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Paul J. Bucknell
Purpose: 1 Samuel 18:10-16 comprises the first of Saul's two plots to kill David. David's pure heart is seen through in the way he does not pursue the kingdom. Saul is desparately wrong about his thoughts about David. This is part 4 of 5 in 1 Samuel 18's mini-series between Saul and David called Great Friendship and Horrible Jealousy.
“Now it came about on the next day that an evil spirit from God came mightily upon Saul, and he raved in the midst of the house, while David was playing the harp with his hand, as usual; and a spear was in Saul’s hand. And Saul hurled the spear for he thought, “I ￼will pin David to the wall.” But David escaped from his presence twice” (1 Samuel 18:10-11).
This is the first of numerous plots to kill David. We are to connect verses 18:8-9 with 10. “On the next day” reveals Saul’s conclusions were related to his jealousy and his intense hatred. Something significant happened on that day when he got severely angry with the nice words the people had for David. Bitterness and anger led to increased influence by the evil spirit which in turn brought about evil thoughts and acts.
There are several interpretations as to what really happened there in 18:10-11. Some translations such as the NASB use ‘rave’ instead of ‘prophesy.’ This is because it is not quite clear what happened. The evil spirit came in at some point and was connected to Saul’s plotting (think of Judas Iscariot) and the hurling of the spear. However, David was calmed Saul down ‘as usual’ by his playing the musical instrument (cf. 1 Samuel 16:23).
Saul opened his life to be further influenced by the evil spirit, and it only brought about further delusion and plotting.
So what happened in 18:10? There are a number or difficult issues when making sense of this passage. Some try to solve the inconsistency by using the word rave instead of prophesy. Prophesy often indicates that it is the Holy Spirit speaking, especially when David was playing the calming lyre. But what Saul did was undoubtedly not from the Holy Spirit.
Some translate prophesy as rave. The word ‘to prophesy’ is rooted in speaking or telling. We do not deny that a prophet at times might rave, ‘to speak as very angry or mad’, but this is not the problem. Prophets might speak this way, but its usage strips the word of its revelatory aspect. Why not just translate it prophesy? There are no extra words indicating anger next to the word prophesy. The verb to prophesy is sometimes used by false prophets. When translated simply as rave the sense of prophesy and the Spirit’s influence becomes nil.
The NASB version ‘raved’ is not accurate. The word means to prophesy (abn) as KJV and NIV have. This Hebrew word to prophesy only means to prophesy (rather than rave which Keil-Delitzsch supports p. 190). The NASB uses ‘raved’ because of the connection the evil spirit had upon King Saul and the attempted murder (allowing context to determine meaning). On the other hand, using ‘prophesy’ does not make sense because the Holy Spirit did not bring about this attempted murder. Let us look at two possible scenarios.
Saul was often touched by David’s playing so that the Spirit of God came upon Saul. Note the ‘as usual.’ David was not surprised by Saul’s prophesying as a result of his playing. Saul was a prophet and had prophesied in the past. We can only assume this is something that regularly happened. This time, however, was different. It is possible that the Holy Spirit started to speak through Saul as at other times (19:23-24), but then at a break the evil spirit came in with his insidious suggestions.
Another suggestion is that this word prophesy means that the evil spirit spoke helped Saul stage this scene. Sometimes this word to prophesy does imply false prophesy evidently through an evil spirit. In this interpretation the evil spirit sponsored the whole evil plot rather than coming in at some point. This would make the end result more compatible but there is a problem. The ‘as usual’ seems to prohibit us from accepting this conclusion. David surely did not regularly play and have the evil spirit fill Saul. It was the other way around!
Often in prophetic times the prophet would be told to pick up this or take up a certain object such as a spear and pretend throwing it at his enemies. This would show God’s plan to defeat Israel’s enemies. In either case, it occurred to Saul that he had a spear in his hand. He could pretend to be prophesying and ‘accidentally’ throw the javelin (wood spear with metal end) at David. Then he could pass the blame on the prophetic event of which he had little control. “And ‘Whoops, the spear fell out of my hand!” In fact it was the evil spirit that was really controlling him. So obvious! The text states that the evil spirit’s influence was upon him. The Lord protected David.
Saul actually thought, “I will pin David to the wall.” This was premeditated. Saul went from jealousy, anger to attempted murder. It would have been murder had not God watched over David. Twice this happened. We can conclude from this that David was sufficiently deceived by the whole scene by Saul that he could accept it as being an accident. Keil-Delitzsch suggest the possibility that Saul at that one point swung his javelin (wood spear with metal end) two times around. It seems that two events happened here rather than one, though perhaps within 1-3 days.
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“Now Saul was afraid of David, for the LORD was with him but had departed from Saul. Therefore Saul removed him from his presence, and appointed him as his commander of a thousand; and he went out and came in before the people. And David was prospering in all his ways for the LORD was with him. When Saul saw that he was prospering greatly, he dreaded him. But all Israel and Judah loved David, and he went out and came in before them” (1 Samuel 18:12-16).
One would think that David would fear Saul, but it was Saul who was afraid of David.
The reason it gives for Saul’s fear is that the Lord was with David but no longer with Saul. It is hard to state exactly what was going on. Saul probably found himself much like a backslidden believer. He no longer sensed God’s presence. Everything he did was full of fears, jealousies and anxieties. Today we would call it paranoia. Paranoia is a fairly constant fear that people are plotting against one. David, on the other hand, had everything going for him. He had sufficient peace of heart to believe that Saul’s first ‘spear throwing’ was a mere accident.
Saul knew this scheme would no longer work and simply tried to bring peace to his mind by putting David out of his presence (18:13). He also might have used this occasion to cover up his twice miss. At the same time he probably was thinking that by appointing David as a commander of a thousand men, he might be killed in action. Saul no longer wanted David to be his lyre player and armor bearer (1 Samuel 16:23).
Earlier on David would have appeared before the people because he was associated with Saul, but now David was on his own. The people, however, really liked him. The people rallied for him as he went out to battle and were glad to hear of his victorious reports. David acted wisely1 and was blessed of the Lord.
Both 1 Samuel 18:13 and 16 describe how David went to and fro battle before the people. This would be the big event of each significant battle. Evidently news of his victories even spread to Israel in the north for the people there also came to love David.