King Saul and David (1 Samuel 18)
Passifistic Perfectionism Collides with the Scriptural Text
In this chapter the existential threat posed by David to Saul’s kingship becomes absolutely clear. King Saul now finds himself within yet another impossible situation. For David, against all reasonable expectations, has become the conquering hero who not only defeated the giant Goliath, but who also led the subsequent defeat of the Philistine army. King Saul has been reduced to the position of a hapless bystander, thus profoundly undercutting his prestige and authority. Yet Saul doesn’t dare act to remove David for that same reason. The nation’s response to this situation encapsulates the entire situation with in two pithy lines (verse 7b).
“Saul has slain his thousands,
and David his tens of thousands.”
Has ever a reigning king been so utterly humiliated? I expect that scholars can propose other examples, though the ensuing debate would be fascinating.
As a consequence of the nation’s love for David, King Saul was forced to bestow honor and power upon him. David was given a high rank in Israel’s army, leading his troops to victory after victory. King Saul’s own son, Jonathan, “made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself” (verse 3), in effect, renouncing his (i.e., Jonathan’s) claim to the throne.
All of this eventually led King Saul to near insanity, where he twice attempted to kill David (who remained always in Saul’s court) with a spear. He was left with the devastating realization that “the Lord was with David but had departed from Saul” (verse 12). What follows throughout the book of 1 Samuel is an incoherent bimodal strategy of control through appeasement and murderous assault.
King Saul begins with appeasement by offering his daughter Merab as a wife to David. Were David to accept he would be absorbed into Saul’s family. However, David declines the offer, thus once again thwarting the king’s plans.
However, some time later it is learned that Saul’s daughter Michal has fallen in love with David. Saul once again offers a daughter to David, and once again he is rebuffed. However, this time Saul is determined to prevail. David’s excuse is that “I’m only a poor man and little known” (verse 23). So, King Saul moves to remove this stated excuse.
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.
Once again Saul believes that David’s implicit challenge to his throne will be dealt with through his cleaver scheme. Unfortunately for the king:
27 David took his men with him and went out and killed two hundred Philistines and brought back their foreskins. They counted out the full number to the king so that David might become the king’s son-in-law. Then Saul gave him his daughter Michal in marriage.
28 When Saul realized that the Lord was with David and that his daughter Michal loved David, 29 Saul became still more afraid of him, and he remained his enemy the rest of his days.
The departure for commentary relating to our contemporary situation will be from verse twenty-seven. For in this incident the presumed perfectionist pacifism of our age collides head-on with the supposed ignorance and savagery of the past.