Meditations in 1 Samuel 40. Covenant Friendship (2)
1 Sam 19:1-3 Saul told his son Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David. But Jonathan was very fond of David and warned him, “My father Saul is looking for a chance to kill you. Be on your guard tomorrow morning; go into hiding and stay there. I will go out and stand with my father in the field where you are. I’ll speak to him about you and will tell you what I find out.”
The pressure between Saul and David builds up. We saw how anger, jealousy and fear stirred Saul to at least twice try to kill David (1 Sam 18:11) and now he conveys that desire to his servants. It is a stepping up of his hostility and desire to destroy David. We have also previously seen Jonathan making a covenant of friendship with David (1 Sam 18:1-3). That friendship comes to the fore now as Jonathan’s father makes his intentions blatantly obvious, so Jonathan warns David and tells him to go into hiding the next day while Jonathan checks out the situation some more, no doubt with the intention of being a peacemaker on David’s behalf. (Presumably this instruction from Saul came in the evening and Jonathan takes the opportunity of the night to slip out and speak to David.)
And so, presumably the next morning, as Jonathan had said, he spoke with his father: “Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, “Let not the king do wrong to his servant David; he has not wronged you, and what he has done has benefited you greatly. He took his life in his hands when he killed the Philistine. The LORD won a great victory for all Israel, and you saw it and were glad. Why then would you do wrong to an innocent man like David by killing him for no reason?” (v.4,5) His words are reasonable and gracious and produce a favourable response: “Saul listened to Jonathan and took this oath: “As surely as the LORD lives, David will not be put to death,” (v.6) which enables the circumstances to be normalized: “So Jonathan called David and told him the whole conversation. He brought him to Saul, and David was with Saul as before.” (v.7) It appears the whole thing has blown over so David is able to carry on as usual: “Once more war broke out, and David went out and fought the Philistines. He struck them with such force that they fled before him.” (v.8)
Now one thing I have noted over the years is that gracious words can appear to bring temporary relief to stressful circumstances but unless the root cause of the stress is properly dealt with it will simply burst forth again at some future date, and thus we now go on to read, “But an evil spirit from the LORD came upon Saul as he was sitting in his house with his spear in his hand. While David was playing the harp, Saul tried to pin him to the wall with his spear, but David eluded him as Saul drove the spear into the wall. That night David made good his escape.” (v.9,10) Jonathan has truly acted as a peacemaker and temporarily put his father’s mind at rest, but all that happens is that life carries on exactly as before with David being more and more successful and Saul becoming more and more resentful. It is Saul’s ongoing sin, his wrong attitude, that opens him and makes him vulnerable to Satan and the evil spirit is thus able to come against him and stir him up and seek David’s death for a third time. Jonathan has done all he can do but it is not enough to deal with the root cause within Saul.
As tends to happen in circumstances like this, the situation does not stand still but gets worse: “Saul sent men to David’s house to watch it and to kill him in the morning.” (v.11a) If Saul cannot kill David then he will get others to do it for him. The good news is that families often don’t keep secrets and Saul’s younger daughter, married to David, hears the instructions and takes action: “But Michal, David’s wife, warned him, “If you don’t run for your life tonight, tomorrow you’ll be killed.” So Michal let David down through a window, and he fled and escaped. Then Michal took an idol and laid it on the bed, covering it with a garment and putting some goats’ hair at the head.” (v.11b-13) So warns him, helps him escape and deceives the watchers: “When Saul sent the men to capture David, Michal said, “He is ill.” Then Saul sent the men back to see David and told them, “Bring him up to me in his bed so that I may kill him.” But when the men entered, there was the idol in the bed, and at the head was some goats’ hair.” (v.14-16) When Saul, finding he has been deceived, challenges her, she lies: “Saul said to Michal, “Why did you deceive me like this and send my enemy away so that he escaped?” Michal told him, “He said to me, `Let me get away. Why should I kill you?’ “ (v.17)
As I said in the previous meditation it is not a particularly edifying passage of scripture; indeed it is messy, but it does show us how, unless we resolve and repent of our ongoing sins, they can make us open and vulnerable to the enemies attacks. From David’s side they remind us that as the chosen of God we are in a battle and Satan will seek to use whoever he can to come against us. We must, in Jesus’ words, be “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves,” (Mt 10:16) and use the weapons God gives us (see Eph 6). These are important lessons even though the passage is not a major blessing!