When Saul and David first meet, David is the solution to Saul’s biggest problem. He is able, through his music, to cause the evil spirit which torments Saul to flee. And I’m sure how David came across as a person also won Saul over. In fact, this is what the Bible says about those initial days:
Then David came to Saul and attended him; and Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armor bearer. Saul sent to Jesse, saying, “Let David now stand before me, for he has found favor in my sight.” So it came about whenever the evil spirit from God came to Saul, David would take the harp and play it with his hand; and Saul would be refreshed and be well, and the evil spirit would depart from him. – 1 Samuel 16:21-23, NASB
The Scripture says that Saul loved David greatly. As a result, Saul sends to Jesse, David’s dad, asking for David to stay on. You would think that such a relationship wouldn’t sour unless one or the other did something to wrong the other. You would think that even in that case, it would take a lot to break that bond. But the fact of the matter is that the relationship deteriorated and when it did, it did so fast. What was the cause? It was selfish pride. It’s really that simple:
The women sang as they played, and said, “Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands.”
Then Saul became very angry, for this saying displeased him; and he said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, but to me they have ascribed thousands. Now what more can he have but the kingdom?” Saul looked at David with suspicion from that day on. – 1 Samuel 18:7-9, NASB
What happened to turn Saul’s love into hatred? Quite simply, it was David taking on and defeating Goliath. When David felled Goliath, it led to a rout where the Israelites were able to pour it on to a fleeing Philistine army. And as a result, the women gave David great praise. The fact of the matter is that the most physically imposing man in Israel was Saul. He stood a head taller than everyone else. He had quality armor and weaponry as king over Israel. But he, like the other Israelites, refused to face Goliath. The reason was because he looked upon his own strength and not God’s. So David came along, stood up to Goliath, took down the giant, and became instantly famous. So famous that there were immediate comparisons between the exploits of Saul and David. And Saul grew jealous.
Saul let his self-centered focus dominate his life. Not only did it affect his relationship with David, but it affected his relationship with Jonathan earlier, before David really came on the scene. In this case that self-centered pride was so intense that he went from loving David to hating him. He didn’t appreciate David’s accomplishments for Israel. He hated them. Did David do anything to wrong Saul? No, he didn’t. In fact, he went with Saul’s blessing to go and fight Goliath when no one else would.
We’ve got to be careful of falling into the same trap as Saul. We should be genuinely filled with joy when others around us succeed in things that are of God. What our fleshy side wants to do, however, is get us thinking, “Why wasn’t that me?” We can’t let them kind of thinking take root or it will lead to the bitterness and jealousy we see in Saul. And that will change how we treat others, how we think about them, and it can – in extreme cases – turn love to hate. That’s not what the Lord wants us to be about as believers.
Yesterday we looked briefly at Jonathan’s reaction and that’s in line with what God desires. When others succeed and flourish in following God’s instructions, that should be an opportunity to celebrate and draw closer together. Now I’ve been very careful to say when people succeed within the context of things that God would approve of or has directed them to do. It wouldn’t be right to celebrate when someone succeeds due to sin (for instance, lying to make a huge business deal). But on the same token, we should not allow that bitterness and jealousy that will like come from our fleshly side to take root in that case, either. If we’re self-centered, though, it will, and fast. That’s what happened with Saul. As believers we must strive to do better. We must seek to appreciate the success of others when they do it God’s way and see that as an opportunity to lift up and glorify the God we serve. After all, it’s not about what we do or what we receive or what we accomplish. It never was. It’s always been about God. And if that’s where our focus truly is, we won’t be another Saul. Instead, our heart will craft psalms of praise like David did. Maybe not as eloquent as David’s, but certainly just as accepted by our Loving Father.