1 Samuel 18-27: Saul Tries to Kill David

Original Publication Date
December 24, 2016
Feb 18, 2023 3:21 PM
1 SamuelChapter StudyJonathanRelationshipsSaulDavidPhilistineMurderMichal
Bible References
1 Samuel 18-27
Table of Contents
This page was originally posted on my Blogger version of the blog on December 24, 2016 The content below has a few minor tweaks for clarity, and additional references, and some updated information.


Jealousy is a dangerous thing, that's probably one reason why God told us not to covet. When women in the kingdom begin to praise David's military accomplishments, specifically attributing a higher number of kills to David than to Saul, Saul becomes discontent with David. Eventually, Saul decides to kill David.

Motive to Kill

Generally speaking, men tend to be more competitive, so it's no surprise that Saul would feel animosity about the kingdom boasting of David's accomplishments over his own. However, it seems extreme that he would suddenly want to kill David. Most people would have simply strove to prove they were better... After all, this boasting could also have been the kingdom's way of saying Saul was a great king because he chose a great military captain.[11] It seems rash that Saul would want to kill the man who was leading his army to victory.

The issue stemmed much deeper than simple jealousy over praise or lack thereof from Israel. Saul knew he was in hot water with God—if you've ever walked with God at all, you definitely know when you've messed up. With Samuel no longer visiting him, an evil spirit visiting him instead, and the community placing David on a higher pedestal, Saul knew that God was bringing his reign to an end. Not only was Saul not ready to give up power, he wanted to pass the kingship on to his own lineage. With David gaining such notoriety, it was becoming obvious to Saul that the people would want David as the next king. Saul didn't want that, and the easiest way to solve the problem, at least in his mind, was to kill David.

Saul's Attempts on David's Life

Saul attempted to kill David not once, not twice, but on multiple occasions. The first few attempts on David's life by Saul occur while David is soothing Saul's spirit. Saul takes the javelin he holds while sitting on the throne and lunges it at David. Saul also plots to kill David by enticing him to take on more battles with the promise of giving him one of Saul's daughters to wed. He hopes David will die in battle trying to prove himself worthy to marry. When that fails, Saul sends messengers to kill David multiple times. When these attempts fail, Saul tries to kill David himself, again. In the commotions of all these things, Saul ends up killing a priest who helps David unknowingly. David has to flee Saul's house, taking refuge with Samuel, Ahimelech (the priest who ends up getting killed), Achish (the king of the Philistines), and in the wilderness. The table below details the attempts on David's life by Saul and lists the associated Bible verses.

🥷🏽 Attempts
📍 Location
🗡️ Method
🏷️ Reference
Attempt #1
Saul's home
javelin thrown at David (twice)
Attempt #2
David made captain of an army in hopes he was be killed in battle
Attempt #3
Saul's home
marriage arrangement to Merab (sending David to battle)
Attempt #4
Saul's home
marriage arrangement to Michal (sending David to battle)
Attempt #5
Saul's home
servants ordered to kill David
Attempt #6
Saul's home
Attempt #7
David’s home
messengers sent to kill David
Attempt #8
David’s home
messengers sent to fetch David for Saul to kill
Attempt #9
Naioth in Ramah
messengers sent to fetch David for Saul to kill, again
Attempt #10
Naioth in Ramah
messengers sent to fetch David for Saul to kill, again
Attempt #11
Naioth in Ramah
Saul attempts the murder himself when his messengers fail
Attempt #12
Ziph and Horesh
Saul seeks for David in the wilderness
Attempt #13
Saul seeks for David in the wilderness, again

Saul's Children Choose David

Saul's desire to kill David was rooted in jealousy, as discussed earlier, which is an issue that arises from insecurity. Generally, people who are secure and confident are less likely to be jealous of those around them. Saul felt his kingdom was slipping away from him (and rightfully so, because it was). The people saw David as a better soldier and David had found favor in God's eyes. This was enough to drive Saul to the point of madness, in which he desired David dead. It is no wonder that he becomes more obsessed with killing David when he learns two of his children choose to help David over their own father.

Jonathan, David's Best Friend

Saul's son Jonathan took an instant liking to David. The Bible is clear that Jonathan loved David deeply; 1 Samuel 18:13 says Jonathan loved David the way he loved himself. When Jonathan hears that his father is planning to kill David, he is quick to tell David. Recognizing David as the true heir to the throne, Jonathan remains on David's side throughout this ordeal. The two even make a covenant to remain friends and to have peace between their houses after death.

When Jonathan tests the waters with Saul to see if he is still intent on killing David, his words in support of David cause Saul to throw a javelin at his own son. Saul curses Jonathan's mother (possibly the world's first iteration of son of a *****) in anger and is furious that his eldest son would take David's side. Saul reminds Jonathan that David is a threat to his own inheritance of the throne, but Jonathan knows that God has chosen David.

A Covenant Among Friends

When David finally flees Saul's presence to seek safety for himself, the two friends make a covenant with each other. Both men knew that eventually David would become king; tradition held (and still holds) that new kings would kill competing lineages to seal their claim to the throne. A more modern example was that of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. When the Bolsheviks seized power from Tsar Nicholas II, they killed all of his children. Many believed the assassinated king's youngest daughter had survived and several women impersonated her, hoping to claim her status.[9]

When David took the throne, it was likely expected that he would kill Saul's lineage to keep any of them from trying to steal the throne back.

In David's case this would have been difficult considering he was married to Michal, Saul's daughter. At the time David made this covenant with Jonathan, Michal was Saul's only wife, so presumably David's heir to the throne would still be of Saul's lineage, as well. However, inheritance passed through sons, not daughters. It would have been Jonathan, Ishui, and Melchishua that could lay claim to the throne. Jonathan made David promise that he wouldn't kill Jonathan's family; their houses were to remain friends.

Were Jonathan and David Gay?

Some people try to twist their relationship into romantic love and suggest there was a homosexual overtone in the description of their friendship.[6][7] I think people often forget it is possible to love someone without being "in love" with someone. The first obvious point is that self-love, the love Jonathan would have had for himself that is described as the love he has for David, is not necessarily sexual. In addition, mother's usually love their children more than themselves, another example of non-sexual love.

More Than The Love of Women?

Something that comes up is often a quote from 2 Samuel 1:26 in which David remarks that Jonathan's love surpassed the love of women. People who want to imbue this friendship with homosexuality interpret this to mean the two loved each other more than they loved the women in their lives and thus were in love with each other. However, this a forced interpretation, especially given what we know of God's (and their society's) view of homosexuality.

If they were romantically involved, the last thing David would do is infer such a thing by admitting he loved a man more than his wives! The Israelites would have had him stoned on the spot. It has only been in the past 10 years or so that people have not been completely ostracized for being openly gay; again, I highly doubt David would have armed the rumor mill with such a statement. Furthermore, this is a common saying among friends! How many friends don't make a pack not to let relationships severe their bond? This is the basis of phrases such as "chicks before dicks" and "bros before hoes" (pardon the crudeness). These statement are meant to illustrate that the friendship, which usually begins well before either friend is involved in a romantic relationship, is too important to lose because of spouses.

Bromances such as that of Corey and Shawn from Boy Meets World depict this perfectly; Corey was in love with Topanga but his friendship with Shawn was forever. When Shawn dates a girl who forbids him to see Corey, they begin sneaking away to meet each other. Topanga reveals the fact that she understood their friendship and would never come between them, however Shawn's girlfriend ends up getting dumped. The two were determined to be friends even after girlfriends (and marriage). This is how David and Jonathan were, as well.

Love at First Sight?

Another point pro-homosexual interpreters have is the fact that Jonathan gives David all of his stuff after they meet in 1 Samuel 18:4. The passage does not confirm or deny David's presence when Jonathan strips himself. Whether he was or wasn't, you have to read the passage in the context of the time period, not in the context of today. Back then, to strip yourself of your clothes was a sign of humility. Clothes were (and still are) a symbol of status. By removing these clothes and giving them to David, Jonathan was transferring his status as "prince" or "future king" to David. Like David, Jonathan was a man of God; he realized that God had selected David to inherit the throne and this was Jonathan giving up his claim to the throne.

The Dinner Conversation

As I mentioned earlier, Jonathan defends David at the dinner table and brings about Saul's wrath. This conversation occurs in 1 Samuel 20. Some try to turn this into a "coming out" scene.[6]

Supporters of this theory suggest that "many gay men have experienced dinner conversations that sounded very similar to this one. They made the mistake of talking about their lover at the table, and their father became furious. More often than not, the blame goes first to the mother, who was “too soft,” or “too harsh,” or who “perverted” her son somehow. Then the father turns his anger toward the son: “Can’t you see how you’re shaming the whole family? Do you even care what this will do to your career? You’ll never amount to anything until you give up this foolishness!”"

If that's what you want to see, I can see how they get that interpretation, but that requires you to step away from the literal text. It is Saul who mentions David's absence first. Knowing that David and Jonathan are friends, Saul inquires of Jonathan where David is. Jonathan says David wanted to go to his family to offer a yearly sacrifice so Jonathan let him go. It is then that Saul gets angry. Saul says that he knows Jonathan has chosen David "to thine own confusion, and unto the confusion of thy mother's nakedness." This is where things get interesting. According to pro-homosexual interpreters, the mentioning of "thy mother's nakedness" makes this a homosexual reference. They believe Saul is accusing Jonathan of being David's lover. That, however, would be the "confusion of Jonathan's nakedness." What does his mother have to do with it? How is any sexual relationship the confusion of a mother's nakedness?

From the books of law, we know that uncovering nakedness is a sexual reference, but "thy mother's nakedness" would be a reference to his mother's sexual encounters not Jonathan or David's. The very next verse explains exactly why Saul referenced Jonathan's mother's nakedness. Jonathan was the eldest son of his mother and should have succeeded Saul to the throne, however, David was desired by the people. With David in the picture, Jonathan could not claim the throne. Saul knew that Jonathan was relinquishing his claim to the throne in favor of David ("thine own confusion") and thus abandoning his inheritance, which was his right through the union of Saul and his mother ("thy mother's nakedness"). Scholars suggest that by giving up the throne, Jonathan was painting his mother as a whore (again, "thy mother's nakedness") and proclaiming himself unworthy to lead.[8]

Even if Saul did accuse Jonathan of loving David in a sexual manner, that doesn't mean it was a true statement. Here we have a man who is half mad, pained with an evil spirit, paranoid, and trying to kill a faithful servant in a jealous rage, how can you trust any of his judgements? People who are devoid of God are often bewildered at the behavior of those who follow God. My male friends who are waiting or who have waited until marriage to have sex have all been accused of lying or being gay. Only those who don't know God make these types of accusations, however. These accusations normalize their own behavior, which soothes any guilt they may have about how many partners they've had before marriage. It is far easier to accuse those who followed God's word of being gay or lying than to admit we were too weak to do the same. Similarly, it would have been easier for Saul to claim Jonathan was gay and take out his anger on Jonathan who was present, than admit he was in the wrong and had lost the throne for his lineage.

My opinion: I understand the arguments both ways, though I would contend that the argument for a sexual attraction and/or relationship between Jonathan and David stems from our modern expectations of male friendship. This is partially why I lean toward their relationship being completely platonic. I would like to add however that even if we interpret Jonathan and David’s actions as confirmation of same-sex attraction, there is no evidence to support the claim that there was an actual relationship. This would have been a perfect place to support or condemn such a relationship and squelch all of the arguments of today (which YHWH would have known would occur). The fact that nothing explicit was said leads me to believe there was nothing more than a friendship between the two.

Michal, David's Wife

After Saul fails to marry off his eldest daughter to David, he is thrilled to learn that his other daughter, Michal, is in love with David. David wasn't in the social class to marry the king's daughter, though; he didn't have the means to pay a dowry or brideprice for such a match. David knew this, and so did Saul. Saul tells David not to worry about the dowry (1 Samuel 20:25), instead he wants 100 foreskins of Philistine soldiers.

Saul is sure this task will get David killed, despite the fact that David has already won many battles and defeated Goliath. David probably thought the request was symbolic of not only defeating God's enemies, but forcefully cleansing them via circumcision, thus the request would not have set off any red flags in his mind. David goes above and beyond, bringing Saul 200 foreskins to "buy" Michal as a wife. Saul could have refused, but we see a glimpse of honesty in Saul, and he gives Michal to be married to David.

When Saul decides to send messengers to David and Michal's home to kill David, Michal helps David escape. Once David has safely fled the home from a window, she tucks a life-size idol in his bed to fool the messengers. The text does not tell us why an idol is in David's home; it may have belonged to Michal, since it is unlikely David took anything to do with idols. After Michal helps David sneak out, she lies to her father's messengers and claims that David is sick in bed. When Saul sends more messengers to fetch David and it is revealed that David is gone, Saul questions his daughter about why she lied to him. Saul felt betrayed that his daughter would just allow his "enemy" to escape so easily.

Michal's Love

The Bible is very clear that Michal loves David; not only is it explicitly stated in 1 Samuel 18:20, 28, but Michal's actions prove that she loved David. Michal could have been killed for assisting David—in 1 Samuel 22 Saul kills an entire city of priests because one priest aids David unaware that he and Saul are at odds. Considering Saul's violent outbursts and evil spirit, I don't think it's far-fetched to think Michal may have been worried her father would kill her for helping David. Michal chose David over family, this is an explicit declaration of love.

Interestingly, it is never stated that David loves Michal. Wikipedia contributors point out that David doesn't try to contact Michal while he is on the run and that he takes other wives.[1] When David takes off to save his life, we haven't seen anything that suggests he loves her as much as she loves him. This, plus the fact that David took additional wives while he was separated from Michal paints David as a womanizer.

I think a case can be made for David's love of Michal, too, however. One thing that stands out is David's 180 on his decision about marrying a daughter of Saul. When Saul is trying to get David to marry his eldest daughter, David isn't interested. The offer isn't drastically different, so why was David more receptive to marrying Michal? Obviously, this isn't an explicit declaration of undying love, but it does suggest that there was something there that was reciprocated. However, we aren't told a lot of this story. If this was set in modern day America, David would have texted Michal, or left her a private message on Facebook, to i) let her know he was alright and ii) find out if she was ok. However, during David's era, there were no cellphones or computers and all of his supporters (i.e., the people who would have been safe to transport a message to Michal) were with him. Contacting Michal would have been quite difficult. Also, in contacting her, he would have risked angering Saul to the point of killing his own daughter. Just because he did not contact her does not mean he didn't miss her or desire to contact her.

A Marriage Under Siege

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

While David is gone, Saul gives Michal to another man. By God's law, Michal's second marriage was probably not lawful. There are several examples of polygamy in the Bible, though there are passages that suggest monogamy is preferred.[2][3][4] However there are no examples of polyandry and the Bible explicitly states that a woman who leaves her husband for a reason other than adultery and marries another man, commits adultery.[5]

In the books of law, the word "wife," not "wives" is used to define marriage, and Deuteronomy 17:17 forbids a king from taking multiple wives, so David was probably not supposed to take on two more wives, either.

We aren't told whether Michal hears of this then asks to be remarried to someone else—how betrayed would you feel if you risked your life and turned against your father to save a man, then he went and found him 2 more wives?—or if Saul forced Michal into a new marriage. In 2 Samuel, we will see Michal returned to David, but we also will see a change in how she feels about him (2 Samuel 6:16).

David had strong faith in God, but women were definitely a weakness of his.

David Seeks Asylum

David hides out in several different locations while Saul is hunting him down. Many people are on David's side and eventually he is accompanied by an army of 400 men.


At one point, in 1 Samuel 21, David requests food from Ahimelech, a priest in Nob. Ahimelech does not have any bread but the shewbread meant for the priests. David lies to Ahimelech, suggesting Saul had sent him on mission rather than admitting he was running for his life. Seeking to help David, Ahimelech offers him and his men the shewbread provided they are not unclean from sleeping with their wives.

Jesus refers to this in Matthew 12:2-4. People debate whether Jesus was condoning David's deceit and subsequent breaking of the law or if Jesus was making a point about the Pharisees hypocrisy.[10] I believe Jesus was pointing out that people praised David's unlawful act but condemned Jesus' lawful act. David was clearly forgiven by God and made peace with Him concerning this action, though the details of this process are not recorded in the text.

When Saul discovers Ahimelech's role in aiding David, he is furious. Saul orders not just Ahimelech killed, but all the priests in Nob. Saul has 45 priests killed, along with women, and children. Clearly, Saul was possessed with an ungodly anger. Ahimelech's son Abiathar escapes the mayhem and joins David.


David hides in Gath, a Philistine city, twice. The first time David flees to Gath, he worries that people will recognize him. David feigns like he is mad and is taken before Achish, the king of Gath. Seeing his insanity, Achish sends him away, saying he has no use for a madman. The second time, David is more sure of himself and is able to convince Achish to give him a place to dwell in the country, specifically the city of Ziklag.

By the time David comes to Gath the second time, Achish has likely heard that Saul is trying to kill David. This makes David the enemy of Achish's enemy. Using the principle "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," Achish makes peace with David. David furthers this assumption by deceiving Achish into believing an attack he carried out on the Geshurites was actually against his own people.

As I read this passage, I couldn't help think sometimes the enemy of my enemy should make my enemy my friend. In Achish's case, David was actually the bigger enemy; David was a man of God and would not hesitate to carry out battles to defeat the Philistines at God's command, but Saul was not so keen on listening to God. Under Saul's reign, the Israelites were destined to lose battles (previously witnessed), but under David's reign, they would thrive. It would have been in Achish's best interest to kill David and use it as a peace broker with Saul. This is one of the many examples that show when you are against God, you are against yourself. God will always lead us in a direction that benefits our best interest.

David Lets Saul Live

On a few occasions, God places David in the position to kill Saul. God is showing both David and Saul that He has chosen David; where Saul has been unsuccessful at killing David over several attempts, David walks into situations where he could easily kill Saul without even trying. In both cases, the person with him advises him to take advantage of the position God has placed him in, but David refuses. David says Saul was anointed by God, thus it isn't right for him to take his life. Instead, David takes the opportunity to prove to Saul he means him no harm. When the encounter passes, David shows Saul a relic of the event, proving he was both undetected and within range to kill the king. At this revelation, Saul always admits his sin and ceases his pursuit of David momentarily. Why this revelation does not stick with Saul is unclear.

Once Anointed, Always Anointed?

This passage led me to reflect on the doctrine of "once saved, always saved" or perseverance of the saints. This doctrine persists in denominations that stem from Calvinism. Baptists and other evangelical denominations hold this position as well.[12]

The idea is that once a person professes belief in Jesus, they are guaranteed salvation. The point of contention is whether this is dependent on their choices after professing belief. There are many people who claim to be "non-practicing" Christians; many of whom will say they believe in Jesus they just don't follow the Bible. Opponents of "once saved, always saved" attack the teaching because many who grew up in churches that adhere to the doctrine grow up to believe they can stray from Jesus' teachings but because they believe in him they're OK. I'll talk about the doctrine itself in a post by itself so that I can cover it in more detail, but right now I want to discuss this idea as it relates to how David viewed Saul.

Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

We are told that those who are of God will not sin, which means once a person confesses Jesus is Lord, he/she should not be actively committing sin. This can't mean they never sin or that they won't receive eternal life if they sin once, because Moses sinned (everybody sins). He may not have seen the promised land, but he was taken to Heaven and appeared at the transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-8, and Luke 9:28-36). However, the devil knows Jesus lives, chooses to sin, and will not be in Heaven. So where does that leave us? Personally, I believe it's about open rebellion versus minor slip-ups. Moses gets caught up in the moment and does something he shouldn't have; likely, he repents of the actions after he realizes his mistake. The devil, on the other hand, rebels openly, consciously choosing to do what God has told him not to do. If you have chosen Jesus, you will not choose to rebel or remain in sin (though you may fall into it on occasion), but if you have not chosen Jesus, you will rebel just as Satan did. We have to remember that people can claim to believe without actually believing.

Imagine you're on a boat and it begins to capsize, so you and your friend throw out a life boat. People from the boat will make their way out of the water and into the life boat. As long as they remain in the boat (and the boat has no holes), they will stay afloat, but if one chooses to jump off the boat, they may drown. Similarly, as long as we choose God we are guaranteed to stay afloat. The question is what will happen if we choose to jump ship? Did Saul truly repent, or was he in open rebellion against God?

David's insistence that Saul was anointed by God and thus should not be harmed begs the question, what did ancient Israelites believe. Samuel has told David he would be king and anointed him. Samuel has also informed Saul that the kingdom was being taken from him. Yet, when David is given the opportunity to kill Saul and claim the throne, he chooses not to. Did David think "once anointed, always anointed?" Will Saul be in heaven despite his treatment of David and the priests?

David's perspective represents that of non-judgment. David knows that at one point, God chose Saul; that makes Saul a chosen person by God and worthy of respect. Saul's sinfulness is between him and God. While God may have placed David in situations that gave David the advantage and ability to kill Saul, God never issues a direct command to David that such a thing is to be done. David understands his anointing to give him authority as king after Saul has died of natural causes or in battle.

References and Footnotes

  1. "Michal". Wikipedia. 2016
  2. Genesis 2:24
  3. 1 Timothy 3:212
  4. 1 Timothy 5:9
  5. Matthew 19:9
  6. LifeJourney Church. "David loved Jonathan more than women". Would Jesus Discriminate?. 2016
  7. Musgrove, Jared. "The Truth About David and Jonathan". The Village Church. March 7, 2012
  8. Guzik, David. "Jonathan's Final Attempt to Reconcile His Father and David". Blue Letter Bible. 2001
  9. Biography.com Editors. "Anastasia Biography". Biography. June 22, 2016
  10. YellowJacket. "How Does Jesus' Argument From David and the Showbread Work". Hermeneutics Stack Exchange. January 12, 2014
  11. Holman Bible Publishers. Holman KJV Study Bible. pg. 501. 2014
  12. "Perseverance of the Saints". Wikipedia. 2016

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