“Was Saul a True Prophet?”
David’s existence in Israel when Saul was still king was indeed very strange, for very quickly after they came to know each other, Saul’s attitude toward David was at once murderous and conciliatory. Finally, David had to flee for his life. But, until that time, he put up with living on a razor’s edge, waiting for Saul’s javelin to again be hurled at him for no valid reason.
A careful reading of this book shows that Saul was very aware of the wrongness of his actions, yet he did them anyway, much as we all do. We all sin deliberately at times – perhaps not to the point of physical murder, but we all do it. In fact, there are occasions in the lives of some ordinary Christians, when they hate or despise other Christians, wishing them harm: a sure sign of undealt-with sin.
Jesus’ attitude on this matter should be made known, that the thought is just as blameworthy as the action. I think of those folk who have literally hated me in the past and now, and who ‘justified’ their thoughts and actions unbiblically. Do they realise that their unrepented-of sin is viewed as equal to actual murder in the eyes of God? For myself, I must try not to fall into the same trap. Let us all leave vengeance to the Lord and get on with being the Body of Christ!
“And Saul spake to Jonathan his son, and to all his servants, that they should kill David.”
Thus, Saul made his intentions publicly known (making it worse). Confiding in his servants at court would not keep the secret back from David for very long, for word and ‘atmosphere’ spread very fast. In commanding his own son and his courtiers to kill David, Saul was doing several things:
He was directly disobeying the commandment of God, not to murder.
He was involving others in his own sin.
He was placing himself above the law of the land.
He was declaring his instability of mind.
He was displaying his paucity of spirit.
He was showing what happens to a man when he is rejected by God.
In an effort to retain their unbiblical views, a foolishly large number of Christians believe we ought not to have a death penalty, and they quote the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ as proof that God does not wish us to put anyone to death. But, this is not so. The word ‘kill’ in this text means to have someone executed. The word used in the commandment means to murder someone with intent. God commands us not to commit premeditated murder. In this text Saul is definitely conceiving a plot to deliberately murder David, and so he is acting directly against God’s commandment. Sadly, as a man whose life was now bereft of God’s benevolent presence, he spirals downward at increasing speed, to his own destruction.
“But Jonathan Saul’s son delighted much in David: and Jonathan told David, saying, Saul my father seeketh to kill thee: now therefore, I pray thee, take heed to thyself until the morning, and abide in a secret (place), and hide thyself:
And I will go out and stand beside my father in the field where thou (art), and I will commune with my father of thee; and what I see, that I will tell thee.
And Jonathan spake good of David unto Saul his father, and said unto him, Let not the king sin against his servant, against David; because he hath not sinned against thee, and because his works (have been) to thee-ward very good:
For he did put his life in his hand, and slew the Philistine, and the LORD wrought a great salvation for all Israel: thou sawest (it), and didst rejoice: wherefore then wilt thou sin against innocent blood, to slay David without a cause?
And Saul hearkened unto the voice of Jonathan: and Saul sware, (As) the LORD liveth, he shall not be slain.
And Jonathan called David, and Jonathan shewed him all those things. And Jonathan brought David to Saul, and he was in his presence, as in times past.”
Jonathan was the kind of person who is a real friend... not like so many who disappear when things appear to get rough. He ‘delighted much’ in David – he took great pleasure in the friendship and valued David very highly. For this reason he was willing to incur the wrath of his own father.
He told David of Saul’s plan and warned him to hide overnight in a particular field. Though verse 2 does not specify where David ought to hide, it is obvious that Jonathan and David agreed on the location beforehand, otherwise Jonathan could not have taken Saul to the exact field the next day.
Jonathan asked his father to go with him for a morning stroll and, whilst in the field, he attempted to placate Saul. This was dangerous, for Saul was not a balanced man. As we see later, his own daughter feared him, which is why she made an excuse (verse 17) when she helped David to escape. From his actions and words, Jonathan appears to have been a very good and honourable young man. He bluntly told his father that to kill David would be a sin. After all, he said, David had done nothing to him. If anything, the opposite was true, for everything David did was for Saul’s own good and help.
Did he not put his own life in danger by facing the giant, Goliath? Did he not precipitate and bring about Israel’s victory? Did Saul not also have immense joy over this? After reiterating David’s uprightness, Jonathan asked a question that could only receive one answer: ‘Why do you want to kill a man who is innocent?’
Saul pondered over what was said and openly swore an oath not to harm David. No doubt he meant it at that moment, but he quickly lost all reason again, many times, over the next few years. With Saul, his ambivalence was not just caused by his sin. It was also a result of being cast aside by God. Anyone who has thus been rejected by God will think and do the worst of things. Saul, even if he wanted to, could not withstand the power of both his own growing evil and the ‘spirit of evil’ that came upon him. He was a condemned man, effectively the ‘walking dead’. Beware, Christians who dabble with evil! God does not always allow a return to truth and holiness.
Nevertheless, neither Saul nor Jonathan realised this. Like any man whose righteousness has been breached, his willingness toward good can easily be displaced by sin, because his heart is not right with God. David, too, was unaware of what was really happening.
After their chat in the field, Jonathan called David and repeated what was said, taking him back to the royal house (it was hardly a palace as we might envisage it today; it would have been a kind of upmarket very large ordinary home of the period, but nothing that special). Everything was back to what it had been – for now! It was not to be long before trouble loomed again.
“And there was war again: and David went out, and fought with the Philistines, and slew them with a great slaughter; and they fled from him.
And the evil spirit from the LORD was upon Saul, as he sat in his house with his javelin in his hand: and David played with (his) hand.
And Saul sought to smite David even to the wall with the javelin; but he slipped away out of Saul’s presence, and he smote the javelin into the wall: and David fled, and escaped that night.”
Soon after this incident, Israel was again at war with its thorn in the flesh, the Philistines. Just as so many people do not know when to stop when they sin, so the Philistines appear to have had short memories! It makes one wonder just where they got their army from, seeing as so many of them were slaughtered in every battle. It is probable they used the services of mercenaries and captured nations, just as the Romans used to do.
(It has been said by historians experts that the ‘Roman’ army in Gaul, for example, was not made up of those who later became known as ‘Italians’, but of slaves captured in Gaul and adjacent countries. Many invading armies used this method to swell their ranks, otherwise they simply could not have carried out their plans to expand their boundaries). David went in to battle, and effected a mighty victory, causing the Philistines to run away.
No doubt, the streets rang with praises for David... and once more Saul became murderous with jealousy. As David played his harp and sang before Saul in his hall, the evil spirit sent by God twisted Saul’s heart and mind, and he threw the javelin in his hand at David. It would seem that David was more wary this time, for he was able to get out of the way just before the spear thudded into the wall.
“Saul also sent messengers unto David’s house, to watch him, and to slay him in the morning: and Michal David’s wife told him, saying, If thou save not thy life tonight, tomorrow thou shalt be slain.
So Michal let David down through a window: and he went, and fled, and escaped.
And Michal took an image, and laid (it) in the bed, and put a pillow of goats’ (hair) for his bolster, and covered (it) with a cloth.
And when Saul sent messengers to take David, she said, He (is) sick.
And Saul sent the messengers (again) to see David, saying, bring him up to me in the bed, that I may slay him.
And when the messengers were come in, behold, (there was) an image in the bed, with a pillow of goats’ (hair) for his bolster.
And Saul said unto Michal, Why hast thou deceived me so, and sent away mine enemy, that he is escaped? And Michal answered Saul, He said unto me, Let me go; why should I kill thee?”
At first David ran to his own home, still in the city. Saul sent servants, probably experienced killers (for David was a renowned and valiant soldier himself), to hunt David down. They were to stay in the shadows until dawn. Then they would strike – when David was still sleepy. But, Saul made the mistake of telling Michal what he was going to do.
Michal immediately warned her husband – get away right now, or you will die! Few homes at that time, in that land, had windows on the ground floor. Usually they only had a rough entrance, with a curtain or rough door, and that was it. If there was a window, it would probably have been just a hole in the wall. So, Michal let David down from upstairs. This must have been at the back of the house, for the killers would have watched the only known exit, at the front. How often have men of God in the Bible thus escaped death!
As David made good his escape, Michal used the remaining hours to make a dummy. Making a small pillow to resemble a human head in the darkness, she covered the top of it with goat hair and placed a small piece of cloth over the top. (Even today desert dwellers use a face-cloth at night and during the heat of the day). When the killers entered the house, they would be fooled for a short time, giving David more time to get farther away.
How her heart must have thudded during that night as she waited in fear for David’s killers to enter! When they finally came in, she told them her husband was sick, pointing to the shape under the bedclothes. They were apparently fooled and returned to Saul to tell him. Quite gentlemanly – they did not want to kill a sick man!!
But, Saul was not to be kept waiting. He ordered the men to bring David to him, on his sick-bed if necessary, so that he could kill him himself. Gone were the sound words in the field, uttered so genuinely but a short while before. His sin was overtaking him with terrifying and relentless speed, to such an extent that he could no longer resist the evil within.
Michal was brought to Saul and he demanded why she had deceived him. David was his enemy – why did she do it? Though the text does not show it, it is likely Saul was in a rage. Fearing her father, Michal told him David had threatened to kill her if she did not allow him to escape. And so she saved both his life and her own.
“So David fled, and escaped, and came to Samuel to Ramah, and told him all that Saul had done to him. And he and Samuel went and dwelt in Naioth.
And it was told Saul, saying, Behold, David (is) at Naioth in Ramah.
And Saul sent messengers to take David: and when they saw the company of the prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing (as) appointed over them, the Spirit of God was upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied.
And when it was told Saul, he sent other messengers, and they prophesied likewise. And Saul sent messengers again the third time, and they prophesied also.
Then went he also to Ramah, and came to a great well that (is) in Sechu: and he asked and said, Where (are) Samuel and David? And (one) said, Behold, (they be) at Naioth in Ramah.
And he went thither to Naioth in Ramah: and the Spirit of God was upon him also, and he went on, and prophesied, until he came to Naioth in Ramah.
And he stripped off his clothes also, and prophesied before Samuel in like manner, and lay down naked all that day and all that night. Wherefore they say, (is) Saul also among the prophets?”
We now have a surprising occurrence that might mystify Christians – the seeming hand of God upon Saul and his killer envoys. However, we will see that the incident was not quite so straightforward.
David had nowhere to go. He was known everywhere and Saul was after him. No-one would stand against the king, no matter how valiant a man David had been on their behalf. So, he went to the only source of help he could think of, Samuel. David knew he had been anointed future king, so why was all this happening to him? Many questions must have raced through his head as he fled to Ramah.
Both of them went to Naioth, a small area in Ramah where the school of the prophets was located in Samuel’s day. Saul came to hear of this – he had put out word that David was to be found. Once again, Saul sent out a band of killers to murder David. They came to Naioth and saw Samuel at the head of the prophets. This they expected to find, as he was their mentor and high priest. But, they did not expect what happened next!
Suddenly, these hardened and dedicated killers started to utter genuine prophecy. Some might argue that though the prophets were uttering genuine prophesies, these killers could not possibly have done so. Their prophecy must have been false.
The construction of the texts does not lend support to this, however: evidently, they prophesied genuinely from God! The word for ‘prophesy’ in this text can refer to either false or divine prophecy, but in this context it is very clearly genuine prophecy from God. Very broadly, they were uttering what God wanted to say through them. The same thing happened to another band of killers sent by Saul. Though becoming increasingly vicious and unbalanced, Saul still knew he was on a losing course. He must have been fearful of the news that his killers had come under the influence of God. This occurred three times. GOD is supreme, not an human king!
Finally, Saul decided to go to Ramah himself. He was locked into his destiny, as prescribed by God, and could do no other thing. He arrived at a huge water well known as Sechu (‘the watch tower’) situated just outside Ramah, and asked where Samuel and David were. He was told they were at Naioth.
To his consternation, as soon as he arrived at the school and stood before Samuel and the prophets, he, too, began to prophesy! Note in the text the capital ‘S’ for ‘Spirit’, and compare with the small ‘s’ used to describe the ‘spirit from God’, the demon, that attacked Saul constantly. As with the others before him, Saul was completely taken over by the Holy Spirit, so that he, too, uttered genuine prophecy.
But, why? The answer seems simple – here was God showing Saul and everyone else that He, not Saul, was the Lord of hosts! Not Saul, or his killers, or anyone in this world, or even the ‘spirit’ sent by God to bring down Saul. Too simple an answer? No, God will bring about His plans in whichever way He wishes. In this case, He chose to fill killers and Saul with His own word. This was a powerful way to completely demolish Saul’s ideas of power.
(2018 note: This is how unsaved men, such as president Trump or the earlier Churchill, could bring about God’s demands. God forms their thoughts towards the good and the noble. But, with those who are ‘too far gone’ in their wickedness, such as a Hitler or an Obama, God might just let them do whatever they wish as a sign that coals were being heaped upon their heads, in readiness for the final judgment on their sad souls. The same mechanism is also used in everyday lives, when Christians think all is lost, and yet their enemy or circumstance evaporates as water under a hot sun).
© April 2000 (Revised April 2018)