Saul Comes to Fear David, 1-30
18:1 When David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan and David became bound together in close friendship. Jonathan loved David as much as he did his own life. 18:2 Saul retained David on that day and did not allow him to return to his father’s house. 18:3 Jonathan made a covenant with David, for he loved him as much as he did his own life. 18:4 Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with the rest of his gear, including his sword, his bow, and even his belt.
Chester notes that although it would be easy to think that Jonathan and David were of a similar age, the former was old enough to be the latter’s father.
Evans (BST) comments on Jonathan’s character:
‘Jonathan’s generous-hearted acceptance of David fits well with what we know of him elsewhere. There is never any question of jealousy or pettiness. Jonathan apparently recognized that the Spirit of God was with David and rejoiced in that fact. Whether Jonathan knew that Saul had been told that his dynasty would not endure, or of Saul’s rejection by God is never made clear. But that Jonathan would have handed over his potential inheritance as generously as he handed over other gifts is not in question. Jonathan is consistently presented as a great man, the equal of David in faith and in courage and perhaps his superior in generosity. The question remains why Jonathan was not the one chosen to be king. It may or may not be significant that all the giving and the loving in the relationship is depicted as coming from Jonathan’s side. It was Jonathan who initiated the covenant, or committed friendship, between them. This may be simply because at this stage he was the higher in status of the two, but there may also be a hint here that in personal relationships of all kinds David is better at receiving than he is at giving.’
‘In 1 Samuel 18:1–5, Jonathan, as Israel’s true leader, unites himself with David and makes a covenant with him. In an act reminiscent of a lesser power (or vassal) acknowledging a greater power (or suzerain), Jonathan gives David his royal robe and tunic and his royal weapons (Jobling, 1 Samuel, 96). Saul essentially confirms David’s new role by permanently bringing him into the court and making him a top general. From this point forward, David’s position is more greatly secured through Jonathan’s actions as a mediator.’ (Lexham Bible Dictionary, art. ‘Jonathan, Son of Saul’)
18:5 On every mission on which Saul sent him, David achieved success. So Saul appointed him over the men of war. This pleased not only all the army, but also Saul’s servants.
Saul gave him a high rank in the army – After David’s slaying of Goliath, referred to in the following verse.
18:6 When the men arrived after David returned from striking down the Philistine, the women from all the cities of Israel came out singing and dancing to meet King Saul. They were happy as they played their tambourines and three-stringed instruments. 18:7 The women who were playing the music sang,
“Saul has struck down his thousands,
but David his tens of thousands!”
18:8 This made Saul very angry. The statement displeased him and he thought, “They have attributed to David tens of thousands, but to me they have attributed only thousands. What does he lack, except the kingdom?” 18:9 So Saul was keeping an eye on David from that day onward.
‘Proud men cannot endure to hear any praised but themselves, and think all their honour lost that goes by themselves. It is a sign that the Spirit of God has departed from men if they be peevish in their resentment of affronts, envious and suspicious of all about them, and ill-natured in their conduct; for the wisdom from above makes us quite otherwise.’ (MHC)
18:10 The next day an evil spirit from God rushed upon Saul and he prophesied within his house. Now David was playing the lyre that day. There was a spear in Saul’s hand, 18:11 and Saul threw the spear, thinking, “I’ll nail David to the wall!” But David escaped from him on two different occasions.
He was prophesying – or, as some translations have it, ‘raving’. Such behaviour was quite common amongst pagan people (cf. 1 King 18:28f). It contrasts sharply with the coherent expression of a true prophet.
As Baldwin reminds us, a jealous attitude easily develops into a murderous one, cf. Mt 5:21f. ‘Given the chance, [jealousy] will express itself in an attempt to kill.’
‘Compare David, with his harp in his hand, aiming to serve Saul, and Saul, with his javelin in his hand, aiming to slay David; and observe the meekness and usefulness of God’s persecuted people and the brutishness and barbarity of their persecutors.’ (MHC)
18:12 So Saul feared David, because the LORD was with him but had departed from Saul. 18:13 Saul removed David from his presence and made him a commanding officer. David led the army out to battle and back. 18:14 Now David achieved success in all he did, for the LORD was with him. 18:15 When Saul saw how very successful he was, he was afraid of him. 18:16 But all Israel and Judah loved David, for he was the one leading them out to battle and back.
The Lord was with David but had left Saul – in other words, David (in God’s providence) was becoming more and more successful, Saul less and less so.
A thousand men – the term probably refers to a military division, which only later became standardised as a thousand strong. At earlier times, the number could be as few as ten (IVP Bible Background Commentary).
18:17 Then Saul said to David, “Here’s my oldest daughter, Merab. I want to give her to you in marriage. Only be a brave warrior for me and fight the battles of the LORD.” For Saul thought, “There’s no need for me to raise my hand against him. Let it be the hand of the Philistines!”
Saul’s sinister motive in sending David into battle is echoed by the actions of David himself in 2 Sam 11;14f.
18:18 David said to Saul, “Who am I? Who are my relatives or the clan of my father in Israel that I should become the king’s son-in-law?” 18:19 When the time came for Merab, Saul’s daughter, to be given to David, she instead was given in marriage to Adriel, who was from Meholah.
The five sons of the union between Merab and Adriel of Meholah met a tragic end, 2 Sam 21:8f.
Throughout this chapter, we are reminded that Merab and Michal are Saul’s daughters. The political implications of David marrying either of them are inescapable.
18:20 Now Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved David. When they told Saul about this, it pleased him. 18:21 Saul said, “I will give her to him so that she may become a snare to him and the hand of the Philistines may be against him.” So Saul said to David, “Today is the second time for you to become my son-in-law.”
18:22 Then Saul instructed his servants, “Tell David secretly, ‘The king is pleased with you, and all his servants like you. So now become the king’s son-in-law.” 18:23 So Saul’s servants spoke these words privately to David. David replied, “Is becoming the king’s son-in-law something insignificant to you? I’m just a poor and lightly-esteemed man!”
“I’m only a poor man” – the implication is the David would not be able to raise the bride price. This plays into Saul’s hands, for he devises another kind of bride price – one with much more danger attached for David, v25.
18:24 When Saul’s servants reported what David had said, 18:25 Saul replied, “Here is what you should say to David: ‘There is nothing that the king wants as a price for the bride except a hundred Philistine foreskins, so that he can be avenged of his enemies.’ ” (Now Saul was thinking that he could kill David by the hand of the Philistines.)
A hundred Philistine foreskins – In the ancient Near East casualty counts were often kept by cutting off body parts, such as hands or heads. In this case, the foreskins would prove that the victims were Philistines, because many of the other surrounding nations practiced circumcision (IVP Bible Background Commentary)
18:26 So his servants told David these things and David agreed to become the king’s son-in-law. Now the specified time had not yet expired 18:27 when David, along with his men, went out and struck down two hundred Philistine men. David brought their foreskins and presented all of them to the king so he could become the king’s son-in-law. Saul then gave him his daughter Michal in marriage.
18:28 When Saul realized that the LORD was with David and that his daughter Michal loved David, 18:29 Saul became even more afraid of him. Saul continued to be at odds with David from then on.
18:30 Then the leaders of the Philistines would march out, and as often as they did so, David achieved more success than all of Saul’s servants. His name was held in high esteem.
‘The law dispensed with men from going to war the first year after they were married (Deut 24:5), but David loved his country too well to make use of that dispensation. Many that have shown themselves forward to serve the public when they have been in pursuit of preferment have declined it when they have gained their point; but David acted from more generous principles.’ (MHC)