1 Samuel 18 • The Greater Test of Faith


Although his battle with Goliath was a momentous event and definitely a milestone of biblical proportions, it probably wasn’t David’s greatest test of faith. Like many of the role models provided in the Bible, great men and women respond well during times of crisis but sometimes fail in the course of prolonged, everyday living. David’s greater test of faith came after his defeat of Goliath in the course of his daily service in Saul’s court. Keeping in mind that the word “faith” in the Bible can always also be translated as “faithfulness”, David’s faithfulness – like that of most believers – was put to the test several different ways in the course of his everyday life.

Read verses 1-5

Q: From a purely worldly point of view, why might this relationship between David and Jonathan be surprising?

A: Because although David has been anointed by God through Samuel to become the next king, it was Jonathan who by birth was in line to inherit the crown.

Q: What is the greater spiritual principle at work here?

A: The greater spirit of the Law to love others.

Application: It is not uncommon to find people who believe their ministry and calling is more important than their feelings for and relationships with other people. But every believer is called to put God’s Word into practice. If someone cannot love on a personal level, they will not effectively love at the corporate level when carrying out their ministry and calling.

Q: What was Saul’s purpose in v.2 to “not let him return to his father’s house”?

A: It signifies a change in their relationship. Whereas David previously divided his time between serving Saul and his own father, now he was commanded to be devoted exclusively to Saul’s service alone.

Q: What was the point of Jonathan giving David his robe?

A: So that David might no longer appear in Saul’s court as a simple shepherd but be recognized as a prince.

Q: Why did Jonathan give David his armor and weapons?

A: So that David would appear not just merely as a prince but as a soldier. All these things combined to elevate David to the same status as Jonathan, the prince and heir of the kingdom, that they might seem like one.

Point: David’s ministry and calling changed so that from this point on he was in full-time service of the king, just as believers are called from the old life to the new.

Q: What was the ultimate effect of David establishing his service to Saul through genuine love of personal relationships?

A: It pleased not only the people but Saul’s servants. (v.5) In other words, personal faithfulness begat reciprocal faithfulness from others.

Application: As with all leaders of God, David was tested in the course of his popularity. Would he allow it to change the way he treated others or the way he viewed himself? We know he passed the test in that it was the lives of all those around him that changed rather than David himself changing.

Read verses 6-11

Q: From a purely worldly point of view, why are we probably NOT surprised by the relationship between Saul and David?

A: Saul, having flunked all tests of personal faithfulness, most certainly failed all tests of personal love. Therefore it is not surprising that the issue of popularity invoked jealousy and rage within him, exactly opposite of what it worked in David.

Q: What would be particularly disturbing about the way the women framed their praise?

A: They did not attribute the results to God as would be customarily expected, but praised David directly. Saul therefore immediately seized upon the notion that this was an issue between him and David personally, whereas David seems to have dismissed it entirely.

Application: One of the key differences between the righteous and the unrighteous is their concern, or lack thereof, for men’s praise more than God’s. A symptom of deeper sin is often revealed by the degree that people’s opinions shape how a person serves God.

The crucible is for silver and the furnace for gold,

And each is tested by the praise accorded him.

— Proverbs 27:21

Application: Praise is like a hot furnace revealing what a person is really made of. The praise that instilled humility in David only brought to the surface the dross in Saul’s heart to reveal his pride and personal desires.

Q: So why did God allow an evil spirit to come upon Saul? Was Saul just unlucky or cursed?

A: This kind of thing is always the logical conclusion to a very long series of personal choices. It comes about as the result of steadfastly refusing to repent of sin and instead embracing sin ever tighter. Saul is given over to the unrighteousness he has been personally pursuing at the expense of his own faithfulness.

Q: Where does unfaithfulness ultimately lead?

A: To taking matters into one’s own hands. In Saul’s case, he thought killing David would resolve the issue of popularity between them.

Application: Note how David’s practice of love led to faithfulness while Saul’s lack of love led to unfaithfulness. How is our greater character shaped by our daily actions and decisions in the “little” things?

Read verses 12-16

Q: From a purely worldly point of view, what has happened to David’s career?

A: It appears that he was demoted from being in charge of Saul’s personal body guard to merely being a captain over a thousand men.

Q: Why did Saul do this?

A: Whereas Saul first feared David for his greater popularity with the people in v.1-15, now Saul fears David for his greater popularity, so to speak, with the Lord.

Point: The unrighteous consciously recognize they have a spiritual problem but deceive themselves as to how they can fix it their self rather than personally repenting and responding to God.

Q: What was the final result? How did this build upon David’s previous efforts?

A: Whereas his faithfulness previously caught the attention of some of the people and Saul’s servants, it now states in v.14 that “all Israel and Judah loved David”. Ultimately the contrast of his righteousness to Saul’s unrighteousness showed through to everyone.

Application: It takes faith to experience a demotion in the eyes of everyone around us and still maintain our humility and service. Have you ever been tested in such a way so that God may determine whether we’re more concerned about what others think about us than what He thinks of us?

Read verses 17-30

Q: Why is Saul not really promising something extra to David in offering his daughter Merab to David?

A: Saul was already obligated by his word to give one of his daughters in marriage to whomever slew Goliath.

The men of Israel said, “Have you seen this man who is coming up? Surely he is coming up to defy Israel. And it will be that the king will enrich the man who kills him with great riches and will give him his daughter and make his father’s house free in Israel.”

— 1 Samuel 17:25

Application: One of the distinguishing characteristics between the faithful and the unfaithful is the degree to which they keep their word. Those incapable of keeping their word with God are often betrayed by the fact they are incapable of keeping their word with men.

Q: What was Saul’s true intention?

A: Having unsuccessfully tried to kill David himself, he tries to get others to do it, in this case in the course of battle with the Philistines.

Q: What would have been the greater tragedy had David married Merab?

A: Ultimately all of her sons – heirs of Saul – had to be delivered to the Gibeonites to be hanged in order to make things right. It is possible that David would have found himself having to pay for Saul’s sins, so to speak, with his own sons’ lives.

Q: What did Saul recognize in his youngest daughter Michal?

A: Saul recognized that spiritually she would “become a snare to him”. He hoped this, combined with the threat from the Philistines, would ultimately take care of the problem for him.

Q: Was Saul correct in his assessment of Michal?

A: Yes. Michal would eventually turn on David and complete separation would ultimately result.

Q: What did Saul do in the mean time to enhance his chances of overcoming David?

A: Saul demanded from David what he thought would be an impossible dowry, hoping that David would be killed in the process of completing the task.

Q: What is remarkable about David’s efforts?

A: Saul only required “a hundred foreskins of the Philistines” (v.25) but David slew “two hundred men among the Philistines”. (v.27).

Q: What is the contrast between Jonathan and Michal?

A: Although both were children of Saul, both were a different kind of test of David’s love, the one responding in the best way possible, the other in the worst, most disappointing fashion.

Application: David’s faith was tested in the presence of disappointment, first in the person of Saul who did not keep his word, then by the wife David ultimately was given. Jonathan, Saul, and Michal represent different types of people we encounter on a daily basis, and the quality of our faithfulness in dealing with each one reflects the overall quality of our spiritual faithfulness in our relationship with Christ. Some love us, some hate us, some eventually turn on us.

Q: What was Saul’s final condition?

A: “Saul was even more afraid of David”. (v.29) The unrighteous often express their fear of God by their treatment of others.

Q: What was David’s final condition?

A: “David behaved himself more wisely than all the servants of Saul. So his name was highly esteemed”. (v.30) The way the righteous treat others reflects the way they personally treat God in their life.

Overall Application

Some would say that after defeating Goliath, everything should have been downhill for David. But like many Christians, we successfully pass the “milestone” tests which occasionally come once or twice in the course of life, but struggle with living consistently each and every day in between them. David’s faithfulness was tested on both the personal and public levels by popularity, then demotion, and ultimately by disappointment.