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And the women answered one another as they played, and said, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands. 

And Saul was very wroth, and the saying displeased him; and he said, They have ascribed unto David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed but thousands and what can he have more but the kingdom? 

And Saul eyed David from that day and forward. 

I Samuel 18:7-9

It was a bitter and evil spirit that had descended upon the heart of King Saul. It had come at the moment that Samuel had told him that he was rejected as king over Israel, and from that day it was never far from him. The fruits of Saul’s sinfulness could no longer be successfully suppressed within him. 

It was not, of course, that Saul gave in to it willingly. He was quite convinced that somehow in some way he was going to conquer over this curse, and at times it even looked as though he were going to do it. One such time was when he had called in that young musician from the hills to play for him. It had seemed as though those moody fits of depression were going to destroy him; but before the gentle playing of that harp they had been driven away, to leave him almost completely free. Everything would have been all right then, except that the Philistines had invaded the land and pitched by the valley of Elah. Saul was forced to set himself over against them, and before the arrogant demands of Goliath it had all returned upon him. For a good forty days he was held paralyzed by fear and dark foreboding thoughts of uncertainty. But once again things had swung in his favor. The fortunate shot of that young shepherd lad placed a stone squarely in the forehead of the Philistines’ giant and he was felled like a mammoth piece of timber. With a sudden surge, Saul’s heart leaped within him as he watched from his viewpoint overlooking that valley. Now let Samuel say that he had been rejected. Look once again and see his enemies the Philistines turn and run, completely scattered. Once again Saul knew it, he was going to win out in the end regardless of what Samuel had predicted. 

With the excited joy which only a man suddenly released from great danger and fear can know, Saul called Abner to him and inquired, “Whose son is this youth?” If Saul’s mind had made any identity between the youth that had played the harp in his court and this lad who had just slain Goliath in the valley, it was only vaguely so. But now he wanted to know all that he could about him. He was determined to reward this young man handsomely, and his father’s house too if need be. When Abner didn’t know, Saul commanded the youth be brought to him, and his first question was, “Whose son art thou, young man?” to which the simple reply came back, “I am the son of thy servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.” 

To Saul it was all just too wonderful. Suddenly out of nowhere had appeared this youth to save him, not just from the Philistines, but from that cold grip of fear that had held him paralyzed week after week for over a month’s duration. And even more, once he had ascertained that this was actually the same young man which had done the same thing once before with his harp in the court, Saul was determined that David was going to stay with him wherever he went. Here was one who was able to drive away that curse which Samuel had placed upon him, or at least so it seemed to Saul; and he sent a messenger to David’s father telling him that henceforth David was going to live at the royal court. Here was the kind of strength that Saul needed. 

In the court of Saul, David was soon a favorite of almost everyone. It was true that nothing more was said or done about the promise of Saul to give his daughter in marriage to whomever would destroy Goliath; but this was not too surprising. Saul was not one to be overly concerned with any promises he made. After all, he was king and it was quite within his right to keep or not to keep, to remember or forget any promises he chose. And now as far as marriage was concerned, David just seemed too young for that. In fact, it was much the way David felt himself. For him it was enough just to be in on the excitement of the king’s house. Everything to him was wonderfully new, to live amid the riches of the king’s house, to eat at the king’s table, and especially to be able to go out and circulate among the king’s soldiers, by whom he was received with respect in spite of his youth because of what he had done to Goliath. Moreover, it was exactly this unconscious enthusiasm of David which seemed to revive the whole household of the king out of the cold chill of depression that had marked it in recent months and to fill it with a warmth and radiance that was entirely different. Everyone felt it, from the servants to the great men of the court and to Saul himself. In fact, so pleased was Saul with David that he insisted that the lad should accompany him wherever he went. To him who had become so accustomed to the pain of dark depression, David’s presence was, like a healing balm that drove away all those moody thoughts which so often troubled him. David seemed to do for him now what Samuel had done in the past, he gave him a feeling of well-being, an assurance that things were bound in the end to work out in his favor. 

Meanwhile, a much deeper relationship was developing between David and Saul’s son Jonathan. Saul’s concern for David was finally only selfish and self-centered; but Jonathan found in David the attraction of a faith in God and a love which he shared as his own. It had begun already at the valley of Elah. Jonathan, perhaps more than anyone else watching that day, had known full well what it was that gave to David that courage to move so quickly against that huge Philistine. It was a confidence gained from a living faith in the power of Jehovah, Israel’s God. He had known it himself many times, as at Geba and at Michmash. It was true that before the imposing figure of Goliath even his own courage had faltered; but once he had seen that same faith working in another of God’s servants, it had thrilled him just as greatly as though the victory had been his own. From that day on his heart went out to David; and when the will of his father brought the young man into their own home, it provided him the opportunity to meet and know the one in whom that faith lived. It was not long before the hearts of those two young men were knit together as closely as human hearts can be bound. Theirs was the unity of two hearts sharing mutual love in their God. 

Those days which followed David’s victory over Goliath were undoubtedly the happiest of Jonathan’s life, and perhaps of David’s too. Although Jonathan was somewhat older than David, the two young men had more than enough in common to bind them very closely together. Both of them had come to the strength of life and still as yet its responsibilities did not weigh too heavily upon them. Both of their interests were inclined toward the battlefield, the preoccupation of most kingdoms in that day and of almost every day thereafter. Jonathan already had experience in battle beyond what could be expected for his years, and he had led Israel in some of the first and greatest victories of his father’s reign. Surely David had known of the exploits of Jonathan and had admired them ever since. As yet David had but one short battle behind him, but it was the most amazing victory of all, won single-handedly by himself. But what truly cemented the young men together was the realization that in all that they had accomplished the strength was not their own: it had been given to them of God. Those were blissful days, as the two young men wandered together sharing in relaxed friendship the mutual joy which they had in their God. And Saul, too, saw the mutual joy of the two young men and was glad. 

Neither was it that the lives of David and Jonathan lacked excitement. Now that Saul was recovered from his paralysis of depression, there were a great many things to be done. The enemies of Israel had not neglected the opportunity to close in upon Israel’s borders, and this now had to be attended to. Thus for some time Saul was busily engaged in pressing back the enemy forces from one place after another, and always wherever he went Jonathan and David were with him. 

Also in this way it soon became evident that the valor of David was not a momentary thing confined to that one conflict with Goliath. He was a man whose whole nature was attuned to the needs of the battlefield. He had a mind capable of understanding the strategy of battle, he had strength and agility and courage, and above all he possessed the faith in Jehovah God which made the true warriors of Israel stronger than those of any other nation. He was a man committed to defending the cause of Israel and of Israel’s God against every enemy, regardless of whom he might be, and the Spirit of God rested upon him. “The battle is the Lord’s” was his cry, and before it the enemy melted away as dew before the heat of the sun. Soon it was evident that David was the most valiant of warriors that had ever taken up sword in all of Israel’s great army. 

For Jonathan, just to watch and mark the exploits of David was the greatest joy, an even greater joy than what he found in his own accomplishments. Again and again he was found giving to his young friend his own robes, his sword and bow and girdle, anything that David might need to equip himself for the needs of battle. And neither did Saul object to all this. He too found a special satisfaction in having a man like David beside him. David’s presence was for him a sort of living proof that Samuel was wrong and that the power which guarded Israel had not really turned from him. Willingly Saul promoted David from position to position until he was over the most valiant men of battle. Once again all was going well it seemed for Saul and for his kingdom — until, that is, they came back one day from battle, and as was the custom, the women of the city came out to meet them and to sing the songs of victory. But this time the women had made up a new song, and as they entered the city the words of the song rang in their ears, “Saul hath slain his thousands,” the women sang, “And David his ten thousands.” 

Suddenly those words did it, they pierced deep into the very depth of his feelings, they opened a wound more ragged and tender and painful than any sword of iron could ever inflict, they turned and twisted and pulled at the most sensitive part of his nature. Saul was a man of immense pride, and the women should have known better than to praise anyone above him. It was fine and well to have a valiant man under him, but to have someone glorified above him, that he could not endure. And this time it was more than just wounded pride that troubled him. Suddenly, in a moment he saw it. David was being given greater praise than he because David was greater than he was. The spirit of God, that spirit which had once rested at least in part upon David. David after all was not the proof that the curse of Samuel was really false. David was that curse himself. With the piercing quality of a trumpet’s call to battle, once again the words of Samuel racked their way through his brain, “The LORD hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbor of thine, that is better than thou.” Now Saul knew who that neighbor was. In the shock of that realization, all Saul could do was to mutter to himself, “They have ascribed unto David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed but thousands: and what can he have more but the kingdom?” Saul’s life indeed had become bitter.