By Samuel Ridout
The Breach between Saul and David
1 Samuel 18 and 19.
How beautifully does Jonathan respond to the glorious victory of David! Without a thought of jealousy or a pang of wounded pride, he strips himself of his own dignities and badges of royal authority and gives them to David, and this not in a mere outward recognition of the victory, but because his soul was knit to him and he loved him as his own soul. Well, indeed, for us is it when our hearts have been so attracted by our blessed Lord that, as the result of His victory over sin and Satan, we are constrained to strip ourselves of all that we might boast in and lay it at His feet, out of love to Himself.
Thus it was with Saul of Tarsus, who has the distinction of embodying in himself, we might say, the characteristics, before his conversion, of king Saul in all his excellence, and after he was brought to Christ, of Jonathan in all his devotion. It is grace alone that thus can change what otherwise would be a history as dark as the one that we have been considering.
Saul is quite willing that David should fight his battles, and sends him out as captain of his men of war. By the people, this leadership is gladly accepted. But how often does mere nature willingly accept the result of Christ's victory, when it brings forth from degradation and irksome bondage! It is to be feared that even God's own people forget that the Lord is something more than a warrior against their foes, and accept His service for them, while indifferent, perhaps, to His claims upon them.
David had once played with his harp for Saul, and now he would fight the battles for him, but Saul was still as far in heart from submission to God as ever he was. This comes out in what follows. The people meet David after his victory with rejoicing. The women, with their instinctive recognition of true excellence and their simple childlike celebration of it, while giving to Saul a place of honor, set David above him. Saul has slain his thousands and David his ten thousands. Nothing could stir the heart of the self-centred man like this. Was not he king of Israel, and here they were, ascribing to David greater prowess than his own. What more could he have than the kingdom itself, and so he eyes David from that day forward.
But was it not true? Had not David slain his ten thousands? What was Saul, compared with him? Would not this reminder of the superiority of the man after God's heart have furnished an opportunity for Saul to have even yet retraced his steps and bowed to the government of God? What an act of faith it would have been; and what a lesson to the whole nation, had the king deliberately abdicated in favor of the one whom God had so signally used! But there is no thought of that in his heart. His watchful eye is upon David, and he evidently seeks occasion to rid himself of him; and yet he would still make use of the minstrelsy of David, who resumes the playing of the harp when the king is afflicted by the torture of the evil spirit.
And how blessedly our Lord Jesus shows His fitness, whether in the field of battle with our mighty foes, or in the quiet ministry of His own joy to soothe the heart. In both alike, He is supreme. There is none like Him. But Saul's enmity of David is not soothed by the ministry of his love. He throws his javelin at him to make away with him. Twice he thus seeks to take the life of his benefactor and thus confirms the enmity which possessed him. At last, he can endure the immediate presence of the sweet singer no longer, but puts him at a distance. Fearing, however, to set him completely aside, he makes him a captain over a thousand. Thus, David can continue his service of warfare and wins the hearts of multitudes of the people.
Poor Saul, we cannot but pity him. He stands in the way of his own peace, and his pride robs him of all blessing. It is ever thus when pride asserts itself. We see it in full measure in the world, but even in the children of God, if pride is harbored in the heart, it thrusts out the enjoyment of the Lord, and He is, for the time, in a place of distance.
It might be thought that Saul's enmity was connected with his demon possession, but we find that his malignity pursues David with a distinct method even after he has put him at a distance from him. The original promise of his daughter as the wife of the victor over Goliath is now renewed and Saul offers her to David on condition that he will valiantly fight the Lord's battle's and especially against the Philistines. The Satanic craft which marks the king here shows the true nature of his character. He will expose David to all the dangers of constant warfare and stir up the hostility of the Philistines against him by special insult, so that they shall make every effort to put him to death. Thus, while seeking immunity from the responsibility of his death, Saul is really plotting it.
Does not this remind us of the malignity of the Pharisees, who would in every way seek to entangle the Lord in His talk, so that they might alienate others from Him, and if possible, expose Him to the judgment of the Romans.
With becoming modesty, David shrinks from the dignity of being associated with the king, but fulfils all the conditions, and is eventually given Saul's second daughter as his bride. This is a very feeble foreshadow or suggestion, may we not say, of the Church which is given to our Lord, as the result of His glorious victory. "Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it."
But all Saul's machinations only gave David new occasion to show his prowess against the Philistines. So it was in the life of our Lord. The very malignity of the world, the opposition of the Pharisees, furnished the opportunity for Him to display His victorious power, and, in the face of the enemy, to let the light of His mercy and the teachings of the grace and truth of God shine forth.
Saul's enmity ripens further and now he would seek to enlist Jonathan, as well as his other servants, against him. Jonathan, however, had already given in his allegiance to David, and could not be induced to lift his hand against him. Indeed, for the time, this proves a check upon Saul's persecution. Jonathan has the opportunity of speaking well of David, of recalling his glorious victory, of reminding the king how he himself rejoiced at that time, and appealing to his sense of honor, if nothing else. Saul hearkens for the time and promises that he will spare David, who now returns to his old occupations in the king's house.
But this does not last long, the enemy still menaces, and Saul is still unchanged — a prey to the evil spirit whom he had welcomed to his heart. Again he seeks to slay David, who again escapes, even as our Lord passed through the midst of His enemies who would seek to lay hands upon Him, and goes forth, for His hour had not yet come.
David flees away. Saul shows that it was not a passing passion, but the renewal of that relentless hatred which had a definite purpose. He sends to his daughter's house, David's wife, to take David, but Michal lets him down through the window, reminding us of Paul's escape from the plotting of the Jews in Damascus (Acts 9: 23-25). What a unity underlies all truth whether it be as to the enmity of the natural heart or the path of faith through the world!
Michal evidently has love for David, but it does not seem to be coupled with genuine faith here, although we would not brand her as being entirely like her father. Her act in its deception, which we do not excuse, has some points of resemblance to that of Rahab, who sent forth the spies in peace; but she does not seem to be as loyal in heart as Jonathan. However, her device shows at least her willingness to aid her husband, and he escapes in safety.
David flees to Samuel, by whom he had been anointed, as though instinctively turning to him who had the word of God which he needed for his guidance. Some are ready enough to tell Saul where he can find his fancied enemy and he pursues him there, in that relentless hatred which has now become the full expression of his character.
The similarity of the whole scene to those early days, when as yet evil had not fully mastered him, ought at least to have recalled to the madness of Saul, their brightness. Here again was a company of prophets, and here too was Samuel over them, in all the dignity of a divine mouthpiece. Saul sends messengers to take David who had found his asylum in this holy Presence, an asylum really where the Lord was his protection. The messengers succumb to the manifest power of the Spirit of God; and although the king thrice repeats his effort to reach David through others, each time they are bowed in the presence of a power mightier than that of Saul. He himself last of all comes, only however to feel afresh that to which perhaps his heart had been so long a stranger, a resistless power sweeping him along. He too prophesies, and again the old cry is raised: "Is Saul also among the prophets? "
The whole scene reminds us of that energy of the Spirit's power manifested where the people of God are truly gathered together, with no restraint upon His manifestation. It is not a speaking with tongues that dazzles; but definite prophecy, the ministry of the word of God in its appointed place, which will convict the man of the world who comes in, and "falling down, he will own that God is in you of a truth" (1 Cor. 14: 23-25).
Would that Saul had thus truly fallen down! How different a story might remain to us, for surely wherever there is repentance and the bowing to God, there is mercy and healing.