How to Land a Wife in 200 Easy Steps (or: “Still a Better Love Story than Twilight”–1 Samuel 18:12-30)

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.

PLOT #1

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.

PLOT #2

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?

 

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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.

DAVID AND JONATHAN

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.

DAVID AND SAUL

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.

THE TRUE AND BETTER KING

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?