“As a Man Thinketh” — Part Two
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“As a Man Thinketh” — Part Two

1 Samuel 18:17-30  (ID: 3406)

In many ways, Saul and David were complete opposites. The king was full of bravado, while the shepherd boy was self-effacing. Saul was filled with hate, while David was clearly blessed by the Lord. Eventually, David would become king—the very thing that Saul feared. Yet even he would succumb to pride. Contrasting the two men, Alistair Begg points us forward to Christ, the only King who possesses perfect humility and sincerity.


Sermon Transcript:

Well, I invite you to take your Bibles and turn to 1 Samuel and to chapter 18. Any who are visiting this evening, we are seeking to conclude what we set out to do in the morning hour. And so, let me reread the portion that we have been giving our attention to. It begins at 1 Samuel 18:17:

“Then Saul said to David, ‘Here is my elder daughter Merab. I will give her to you for a wife. Only be valiant for me and fight the Lord’s battles.’ For Saul thought, ‘Let not my hand be against him, but let the hand of the Philistines be against him.’ And David said to Saul, ‘Who am I, and who are my relatives, my father’s clan in Israel, that I should be son-in-law to the king?’ But at the time when Merab, Saul’s daughter, should have been given to David, she was given to Adriel the Meholathite for a wife.

“Now Saul’s daughter Michal loved David. And they told Saul, and the thing pleased him. Saul thought, ‘Let me give her to him, that she may be a snare for him and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.’ Therefore Saul said to David a second time, ‘You shall now be my son-in-law.’ And Saul commanded his servants, ‘Speak to David in private and say, “Behold, the king has delight in you, and all his servants love you. Now then become the king’s son-in-law.”’ And Saul’s servants spoke those words in the ears of David. And David said, ‘Does it seem to you a little thing to become the king’s son-in-law, since I am a poor man and have no reputation?’ And the servants of Saul told him, ‘Thus and so did David speak.’ Then Saul said, ‘Thus shall you say to David, “The king desires no bride-price except a hundred foreskins of the Philistines, that he may be avenged of the king’s enemies.”’ Now Saul thought to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines. And when his servants told David these words, it pleased David well to be the king’s son-in-law. Before the time had expired, David arose and went, along with his men, and killed two hundred of the Philistines. And David brought their foreskins, which were given in full number to the king, that he might become the king’s son-in-law. And Saul gave him his daughter Michal for a wife. But when Saul saw and knew that the Lord was with David, and that Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved him, Saul was even more afraid of David. So Saul was David’s enemy continually.

“Then the commanders of the Philistines came out to battle, and as often as they came out David had more success than all the servants of Saul, so that his name was highly esteemed.”

Father, we pray that as we turn now to these words, that you will guard my thoughts and my words and our minds and hearts. For your Son’s sake. Amen.

We gave a title to the study this morning, “As a Man Thinketh, So Is He,” acknowledging the clear discrepancy that exists between the things that Saul said and the things that Saul was thinking. He said certain things in one way, and then, every so often, we discover that the thoughts of his heart do not match what the words are coming out of his mouth.

The first attempt to be done with David involved his first daughter, and that has not been a success. He’s now on his second plan and with his second daughter. And it would appear that the response of David in the first instance, which was a response of reluctance, was a very sincere response and that Saul, anticipating a similar reaction on the second occasion, solicits the help of his servants to exercise a measure of persuasion in making sure that David will take up this invitation.

I wonder if you noticed how, although we’re told just in a sentence that “Michal loved David”—incidentally, this is the only place in the whole Bible where you have a direct statement of a woman loving anybody else in the entire Bible. Check. So, “Michal loved David,” but all of the emphasis here is on him becoming the son-in-law of the king. And I thought about that. I thought, “That’s an interesting angle.” I don’t know about you, gentlemen, but as much I liked Harold J. Jones, becoming his son-in-law was not actually the draw in my case. He was a fine man, but the plan was not “Oh, I’d love to become his son-in-law!” There was another plan altogether. And I would think that that would be true in your case too—at least I certainly hope so.

And so, again, David responds deferentially. And it’s clear that he believes this, and it is, of course, a straightforward expression of his circumstances: “I am a poor man … [I] have no reputation”—i.e., “I have no social standing”—apart, of course, from the standing that he could refer to that he had gained as a result of his victory over Goliath. That reaction on the part of David is then reported by the servants of Saul to Saul. David has said very clearly to them, he says, “You know, does it seem to you a little thing to become the king’s son-in-law?” The issue is not here so much focused on Michal—he’s got that, it would seem, very clear in his mind—but it’s the implications that go along with it: such a transformation in his circumstances, and also particularly in relationship to Saul. And so, that reaction, verse 24, is then reported to Saul himself: “Thus and so did David speak.” And Saul then comes back, and he says, “Well, listen, here’s what we’re going to do.” And he then informs the servants so that they can inform David that he has a special deal for him. We could put it, perhaps, that way.

Incidentally, if 17:25—remember, the word on the street, “If you beat Goliath, you get his daughter, you get a big cash settlement, and you get a kind of tax-free program for your family for the rest of their lives”—if that actually was a categorical promise, then the fact that David is unable to produce the bride-price is an indication of the fact that Saul himself did not keep his part of the bargain. If that was a true statement of promise on his part, then it wouldn’t have been a problem for David in this circumstance to produce the bride-price. Because he would have already had it lodged in his account, if you like. It would have been wired in, so to speak. Therefore, when the challenge came, he would have been able to appeal to it. Clearly, that is not the case. Once again, I think, a discrepancy between what Saul said and what Saul thought. “As [a man] thinketh …, so is he.”[1]

So, instead of producing cash, he’s asked to produce something else. And it is quite an assignment, I think you will agree: “Kill a hundred Philistines”—that’s the word—“and bring back the evidence.” That’s essentially what is being stated here. So, this is going to test, if you like, both David’s interest in Michal and also appeal to his desire to be a warrior in dealing with these uncircumcised Philistines. This has been his focus when he had gone against Goliath back in chapter 17. You remember how, after Goliath has spoken to him so disparagingly, David had responded there:

You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. … [I’m going to make sure that I] strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.[2]

So, he’s the man for this assignment. He really is. And so Saul gives it to him.

The challenge is cast, again, from Saul’s mouth in terms that would make us think that he was really concerned about victory over the king’s enemies. I think it’s there in 25, isn’t it? “Now Saul thought to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines,” but what he actually said was “I don’t desire a bride-price except the foreskins of the Philistines, because I’m really interested that I would be avenged of my enemies.”

Well, who’s enemy number one? Enemy number one is David. You see it at the end of it all that “Saul was David’s enemy continually.” But ostensibly he says, “Now, this is the plan if you want to go through with this marriage. And my great concern, of course, as always is to deal with these Philistines, and you’re the man to deal with the Philistines.” But actually, what he’s saying is every hope that he has is that the Philistines will deal with him. Probably said to himself, “You know, well, he’s made a big fuss around here by being a hero against Goliath. But even if Goliath is a big fellow, even so, he’s only one. Let’s see how he does in trying to deal with a hundred of these characters!” I think he must have said to himself, “The odds are pretty good that he will die in the attempt, because we know him, and he’ll definitely make a stab at it.”

Well, what did David think of this? Verse 26: “When [the] servants told David these words, it pleased David well to be the king’s son-in-law. Before the time had expired…” In other words, the meter was going to run out at a certain point. And if you go back up, you have that same statement. It’s sort of enigmatic, isn’t it, that Merab got married to Adriel “at the time when” Saul would have given her to David. So there’s some time frame here that is of significance, and David is aware of that. He’s pleased with the plan. As we said this morning, Saul was pleased with the plan too. He came up with it. But they were pleased for very different reasons.

So, David is not about to miss the deadline. Verse 27: “[And] David arose and [he] went, along with his men.” And clearly, he was planning to take things up a notch—or, we might say, one hundred notches. And you can only imagine how he goes out with these folks. And he says, “Now, what we’re going to do is this: we’re going to do this in a very orderly way. We’re gonna just kill them one at a time and deal with them one at a time; and you, if you’ll just take care of things and make sure; and you, if you’ll just count so that we know exactly where we are, because we do not only have a deadline, but we’ve got a number to meet.” You can imagine them saying, “That’s us at seventy-four, David! Seventy-four and counting.” “Very good. We’ve got a way to go. We’ve still got twenty-six to go to meet the king’s deadline.” And as they’re getting closer to a hundred, he says, “You know, I’ve got an idea: let’s double it! Let’s double it!” They said, “Double it, for goodness’ sake?” He said, “Have you ever seen Michal? Have you ever seen how good she is? Double it! I’m happy to double it.” You see what an enthusiast this fellow is. And what a picture it must have been. It must have been? It is!

Now, there’s many times through this study that I’ve said to you, haven’t I? “Said what?” you say. Well, I’m about to tell you. I’ve said to you, “I wish I had a video of this, because I can’t see how their faces would have been.” Well, this is an occasion when I’m very, very glad that there is no video of this, and you should be perfectly glad as well. This is no time for an illustrated Bible; let’s put it that way!

And there you have it. And David brought them “in full number to the king, that he might become the king’s son-in-law.” It really is quite an incredible picture: “And Saul gave him his daughter Michal for a wife.” What else could he do? He had no options now. He’d said, “This is how it goes. This is what you must do.” And somebody said, “And who gives this woman to be married to this man?” And Saul said, “Her mother and I do. Ahinoam and I, we do.”

But there was no celebration on Saul’s part, because what he had been hoping for was an elimination. And the dreadful part of it from his perspective was that David was still in circulation. You say, “Well, those words all sound similar.” That’s how I remember things: celebration, elimination, and what was the last one? Circulation. Very good. See, that’s how you’ll remember it too. It actually works.

And the overriding fact that dawns again on Saul is not simply that his daughter loved David but when Saul saw anew that “the Lord was with David”—and clearly not with him, because he is the rejected king. And the people that are around him in his own family love this man that he increasingly hates. And if “perfect love casts out fear,”[3] as the Scriptures remind us, Saul knows nothing of that kind of love. And if your Bible is like mine, you only need to look down to the beginning of chapter 19, where you will realize that Saul at that point, then, immediately discards any attempts at subtlety. And all of the hatred that consumes him, that builds fear upon fear in him, is about to be out in the open.

All the bravado has been on the part of Saul. All of the expressions of humility have been found on the lips of David.

What a sentence it is there in verse 29—actually, two sentences: “Saul was even more afraid of David.” And that fear, which had revealed itself in all of these jealous and evil activities, embedded the fact that although they had started out, as it were, in good spirits with one another, “Saul was David’s enemy continually.”

And what you have in verse 30 is really just the kind of summary statement that comes often in the narrative. So, it lets us know that with this circumstance resolved in this way, life was going to continue. And how did it continue? Well, “the commanders of the Philistines came out to battle, and as often as they came out David had more success than [any of] the servants of Saul.” And Saul must have hoped that it would go the other way, but it did not. The more victory he had, the more popularity he had, and “so that his name was highly esteemed.” An unequal success and an amazing sense of glory.

Now, I said to myself, “Well, how are we going to finish this up and move into Communion?” Well, this is the best I can do. Let’s note the very clear contrast between David’s self-assessment and the esteem in which he was held. Verse 23: “I am a poor man and [I] have no reputation.” “I have no social standing at all.” Verse 30: “So … his name was highly esteemed.” There’s a lot of places we can go with that. It’s a reminder to us, isn’t it, of the general principle that you find, for example, in Isaiah the prophet, in 66:2, where we read these words: “This is the one to whom I will look[, says the Lord]: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” All the bravado has been on the part of Saul. All of the expressions of humility have been found on the lips of David.

Now, what do we know? Well, we know that David was the Lord’s anointed, that he was the king who was being set apart now in order that he might reign. The affection of the general populace was directly related to the fact that they knew that the Lord was with him, that they were beginning to understand that it was not just his personality or his style or his looks or his triumphs, but that there was something that was unique to this individual, and that was that the presence of Yahweh had come upon him and that the Spirit had rushed upon him—the same Spirit that had rushed out of the room, as it were, in relationship to Saul himself.[4] So, he is the Lord’s anointed, and he is the one who is leading the people in battle, and he is the one who, apparently, in verse 30, every time he goes, it’s another victory, it’s another thing hitting the news: “They went against the Philistines today. David led them in battle and came home victorious once again.”

But this is not where the story of David ends, remember. Because as you read on in the story of David—as we do read on in the story of David—we discover that in due course, he’s going to fail as a king. He cannot ultimately fill the bill. He is inevitably going to be shown for what he is. He’s going to crumble. He’s going to crumble before a woman bathing on a rooftop. He’s going to crumble before the implications of that. The lies that he has despised in Saul will be lies that he now takes upon his own lips. And what does this mean? Well, it means that the people then realize, “This cannot be the king. And the kings that follow, no matter how well they do for how long, end inevitably, somehow or another less than we might hope them to be.”

And why is that? Why is it that by the time you get into the opening of the Gospels, after four hundred years of silence, after the emergence of John the Baptist, the last of the prophets, the one who is standing, as it were, bridging between the Old and the New, and he says, “Listen.” He said, “Look at this fellow here. Consider him.”[5] And then, eventually, the words of the Old Testament ring out on the lips of the people: “Behold, your king comes to you, humble and riding on a donkey.”[6] He is the one who “made himself of no reputation,”[7] who visited us in the form of a man, who gave himself up even to death on a cross. And as a result, his esteem—his esteem—runs throughout our entire world today. And one day, “at the name of Jesus,” before this King, “every knee [will] bow” and “every tongue [will] confess.”[8]

But you know, I said this morning that I took the phrase “As a man thinketh” from Proverbs 23. And I said, “Don’t worry about the context; it has to do with hospitality.” It has to do with somebody issuing an invitation to a meal, and saying, “You know, you can have anything you want and enjoy it.” But the Bible tells us, Solomon tells us, “But his words did not go with his thoughts; he was actually stingy.” The ESV translates it, out of the King James version, “He is like one who is inwardly calculating.”[9] That is very good. I like that. “He is like one who is inwardly calculating.” He’s saying, “No, help yourself. It doesn’t matter at all.” But inside he’s saying, “This is costing me a fortune.”

Well, of course, that is antithetical to the one who invites us to this meal. He is not inwardly calculating. He is entirely sincere. He is the one who invites us, “Come, if you’re thirsty, and drink. Come, if you’re hungry, if you’ve got no money. Come, buy and eat.”[10] What kind of King is this that sits down beside us and extends such a welcome? Jesus, what a friend for sinners! All these Old Testament kings leave us saying, “But there must be a king who out-kings the kings.” And there is. And we’re in his presence this evening.

Well, just a brief prayer:

Lord, help us to unscramble all these things in our own hearts and minds. Here we are, it’s Sunday night; we’ve got Monday tomorrow. In many ways, this seems so remote from the things that’re already pressing for our attention. Back to the responsibilities of the lab, or the OR, or the bank, the workplace, the schoolroom, whatever it may be, remind us how important it is that our yes is yes and our no is no.[11] Save us, Lord, from the hypocrisy which so easily overwhelms us when we say one thing and mean something entirely. And thank you—thank you, Lord Jesus Christ—that all of your invitations are sincere, that your generosity knows no bounds, and that you have spread this table for those who know themselves to be sinners in need of a Savior. And so we come to you. We bring our evening offerings, Lord, at this point, and we do so with gladness of heart. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


[1] Proverbs 23:7 (KJV).

[2] 1 Samuel 17:45–46 (ESV).

[3] 1 John 4:18 (ESV).

[4] See 1 Samuel 16:13–14.

[5] See John 1:29.

[6] Matthew 21:5; John 12:15 (paraphrased).

[7] Philippians 2:7 (KJV).

[8] Philippians 2:10–11 (ESV).

[9] Proverbs 23:7 (ESV).

[10] Isaiah 55:1 (paraphrased).

[11] See Matthew 5:37.

Copyright © 2021, 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.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.