Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 18

Grant's Commentary on the BibleGrant's Commentary

Verses 1-30

Jonathan, the son of Saul stands in refreshing contrast to his father. He was present when David returned to Saul. Doubtless David's victory had attracted Jonathan, but David's words decide him. When he had heard David he was drawn to love him as his own soul. How good it is if the work and the words of the Lord Jesus have such an effect on our own hearts! His WORK and His WORDS should always draw our attention to the beauty of His PERSON.

Verse 2 shows that Saul was evidently glad to employ David regularly as his servant after he had served him so well. But Jonathan did not think of David as a servant. Because he loved him as his own soul he made a most striking covenant with him. Nothing is said of David's side of the covenant, but Jonathan stripped himself of his robe and gave it to David. More than this, he gave him his garments, his sword, his bow and even his belt. This was a plain declaration that he was there and then turning over all his potential kingly rights to David. Rather than succeeding his father, he would gladly relinquish his rights to the throne to David. If Saul had only been wise enough to do this, how much less tragic would his history have been!

Yet it has been observed that nothing is said about Jonathan's shoes. Does this imply that, though he genuinely loved David and submitted to him, he reserved the right to have his feet go where he wanted? At least, when David was later an exile, Jonathan did not choose David's company, though he deeply sympathized with him (1 Samuel 23:16-18). Instead, his feet took him into the company of his father Saul who was persecuting David, and Jonathan sadly died with Saul in battle (1 Samuel 31:2-6).

For a short time at least Saul appreciated David's service. David (v.5) bore a witness of true devotion to the Lord, obediently going wherever Saul sent him and behaving himself wisely. His character and qualifications were such that Saul gave him a position over his men of war, and not only they, but all the people recognized his capability for this.

Verse 6 speaks of a time, evidently later, when David was returning from the slaughter of the Philistines, as the margin reads not simply his defeat of Goliath. Apparently David had been sent out and accomplished a clear victory in which Saul had little or no part. The Women coming to celebrate the victory with singing and dancing were not exactly diplomatic to sing in Saul's presence that Saul had slain his thousands and David his ten thousands. The tide of popular opinion was evidently turning in David's direction, and this alarmed and aggravated Saul. Samuel had told Saul that God would give his kingdom to another (1 Samuel 15:28), and Saul discerns the signs that David may very well be the man. This was another opportunity for Saul to willingly abdicate and give the kingdom to David, but instead he watched David suspiciously for any signs that he might desire the throne. Of course, David himself showed no such inclination. It was only the facts of his character and ability that spoke to both Saul and the people.

David continued to serve Saul in cheerful subjection. Saul's jealousy of David gave occasion to the evil spirit from God to trouble Saul again in such a way that he prophesied (v.10). That prophecy was not from God, but from the evil spirit. To quiet this David again played with his harp for Saul. But this time it did not have a calming effect, just as the ministry of the Word of God eventually will not produce good effects after it has been given for some time and treated with indifference. Saul's previous love for David (1 Samuel 16:21) turned to hatred, for he feared that David was more fitted to be Saul's master than his servant, and he was determined to keep the place of authority. Though he was afraid to fight against Goliath, he threw his javelin at David, intending to kill him (v.11) at a time when David was obediently serving him by playing his harp. This cowardly act itself proved Saul incompetent for his place of royal dignity. At this time David was able to dodge the javelin, and also on a later occasion. We might wonder at his returning to play for Saul after Saul's first attempt to kill him, but this proves the reality of David's faithfulness.

David's escape from Saul's javelins added to the evidence that the Lord was with David and not with Saul. This increased Saul's fear of him, so that he removed him to some distance, making him captain over a thousand men. But though absent from Saul's presence, David could not be hid from the eyes of the people. He "went out and came in before the people," which implies a clear, honest testimony: he had nothing to hide. We were before told that he behaved himself wisely (v.5), now it is added "in all his ways." This wise behaviour only increased Saul's fear of him rather than incurring his thankful respect, as was the case with the people. They loved David on this account, a perfectly normal and right reaction in contrast to the abnormal folly of jealousy.

Of course Saul knew that David was highly esteemed by the people, so he resorted to the subtlety of offering his older daughter Merab to David if David would prove himself valiant in fighting the Lord's battles (v.17). David surely had cause to be suspicious of this, for Saul had before promised his daughter to the man who would kill Goliath (ch.17:25). Saul hoped that David would be so venturesome in his fighting that he might be killed by the Philistines. However, David showed a humble spirit in protesting that he did not consider himself worthy to be the king's son-in-law.

The time came when David had proved himself equal to the task Saul had assigned to him and was therefore entitled to be married to Merab; but Saul again proved himself untrustworthy by giving Merab to another man (v.19). This may have been just as well so far as David was concerned, for there seems no indication that he had any love for Merab anyway.

Another of Saul's daughters, Michal, made it known that she loved David, and Saul was pleased about this, not because he thought of his daughter's happiness, but because this might lead to David's death (v.21)! He wanted his own daughter to be a snare to David. Deceitfully he commanded his servants to tell David, as though in private confidence, that Saul actually thought very highly of David and would be glad to have him as a son-in-law. David should have suspected this since Merab had been promised him and not given to him, but this seemed to be no question to him because he considered himself unworthy to be the king's son-in-law, being a poor man of no reputation (v.23).

King Saul used this to his advantage by instructing his servants to tell David he would not require any dowry except one hundred foreskins of the Philistines. This would not guarantee that the men would be killed, but evidently this was what Saul had in mind; and he expected that David would be killed in attempting to kill so many. But David doubled the number to two hundred, killing the men and bringing their foreskins to Saul. Saul could hardly then go back on his promise, and David was given Michal as his wife (v.27).

Though David was now Saul's son-in-law, this did not make Saul feel any more kindly toward him. Knowing that the Lord was with David and that Michal loved him only increased Saul's fear of David and his animosity against him. It is noted in verse 30 that the commanders of the Philistines went out, evidently with the object of attacking Israel, but in each case David behaved himself more wisely than all Saul's servants, so that his name became highly esteemed.

Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 18". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. 1897-1910.