Studies in I Samuel

A Form of Insanity

Expository – Who Is Sufficient?
Written by Douglas Wilson
Saturday, August 27, 2011

Goliath was a very great giant, but envy is a greater giant still. Just as giants devour, so envy devours. Envy grows on unnatural food, and when a person gives way to temptation and eats this food, the results are perverse.

“And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and 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. Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul . . .” (1 Sam. 18:1-30).

Jonathan heard David’s report to Saul, and Jonathan loved him (v. 1).

As a result of David’s exploit, Saul did not let him return to his father’s house (v. 2). Jonathan makes a formal covenant with David because of his love for him (v. 3). He even went so far as to give David his robe and his weapons (v. 4). And David performed the missions given him by Saul, and he behaved wisely, accepted by all (v. 5). One day when they (Saul and David) were coming back from a battle with Philistines, they were met by singing women (v. 6). And they sang about Saul’s exploits and David’s, and David’s were greater (v. 7). Saul noticed this and was angry, and projected the end result being David on the throne (v. 8). Envy took completely over (v. 9). The next day, when Saul was afflicted by an evil spirit from the Lord, David was playing the harp for him, as before (v. 10). Saul tried to kill him with a spear, but David got away twice (v. 11).

Saul was afraid of David because the Lord was with him, and not with Saul (v. 12). So Saul appointed him to a place in the army (v. 13). David continued to behave wisely, and the Lord was with him (v. 14). When Saul saw his wisdom, he continued to be afraid (v. 15). In the meantime, David was a point of agreement between Israel and Judah (v. 16). Saul offered Merab, his elder daughter, hoping that the Philistines would take David out (v. 17). David protests, based on his station in life (v. 18). But when the time came, Saul gave his daughter to another (v. 19). Saul is a Laban, changing the terms or, as we would say, the kind of man who moves the goalposts.

Michal, another daughter of Saul, loved David, and Saul thought he could work with that (v. 20). He would use his daughter to bait a Philistine trap (v. 21). He told his servants to flatter David (v. 22). They did so, but David protested that he was a poor man, not being able to afford the dowry of a king’s daughter (v. 23). Court politics are in full swing. The servants brought this response back to Saul (v. 24). So Saul said he would accept one hundred Philistine foreskins as a dowry, hoping that David would be slain getting them (v. 25). David was pleased with this, and there was still time (v. 26). And so David went and got double the bloody dowry (v. 27). And so Saul now saw two things—the Lord was with David, and Michal was with David (v. 28).

We considered before that Jonathan was pushing fifty by the time he met David. This meant that Saul was probably pushing seventy, which may account for why he might not have thought fighting Goliath himself was a good idea. So perhaps we shouldn’t be too hard on him for that. But at the same time, he was still going out to battle, both now and afterward. A more pressing question is why Jonathan didn’t fight the giant. We are not told, but the most likely explanation is that his father wouldn’t let him. Remember that David needed to get permission from the king to fight the giant on behalf of Israel, and that in order to perform his previous exploit, Jonathan had had to sneak off without telling his father.

David was far more of a threat to Jonathan’s royal interests than he was to Saul’s. And yet Jonathan loved him dearly, and Saul was possessed with envy.

The demon that afflicted Saul was evil, as can be seen from the fruit. The spirit that afflicted Saul was from the Lord in the sense that all things are from Him. You have often heard me say that God draws straight with crooked lines. Another way of putting this is that God tells a good story with wicked characters. God sends a lying spirit in the days of Micaiah (1 Kings 22:22). God sends Satan to test Job (Job 1:12). And lest someone wave this off as “Old Testament stuff,” God gives unbelievers over to a powerful delusion (2 Thess. 2:11). God is not just in the story; He writes the story. And don’t try to tell Tolkien that his story would have been greatly improved if he had left Gollum out of it.

Recall that at the beginning of this book, we saw that it was about rising and falling—the house of Eli, the house of Samuel, the house of Saul, and, in a sense redeemed by grace, the house of David. In order to tell this kind of story, this kind of envy, this kind of spiritual oppression, must play a necessary role. Envy is one of Satan’s principal weapons—and is therefore one of God’s principal tools.

Consider Proverbs 27:4. Envy feeds off of every true refutation of it. Saul plainly sees that David is wise, and he clearly sees that the Lord is with David. This is the principial refutation of every form of envy. What should kill envy dead? The answer would be the realization that God Almighty is with that other person, and is blessing him. But what does envy actually do? Saul sees that the Lord is with David (vv. 12, 14-15, 28-29), and he eyes him suspiciously. He interprets the story as though he has the right to appoint who the protagonist is.

Not only so, but the more the envy grows, the more the envier shrinks. Watching Saul here is like watching a slow-motion helicopter crash. Envy is a form of insanity, a way of disconnecting yourself from an ability to read the story you are in. Envy is unable to read the feedback loop. If the Lord is with David, what must a man do to be with the Lord? He must do what Jonathan gloriously did, and love David as he loved his own soul.

And of course, the only thing that can kill the giant Envy is the smooth stone thrown by the son of David. That smooth stone is the cross of Jesus Christ.

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