Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 18

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Verse 1


Just as the efforts of Pharaoh to destroy Israel led directly to the placement of Moses within the inner circle of the family of Pharaoh, bouncing Moses, as it were, out of the Nile river into the lap of the princess, in a similar manner, Saul's repeated efforts to get rid of his rival David resulted in David's marriage to Saul's daughter! Certainly the hand of God is visible in every line of this remarkable chapter.


"When he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. And Saul took him that day, and would not let him return to his father's house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his girdle."

It is quite evident here that Jonathan had lost all respect for his father; and he had also doubtless come to appreciate the fact that Saul was no longer fit to be the king of Israel. Jonathan's action here in bestowing his royal robe and his armor upon David was a symbolical act that indicated Jonathan no longer had any hope or desire of succeeding his father to the throne. It is also possible that at this time David might have confided in Jonathan the fact of his anointing by the prophet Samuel.

As Keil pointed out, the material in this chapter is not arranged in any chronological order.[1] The sacred author was concerned chiefly with matters focused upon the conflict between Saul and David. No detailed history of events mentioned is given.

Verse 5


"And David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him; so that Saul set him over the men of war. And this was good in the sight of all the people and also in the sight of Saul's servants."

"Saul set him over the men of war." This apparently refers to some subordinate position to that of Abner, the general of all Saul's armies.

This verse has no chronological connection whatever with the verses preceding or following it. "It covers a great deal of time."[2] Also, the events of 1 Samuel 18:1-4 probably took place at the end of this period of time, and not prior to it. Jonathan's soul being knit with David's was mentioned first, and out of sequence, because the sacred author wished to emphasize it.

During the indefinite time period mentioned here, David conducted military expeditions under Saul's order and proved to be very successful in all of them. Of course, his popularity was greatly increased. At the end of this somewhat extensive time, there was a sufficient victory over the Philistines that hostilities, for a time, were abated. The occasion was celebrated by some kind of a grand parade, which is recorded in the next verses.

Verse 6


"As they were coming home, when David returned from slaying the Philistine, the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with timbrels, with songs of joy, and with instruments of music. And the women sang to one another as they made merry:

`Saul has slain his thousands,

And David his ten thousands.'

And Saul was very angry, and this saying displeased him; he said, "They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands; and what more can he have but the kingdom"? And Saul eyed David from that day on."

We are well aware that some very able commentators take this paragraph as a record of what happened immediately after David slew Goliath; but it appears to this writer that there are substantial objections to that viewpoint. Not even the enthusiastic women could have referred to the victory over one man as his slaying his "ten thousands." The most likely occurrence of this celebration was at the end of the whole military campaign, the temporary end of the war.

"When David returned from the slaying of the Philistine" (1 Samuel 18:6). The ASV margin here notes that the plural "Philistines" is an alternate rendition, and we believe that to be correct. "The allusion here is not to the combat with Goliath but to one of the expeditions mentioned in 1 Samuel 18:5. The women would not have described the slaughter of one champion as the slaying of ten thousand, nor would there have been any contrast between David's act and the military enterprises of Saul."[3]

Keil also agreed that, "Saul took David into his service immediately after his defeat of Goliath, and before the war had been brought to an end; but the celebration of the victory in which the women excited Saul's jealousy did not take place until the return of the people and of the king at the close of the war."[4]

"And Saul eyed David from that day on" (1 Samuel 18:9). This means that from that day forward, Saul's jealous envy and hatred of David would never be diminished. Saul probably guessed, at this point of time, that David would be his successor. His Majesty resolved to do everything in his power to prevent that from happening.

Verse 10


"And on the morrow an evil spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he raved within his house, while David was playing the lyre, as he did day by day. Saul had his spear in his hand; and Saul cast the spear, for he thought, "I will pin David to the wall." But David evaded him twice."

"Saul raved within his house." (1 Samuel 18:10). That `evil spirit' that came upon Saul bore a remarkable resemblance to paranoid insanity; but it was nevertheless a punishment inflicted by God Himself upon the wicked Saul. David might well have thought that the attempt of Saul to kill him was merely due to a temporary fit of madness, otherwise, he would hardly have exposed himself a second time to Saul's murderous actions.

"David was playing the lyre, as he did day by day" (1 Samuel 18:10). Notice that there is no war in progress at this point, giving strong support to the understanding that the preceding celebration that aroused Saul's jealousy came at the termination of an important phase of the Philistine war.

"Saul had his spear in his hand" (1 Samuel 18:10). "It seems that Saul held this weapon in his hand as a scepter, according to an ancient custom."[5]

Verse 12


"Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with him but had departed from Saul. So Saul removed him from his presence, and made him a commander of a thousand; and he went out and came in before the people. And David had success in all his undertakings; for the Lord was with him. And when Saul saw that he had great success, he stood in awe of him. But all Israel and Judah loved David; for he went out and came in before them."

"And made him commander of a thousand" (1 Samuel 18:13). If this was a promotion for David, as most of the scholars we have consulted seem to believe, then we may be sure that Saul's motivation included something other than a desire to honor David. The next verses make it clear what that motivation was.

Verse 17


"Then Saul said to David, "Here is my elder daughter Merab; I will give her to you as a wife; only be valiant for me and fight the Lord's battles." For Saul thought, "Let not my hand be upon him, but let the hand of the Philistines be upon him." And David said to Saul, "Who am I, and who are my kinsfolk, my father's family in Israel, that I should be son-in-law to the king"? But at the time when Merab, Saul's daughter, should have been given to David, she was given to Adriel the Meholathite for a wife."

"Let the hand of the Philistines be upon him" (1 Samuel 18:17). So, it is clear enough. Saul's promotion of David in the army and the assignment of military campaigns to him was done, so Saul hoped, that it might result in David's being killed in battle.

We do not know why Saul failed to honor his promise of giving David his daughter Merab. It might have been because David (as he did later in regard to the dowry for Michal) indicated that he was unable to provide a suitable dowry. Certainly, there must have been some good reason for Saul's not honoring a promise that was known to the whole kingdom, namely, that the victor over Goliath would receive the king's daughter in marriage. It was not actually "a dowry," but the present which the bridegroom was supposed to give to the bride's father.

At any rate, Merab was given to Adriel instead of to David. The Bible records the tragic story of the unhappy death of the sons of Merab and Adriel in 2 Samuel 21:8.

Saul's scheme which he supposed might get David killed by the Philistines did not work out. Instead, David's many successful military missions led to his increasing popularity with all the people. Also, David in those excursions against the enemy learned many valuable lessons that better equipped him for the long struggle against Saul and his later duties as king.

David, unable to provide a proper gift to Saul for Merab, would have another opportunity to become the king's son-in-law; and the cunning and crafty Saul must have thought, "This time, I'll get him killed for sure." It came about when Saul learned that his daughter Michal had fallen in love with David.

Verse 20


"Now Saul's daughter Michal loved David; and they told Saul, and the thing pleased him. Saul thought, Let me give her to him, that she may be a snare for him, and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him." Therefore Saul said to David a second time, "You shall now be my son-in-law." And Saul commanded his servants, "Speak to David in private and say, "Behold, the king has delight in you, and all his servants love you; now then become the king's son-in-law." And Saul's servants spoke those words in the ears of David. And David said, "Does it seem to you a little thing to become the king's son-in-law, seeing that I am a poor man and of no repute"? And the servants of Saul told him. "Thus and so did David speak." Then Saul said, "Thus shall you say to David, `The king desires no marriage present except a hundred foreskins of the Philistines, that he may be avenged of the king's enemies.'" Now Saul thought to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines."

"That she may be a snare for him" (1 Samuel 18:21). "The Hebrew word here suggests the idea of a trigger of a trap with bait laid upon it. It is also used metaphorically, as here, of that which allures a person to destruction."[6]

"Therefore Saul said to David a second time" (1 Samuel 18:21). This is either a summary of what Saul was about to do through his servants as intermediaries, which is possible, or a direct proposition to David. If it was the latter, David did not bother to reply; he had already been frustrated by Saul's false promises. At any rate, Saul employed his servants in an effort to persuade David to marry his daughter. David's explanation that he was not able to give the king a marriage present may also explain what prevented his marriage to Merab. If so, Saul's scheme to get David killed could have been tied to that very thing; and Saul promptly took advantage of it.

"The king desires no marriage present except a hundred foreskins of the Philistines" (1 Samuel 18:25). The Philistines were an uncircumcised people; and "the foreskin" was the part of the body cut off in the ceremony of circumcision. The delivery of a hundred such things would have been possible only by first killing a hundred Philistines. Saul, of course, knew this; and this was precisely the part of the arrangement which Saul relied upon to accomplish the murder of David by the hand of the Philistines.

Verse 26


"And when his servants told David these words, it pleased David well to be the king's son-in-law. Before the time had expired, David arose and went, along with his men, and killed two hundred of the Philistines; and David brought their foreskins, which were given in full number to the king, that he might become the king's son-in-law. And Saul gave him his daughter for a wife. But when Saul saw and knew that the Lord was with David, and that all Israel loved him, Saul was still more afraid of David. So Saul was David's enemy continually."

"Before the time expired" (1 Samuel 18:26). This indicates that Saul, at the last minute, had changed the proposition by placing a deadline upon it, requiring that it be done in a specified length of time, thus increasing the danger to David, and increasing the possibility that David might be tempted into doing something rash.

David ... killed two hundred Philistines ... and brought their foreskins ... in full number to the king" (1 Samuel 18:27). One cannot help wondering what emotion must have swept over Saul when he received the filthy garbage which was, in a sense, his sale price for the precious Michal.

L. P. Smith, in Interpreter's Bible, contradicted what is stated here, declaring that, "The killing of two hundred Philistines is an unnecessary and unoriginal exaggeration. David paid the "full number" to Saul. viz., one hundred; and this is borne out by a later reference to the event in 2 Samuel 3:14." This writer must confess that one of the most incredible discoveries of a whole lifetime of Bible study is the unjustifiable and even dishonest allegations of critical scholars against the Word of God. The two passages cited here harmonize perfectly. 2 Samuel 3:14 does not deny that David killed two hundred Philistines. It only designates "the price" of the betrothal, which had been set by Saul and which was exactly what is related in this chapter.

"Thus this final scheme served only to increase David's fame and to bring him into the royal family. These events proved, as even Saul recognized, that `the Lord was with David' (1 Samuel 18:28)."[7]

The significance of this marriage to Saul's daughter lies in the fact that, "As Saul's son-in-law, David was in an advantageous position to receive the throne at Saul's death, or at some later time."[8]

"It is impossible to know the chronological relationship of the events recorded in 1 Samuel 18:17-30."[9]

Verse 30


"Then the princes of the Philistines came out to battle, and as often as they came out David had more success than all the servants of Saul; so his name was highly esteemed."

"The princes of the Philistines." There is a great deal of ambiguity in much of what is found in certain passages; and, in this instance, it is not clear whether the Philistine princes were leaders of armies into battle, or if they came out, after the manner of Goliath, seeking single combat. The New English Bible understands it to mean that, "they came out seeking single combat." Willis designated this understanding of the passage as "plausible,"[10] but to this writer it appears far more likely that they came as leaders of military detachments.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 18". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.