And Saul saw and knew that the Lord was with David… And Saul was yet the more afraid of David; and Saul became David’s enemy continually.
For a third time Saul was beginning to find relief from his fits of deep spiritual depression. The first time had been after Samuel had informed him that God had rejected him from being king over Israel, and only the soft playing of David’s harp had revived him. The second time was when the giant Goliath, by threatening his kingdom and his life, had left him paralyzed with fear. Again it had been David, this time with his sling that had given him escape. But now David himself had become Saul’s curse. Suddenly one day, hearing David praised above himself, Saul had come to the realization that David was the very one whom God intended to make king in his stead. It had struck him cold with fear and again that cloud of dark depression had settled upon his heart. But once again it appeared that the way of relief was opening up before him; and this time it was the most satisfying of all, because it was his own doing.
It had come to him quite unexpectedly that day when David had to try to help once again by playing his harp for the troubled king. Suddenly, upon an impulse, he had snatched up his javelin and had tried with all of his strength to impale the young musician. It had been a terrible thing to do, so that the whole palace had shuddered visibly before the horror of it. Even Saul himself had seemed almost relieved to know that the javelin had missed its mark. And yet when David had courageously returned once again to try to help his king, he did the same thing over once again.
Afterward, while sitting alone and reflecting on what he had done, the realization had gradually dawned upon Saul. His actions had been foolish, poorly timed and indiscreet. It was well that his javelin had not struck home, for, if it had, the people would have never forgiven him. David was generally liked, and that had to be reckoned with. But his goal had been right nonetheless. David had to be killed, he had to be gotten out of the way.
At first, Saul’s own mind had recoiled at the thought. He, after all, had been raised in Israel, and he felt almost instinctively the terribleness of murder. But there was a certain fascination there which brought him back to it again and again. He only told himself that it was not seriously meant, but only a way to occupy his troubled mind. Soon, however, the whole matter had gone beyond this point, and he found himself quite determined to do what he could to implement these thoughts. But even at that excuses were not hard to find, reasons why it was better for all concerned that David should be gotten out of the way. They were more than sufficient to satisfy his own mind. Soon Saul’s whole conscious thought was given over to trying to find the best way in which David could be destroyed while doing the least harm to himself.
Actually, for what was perhaps the first time in his life, Saul had found an activity which suited his nature almost perfectly. It was true that all his life he had wanted only to be king, and when this dream had come to fulfillment and he had prospered in his work, he had thought that he enjoyed it perfectly. Nevertheless, even in those early prospering years, there had been one very disconcerting element. As king in Israel he was expected to be a spiritual leader in Israel and was constantly required to engage in various spiritual ceremonies of worship. This he had done quite willingly but always with that vague underlying feeling that he didn’t know what it was all about. It had bothered him, especially when Samuel was standing near watching so closely his every deed. He had come to dislike those activities and avoid them as much as he could. Then too there had been the battles which he had always pretended to enjoy too. And it was true, he had always enjoyed each victory with all of the glory and praise that was sure to follow. But the battles themselves — no one knew how inwardly he trembled before each one. No matter how he tried he could not seem to escape that feeling of fear that something might happen which would do him harm and perhaps even take his life. He was not a man of war at heart. But this time things were different. He knew who his enemy was; it was David. Neither did he have to fear from him any immediate, personal harm. David was one of his own soldiers subject to his own authority and discipline, and one who could be expected to obey his every command. All that Saul had to do was to see to it that David was put out of the way before the day could come when God could put David on his throne, and with all of his mental powers Saul threw himself into his task. Although Saul would have never admitted it even to himself, he really enjoyed what he was doing. It was a morose activity, just sitting there plotting and planning how to destroy an unsuspecting young men; but it held a certain sweetness for Saul, a certain attraction. It was the attraction of hatred and sin.
At first thought, of course, it did not appear to Saul that there would be anything at all difficult in disposing of David. He merely appointed David head of a special fighting force of valiant men and sent them out to where the battles were most severe. David being the kind of person he was, he could be expected to place himself in the most dangerous position of all. It seemed natural to expect, therefore, that sooner or later the sword of the enemy would find him, and he would be killed in a way in which no one would be able to lay any blame upon Saul.
But time went on and nothing happened except that David won more and more victories for himself, and, behaving himself wisely, he grew in favor and love with all of the people. Gradually Saul began to realize once again that it was not a mere man against whom he was striving but against God Himself. It frightened him. In fact, he tried to keep the thought out of his mind because of the terror it struck in his heart. But never once did he consider repenting and desisting from his plan. He only became the more determined to win out in the end.
He was beginning to realize, however, that, if he was going to win, he was going to have to become more personally involved. Thus it was that he revived the plan once again of using his daughter for his end. Had he not succeeded once in getting David to go out against Goliath by promising him his daughter in marriage? It was fortunate that David had never dared mention the matter again afterward, and that he had not mentioned it to David either. Now once more he could use it as a lever to drive David deeper into the dangers of battle. So he called David to him and said, “Behold my elder daughter Merab, her will I give thee to wife: only be thou valiant for me, and fight the Lord’s battles.”
The answer of David was hard to evaluate. He said merely, “Who am I? and what is my life, or my father’s family in Israel, that I should be son-in-law to the king?” It was, however, enough for Saul to warrant the conclusion that such a marriage was to David a most desirable goal. Thus he could expect that David would go on to throw himself just as recklessly into battle as he had when he went against Goliath. Never once, though, did the thought cross his mind that there might be something sinister or ruthless about using his own daughter that way as a pawn in a wicked, diabolic game. To him nothing mattered but the destruction of David, and anything it required was worth the price.
Actually, Saul had never seriously intended to give his daughter to David. Promises were fine as bribes to get people to do his bidding; but he was king and who could demand that he should keep them. So it was one day that, almost without thinking, Saul gave this daughter twice promised to David to another. Or maybe it was not so much without thinking; possibly Saul had planned it this way all along in the hope that he could thereby arouse the anger of David and incite him to say or do something that reflected unfaithfulness to the king. If only he could find one such thing, it would be sufficient to call David in to judgment and require e of him the ultimate penalty. By it all, however, David remained quite unaffected.
It was while contemplating his lack of success in this matter that the thought came to Saul that maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if he had given his daughter to David. As a member of his own family, David would be less likely to suspect his intentions, and would be even more subject to his influence than before. Moreover, while observing David regarding this matter, Saul discovered the reason for David’s lack of interest in Merab. While living together in the royal palace, an attachment had developed between David and his younger daughter Michal. It all seemed to fit together very nicely into another plan. Quickly he called David to him and said, “Thou shalt this day be my son in law in the one of the twain,” by which he evidently meant to suggest that David should be married to Michal. The only trouble was that David again remained very much unwilling to commit himself.
Saul, however, was by no means ready to give up his plan. He determined to find for himself the reason for David’s evasiveness. For this he called some of his servants, who could speak to David much more freely than he could himself, and he instructed them, “Commune with David secretly, and say, ‘Behold, the king hath delight in thee, and all his servants love thee: now therefore be the king’s son in law.’ ”
This was soon done, and the answer was brought back that David had said, “Seemeth it to you a light thing to be a king’s son in law, seeing that I am a poor man, and lightly esteemed.”
This was exactly the opportunity which Saul was looking for. Being himself a cowardly man, he could not escape the feeling that somehow David had been avoiding the real danger of battle. But now that he knew that David was troubled by his inability to pay a high dowry, he could use that knowledge as an opportunity to send David into a situation in which danger could not possibly be avoided. Once again he instructed his servants, “Thus shall ye say to David, ‘The king desireth not any dowry, but an hundred foreskins of the Philistines, to be avenged of the king’s enemies.’ ”
It was the foolishness of Saul. He knew that he was opposing a power much greater than himself and of all the Philistines; and yet he didn’t know. He refused to know. He kept on telling himself that if only he could find a danger great enough David would fall. So once again, filled with hope, he waited while David went out to do as he had suggested.
It was not long, it was actually much sooner than he expected that David came back from his foray. The report was taken directly to the king, for everyone thought he would be overjoyed at the message. It was actually enough to set his heart to trembling. David had slain not just one hundred but two hundred for good measure, and he had returned himself without a scratch.
This time there was no choice for Saul. He had made the matter too definite. The date was set, and David became son-in-law to the king. The people were glad, and the festivities were great; but Saul was afraid and trembled. The power was indeed great which he had set himself to withstand.