Now begin David’s troubles, and they not only tread on the heels of his triumphs, but take rise from them, such is the vanity of that in this world which seems greatest.
I. He was too much magnified by the common people. Some time after the victory Saul went a triumphant progress through the cities of Israel that lay next him, to receive the congratulations of the country. And, when he made his public entry into any place, the women were most forward to show him respect, as was usual then in public triumphs (1 Sam. 18:6), and they had got a song, it seems, which they sang in their dances (made by some poet or other, that was a great admirer of David’s bravery, and was more just than wise, in giving his achievements in the late action the preference before Saul’s), the burden of which was, Saul had slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands. Such a difference as this Moses made between the numbers of Ephraim and Manasseh, Deut. 33:17.
II. This mightily displeased Saul, and made him envy David, 1 Sam. 18:8, 9. He ought to have considered that they referred only to this late action, and intended not to diminish any of Saul’s former exploits; and that in the action now celebrated it was undeniably true that David, in killing Goliath, did in effect slay all the Philistines that were slain that day and defeated the whole army; so that they did but give David his due. It may be, he that composed the song only used a poetic liberty, and intended not any invidious comparison between Saul and David; or, if he did, it was below the great mind of a prince to take notice of such a reflection upon his personal honour, when it appeared that the glory of the public was sincerely intended. But Saul was very wroth, and presently suspected some treasonable design at the bottom of it: What can he have more but the kingdom? This made him eye David as one he was jealous of and sought advantages against (1 Sam. 18:9): his countenance was not towards him as it had been. Proud men cannot endure to hear any praised but themselves, and think all their honour lost that goes by themselves. It is a sign that the Spirit of God has departed from men if they be peevish in their resentment of affronts, envious and suspicious of all about them, and ill-natured in their conduct; for the wisdom from above makes us quite otherwise.
III. In his fury he aimed to kill David, 1 Sam. 18:10, 11. Jealousy is the rage of a man; it made Saul outrageous against David and impatient to get him out of the way. 1. His fits of frenzy returned upon him. The very next day after he conceived malice against David the evil spirit from God, that had formerly haunted him, seized him again. Those that indulge themselves in envy and uncharitableness give place to the devil, and prepare for the re-entry of the unclean spirit, with seven others more wicked. Where envy is there is confusion. Saul pretended a religious ecstasy: He prophesied in the midst of the house, that is, he had the gestures and motions of a prophet, and humoured the thing well enough to decoy David into a snare, and that he might be fearless of any danger and off his guard; and perhaps designing, if he could but kill him, to impute it to a divine impulse and to charge it upon the spirit of prophecy with which he seemed to be animated: but really it was a hellish fury that actuated him. 2. David, though advanced to a much higher post of honour, disdained not, for his master’s service, to return to his harp: He played with his hand as at other times. Let not the highest think any thing below them whereby they may do good and be serviceable to those they are obliged to. 3. He took this opportunity to aim at the death of David. A sword in a madman’s hand is a dangerous thing, especially such a madman as Saul was, that was mad with malice. Yet he had a javelin or dart in his hand, which he projected, endeavouring thereby to slay David, not in a sudden passion, but deliberately: I will smite David to the wall with it, with such a desperate force did he throw it. Justly does David complain of his enemies that they hated him with a cruel hatred, Ps. 25:19. No life is thought too precious to be sacrificed to malice. If a grateful sense of the great service David had done to the public could not assuage Saul’s fury, yet one would think he should have allowed himself to consider the kindness David was now doing him, in relieving him, as no one else could, against the worst of troubles. Those are possessed with a devilish spirit indeed that render evil for good. Compare David, with his harp in his hand, aiming to serve Saul, and Saul, with his javelin in his hand, aiming to slay David; and observe the meekness and usefulness of God’s persecuted people and the brutishness and barbarity of their persecutors. The bloodthirsty hate the upright, but the just seek his soul, Prov. 29:10. 4. David happily avoided the blow twice (namely, now, and afterwards, 1 Sam. 19:10); he did not throw the javelin at Saul again, but withdrew, not fighting but flying for his own preservation; though he had both strength and courage enough, and colour of right, to make resistance and revenge the injury, yet he did no more than secure himself, by getting out of the way of it. David, no doubt, had a watchful eye upon Saul’s hand, and the javelin in it, and did as bravely in running from it as he did lately in running upon Goliath. Yet his safety must be ascribed to the watchful eye of God’s providence upon him, saving his servant from the hurtful sword; and by this narrow escape it seemed he was designed for something extraordinary.