Sermon on 1 Samuel 18:6-16 – “Saul’s Jealousy and David’s Success”

Sermon for Sunday, April 28, 2024 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

 

Old Testament reading:

[1Sa 18:6-16 ESV] 6 As they were coming home, when David returned from striking down the Philistine, the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with songs of joy, and with musical instruments. 7 And the women sang to one another as they celebrated, “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” 8 And Saul was very angry, and this saying displeased him. He said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands, and what more can he have but the kingdom?” 9 And Saul eyed David from that day on. 10 The next day a harmful spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he raved within his house while David was playing the lyre, as he did day by day. Saul had his spear in his hand. 11 And Saul hurled the spear, for he thought, “I will pin David to the wall.” But David evaded him twice. 12 Saul was afraid of David because the LORD was with him but had departed from Saul. 13 So Saul removed him from his presence and made him a commander of a thousand. And he went out and came in before the people. 14 And David had success in all his undertakings, for the LORD was with him. 15 And when Saul saw that he had great success, he stood in fearful awe of him. 16 But all Israel and Judah loved David, for he went out and came in before them.

 

New Testament reading:

[Jas 4:1-10 ESV] 1 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

 

Gospel reading:

[Mat 27:15-23 ESV] 15 Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. 16 And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. 17 So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18 For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. 19 Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” 20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. 21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” 23 And he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”

 

Introduction

There is a trail of evil in our passage, as we look at Saul. The trail looks like this: Comparison leads to jealousy. Jealousy leads to anger. Anger leads to violence.

But there is also trail of good in our passage. It is much simpler. Just one step. “Success is from the Lord.”

This truth—“Success is from the Lord”—is not only the conclusion of our passage, it is the premise. It is what is assumed going into the passage. Remember, our text is following upon the victory over Goliath. And who’s victory was it? It is the Lord’s victory.

David knew that truth. He said to Goliath, “For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand.” The success—the miraculous success—of David over Goliath by way of one small stone, is a success of the Lord. He guided it. Not only the stone, but all other things as well. God made it all come together and all fall out as it did. The victory is His. He is to be praised. God is to be praised for David’s victory over Goliath and for Israel’s victory over the Philistines.

But when the battle is done and the soldier’s return home, and the women come out with musical instruments and singing, what do they sing? Is it praise to God? No, it isn’t. At least not in what is recorded.

They sing “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands.”

If Saul were a godly man then perhaps he would be upset that this refrain fails to mention God. But he doesn’t seem to notice that at all. What he noticed is the greater praise given to David than to himself.

And considering this “greater praise” we get the first point of our sermon and the first stage of the trail of evil: comparison leads to jealousy.

I. Comparison leads to jealousy.

Now granted, Saul does not raise the comparison himself. The women singing are the ones who compare Saul and David. But had Saul been a better man, he would have let it slide, and he would forget about it. Instead it gets stuck in his head.

“Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands.”

 

Have you ever had a song stuck in your head? It could be an annoying jingle on the radio, or an uplifting hymn from the hymnal. Whatever it is, it follows you through the day, and you whistle it while you work. But imagine that in the lyrics is YOU. The song is about you. It would be all that much harder to forget the song!

“Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands.”

 

Some have argued that this is not meant to be a comparison. They say this is just Hebrew poetry, meant to honor both Saul and David with their victories. The numbers are not meant to be comparisons.

Well, to that idea, I can only say, Saul certainly took it to be a comparison.

He said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands, and what more can he have but the kingdom?”

 

Clearly Saul sees the words of the women’s song as comparative. Saul was responsible for one victory (really it was Jonathan) but Saul got the credit, and David is responsible for a larger victory. The idea is that David’s defeat of Goliath LED TO Israel killing many Philistines. And we didn’t have any count of casualties in the battle before. So this seems to tell us that it was in the 10’s of thousand slain. A big victory for Israel. And this time Saul isn’t given the credit. Everyone knows that it is David who led the battle. He is the one who finally stood up to Goliath and stood up for the God of Israel.

And this comparison leads to jealousy. Granted the term “jealousy” is not in the text. Neither is “envy.” But in our pew Bibles the section is labeled “Saul’s Jealousy of David” and I think that is an accurate description.

There was the opportunity for Saul to be jealous of David’s friendship with Jonathan, but nothing is said about that. Saul is not jealous for friendships. He is jealous for power. He wants to be in charge, and no one else.

“what more can he have but the kingdom?”

 

So Saul is jealous of David for the praise he got for the greater victory.

And that is praise that Saul wants. So he sees David as a rival to the throne. The next step for David is “the kingdom.”

Now, what we must consider is that question “What jealousy does not start with a comparison?” And the answer — excuse the double negative — is that NO jealous does not start with a comparison. Or in better English, ALL jealousy has its root in comparison.

That is where it starts. We compare ourselves with others. Or we compare our possession with others. And jealousy arises.

So problematic is this, and so intertwined with the sinful human condition, that we have one of the ten commandments on this point. “Thou shall not covet.”

I’ve given sermons on various sins here in the Book of 1 Samuel. There was “The Sin of Partial Obedience” and “The Sin of Person Respecting.” And no doubt these sins are covered in some way in the commandments. But jealousy, coveting, has its own commandment. I think God is making it clear to us how important it is not to covet, not to be jealous. It is one of the big ones, one of the ten commandments.

And I often think of the commandments as broken down between the vertical commandments (those between God and man) and the horizontal commandments (those between man and man), but perhaps coveting is both horizontal and vertical. When you covet, it is coveting what another person has. But, this jealousy is ignoring that which God has given you and focusing on what He hasn’t given you; what he has given to someone else. So jealousy is an affront to God. It is dishonoring of his blessings to you.

And then, the nasty thing about jealousy, is that it leads to further sin. We see that from the jealousy, anger arises in Saul.

II. Jealousy leads to anger.

 

Jealousy leads to anger.

 

And Saul was very angry, and this saying displeased him.

 

This verse might work better for our minds to be read in the opposite order of clauses. “This saying displeased him, and Saul was very angry.” It was his jealousy upon hearing the saying of the singers that led to anger.

 

Jealousy leads to anger. This is something that we are to be warned about. We need to end our jealousy so that we don’t land in anger. This anger might be, like in this case, against the person (David), or it might be against God himself. The sin of jealousy might lead to a person being angry with God because God didn’t provide ME with something that He provided my neighbor. And being angry with God …. doesn’t sound like a good plan!

 

Saul should be happy that Goliath is killed.

It is like being a good basketball player and you’re just not winning the championships, but you acquire a new player on your team who is better than you. Now you’re the second best player but you’re winning the championship. Wouldn’t you rather be the second best player on a winning team than to be the best player on a losing team?

But Saul sees David as an existential threat.

“what more can he have but the kingdom?”

 

I saw some comments the other day about this term, “existential threat.” It mean “a threat to one’s existence.” It has become common in our days to headline an article with that phrase to grab attention. “Fill in the blank … is an existential threat. “Reducing Sea Ice is an Existential Threat.” “Artificial Intelligence is an existential threat.” Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, Benjamin Netanyahu, Hamas, China, are all existential threats. There is even a Wall Street Journal article, recently out, that says “Overuse of ‘existential threat’ is a crisis of existential proportions.” By their own arguments, apparently they couldn’t say “Overuse of ‘existential threat’ is an existential threat.”

 

Well, the other day, I was lamenting the world we live in with all its existential threats, but then it came to me “This is God’s world.” He is in control.

 

Some of you lived through the Cold War. I suppose I lived through the end of it. And there was the idea that the USA and Russia (and others) could at any moment blow up the entire planet with nuclear bombs. You know what though … God is in control. The world didn’t blow up. We’re still here.

 

This is what Saul, if he were a believer, should say. There is an “existential threat” in David becoming a king. But, you know what, the Lord’s will be done. If God wants me to be king, I’ll serve. If God wants me elsewhere, then there I shall go.

 

But that is not Saul’s response. His response is anger, based on jealousy.

 

All because he bought into the comparison the women sang. “Saul has struck down his thousands and David his ten thousands.”

 

And the result was:

 

9 And Saul eyed David from that day on.

 

Or, as others have translated it, “So from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David”

 

From this we see that jealousy can be long-lasting. Deep-seated. It is not a one-time sin, but a continuous one, lasting for years in some cases.

 

So jealousy leads to anger. And jealousy leads to more jealousy. Thus the Lord tells us “Thou shall not covet.” That is the description of his people, “You won’t be a coveter.” Rather, instead, Lord the Love your God. That is to be your true joy. Be grateful for what He has graciously given and do not get angry at others for their blessings nor at given for his giving of blessings to others.

Well, we have one more step of this trail of evil in our passage. From comparison to jealousy, from jealousy to anger, and now from anger to violence.

 

Anger leads to violence.

 

III. Anger leads to violence.

 

Anger leads to violence. And this is essentially an understatement here. What we have is not just violence, it is attempted murder. Twice.

 

10 The next day a harmful spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he raved within his house while David was playing the lyre, as he did day by day. Saul had his spear in his hand. 11 And Saul hurled the spear, for he thought, “I will pin David to the wall.” But David evaded him twice.

 

What we have here as “Saul raved” other translations have as “Saul prophesied.” What is probably going on is that Saul is “putting on a show.” He is acting like he is a prophet, but is clearly not. So while the verb in Hebrew is the verb “to prophesy,” it might be more like “he raved like a madman.”

 

Certainly godly prophesy wouldn’t lead to want Saul does next.

 

His anger leads to violence. He takes his spear and HURLS it at David. Fortunately for David, “he evaded him twice.”

 

Matthew Henry: “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.”

 

I wonder if there is an implied contrast here with Goliath. You see, there David hit Goliath straight head on, in the forehead. Now, Saul misses David, twice. What can we conclude but that God is with David; God is on his side, protecting him.

 

That is what we must conclude in general. Success comes from the Lord

 

IV. Success comes from the Lord

 

That is what we started off with — with the victory over Goliath. Now it is what we conclude this passage with. God giving success to David.

 

Saul tries to diminish David’s influence by demoting him to a “captain of 1000.” So he’s not in a lead position but something like a middle manager.

 

But what happens?

 

“And David had success in all his undertakings, for the LORD was with him”

 

That is the simple, single step of success. “Success is from the Lord.”

 

Included in David’s success was that “all Israel and Judah loved him.” He was a man of the people, coming in and out before them. Leading them in battle, unlike Saul who stayed safely home.

 

But no one is to idolize David. He is a servant of the Lord. And His success comes from the Lord. So praise and glory is due to God alone.

 

That is what we are to learn here. “Success comes from the Lord.” And just like life, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.”

 

We don’t deserve success. God is not obligated to give it to us. He gives it as a blessing. And when success does not come, rather than being angry with God, we should learn from the failure that is before us. As it says in Job “Shall we only accept the good things that come from God, and not also adversity?”

 

What else is to be learned from this passage and applied to our lives?

 

1. Jealousy needs to be attacked at the root so that it does not grow and bring out further sins. Jealousy leads to anger and anger to violence. So cut the problem at the root. Root out jealousy. Give the Lord praise for what he HAS given you, and give the Lord praise for the blessings your highborn receives.

 

2. Then, change your desires.

How do we root out jealousy? We need a changed heart. We should pray to God and seek to have a heart renewed by His spirit that we would desire God and His truths, rather than desire the things of our neighbor. Let us truly desire the eternal rather than the temporal. Let us seek first the kingdom of God. Let us change out desires.

 

Let us root our whatever jealousies we have. Cars, houses, spouses, health, or wealth. Don’t let these comparisons lead you to anger and sin.

 

3. Then, let us learn, like David to Fear God and not man

 

David has survived battles with lions, bears, and now Goliath. All because the Lord saved him.

 

So David knew that Saul was no threat. God had anointed David to be the future king. So David knew that he would survive. Even when Saul threw a spear at him one, David returned. And even when Saul threw a spear a second time, David remained an honorable servant, leading a section of Saul’s army. David was wise to not fight back and start his own reign by killing Saul. Instead he waits patiently on the Lord.

 

He doesn’t compare himself with Saul and say “That’s what I want. I want to be king.” Rather, he trusts in the Lord. Let us so trust God, shunning jealousies, and thanking Him for His goodness to us.