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6. David

6-3-2 David And Saul

Saul loved David. David had spiritually helped him (16:23), and the very special relationship between the spiritual helper and the helped had fully developed. Yet in such cases it isn't uncommon for there to arise a bitterness between the convert and the converter; exactly as happened with David and Saul. In response to his victory over Goliath, " Jonathan loved him as his own soul. And Saul  took him that day, and would let him go no more home to his father's house" (18:1,2). This seems to show Saul's response to David as parallel with Jonathan's response. Saul's possessiveness towards David was surely an indication of how closely he felt towards him (1). That he wouldn't allow him to return to his father's house suggests that Saul wanted to have David as his adopted son. His delight that David was in love with Michal was a strange mixture of motivations; genuine joy at having David as his son-in-law, and also glee that perhaps David would die whilst raising that strange dowry. David was " pleased" to be Saul's son in law, as Saul too was " pleased" at the prospect (18:20,26, the same Hebrew word is used); this indicates the complexity of  the relationship.  

David loved Saul, his daughters and his son Jonathan; and later David was to marry Saul's wives. These wives were given into David's bosom (2 Sam. 12:8); in other words, they were really close in their relationship; so close, 2 Sam. 12:8 implies, that David had no real emotional need to take Bathsheba. Even while Saul was alive there was probably some attraction chemistry going on between David and those women. This may well be reflected in Saul's fury with Jonathan: " Thou son of the perverse rebellious woman...thou hast chosen the son of Jesse to...the confusion of thy mother's nakedness" (1 Sam.20:30). This hints at least two things: firstly, Saul had a bad relationship with his wife; and secondly, he suspected some kind of unfaithfulness in her, perhaps only on a mental level. 

There can be few men who do not have at least some attraction to the father and family of their wife. David really loved Saul's daughter, indeed the prospect of marrying her may have been a large motivator behind his zeal in fighting Goliath and the Philistines (17:26,30; 18:26). Saul was not a totally unspiritual man; there are many hints that he had a spiritual side. It's rare indeed that a totally unspiritual person can love a highly spiritual person like David. And yet this fine relationship ended in an intense love-hate affair. So many of the Psalms contain references to Saul's smear campaign against David (Ps. 27:12; 31:13; 109:23 cp. 1 Sam. 26:19). This frequency of reference in itself indicates the weight with which this tragedy rested upon David's mind.  

So, it's taken us a long time to establish two points, hopefully (now) without any doubt:

1. Saul's persecution of David is used by the New Testament as the antitype of Judas and the Jews persecuting Christ.

2. David and Saul had a highly complex relationship, pointing forward to the complexity of relationship between Christ and Israel. Consider the  way that Jewry initially accepted John's Gospel of Messiah, how soon after the resurrection thousands of the priests who had rejected Christ then accepted him, and how even a few hours before the crucifixion the people shouted out for Jesus of Nazareth to be their Messiah-king. These are some of many hints that there was a complex acceptance-rejection relationship between Israel and Christ. Saul and David likewise had a mutual love and respect for each other. After all Saul had done to David, David's grief at his death in 2 Sam. 1 is deep indeed. David taught all Israel to regularly sing that song of grief for Saul (2 Sam. 1:18), and his zeal to demonstrate his forgiveness to the house of Saul is outstanding. Saul's sons and family were also involved in the anti-David campaign.  

The Spirit Of Christ

How to love the unlovely, to live without bitterness, to not be a psychological victim of our past experiences, is absolutely vital for the true child of God. In David and above all the Lord Jesus we see this achieved so supremely. He was at times bitter, as the imprecatory Psalms reveal, and as Hushai commented, David was a man “bitter of soul” (2 Sam. 17:8 RVmg.). Yet his gracious love for Saul was a stronger and the more dominant part of his character. Can we say that as a community, it seems we are in sore need of capturing this spirit, of knowing the mind of Christ in this. We seem far, far away from it, as individuals and ecclesias. We wallow in our pasts, the bitterness born of others' unkindness stalks the generations, somehow we fail to break out of it. The world around us are trapped, utterly trapped, by their backgrounds, by their experiences, they treat their children as they were treated by parents, by teachers, by a morally crooked society; and their children do the same. Many of us seem trapped in the same way. But we needn't be, there is a Gospel of freedom from all this, of a truly new creation.  

So let's consider how David, and the Lord Jesus, achieved what they did. Firstly, let's get it clear that neither of them turned a blind eye to the hatred they were being shown, they didn't just pretend they hadn't seen. They faced up to the fullness of the hatred and betrayal they were experiencing,  they analyzed the implications of it. We have shown in the table above that the record emphasizes how Saul sought  to take David's life. So many of the Psalms contain imprecations against those who were seeking David's soul- not just his physical life, but seeking to destroy his very being (e.g. Ps. 35:4; 40:14; 54:1; 63:9; 70:2; 71:13). These imprecations expose the evil of Saul, and asks God to condemn him. Some of those Psalms appear to have been written by David in the Saul days, and then rewritten at the time of Absalom's rebellion- another man who sough David's soul, and yet whom David loved. 

David responded to their seeking of him by seeking God more. He uses the language of the hunt and chase to describe how he was drawing closer to God: " My soul followeth hard after thee" (Ps. 63:8; Ps. 63 is a wilderness psalm, see title). " Let them be ashamed and confounded that seek after my soul...let all those that seek thee rejoice" (Ps. 40:14,16). In this sense, David felt he wasn't fleeing from  his enemies as much as fleeing to  God : " Deliver me, O Lord, from mine enemies (from whom he was running): I flee unto thee to hide me" (Ps. 143:9). This fleeing to  God didn't mean that David and Jesus didn't respond or retaliate verbally; both of them, especially the Lord Jesus, did. They both pleaded their innocence, and accused their enemies of being unfair and hypocritical. Yet this must have been done from a genuine motive of love; as David loved Saul, as the thought of Saul's death must have torn at his heart, so the Lord Jesus loved Israel, weeping over Jerusalem, wishing to himself like a child for the impossible: that they would know him as their Saviour. Both David and Jesus had a real sense of direction, they could see that their mental, emotional and physical sufferings were leading them towards an altogether higher relationship with the Father. They took those sufferings as an almost welcome push towards the Father. They had a sure sense of spiritual direction in all their afflictions; this accounts for the human loneliness which they both felt. David felt that no one else understood (Ps. 14:2, a wilderness psalm) or was really seeking towards God as he was doing (Ps. 27:4,8). The Hebrew for " understand" here is that translated " wise" concerning David in 1 Sam. 18.  

True respect

David saw Saul for who he was, the anointed of God. Christ too taught his  men to have respect for the Pharisees, who " sat in Moses seat" , and therefore ought to be given reverence on that account (Mt. 23:2). David's extreme respect for Saul is shown in the fact that Yahweh had explicitly told him that he would deliver Saul into David's hand, and David was free to do as he wished to him; but because of his genuine respect for Saul, David didn't take the liberty of killing him; indeed, he even felt guilty at cutting off the blue ribband from Saul's coat (1 Sam. 24:4,5). Such was David's respect  for Saul. It’s shown again in the way that David fairly evidently wanted to fight against Saul with the men of Achish, evidently wanting to turn against them and fight for Saul- as they correctly guessed (1 Sam. 29:8). This would have been suicidal. For Saul wanted to kill him, and the Philistines also would have tried to kill David as a result of this. He would have had no place to run. But even to the point of political suicide and the serious risking of his own life, David so loved his enemy. This true love leads to and is related to true respect. This kind of respect is  sadly lacking in our society, and has rubbed off upon our relationships within families and ecclesias. Often David calls Saul his master, describing himself as Saul's servant (1 Sam. 17:32,34,36; 20:8; 24:6; 26:16,19; 29:3,4; 30:15). This was no formal " Sincerely your brother and fellow-servant" . This was a real conscious putting of himself down, as the Lord Jesus felt he was a worm rather than a man (Ps. 22:6). If only we would concentrate upon our own status and show some true respect for others on account of their being in the ecclesia, having even been anointed spiritually at their baptism (2 Cor. 1:21) as Saul was. We have shown how Paul deeply loved Corinth and respected them for their status as men and women in Christ (2), in receipt of the Father's love and grace. Therefore he like David could love his enemies within the ecclesia (Saul was in the ecclesia of Israel as much as David was).  

David learnt the secret of seeing the positive in our weak brethren, and he didn’t let all that was wrong with Saul interfere with this. He describes himself as responding to criticism like this: “I as a deaf man, heard not” (Ps. 38:13). Yet he was alluding to how Saul, when likewise criticized by “sons of belial”, “was as though he had been deaf” to their words (1 Sam. 10:27 RVmg.). He saw the good in Saul, he remembered that one good example he showed- and it empowered him to follow it. This is all the more remarkable, in that it seems God would have given Saul into David’s hand when “a deep sleep from the Lord” fell upon Saul at the very time David intended to kill him (1 Sam. 26:12). Saul himself realized that the Lord had delivered him into David’s hand to kill him (1 Sam. 24:18). God thus confirmed David in his intentions- and yet at the last minute, it seems, David chose an even higher level; of love and deep respect for this spiritually sick man.  

Devotion To The word

To achieve this state of mind must have required a lot of conscious thought and self-analysis by David. We get the sense that David pitted his wisdom against Saul's anger and bitter persecution; David's wisdom is mentioned in tandem with Saul's anger against him (1 Sam. 18:5,11,15,30). " David behaved himself wisely (AVmg “prospered”) in all his ways; and the Lord was with him" runs like a refrain through 1 Sam. 18:5,14,15,30. These words are referring back to Dt. 29:9: " Keep therefore the words of this covenant, and do them, that ye may prosper in all that ye do" . David's charmed life and prospering despite all manner of plotting against him was due to his single-minded devotion to the Law; to those very chapters which tired Bible readers are wont to skip over as boring and not motivating. Yet David found something immensely inspiring and practical about the Law. The word made him wiser than his foes (Ps. 119:98). 

The majestic Psalm 119 was almost certainly written while David was in the court of Saul and then on the run from him (3). David's love of the word then was just supreme, staying up all night straining his eyes into those scrolls, up at the crack of dawn to get back at it. We so glibly speak about devotion to the word, keeping up the readings, of course we must devote  ourselves to the word, brethren. It becomes rather a cliche . Yeah OK we know, we know. But just look at David in that emotional and psychological mess he was in, the word just swamped  his thinking, it dominated his consciousness.  

" One that mourneth for his mother"

There is one verse which to me is a cameo of the extent of the victory which David won against the mind of the flesh, against our massive tendency to repay sin with sin, bitterness with bitterness, anger with anger. If we take nothing else away from this, please focus your mind on this, and keep the memory: In Ps. 35:14 David protests his love for the one who was persecuting him (v.1-4 etc.): " (When he was sick...I humbled my soul with fasting)...I behaved myself as though  he had been my friend or brother: I bowed myself heavily, as one that  mourneth for his mother " . Perhaps David is reflecting here upon his attitude to Saul's death. " As one that  mourneth for his mother " . Just think of it. " As one that  mourneth for his mother " .  This is surely one of the most powerful figures that could be employed. Picture a young man of say 24, in a dark blue suit, kneeling down at the graveside of his mother, surrounded by friends and relatives, bowing down heavily in his grief. Or picture a man of 34, 44, 54, hair greying and receding now, bowing himself down heavily. Or even 64, 74, alone in his grief, bowing down heavily to the green turf, muttering words about mum. Perhaps some of us haven't yet experienced this; many have. If you haven't, just imagine it. Surely it brings a lump to your throat. Now it was with this intensity of grief that David mourned the death or sickness of his persecutor. This is a wondrous reflection of his devotion, his true love, his triumph over bitterness and anger, over all the human actions that had been directed against him. The heavy bowing down of the Lord Jesus as he wept over Jerusalem, the city that hated and rejected him, whose leaders slew him, whose people screamed for his blood.

David wept for Saul as if he was his friend or brother. Who was David's friend and brother? Surely Jonathan his brother-in-law. But he wept for Saul, David says, as he wept for Jonathan. This is testified to historically by David's lament of 2 Sam. 1. And still David sought out the house of Saul, “that I may shew the kindness of God” unto them (2 Sam. 9:3). It was the experience of Divine kindness that motivated David. As he hoped for fellowship at the King’s table in the future, so David delighted in inviting his former enemies to partake of his table, now he was king (2 Sam. 9:7,11,13). And if we hope to share the Lord’s table in the Kingdom, we must share it with our weaker brethren now. You know I see in all this such a triumph for David, that a man should reflect the love of God to such an extent, to love in the face of such hatred, to not just love those who loved him. The deep sorrow of the Lord Jesus for Judas and all those who turn away is surely typified here. Right at the bitter end, the Lord still referred to him as his friend (Mt. 26:50), even though a few hours before he had been speaking of how the faithful few were his friends, and how he would give his life for his friends (Jn. 15:13-15). Throughout his ministry, Christ had spoken of the faithful as his friends (Lk. 14:20; 11:8; 12:4). This was the spirit of the Lord Jesus in his time of dying, this is what enabled him to  go through the mock trial, the intense degradation, the bitter pain of rejection, without bitterness and the sin of unholy anger. To be like David to Saul, like Paul to Corinth, like Christ to the Jews, like God to us, really is possible. If that's how we can live, we will truly be in the new life.


David’s whole experience with Saul was of course led and arranged by a loving Father. The sensible thing would have been for David to get out of Saul’s way and lay quiet- and this is what he tried to do, by going to Moab. But then God tells him to go back into Judah (1 Sam. 22:5). This was political suicide. It made no human sense to expose himself to Saul again. And then God tells David to go and fight with the Philistines in order to rescue the people of Keilah (1 Sam. 23:2). Yet the men of Keilah weren’t allies worth having- even they were prepared to betray David to Saul, and by this action he made the Philistines hate him yet more, so refuge amongst them was no longer possible. Again and again, God led David into situations that were politically suicidal, that only made things worse for him… because He wanted David to trust in Him alone. And so it happens in our lives. Time and again.


(1) For more analysis of this complex relationship between David and the house of Saul, see David and Jonathan.

(2) See Paul and Corinth.

(3) That Ps.119 was written at this time is evident. It mentioned David as a young man devoting himself to the word rather than riches(v.72)- the riches which could have been his if he mentally surrendered to Saul, or if he killed Saul and took the kingdom. He often laments how he is in exile from Yahweh's word (v.43,46,54), which would have been on account of his being away from the sanctuary at Gibeah.  He pleads the promise of the word that he would be preserved from Saul's persecution (v.41,58), and several times mentions Saul's attempts on his life (v.87,95,109,110). The following verses are evidently relevant to this period: 61,63,67,79,84 (=1 Sam. 27:1),95,98 (= 1 Sam. 18:14,15),110 (cp. the 'snaring' with Michal),119 (the emphasis is on 'You will  destroy the wicked like Saul- one day),125 (David is often called Saul's servant),150,154 (= 1 Sam. 24:15),157,161,165,176. Therefore in the face of such hatred and pain, feeling he must be careful of every step he took, emotionally and physically, David could rejoice: " I will walk at liberty (AVmg. 'at large'): for I seek thy precepts" .