1 Sam 18:1 After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself.

‘The language of love used to describe their relationship is found frequently in ancient Near Eastern texts to describe the loyalty of king and subjects, so here there are likely both personal and political connotations.’ (Harper’s Bible Commentary)

If (it has been argued), the language employed in this passage had been used of a man and a woman, we would be celebrating it as one of the great love stories of all time.  But because the language is used of two men, we deny the ‘obvious’ implication that their relationship involved more than deep friendship.  ‘When’ (it is asked) ‘was the last time you saw a heterosexual man, swept away by brotherly love, offer another man his most precious possessions in their first encounter? Suppose the pastor of your church (assuming he is a man), upon meeting another man for the first time, stripped himself of his suit and gave it to the other. Suppose in that same encounter he also offered his most precious possessions — perhaps a family Bible, a wristwatch with an inscription from his parents, and his beloved four-wheel drive pickup truck. Wouldn’t this strike you as more than just a little “queer”? Let’s face it, the author of 1 Samuel is describing a classic love-at-first-sight encounter that happens to involve two men.’  It seems to me that this interpretation, while urging us to pay greater attention to what the text actually says, is (wilfully?) blind to the huge differences between that age and culture and our own.  It also ignores the fact that the text, while obviously describing a very deep relationship, makes no mention at all of any sexual activity between the two men.  Indeed, from everything we know about OT law and practice, they would both have found the implication abhorrent.

‘In the ancient Near East, as in conservative Islamic societies today, adult men and women were not permitted to have friendships, casual or otherwise, with one another. Because social roles assigned to males and females differed greatly, men could not usually have close friendships, based on mutual interests, even with their wives. Women were excluded from many activities common to men; they could not take part in military affairs, and were generally excluded from religious rites as well. Men, in like fashion, were not expected to engage in most activities associated with women. Men had to cultivate their friendships with other men, while reserving sexual activity for their wives (or prostitutes). Sometimes such friendships could be intense, but they did not have a sexual component. Jonathan and David were great friends, fellow soldiers, brothers-in-law, and brothers in the faith, but they were not homosexual “lovers.”’ (Apologetics Study Bible)

1 Sam 18:2 From that day Saul kept David with him and did not let him return to his father’s house.

1 Sam 18:3 And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself.

1 Sam 18:4 Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt.

CP. 1 Sam 17:38f.  By means of this action, Jonathan is transferring his own status as heir apparent to David.

Baldwin wonders: ‘In our political world, where power plays such an important role, what would be thought of a prince who voluntarily renounced his throne in favour of a friend whose character and godly faith he admired?’

1 Sam 18:5 Whatever Saul sent him to do, David did it so successfully that Saul gave him a high rank in the army. This pleased all the people, and Saul’s officers as well.

1 Sam 18:6 When the men were returning home after David had killed the Philistine, the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with tambourines and lutes.

1 Sam 18:7 As they danced, they sang: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.”

1 Sam 18:8 Saul was very angry; this refrain galled him. “They have credited David with tens of thousands,” he thought, “but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?”

1 Sam 18:9 And from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David.

‘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)

1 Sam 18:10 The next day an evil spirit from God came forcefully upon Saul. He was prophesying in his house, while David was playing the harp, as he usually did. Saul had a spear in his hand 1 Sam 18:11 and he hurled it, saying to himself, “I’ll pin David to the wall.” But David eluded him twice.

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)

1 Sam 18:12 Saul was afraid of David, because the LORD was with David but had left Saul.

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.

1 Sam 18:13 So he sent David away from him and gave him command over a thousand men, and David led the troops in their campaigns.

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).

1 Sam 18:14 In everything he did he had great success, because the LORD was with him.

1 Sam 18:15 When Saul saw how successful he was, he was afraid of him.

1 Sam 18:16 But all Israel and Judah loved David, because he led them in their campaigns.

1 Sam 18:17 Saul said to David, “Here is my older daughter Merab. I will give her to you in marriage; only serve me bravely and fight the battles of the LORD.” For Saul said to himself, “I will not raise a hand against him. Let the Philistines do that!”

Saul’s sinister motive in sending David into battle is echoed by the actions of David himself in 2 Sam 11;14f.

1 Sam 18:18 But David said to Saul, “Who am I, and what is my family or my father’s clan in Israel, that I should become the king’s son-in-law?”

1 Sam 18:19 So when the time came for Merab, Saul’s daughter, to be given to David, she was given in marriage to Adriel of 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.

1 Sam 18:20 Now Saul’s daughter Michal was in love with David, and when they told Saul about it, he was pleased.

1 Sam 18:21 “I will give her to him,” he thought, “so that she may be a snare to him and so that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.” So Saul said to David, “Now you have a second opportunity to become my son-in-law.”

1 Sam 18:22 Then Saul ordered his attendants: “Speak to David privately and say, ‘Look, the king is pleased with you, and his attendants all like you; now become his son-in-law.’”

1 Sam 18:23 They repeated these words to David. But David said, “Do you think it is a small matter to become the king’s son-in-law? I’m only a poor man and little known.”

“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.

1 Sam 18:24 When Saul’s servants told him what David had said,

1 Sam 18:25 Saul replied, “Say to David, ‘The king wants no other price for the bride than a hundred Philistine foreskins, to take revenge on his enemies.’” Saul’s plan was to have David fall by the hands 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)

1 Sam 18:26 When the attendants told David these things, he was pleased to become the king’s son-in-law. So before the allotted time elapsed,

1 Sam 18:27 David and his men went out and killed two hundred Philistines. He brought their foreskins and presented the full number to the king so that he might become the king’s son-in-law. Then Saul gave him his daughter Michal in marriage.

1 Sam 18:28 When Saul realised that the LORD was with David and that his daughter Michal loved David,

1 Sam 18:29 Saul became still more afraid of him, and he remained his enemy for the rest of his days.

1 Sam 18:30 The Philistine commanders continued to go out to battle, and as often as they did, David met with more success than the rest of Saul’s officers, and his name became well known.

‘The law dispensed with men from going to war the first year after they were married (Deu. 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)