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Bible Commentaries

Simeon's Horae Homileticae

1 Samuel 18

Verse 9

DISCOURSE: 303
SAUL’S ENVY OF DAVID

1 Samuel 18:9. And Saul eyed David from that day and forward.

THERE is not a baser principle in the human heart than envy. If we notice the connexion in which it is usually mentioned in the Scriptures, we shall see at once what an hateful disposition it is. St. Paul, speaking of the state of mankind by nature, says, they are “full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity [Note: Romans 1:29.]:” and again, shewing what may be the state even of the Christian world, when distracted by contentions and disputes, he says, “lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:20..].” In these two passages we behold it drawn to the very life; in the one, as restrained within certain limits by the mounds of a religious profession; and in the other, as breaking down every restraint, and inundating the whole man. For an illustration of it in all its most odious characters, we need look no further than to the passage before us; where Saul is represented as giving himself up entirely to its dominion. In order to set it before you in its true colours, we shall consider,

I.

Its grounds—

[Envy is a grudging to another the possession of some good, which we ourselves affect: I say, of some good; for no man wishes evil to himself: the object therefore that excites the passion of envy must be good. It need not indeed be really and intrinsically good; it is sufficient if it be good in the estimation of the person who beholds it. In Saul, envy was excited by the praises which were bestowed on David on account of his success against Goliath: the women, whose office it was to celebrate great actions with songs and music, ascribed to David the honour of slaying myriads of his enemies, whilst they spoke of Saul as slaying only thousands. This mark of distinction was painful to the proud heart of Saul, who could not endure that another should be honoured above himself. It is precisely in the same way that envy is called forth by distinctions of every kind. Any endowments, whether natural or acquired, are sufficient to provoke this passion in the breasts of men. Beauty, courage, genius, though they be the gifts of nature, and therefore not any grounds of glorying to the persons who possess them, are yet greatly envied by those who wish to be admired for those qualities. In like manner, the attainments acquired by skill and diligence, together with the wealth or honour consequent upon those attainments, are objects which universally inflame this malignant passion. It must be observed, however, that this passion is called forth only where some degree of rivalry exists. A physician does not envy the triumphs of a warrior, or the success of a great lawyer; nor do they, on the other hand, envy his advancement to the summit of his profession: it is in their own line only, and towards those with whom there exists some kind of competition, that these feelings are excited: and it is by watching the motions of our hearts in reference to persons so circumstanced, that we shall detect the workings of this passion within us.

This passion may exist, not in individuals only, but in bodies of men; as, for instance, in schools, or colleges, or universities, or kingdoms: for, as every one may be said to possess a share of that honour which belongs to his own peculiar party, every one must feel an interest in exalting that party, and a proportionable degree of pain when its honours are eclipsed.
Strange as it may appear, religion itself may be made an occasion of bringing into exercise this vile passion: for though no envious person can delight in piety on its own account, he may desire the reputation attached to it, and consequently may envy him who really possesses it. What was it but Abel’s superior piety, and the tokens of God’s favour vouchsafed to him, that instigated Cain to imbrue his hands in his blood? We are expressly told also, in the history before us, that when Saul saw that David behaved himself very wisely, and that God was with him, he feared and hated him the more [Note: ver. 12, 14, 15, 28, 29.]. And why was the Apostle Paul so hated and persecuted, not only by the avowed enemies of Christianity, but by many also who professed to reverence the Christian name? Was it not that his light shone more bright than that of others; and that the success of his labours was proportionably increased? Yes; it was owing to this that the Jews were filled with envy, when they saw the multitudes which sought to avail themselves of his instructions [Note: Acts 13:45; Acts 17:5.]; and that less popular ministers in the Christian Church laboured to undermine his influence, “preaching Christ even of envy and strife,” that by so doing they might draw over to themselves his converts, and so “add affliction to his bonds [Note: Philippians 1:15-16.].”]

Having seen the grounds from whence it springs, let us next consider,

II.

Its operations—

[In the history before us, as contained in this and the two following chapters, we behold this passion in as strong a point of view as it can well be placed. From the moment that Saul became enslaved by it, he was so blinded as not to behold the excellence of David’s character; so hardened as to be insensible to all the obligations which he, and the whole nation, owed to him: and so infatuated, as to seek incessantly his death. Repeatedly did he endeavour to destroy David with his spear. When he had failed in these attempts, he sought to ensnare David by engaging him to marry his eldest daughter, and then giving her to another; and afterwards by inducing him to expose his life to the sword of the Philistines in order to obtain his younger daughter in marriage. When he was disappointed in this also, he issued an order to Jonathan and to all his sons to kill David: and, when convinced of the injustice of this command, and pledged in a solemn oath to recede from his wicked purpose, he again renewed his attempts to murder him; and sought to gratify himself with seeing the murder effected, if not of perpetrating it with his own hand: and, when he did not succeed in that, he still pursued the fugitive to Naioth, where Samuel dwelt, sending different messengers, and at last going himself, to apprehend him; and even attempting to destroy Jonathan himself for pleading his cause.
Now we grant that such effects as these are very rare; for, in truth, very few have it in their power to pursue the object of their envy with such murderous and unrelenting rancour as Saul. But the tendency of this passion is the same in all: it produces in all a permanent aversion to the person, so that the very sight of him is painful, and occasions a desire, if possible, to bring him down to a level with ourselves. Like Said, “we shall eye him from that day, and forward.” His worth and excellence will be so far from pacifying our wrath, that it will rather augment it; and the brighter his character shines, the more shall we be offended at it. “Envy is” justly said to be “as rottenness in the bones [Note: Proverbs 14:30.]:” the disease lies deep; it creates uneasy sensations throughout the whole man; and is out of the reach of any common remedy. Though it may not operate so powerfully as to excite a desire to kill him that is the object of it, yet it invariably so affects the mind as to dispose us to detract from his merits, and to rejoice in his misfortunes. Nay more, we shall be ready, if not by overt act, yet at least by secret connivance, so to lower him in the estimation of others, as to prepare the way for the more easy exercise of their hostility towards him: and then shall rejoice in his fall, pleasing ourselves that it has been accomplished without any intervention on our part: and, if he be removed by death itself, it will excite the feeling of satisfaction rather than of pain and grief.

Well is this represented by Solomon as one of the greatest evils upon earth, and as stamping “vanity and vexation of spirit” upon all things here below, that “for a good work a man is envied of his neighbour [Note: Ecclesiastes 4:4.].” For, however “cruel and outrageous wrath” may be, it may be withstood; but “who,” says Solomon, “can stand before envy [Note: Proverbs 27:4.]?”]

Happy shall we be if, by any prescriptions we may offer, we may be enabled in any degree to promote,

III.

Its cure—

No conduct on the part of those who are the objects of it can eradicate envy from the hearts of others. They may indeed put a veil, as it were, over their own virtues, so as to give less occasion for the exercise of envy; but nothing that they can do can prevent the disposition from being cherished by those around them. But we may all impede its influence over our own hearts;

1.

By contemplating the vanity of earthly distinctions—

[How poor and empty are those vanities which men so greatly affect! The satisfaction arising from wealth or honour is far less than people generally imagine. Only let us reflect with what difficulty honours are obtained; with what pain and trouble they are often accompanied; how easily they are blasted; how little they can do for us under pain or sickness; and how soon they are terminated by death; and we shall see that they are unworthy the anxiety with which they are sought, or the regret with which they are lost. From such a view of them David exhorts us to look with indifference on the advancement of others, and to content ourselves with the pursuit of honours that shall never fade, and of happiness that shall never disappoint our most sanguine expectations [Note: Psalms 37:1-4.] — — —]

2.

By cultivating the knowledge of our own hearts—

[If we envy others, it is from an idea that we ourselves deserve the honour that is conferred on them. But, if we knew the extent of our own demerit, as we are viewed by an holy God, we should rather account the lowest possible degree of honour above our desert; yea, we should rather be filled with wonder and with gratitude, that we are not held up as objects of execration and abhorrence. This would lead us willingly to “take the lowest place;” and consequently would lay the axe to the root of that accursed principle, which makes the elevation of others a ground of our own disquiet — — —]

3.

By seeking a thorough conversion unto God—

[This alone will be attended with complete success. When the heart itself is renewed after the divine image, these hateful qualities will be banished from it. Hence this is the prescription which the inspired writers give for the first removal of the disorder [Note: Romans 13:13-14.], and for the subsequent prevention of its return [Note: 1 Peter 2:1-2; Proverbs 23:17; Galatians 5:16.].]

Address,
1.

Those who indulge this malignant spirit—

[The natural man is universally in a greater or less degree under its influence [Note: Titus 3:3; James 4:5.]: and, though lightly considered by the world at large, it is an evil which will exclude from heaven every person that is under its dominion [Note: Galatians 5:20-21.]. O that the guilt and danger of it were more generally and more deeply considered!

But experience proves that even professors of religion may in a very awful degree be led captive by it. What shall we say of such? what, but that “they are carnal, and walk as men [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:3.]?” Whence is it that so many dissensions and disputes arise in the Church of God, and are often carried to such a fearful extent? Is there nothing of this principle at work? Is not this “the root of bitterness that springs up and defiles them?” Yes: St. James gives us the true account, both of the principle itself, and of its operation in the Church: he tells us also, what will be the bitter consequence of yielding to its influence [Note: James 3:14-17.]. Let those who pretend to piety, look well to their own hearts, and tremble lest, while their “voice is Jacob’s voice, their hands be the hands of Esau.” The true line of conduct for a Christian is that of Jonathan; who, knowing that he should be eclipsed by David, yet sought by all possible means to protect his person and advance his interests. Let Jonathan’s character, as here portrayed, be contrasted with that of Saul, and be ever before our eyes for daily imitation — — —]

2.

Those who are the objects of it—

[Marvel not, ye holy and circumspect Christians, if your characters be traduced by envy and detraction. “They that render evil for good will be against you, because you follow the thing that good is [Note: Psalms 38:20.].” You must not expect to be treated better than your Lord and Master was. But study the character of David: see how meekly he bore his injuries: see how studiously he rendered good for evil: see how he “walked wisely before God in a perfect way.” This is a conduct worthy to be followed, and shall assuredly bring with it an abundant recompence.]


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Bibliographical Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 18". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/shh/1-samuel-18.html. 1832.