1 Samuel 18

Jimmy Jo1 & 2 Samuel, SermonsLeave a Comment

Read the passage here.

Today, in our continuing look at the book of Samuel, we are continuing from last week’s passage (David and Goliath in chapter 17) directly to chapter 18.  Again, this is a long-ish section of text, but I thought I’d go ahead and read the entire thing today. 

Now as we can see, what we’re seeing today is, after the defeat of Goliath and the Philistines, Saul’s opinion of David shifting distinctly into the negative, and even hostile.  This serves the narrative – or informs our understanding of the story – by pointing to the shift form Saul’s kingdom to David’s kingdom, along with all of what that means.  That, at least, is pretty straightforward, but I want to point out a few elements and give us something to think about. 

Firstly, it’s worth noting that the point of view has shifted in chapter 18.  Whereas in chapter 17, the main character is clearly David, in chapter 18, the main character seems to be Saul.  This is important (in my opinion) because while chapter 18 outlines David’s rise, the emphasis – where we want to focus our attention – is on Saul’s reaction.  Saul sees David’s increasing success and popularity, and views this as a threat to his own kingdom. 

To this point, we see several motifs.  Firstly, we see the repetition of the phrase or idea that everyone loves David:

1 After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself.

And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself.

16 But all Israel and Judah loved David, because he led them in their campaigns.

20 Now Saul’s daughter Michal was in love with David, and when they told Saul about it, he was pleased.

22 Then Saul ordered his attendants: “Speak to David privately and say, ‘Look, the king likes you, and his attendants all love you; now become his son-in-law.’ ”

28 When Saul realized that the Lord was with David and that his daughter Michal loved David, 29 Saul became still more afraid of him, and he remained his enemy the rest of his days.

The second motif we see is the repetition of the phrase or idea that David was successful/the Lord was with him:

Whatever mission Saul sent him on, David was so successful that Saul gave him a high rank in the army. This pleased all the troops, and Saul’s officers as well.

12 Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with David but had departed from Saul.

14 In everything he did he had great success, because the Lord was with him.

28 When Saul realized that the Lord was with David and that his daughter Michal loved David, 29 Saul became still more afraid of him, and he remained his enemy the rest of his days.

So the development of the story seems pretty clear – David’s star is clearly on the rise, and that means that Saul’s is declining.  So – and again, this is what makes sense to me – where we need to focus our attention is on Saul’s reaction – arguably, the third motif we see in this passage.  And this is clearly and overwhelmingly a negative one.  Saul became afraid of David as a result of David’s success, but more particularly, because this indicated that the Lord was with David.  God’s favour had left Saul, as we have previously seen, so seeing David succeed because of God’s favour was exceedingly galling to Saul.  And inasmuch as we read that Saul was angry and jealous at David’s success and decided to work actively against the rise of David’s kingdom, we can understand that, in truth, Saul was working actively against the rise of the kingdom of God. 

Now as we consider Saul’s reaction to David’s rise, we see that Saul’s response to David’s rising popularity and success includes throwing a spear at David, twice, as well as sending David into battle against the Philistines, presumably hoping he would get killed (this seems to be a favourite tactic of Saul, and that makes sense).  But where I want to focus on today is Saul’s attempts to marry his daughters to David.  For this, we focus on vv. 17-27. 

So as we see, Saul first tries to marry David to his older daughter, Merab, and then tries (successfully) to marry David to his other daughter, Michal.

Now there are a number of elements to this passage that aren’t entirely clear to me – and this has to do with my lack of understanding of marriage, and especially royal marriage, in this culture.  Firstly, we remember that Saul had already promised his daughter in marriage to the one who defeated Goliath: 

Now the Israelites had been saying, “Do you see how this man keeps coming out? He comes out to defy Israel. The king will give great wealth to the man who kills him. He will also give him his daughter in marriage and will exempt his family from taxes in Israel.”

1 Samuel 17:25

So my first point of confusion is, given the detail in chapter 17, why hasn’t Saul’s daughter already been given to David in marriage?  Now of course it’s possible that the Israelites misreported Saul’s actual promise of reward.  And it’s also possible that Saul simply changed his mind, or decided to add further requirements for the hand of his daughter.  It’s also possible that this represents a divergence in the source texts.  The bottom line is that the text doesn’t make this clear.

However, what we read is that David avers in both cases (initially, in the case of Michal, though he later acquiesces).  So another element that isn’t entirely clear (again, to me) is why David refuses first Merab, and then Michal (again, only initially).  In the first case (Merab), David’s response is: 

18 But David said to Saul, “Who am I, and what is my family or my clan in Israel, that I should become the king’s son-in-law?” 19 Sowhen the time came for Merab, Saul’s daughter, to be given to David, she was given in marriage to Adriel of Meholah.

1 Samuel 18:18-19

And in the case of Michal, David’s response is:

They repeated these words to David. But David said, “Do you think it is a small matter to become the king’s son-in-law? I’m only a poor man and little known.”

1 Samuel 18:23

Now it appears that David refuses the marriages because he is of lowly birth, presumably that he is not worthy of marrying the king’s daughter.  Related to this may be the practice of providing a dowry – the prospective husband would pay a dowry to the parents for the bride.  And the required dowry for a king’s daughter would undoubtedly be high – too high for a shepherd.  It’s this that seems to lead to Saul’s counter-offer (in the case of Michal) of one hundred Philistine foreskins.  But what’s unclear to me is whether it’s solely the bride-price that causes David to reject the marriages or if there are some other reasons why David doesn’t jump at the chance to marry into royalty. 

Now further to this, I want to talk about motivations.  What we read is that Saul’s offer of his daughters for marriage is contingent upon David entering battle with the Philistines.  And Saul’s hope is that, in these battles, David would be killed and Saul’s problem would be eliminated.  We read this first in v. 17:

Saul said to David, “Here is my older daughter Merab. I will give her to you in marriage; only serve me bravely and fight the battles of the Lord.” For Saul said to himself, “I will not raise a hand against him. Let the Philistines do that!”

1 Samuel 18:17

And again in vv. 24-25

24 When Saul’s servants told him what David had said, 25 Saul replied, “Say to David, ‘The king wants no other price for the bride than a hundred Philistine foreskins, to take revenge on his enemies.’” Saul’s plan was to have David fall by the hands of the Philistines.

1 Samuel 18:24-25

So it is clear that Saul’s plan was that, by attaching a condition to the offer of marriage – that condition being that David would go into battle – David would fall at the hands of the Philistines and Saul would be rid of him. 

However, we also read that Saul had other motives or plans.  Back in vv. 20-21, we read the following (regarding Michal): 

20 Now Saul’s daughter Michal was in love with David, and when they told Saul about it, he was pleased. 21 “I will give her to him,” he thought, “so that she may be a snare to him and so that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.” So Saul said to David, “Now you have a second opportunity to become my son-in-law.”

1 Samuel 18:20-21

Now this is interesting because it’s not immediately clear what Saul means by “so that she may be a snare to him…”  We can make some assumptions but the text doesn’t explain it explicitly.  But what we read later (in ch. 19) is that when David escapes Saul, Michal attempts to fool the guards by putting an idol in their bed.  Which begs the question, where did the idol come from?  We’re not going to go into it here, but what we might infer in Michal as we read through Samuel, is that she may have the same level of devotion to God as her father, Saul (which is to say, not much – maybe).  Of course that makes sense because she is her father’s daughter.  But what we can take from the text is that, apart from David potentially dying in battle, Saul had ulterior motives in the marriage of David and Michal. 

Now having said all of that, I want to reiterate my earlier comment that the text just isn’t explicit (at least in my mind) about these things – that is, regarding the nature and mechanics of the (prospective) marriage between David and Saul’s daughters.  So along with that ambiguity, I want to add one more.  And this is related to the notion of Michal being a snare to David.  Specifically, it seems to me that in many cultures throughout the world, marriage (especially intermarriage between kings) is an established way of guaranteeing peace.  That is, if there is conflict between two kingdoms, one way of mitigating this is to marry off your respective children. 

Now to be fair, I am making an assumption here.  I haven’t been able to find a source that talks about this specifically in the Ancient Near East.  None of the commentaries that I looked at address this issue specifically.  However, it seems to me that what Saul may be doing here is trying to subsume David’s kingdom into his own.  He hopes that David will fall in battle to the Philistines, but if David survives, at least he will be Saul’s son-in-law:  David would be under Saul, and the kingdom David inherits would be Saul’s kingdom.  Again, I can’t say that definitively – I can only wonder if this is what may be going on. 

In addition to this, we may want to remember that his condition in the case of Merab included to “serve me bravely…”  So was this a demand of loyalty to Saul?  And was that to take precedence over the instruction to “fight the battles of the Lord”? 

Now I said at the beginning of this passage that what we’re reading about is Saul’s reaction.  The story we’re given here obviously has to do with David, but it seems to me that the main emphasis – the point if you will – is on Saul’s reaction.  And if you don’t want to take it that far, let me simply say that I think we need to focus on Saul’s reaction. 

And to put it very simply, what we see in Saul is a man who is not willing to let his kingdom go.  It seems that he is trying everything to hold on to his kingdom.  At this point in the narrative, Saul has been king of Israel for some time.  Though again the text doesn’t say, we can assume that Saul was a young man when he was anointed by Samuel – presumably without children.  By this time, we know that Jonathan is a young man, but old enough to go into battle (that is, older than David).  So we might assume that Saul has been king of Israel for around 20 years.  That is a significant stretch of time.  Israel as a nation finally has a king, they had won numerous battles against their enemies – it seems safe to say that Saul’s kingdom is well and truly established. 

But we also know, from several chapters ago, that God has rejected his kingdom, his dynasty.  And David has been chosen instead to carry on God’s purposes for His people.  But Saul isn’t going to simply step aside (remember that Samuel likely knew this when he was sent to anoint David).  Saul is comfortable in his power and position and he is not going to give it up easily. 

Now who does this remind you of?  Of course there are any number of examples in history – there are many examples from extremely recent history.  But in the biblical narrative, to me at least, it reminds me of Jesus and the religious leaders.  The religious leaders had heard from the masses that Jesus might be the new David, the Messiah, the one who would restore Israel’s kingdom.  But when Jesus started preaching, when he started ministering, when he started denouncing the very people who thought they were in charge of God’s kingdom, they realized that the kingdom they were so desperately holding onto was not the kingdom that Jesus intended to bring. 

They were not willing to step aside; they were not willing to give up their power and position.  And so, like Saul, they sought to have the anointed killed. 

Which has to beg the question, are we trying to hold onto some kingdom that is not of God’s?  Is God trying to do something, is God moving in the world, in the hearts of men, women, and children, and are we getting in the way?  Are we attentive to the urging of the Holy Spirit, or do we simply want God to affirm ourselves? 

Of course, we could point out all kinds of examples.  And we’ve talked a lot about the cultural challenges that Christians and the Church face.  But as we’ve pointed out many times – and this, because of my own concerns, for better or for worse – what the bible is frequently concerned about is how it is often the “people of God” who get in the way of the kingdom of God. 

It’s the Israelites (Saul’s kingdom) that is getting in the way of David; it’s the religious leaders who get in the way of Jesus. 

And I’m not interested, at this point, at talking about all the ways that churches are trying to hold onto or establish our own kingdom.  Too often, from whatever perspective, biases, or desires, it’s we who cause ourselves to stumble in our quest for the kingdom.  So I simply want to say – as we have many times before – that God is moving, and we can (try to) get in the way, or we can try to get in on it.  Through humility, repentance, and obedience, we can participate in what God is doing.  So let us be a people who are attentive to what God is doing.  Let us be a people immersed in prayer and in scripture.  Let us try to work all of this out in the community He has given us.  And let us keep our eyes open for the glory that God is working out in our midst.

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