The Aftermath of Success (1 Samuel 17:55-58; 18:1-11)

Someone will always be better than you.  So long as you derive your worth from your abilities, your performance, your good looks, you will always live in fear of being shown up by someone more capable, someone more successful, someone more good looking.

In 2013, an article in Slate magazine published an article titled: “Is Facebook Making Us Sad?” According to new social research, social media only increases our natural tendency to compare ourselves to others:

“The human habit of overestimating other people’s happiness is nothing new, of course. … By showcasing the most witty, joyful, bullet-pointed versions of people’s lives, and inviting constant comparisons in which we tend to see ourselves as the losers, Facebook appears to exploit an Achilles’ heel of human nature. …Facebook is, after all, characterized by the very public curation of one’s assets in the form of friends, photos, biographical data, accomplishments, pithy observations, even the books we say we like. Look, we have baked beautiful cookies. We are playing with a new puppy. We are smiling in pictures (or, if we are moody, we are artfully moody.) Blandness will not do, and with some exceptions, sad stuff doesn’t make the cut, either. The site’s very design—the  presence of a “Like” button, without a corresponding “Hate” button—reinforces a kind of upbeat spin doctoring.”

How you respond to your neighbors’ happiness reveals the true god of your heart.

In short, we want to be just like our neighbors—but just a little bit better.  When we fail to “measure up” to these standards, we feel let down, disappointed—maybe even angry.

The slaying of Goliath marked a turning point in the life of David.  From this day forward he wouldn’t be merely a shepherd boy—this unlucky eighth son of a Bethlehem farmer.  No; this was a force to be reckoned with.

While David was on the battlefield, Saul was pondering who exactly this young man was:

55As soon as Saul saw David go out against the Philistine, he said to Abner, the commander of the army, “Abner, whose son is this youth?” And Abner said, “As your soul lives, O king, I do not know.” 56And the king said, “Inquire whose son the boy is.” 57And as soon as David returned from the striking down of the Philistine, Abner took him, and brought him before Saul with the head of the Philistine in his hand. 58And Saul said to him, “Whose son are you, young man?” And David answered, “I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.”

These questions are bizarre.  After all, Saul had met David before—he’d been the court musician.  Some think Saul is trying to gain a better understanding of his family history—but he’d met Jesse as well.  In his Handbook to the Historical Books, Victor Hamilton suggests that maybe Saul is asking a selfish question.

“Might it be that Saul, well aware of David’s prowess and hence usefulness to Saul in the future, is asking David to renounce Jesse as his father and proclaim himself Saul’s son?  After all, had not Samuel earlier predicted that Israel’s kings ‘will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots’ (8:11)?  That seems to be literally fulfilled in 8:2, where we read that ‘Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house.’”  (Victor Hamilton, Handbook to the Historical Books, p. 261)

David’s life would never be the same, but now we’d see the ways that the royal family—both Saul and his son Jonathan—would react to this rising superstar.  And the story reveals the ways our own hearts might respond to God’s anointed King Jesus.


Jonathan was Saul’s son, and in every “natural” sense the heir to the throne.  There was just one problem: God had declared that the throne would pass to David.  The story of David and Jonathan picks up immediately after the falling of Goliath.

As soon as he 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. 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.

The story of David and Jonathan is one of the best-loved stories of friendship in all of scripture.  Jonathan’s love for David ran deep—and strong.  Yet for clarity’s sake, we should note that this love did not go beyond friendship (as some have historically suggested)—nowhere else do we hear the Hebrew word ahab being used to refer to romantic love.  No; this was brotherly affection—yet it’s impossible to be unmoved by the sacrificial nature of it. Jonathan strips himself of his own robe and armor, giving it to David.  The gesture is deeply symbolic: Jonathan is essentially abdicating his right to the throne.  By handing over these items, he essentially tells David: Here; these are yours.  And the throne goes with it.


Saul’s response to David is less generous.  He’d essentially used David as a pawn in his army—ironically not that different from the way the Philistines had used Goliath.  But when David is successful, Saul is incensed.

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.1 7 And the women sang to one another as they celebrated,

“Saul has struck down his thousands,

and David his ten thousands.”

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?”9 And Saul eyed David from that day on.

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.

The people sang the praises of David.  “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands.”  Even our English translations capture the meaning of the original Hebrew: David had risen to a position of obvious superiority—and obvious popularity.  Earlier, Saul had seen David as an opportunity, a chance to further his empire.  Now, he saw only a threat to his position.


Do you see the contrast in responses to David?  Jonathan and Saul form mirror images to the way God’s people might respond to God’s chosen King.  Saul responded in jealousy and anger.  Jonathan responded in sacrificial love.

The truth is, most of us would prefer to be the king of our own worlds.  We become angry at anything that threatens our own sovereignty—which is partly why we feel threatened when we compare our happiness to that of others.  Christianity demands that we align our hearts with that of God’s, and that means we have to abdicate our thrones to the true King, Jesus.

Therefore, we will respond to Jesus as either a “Jonathan” or a “Saul.”  If I am accustomed to living life my way, then like Saul I will become enraged at the demands Christ places on me to follow him, to love my neighbor, to forgive others, etc.  But if I recognize the supreme value and authority Christ possesses, then like Jonathan I strip myself of my delusions of grandeur.  I lay my soul bare before him.  I express only gratitude and devotion.

Most of us will have days when we waver between these two reactions.  But over time we will become more accustomed to devoting ourselves to God’s true King, Jesus.  You may crown him as Lord, or condemn his intrusion.  But in either case, he cannot be ignored.  How will you respond?

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