We continue this morning looking at the life of king David who lived and ruled over Israel about 1000 years before Christ. Today we come to First Samuel chapter 18. In chapters 16-17 the author introduces us to David. In chapter 16, we meet this teenage shepherd who God anointed as his choice to his king over Israel after he had rejected Saul, the kind of king the people wanted. Next, in chapter 17, in his battle with Goliath, we saw WHY God chose David to be king over Saul. That is—because Saul’s life was all about living for Saul, his reputation, his fame, but David’s life was all about living for GOD—HIS name and HIS fame.
David’s life is often wrongly used only as a moral example for us. Though there are lessons to be learned from David, as we’ve repeatedly seen, the Bible is a book where God is the Hero and its written to reveal God to us. As we look at the story Scott read from chapter 18, God manifest a part of who he is by revealing the radically different ways he relates to David and Saul who at this point in the story still reigns over Israel even though God had rejected him in favor of David.
All the content in this chapter fits under two headings and that’s how we will be thinking about it. First is —God’s transparent favor that rests on David. Second is —God’s transparent DISfavor that rests on King Saul. We’ll be looking at four expressions of God’s favor to David, but before we look at those, the author wants us to see what is at the very heart of God’s favor on David. The author repeats these three times in the story, so we know it’s crucial to what the Holy Spirit wants us to see.
Verse 12 says, “12 Saul was afraid of David because the LORD was with him but had departed from Saul.” Verse 14 says, “14 And David had success in all his undertakings, for the LORD was with him.” Finally, in verse 28 we read, “28 But when Saul saw and knew that the LORD was with David, and that Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved him,” This repeated phrase could sail as a banner over David’s entire life and reign– “the LORD was with him.”
Every story about David in the Old Testament—even those that record his failures, reveal the unusual presence and power of God in David’s life. This began in chapter 16:13 after Samuel anoints him to be king. “And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward.” That reality about David is the explanation for ALL his amazing accomplishments on the battlefield, as king, as a worshipper and as the author of half of the Psalms. This abiding presence of God with David is the root of God’s favor in David’s life.
Let’s look at four ways that God’s Transparent Favor Rests on David. The first one is in the first four verses and reveals David’s unique relationship with the king’s son, Jonathan. Remember the context. David has defeated Goliath and Saul had evidently given him a place in his royal court because verse two says, “…Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house.” Here we meet Saul’s son, Jonathan, who, back in chapter 14 had won a miraculous victory over the Philistines.
When we compare Jonathan’s relationship with David and Saul’s relationship with David, it’s important to remember that Jonathan had far more reason to be jealous of David than King Saul did. Remember, Jonathan was the presumed heir to Saul’s throne. He didn’t know his father had been rejected as king at this point. And in ancient monarchies any giant-slaying, heroic warrior type (like David) would have been seen as a rival to “Jonathan’s throne.” But instead of suspicion and jealousy, Jonathan’s absolutely amazing response to David is an expression of God’s supernatural favor on David.
Beginning with verse one we read, “1 As soon as he [David] had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. 2 And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. 3 Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. 4 And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt.”
This is one of the most powerful expressions of God’s favor anywhere in the Old Testament. At their first recorded meeting, Jonathan’s soul was instantly “knit to the soul David.” In the original language, it literally says that Jonathan “became one spirit” with David. There was an instantaneous and supernatural bond between these two so that Jonathan loved David “as he loved his own soul.” We’ll see this was not an exaggeration. Jonathan really did love David as much as he loved himself and we see that in verse three where Jonathan makes a covenant with David. We don’t know the specifics of this covenant, but these two were legally binding themselves to a mutually sacrificial relationship with one another.
In verse four, Jonathan takes off his royal robe—the robe of a prince and gave it to David in addition to his royal armor, his bow, and his belt. This is astonishing because many scholars believe that, in giving David these things, Jonathan is committing to David that he would “give him his all,” even his right to the throne, “for he loved him as himself.” Later, in chapter 23, we know that Jonathan explicitly tells David this. “…Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you…” But Jonathan appears to make the commitment to David in his heart here in chapter 18.
A second expression of God’s favor on David is seen throughout the chapters and that is David’s impressive military conquests. Verse five says, “5 And David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him, so that Saul set him over the men of war…” One of the prominent themes in the life of David is his amazing military prowess. This particular assignment from Saul was probably more of a supporting role as we’ll see in a moment, but God gave him great success. In verse 13, Saul gives him another military command. In verse 13, the author writes, “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…”
Militarily, David had the Midas touch. If you were lining up to fight against an army commanded by David, you’re probably going to end up as a statistic. Later, in verse 27 when David agrees to Saul’s terms for a bride price to marry Michal, his military success is on display. Saul puts David on what one scholar calls this “suicide mission” of collecting 100 Philistine foreskins in the hope he would be killed by the Philistines. Instead of them killing David, he brings back NOT 100, but 200 of these gruesome tokens and becomes Saul’s son-in-law. By the way, to collect foreskins might sound like a perverse request but there was a reason for it. First, it was very common to cut off your enemies’ hand when you dispensed with him or his head as David did to Goliath. So, dismemberment was not all that unusual.
But Philistine men, unlike many of the other enemies of Israel, were uncircumcised and that means that this strange request was Saul’s way of assuring that David was killing Philistine warriors and not other men. A final example of God’s favor on David militarily is in verse 30. The author writes, “30 Then the commanders of the Philistines came out to battle, and as often as they came out David had more success than all the servants of Saul, so that his name was highly esteemed.”
Again, David was an invincible military commander because God was with him. Some might wonder, “But none of these verses specifically credit David’s military victories to God’s favor on him.” That’s because David himself already revealed this in his battle with Goliath. David tells Goliath in 17:45 “I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel who you have defied.” David knew that it was GOD using him as his instrument to kill Goliath for defying God. In verse 46, he tells Goliath, “…. the LORD will deliver you into my hand…” In verse 47 he says, “…the LORD saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give you into my hand.” Even if no one else knew the truth behind David’s amazing military victories, David knew it was the LORD who was winning all these battles through him.
A third expression of God’s favor on David is David’s immense popularity with the people of Israel. We read in verse five, “5 And David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him, so that Saul set him over the men of war. And this was good in the sight of all the people and also in the sight of Saul’s servants. 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.”
The people loved David from day one. This was the man who, as a teenager, had killed the giant—everyone loves an underdog. Later in verse 16 the author says, “16 But all Israel and Judah loved David, for he went out and came in before them. To “go out and come in” is a technical phrase used for someone who is waging war on behalf of his people. Notice something curious here. That is, the kingdom is not divided at this point into the northern and southern kingdoms, but the author makes a point to mention that BOTH the northern tribes of Israel—where Saul was from and the southern tribes of Judah—where David was from loved David. The point is to stress that his popularity was universal among God’s people. The transparent favor of God on David is a huge emphasis of the author here.
A fourth and final expression of God’s favor on David is revealed through another member of Saul’s own family. That is—David’s favor with the king’s daughter, Michal. Saul deceitfully reneged on his promise to give David his first-born daughter, Merab. But that didn’t stop GOD from making David Saul’s son-in-law and that meant greatly elevating his status in Israel. We read in verse 20, “20 Now Saul’s daughter Michal loved David. And they told Saul, and the thing pleased him.” When David married Michal, he immediately rose from being a skilled warrior to being in the “the first family”—the most privileged people in Israel.
Its no coincidence that two of Saul’s very own children so deeply loved David. In verse 28, we read, “28 …Saul saw and knew that the LORD was with David, and that Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved him,” The point of two of Saul’s children loving David so deeply is that—even though Saul was doing all he could to diminish or even kill David, God’s favor was so strongly on David that Saul wasn’t even able to prevent members of his own family from going bonkers over David. That’s because in Saul’s opposition to David, he wasn’t fighting against just David. He was fighting GOD who had chosen to show David an amazing level of his favor.
That leads us to the second major section of the text and that is God’s Disfavor resting on Saul. In the bible there are some people, like David and Joseph and Daniel who are much favored by God and who accomplish far more than anyone would expect of them. But other biblical characters who seem “snake bit” and who are huge disappointments. Saul is probably the most pathetic example of this, but there are others like Esau, Haman and Reuben. God’s disfavor on a person can be seen 1. in circumstances that always seem to line up to frustrate their desires or 2. Deep character flaws that set the person up for repeated failure. Saul experienced both of those from the LORD. Let’s look at three expressions of God’s disfavor that rested on Saul. First, Saul’s Jealousy and fear of David.
The first example of this is when Saul and David are returning from a successful military campaign and the women sing in celebration “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his tend thousands.” Verse eight says, “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?” You may be tempted to sympathize with Saul because of this clear “dig” at him. After all, he was a seasoned military leader with a string of victories over the Philistines while David had gone up like a rocket but might just as quickly crash and burn.
But the scholars help us see how really petty Saul is being here. Bruce Waltke tells us, “The laws of Hebrew poetry require that the greater, Saul, be named first and the lesser, David second, and that the smaller number be mentioned before the higher.” That means that this little ditty sung by these women was really recognizing Saul as the greater warrior because he is listed first and the rule of poetry forced them to list the smaller number first, which meant it would be paired with Saul. The point is that everyone in that culture would have known that these ladies were NOT slighting Saul compared to David. They were simply recognizing that though king Saul was greater than David, both were accomplished warriors. That’s all. But Saul’s jealousy skews his thinking and he focusses only on David’s higher numbers.
But it’s not only jealousy that Saul has for David. Verse 12 says, “Saul was afraid of David because the LORD was with him but had departed from Saul.” Saul knew he had been rejected as king and in 15:28 Samuel tells him, 28 “…The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you.” Its pretty clear throughout first Samuel that Saul correctly assumes that DAVID is this neighbor who will be given his kingdom. God had left Saul and was clearly with David and that brought the fear of David on him.
We see the same thing in verse 15, “15 And when Saul saw that he [David] had great success, he stood in fearful awe of him.” Again, after Michal became David’s wife, verse 29 reveals Saul’s response. “29 Saul was even more afraid of David. So, Saul was David’s enemy continually.” Saul was deeply afraid of David because he saw him as a threat. This was an irrational thing to do because David did everything he could do to assure Saul of his loyalty to him, A second sign of God’s disfavor on Saul is a huge reason why Saul was so angry and fearful toward David. That is—God’s presence with Saul was replaced by an evil spirit sent from God to torment him.
Few things communicate God’s disfavor more powerfully than him abandoning you when you have been in constant communion with him. So, the absence of God’s Spirit is a huge indicator of God’s disfavor. He left Saul. He forsook him. As it relates to the evil spirit, we saw from chapter 16 that “a harmful spirit from the LORD [was] tormenting him [Saul.]” I would say that having [literally] a spirit of evilness sent from God on you is another pretty clear sign of his disfavor. We get an important insight into this spirit’s effect on Saul in verse 10. The author says, “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.”
As you read through First Samuel, you repeatedly see that Saul was irrationally paranoid of David. And from this verse we know that the reason Saul was at times so irrational was because this evil spirit caused him to be filled with murderous anger and jealousy. Closely related to this expression of God’s disfavor is Saul’s treachery against David and there are many examples of that in this chapter.
We just saw one of them—trying to pin David to a wall was probably not a playful gesture. Another example of this treachery and deceit toward David we saw in verse 13. That is, the scholars tell us that he [Saul] removed David from his presence in the hopes the Philistines would kill him in battle. Sadly, David later also does this with Uriah the Hittite. David was just better at it than Saul. There is also Saul’s crooked dealings with David related to his promise to make him his son-in-law for killing Goliath.
Its easy to forget that in chapter 17 Saul promised his daughter in marriage to anyone who would kill Goliath—NO STRINGS ATTACHED. And, since the oldest daughter was married off first in this culture, that would have meant that when David killed Goliath, he should have been given Merab to David’s his wife without conditions. But, in the case of Merab, Saul goes back on his promise and in the case of his daughter Michal, Saul demands a bride price from David. That wasn’t part of the bargain! Saul is guilty of treachery.
Saul’s used both of his daughters in evil ways to bring down David. After he had offered David Merab as a wife, he attaches this condition in verse 17, “…only be valiant for me and fight the LORD’s battles.” For Saul thought, “Let not my hand be against him, but let the hand of the Philistines be against him.” Again, Saul offers Merab on the condition that he will continue to wage high-risk warfare against the Philistines—a breach of what he had promised earlier. Likewise, Saul uses his daughter Michal’s love for David to try to kill him when he ordered him to collect this grisly bride price.
Verse 25 says, “25 Then Saul said, “Thus shall you say to David, ‘The king desires no bride-price except a hundred foreskins of the Philistines, that he may be avenged of the king’s enemies.’” Now Saul thought to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines.” Again, Saul dishonestly adds a condition—that David would avenge him of his Philistine enemies in the hope that David would be killed. As you read the rest of Saul’s interactions with David, Saul repeatedly tried to kill David because he was so jealous of him.
So, I hope we see that the point of the story is to communicate that God was relating to David in great favor and to Saul with great DISfavor. But what does all that mean to US? So, what if God removes his favor from Saul and gives it instead to David? What are we supposed to get out of this? Probably many things but here are three ways to apply this chapter from David’s life. First, when God places his favor on someone, attacking them will ultimately result in disaster. We repeatedly see this with Saul and David. The harder he tries to destroy David, the more that works to bless David as his strategies repeatedly backfire.
Instead of killing David by the hands of the Philistines through his treachery with Michal, Saul is instead forced to bring David into his family. His attempt to kill David through his earlier military service instead brings the love and favor of God’s people on David. Instead of David dying on a suicide combat mission, his reputation as a warrior is only increased as he and his men kill, not 100 Philistines but 200. And all of that is—because God was WITH David. His favor rested on him
That should encourage any follower of Jesus because believers have received far more of God’s favor than David could have possibly known. That is—God sent his Son so that we might be, NOT the temporary sons-in-law of a crooked human king, but the eternal sons of the ultimate King, God. Grace is God’s unmerited favor and every believer is saved by grace, serves God by grace, is kept by grace and by grace will one day be glorified in his presence. But its fair to ask, “if we are favored more than David, why doesn’t God destroy our enemies like he did Saul?”
One answer is—God’s favor is always given ultimately to glorify HIM, not the one who is given his favor. God was glorified in David’s life by giving him his favor to prosper him and make him king no matter how much opposition he faced from king Saul. God’s favor is ultimately for GOD’S glory, not ours! But God has not called us to be the king of Israel. That’s how DAVID’S favor glorified God. The New Testament teaches that We glorify God as we live as his adopted children who love him so much that, by faith, we daily will pick up our crosses and walk before him as living sacrifices, willing to die for him.
But as it relates to our enemies, the result of God’s favor on US is ultimately the same as it was with David. The difference is—it just takes us longer to see it. In David’s case, he immediately saw God’s favor over those who opposed him. He married the king’s daughter; he killed a ton of Philistines and he quickly became immensely popular with the people. In our case, when our enemies, human and demonic attack us, that WILL ultimately bring disaster on them. Paul says it this way in Romans 12:19, “19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
We are called to love our enemies, but we must also know that, for those who do not repent, God will cause them to pay a much higher price for their evil toward God’s favored saints than anything Saul paid in his life. We should pray for those who attack us because, although WE are never to keep score, GOD is keeping score and he will repay them with infinitely more pain than they could inflict on us in 1000 lifetimes.
We must begin to see lost people like we see Saul. They’re deeply deceived and spiritually insane— (they are at war with God and if that is not spiritual insanity, I don’t know what is). And, like Saul, they too are under the influence of dark spirits and living in ways that are piling up more and more of God’s wrath on them. As New Testament believers, we receive far more favor than David and that is NOT good news for those who hate us.
A second truth we can draw from this story is a simple one. We should remember to pray for God’s favor for ourselves and others. Though believers are in a constant state of God’s favor because we’re are forgiven and adopted into God’s family, we can pray for special favor too. Especially when we or a brother or sister is going for a job interview or has a performance review at work or is up for a promotion or election to an office, we can pray for God’s favor to rest on them. As this story reminds us, when God’s favor rests on a person, it doesn’t much matter what else is happening.
Finally, we must remember that David points us to the Greater David, Jesus. As we’ve said before, David, as clearly as anyone in the Old Testament, points to Jesus. Jesus was called the “Son of David” and it’s the royal dynasty of David that Jesus fulfills as the Great and eternal King. No one on earth had more favor with God than Jesus, his sinless Son. But there was one sense in which King Jesus was much more like king Saul than king David. And that’s because, part of Jesus’ reign as King will not be revealed until his second coming. THEN, he will pick up David’s mantle as the great Warrior King who destroys all his enemies—THEN that aspect of his rule as the Son of David will be revealed.
But Jesus was also the suffering Servant from Isaiah and that caused him to experience infinitely more of God’s disfavor than Saul did. When Jesus was on the cross, like Saul, God abandoned him— “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” [Matt. 27:46] And it wasn’t just that God forsook him, he also poured onto his Son his infinite and holy wrath as Jesus took the sins of his people upon himself and received the punishment we deserved. And on the cross, Jesus wasn’t just attacked by just one evil spirit. It was the entire weight of all the spiritual darkness of this world that blanketed him as he became cursed by God.
If you’re here this morning and you haven’t received Jesus as your Savior, know that he loved you enough to die a hideous death to pay the penalty for the sins of people like you. Know also that, should you reject him and his offer of eternal life, your future will hold far more torment than Saul received in his worst moment. As a just God, he must punish ALL sin and he does that in one of two ways. He either punishes your sin as it is placed on the crucified Jesus and HE receives the punishment you deserve. Or, if you do NOT trust in him, he will punish YOU eternally for your sin.
Today, you can choose whether you want to live in the eternal favor …or the eternal disfavor of God. Come to Christ today and know his undeserved favor on your life. May God give all of us the grace to trust in Christ and live in his favor for our joy and his glory.
 Waltke, Bruce, Old Testament Theology, Zondervan, 2007, p. 644.