Meditations in 1 Samuel 39. Spiteful Scheming
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!”
We have previously read that Saul was both angry and fearful of David and as a result of that we move into an area of scripture that I do not find particularly edifying but it does, as does all scripture, reveal how life is sometimes. The heading above gives away my feelings of what is now going on. David is successful and Saul resents that and so Saul, being the insecure sort of person he is – yet with power – decides to set up circumstances where David will be at risk and possibly be killed. We have seen Saul himself trying to kill David while under the influence of an evil spirit but now he decides to manage the circumstances so that their enemies might kill David.
It starts off, “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!” (v.17) i.e. I will honour you by making you part of the royal family but you have got to earn your place as my warrior. Now whether David sees through this or he is just humble and doesn’t see himself in the royal family, he demurs: “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?” So when the time came for Merab, Saul’s daughter, to be given to David, she was given in marriage to Adriel of Meholah.” (v.18,19) Now it is not really clear how this worked out, sufficient to say that Saul ended up giving his daughter to another at the last minute, but that is not the end of it.
Saul has another daughter: “Now Saul’s daughter Michal was in love with David, and when they told Saul about it, he was pleased. “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.” (v.20,21) David was a handsome and successful warrior and so it was not surprising that young girls fell for him. Saul is aware of this and also is aware that this daughter is a bit of a shrew and so if he can link the marriage to fighting again, and one way or another life should get difficult for David.
So, “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.’ ” 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.” (v.22,23) Again David demurs and again it would appear it is humility that makes him respond like thus, but Saul is not going to be put off and so presents David with a gruesome challenge: “When Saul’s servants told him what David had said, 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.” (v.24,25)
David sees this as an honourable way of winning a wife, the way of a warrior and so, “When the attendants told David these things, he was pleased to become the king’s son-in-law. So before the allotted time elapsed, 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.” (v.26,27) What a gruesome trophy but he’s done it but he’s actually killed double the number Saul asked for. Now remember why all this was happening: Saul was stressed with David and with his successes as a warrior so that he outshone Saul and so Saul’s intent was to get rid of him by these devious means, again and again getting him to go to battle in the hope that he would be felled by the enemy.
As I said previously, not the most edifying passages of scripture and yet, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” (2 Tim 3:16) We have seen a man who is insecure and therefore feels threatened by someone who seems to be doing better than he is. The question has to arise, can we be secure in who we are in Christ, knowing we are called and gifted by him in a unique way and therefore different to those around us, some of whom may be called to great things. Can we joy in their successes without feeling jealous, secure in knowing who we are and being just that?
But then this man seeks to use cunning to overcome the one he now sees as his enemy. When we find those in opposition to us can we overcome the temptation to strategize how to get the better of them, and leave it with the Lord? If there are genuinely people who we view as ‘enemies, can we be obedient to Jesus and pray for them? “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Mt 5:44)
But if we are on the other side and the enemy seeks to tempt you into accepting a challenge can we be secure enough in who we are to resist. I have found this in the past in respect of drinking. In some Christian circles alcohol consumption is acceptable (I am OK with it in small amounts, in me and in others) and there is often a prompting to drink, but if I do not want to, I will simply decline and resist any pressure, even if a drink is then bought and put in front of me. There may be other activities that some feel comfortable with and you may not. Do not allow yourself to be pressurized by the crowd, be yourself and don’t be afraid to stand out. That includes stag parties and the like. The world does crazy things these days and if there is pressure on you to join in, simply say you would rather not. This is not to say generally be standoffish but don’t be afraid to steer clear of dubious activities that could lead you into danger or temptation that would be hard to overcome. Don’t let the world and the enemy dictate terms. Don’t be afraid to stand out as a loving and gracious child of God who will not participate in the ways of the world; the Lord will bless you for it.