Army Career Under Saul Ends Abruptly for David
Every person likely has experienced unexpected termination of events that appear initially to be progressing toward a glorious accomplishment but end without reaching the expected breakthrough. A similar situation occurred for David, when he had to depart abruptly from Saul’s army to escape a threat to his life. David evaluated his judgment by assessing how Saul felt about him. If Saul was determined to kill him, then his only option would be to depart. However, if Saul really didn’t want to kill him, then he should stay and continue his army service. He consulted with Samuel and then with Jonathan and concluded he was no longer safe within proximity of Saul. Therefore, he departed and ended a career that hitherto appeared to be his path to kingship.
Every person likely has experienced unexpected termination of events that appear initially to be progressing toward a glorious accomplishment but end without reaching the expected breakthrough. The termination could result in disappointment and confusion, making the person wonder if God was with him/her after all. Many people probably have personal examples to share. However, we forget personal examples for now and instead discuss an example from the life of David to understand how he responded in the situation and consider how the principles of his response could apply today.
Recall from our previous study under Growing Reputation and Pains for David that David’s position as a high-ranking officer and commander in Saul’s army provided him opportunities to demonstrate leadership and grow reputation as potential future king of Israel. He cherished the opportunities as his positive reputation grew rapidly among the people. His service in Saul’s army appeared to define a clear path to becoming king of Israel. However, the service ended abruptly without leading directly to David becoming king. The service ended because Saul sought to kill David. Realizing his life was in danger within any proximity of Saul, David left the service to keep away from Saul.
But he didn’t leave the service as soon as he suspected that Saul wanted to kill him. He verified his judgment to determine the risk better before he departed. His actions indicate he would have wanted to stay if he could but departed because he determined he had to leave. He had to leave to avoid being killed by Saul. We discuss David’s experience to understand better how a person should respond when a promising path terminates without the expected breakthrough.
David’s experience provides an excellent illustration of God guiding a person incrementally toward an objective. As we discuss in a previous study under Human Relationship with God Regarding Work, God may choose to define the path to a person’s breakthrough (or major accomplishment) in increments; such that each incremental path leads to an accomplishment and opens the entrance to the next increment. The accomplishment may not be well understood at the time but may represent a key step toward the ultimate objective. In the example of David, his experience in Saul’s army helped his preparation for kingship but did not lead directly to his becoming king. The path terminated sooner than David expected and left him to wonder about possible next steps. The current bible study ends with his departure from the service (i.e., termination of an incremental path for David). Subsequent studies will discuss the paths that opened for him thereafter and eventually led to his becoming king of Israel.
David Departs from Saul’s Service
We summarize the events that led to David’s departure from Saul’s army. At the time of his departure, he was a high-ranking officer and battalion commander and was respected and admired among Saul’s troops and officers. The following events led to his departure from Saul and the army service.
- His problems with Saul started earlier but suddenly escalated when Saul declared to his attendants and son Jonathan that he wanted David killed: “Saul told his son Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David” [1 Samuel 19:1].
- Jonathan warned David to hide, confronted his father, and convinced him that killing David was not justified [1 Samuel 19:5]: “He took his life in his hands when he killed the Philistine. The Lord won a great victory for all Israel, and you saw it and were glad. Why then would you do wrong to an innocent man like David by killing him for no reason?”
- Saul promised Jonathan that David will not be harmed. Jonathan brought David back and reconciled him with Saul [1 Samuel 19:7].
- Saul violated his promise. He tried to pin David to the wall with his spear while David played the harp for him. David eluded him and escaped for good [1 Samuel 19:10].
- Saul sent men at night to surround David’s house and kill him in the morning. David’s wife Michal revealed the plot to David and let him down the window to safety [1 Samuel 19:12].
- David fled to Ramah to consult with Samuel. Saul pursued him there, sending three teams in succession and a fourth led by himself to capture David. His team was distracted by the Holy Spirit each time and failed to capture David [1 Samuel 19:18–24].
- David fled from Ramah to consult with Jonathan. First, he complained about Saul seeking his life [1 Samuel 20:1]: “What have I done? What is my crime? How have I wronged your father, that he is trying to kill me?” Jonathan initially did not believe his father wanted to kill David but was persuaded by the sincerity of David’s concern: “Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do for you” [1 Samuel 20:4].
- Second, David and Jonathan devised a plan to verify Saul’s feeling about David and a secret code that Jonathan would use to communicate the results. If the inquiry showed David could safely return to his service, Jonathan would inform him to return [1 Samuel 20:12]: “I swear by the Lord, the God of Israel, that I will surely sound out my father by this time the day after tomorrow! If he is favorably disposed toward you, will I not send you word and let you know?” However, if the inquiry showed Saul determined to kill David, then Jonathan would inform David and bid him farewell: “But if my father intends to harm you, may the Lord deal with Jonathan, be it ever so severely, if I do not let you know and send you away in peace” [1 Samuel 20:13].
- David hid in the wilderness to await Jonathan’s verification of Saul’s feeling about him: “The day after tomorrow, toward evening, go to the place where you hid when this trouble began, and wait by the stone Ezel” [1 Samuel 20:19]; “So David hid in the field…” [1 Samuel 20:24].
- Jonathan verified that David would not be safe with Saul any more. Saul was determined to kill David and would not relent. Jonathan informed David as agreed. They hugged and wept [1 Samuel 20:41]: “After the boy had gone, David got up from the south side of the stone and bowed down before Jonathan three times, with his face to the ground. Then they kissed each other and wept together—but David wept the most.”
- David departed thereafter [1 Samuel 20:42].
Summary of What We Learned
Accepting the End of a Promising Path
David recognized his career in Saul’s army was about to end. Also, his actions indicate he valued the career as defining his path to kingship. He didn’t know how his objective of becoming king of Israel would advance without the opportunities available to him through the army career. But he feared remaining in the army would place him within dangerous proximity of Saul that wanted to kill him.
He evaluated his information to determine whether to accept the end of the path or fight to restore the path. The evaluation depended on assessing how Saul felt about him. If Saul was determined to kill him, then his only option would be to depart. However, if Saul really did not want to kill him, then he should stay and continue his army service. He consulted with Samuel and then with Jonathan and concluded that he was no longer safe within proximity of Saul. Therefore, he departed from Saul and ended his service in Saul’s army.