Few things possess more horsepower than romance. Bob Dylan’s 2001 song “Bye and Bye” speaks of a man obsessed: “The future for me is already a thing of the past. You were my first love and you will be my last.” Desire is deeply ingrained in the heart of ever man and woman. While marriage can never be elevated to the status of an idol (after all, singleness can be a Godly gift, whether for a season or a lifetime), marriage remains God’s ideal design for mankind.
So it’s little wonder that Saul would capitalize on this fundamental fact of human nature to eliminate his up-and-coming rival, David. Having failed to kill David with his spear, Saul hatches two plots to have David killed indirectly.
Saul’s first plot boils to the front of his mind after the people of Israel continue to express their allegiance to David and his military might.
Saul was afraid of David because the Lord was with him but had departed from Saul. 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, for the Lord was with him. 15 And when Saul saw that he had great success, he stood in fearful awe of him. 16 But all Israel and Judah loved David, for he went out and came in before them.
Then Saul said to David, “Here is my elder daughter Merab. I will give her to you for a wife. 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.” 18 And David said to Saul, “Who am I, and who are my relatives, my father’s clan in Israel, that I should be son-in-law to the king?” 19 But at the time when Merab, Saul’s daughter, should have been given to David, she was given to Adriel the Meholathite for a wife.
Saul is cold, calculating. Do you understand his scheme? In verse 17, he essentially says to himself, Let’s let the bad guys do my dirty work for me. By sending David into deeper conflict, the Philistine adversaries would take him out. The bad guys would get the blame, and Saul would keep his hands clean.
The problem? David seems to think himself unworthy to be the king’s son-in-law. Sadly, in the ancient world women were viewed as commodities to be bought or won. David lacked a sufficient “bridal price” to pay for the privilege of marrying Merab. Though this marriage would advance his career, he declines—which is why Merab is given to another man.
Not to be outdone, Saul hatches another, similar plan.
20 Now Saul’s daughter Michal loved David. And they told Saul, and the thing pleased him. 21 Saul thought, “Let me give her to him, that she may be a snare for him and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.” Therefore Saul said to David a second time, “You shall now be my son-in-law.” 22 And Saul commanded his servants, “Speak to David in private and say, ‘Behold, the king has delight in you, and all his servants love you. Now then become the king’s son-in-law.’” 23 And Saul’s servants spoke those words in the ears of David. And David said, “Does it seem to you a little thing to become the king’s son-in-law, since I am a poor man and have no reputation?” 24 And the servants of Saul told him, “Thus and so did David speak.” 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.
Saul’s plan was simple: if David couldn’t afford a “bridal price,” then Saul would engineer a situation wherein David could collect this price. But…most people don’t include, you know, body parts on their wedding registry. Why this bizarre request? Well, practically, since circumcision represented Israel’s inclusion in God’s promises dating back to Abraham, then the foreskins would prove that he truly slaughtered 100 of God’s enemies. In Mitchell Dahood’s commentary on Psalms, he notes that in Psalm 118 David writes: “All nations surround me; in the name of the LORD I cut them off” (Ps 118:10-12). The “cut them off” in this passage literally means “circumcise”—the act here is more than merely killing their enemies, but separating them from the community of God. For Saul, this steep price would ensure that David wouldn’t come back alive.
26 And when his servants told David these words, it pleased David well to be the king’s son-in-law. Before the time had expired, 27 David arose and went, along with his men, and killed two hundred of the Philistines. And David brought their foreskins, which were given in full number to the king, that he might become the king’s son-in-law. And Saul gave him his daughter Michal for a wife. 28 But when Saul saw and knew that the Lord was with David, and that Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved him, 29 Saul was even more afraid of David. So Saul was David’s enemy continually.
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.
Earlier David had been said to “kill his tens of thousands.” Now, he doubly satisfies Saul’s requirements, returning with 200 foreskins. What Saul had intended as an evil scheme only deepened the nation’s love for David. Even Saul’s daughter Michal joins her brother Jonathan in her loyal love for David. Saul’s plans did not succeed, but only result in David being further exalted.
THE TRUE AND BETTER BRIDEGROOM
By now you’ve noticed that we’re making an effort to read the Old Testament twice: the first time to understand the original historical and cultural meanings, and the second time to understand how the whole Bible is a story about Jesus. What do we make of such bizarre stories as this?
First, we recognize that like David, Jesus entered into a world whose reactions toward him were mixed. Though many praised his miraculous works, the religious leaders felt threatened by his growing popularity. And so, like Saul, they schemed to have him killed. And like David, this scheme only backfired. The hour of Christ’s greatest humiliation would only be his greatest hour of glory—through Christ’s death and resurrection, he would “draw all men to himself” (John 12:32).
And the Bible is also a story about marriage. Jesus, the true and better David, would pay a unique bridal price to rescue his bride, the Church. Paul picks up on this theme in his letter to the Church at Ephesus:
“Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25-27)
David would produce his required “bridal price” while preserving his life. Jesus would pay the “bridal price” for the Church by relinquishing his life.
What does that mean for you and I? This means that though we are deeply flawed, Jesus was willing to go to great lengths to rescue us (cf. Romans 5:8). Therefore, I don’t need to derive worth from idolatrous pursuits. I view my career not as a source of identity, but as an opportunity to express my faith. I abstain from self-indulgence or even pornography—not only because I recognize these things as “bad” but because I understand that Christ is infinitely greater. If I am married, I no longer derive worth from my spouse, but ascribe worth to my spouse.
Christ loves you. He died for you. What else is greater than that? Who can you share this love with today?