Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 18

Gray's Concise Bible CommentaryGray's Concise Commentary

Verses 1-4


AS A MINSTREL (1 Samuel 16:14-23 )

When it is said that “the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul” (1 Samuel 16:14 ), we have a further illustration of the distinction between the Spirit coming on a man and the Spirit dwelling within him. In the latter case we do not think of His departing from him (John 14:16 ; Romans 11:29 ), but in the former He may do so for more than one reason, but especially when the man through disobedience has placed himself outside the pale where God cares to use him. As to “an evil Spirit from the Lord” troubling him, we are to regard it as a judgment upon him (see Judges 9:23 ; 1 Kings 22:15-23 ; Job 1:2 ; 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 ), in consequence of which he became “jealous, irritable, vindictive and subject to morbid melancholy.” The ancients believed music had an influence in healing such disorders (1 Samuel 16:23 ).

It is easy to see why this providence came David’s way (1 Samuel 16:18-22 ), when we consider how it may have prepared him for his future position by acquainting him with the ways of the court and the business of government.

We are interested in the description of the young man David, by one who knew him well (1 Samuel 16:18 ). The word “servants” is “young men” in the Revised Version, indicating that it may have been one of his former chums. But how could David have been a “man of war?” If not on the battlefield as yet, nevertheless in his conflicts with wild beasts (1 Samuel 17:34 , ff.), which demonstrated that he had the soldier in him when the time came.

AS A CHAMPION (1 Samuel 17:1-54 )

This story is so familiar as to require little comment. The event occurred, according to the chronology in the margin of our Bibles, almost a quarter of a century after the victory over the Philistines at Michmash (chap. 14), and when that old time enemy of Israel had again become bold. The place (Shocoh) seems to have been a town in the western section of the territory of Judah.

There is no explanation of David’s prowess in the presence of this strong enemy (1 Samuel 17:26 ; 1 Samuel 17:32 ), save the supernatural enduement of God. It was not the temporal reward that moved him, but the desire that God be magnified. This is discovered in the faith evidenced in verse 37. His success had been God’s success rather than his own and would continue so to be (1 Samuel 17:45 ).

And yet works wrought with his faith, since he took not only his staff but five stones, not one alone. If one failed he had others (1 Samuel 17:40 ). Surely the description of him was true, he was “prudent in matters.’

But why should David have brought the giant’s head to Jerusalem (1 Samuel 17:54 )? Probably because it was the nearest city, and hence the appropriate place of deposit for such a trophy. We learned (Joshua 15:63 and Judges 1:21 ) that the Jebusites possessed this city, but probably that means only the fortress on Mount Zion, while the rest was in Israel’s hands.

AS A COURTIER (1 Samuel 17:53 to 1 Samuel 18:4 )

We are not surprised to find David a favorite at Saul’s court after this, but we are surprised that he does not identify him (1 Samuel 17:55-58 ). In explanation, remember Saul’s mental condition at times, as well as the fact that time had elapsed since David’s minstrel days, and the ruddy youth may have changed into the bearded man. And as to Abner, he may have been absent from court when David had been there.

In chapter 18, we have the beginning of a friendship that has gone into history as one of the most beautiful among men.

Jonathan and David were doubtless nearly of an age and, although the former had taken no notice of the minstrel, the heroic though modest warrior had commanded his admiration and affection at once, and “he loved him as his own soul” (1 Samuel 18:3 ). To receive any part of the dress worn by a sovereign or his eldest son and heir, is deemed in the east the highest honor which can be conferred on a subject. (Compare 1 Samuel 18:4 with Esther 6:8 ).


1. How are we to regard the saying that “an evil Spirit from the Lord” troubled Saul?

2. Have you read 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 ?

3. How is David described in verse 18?

4. Where was Shocoh?

5. What was David’s motive in the conflict with Goliath?

6. What do you know about the Jebusites and Jerusalem?

7. How would you explain Saul’s failure to identify David the second time?

Verses 5-30


JEALOUSY AND FEAR (1 Samuel 18:0 )

Jonathan’s love for David is put to a serious test, but is found genuine. On the homeward march from the victory over the Philistines, the women of Israel, following oriental custom, met the warriors and accompanied them along the road, singing and dancing. But their joy outran their judgment, so that they praised David more than their king. A better man than Saul could scarcely have resisted the temptation to envy, sinful as it was (1 Samuel 18:6-9 ).

No wonder his malady returned and made him a murderer in his heart (1 Samuel 18:10-11 ). When it is said “he prophesied,” it cannot be that he was the mouthpiece of God, but as the term denotes, one under the influence of either a good or bad spirit; the probability is he was in a kind of frenzy. In religious meetings, where some have professed miraculous tongues, a similar phenomenon has been witnessed. There has been prophesying, and some have supposed it was God speaking; but events have proven otherwise, for there are evil spirits in the universe as well as good, and, if possible, they would “deceive the very elect.”

Saul would give David a military commission, but he would no longer retain him at the court (1 Samuel 18:12-13 ). David had merited the king’s eldest daughter in marriage (17:25); but this is now forgotten and, like Jacob with Laban, he must do more to obtain her. Nor is this enough (1 Samuel 18:17-19 ). Another snare is set for him in the case of the younger daughter (1 Samuel 18:20-25 ), for to slay one hundred Philistines, in order to their circumcision, meant a hazard that might easily have resulted in his death.

No wonder Saul was afraid of him (1 Samuel 18:29 ), for supernatural power was exerted on his behalf continually, and nothing could prevent his accession to the throne. Of course the wisdom of his behavior, the self-control he showed in the face of danger, at Saul’s hands, was equally the gift of God.

THE STRATEGY OF LOVE (1 Samuel 19:0 )

The story of this chapter is plain. For the incident of 1 Samuel 19:12 , compare Joshua 2:15 . Michal’s subterfuge (1 Samuel 19:17 ) is justifiable though its recital in the record is not necessarily a divine approval. Look for Ramah on the map, northeast of Jerusalem and a bit south of Bethel. The meaning of “prophesied” in 1 Samuel 19:20 may be similar to that expressed above concerning Saul; yet it is more likely that the influence of the sacred exercises produced an effect that made them unable to discharge their commission, led by a resistless impulse to join in praising God. “Stripping off his clothes” (1 Samuel 19:24 ) is to be understood of his armor and outer robes, as he lay in a trance.

THE FAITHFUL FRIEND (1 Samuel 20:0 )

The beginning of a new moon was celebrated by sacrifices and feasting at which all the family were expected to be present (1 Samuel 20:5 ). But David’s excuse for visiting his old home was a good one, since a “yearly sacrifice” seemed more important than a monthly one (1 Samuel 20:6 ).

Notice the renewal of the covenant between Jonathan and David at this time, and the project of its terms beyond the lifetime of the former who, with a prophet’s eye, saw the outcome of the struggle in which his father and his friend were engaged (1 Samuel 20:12-17 ).

“Clean” (1 Samuel 20:26 ) has reference to some ceremonial law such as was studied in Leviticus. The reproach of Jonathan’s mother (1 Samuel 20:30 ) was not a reflection upon her character necessarily, but a stronger way of insulting the son than to fling a charge against him personally. The phrase has been rendered “thou son of perverse rebellion,” with the reference to “woman” omitted. The last expression of the verse is a Middle East way of saying that the son’s conduct would bring shame on the mother.

“Artillery” (1 Samuel 20:40 ) is “weapons” in the Revised Version. The French “artillerie” signifies “archery,” a term still used in England of an association of archers who long since disused bows and arrows.

The closing verses are an affecting conclusion of a chapter in the lives of two of the best and greatest men who ever lived.


1. What mistake did the Hebrew women make?

2. What is meant by “prophesied” in Saul’s case?

3. What illustration of Saul’s perfidy toward David does this lesson contain?

4. Did Saul’s fear of David arise from natural or supernatural causes?

5. Have you identified Ramah?

6. What indicates Jonathan’s conviction that David, rather than he, would ascend the throne?

7. What does artillery mean?

Bibliographical Information
Gray, James. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 18". Gray's Concise Bible Commentary. 1897-1910.