(1 Samuel 19–20)
By Dr. Joel McDurmon
“And they kissed one another and wept with one another.”
[In chapter 18] we saw an example of true friendship with Jonathan choosing covenant loyalty to David. The lesson there– is that relationships in the kingdom of God have reference first and foremost to God’s covenants and God’s Law. These must even take priority over family and filial loyalties if necessary. In these chapters, 19 and 20, we see that principle tested and illustrated. When those in our natural or creational relationships do not remain faithful to God, we must stand firm for Christ. This will mean making difficult decisions: first at persuasion, then at discernment. Finally, in some cases, we must accept the fact that we may have to part ways even with those we love, even sometimes with other godly people, although the reasons may vary.
In the end, we will see that relationships built on selfishness and sin become more sinful and detrimental over time. Sin grows and will destroy the relationship to preserve self. But relationships remaining loyal to God’s covenant are just the opposite. While they may endure hardship and even godly divisions, they will seek to preserve godly relationships into eternity. But through the hardship, they’ll simply have to remain faithful in order to do so.
Saul’s Bad Blood
These two chapters break naturally into several scenes, but are dominated by two general themes: 1) Saul’s commitment to murder David, and 2) the efforts of the faithful to protect David. On the one side, we see the works of the wicked, whose faithlessness drives him to violate every covenant relationship he has—individual, family, church, and state. Particularly here we will see Saul’s family relationship violated, as well as the civil crimes of attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder. On the other side we see a series of faithful covenant relationships. Jonathan is the main one, but we also see David’s wife, Michal, and Samuel as well. In short, we have covenant breakers pursuing covenant keepers. The latter want righteousness and peace while Saul’s wickedness makes for bad blood in family, church, and state.
Jonathan’s attempt to reconcile
The narrative opens with Saul conspiring with his men to lie in wait to kill David. This puts Jonathan in a tight spot, as he must choose between loyalty to his father and loyalty to his covenanted friend David. He takes an even higher road than just these: he moves for full reconciliation with Saul.
The plan is seamless. Jonathan moves quickly to alert David, so David can hide himself. This buys Jonathan some time. He then approaches his father and pleads for David. The plea is also seamless. It includes undeniable facts as well as God’s Law—the ingredients of a good case in court. Jonathan pleads for David before the throne, and in this sense he is a type of Christ as well as of the Holy Spirit, our advocate. Jonathan’s case for David included the following four parts:
1) Saul has no case: David has committed no sin against him (19:4).
2) David has done much good: he risked his life and wrought salvation in Israel, defeating Goliath and the Philistines (19:5).
3) Saul knows better: he himself rejoiced at David’s victory (19:5).
4) David’s is therefore innocent blood (19:5).
The last argument is a pointed reference by Jonathan to the Law. In addition to “thou shalt not murder,” Deuteronomy 19:10–13 and 21:8–10 provide judicial process to protect the land of Israel from the curse of “innocent blood” being shed.
Saul was pinned in a corner by logic and evidence. Reasoning did not work with him often, but it did this time. Saul entered one of his many periods of false repentance. He then made an oath: “As the LORD lives, he shall not be put to death” (19:6). This was prophetic, although Saul himself would not honor it. The prophetic element was unwitting, of course. Even though Saul himself would attempt many more times to put David to death, indeed, David would not be put to death.
Saul breaks his oath
In almost no time at all, Saul broke his oath. Through Jonathan’s efforts, David was restored to Saul’s presence. Soon, however, David’s repeated success in battle gave opportunity for Saul’s jealousy to flare up again. The scenario from 18:10–11 plays out again. Saul is oppressed by a spirit again. David plays the harp to relieve him. But there is no relief from Saul’s envy of David. He attempts to impale David with a spear again. Again, David escapes.
We see in this, however, how religious oaths and rituals in and of themselves cannot effect change—certainly not in people’s hearts. From another perspective we can say that the non-elect have no defense against their own depravity. No matter how much religion they ascribe to, they are still slaves to their depravity. As Paul taught, these are “vessels of wrath, prepared for destruction” (Rom. 9:22). Such was Pharaoh (Rom. 9:17). Here, Saul is a new Pharaoh. Just as he is a new spear-man, Cain (as we discussed in the last sermon), so here he is showing his hardened heart just as a new Pharaoh. He is not just attempting, but now is committed to murdering David. Despite repentance of the lips, the hardness of the heart has prevailed in him.
Saul’s commitment to murder
Saul is not content with his attempt to murder David. After David escapes, Saul enters into a broad-daylight attempt to have him murdered. What follows is a relentless series of such attempts. Saul is desperate to murder David.
Saul sends servants to David’s house to arrest him, but they are outwitted by Michal, David’s wife. It is here that we see a contrast between unfaithful family and loyal family—covenant breaking and covenant keeping. Michal helped David escape through a window, and then she deceived Saul’s servants into thinking he was in bed sick. She even went so far as to set up a “dummy” in the bed to take his place. This is a crude image of substitutionary atonement, by the way. The fact that she used goat hair as a covering (compare Gen. 3:20) also points to the long history of such substitutions. The ruse worked. Saul’s men went home empty-handed.
Saul would have none of it. After all, the intent was murder: who cares if he’s sick or not. Saul orders the men to return and bring back David on the bed if necessary. When they discovered Michal’s trick, they brought her before Saul. He asked why she deceived him, and she simply deceived him again: she said David had threatened to kill her if she did not help him escape (19:17). Much like the Hebrew midwives deceiving Pharaoh (Ex. 1:15–21), and like Rahab deceiving the Canaanite spies (Josh. 2:1–7), Michal here deceives the murderous Saul. Truth is covenant truth. Those who have announced or displayed their intent to inflict harm or commit murder thereby declare themselves to be treasonous to the covenant. Those at war with the truth do not deserve the truth if it will advance their murderous cause.
So Saul is still without his goal, and still bloodthirsty. David goes to meet Samuel and is sheltered by him in Naioth. But word gets out and Saul continues his pursuit. He sends a force of men to arrest David, but the force meets a force greater than them. Confronted by Samuel and the prophets, they were themselves overcome by the Holy Spirit, and they prophesied. Saul repeated the attempt, but met the same result. The cycle happened a third time. So Saul decided to take matters into his own hands. The result was even more dramatic. Not only did Saul end up prophesying like the rest, but he stripped off his clothes and lay naked, prostrate before Samuel. The king was entirely overcome, powerless, and humiliated.
As an aside, I wonder what these groups of men and Saul were prophesying about. We are not told, so any guess is pure speculation. But I like to entertain the thought that they were prophesying who the next king of Israel would be.
Recall here how Saul had long since quit fighting the Lord’s battles. He failed to stand against Goliath. And now, on regular battles, he was sending out David to lead the armies. But now, overcome with jealousy, he had turned murderously against David. Note well: those who quit fighting for the Lord end up fighting against Him and His anointed. There is no neutrality in God’s creation.
Verses 1–40 of chapter 20 detail a plan made by David and Jonathan to discern whether or not it would ever again be feasible for David to return to court. David assumed it would not be; Jonathan thought a little better of his father, but agreed with David to make a plan. Remembering (and honoring) his covenant with David more than his father, Jonathan promised, “Whatever you say, I will do for you” (20:4). Jonathan was in for the proverbial rude awakening.
I am not sure why this plan and its execution are drawn out over so many verses. There may be something I am missing, but for now I will simply abbreviate the story. David planned to be conspicuously absent from a Sabbath dinner with Saul’s elite. Jonathan would provide a plausible alibi, although it was untrue (another example of covenant deceit). David’s absence would provide reason for him to be the subject of discussion, and Jonathan would learn the king’s disposition toward David because of this. Jonathan and David agreed upon a clever way of communicating the results via arrow shots.
Again, long story short, on day two of a three-day feast, Saul exploded at Jonathan over David. The interaction proved that Saul had become even more hardened against David—so much so that it revealed a new hatred towards his own family as well. Saul’s words are very telling, especially when we recall that Saul’s primary fear was over David as a threat to his throne, and as a challenge to Jonathan as heir. Sure enough, what does Saul say when he explodes at Jonathan?
“You son of a perverse, rebellious woman, do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness? For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established. Therefore send and bring him to me, for he shall surely die” (1 Sam. 20:30–31).
Saul’s anger pushed him so far into senselessness as to curse his own family without evidence or cause. In ripping Jonathan, he cursed his own wife as an adulterer. So often do personal grudges and unrepentant sin spread to destroy further relationships as well. Beyond its original causes and reasons, such sin spreads to infect even our most intimate loves and allegiances as well.
And what was Saul’s great concern revealed here? It was that Jonathan may not inherit the throne as Saul desired. What better reason could there be to murder someone? Right, Jonathan?
Jonathan was, of course, appalled at this. He attempted to defend David just as he had done successfully before in 19:4–6. But this time the results were different. Whereas before, Jonathan had prevailed to persuade Saul, now Saul’s true colors dominated his temperament. Jonathan learned the hard way: law and fact provide very little obstacle to a rebellious man, let alone a corrupt government. Saul launched out at Jonathan just as he had done already twice to David: Saul hurled his spear at him to strike him. So Jonathan knew that his father was determined to put David to death (20:33). That’s called learning the hard way.
Jonathan escaped and left to inform David of what happened. David was not surprised, I am sure, but he would nevertheless be saddened. Once the archery had communicated the message, David and Jonathan met. It was a sad last meeting and parting of ways.
David rose from beside the stone heap and fell on his face to the ground and bowed three times. And they kissed one another and wept with one another, David weeping the most. Then Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, because we have sworn both of us in the name of the LORD, saying, ‘The LORD shall be between me and you, and between my offspring and your offspring, forever.’” And he rose and departed, and Jonathan went into the city (1 Sam. 20:41–42).
It is not entirely clear to me why Jonathan did not just go with David. Perhaps because there was no clear plan at this point, and no group as there soon would be. But even these don’t entirely make sense to me. Saul already treated David as a treasonous threat to the throne, and already cursed his son for supporting David, and even tried to kill his son in the same way he tried to assassinate David. I don’t see what Jonathan had to lose, unless he had a large family behind which would be impossible to move without being caught and punished. Whatever it was, this passage is made deeply saddening and difficult due to the apparently necessary parting of ways that had to occur between David and Jonathan.
In this tearful moment, Jonathan recalled the one thing that have given solidity and resolve to both of them through the whole thing: the covenant. They both knew that however difficult things may become in the near future, God would protect and prosper His anointed king and faithful people.
Yet this parting had involved two harsh realizations, both of them requiring painful separations of a sort. Jonathan had a separation of allegiance from Saul and to David. Whereas the filial, and of course royal, affections of Jonathan should naturally have remained with his father, he knew he had to sever that covenantal allegiance at the ultimate level and remain faithful to his heavenly Father, even if he remained in the presence of his earthly father. On the other hand, Jonathan had to sever physical company with David, and yet remain fiercely loyal to David on the covenantal level. It is not impossible that God may put us in such a position as to disagree vehemently with those with whom we must nevertheless associate (or even serve!), while simultaneously supporting our faithful covenantal brethren from a distance.
But this is how faith works for both sides. We remain faithful even when we cannot see the manifestation of the promise around us. Or indeed, when just the opposite of that promise seems to prevail: the triumph of the wicked. David endured a whole series of personal attacks, even attempted murder, and yet he never acted as if God would not remain true to His promises. His recollection of this period in his life is generally agreed to have been recorded in Psalm 59, and it is an instructive example of how to express Christian faith while under fire:
Deliver me from my enemies, O my God;
protect me from those who rise up against me;
deliver me from those who work evil,
and save me from bloodthirsty men.
For behold, they lie in wait for my life;
fierce men stir up strife against me.
For no transgression or sin of mine, O LORD,
for no fault of mine, they run and make ready.
Awake, come to meet me, and see!
You, LORD God of hosts, are God of Israel.
Rouse yourself to punish all the nations;
spare none of those who treacherously plot evil. Selah
Each evening they come back,
howling like dogs
and prowling about the city.
There they are, bellowing with their mouths
with swords in their lips—
for “Who,” they think, “will hear us?”
But you, O LORD, laugh at them;
you hold all the nations in derision (Psa. 59:1–8).
Note that last verse quoted. Not only was David confident the Lord would hold his enemies in derision, but David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, went so far as to call them “nations”—goyim in Hebrew, literally “gentiles,” or even “heathen.” This was a supreme insult to Saul and company, for it classified them as ultimately outside of God’s covenant.
1. Unrepentant sin does not fade away, it grows.
The first lesson to draw from this text is very personal and individual, but it has potential consequences for all of our social relationships. It is this: unrepentant sin does not fade away, nor does it simply lie there dormant. It grows, it festers, it corrupts further. It becomes entrenched in one’s heart and psyche, and forms the reference point for further depraved behaviors. It becomes concrete in one’s soul, and forms the foundation upon which further sins are built and supported.
We see this very clearly in Saul. At first his envy drove him to try to murder David. He did not succeed, but neither did he ever repent. As his envy grew, his ethics declined further. The next step was to conspire with others to murder David. When that failed, sin grew more and made the private conspiracy, a public function of government: they tried to arrest David, which would of course have led to his murder. When that failed, Saul tried multiple successive attempts. Even after he himself was overcome with the Holy Spirit, Saul would still not repent. He eventually cursed his son and wife, and tried to murder his own son in cold blood. We will see in future chapters that Saul will enlist the entire Israeli army in an attempt to murder David in the wilderness. Eventually he will turn God’s Law on its head to give legal amnesty to a witch and consult her as a spirit medium. All of this was the outgrowth of a single instance of simple envy.
Furthermore, Saul’s simple envy not only corrupted his own soul more and more, but extended into all of his social relationships. It of course corrupted his civil rule, as he turned the state into an agency of his murder. It totally corrupted his family relationships, as he tried to murder Jonathan and cursed his own wife as a whore. It also corrupted his ecclesiastical relationships. Of course this happened long ago in chapters 13–15. Another confrontation happens here in which Saul does not fare so well. The ultimate expression of this, however, will come in the next sermon, when Saul holds kangaroo court, totally disregards God’s Law for court procedure, and murders the entire city of priests, save one who escapes. In the end, Saul’s simple envy grew from a personal grudge into a grand lifestyle of murder which pervaded and dominated his worldview. Nothing and no one was safe from it: not family, not church, not civil government.
So it can be with us too, when we refuse to repent. Simple personal grudges, or even secret sins (whether they be anger, bitterness, sexuality, greed, or many others), can drive us far beyond personal incapacities and dissimulations. They can drive us into behaviors (further sins) which affect our marriages and children, corrupt our business, cause division among Christian brethren, and which affect our civic affairs. When those harboring such poisons are also in positions of leadership, the effects can be even more significant, pervasive, and devastating. Civil rulers, like Saul, will turn the institutions of government into machines of warfare, oppression, unjust revenue, wealth redistribution, and all manner of corruption—in short, all of the things Samuel warned of in chapter 8, and then some.
The same thing can occur in churches and parachurch ministries. I know well of some people’s agendas and personal ambitions leading to attempted coups, subterfuges aimed at silencing opposing viewpoints or destroying careers—all within churches and ministries, and seminaries as well. Much of this was nothing more than the fallout of self-aggrandizement, personal grudges, and bitterness, etc. It is unrepentant sin leading to social destruction and upheaval in the broader religious sphere.
On the flip side of this, we can judge that many of the social ills we suffer from today are manifestations of personal sins magnified into public policy. Well did R. J. Rushdoony refer to the roots of monetary inflation as “larceny in the heart.” Our entire banking and finance system has become dominated by such larceny. Likewise he rightly wrote of much of modern political, legal, and judicial folly as manifestations of guilt, false pity, sexual deviancy, lust for power. Well did he describe humanism’s statist takeover of [public] education as “messianic”—for it is the highest expression of idolatry: to dethrone God and refashion society in humanism’s own image from the cradle up.
What does this mean for public policy? It will not be enough merely to condemn any given policy as lust or greed or envy codified, even when we accurately identify them as such. All policies could be maligned as such from someone’s perspective even if not from God’s, and the wrong perspective may be popular or persuasive enough to keep bad law in place. The remedy for Christians must be to return to the revealed standard of legislation, that is God’s Law. We must begin there, and then critique public policies in light of that. Indeed, we must critique ecclesiastical and family policy and practice in the same manner.
To be successful in such a reconstruction of all of life, in all relationships and institutions, we must first check ourselves. Might it be that we have such grudges and secrets as may affect our behavior and relationships? Might it be that we have already wronged our brethren in these regards, and have justified it to ourselves? Have we gone even further and built further offenses upon the sins we’ve already harbored and justified within our own hearts? Might it be that our larcenies, adulteries, blasphemies, and murders have already extended into our relationships with family, church, ministry, and state? To what degree have we corrupted or alienated our children and other people by clinging to our pride and lust?
And what of your business? Have you profited from state intervention in markets, especially in a way you did not have to? Have you profited through such corruption and coercion? Worse yet, do you continue to justify your business, or investment, by suppressing the truth of inflation and wealth redistribution, and looking the other way? Sadly, some people even know better, and chose rather to ignore the issue, or to sweep it aside as they cash their tainted checks. Just remember, that unrepentant sin will not disappear, nor will it merely sleep. It will grow, it will harm others, and you will be held accountable for all of it. Don’t place your trust in man’s fiat over God’s.
On the other hand, compare David’s reactions to being harassed and shot at by his government and purported friend Saul. He accepted Saul’s apology and oath. He could forgive. He also continued about his business, fighting the Lord’s battles. But he learned very quickly Saul was false. After this he was wise to Saul, and reacted with skepticism. Yet no matter what befell him and what conspiracies and attacks were carried out against him, he kept constant and faithful, and it all turned out to his blessing. It all continued to strengthen his already impeccable faith.
So it must be with us. When we are attacked and wronged, whether by loved ones or enemies, we must not be lowered to the level of their bitterness, dishonesty, vitriol, or lawlessness. We must instead take a course that remains faithful to God. Sometimes this will require forgiveness. Sometimes it will require separation. Always it will require faithfulness to His Law.
2. Covenant loyalty and parting of ways
When dissentions and attacks arise among us, we can be forced to make difficult decisions. The decision to remain faithful can pit some loyalties against others. In such times, we must remember that the commandment to love God is the greatest of all. Covenant loyalties to God transcend all other relationships, and this includes even family.
Jesus noted this aspect of faithfulness candidly:
Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law” (Luke 12:51–53).
This message was very clearly illustrated in Jonathan. His commitment was to the Law and to his covenanted friend; Saul’s commitment was to break the Law and murder that friend. This kind of difference tends to set a “father against son and son against father.” Jonathan rejected his father’s wickedness and found a way to save David from it.
We live with the same tensions as well. Faithfulness in a sinful world causes stark divisions across society, and these divisions can cut the most intimate of relationships in two. Such divisions result simply when one party desires to please God, while the other choses to remain in their sin. What can come of such unequal yoking? In many cases there will be nothing but inevitable clash. But the principle for God’s people must always remain: faithfulness must prevail over affection. The true spiritual-covenant friendship takes precedence over even the parent, and certainly over the business relationship.
The outworking of this principle will mean that sometimes we just have to sever connections or part ways. Sometimes this is by choice, sometimes not. Sometimes we must part spiritually or ideologically, but remain in contact, employ, or service—as Jonathan did with Saul. Yet even in these circumstances, it will be one’s duty to serve God first, and this may mean that you get involved in thwarting the sinful plans of those in authority over you. Reconciliation is not a bad work either, by the way, but as we saw with Saul, it is not always successful. Therefore, the parting of ways is often something we must simply accept. Sometimes it will look like David’s part: that is, not only ideological separation, but physical separation as well.
When we make such decisions even after someone has wronged us, feelings of attachment or affection may remain. While we may hold out hope for reconciliation, we must recall that such a decision is judicial, not emotional. Thus, parting of ways will sometimes be the faithful decision, even though we long otherwise.
David not only had to part physically from his enemy, whom we would have forgiven, but this circumstance required him to part from his beloved friend as well. This creates a complicated dynamic. Here the filial affection rightly remains, and all lines of communication remain open, but distance is required for one to remain faithful to their calling and mission. Here the judicial decision overrules even a proper emotional attachment.
All of this is to say that sometimes, you just have to put things behind you—even things you love—in order to remain faithful to God. God’s covenant, callings, and missions for us transcend anything that would defy them. When God brings us to such extremes that we are forced to choose one or the other, we must choose Him. Even if it means the whole government is set against us, we must choose Him. Even if it means parting with dear friends through exceeding tears, just as David, we must remain faithful to Him.
3. The Gospel
We would be remiss if we did not mention the beautiful illustrations of the Gospel throughout this narrative. Here we have a true king of Israel who would give His life to defeat the enemy no one else could, and yet was hunted for death by the “official” king of Israel, who was no better than a heathen king. Yet the anointed and his true friend covenant and proclaim that the Lord will take vengeance upon the true king’s enemies, while preserving each other and their offspring forever. It doesn’t get much clearer than that in terms of the trials and rewards of the Messiah and His true faithful friends.
But it does get more detailed: David was left outside the walls of the city, in the field. He specifically hid by a great stone termed ezel in Hebrew, meaning “going” or “departure.” Is this a not picture of the death and burial of Christ, crucified outside the walls and departing from this life in a tomb sealed by a great stone? And is it not even more peculiar that David hid in this condition for three days? At that time, David emerged and confirmed the covenant with Jonathan the faithful.
Let us recall today what Christ has done for us. As we learn so much about Christian life and society from the great acts of the faithful and wicked alike, let us also remember the foundations of such a faithful family, church, and state. Christ suffered and died in such humiliation that no mere Saul could ever inflict. It was demonic. And yet, Christ emerged from behind that stone having defeated every demon and death itself. And He confirms His covenant with us every time we receive His Word preached and especially when we receive His supper with Him. He forgives us our impossible offenses, and teaches us to forgive others likewise. It is only through Him and His means of grace that we can conform to His Law, and see the many grievances and offenses among us healed, our social relationships repaired, and the wicked and implacable among us destroyed and removed for the society. Let us embrace His good news of the Kingdom of God, pray that He advances these promises further today.
 See for example his Politics of Guilt and Pity, and Noble Savages, to name a couple.
Article from Americanvision.org