cradled for his future work in the lap of luxury. He was “to learn in suffering what he taught in song.” He was not to be like “a bird on a bough, singing forth free and offhand, never knowing the troubles of other men;” but, led through trials of his own, he was stimulated and inspired to sing of them in strains which, because they came “from the heart of man, speak to all men’s hearts.”
Lastly, we may learn here that the wisest course in time of danger is to do faithfully our daily duty, and leave our case with God. David went about his work, behaved himself wisely, and let God take care of him. On other occasions, as we shall see, he had sometimes recourse to questionable expedients and sinful practices, for self-protection; but in the present instance he walked steadily on in the right path.—Dr. W. M. Taylor.

1 Samuel 18:6. A patriotic celebration of the victory in Israel was certainly now in every respect appropriate; but it ought to have been of another altogether different and more worthy sort than that now celebrated by the people. The songs of praise ought to have ascended before all to the Lord, who, for this end, made use of the humble, unarmed shepherd boy as his instrument, that he might so much the more make it distinctly appear that it was his arm of almighty power which had saved Israel. The people mistook this, and they idolised the instrument. But is not this very error, which lamentably proves a deep estrangement from God, a conspicuous feature of the present generation, which has invented the expression, “hero-worship,” and among whom we not seldom see this deification of men rise up even to madness? Well and good: let men celebrate their heroes, immortalise their memory in monuments, weave laurel crowns for all who have made themselves serviceable to the common weal, or who have extended the empire of elevating and salutory ideas by the power of their creative mental endowments,—only let them not forget first to give praise to the Father of Spirits for all that is great and noble and rich in blessing, which the children of men accomplish; for from him cometh down every good and every perfect gift; and, above all others, let them render to him, in prostrate humility, the homage which is his due; let them keep in moderation the rendering of praise to mortal men.—Krummacher.

1 Samuel 18:9. For every great and good work a man must expect to be envied by his neighbour; no distinction or pre-eminence can be so unexceptionally obtained, but it will expose the possessor to slander or malice, and perhaps to the most fatal consequences. But such trials are very useful to those who love God; they serve as a counterpoise to the honour put upon them, and check the growth of pride and attachment to the world; they exercise them to faith, patience, meekness, and communion with God; they give them a fair opportunity of exemplifying the amiable nature of true godliness, by acting with wisdom and propriety in the most difficult circumstances; they make way for increasing experience of the Lord’s faithfulness, in restraining their enemies, raising them up friends, and affording them His gracious protection.—Scott.

1 Samuel 18:10. “Saul,” says the history, “betook himself to prophesying; i.e., there appeared in him the dark image of that agitation under which the prophets poured forth their discourses and sayings when overpowered by the might of the Holy Spirit, which for the moment raised them, if not above their own consciousness, at least above their understanding. Saul wandered and raged about his palace like one bereft of reason, and saw in his unbelieving imagination, full of suspicious, visions which at one time made him tremble and shudder, and at another hurried him on to madness and wild outbreaks of passion.

Were it granted us, in our own immediate circles of society, to look everywhere behind the curtain, how often would such-like scenes meet our view—scenes of wild overflowings of a wounded sense of honour, or of unbridled anger because of some loss sustained, or of burning and heart-consuming envy, so that we could not forbear to use the expression “demoniacal” as fittingly designating such paroxysms.—Krummacher.

1 Samuel 18:12. One would have thought rather, that David should have been afraid of Saul, because the devil was so strong with him, than that Saul should be afraid of David, because the Lord was with him; yet we find all the fear in Saul of David, none in David of Saul. Hatred and fear are ordinary companions. David had wisdom and faith to dispel his fears; Saul had nothing but infidelity, and dejected, self-condemned, distempered thoughts, which must needs nourish them; yet Saul could not fear any hurt from David, whom he found so loyal and serviceable; he fears only too much good unto David; and the envious fear is much more than the distrustful.—Bp. Hall.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 18". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/1-samuel-18.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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