Bible studies from Scripture Union
A soured relationship is grievous! Lay aside any anger or jealousy you currently have towards someone as you come to meet with God.
55 As Saul watched David going out to meet the Philistine, he said to Abner, commander of the army, "Abner, whose son is that young man?"
Abner replied, "As surely as you live, O king, I don't know."
56 The king said, "Find out whose son this young man is."
57 As soon as David returned from killing the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul, with David still holding the Philistine's head.
58 "Whose son are you, young man?" Saul asked him.
David said, "I am the son of your servant Jesse of Bethlehem."
5 Whatever Saul sent him to do, David did it so successfully that Saul gave him a high rank in the army. This pleased all the people, and Saul's officers as well.
6 When the men were returning home after David had killed the Philistine, the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with tambourines and lutes. 7 As they danced, they sang:
"Saul has slain his thousands,
and David his tens of thousands."
8 Saul was very angry; this refrain galled him. "They have credited David with tens of thousands," he thought, "but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?" 9 And from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David.
10 The next day an evil spirit from God came forcefully upon Saul. He was prophesying in his house, while David was playing the harp, as he usually did. Saul had a spear in his hand 11 and he hurled it, saying to himself, "I'll pin David to the wall." But David eluded him twice.
12 Saul was afraid of David, because the LORD was with David but had left Saul. 13 So he sent David away from him and gave him command over a thousand men, and David led the troops in their campaigns. 14 In everything he did he had great success, because the LORD was with him. 15 When Saul saw how successful he was, he was afraid of him. 16 But all Israel and Judah loved David, because he led them in their campaigns.
When did Saul’s jealousy of David take root? Immediately after the defeat of Goliath? Seeing the warm relationship grow between Jonathan and David? Observing his soldiers’ appreciation of David’s success? Hearing the women’s victory rhyme? Realising God was with David?
Jealousy usually seeps into a relationship by stealth. We don’t know when David became aware of it, but once Saul had hurled his spear at David a second time, he knew his life was in danger.
Remarkably he did not run away. Maybe this was because Jonathan protected him; maybe David knew God was with him; or quite simply, Saul was the senior partner in this relationship so he was not free to leave. To David’s relief, Saul sent him away to fight the Philistines, hoping they would kill him.
Ignoring the existence of jealousy in a relationship usually allows that jealousy to fester. David’s removal from court helped him but did not reduce Saul’s anger. Attempting to bring jealousy (however irrational) out into the open might make matters worse and, after all, Saul was the king. David’s strategy was to live knowing the Lord was with him (vs 12,14).
The Bible exposes us to the widest range of human emotions. In a deeper approach to reading the Scriptures, we can learn how to deal with them.
People at our Bible study were surprisingly eager to join the discussion of this chapter. They easily understood the interplay of emotions we have all felt. We recognise David, Saul, Jonathan (and, reading on a few verses, Michal (1 Samuel 18:20)) in the human interactions of our own lives. We all know about dancing women, applauding crowds and people who would ruthlessly throw spears at us. We ourselves have felt love, jealousy, joy and depression.
By the end of chapter 18, Saul is obsessed with his plot to kill his rival. All this arose from anger and envy at another’s success. This escalation from a small beginning to Saul’s eventual tragic end need not have been. Such evil and tragedy grow from the small seeds of ordinary acts born of our own worst impulses. We cannot blame God – and nor, finally, could Saul. We cannot blame an evil spirit. The devil doesn’t make us do it! We have a choice. Anger and jealousy can be resolved in repentance and reconciliation. The other choice is to take Saul’s route to evil, madness and self-destruction.
Similarly, God’s grace does not guarantee love and success apart from the right choices to act responsibly and with commitment in our ordinary lives. The positive things that mark David’s own story here, in contrast to the fear and evil which infest Saul’s story, are David’s attention to the tasks given him and Jonathan’s courage to love without self-interest1. God does work in our lives, but not outside our ordinary acts of courage and faithfulness on the one hand, or sin and madness on the other. If God is with us or if we have become alienated from God, neither is pre-ordained. It arises from the daily conduct of our lives.
1 Bruce Birch, 1 and 2 Samuel, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Nashville, Abington Press, 1998, p1122