Saul had now, in effect, proclaimed war with David. He began in open hostility when he threw the javelin at him. Now we are here told how his enmity proceeded, and how David received the attacks of it.
I. See how Saul expressed his malice against David. 1. He was afraid of him, 1 Sam. 18:12. Perhaps he pretended to be afraid that David would do himself mischief, to force his way to the crown. Those that design ill against others are commonly willing to have it thought that others design ill against them. But David’s withdrawal (1 Sam. 18:11) was a plain evidence that he was far from such a thought. However, he really stood in awe of him, as Herod feared John, Mark 6:20. Saul was sensible that he had lost the favourable presence of God himself, and that David had it, and for this reason he feared him. Note, Those are truly great and to be reverenced that have God with them. The more wisely David behaved himself the more Saul feared him, 1 Sam. 18:15; and again 1 Sam. 18:29. Men think the way to be feared is to hector and threaten, which makes them feared by fools only, but despised by the wise and good; whereas the way to be both feared and loved, feared by those to whom we would wish to be a terror and loved by those to whom we would wish to be a delight, is to behave ourselves wisely. Wisdom makes the face to shine and commands respect. 2. He removed him from court, and gave him a regiment in the country, 1 Sam. 18:13. He made him captain over 1000, that he might be from under his eye, because he hated the sight of him; and that he might not secure the interest of the courtiers. Yet herein he did impolitely; for it gave David an opportunity of ingratiating himself with the people, who therefore loved him (1 Sam. 18:16) because he went out and came in before them, that is, he presided in the business of his country, civil as well as military, and have universal satisfaction. 3. He stirred him up to take all occasions of quarrelling with the Philistines and engaging them (1 Sam. 18:17), insinuating to him that hereby he would do good service to his prince (be thou valiant for me), and good service to his God (fight the Lord’s battles), and a kindness to himself too, for hereby he would qualify himself for the honour he designed him, which was to marry his eldest daughter to him. This he had merited by killing Goliath, for it was promised by proclamation to him that should do that exploit (1 Sam. 17:25); but David was so modest as not to demand it, and now, when Saul proposed it, it was with design of mischief to him, to make him venture upon hazardous attempts, saying in his heart, Let the hand of the Philistines be upon him, hoping that he would some time or other be the death of him; yet how could he expect this when he saw that God was with him? 4. He did what he could to provoke him to discontent and mutiny, by breaking his promise with him, and giving his daughter to another when the time came that she should have been given to him, 1 Sam. 18:19. This was as great an affront as he could possibly put upon him, and touched him both in his honour and in his love. He therefore thought David’s resentment of it would break out in some indecency or other, in word or deed, which might give him an advantage against him to take him off by the course of law. Thus evil men seek mischief. 5. When he was disappointed in his, he proffered him his other daughter (who it seems had a secret kindness for David, 1 Sam. 18:20), but with this design, that she might be a snare to him, 1 Sam. 18:21. (1.) Perhaps he hoped that she would, even after her marriage to David, take part with her father against her husband, and give him an opportunity of doing David an unkindness. However, (2.) The conditions of the marriage, he hoped, would be his destruction; for (so zealous will Saul seem against the Philistines) the conditions of the marriage must be that he killed 100 Philistines, and, as proofs that those he had slain were uncircumcised, he must bring in their foreskins cut off; this would be a just reproach upon the Philistines, who hated circumcision as it was an ordinance of God; and perhaps David, in doing this, would the more exasperate them against him, and make them seek to be revenged on him, which was the thing that Saul desired and designed, much more than to be avenged on the Philistines: For Saul thought to make David fall by the Philistines, 1 Sam. 18:25. See here, [1.] What cheats bad men put upon themselves. Saul’s conscience would not suffer him, except when the evil spirit was actually upon him, to aim at David’s life himself, for even he could not but conceive a horror at the thought of murdering such an innocent and excellent person; but he thought that to expose him designedly to the Philistines had nothing bad in it (Let not my hand be upon him, but the hand of the Philistines), whereas that malicious design against him was as truly murder before God as if he had slain him with his own hands. [2.] What cheats they put upon the world. Saul pretended extraordinary kindness for David even when he aimed at his ruin, and was actually plotting it: Thou shalt be my son-in-law, says he (1 Sam. 18:21), notwithstanding he hated him implacably. Perhaps David refers to this when (Ps. 55:21) he speaks of his enemy as one whose words were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart. It is probable that Saul’s employing his servants to persuade David to enter into a treaty of a match with his daughter Michal (1 Sam. 18:22) arose from an apprehension that either his having cheated him about his elder daughter (1 Sam. 18:19) or the hardness of the terms he intended now to propose would make him decline it.
II. See how David conducted himself when the tide of Saul’s displeasure ran thus high against him.
1. He behaved himself wisely in all his ways. He perceived Saul’s jealousy of him, which made him very cautious and circumspect in every thing he said and did, and careful to give no offence. He did not complain of hard measure more make himself the head of a party, but managed all the affairs he was entrusted with as one that made it his business to do real service to his king and country, looking upon that to be the end of his preferment. And then the Lord was with him to give him success in all his undertakings. Though he procured Saul’s ill-will by it, yet he obtained God’s favour. Compare this with Ps. 101:2; where it is David’s promise, I will behave myself wisely; and that promise he here performed; and it is his prayer, O, when wilt thou come unto me? And that prayer God here answered: The Lord was with him. However blind fortune may seem to favour fools, God will own and bless those that behave themselves wisely.
2. When it was proposed to him to be son-in-law to the king he once and again received the proposal with all possible modesty and humility. When Saul proposed his elder daughter to him (1 Sam. 18:18) he said, Who am I, and what is my life? When the courtier proposed the younger, he took no notice of the affront Saul had put upon him in disposing of the elder from him, but continued in the same mind (1 Sam. 18:23): Seemeth it a light thing to you to be a king’s son-in-law, seeing that I am a poor man and lightly esteemed? He knew Michal loved him, and yet did not offer to improve his interest in her affections for the gaining of her without her father’s consent, but waited till it was proposed to him. And then see, (1.) How highly he speaks of the honour offered him: To be son-in-law to the king. Though this king was but an upstart, in his original as mean as himself, in his management no better than he should be, yet, being a crowned head, he speaks of him and the royal family with all due respect. Note, Religion is so far from teaching us to be rude and unmannerly that it does not allow us to be so. 1581 We must render honour to whom honour is due. (2.) How humbly he speaks of himself: Who am I? This did not proceed from a mean, abject, sneaking spirit, for when there was occasion he made it appear that he had as high a sense of honour as most men; nor was it from his jealousy of Saul (though he had reason enough to fear a snake under the green grass), but from him true and deep humility: Who am I, a poor man, and lightly esteemed? David had as much reason as any man to value himself. He was of an ancient and honourable family of Judah, a comely person, a great statesman and soldier; his achievements were great, for he had won Goliath’s head and Michal’s heart. He knew himself destined by the divine counsels to the throne of Israel, and yet, Who am I, and what is my life? Note, It well becomes us, however God has advanced us, always to have low thoughts of ourselves. He that humbleth himself shall be exalted. And, if David thus magnified the honour of being son-in-law to the king, how should we magnify the honour of being sons (not in law, but in gospel) to the King of kings! Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us! Who are we that we should be thus dignified?
3. When the slaying of 100 Philistines was made the condition of David’s marrying Saul’s daughter he readily closed with it (1 Sam. 18:26): It pleased David well to be the king’s son-in-law upon those terms; and, before the time given him for the action had expired, he doubled the demand, and slew 200, 1 Sam. 18:27. He would not seem to suspect that Saul designed his hurt by it (though he had reason enough), but would rather act as if Saul had meant to consult his honour, and therefore cheerfully undertook it, as became a brave soldier and a true lover, though we may suppose it uneasy to Michal. David hereby discovered likewise, (1.) A great confidence in the divine protection. He knew God was with him, and therefore, whatever Saul hoped, David did not fear falling by the Philistines, though he must needs expose himself much by such an undertaking as this. (2.) A great zeal for the good of his country, which he would not decline any occasion of doing service to, though with the hazard of his life. (3.) A right notion of honour, which consists not so much in being preferred as in deserving to be so. David was then pleased with the thoughts of being the king’s son-in-law when he found the honour set at this high price, being more solicitous how to merit it than how to obtain it; nor could he wear it with satisfaction till he had won it.
4. Even after he was married he continued his good services to Israel. When the princes of the Philistines began to move towards another war David was ready to oppose them, and behaved himself more wisely than all the servants of Saul, 1 Sam. 18:30. The law dispensed with men from going to war the first year after they were married (Deut. 24:5), but David loved his country too well to make use of that dispensation. Many that have shown themselves forward to serve the public when they have been in pursuit of preferment have declined it when they have gained their point; but David acted from more generous principles.
III. Observe how God brought good to David out of Saul’s project against him. 1. Saul gave him his daughter to be a snare to him, but in this respect that marriage was a kindness to him, that his being Saul’s son-in-law made his succeeding him much the less invidious, especially when so many of his sons were slain with him, 1 Sam. 31:2. 2. Saul thought, by putting him upon dangerous services, to have him taken off, but that very thing confirmed his interest in the people; for the more he did against the Philistines the better they loved him, so that his name was much set by (1 Sam. 18:30), which would make his coming to the crown the more easy. Thus God makes even the wrath of man to praise him and serves his designs of kindness to his own people by it.