January 12, 2020
Our thoughts don’t always align with our words. We see this truth illustrated in Saul, who showered David with generous invitations even as he eyed him with increasing envy and hostility. Giving the appearance of civility, Saul even offered God’s anointed king his daughter’s hand in marriage while secretly plotting to eliminate him. This attempt to override the Lord’s plan failed, teaches Alistair Begg, because God is sovereign, able to use even man’s evil schemes for His people’s good.
Sermon Transcript: Print
First Samuel 18:17:
“Then Saul said to David, ‘Here is my elder daughter Merab. I will give her to you for a wife. Only be valiant for me and fight the Lord’s battles.’ For Saul thought, ‘Let not my hand be against him, but let the hand of the Philistines be against him.’ And David said to Saul, ‘Who am I, and who are my relatives, my father’s clan in Israel, that I should be son-in-law to the king?’ But at the time when Merab, Saul’s daughter, should have been given to David, she was given to Adriel the Meholathite for a wife.
“Now Saul’s daughter Michal loved David. And they told Saul, and the thing pleased him. Saul thought, ‘Let me give her to him, that she may be a snare for him and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.’ Therefore Saul said to David a second time, ‘You shall now be my son-in-law.’ And Saul commanded his servants, ‘Speak to David in private and say, “Behold, the king has delight in you, and all his servants love you. Now then become the king’s son-in-law.”’ And Saul’s servants spoke those words in the ears of David. And David [says], ‘Does it seem to you a little thing to become the king’s son-in-law, since I am a poor man and have no reputation?’ And the servants of Saul told him, ‘Thus and so did David speak.’ Then Saul said, ‘Thus shall you say to David, “The king desires no bride-price except a hundred foreskins of the Philistines, that he may be avenged of the king’s enemies.”’ Now Saul thought to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines. And when his servants told David these words, it pleased David well to be the king’s son-in-law. Before the time had expired, David arose and went, along with his men, and killed two hundred of the Philistines. And David brought their foreskins, which were given in full number to the king, that he might become the king’s son-in-law. And Saul gave him his daughter Michal for a wife. But when Saul saw and knew that the Lord was with David, and that Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved him, Saul was even more afraid of David. So Saul was David’s enemy continually.
“Then the commanders of the Philistines came out to battle, and as often as they came out David had more success than all the servants of Saul, so that his name was highly esteemed.”
Gracious God, we turn now to your Word, and to your voice we want to listen. Come by the Holy Spirit, and open your Word to us, and open our lives to your truth. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Well, when Monday comes around and I turn again to the Bible for the prospect of the following Sunday, like you, presumably, at your work, I pick up the next part of the challenge and say, “Okay, what do we do now?” And as I read through the passage this week, I found that almost immediately, a phrase from the Old Testament which I remembered from a long time ago came to my mind. And that phrase is “As [a man] thinketh …, so is he.” “As a man thinketh, so is he.” Now, I wish I could tell you that I knew exactly where it came from. But I didn’t, and so I had to spend time finding it. And I tracked it down to the twenty-third chapter of Proverbs. And we’re not going to delay on that context, but it is there that you will find it. And the context in which that statement is made is one of the expression of hospitality. So, a host is inviting people to eat at his table, and the exhortation of Solomon is “You ought to be very, very careful about being entertained by this individual.” “Eat … not the bread of him [who] hath an evil eye.”
Now, if you recall from last time, 18:9 tells us that from that point on, Saul set his eye on David. And the inference, of course, is that he was not looking at him with great affection and with benediction, but rather, as we saw, he was looking at him with envy and with hostility. And much of the same is included there in that section in Proverbs 23. And the point is simple: this man makes generous expressions of invitation, but in actual fact, he is pretending a generosity that he does not feel. In essence, he doesn’t mean what he says.
Now, I think the reason that that was in mind is because that is exactly what we find here in the second half of this eighteenth chapter. There is an obvious discrepancy between what Saul says and what Saul thinks. Now, let me just point it out to you, in case in the process we miss this. Verse 17a, “Then Saul said to David…”; 17b, “For Saul thought…” Okay? That’s all I want you to notice. “Saul said …. Saul thought…” And in going down the page, he then does it again in verse 20 or 21: “Saul thought, ‘Let me give her to him,’” and then “Saul said…” Okay? What he was thinking and what he was saying—there’s a discrepancy. You get to verse 25, “Then Saul said, ‘Say this to David…,’” and 25b, “Now Saul thought to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines.”
I wonder, have you wondered: At what point along the way did Saul start telling lies? Started to tell lies to himself, and inevitably he told lies to other people. With that in mind, I went back and reviewed all that we’ve gone through, and it would be tedious to go back through it. You can do it on your own. But I can tell you where I began to wonder: back in the tenth chapter, in the context of the inquiry coming about “Where did you go?” And he replies, “We went to see the donkeys.” “And what did the man tell you?” the inquirer asks. And then, at that point, he tells him one of the things that was said, but he doesn’t tell him everything that is said. In other words, he tells the truth, but he doesn’t tell the whole truth.
When, in chapter 13, Jonathan has led the people in a great victory, the trumpet is sounded throughout the land, and then it is reported that Saul has won a great victory. Now, whether he was the one who wanted that message put out or whether it simply was that he was so excited about it that he decided not to dissuade anybody of the fact, there is at least a gap there. And classically, when we got to chapter 15, and the command of God for the destruction of the Amalekites was clear and unequivocal, when Samuel eventually confronts Saul with that, you will perhaps remember—and you can find it down towards the end of 15—Saul says, “Oh, but I have obeyed the Lord. I have obeyed the Lord. And it wasn’t me that did it. It was the people that did it.” And by this point, I think, he is beginning to skirt on the fringes of integrity.
And, you remember, when we looked at that, we reminded ourselves that partial obedience is still disobedience. And Saul had a real problem with consistency. Some of you have a boss like this. You never know where you are with the character—you know, whether it’s his good day or it’s his bad day, or hers. And in this case, we saw in the opening of the chapter that in verse 2, David is invited into Saul’s home; in verse 13, he’s thrown out of Saul’s home. In verse 10, he’s playing the harp; in verse 11, he’s dodging the spears. The volatility of this individual and the inconsistency of his life is almost inevitably, then, borne out in his conduct.
That’s why verse 9 is so crucial: “And Saul eyed David [evilly] from that day on.” He kept a jealous watch on him—because he didn’t share the admiration and affection that was swelling the whole community. Everybody loved David. And Saul knew why they loved him. It wasn’t just because he was handsome; it wasn’t just because he was good at battle; no, “because the Lord was with him.” And that set, of course, in juxtaposition Saul’s own condition. Because remember, the Spirit of the Lord “had departed from Saul.” And so, from that point, fear, if you like, becomes the hallmark of Saul’s existence. In David’s case, victory and popularity; in Saul’s case, an ever-diminishing picture of a man. Once the big, tall character who held such prospect for the people as he comes forward to fulfill the role of king, and now look at him: reduced to a shadow of himself and resolving to duplicity at the most basic level.
Now, it is with all of that in mind that you then come almost sort of out of the blue to the seventeenth verse: “Then Saul said to David, ‘Here is my elder daughter Merab. I will give her to you for a wife.’”
Now, of course, we need to read this in light of what we learned back in chapter 17. And remember, we referred to it as the word on the street or the word on the battlefront. When David arrives there, the people are saying to one another, “You know, if anybody actually takes this Goliath on and defeats him, the benefits are marvelous. You get to marry the king’s daughter, you get a big sum of money, you get a cash payout, and your family has a sort of tax-free existence for the rest of their lives.” That was the thing that was being said. Whether they were reporting the actual promise of Saul we can’t say. But that was the inference, and that was what was going on. If Saul had actually made that promise, then now, here we come to verse 17, and he decides that he’s going to fulfill it.
But you will notice that it is presented now not as a fulfillment of a promise but as a means to an end: “Here is … Merab.” I wonder how he presented her. Did he walk her in, you know, like down the staircase? “Here is Merab.” Or did he have ahold of her hand, and she was hidden somewhere behind the curtain, and he was pulling her out and saying, “Here is Merab!” Because we have no indication of Merab’s inclination, do we? This is an arranged marriage of striking heights. But she’s going to come, if she comes, with strings attached: “I will give her to you for a wife, except I just have one thing: only be valiant for me and fight the Lord’s battles.”
Now, on one hand, this makes sense, doesn’t it? “I’m not gonna give my daughter just to any Tom, Dick, or Harry. And I want you to show yourself for what you really are.” Hard to imagine that, though, given chapter 17. Why would he have to do anything other than that? He had taken down the great archenemy of the armies of Israel. No, you know what I think this is? I think this is something that some of us are adept at too. And here’s what it is: when we start to tell lies, one of the ways that we try and gild the lily is by including sort of biblical and divine language. We say things like—this is gossip now, but we call it “prayer”—“Now, I’m very concerned that you will be prayerful about these things.” And then something that may not necessarily be true, certainly isn’t kind, and definitely not necessary is passed into the filtration system of the community under the disguise of a concern for the kingdom.
Now, notice what he says here. He says, “I want you to show yourself strong. Fight the Lord’s battles.” Remember the law? “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold [them] guiltless who [take] his name in vain.” What he’s suggesting here, inferentially, is that his mind and his heart are actually set on the defense and the advance of the kingdom of God. And so, under the disguise of piety, he seeks to advance his own evil agenda—wrap the dirty business up in a concern that is ostensibly for the vastness and the greatness of God.
This is beyond crafty. This is actually cruel. Because he is prepared to use his daughter—actually, his daughters, as we will see—to fulfill his own selfish ends. You say, “Well, how do you get that?” Well, you get it from reading your Bible. This is what he said: “Here’s my daughter. I’ll give her to you as a wife, you advance the kingdom of God, and we’ll take it from there.” But—or “for” is the conjunction in ESV—“for Saul thought, ‘Let not my hand be against him,’” against David, “‘but let the hand of the Philistines be against him.’”
In other words, “I’m not gonna be involved in this thing. No, no, no, no.” Classically, the Philistines, who are the archenemies of the people of God, who have tyrannized the people of God, who have been vanquished by the anointed of God—namely, in David—Saul now, in his twisted mind, is prepared to use the enemies of God in order to bring about the destruction of the anointed of God. You see what happens when jealousy grips a mind, when jealousy takes hold? Goodness, you just need to read your newspaper every day, and you’ll see evidence of this again and again. And it’s easy to see our own sins in other people—at least I find it so. And so, you see it here. His words said, “We’re planning a celebration”; his heart was thinking in terms of elimination. Twisted. “I’ll leave it up to my enemies to do the dirty work. My hands are clean. It’ll be the Philistines that take him out.”
But the plot fails. The plot fails. He was suggesting a wedding while hoping for a funeral. And we discover here that David did not claim the prize. Verse 18 and 19 are quite difficult, in this respect: that it’s hard to tell just what it was that allowed Saul to go ahead and give Merab to Adriel. Was David sufficiently able to, in his honesty and in his humility, convince Saul and whoever else was involved in the process that he surely did not deserve to be put in that place? It makes you wonder again about the word on the street, back in chapter 17, doesn’t it? Was it simply his reluctance that shut the thing down? Or was it that Saul reneged for some other reason? Or was it that Merab had a say in the matter? Maybe Merab had already hopes of life with Adriel, huh? And so her father says, “You’re gonna marry David,” and she said, “No, I’m not.” That’s dangerous, but possible.
We don’t know exactly. All we know is this: that his dirty little plan failed, thus providing Saul with an amazing opportunity: the opportunity to repent of his cruelty, to turn his back on his jealous heart, to acknowledge that he needs the very presence of God that marks David.
In other words, his life is like the journey to Florida, down that road that takes you through the Carolinas. Now he is hurtling down the way: “I’ll get rid of him, get rid of him, get rid of him,” and his brakes go out. And there is one of those ramps that go up the side of the road in the Carolinas, with the opportunity to scoot your big truck right up there and, in that moment of failure, to find safety and the opportunity to begin again.
You see, many of us regard things that have come into our lives as failures, as some, you know, condemnation or something to be avoided. Don’t miss the hand of God when your plots—good or bad—come to an end. Don’t miss it in your marital relationships when in days of difficulty and sadness and disappointment and failure emerge, you miss the chance to see that God is at work in the dark shadows as well as in the light.
It made me think this morning, and back in my mind again, the book by Walt Wangerin, the Lutheran—you know it because I’ve quoted it to you in the past—Ragman and Other Cries of Faith. That’s the title of the book, but he has a number of short stories in there. And one of his stories is of the husband and wife who regularly argue with one another. They live in an apartment. And the routine of the man is when he gets annoyed with his wife and when an argument ensues, he simply goes out of the apartment, slams the door, and goes and walks round the community for a while until he’s reduced the level of his annoyance and then he returns.
And as the story unfolds, one of these arguments happens, and the man grabs his coat, ’cause he’s looked out the window; it’s bucketing rain. And he grabs his coat, and he goes out the door, and he slams the door. And as he goes to leave, he realized he slammed his coat in the door. And so, now he’s got a real problem. Either he leaves his coat lying in the hallway and goes out and gets a thorough soaking, or he has to ring the bell. But if he rings the bell, then she’s gonna be opening the door. He rings the bell. She opens the door. She’s doubled over laughing. And he says, in the book, he says, “And in that moment, there was the opportunity for repentance, for forgiveness, for reconciliation. But like a fool, I grabbed my coat and slammed the door and walked out into the rain.”
Saul here, in his first dirty little plan, has the opportunity to switch. But he doubles down. Look what he does. Merab, “at the time when [she] should have been given to David, she was given to Adriel”—okay—“the Meholathite.” “Who are you?” “I’m Adriel the Meholathite.” “Hm. Never heard of you.” “Thank you. All right.” Actually, the children of this couple end disastrously—but that’s in 2 Samuel, so you don’t need to worry about it for at least a hundred years.
The second attempt comes now in verse 20. It so happened… It so happened… Things happen, don’t they? People fall in love. It so happened. You say, “It doesn’t say that.” No, but that’s what happened. It so happened. “Now Saul’s daughter Michal loved David.”
See, the people tell me the Bible’s boring. How could this possibly be boring? This is fantastic stuff! Have you seen Little Women, the movie, yet? I got dragged there the other evening. And I hadn’t a clue what was going on, because I’ve never read the book. I hope you’re encouraged by the fact that I haven’t. Because I didn’t know—because they did flashbacks in the movie, and the one minute the lady had cut her hair, and the next minute her hair was long again. I said, “What the world? What’s her hair doing?” “Be quiet, we’re watching the movie.” “Okay, okay, okay.” But anyway, my feminine side came out dramatically before the thing was finished.
And so, when I read this now, I find myself viewing this in kind of Little Women terms. Because the sisters would talk! So Merab presumably said to Michal, “I tell you what. Dad’s got his thing about how I’m supposed to marry David. I don’t want to marry David!” Michal says, “What? I would like to marry David!” She says, “Well, you can go ahead and marry David, because I don’t want…” Anyway, that’s the kind of thing that’s happening. And so, here we have it: the princess falls for the hero. It’s all across the news. The princess has fallen for the victor in the Valley of Elah. There’s going to be a royal wedding.
Well, don’t go so quickly. Then “Saul’s daughter Michal loved David. And they told Saul, and the thing pleased him.” I have a hard time with that. I hope you do too. When I read it, I read it like this [evil voice]: “And the thing pleased him.” Right? Because it didn’t please him like pleased him. No, it’s horrible. I mean, it is horrible. You see, getting pleased about the wrong thing is not good. Actually, David was pleased about this, and Saul was pleased about this, but they were both pleased for two very different reasons. It’s not just a question of “Are you pleased?” No. ’Cause remember, “As a man thinketh, so is he.”
You’ve got to say to yourself, “Well, why was he pleased about it? What was he thinking?” Now, it’s not conjecture. You’re told in verse 21: “Saul thought, ‘[Aha!] Let me give her to him, that she may be a snare for him and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.’” “I can make this work for me,” he says. ’Cause he’s only concerned about his own damaged reputation. All he cares about is he has to get rid, somehow, of this shepherd, this Bethlehem boy. Everywhere he goes in the community, the pictures of him are everywhere. He can’t turn around but people are going, “Have you heard about David? You know about David?” And so he says, “I’ll give her to him.”
Now, I spent a fair amount of my life over the last forty years asking the question that I have had to answer myself on two occasions. That would be a good party question, incidentally: What is that question that Alistair has spent a long time asking and has only answered twice himself in his entire life? The bright among you have already got it. That reduces the number considerably, incidentally. “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” There’s the question. No father worth his salt is able with alacrity to simply say, you know, like, “I do!” No, it comes out all kinds of ways. I watched them. Sometimes it squeaks out, you know: “I—.” “Come on, try your best. If you’re not gonna be able to do it, get your wife up here. She’ll take care of it.” Well, you get the point. But there’s not a man, presumably, who gave his daughter away with the thought that she may just simply be a snare to her husband. What he’s doing here is setting Michal up for a deep sadness. He’s got no thought of her happiness. He’s actually gonna create this situation whereby her husband will be taken down in the plan that he has, and so her love for him apparently doesn’t really matter to Saul at all.
“As a man thinks, so is he.” This is a kind of reckless selfishness. And yet you will notice that it continues to operate under an ever-diminishing, an ever-thinning veneer of civility. “Saul thought, ‘Let me give her to him, that she may be a snare for him and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.’” That’s what he thought. Now this is what he said: he “said to David a second time, ‘You shall now be my son-in-law.’” It’s interesting, in the first instance: “I will give her to you.” That didn’t work. He’s a little more directive now: “Guess what? You’re about to become my son-in-law.”
But I can’t imagine that creepy Saul was just doing it in that way. I imagine the conversation that goes something like this. So, they meet together in a cafe somewhere, as per the plan. And so Saul says, “David, thank you very much for agreeing to get together today. You’re certainly a popular fellow, and it’s hard to find anyone who’s got anything bad to say about you at all. Everybody seems to love you. I know Jonathan does—and actually, I’m glad about that. I’m glad that you and Jonathan have become good friends. Jonathan needs a good friend, and you clearly are a friend to him, and it’s nice that you’ve been spending time together. He regards you as virtually a kindred spirit. And, of course, now Michal. Yeah, Michal. She’s head over heels for you! And Merab, as you know, she’s happily married. She’s off with Adriel now. And so, the pathway is clear. You shall be my son-in-law.”
Now, there is nothing to suggest in this, you see, that David is aware of any evil intention on the part of Saul. I don’t imagine David sitting in that conversation and humming to himself, “You can’t hide your evil eyes, and your smile is a thin disguise.” I don’t think so. I think David is a sweet fellow. Well, you say, “Well, wait a minute. I mean, do you not think he figured out that Saul didn’t really like him when he’s throwing spears at him when he’s trying to do the musical therapy?” No, I don’t think so. Perhaps, you know. You can debate it over coffee. I think David said, “You know, everybody has a bad day. Everybody has a bad day. I mean, I played the harp for him many times, and he was perfectly fine. I don’t know what happened to him! And furthermore, oh, goodness gracious, he couldn’t hit a barn door at three feet with that thing. It wasn’t even an issue to me. It doesn’t matter.” So, he’s gonna come and take this at face value: “You shall now be my son-in-law.”
And then notice what he does. This is really skillful stuff. Notice what he does: “And Saul commanded his servants…” Incidentally, you can debate this one as well. Do you believe the servants are complicit in this or they are not complicit in this? I don’t believe they’re complicit in it. It’s not germane to the issue, ultimately, but it does affect the unfolding drama. He spoke to the servants, and he said to them, “I want you to deliver a message to David. Go to David and tell him, ‘The king really delights in you. All of his servants really love you. We love you. And we’re here to say to you, it’s now time for you to become the king’s son-in-law.’” And so “Saul’s servants spoke those words in the ears of David.”
Now, it’s an interesting angle, isn’t it? We’ll come back to this later, because actually, our time is gone. But isn’t this another thing? Like, if you got a message you want to convey to somebody that you can’t convey with sincerity, then what you need to do is you need to make somebody your spokesperson. See, if Saul were to say to David—he’s now said, “David, you should become my son-in-law”—if he said, “because I really delight in you, David, you know, and I this and I that,” it would come out really bad. Because “as a man thinks, so is he.”
Now, every fourteen-year-old schoolboy knows this game. Don’t lie straight to your mother’s face. Have your friends do it. Let them do it. Convince them… You don’t have to tell them that you’re lying. You just tell them the story. Let them go and say it. Because if you try and say it, your mother knows you inside out. She’ll uncover you. She knows you. That’s what he’s doing here. He uses these fellows in order to do this. And, of course, the rest of the story follows.
This is evil, isn’t it? This is evil on his part. And what is actually happening here—if you take, now, the camera way, way back, way back from 1 Samuel, include Genesis, include Genesis chapter 3, include our little study in there—what was happening? What was the promise? What would unfold? That the seed of the woman would bruise the head of the serpent; that the animosity that would then unfold would be an animosity that deepened as time went by, so that it was the kingdom of God versus the kingdom of the world. And what you actually have here, whether Saul would ever have grasped the vastness of it—no—what you have here is essentially kingdoms in conflict, and that is that Saul now is seeking to bring to an end the line of God’s appointed plan whereby one day, “great David’s greater Son” will sit upon his royal throne. Read the genealogy of the beginning of Matthew. That’s what’s going on.
And yet, as in the story of Joseph, the things that Saul plans for evil God uses for good—so much so that if we had occasion to be able to bring David back to us, we’d say, “Well, tell us about that. How did you make it through?” He’d say, “Well, you know, I once wrote a song it. I wrote a song about ‘he took me from a miry pit and set my feet upon a rock, and he guarded my way, and he watched over me.’” And then he’d say to us, “But you’ve got a song like that. You’ve got a song like that. It’s about, you know, you could never hold on to him, but he can hold on to you.” I’d say, “That’s good, David. That’s what we’ll use as our closing song.” And we will. And for those of you who come back tonight, there will be the rest of the story.
Let us pray together:
O God our Father, we thank you that you are the God who works all things according to the purpose of your will—that the cruel and evil intentions of Saul, in all of his envy and hostility, actually serve to set forward your plan and purpose. So we pray that we might, in reflecting on this study, realize how desperately we need to trust in you and to rest in you, to bring our failures to you. Perhaps some of us, in a peculiar way today, this rings in a way that neither I nor anyone else could put the pieces of the puzzle together—but that whole idea of coming to a point where it seems as though it has collapsed, and yet received in the right way, it leads us on, as it were, to glory, to forgiveness, to wholeness.
Lord, fulfill your purposes, we pray. Grant that each of us might cast ourselves entirely upon you, in the way that our children say, “I’m scared,” and we say, “Don’t worry. I’ve got you!” Lord, grant that that may be the testimony of all. For your Son’s sake. Amen.
 Proverbs 23:7 (KJV).
 Proverbs 23:6 (KJV).
 See 1 Samuel 10:14–16.
 1 Samuel 15:20–21 (paraphrased).
 1 Samuel 18:12 (ESV).
 1 Samuel 18:12 (ESV).
 1 Samuel 17:25 (paraphrased).
 Exodus 20:7; Deuteronomy 5:11 (ESV).
 Walter Wangerin Jr., “Fights Unfought, Forgiveness Forgone,” in Ragman and Other Cries of Faith (New York: HarperCollins, 2004), 174–77. Paraphrased.
 Don Henley and Glenn Frey, “Lyin’ Eyes” (1975). Lyrics lightly altered.
 See Genesis 3:15.
 James Montgomery, “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed” (1821).
 See Genesis 50:20.
 Psalm 40:2 (paraphrased).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.