January 5, 2020
Because the Lord was with him, David was greatly successful and loved by the people—and increasingly feared and detested by King Saul. Alistair Begg examines the deep unity between David and his friend Jonathan, the soul-shattering jealousy experienced by Saul, and the Spirit-empowered victory David enjoyed in all his endeavors. Fulfilling Israel’s longing for a king who would go to battle for his people, David’s example points forward to our greater King, Jesus.
Sermon Transcript: Print
I invite you to turn with me to the Old Testament, to 1 Samuel and to chapter 18. First Samuel chapter 18, and if you will follow along, I will read from verse 1 through to the end of verse 16. First Samuel chapter 18:
“As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt. And David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him, so that Saul set him over the men of war. And this was good in the sight of all the people and also in the sight of Saul’s servants.
“As they were coming home, when David returned from striking down the Philistine, the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, [and] with songs of joy, and with musical instruments. And the women sang to one another as they celebrated, ‘Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands.’ And Saul was very angry, and this saying displeased him. He said, ‘They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands, and what more can he have but the kingdom?’ And Saul eyed David from that day on.
“The next day a harmful spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he raved within his house while David was playing the lyre, as he did day by day. Saul had his spear in his hand. And Saul hurled the spear, for he thought, ‘I will pin David to the wall.’ But David evaded him twice.
“Saul was afraid of David because the Lord was with him but had departed from Saul. So Saul removed him from his presence and made him a commander of a thousand. And he went out and came in before the people. And David had success in all his undertakings, for the Lord was with him. And when Saul saw that he had great success, he stood in fearful awe of him. But all Israel and Judah loved David, for he went out and came in before them.”
Well, we pray before we look to this passage of Scripture, using one of the collects from the Advent season. Join me as we look to God:
Blessed Lord, who has caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning, grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of your Holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Well, that is a good prayer always as we turn to the Bible: “Help me to read, mark, and learn it.” And we have been studying now for some time in these chapters in 1 Samuel, and I’m delighted that we’re able to begin this new year by picking up where we left off just before our Christmas celebrations.
You may remember that when we were first introduced to David, which was back in chapter 16, amongst all the things that were said of him in terms of his looks and his prowess as a warrior and his ability with music, the most striking and most significant of all was the simple phrase “The Lord is with him.” “The Lord is with him.” And when we’re introduced to him, we are introduced to him in such a way that we understand that this is going to be the way in which we reckon with all that we discover in terms of his life. And, of course, here in chapter 18, the same phrase appears on three separate occasions, twice as we read it, and then one down in verse 28. We saw it there in verse 12, that “Saul was afraid of David.” Explanation: “Because the Lord was with him.” And then again in verse 14, the success that he enjoyed was “for the Lord was with him.”
And so, I’ve called our study this morning simply “The Lord Was with Him.” Because I do believe that it is the key to understanding the unfolding drama that involves David. And as the spotlight turns increasingly on him, we are now left to wonder: How is he going to navigate his way to finally being enthroned? The anointing has taken place, but Saul is still essentially in charge. How will that happen? What is involved in it? And what is going to be the reaction of the people around him as they discover what is actually taking place—particularly, of course, Saul and Jonathan?
If we were to summarize what we have in the chapter, we might say that here, in this chapter, we are given the encounter between the rejected king—namely, Saul—and the anointed king—namely, David. And the collision, if you like, of these two kingdoms is going to be part and parcel of our discovery as we proceed through the book. We’ve already discovered that the Lord has rejected Saul as king and the Spirit has departed from him. And at the same time and in contrast, we have learned that David has been anointed and the Spirit of God has rushed upon him. The sun, if you like, is setting, has set, on Saul’s endeavors, and the sun now has risen on the back, if you like, of this shepherd boy, the son of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah.
And what we’re told about him—and we’re told, and it is emphasized by way of repetition—is that people loved David. Actually, we’re told at the very beginning that “Saul loved him greatly.” That’s back in chapter 16. However, his love didn’t last very long, as we see. Here in verse 16, “All [of] Israel and [all of] Judah loved” him. Michal loved him, as we’ll see, God willing, next week, as she became his wife. The servants of Saul loved him. And right at the top of the list, Jonathan loved him. In fact, if your eye is set on your text, you will see that immediately we’re told in verse 1 that “Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” So, there is a soul-level relationship which is established between Jonathan and David.
In order to help me get through this passage, navigate my way, I drew my thoughts under three headings. And I’ll give them to you so you can be aware of progress being made. First of all, the unity that David experienced. The unity that he experienced. Secondly, the jealousy that he encountered. And thirdly, the victory that he enjoyed.
First of all, then, the unity that he experienced. And we’re thinking here of this peculiar relationship with himself and Jonathan.
Jonathan, we need to keep in mind, was the crown prince. He was the son of Saul. He was therefore, to all intents and purposes, the one who—were it not for the fact that the kingdom had been taken, torn, from Saul—he would have been stepping up sooner rather than later to assume his position on the throne. And so we could anticipate that, given his background and his position, the ascendancy of this fellow David, no matter how much people said of him, might have proved to be a real thorn in his side. And yet what we discover is the reverse of that. And because we’re familiar with it, we ought not to miss the drama that is contained in it.
I just wrote down three words in my notes concerning the nature of this unity that the two of them enjoyed. On what basis?
First of all, because Jonathan clearly admired David. He admired David. Anybody would admire what had taken place. This giant who has been shouting for all he’s worth, who has neutralized the armies of the living God, has now been encountered by David, who has brought him literally to his knees and has produced his head on a plate. This would appeal to Jonathan.
“Why do you say that?” Well, because of what we know of Jonathan. Back in chapter 14, we reminded ourselves—or we discovered, and now we remind ourselves—of the bravery of Jonathan himself. And you must do this by means of your own research; we can’t delay here. But I’ll set you on track in verse 6. You remember: “Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, ‘Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised.’” Now, it’s interesting that he uses the very same terminology—the terminology that David had used against the big fellow. Because he was pointing out to him that he had no right to say these things to the covenant people of God, as he was a Philistine, marked straightforwardly on his body. Jonathan has approached it in the same way back in chapter 14.
And strikingly, he says to his armor-bearer, “Let’s go over to the garrison,” which was a brave thing to do. “It may be”—“it may be”—“that the Lord will work for us.” Where is he looking? He’s looking to the Lord, the Lord who was with David. “It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.” That was his conviction. And now he comes right out of the experience in chapter 17, and it would be hard if he did not actually admire him.
But admiration doesn’t do it. No, this unity has to do with affection. Affection. Because the terminology and the verbs that are used, if we said anything other, then we wouldn’t be true to the text. “As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul,” verse 1, “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David.” “Knit to the soul of David.” It is a metaphor. But it’s a powerful metaphor. They were cojoined. They were joined together at a soul level. Jonathan: “I look to you, Lord, as we go against this garrison.” He now watches David as he goes against this giant. He is the one, Jonathan, who has said the Lord is able to save “by many or by few.” Certainly it is few, because it is only David on his own. And his soul is joined to David’s. He made a covenant with him, as you will see.
Now, as you consider this, it may send you in all kinds of directions. As I looked in my Bible for something that was akin to it, the closest I could find was back in Genesis 44, in the encounter between the people who are dealing with Joseph and who are dealing with Jacob and his peculiar affection for his boy Benjamin. And you’ll have to read the story, again, to fill in the background. But if you recall any of it, you know that Joseph knew what he was doing when he wanted Benjamin to stay behind, that he wanted Benjamin to come. And the brothers explained, “We can’t do this to our father! Because if I come to your servant my father, and the boy is not with us, then because his life is bound up in the boy’s life, as soon as he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die.” Now, you see what’s being said here? This is like Phil Collins: “Two hearts living in just one life.” The father is so in love with Benjamin that their hearts beat in unison with one another, and the person says, “If you take Benjamin out of the picture, my father will go to his grave. That’s how much he is joined to him. That’s how much he loves him.” Now, that is a familial relationship, understandably, and this is not. But that’s the closest that you can really get to it in terms of Old Testament narrative—at least that I could.
In everyday life, in the story of human friendship, if you have one friend, you are rich. If you have one friend in the world who can tolerate you, be honest with you, love you, know the worst about you and stick with you, you are rich. If you have two, you are a multimillionaire in the realm of friendship. This is unique, and genuine friendship at this level is peculiarly unique.
The closest I have come to it is in reading the work of the fellow that I refer to as my favorite atheist, Hitchens. And how sad I and others of us were when he died still protesting vehemently his belief in atheism. In a book that was published posthumously, called Mortality, he addresses many things in that. It’s a powerful book. He talks about his cancer diagnosis and how he walked the length of Manhattan from the doctor’s place finally to his apartment. And he writes, “Everything was as it should be, except that it wasn’t. We were now living in two worlds. The old one, which never seemed more beautiful, had not yet vanished; and [then] the new one, about which we knew little except to fear it, had not yet arrived.” And then he says, “My chief consolation in this year of living dyingly has been [in] the presence of friends.” And he says, “For me, to remember friendship is to recall those conversations that it seemed a sin to break off: the ones that made the sacrifice of the following day a trivial one. That,” he says, “was the way that Calimachus chose to remember his beloved Heraclitus.” And that old poem, translated into English by the headmaster of Eton:
They told me, Heraclitus; they told me you were dead.
They brought me bitter news to hear, and bitter tears to shed.
I wept when I remembered how often you and I
Had tired the sun with talking, and sent him down the sky.
“And Jonathan loved him as [he loved] his own soul.” And he displays it in a quite amazing way: in a covenant, to which we will come later. But in the expression of what it means for him to take the initiative in declaring this devotion, you notice what he does? He transfers his robe, his armor, his sword, his bow, his belt.
Now, you will remember what had happened in the tearing of the robe of his father. “The Lord has torn the kingdom from you, Saul,” says Samuel. And in the tearing of the kingdom from him, that was the end of the line that would have given the opportunity to Jonathan to ascend to the throne. But now he takes the very emblem of his position as the crown prince, and he says, “Here, David, you wear this. You carry this.”
Essentially, it is not simply admiration and affection. It is an abdication. He relinquishes, if you like, any thought that still lingered in his mind of a position that might be his own, and he embraces a role—he embraces a role—which few with grace, sincerity, and conviction will ever actually be prepared to adopt, and that is the role of second fiddle. Later on, in chapter 23, we will come upon the words where he says to David, “You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you.” “You’ll be the king, but I’ll be here beside you.”
Now, that we can leave—the unity that he experiences. Because it is set markedly against the jealousy that he now encounters. Because there is no way in the world that Saul is prepared to simply play second fiddle. Presumably, in verse 2, where it says that he took David into his own house, that was on account of the fact of what we had learned earlier, that whenever he found a strong man or a valiant man, we’re told in 14:52 that he attached him to him. So, presumably, he’s doing that there.
We’ll pass over verse 5 and come back to it, and we’ll go directly to verse 6. Because verses 1–5 are essentially a kind of summary and almost disjointed. And then you come to verse 6, and the narrator, the storyteller, backtracks and takes us right to the day of the homecoming celebration, of the great ticker-tape parade, following on the death of Goliath and the rout of the Philistines. And as they were coming home, David, returning from doing what he had done, the women came out. And this of course was standard practice. You can read of it elsewhere, even in secular literature. And they sang a little song; in fact, they sang, and they played their tambourines. It would have been very interesting to have been present. And the refrain that stuck was that “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands.”
Now, whether the women meant to distinguish between Saul and David in this way we cannot actually tell. But what we do know is that Saul took it in this way. After all, it says that they went out “to meet King Saul.” They didn’t go out to meet David. And you will notice that it is Saul’s name that comes first, and in this kind of poetic framework, it’s not unusual for a number that appears in line one to be beefed up in line two. You can find that if you look. Nevertheless, Saul is too immature, he’s too insecure, to let it go. And, to quote Joyce Baldwin, it “rankled and festered” in him “an incurable jealousy.” It’s a great verb; I haven’t used it in a long time: “rankled.” It “rankled and festered” in him “an incurable jealousy.”
He sees it as a threat to his position. The Lord had torn the kingdom from him, and Samuel had told him on that occasion that he “has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you.” “Better than you.” There’s the sting, you see: “I’m the king.” “No, this is a neighbor who is better than you.” And Saul now, I think, senses that he has just met his neighbor. Now he’s confronted by this neighbor. And you will notice that as he goes down through the line: “They’ve ascribed to David ten thousands; they only ascribed thousands to me. There’s nothing else for this guy to have but the kingdom.” And, of course, he actually says more than he even understands. Because that is what is about to take place.
Now, this doesn’t come out of nowhere. Few of our words actually come out of nowhere, but the Bible actually says that “out of the abundance of the heart [the] mouth speaks.” It’d be hard to imagine that Saul had been able to dismiss that phraseology after he had heard it on that day: “The Lord has taken the kingdom from you, Saul, and he has given it to one of your neighbors, who’s better than you.” And he’d wake up in the morning and said, “Better than you, better than you, better than you! Rejected, rejected, rejected! Another king. The Lord has sought out a man. Rejected you as king!” Jealousy—jealousy—destroy a marriage, disrupt a family, bust a business, neutralize a sports team, create absolute chaos in a church leadership, and reduce a church family to bare bones.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whom we know because of his mystery stories, wrote other books. And in one little book called Memories and Adventures, he recalls in it a conversation between a group of friends, including himself and Oscar Wilde. And in the course of conversation on this evening, they began to talk about why it was that “the good fortune of our friends,” as they put it, “[makes] us discontented.” Why is it that the good fortune of our work colleagues, our friends, even sometimes our family members, is the occasion of discontent? And Wilde proceeded to tell a story, which you will have heard from elsewhere, I think: the story of the devil traversing the Libyan Desert. And as he goes through the desert, he comes on a holy hermit, and the holy hermit is being besieged by a group of fiends. And no matter what they throw at him, as it were, or tempt him with, the holy hermit is able to shake off every endeavor to neutralize him. “Well,” says the devil to the fiends, “let me have a go at this.” And so he steps forward and he whispers in the ear of the hermit. And immediately, a scowl of malignant jealousy clouds the severe face of the hermit. And the fiends say to him, “How did you do that? What did you say?” The devil said, “I told him that his brother has just been made the bishop of Alexandria—and that he couldn’t handle.”
“Wrath is cruel,” says Solomon, “anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?” James, in his epistle, which is the most proverbial of all the New Testament letters, picks it up in chapter 3, and he says, “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” And you’ll notice, verse 9: “And Saul eyed David from that day on.” If looks could kill. If looks could kill. “I’d kill him with a look if I could.”
And what do you discover? It’s a short step from jealousy to murder. And “the [very] next day a harmful spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he raved within his house while David” was seeking to provide the musical therapy. And on this occasion, it wasn’t doing so well. I can imagine David saying to him, “I know I’m not very good at the harp, but this is a bit of an overreaction, is it not?” It’s almost quite humorous, imagining him playing the harp and just dodging every shot: “Whoa!” and then for a second time, “Whoa! Geez! Saul! What got into you today?” Saul said, “I’d pin him to the wall if I could. I’d kill the sucker. I hate him.”
Well, verse 12 is surprising to me: “Saul was afraid of David.” Wait a minute. Wasn’t it Saul that had the spear, and he was throwing it at David? Shouldn’t verse 12 read “And David was afraid of Saul”? No. No, “Saul was afraid of David because the Lord was with him but had departed from Saul. So Saul removed him from his presence.” In verse 2, he brought him into his house. In verse 13, he removes him from his presence.
And there is the suggestion here that in making him a commander of a thousand, it was actually a demotion—that previously he’d been involved with the men of war. I don’t know how much credence to put in that. It doesn’t really matter. The two may be the one, frankly. But the thing to notice is the loyalty of David. Saul removed him, says, “I want you out of my sight, and I want you to go out here.” And lookit: “And he went out and [he] came in before the people.” It’s remarkable. It doesn’t read “You know, if you’re going to be throwing spears at me when I’m trying to give you your musical therapy, I’m not going anywhere.” No. “And he went out and [he] came in before the people.”
And that brings us to our final point: that there was a unity that he experienced, that there was a jealousy that he encountered, but there was also a victory that he enjoyed.
Go back up to verse 5, which we skipped, and there you’ll read it: “And David went out and was successful”—there’s your word, there’s the victory—“wherever Saul sent him, so that Saul set him over the men of war. And this was good in the sight of all the people and also in the sight of Saul’s servants.” When you get back down to verse 16, you’ll notice that it wasn’t just his own folk that rejoiced with him but all of Israel—not just Judah. They “loved David, for he went out and came in before them.” It’s a picture, actually, of him going out to battle and returning. But notice what we discover: that the victory engendered fear in the heart of Saul, and at the same time, it aroused love in the hearts of the people.
You see, the key to David’s victory and his popularity was not on account of his looks or his past achievements. The narrator is almost at pains to make sure that we understand that. That’s why I began as I began. The first encounter we have with David, we are told, “And the Lord [was] with him.” That’s what we covet in the service of God. The question is not how intelligent, the question is not how gifted, the question is not how apparently significant. The question is, is the attendant blessing of the Lord resting on this life? And in David’s case, the answer is unreservedly yes.
What was actually happening here was the fulfillment of something that we noted way at the beginning, when the people, in asking for a king, are responded to by Samuel. And Samuel on that occasion is not keen on the idea of a king, you will remember, and he goes along the line, and he says, “This is the kind of thing that will happen if you ask for a king: he will take your chariots from you to use them in battle, he will take your sons away from you to send them out to war,” and so on. And in the midst of all of that, he says, “And he will go into battle on your behalf.” Well, of course, Saul has been a moral disaster in relationship to that. And the focus is now on David. And the love of the people is the love of an attachment to a king who would fight their battles for them.
Now, what have we said all the way through this study? We’ve said that every time we come on the notion of king—and we come on it all the time—it is pointing us forward, not simply to the end of 1 Samuel and into 2 Samuel but beyond to the one who comes: “great David’s greater Son.” For he is the King who has gone into battle for his people. He is the one who—and he is the only one—who “breaks the power of canceled sin.” He is the only one that walks right into death and triumphs over it. He is the only one in whose presence his army members find security and find fullness of joy.
And the people really, really loved David—which, of course, raises the question: Do I really, really love Jesus? He’s the King. He’s the King. Am I prepared to abdicate and take my stand beside him? You say, “Abdicate?” Yes, abdicate. Because someone reigns on the throne of your heart and mine. And if I’m reigning on that throne, Jesus isn’t. Am I prepared to remove the robe that represents who I am and what I am and security—and much of it filthy and useless—and allow him to cover me with a robe of his righteousness?
It’s actually a fairly invasive question, isn’t it? It’s a lot harder than “Do you like church?” It’s a lot harder than “Do you listen to the sermons? Are you interested in Jesus?” No, no, no, let’s just get straight to it: Do I love Jesus? At a soul level? At the level that I relinquish who and what I am in order that I might live by his side?
Well, we’ll come back to this, God willing, at verse 17.
Just a moment of silence, and then we’ll sing of the kingship of Jesus in our final song. Just a moment of reflection, perhaps, as we think on these things. And some of the children are saying, “It’s wonderful that I can say, ‘What a friend I have in Jesus.’ I want to be the friend of Jesus.” Some of us are saying, “Lord, forgive me for my jealousy, even in areas that should not be.”
Help us to know that every successful venture in Christ is on account of your presence and provision. Thank you, Jesus, that you are the King. Help us to love you as we ought. Amen.
 1 Samuel 16:18 (ESV).
 See 1 Samuel 15:23.
 See 1 Samuel 16:14.
 See 1 Samuel 16:13.
 1 Samuel 16:21 (ESV).
 See 1 Samuel 16:20.
 See 1 Samuel 17:26, 36.
 Genesis 44:30–31 (paraphrased).
 Phil Collins and Lamont Dozier, “Two Hearts” (1988). Paraphrased.
 Christopher Hitchens, Mortality (New York: Hachette, 2012), 97.
 Hitchens, 54.
 Hitchens, 52–53.
 William Cory, “Heraclitus,” quoted in Hitchens, 53.
 1 Samuel 15:28 (paraphrased).
 1 Samuel 23:17 (ESV).
 Joyce Baldwin, 1 and 2 Samuel: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity, 1988), 130.
 1 Samuel 15:28 (ESV).
 Luke 6:45 (ESV).
 Arthur Conan Doyle, Memories and Adventures (Boston: Little, Brown, 1924), 73.
 Doyle, 73. Paraphrased.
 Proverbs 27:4 (ESV).
 James 3:16 (ESV).
 See 1 Samuel 8:11, 20.
 James Montgomery, “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed” (1821).
 Charles Wesley, “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” (1739).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.