But notice that Saul’s reaction to David is more than a personal envy; it is another manifestation of his distance from Yahweh: “David had success in all his undertakings, for the LORD was with him. And when Saul saw that he had great success, he stood in fearful awe of him” (1 Samuel 18:14-15). Ironically, as he gives more military opportunities to David so that he can be killed, David gains more fame through Yahweh’s power: “All Israel and Judah loved David, for he went out and came in before them” (1 Samuel 18:16). “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” (1 Samuel 18:28-29).
In today’s reading we see just how far Saul has distanced himself from Yahweh. Despite being convinced in 1 Samuel 19:6 that he should never harm David, he tries to kill him again. He reveals the motive of his hatred: “For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established” (1 Samuel 20:31). Once again he trusts only in himself and in his own capabilities to manage the affairs of the kingdom. For Saul, his reign over Israel is not something granted and sustained by Yahweh but a right that he must grasp hold of, a dominion which he himself must secure. But, isn’t that exactly what Israel asked for? “Appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:5). Now they have a king just like the other nations, one who reigns in pride, who governs through his personal interests, who resorts to violence to fulfill his desires and who pays more attention to the preservation of his privileges over the generations rather than righteousness.
May Yahweh save us from this kind of leader!
And it reaches a point that would never have been imagined even in the darkest hours of the judges when Saul has 85 priests killed in 1 Samuel 22:18. Even his most loyal servants know better: “The servants of the king would not put out their hand to strike the priests of the LORD” (1 Samuel 22:17). Therefore he commands a foreigner to do it, an Edomite. And as if that is not enough, he destroys the entire city of Nob, the city of the priests, as if they were Canaanites (1 Samuel 22:19). That is how Saul has elevated his own justice and the preservation of his privileges above Yahweh’s law.
Considering Saul’s diabolical reign, Yahweh’s preservation of His anointed one is impressive. He makes three groups of soldiers abandon their mission of capturing David when they prophesy before Samuel (1 Samuel 19:19-21). When Saul himself tries to hunt him down, suddenly we feel like we are in 1 Samuel 9 – 10 again, with Saul looking for the donkeys and discovering that Yahweh has orchestrated each detail of the trip… but this time for David’s protection. Saul himself has to abandon his search because he strips himself of his clothes and prophesies before Samuel all day and all night long (1 Samuel 19:24). Jonathan makes a covenant with David, and when David is at the lowest point of his desperation, he finds protection for his parents with the king of Moab (1 Samuel 22:3-4) and receives a prophetic word to direct his next steps (1 Samuel 22:5). Therefore, when we see that one of the priests escapes the destruction of Nob to join with David (1 Samuel 22:20-23), we realize that Yahweh’s will admits no obstacle. Even in the deepest desperation, He will protect His anointed one and
will act so that His just dominion eventually will manifest itself.