5.17 1 Samuel -- Saul and David
Commentators have noticed the apparent discrepancy between David entering Saul's service in 1 Sam 16:18-23, and Saul asking who David was in 1 Sam 17:55-58. The NIV says that before the battle, David was not well-known at court (p. 402), but this is contradicted by 1 Sam 16: 21, which says that Saul loved him and David became one of his armor-bearers. Victor Hamilton suggests that Saul after the battle knew who David was, but was amazed and incredulous that the boy he knew in court was the same person who killed Goliath (Handbook on the Historical Books, p. 261).
Saul's son Jonathan was also drawn to David, and he made a covenant with him. David prospered in Saul's service, and was in favor with the other officers. But this promising start soon turned sour, as Saul came to consider David as a threat to his own control. It was the song of women that sparked this change of attitude:
"Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands" (1 Sam 18:7).
From such trifles, a bitter spirit arose. Saul was "jealous" (1 Sam 18:9), and "afraid" of David (1 Sam 18:12). He tried to kill him, then sent him away (1 Sam 18:13). He used his daughter as a weapon to trap him: the bride-price for Michal was "100 Philistine foreskins." Thus he hoped to have the Philistines do the dirty work of disposing of his rival. In all these plots, Saul was foiled.
Saul became still more afraid of him, and he remained his enemy the rest of his days (1 Sam 18:29).
The second incident of Saul prophesying occurred when Saul sent men to capture David (1 Sam 19:18-22). David was staying with Samuel at Ramah. Saul sent soldiers to arrest him, but three successive groups of men were overcome by the Spirit when they encountered the band of prophets at Ramah! Finally Saul went after the soldiers who had not returned, and he started prophesying too:
He stripped off his robes and also prophesied in Samuel's presence. He lay that way all that day and night (1 Sam 19:24).
Here is a most remarkable aspect of Hebrew spirituality! The Spirit comes upon hostile men, overpowers their evil purpose, compels them to glorify God, prostrates them -- yet without changing their nature. Even this direct encounter with God did not bring Saul to repent of his sins against God and against David.
For his part, David's loyalty to the murderous Saul approached obsession:
David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul's robe. Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe. He said to his men, "The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord's anointed, or lift my hand against him; for he is the anointed of the Lord" (1 Sam 24:4-6).
He felt guilty for cutting the man's robe? Come on! The truth is that God's anointing of Saul was a past event that God Himself regretted and had renounced. That anointing was no longer in effect. David was paying homage to a memory, when the reality was that the man was now under a demonic anointing. David's pacifism toward Saul is sometimes cited as a laudable example of turning the other cheek, and as a "Christian" response to evil. But is it? What loyalty do the people of God owe to an apostate, to a former leader who now serves the enemy? It is at least a debatable moral question.
In Galatians 4, Paul contrasts the two covenants -- that of the Law and of faith. He writes about Mt Sinai vs "the Jerusalem from above", about Ishmael vs Isaac:
The son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now (Gal 4:29).
It was also the same "then" -- in David's day. The persecution of David at the hands of Saul was far more intense than any taunts that Isaac may have suffered from Ishmael. We see the emotions of jealousy, bitterness, fear of a rival, plotting, and violence on Saul's part, while David's response was long-suffering, patience, mercy when he had the advantage, and a refusal to react according to Saul's methods. The poisoned relationship of these two men is a template for that of believers in the modern world. The Christian is misunderstood, discriminated against, mocked and sometimes persecuted. Yet in the midst of all these circumstances, we are faced with the remarkable example of David, who embodied the ethics of Peter and Paul:
Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing (1 Pet 3:9).
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse (Rom 12:14).