Saul’s Jealousy and Jonathan’s Love, I Samuel 18-23

Two shopkeepers were bitter rivals.  Their stores were directly across the street from each other and they would spend each day keeping track of each other’s business.  If one got a customer, he would smile in triumph at his rival.  One night an angel appeared to one of the shopkeepers in a dream and said, “I will give you anything you ask, but whatever you receive, your competitor will receive twice as much.  Would you be rich?  You can be very rich, but he will be twice as wealthy.  Do you wish to live a long and healthy life?  You can, but his life will be longer and healthier.  What is your desire?”  The man frowned, thought for a moment, and then said, “Here is my request: Strike me blind in one eye!”

Jealousy (usually) is such an irrational thing, to be resentful at the good fortune, success, or advantages enjoyed by other people; to be afraid of someone becoming equal to us, or worse, better than us.

The irrationality of it may be best explained in that parable Jesus told about the landowner that went out early in the morning to hire laborers to work in his vineyard for the day.  He found some guys looking for work and offered to pay them a denarius for a day’s work, which was fair, and they agreed.  Then he went out later in the day and hired more laborers to work the remainder of the day in his vineyard.  He didn’t settle on a price with them.  He just said “I’ll pay you what’s right.”  He even hired some guys at the end of the day to work just the last hour.  Then that evening when it was time to pay the laborers, he called those hired last, first and generously paid them a whole denarius even though they’d only worked an hour.  So then the guys hired first who worked all day thought they might get paid more than just the denarius they agreed to work for, but when they came to receive their pay, they received just the denarius they agreed to work for.  So then they were jealous of the guys who got the same pay for less work, and they were angry and grumbled and complained to the landowner about it.  The landowner answered, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius?  Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you.  Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own?  Or is your eye envious because I am generous?”  You see, jealousy is this negative attitude we may have even though we haven’t been wronged or cheated in any way.  And it’s being upset at the giver being generous to other people.  Had the giver decided not to be generous to them, maybe even if the giver had decided to cheat them, then we’d be fine with that.  But because he decided to be extra kind and gracious to them we’re bitter about it.  It makes no sense and it’s clearly inconsistent with love for our neighbor.

Something I’ve realized about jealousy, maybe you have to, is that we tend to only be jealous of those with whom we closely identify, with our peers or those in the same class or category as ourselves.

For example, if you don’t care at all about gardening, if you make very little effort to have a garden, you’re not going to be jealous of the guy down the street who has the most beautiful garden.  But if you’re a gardener and your garden looks like its main produce is dandelions, then you may be jealous of the guy down the road with the beautiful garden.

Most of us, if we’re not in the medical profession, probably would never be jealous of a surgeon who gets some reward for being the greatest surgeon.  Rather we would admire him for his good work.  We’re not surgeons.  We don’t identify with him in that aspect, so there’s no jealousy problem there.

Most of us probably don’t have a jealousy problem with the guy that won the gold medal in men’s figure skating in the Olympics.  But if you were another figure skater in the Olympics you might.  It’s the guy in the cubicle next you who always seems to get more sales and more commission than you.  It’s for me other preachers.  If you’re a young wife with kids, it’s other young moms and wives who seem to be thriving a bit more than you that may incite you to jealousy.

Well, we’re picking up the story of David this morning in I Samuel 18 if you’d like to be turning there, which tells of the aftermath of David killing the giant Goliath and leading Israel in victory over the Philistines.  If you were a peer of David, another warrior, hero, leader, big name in Israel, David had a lot to be jealous of.  As you can imagine, after delivering Israel from Goliath and the Philistines, David gained instant popularity, status, and prestige.  He became the nation’s hero.  His fame spread not only through Israel but through much of the ancient world.  He was an overnight celebrity.  Not only that, but he was good looking and smart.  He could do everything; shepherd, warrior, skillful musician.  Granted, he didn’t play something cool like a guitar.  But at that time the harp was about the equivalent.  He was a man’s man and a lady’s man.  He even wrote poetry for Pete’s sake.  How many manly men are writing poetry?  If we are, we aren’t telling anybody about it.  David was excelling in every way.  In I Samuel 18 and the following chapters we read about two men in David’s class, if you will, susceptible to jealousy of David.  And we read of how one of them became a green eyed monster, and how the other used the occasion to become one of the most honorable, admirable men in Scripture.

We’ll start with the one who became a green eyed monster.

Saul’s Jealousy

I Samuel 18:6-7 says that when David, king Saul, and the army came home from war, the women of all the cities in Israel came out to greet them, dancing and playing instruments and singing, “Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands” (I Sam 18:6-7)

The ladies had no intention of offending king Saul.  They intended to praise and honor him as well as David with this.  They ascribed to Saul thousands.  And actually it may not have even been their intention to exalt David over Saul.  In Hebrew songs and poetry a common literary device was synonymous parallelism, where you say one thing just in two different ways.  You see it a lot in the Psalms.  Likely that’s what the ladies were saying.  When they sang, “Saul has slain his thousands and David his ten thousands,” they may have just meant Saul and David have slain thousands and 10 thousands just saying the same thing in two different ways, praising both of them.

But jealousy has a way of causing us to interpret everything in the most negative way possible.  So I Samuel 18:8, when Saul heard this “he 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.”  There’s something about jealousy, it’s not only an irrational response itself, but jealousy just breeds further irrationality.  It makes people crazy.  As Shakespeare called it, “it is the green eyed monster that doth mock the meat it feeds on.”  It poisons your mind, makes you forget about your blessings, and makes you view the other person in the worst possible way; it can make you hateful and mean, even toward those who have done you no wrong.  It essentially turns you into a green eyed monster.  Like a cat that toys with its prey before killing it.

Then the craziness begins.

Saul’s having one of those days where that darn evil spirit, that demon I guess, is terrorizing him and not leaving him alone and he’s raving in his house.  And like David would do whenever Saul was having one of those days, David came and played the harp for him to sooth him.  While playing, David saw a crazy look in the eyes of Saul while he held a spear in his hand.  Then he saw Saul turn and get ready to throw that spear in his direction.  He saw Saul aiming the spear right at him.  And he said, “King Saul, I’m going to get going.  I’m going to let you rest.  I’m going to go take care of some other matters for you.”  And he hightailed it out there.  Maybe David thought Saul was just having one of those days, he wasn’t himself, and maybe he didn’t have any ill will toward David. Perhaps David thought, “It was that evil spirit making him look like he was going to throw that spear at me.”

Then Saul used one of his daughters as a pawn to bring David down.  He had promised to give one of his daughters in marriage to the man who killed Goliath.  But David is not eager to become the king’s son-n-law.  He feels like he’s unworthy of that position and he’s a poor shepherd.  And it was customary for the groom to give the father of the bride a large gift in exchange for his daughter’s hand in marriage, called a dowry.  The only way David was going to be open to marrying one of the king’s daughters was if he could, somehow, pay the king a big dowry.  So for the dowry, Saul asks that David go kill a hundred Philistines and bring back a particular something from each of them to prove it.  It’s mixed company here so I won’t read it out loud.  If you have a Bible you can read about it yourself, I Samuel 18.  It’s kind of R-rated.  Those of you who don’t have your Bibles are thinking “Oh man, what’s it say?  I wish I had my Bible.”  Well, you should have your Bible.  It’s full of stuff you don’t want to miss.  Anyway, Saul’s intention is to get David killed by the Philistines.  But David knows God’s with him and delivering Israel from the Philistines was part of God’s plan for his life, so he takes some soldiers and does double what Saul asked for.  So then the people just loved David all the more.

And it says that David prospered in everything he did.  And as there continued to be war with the Philistines, David led battalion after battalion of soldiers in one victory after another.  The more David prospered the more of a green eyed monster Saul became.

Sitting in his house one day, that evil spirit came on Saul again.  David came and was playing the harp for him again.  And this time Saul didn’t hesitate.  David didn’t see it coming.  It was just all of the sudden, whoosh, a sharp-pointed spear flew right past his head and stuck in the wall behind him.  David quit without giving a 2 weeks’ notice.

That night, David’s wife, Michal, notices servants of her father waiting outside the front of their house with weapons.  She lets David down through a back window and he runs.  It would be the last time he would see her for years, because Saul would take her, his own daughter, though she loved David, and give her to be the wife of another man (I Sam 25:44).

Then the craziness just intensifies as Saul begins to devote himself, not to building up Israel and his responsibilities as king, but to catching and killing David, and he makes a fool of himself before the whole nation.  He even curses and hurls a spear at his own son because his own son would not join him in his crazy hostility toward David.  He plummets to depths of evil when he finds out that the high priest gave David and his men some provisions from the tabernacle.  Saul murdered not only the high priest, but eighty-five other priests and their wives and their children and everyone else young and old that he found in the town of the priests.

Reverse Returns of Jealousy

Jealousy is like a drug that alters your mind, it drives you crazy.  And there’s another thing about jealousy that you see in this story with Saul, and it’s that jealousy will get you reverse returns when you act on it.  Everything Saul did to harm or destroy David ironically worked to David’s advantage and his own disadvantage.  The harder he worked at David’s downfall, the more he just assisted David’s rise in fame and status and the more despicable he made himself before God and the nation.  The more he acted in jealousy, the more he propelled the opposite of what he wanted.  And that’s not unique to Saul’s case.  That’s a repeated story, a pattern throughout the Bible.

Remember Joseph, his brothers were so jealous of him because he was the favorite son of their father, he got the preferential treatment, he got these amazing dreams from God.  So they sold him as a slave to some traders on their way to Egypt.  Which resulted in what?  Well, down in Egypt, eventually, Joseph became Pharaoh’s right hand man.  In their jealousy they assisted Joseph’s rise to power.

Remember Daniel, the other government of officials of Persia were so jealous of him, because he was so successful in everything he did and the king loved him and the king was thinking about putting him in charge over the entire kingdom.  So they came up with that suggestion to the king that he should issue this decree that for one month anyone caught praying to any god except the king will be thrown to the lions.  They got Daniel thrown to the lions.  Which resulted in what?  In Daniel being saved by God and becoming even more famous and even more loved by the king and it got the jealous ones and their families the jaws of the lions.

Remember Haman in the book of Esther, he built those gallows in his backyard 75 feet high (so all could see) to hang Mordecai, the Jew, who would not bow to him.  And little did he know, he was building those gallows for himself.  All of the power and the wealth and the glory Haman was working for, was essentially being prepared for Mordecai, the man he hated.

In Matthew 27:18, when the Jewish leaders were putting pressure on Pilate to crucify Jesus, it says that Pilate knew that it was because of envy that they handed Jesus over to him.  They were jealous of the fame and status and position Jesus was gaining with the people.  So in their jealousy, they put Him on a cross.  Which did what?  Made Him our savior, enabled Him to rise from the dead, showed the world who He is, and His love and glory, sent Him to His throne and drew multitudes from every tribe and tongue, people and nation to be His servants.

You see there is a God who watches every human being on His earth, and He is absolutely righteous and just, hates things like jealousy, and He’s in control of things more than we realize.  From the pattern we see in Scripture of the way God works, it appears to me that He sees to it that the jealous get reverse returns when they act on their jealousy.

You don’t want to be jealous.  It poisons your mind and makes you crazy.  And you certainly don’t want to act on jealousy because I think God will probably use you to propel the very opposite of what you want.

Now, on to the man who chose to love in this story.  A man who had even more reason than Saul to be jealous of David.

Jonathan chose love instead of jealousy (John the baptizer)

It is fascinating to me how many parallels and similarities there are between David’s story and Jesus’ story.  It’s why the prophets, when they spoke of the Messiah, the anointed one, the great king to come, called Him David.  They said, referring to Jesus, “God will in those days raise up His servant David,” because in so many ways David foreshadowed Jesus.  And one of those ways was in the one who sort of prepared the way for him and helped him to rise in fame with the people.

Before Jesus came on to the public scene, there was this man John in the spotlight.  It says in the gospels that virtually all of Jerusalem and Judea and the district around the Jordan River were coming out to John, hearing him preach and being by baptized by him in the Jordan River.  John was a spiritual hero.  About everybody, aside from Jewish leaders, respected him as a prophet of God.  Some even asked him if He was the Messiah, the promised king.  If anyone had reason to be jealous of Jesus, it is was John.  In John 3 when Jesus started to become popular and Jesus and His disciples started baptizing people (John 3:26), John’s disciples came to him and said, “Rabbi, that Jesus guy is baptizing and the crowds are going to Him now.”  It seems like they expect John to be a little upset about that, to do something to bring the attention back on to himself.  But let me read you John’s response.  This is John 3:27-30.  “John answered and said, ‘A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven.  You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice.  So this joy of mine has been made full.  He must increase, but I must decrease.

Well, it’s so much like a man in David’s story, with about the same name.  His name was Jonathan.  He was the son of king Saul.  Jonathan had a kindred heart to David, a heart of great faith in God and courage and goodness.  Before anybody knew about David, Jonathan was the hero.  Before David ever led a great victory over the Philistines, King Saul, Jonathan, and a small army were preparing for battle with the Philistines.  And the little army was trembling with fear because they were outnumbered big time and the only weapons they had were farming tools, because the Philistines earlier had removed all the weapons and blacksmiths out of Israel.  The only ones with swords and spears were Saul and Jonathan.  Israelites were hiding in caves and thickets and cliffs and cellars and pits, fearing the Philistines were about to have their way with them.  Well, without telling anybody, Jonathan took one young man with him, his armor barer, and he snuck over to a Philistine garrison.  He said to the young man at his side, “Perhaps the Lord will work for us. The Lord doesn’t need a big army to deliver Israel.  Let’s go out in the open where they can see us and if they tell us to wait while they come to us, then we’ll just wait.  But if they invite us to come to them, then we’ll take that as a sign that the Lord is with us and he’s delivered them into our hands.”  So they showed themselves to the Philistines.  They said, “Hey look, the Hebrews are coming out of their holes where they’ve hidden themselves.  Hey, come on over here, we’ve got something to tell you.”  Jonathan said, “That’s our sign.  I think God is with us.”  And he went with his armor barer and killed about twenty Philistines.  When the Philistines discovered they had a bunch dead in their garrison, they trembled with fear or were puzzled at how they didn’t see the attack coming.  Then came the earthquake which sent them into a panic and there was great confusion, and some of them even started to fight against each other.  Saul and the men decided to take advantage of the Philistines’ confusion and they attacked them.  Things were looking hopeful, Israelites starting coming out of the woodworks, out of their hidden places, and attacking Philistines.  And it was Jonathan who was the hero and the deliverer of Israel before David.

Not only for that reason did Jonathan have “more” reason than anybody to be jealous of David, but he was also the crown prince of the kingdom of Israel.  He was the heir to his father Saul’s throne.  As David rose in fame and status, Jonathan could have seen him as a threat and rival to all his own aspirations.  But I Samuel 18:1 says “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself.” 18:3, “Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself.  Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, including his sword and his bow and his belt.”  He gave him all of this equipment and signs of his position and leadership as if to say you deserve all this more than me.

Then years later, the last time Jonathan and David saw each other (I Samuel 23:17-18), Jonathan said to him, “Do not be afraid, because the hand of Saul my father will not find you, and you will be king over Israel and I will be next to you…

There are three qualities that I see about Jonathan and John the baptizer that kept them from jealousy.

  • Number 1: love. They chose to love rather than be resentful at the success and blessings the other enjoyed.
  • Number 2: they recognized that God is good and wise and in control, that all the fortune and prosperity and success and gifts any receive in this world are from the good hand of the perfect God. John the Baptist said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven.”  So jealousy is, in a sense, displeasure with the government of God who is the one who gives and who takes away.  To be jealous is, in essence, to deny the goodness or wisdom or control of God.  It is to say, “God, for some reason, you’re not managing things as you should.  You should not allow that person to have that possession or position or success or achievement, rather than let me have that.”  Jonathan and John were full of faith that God is good and God knows what’s best and God’s in control.
  • Number 3: I see thankfulness in both of them. John the Baptist explained “While I may not be the bridegroom, while I may not be the center of attention now, I get to be the friend of the bridegroom.”  It’s still an honorable position to be the groomsmen in the wedding.  That’s something to be thankful and happy about.  Jonathan said, “David, I know you’re going to be king and I’m going to be next to you,” which actually never happened on earth.  Though they’re probably next to each other now.  But it shows that Jonathan was content and thankful for what position God gave him.  Thankfulness and jealousy don’t occupy the same heart.


The next time we’re saying in our minds, things like, “But it’s not fair that she gets a wonderful husband like that and they have all this money and her kids do so well at everything and she’s got it so easy.  It’s not fair that he got that promotion when I’ve worked harder.  It’s not fair that his church has three times as many people and he’s a lousy preacher.  It’s not fair.”, next time let’s really think about how unfair life really seems to be for us.  It’s not fair that you and I weren’t born in North Korea.  It’s not fair that we didn’t die in a 4wheeler accident when we were twelve, like our friend.  And it’s not fair that we were not paralyzed in a high school football game like our teammate.  It’s not fair that we live in multi-roomed homes with indoor plumbing and electricity.  It is not fair that every one of us in this room is going to walk out of here to go stuff our faces and have as much to eat as we want.  It’s not fair that we have cars to get us there.  It’s not fair that we live in one of the most beautiful, cleanest, peaceful, desirable places on earth.  It is not fair that we can come together this morning to worship the Lord Jesus without fear what might happen to us and our families if certain ones in our community found out.  It really doesn’t seem fair.  God seems so unfairly good and kind and gracious to us.  Let’s choose to be rational, let’s not choose jealousy, it makes us crazy and it will get us reverse returns when we act on it.  Let’s choose love, choose to see that God is good, knows what He’s doing, and that God is in control, and let’s overflow with gratitude.

-James Williams


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