Reformed Perspectives Magazine, Volume 8, Number 51, December 17 to December 23, 2006

Evil Plots

1 Samuel 18:1-30

By Rev. Russell B. Smith

We've been working through I Samuel this year. We've seen how God takes his time to build up to the great deliverer he intended for Israel — King David. We've seen how God raised up Saul as both deliverer and means of judgment on Israel. And then in raising up David, God didn't choose based on appearance or resume but upon the orientation of the heart. Finally, last week, we saw how God uses his anointed to deliver his people from the enemy who seeks to destroy.

David must have been riding high after that great victory over Goliath. And for a time, things seem to be going very well for David — he advances in the king's army, he is celebrated in song, he wins the king's daughter as a bride, and the king's son becomes his best friend. And yet, unbeknownst to David, an evil plot is developing behind the scenes.

Saul burns with jealousy toward David. He hears the songs recorded in verse 7: "Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands" — and he burns. The song doesn't intend disrespect; it is simply celebrating the current victory. And Saul, as David's liege lord, receives the glory of having such a mighty man in his service. But no — Saul burns with anger — "They think he's better than me. He's going to take my place as king."

Ironically, in a way he's right, but the displacement doesn't happen the way he expects it to. He thinks David is a threat, but David will never raise a hand against Saul — David will have opportunities to kill Saul and he will pass on those opportunities. David will wait until Saul dies for his opportunity to claim the kingship — not before then. But Saul is convinced that David is an immediate threat. And his paranoia grows.

You know the paranoia — you see a group of people laughing, one of them cuts her eyes your way, and then quickly back to the group. Was that look a little too quick and guilty? Were they laughing about me? What was really behind that comment he made — was there a hidden meaning there? I know their type — they are out to make my life difficult — I just know they are. And don't you try to tell me any different.

Saul's paranoia leads him to a place where he tries to destroy David. Initially, it is under the guise of the fits of madness that he suffers. Then, it is trying to put David in danger by having him fight many battles against the Philistines (v 17, 25). Saul callously uses his own daughters as chess pieces in this game of David-destruction. He cannot stand having David around. And take a close look at the emotion David most consistently arouses in him — fear (v 12, 15, 28-29). So Saul's evil plotting arises out of paranoia and fear and he unscrupulously uses his loved ones as pawns in his evil plots. The great English poet and artist William Blake wrote a terrific poem that pictures the evil plots at work. It's called "A Poison tree":

I was angry with my friend
I told my wrath, my wrath did end
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow
And I watered it in fears,
Night and morning with my tears
And I sunned it with smiles
and with soft deceitful wiles
And it grew both day and night
Til it bore an apple bright
And my foe beheld it shine
And he knew that it was mine
And into my garden stole
When the night had veil'd the pole
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

Evil plots, symbolized by the poison apple in the poem, lead to tricky plots of destruction.

While the evil plots are hatching, God is surrounding David with defense. First, he is blessing David with success in all his ventures, which in turn brings him love from the people of Israel (v 5). Verse 14 specifically attribute David's success to the Lord's blessing — not to his own cleverness and skill, but to the blessing of the Lord. This was the same blessing that enabled him to face down Goliath in the name of the Lord. Even Saul recognizes the Lord's blessing on David in verse 28. David's great success endears him to the people, which will ultimately set David up for kingship after Saul's death.

However, God also turns the hearts of Saul's own children to David — Jonathan and Michal. Linger just a few moments with this image of Michal, the love struck girl who fancies the great warrior David. Enjoy the Romeo and Juliet like romance. Remember Michal this way — for later she will turn against David. But for now, God has oriented her heart toward him because he needs her support.

Most importantly however is Jonathan. The king's son, the heir to the throne. Verses 18:1-4 depict the depth of friendship and commitment of Jonathan for David. And is this any surprise?

Remember Jonathan's faith in action back in chapter 14 — he took on a whole division of Philistines, trusting the Lord would deliver him. He saw those same characteristics in this David who took on Goliath, trusting the Lord would deliver.

But what Jonathan does here is very interesting. He makes a covenant with David. The term used here is literally "cut a covenant" — in the Ancient Near East, when two kings made a treaty, they would cut a covenant. This meant they would split open a sacrificial animal, spread the entrails out in two rows, and walk between the entrails while reciting the provisions of the covenant. The concept was that each participant was calling down a curse upon themselves if they didn't live up to the covenant - may my fate be like the animal we're walking between. It's kind of like a really formal and serious "cross my heart and hope to die" promise. Ordinarily, such covenants are made with a vassal king to a suzerain king. Or, to put it another way, from a lesser lord swearing loyalty to a greater lord swearing protection.

So, we would expect that Jonathan, as the greater lord, is getting loyalty from David and offering him protection in return — but look at what Jonathan does. He gives his royal robe, armor, and weapons to David. He gives David all his insignia of potency and power. Jonathan is swearing loyalty to David — Jonathan recognizes David as the true king.

Consequently, while Saul is plotting evil against David, God is surrounding David with the love of the people and the love of Saul's own children. God even gives Jonathan the insight to grasp David's true identity as the true king over Israel.

Now the temptation would be to say that when people are plotting evil against you, you can trust and rely on God to raise up people around you who will carry you through that evil. And to a degree that's true. We can look at David as an example of how God blesses people he loves.

But there's another vantage point from which we must always look at David. David is the king after God's heart — he's the ideal king to which Israel looks back, and the picture of the coming messiah. The later prophets would talk of a coming Davidic king — Jesus Christ. So as we look at David, we see a shadowy type of Christ. How people respond to David teaches us about how we respond to Christ. The teaching of the passage is not so much how we get out of the evil plots around us. It's about how we respond to the Messiah. In other words, we must ask ourselves: "How much are we Saul, how much are we Michal, and how much are we Jonathan?"

Saul responds to the messiah with fear and revulsion. He's going to take away what I have. He's going to take away my control. We hear that all the time in people who refuse to come to Christ — they feel like religion is a power game for some small priesthood to exert control. They don't want to give up control of their lives to some unknown quantity. But it's not just those outside the church. There are plenty who believe that faith is all well and good in moderation. These are the people who are very able to talk about God, but get uneasy when we talk about Jesus. These are the people that say "wait a minute, let's be realistic. You can't really expect people to live all their lives for Jesus." Or, "Jesus' teachings are nice and all, but in the real world you can't really follow them." Even, "We can't really take the whole Bible seriously" and other defiant variations. I suggest that if truth be told, we've all had a bit of Saul in us at times. We've all experienced revulsion and fear of the demands of faith, disdain for the "fanatics" who challenge us to sincere commitment.

Then there's Michal. We see her here in the spring-time of love. But after David becomes king, she has changed completely. She becomes bitter and hard and angry. We've met these people, too. Behind every hardened cynic is a disappointed idealist. These are the people who were passionate about their faith early on. They absorbed everything they could about faith. They studied books, went to every Bible study meeting they could, spent hours upon hours in prayer. But somewhere along the way, for some reason, they burned out or they just got burned. It could've been a bad experience with a preacher who abuses his authority, a church financial scandal, a group of catty people who gossip too much, or a lack of sincerity — and they become hardened and bitter and angry. Truth be told, we all have a bit of Michal in us as well.

But if we could all be Jonathan — Giving everything over to his lord, the messiah. If we could but give all our power and authority to Jesus for his use. If we could but give our work, our homes, our hobbies, our families, our relationships over for his purposes. What would it look like if just 20% of us said "I'm going to live every moment of life for Jesus"? What would it look like if we gave over everything for the building up of the kingdom? What if we were to invest in other people so we might move them closer to

Christ? What if we were to genuinely care about others, seeking opportunities to tell them about Jesus? We would be actively advancing the kingdom through promoting truth and goodness and beauty so that even the pagans will sit up and take notice.

This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor. If you would like to discuss this article in our online community, please visit our Reformed Perspectives Magazine Forum.

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