As we have seen, Saul refuses to sumbit to his sentence of deposition and the loss of his kingdom pronounced over him by Samuel in the name of God. Contrary to the revealed will of the Lord that he abdicate his throne to make room for his God-appointed successor, Saul is determined to maintain himself in power and to secure his throne for his kin. Accordingly, he will be on the alert for that “neighbor” better than he to kill him as soon as he can be certain that he has identified him. It doesn’t take Saul long to make up his mind that this “neighbor” is David, son of Jesse; and the latter is therefore a marked man. Saul’s first attempt on David’s life is made in his delirium in obedience to a sudden diabolical impulse. He twice stabs at David with the javelin that is in his hand, as he says, “I will smite David even unto the wall”. David avoids the missile and removes from Saul’s presence. Saul goes from bad to worse. As David’s favor with the people continues to grow, Saul’s wrath as fed thereby burns with always greater heat; and he has now reached that stage at which he begins to plot against David’s life.
Having fought with the giant and killed him, David should have received Merab, Saul’s eldest daughter, to wife, according to the king’s word. But Saul has not kept him to his word. And he is not intended to keep him to his word. But this does not deter him from using David’s claim upon Merab for the destruction of the son of Jesse. He tells David that he wants the marriage to go through. Merab shall be David’s wife. These are his words, “Behold, my elder daughter Merab, her will I give thee to wife,” but he adds, “only be thou valient for me, and fight the Lord’s battles”. Saul can mean this only as an obligation and not as a condition by the fulfillment of which Merab will become David’s. For the latter’s right to either of Saul’s daughters has been firmly established, on the ground of the king’s promise, by the slaying of the giant. But with Merab betrothed to him, thus as prospective son-in-law to the king, he must fight for the king, the more so, seeing that the king’s battles are the battles of the Lord. These are Saul’s words, the obvious design of which is to induce David to prosecute the war with the Philistines with great vigor; and the hope that Saul cherishes is that David perish in the doing. Let the enemy triumph over God’s people on the battlefield. It is well, if only the son of Jesse be destroyed. Such are the thoughts of Saul’s heart. Such is the motive that hides behind his honeyed and pious words. And his reason in hoping to rid himself of David in this way is that he does not want to kill David by his own hand. “For Saul said, Let not mine hand be upon him, but let the hand of the Philistines be upon him”. As if Saul, by hating David without a cause, is not on this account alone a murderer in God’s sight. As if, in wanting David killed in his war with the Philistines and sending him into this war that he may be killed, Saul will not be guilty in the sight of God of slaying David with the sword of the Philistines, should he fall in battle,—thus as guilty of doing him to death as he would be, should he allow his own hand to be upon him. Saul imagines that he has thought out a way of murdering David without being responsible. Saul knows better. His doing indicates that he knows David innocent and righteous.
Though the narrative makes no mention of this, there can be no doubt that David continues as valiant as always. He is Israel’s real king in the sight of God. Whether by this time he fully realizes that his anointing was an appointment to the kingship, is quite another question. Samuel may have told him immediately; or he may have waited. The narrative does not say. The latter is the more likely, as also David’s reply to Saul at this time seems to indicate. If David speaks honestly, if he voices his true feelings—and there is no reason to believe that he does not—his words betoken that the thought of his being son-in-law to the king overwhelms him. Says he to Saul, “Who am I? and what is my life (Hebrew: “Who is my life”, meaning perhaps, “What is my station in life”), or my father’s family in Israel, that I should be son-in-law to the king.” The prospect of marrying Merab is not unwelcome to David. But, considering who he is, it is hard for him to conceive of himself as son-in-law to the king. Or does he doubt Saul’s motive? Does he see through the man? And is this his way of telling the king that he is not being fooled? The narrative in the sequence is opposed to this interpretation of David’s words. He sneaks honestly. It shows that he still is the artlessly humble and self-effacing David of yesterday, despite his victory over the giant, his achievements as general in Saul’s army, and the growing consciousness of his calling to the kingship. And he believes that Saul deals honestly with him. And in this faith he expects Saul to keep him to his word. “But it came to pass at the time when Merab. Saul’s daughter, should have been given to David, that she was given to Adriel the Meholathite to wife.” Whv does Saul do this to David? The reason is not revealed. But it is not difficult to conjecture correctly the explanation of Saul’s doing. Saul did not intend that David should have Merab. Why did he lie to David? Only to get him to fighting as prospective son-in-law of the king, furious battles with the Philistines that he might be killed. But it doesn’t appear that any such battles were fought by David at this time. If they were, David was kept by the hand of God. Disappointed, Saul does what all along he has planned to do: He gives Merab to another. The narrative is silent on David’s reaction to this foul treatment. It is certain that he behaves himself wisely. He does not go about airing his grievances in the ears of men. He understands that vengeance belongs not to him but to the Lord.
As to Saul, his determination that David be removed from the land of the living is just as strong and even stronger. Hence, when it is now reported to him that his daughter Michal loves David, he is delighted. He imagines that new ways open to him for having David put out of the way. “And Saul said, I will give him to her, that she may be a snare to him, and that the hands of the Philistines may be against him”. These are his words, the vile whisperings of his wicked heart, known only to himself and to God. For these thoughts and intents of his heart he keeps to himself. What he has just done to David regarding Merab is indication what he means by his resolution to give his daughter to David. He will betroth Michal to David as determined by himself that the betrothal shall not consumate in marriage. And Saul’s purpose again is to put David anew under the obligation to fight the Philistines as a prospective son-in-law to the king. It shows how little Saul really knows David. David fights the battles of the Lord under the inspiration of the Spirit and as motivated by the love of God and his people. But Saul, being reprobated and on this account a thoroughly self-absorbed man, has no understanding of this. He, too, has been fighting the Lord’s battles but only as motivated by love of his own cause. And he cannot believe but that David does like wine. David, he thinks will fight the Lord’s warfare if supplied with a carnal motive. This motive Saul will again supply. He will offer David now the hand of Michal. And to realize a long cherished ambition to marry into the king’s family, David will fight the by the hand of the Philistines. “Wherefore Saul said to David, Thou shalt this day be my son-in-law in the twain”. The meaning of the phrase “in the twain” is not clear. It obviously must have some such meaning as “In a second way thou shalt be my son-in-law”.
Saul’s proposal has the appearance of an apology. Apparently he wants to make good the wrong he did David by giving Merab to another. Actually he is bent on David’s destruction. We know this because the sacred writer lays bare Saul’s heart on the pages of his narrative. But David did not have our Bible. Hence, he does not know. For Saul screens his motives by pious and sweet-sounding offers. And David, being but a man, does not know Saul’s heart. It cannot be but that he is in a quandary—this is also evident from the sequence—regarding the true state of Saul’s feelings toward him. Twice has Saul stabbed at him with his javelin, as if he had wanted to pierce him through. But David could fairly say that Saul was not himself then. The evil spirit from God had again seized upon his soul. Not knowing Saul’s heart, David cannot tell whether Saul had actually meant to do him injury. He still has reasons to doubt this. Everybody knows that there was a time when Saul was fond of David. And no one has yet heard Saul say that his feelings toward David have changed. David slays the giant and Saul takes him into his service permanently and even raises him to the rank of officer in his army. And though he tricked David regarding Merab, he still insists that David be his son-in-law. So what is David to think of Saul? Though David has reasons to distrust Saul thoroughly, the evidence that Saul is determined to kill him or to have him killed is still too insufficient. Accordingly, David has not yet brought himself to believe this, as is plain from the narrative.
How David replies, when Saul says that he wants him to marry his daughter, is not stated. But the narrative makes it rather clear that David, mindful of how Saul tricked him regarding Merab, refuses to give Saul his promise to marry Michal. This is little to Saul’s liking. He tries hard to get David to promise that he will be his son-in-law. For David must perish fighting Philistines for Saul in the confidence that he is going to marry Michal. Saul therefore commands his servants. He orders them to communicate with David in secret. They must say to him, “Behold, the king hath delight in thee, and all his servants love thee; now therefore be the king’s son-in-law.” It is not stated that Saul reveals his motives to his servants, tells them his scheme. There is reason why Saul should refrain from this. Why should he needlessly disgrace himself in the eyes of his servants, which he would do should he lay bare his heart to them. For it is a heart that seems to have become the center of all hell’s blackness. The servants must not tell David that Saul sent them and instructed them what to say. Naturally Saul wants David to believe that the servants come of their own accord with him knowing nothing about it. For he would have it appear that his love of David is so great and that he esteems the son of Jesse so highly that he cannot refrain from praising him to the faces of his servants all the day long; and that the servants felt it their duty to tell David in order that he might perceive how true it is that the king really wants him to be his son-in-law; and tell him also that the marriage will have the full approval of all the servants in that they love him too.
David’s reply to the servants seems to indicate that it does not occur to him that they simply obey orders. These are his words to them, “Seemeth it to you a light thing to be the king’s son-in-law, seeing that I am a poor man and lightly esteemed?” If the theme of his former reply was the lowliness of his status and the insignificance of his family, it is now his poverty to which he directs attention. We may believe that now, too, David speaks sincerely, voices his true sentiments. For the love that Michal bears him is mutual. But he cannot well afford to marry her. She is the daughter of a king. The marriage would call for a dowry, a gift of property to the bride, far above, his means. Do not these servants understand? Their importunity puzzles him. Does it also open his eyes to their hypocricy and to the diabolical duplicity of the master who sent them? This cannot be expected. Though David has come to perceive that Saul is not to be trusted, though the eagerness of the servants may strike him rs strange, he does not apprehend what really goes on at the moment. Such apprehension calls for an all- seeing eye, for an eye that can pierce “even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Such an eye belongs only to God.
The messengers tell David that all the servants of Saul love him. There is truth in what they say. The text atreveals that David was accepted in the sight of all the people, and also in the sight of all Saul’s servants. David may still be accepted in the eyes of these very messengers. In telling him that they love him they may be speaking the truth. They may be imagining, too, that Saul actually delights in David. For no more than David do they know Saul’s heart. But their love of David is not the love that men, who are one by a common faith in Christ, bear one another. It is a kind of love that at bottom is cruelty. For these messengers, and perhaps the majority of Saul’s servants, stand ready to do the king’s bidding even when he commands them to bring David to him in his bed, that he may be slain ( ). They love David, but they love themselves more; and therefore they will do whatever the king commands them. That God must he obeyed more than man is not in all their thoughts. All that has weight with them is the favor of the king. That favor must be retained at all costs, even at the cost of justice. And David is a just man. Saul declares him just first by his failure to name his crime and later by word of mouth in the hearing of the whole nation ( ). Every one in Israel therefore should follow the example of Jonathan. He refuses to obey the king’s command that David be killed. He goes over to David’s side and delivers David from Saul’s wrath at every opportunity. But he organizes no rebellion against Saul.
That David has established his rght to either of Saul’s daughters by his slaying of the giant, is a thing that he chooses to disregard. Perhaps at no time for some reason or other has he considered asserting this right. Some interpreters suppose that Saul’s promising to give his daughter in marriage to the slayer of the giant was a rumor that originated with the people. But this is not likely.
The servants tell Saul what is standing in David’s way of marrying Michal. It is his poverty. Saul has considered that. “Go tell the son of Jesse,” says he to his servants, “that the king desires no dowry.” This is generous of Sauk But he has not finished. “The king desireth not any dowry; but a hundred foreskins of the Philistines, to be avenged on the king’s enemies.” What Saul requests is not unfair to David. He really is making it easy for the poor man to marry his daughter. As an officer in the king’s army it is his calling to wage war against the Philistines. As following his line of duty he will have sooner or later the required number of foreskins. Yet, as coming from Saul, the request is deeply sinful. The motive and purpose are to destroy this man. “But Saul thought to make David fall by the hands of the Philistines.” But David does not know Saul’s heart. Thus “when his servants told David these words, it pleased him well to be the king’s son-in-law.”
That Saul is motivated by wickedness is now apparent. Without a moments delay he should make arrangements for the consumation of the bethroth- al in marriage. But he holds back. And with reason. .As a man just married David will not have to go to war for a whole year. So Israel’s law decrees. Eut Saul does not want David to rest from war. His sole purpose is to get him to fighting Philistines in order that he may be killed. Accordingly, he does not keep him to his word. He insists that David go forth and kill Philistines and get him the required number of foreskins. And not until David has returned with the full count will Saul allow the marriage to take place. David does so. “And the days were not fulfilled—the days of the year of the exemption for David—And David arose and went—so reads the Hebrew text—he and his men, and slew of the Philistines two hundred men. And David brings their foreskins: and they bring them in full count to the king, that David might be his son-in-law.” The son of Jesse, unbeknown to himself, has again triumphed over Saul. Once more the Lord brings his wicked counsel to nought by preserving David in his battle with the Philistines. Saul is crestfallen and furious. David has returned with twice the number of foreskins that Saul had required. It is perhaps his way of expressing his disgust to Saul with the manner of treatment afforded him by the king. Saul can hold out on David no longer. He must allow the marriage to take place to save his face. So the two are married, David and Michal. “And Michal, Saul’s daughter, loves him” (). But they are not long together, when Saul takes Michal and gives her to another, to one Phaltiel the son of Laish ( ). It again shows that Saul had not intended that Michal should marry David. His hatred of David was too deadly for him to really want David to be his son-in- law. All that he wanted is David’s destruction. And his whole scheme was to put David under the obligation of fighting for him the Philistines by betrothing to him first Merab and then Michal; and putting him under this obligation in the hope that in one or the other of his battles with the Philistines he might be killed. All that Saul does and says in connection with this matter brings clearly out that he had no intention of marrying off either of these daughters to David.
“And Saul saw and knew that the Lord with with David. . . .” (). The evidence is there before his very eyes. And it continues to accumulate. And the Lord lays the speech thereof—the Lord’s speech or word—on his heart, so that he sees not only but knows, is convinced in his heart. But he does not repent. For the Lord is against him to destroy him. Thus, holding under the truth in unrighteousness, he persists in hardening his heart as sovereignly hardened by God. In the words of the sacred writer, “And Saul was yet the more afraid of David; and Saul became David’s enemy continually.”
The two hundred Philistines that David slew for their foreskins must have formed an enemy garrison somewhere in Judah not mentioned in the sacred narrative. Hearing the disaster by which it had been overtaken, the Philistines swear vengeance and mobilize for war, and errlong their armies as headed by the princes of the land are encamped on the soil of Judah, poised for battle. This must be the import of the statement contained in, “’And the princes of the Philistines went forth. . . .” That the Philistines right at this time do set on foot a miltary movement against Israel, is revealed by the text at verse 8 of chapter 19. Here the statement occurs, “And there was war again,” war, so this verse tells us, between Israel and the Philistines. It is in the behaviour of David during this war, more than in the war as such, that the narrator is interested. Of David’s behaviour in this new crisis, brought on, it seems, by his slaying of the two hundred Philistines, it is stated, “And it came to pass after they—the Philistine princes with their armies—went forth, that David behaved himself more wisely than all the servants of Saul; so that his name was precious”’ ( ). As in the former crisis, so now; he speaks to the terrified people the language of faith, it must be, exhorting them to fear not but to trust the Lord to save them. It is also a good conjecture that, to demonstrate his faith, he raids the Philistine encampment, and that, as working for him, the Lord lays his terror on the hearts of these heathen. This would go a long ways to explain the statement that David’s name is precious. At the same time, the name of Saul is scarcely being mentioned. And with reason. The contrast between David’s faith in its heroic working and the inertia of Saul’s unbelief is glaring and always more glaring. It is to David that the nation looks in its crises, not to Saul. Verily, the Lord is taking the kingdom from Saul and is giving it to that “neighbor” who is better than he. Saul sees and knows but he persists in fighting God. His heart is hard and always harder. It is a hardening process by which Saul is being visited characterized by clearly discernible stages. The first stage in the process was reached when .Saul began to eye David. Next he stabbed at David with his javelin. David had to leap in order to avoid being pierced through. Advancing in sin, Saul schemes to slay David by the sword of the Philistines. David was not slain. He lived as kept by the Lord. Then the princes of the Philistines go forth, and David behaves himself wisely and his name is much set by. Unutterably grieved, Saul now makes another advance in sin. He calls on Jonathan and on all his servants to cooperate with him in putting David out of the way. “And Saul spake to Jonathan his son and to all his servants, that they should kill David,” ).