Context of 1 Samuel 18-20

These pages of the Bible are located in the midst of a challenging period in Israel’s life. The nation was settled in the Promised Land. For years, the people had been led by various Judges. Finally, Samuel the prophet and priest anointed Saul as the first King of Israel. Saul would rule for 42 years.

However, Saul’s reign as king was filled with challenges. First of all, he was a troubled person, himself. Second, he had to deal with the Philistines for the duration of his time in power (1 Samuel 14:52). Saul also was prone to “take things into his own hands” rather than wait for God’s direction (1 Samuel 13:1-15). Further, Saul was disobedient to God’s specific directions (1 Samuel 15:1-29).

The result was that God finally rejected Saul as King of Israel (1 Samuel 15:26). Sadly, the Spirit of God departed from Saul (1 Samuel 16:14). In fact, the absence of God’s Spirit with Saul marked the beginning of a time of torment for Saul. The Bible indicates that a tormenting, evil, disturbing or harmful spirit would visit Saul on occasion. We read of several instances where this occurred – 1 Samuel 16:14, 15, 16, 23; 18:10).

We don’t fully understand what this tormenting spirit was. It was connected to Yahweh. This is hard for us to comprehend. There have been numerous explanations offered through the centuries by commentators and Bible scholars. There seems to be a consensus in embracing the view that Saul had spiritual, theological and psychological problems. He was given to huge mood swings that led to erratic behavior.

Contrasting the portrayal of Saul is the presentation of David. David appears on the pages of the Bible in 1 Samuel 16. He is the youngest son of Jesse. God led Samuel to anoint him as the new King of Israel even though Saul was still alive. God’s Spirit was upon David (1 Samuel 16:13). Quite a contrast from Saul.

David was a rugged, handsome, brave and gifted man. He was a natural leader and would become Israel’s greatest King. He would become a Messianic figure in later Jewish theology. In fact, the Messiah would be called the “Son of David.”

In the context of our passage for today’s lesson, David became close friends with Jonathan, Saul’s son. Jonathan perceived the diseased spirit in his own father. He recognized the future of Israel was in the hands of David — not in his own hands. He gladly welcomed this reality. Instead of the raging jealousy that would engulf Saul, Jonathan welcomed David as a leader and future king.

After David killed the giant Goliath, he gained notoriety as a valiant warrior. Saul took notice of David’s exploits and began to keep an eye on him (1 Samuel 18:9, 28). Finally, Saul was consumed with jealousy toward David. He would try to kill him numerous times. In fact, his pursuit of the Philistines and of David would dominate the final years of his reign.

Finally, Saul and Jonathan were both killed in battle by the Philistines. Their bodies were hung on the wall at Beth Shan (1 Samuel 31:10). While Cindy and I were in Israel last year, we visited this ancient city and stood over the sight of the ancient wall where this took place. It was a sobering time to reflect upon the sad ending of Saul and Jonathan.