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So had David slain the giant Goliath of the Philistines. Seeing their champion dead, the Philistines flee. They should have come to the Hebrews and said, “We are thy servants.” So they had promised by the mouth of the giant in the event he should be killed. “If he be able to fight with me, and to kill me,” these had been his words, “then will we be your servants”. Such had been their proposal. And it had been accepted by David’s fighting with their champion. But the impossible had happened. Their champion was killed. And the Philistines now flee. To be sure, they had not intended to keep them to their word. Doubtless it even had not occurred to them that perhaps there would be a word for them to keep. They were too confident that the victory would be to their champion. But yonder the fowls of the air feed on his beheaded carcass. The reproach of the armies of the living God has been wiped out.

We must now go back to verse 40 (of chapter 17) which states that, as equipped with staff and sling and the shepherd’s bag containing the five smooth stones that he had taken out of the brook, David draws near to the Philistine. Seeing him go (verse 55), Saul inquires of Abner, the captain of the host, whose son this youth may be. Abner replies that he cannot tell. As his soul liveth, he cannot. The king instructs him to find out. “Enquire thou whose son the stripling is,” are his words to Abner.

(This section—I Sam. 17:55-58—in which Saul repeatedly asks, “Whose son is this,” is not in conflict with I Sam. 16:16-23, a passage according to which David was described to Saul at the outset as the son of Jesse of Bethlehem; Saul, after having put himself into communication with David’s father by a message, took David into his service; and David played before the king‘s face with the result that he was healed from his sufferings by the strains of music. The simple explanation is that Saul does not recognize David. The reasons are not revealed; but a good conjecture is that David had long been absent from court; that Saul had seen him only in moments of madness, which were rare; and that Abner was absent from court when David was there.; and that David’s personal appearance had undergone a change).

Having killed and beheaded the giant, David returns to the camp of the Israelites with the head of the giant in his hand. Arriving in the headquarters of the camp, which is in Jerusalem (verse 54), he is led into the presence of Saul by Abner (verse 57). Saul’s question as to David’s identity can now be answered. So the king himself puts to David the question, “Whose son art thou, young man?” David replies, “I am the son of thy servant Jesse the Bethlehemite” (verse 57). Now follows a somewhat long conversation between the two, the content of which is not revealed; but it must exhibit anew David’s faith in the wonder-working power of Jehovah ,and in His readiness to save His people out of all their troubles in the way of their keeping covenant fidelity. For among the silent listeners to that conversation is also Jonathan, whose soul by the time the conversation is ended, is knit to the soul of David. And he loves David as his own soul. So it is stated (I Sam. 18:1). The binding ties here are spiritual. For the trust of Jonathan, like that of David, is in the Lord, and not, like the trust of Saul, in the arm of flesh. How marvelously the Lord had worked for him in that first crisis! He gave Jonathan the victory over that mighty Philistine army that was pitched in Michmash. And his victory was his faith. So now the two of them—Jonathan and David—suddenly find each other in the Lord. They are one by a common faith in Christ.

The conversation having ended, David expresses the desire to return to his father’s house. (This the text at I Sam. 18:2 plainly presupposes). But Saul will not hear of it. He orders David to stay with him (and Saul took him that day), and takes the son of Jesse into his service anew. The first acquaintance had resulted in Saul’s loving David greatly (I Sam. 16:21). But here in this section the narrative is silent regarding Saul’s feelings toward David. The king permanently attaches him to his court. But it is not stated that he is motivated by love of David’s person. Something remarkable has taken place in between time. The Goliath of the Philistines has been slain by this stripling, David, the son of Jesse. Doubtless, Saul already begins to look askance at David in the fear that he might turn out to be that ”neighbor, better than he” to whom the Lord has given the kingdom. If so, it explains his interest in David, his wanting to know who this “stripling” is: and also his insisting that. David permanently abide at his court. He wants to keep David with him in order to be able to control and check on his movements. David, he thinks, is a man to be watched. Though he meaneth not so, Saul opens the way wherein David is trained for the duties of the office of king. So does the wrath of Saul serve God’s counsel.

But as to Jonathan and David, that same day they make a covenant, because Jonathan loves David as his own soul (I Sam. 18:3). And Jonathan strips himself of the robe that is upon him, and gives it to David, and 1 is garments even to his sword, and to his bow and to his girdle. Jonathan’s doing has greatest significance. Recognizing in David that “neighbor” to whom the Lord has given the kingdom, Jonathan in contra-opposition to Saul, who is on the alert to kill that “neighbor” the moment he makes his appearance, waives by this his doing all rights to Saul’s throne. He willingly perceives that by the decree of God the throne belongs to David. By the grace of God he submits to God’s will; he honors David as his lord and king, goes over to his side, and makes with him a covenant. The articles of this covenant, though perhaps not voiced by the covenanting parties at this time, are revealed in the sequence. Jonathan will do all in his power to save David from the wrath of Saul (I Sam. 20:10). David will show Jonathan kindness as long as the latter lives, and not only him but after his decease also his house forever, then when the Lord hath cut off the enemies of David everyone from the face of the earth (I Sam. 20:15, 16). Jonathan is an excellent saint. He hates Saul, his father, for Christ’s sake. For David is Christ. He is willing that David be all and he nothing. So does he find his soul in the way of losing it for Christ’s sake. And he acts under the impulse of the love that God sheds abroad in the hearts of His people. For it is stated once and again that he loves David as his own soul.

We must now go back to verse 52 of chapter 17 (I Sam. 17:52). As was said, when the Philistines see their champion dead, they flee, without trying to battle. With the enemy in flight, the men of Israel and of Judah arise, raise the battle cry, and pursue the enemy. It is not the working of faith that we here behold,—faith in the wonder-working power of the Lord. Tracking down fleeing Philistines calls for no faith. All that is needed for such an undertaking is common sense to take advantage of a rare opportunity. And the Hebrews have this sense and also the will to act upon it. The Philistines are a perpetual menace. After his conversation with David, Saul too, takes to the field, as is indicated by the narrative at I Sam. 18:6. With Goliath out of the way, he again is the brave man of yore. The Hebrews pursue the Philistines to the gates of Ekron and of Gath and on the road as far as Shaarim. The roads to these cities are littered with the wounded of the enemy. Returned from the chase of the Philistines, the Hebrews spoil their tents. It was a telling victory. And the instrument through whom the Lord has wrought mightily is David.

The fame of his accomplishment spreads with speed throughout the whole land of Israel. David’s name is on everyone’s tongue. So it comes to pass (I Sam. 18:6) as Saul and his men of war return from the chase of the Philistines that the women come out of the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet king Saul “with tabrets, with joy, and with instruments of music”. And the women answer one another as they play. And they say, “Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” It is a bold and meaningful folk-song. It is the voice of the people declaring that in their hearts David by his victory over the giant has obtained all the consideration and that Saul has obtained none. True, they do credit Saul with having slain his thousands. But this is but their way of telling him that in the crisis that has just passed he has really done nothing for his people. And what they say is true. Saul is fully aware that the deep significance of this song is its showing that the Lord is actually taking the kingdom from him and giving it to that “neighbor” who is better than he. And he also concludes, and rightly so, that this “neighbor” has made his appearance in the person of David. But instead of submitting to the will of God, as Jonathan has done, he continues to harden his heart. It means that now he is that much more determined to maintain himself in the position of king contrary to the revealed will of God. Hence, the narrative states that ‘“Saul was very wroth, and the saying displeased him; and he said, They have ascribed unto David ten thousand, and to me they have ascribed but thousands; and what can he have more than the kingdom?” This is followed by the statement, “And Saul eyed David from that day and forward,” eyes him with the view of availing himself of the first opportunity to kill him.

Yet Saul does not dismiss David from his service, however much he now hates him. This is not strange. It is wholly congruous with his determination to destroy David. Only by keeping David with him at court can he eye him.

As to David, he goes whithersoever Saul sends him, and behaves himself wisely. His sudden elevation to the honorable position which he takes at Saul’s court, does not turn his head, so that, as blown up with pride, he does things not fitting. It soon becomes evident to all that his endowments are exceptional. None are as brave as David, and as wise and true, and withal as humble and unpretentious. His ability as a leader of men is just as outstanding. A remarkable young man, this son of Jesse,—a man fit to be king. But Saul’s hatred of him becomes fiercer by the day, as also his determination to destroy him. But this does not prevent the hardened king from making the best possible use of him. He sets David over the men of war, that is, appoints him commander of a body of soldiers. David is now a military officer. And he is accepted in the sight of all the people, even in the sight of Esau’s servants (I Sam. 18:5). No one objected to his promotion. All are pleased, even the official’s at Saul’s court. None are envious and jealous. The loveliness of David’s character wins to his side even them.

Then it comes to pass “on the morrow” doubtless shortly after Saul’s return from the chase of the Philistines and on the day following the kindling of his fierce wrath by the song of the women, that the evil spirit from God comes upon Saul, and he prophesies in his house. The narrative sheds little light on the exact nature of Saul’s affliction. This much is plain, however. It is a severe mental and emotional disturbance that is brought over him by God through the agency of an evil spirit from the abyss in punishment of his rebellion. Saul refuses to submit to his sentence of deposition and of the loss of his kingdom. He will be king; and accordingly he has begun to eye David. With the evil spirit once again upon him, he prophesies in his house, so it is stated. But his condition of mind is not that of true prophetic elevation and enthusiasm but rather that of a strange and mysterious frenzy, delirious excitement. And his prophesying is anything but edifying. For it is plain that he is fully aroused as to all the badness that dwells in his flesh. David plays with his hands before him as at other times in order that he may again be healed from his sufferings by the strains of music. Catching sight of David, he casts the javelin that is in his hands as he says, “I will smite David even unto the wall.” David avoids the missile and removes from Saul’s presence. Saul’s behavior lays bare his soul. There is murder in his heart, the will to destroy David, whom he rightly takes to be that “neighbor” better than he. However, in this attempt on David’s life, he acted not according to plan but in obedience to a sudden, diabolical impulse. His reaction to David’s presence surprises perhaps even himself. He meant not to do that. A strange influence impelled him. But he is none the less responsible. He will not submit to the sentence of God, has all along been nourishing a powerful grudge against his divinely appointed successor, and recently has begun to eye David. The result is that his heart has become a playground for the devil. Saul should take warning. But he doesn’t. He persists in fighting God, and thus continues to go from bad to worse.

As to David, Saul’s attempt upon his life astonishes also him. He must not have expected that. For his conscience is clean. He is confident that he has done taken offence. His once again having appeared in Saul’s presence to heal his spirit by strains of music would seem to indicate that he is not yet aware that Saul hates him and wishes him dead. Doubtless, he ascribes the assault to Saul’s illness, and believes that he did a thing of which in his normal moments he is not capable. But he will soon learn different. And even now Saul’s assaults must have the effect of putting him on his guard. This is its purpose.

Having in his moments of delirium tried to kill David, Saul, being the kind of man he is—a reprobate, far advanced in sin—is certain that David will retaliate in kind. He imagines that it cannot be otherwise but that David will avail himself of the first opportunity to kill him. And he concludes that the attempt is sure to succeed. For he perceives that the Lord is with David, and will help him overcome Saul. And so the Lord will, but not in the way that Saul imagines—thus not in the way of David’s laying violent hands on Saul. This is the forbidden way. Saul therefore has nothing to fear from David as such. For David fears God. He has no ambition to be king. Though the anointed of the Lord, he has no intention of usurping Saul’s place in the kingdom by means of violence, nor by any other means for that matter. He still is the unassertive and unobtrusive stripling of yesterday. True, he came to the scene of battle: but not of his own will but as sent by his father to salute his brethren. He fought with the giant and killed him, but only because he was under necessity in that the faith of all the others continued to falter. And that he has taken up his residence at Saul’s court and is now an officer in the king’s army is wholly Saul’s doings. David had nothing to do with that. Had he been permitted to follow his own inclinations, he would have speedily returned to his father’s house, after having slain the giant. Neither is it his fault that now he is being held by the people in much higher esteem than Saul. This is God’s doing. He gave victory over the giant, because David made God his expectation. It may be truthfully said, therefore, that the thought of working Saul out of his throne by stealing the hearts of the people is furtherest from David’s mind. And this is right. The Lord himself will destroy Saul through the agency of the Philistines in the final battle of Saul’s life with this enemy of God’s people. And David must abide the Lord’s time, which he does. Though once and again the opportunity presents itself to him for making an end of Saul, he forbears. Such is the Lord’s will for him—will that he refrain from trying to capture the throne by the employment of force. So doing, he puts his trust in the arm of flesh and not in the Lord. So doing, he will be destroyed, as Saul is now being destroyed. Like Christ, David must overcome the world as he is, as standing immovable in the faith that the Lord will give him the kingdom in the way of loving obedience, of obedience even unto death, if need be.

Certainly, then, Saul has not a thing to fear from David as such. Yet, after his abortive attempt on David’s life, Saul lives in mortal dread of David. He imagines that with David around his life is in constant peril. Saul therefore removes David from his presence by making him a captain over a thousand (I Sam. 18:13). This must have been a kind of promotion that made it necessary for David to absent himself from Saul’s court to be with his men in the field. Unintentionally and this time to safeguard his life against an imaginary foe, Saul as an agent of God continues to open the way wherein David must be trained for the duties of the office of king; and thus at once opens the way that leads to the throne. Also in his new position David behaves himself wisely. And he goes out and comes in before all Israel and Judah, making war on the Philistines and on other adversaries of God’s people. The result is that he increases still more. He rises still higher in the loving esteem now of all the people. “All Israel and Judah loved David, because he went out and in before them” (I Sam. 18:16). Saul from his point of view—he wanted David out of the way—could not have done a more foolish thing than he did, when he made David captain over his thousands. But the thing is of the Lord. The Lord’s purpose is that David reign. And all things, definitely Saul’s wrath and foolishness, must and actually do serve that purpose. In his ethical opposition to God’s will, Saul is all the time and in everything he does serving God’s counsel and promoting the ends of God’s kingdom.

And seeing that David in his new position “behaves himself very wisely”, thus perceiving that he continues to increase, Saul “is afraid of David”, that is, his dread of David increases in proportion. Going from bad to worse, instead of repenting, he in his great wrath now begins to plot against David’s life, something that hitherto he has not done. But, as was said, he goes from bad to worse. He persists in hardening his heart and this as clearly perceiving that, as opposing David in the attempt to maintain himself in power, he fights God. He clearly perceives this. This must be the implication of the statement (verse 12) that Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with him, and was departed from Saul.” But, as holding under the truth in unrighteousness, Saul rushes on in his mad course—a course that ends in hell. But we must once more examine the statement last quoted. What it states directly is that Saul’s fear of David was due to the fact that the Lord was with David, that is, because the Lord was on David’s side against Saul, He makes the latter afraid of David and this with the purpose that the fearful king may rid himself of David’s presence by making him captain over thousands. For by this promotion David must be further trained for the throne. What it shows is that Saul’s heart and, speaking in general, the hearts of all men are in God’s hands for the Lord to turn as He wills, and that therefore also the reins of the moral government of the world truly are in God’s hands. Saul, too, as well as the Pharaoh of the Israelite oppression hardens his heart but he does so only as sovereignly hardened by the Lord. Truly, God is God and not Saul is God.

It is further stated here that because the Lord was with David “He took His Spirit away from Saul,” and bestowed it on David, the sacred narrator would have added, had he been of a mind to complete the sentence. Thus the Lord, as has already been pointed out, has ceased to qualify Saul for his office by awakening, ripening, and sustaining in him his natural abilities, including also his natural, slumbering courage. For it is plain that Saul was naturally a brave man, a man every inch a king in the natural sense. But the Lord ceased to qualify him. And this is also evident. From that moment on Saul ceases to take the field against Israel’s enemies. It means that his natural courage now fails him. In the final battle with the Philistines we find him in the grip of a paralyzing fear. For in the sight of God he is a deposed king judicially. Israel’s real king is David. It is he therefore who now makes war on the adversaries of God’s people; and thereby he endears himself to the whole nation. For the Spirit of God is upon him. The Lord is with him. As to Saul, he spends the remaining days of his life in persecuting the righteous David. When the measure of his guilt is full, the Lord slays him by the hand of the Philistines. For then the Lord has done with him.