Saul had a spear in his hand
and he hurled it, saying to himself,
"I'll pin David to the wall."
–1 Samuel 18:11-12
It is sometimes difficult to reconcile what we read in the old testament with our Christian sensibilities. In the synoptic gospels, Jesus distilled the law down to two commandments: Love God with all your heart, with all your soul and all your mind and Love your neighbor as yourself. You can find this in Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12:30-31, and Luke 10:27 and Jesus is referencing Leviticus 19:18. I think he means it. We are supposed to be a people connected by love; not that we can achieve it, but it should be our goal.
Leviticus 19:18 " 'Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.
There are places in the old testament, however, where it reads like God is the sender of evil. Not just that he allows evil to happen, but that he is the cause of it. And it's not easy to explain away. The existence of evil is the source of much debate in theology and philosophy and it's always brought up in debates with non-believers.
The book of Samuel has several references to God sending "an evil spirit" to torment Saul. There are other references in the old testament to God sending evil, so let's look at them. You know, for fun.
Judges 9:23 God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the citizens of Shechem, who acted treacherously against Abimelech.
Abimelech had killed Gideon's seventy sons, all except Jotham. In this case, it may well be that "evil spirit" is a metaphor for the distrust and bitterness that grew between Abimelech and his subjects. Perhaps God is allowing Abimelech to dwell on his actions.
1Kings 22:23 "So now the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The Lord has decreed disaster for you."
This account has a spirit stepping forward and volunteering to be deceitful in order to entice Ahab (bad king of Israel) to his death.
Job 1:12 The Lord said to Satan, "Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger." Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
Also verse 2:6. This is a clear case of God allowing evil to happen. Even though he could have said no, God allowed Satan to test Job's faith.
2Samuel 24:1 Again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, "Go and take a census of Israel and Judah."
1Chronicles 21:1 Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.
These two are sometimes presented as a biblical contradiction but I think they make the case of how God will allow evil to work for his purpose.
1Samuel 16:14 Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.
A form of this appears several times in 1Samuel. It says that the evil spirit is from the Lord. Consider this: knowing what you know right now about God, wouldn't you think that the removal of the Holy Spirit from your life would be it's own form of torture? Knowing that you had God's favor and lost it might just precipitate a descent into madness. Just a thought.
I personally subscribe to the paradigm where God allows evil to transpire within the boundaries that he sets. I believe it's the most accurate way for us to address the issue even though it is not a terribly satisfying answer at times.
The killing of Goliath made David an instant celebrity in Israel. In one confident act, David ended a forty day stalemate with the Philistines giving Saul's army an opportunity to route them back to their home cities and to plunder the extensive Philistine camp. David was brought to Saul still holding Goliath's head when the king asked who his father was. David answered that he was the son of Jesse and David was immediately put in the kings service. Saul did not let him return to his father's house.
Saul's son Jonathan took a special delight in David, becoming "one in spirit" with him. Jonathan's attack on the Philistines was as bold and confident as David's encounter with Goliath. Jonathan literally gave David the clothes off his back; a robe, tunic, sword, bow, and belt. Jonathan and David made a covenant with each other. The bible doesn't specify the details of the covenant, but as Saul's madness grows, Jonathan had to regularly assist in protecting David.
David is a military success and as such, he quickly rises to a high rank. He is well liked among the all of the Israelites and the army commanders. All except for the king. Saul is aware of his failure with the Amalekites and God's pronouncement of finding his replacement. Once, when David and his troops are returning home, the dancing ladies in town came out singing:
"Saul has slain his thousands,
and David his tens of thousands."
This particularly galled Saul and he became angry and jealous. The next day, Saul was prophesying* in his home and an evil spirit from God came over him in force. David was in the room playing his harp and Saul picked up a spear an threw it at David in attempt to pin him to the wall. David dodged him... twice.
*The word "prophesying" in the old Hebrew text can mean acting in an uncontrolled, ecstatic manner. There are a few times in Samuel where this is the case. It may be that Saul is displaying this behavior due to the punishing condition sent by God.
Saul became afraid of David's success. After the incident in the house, he sent David away and gave him command over a thousand men. Saul was scheming against David so that he would be killed by the Philistines.* Saul offered his oldest daughter, Merab, on condition that David would fight the Philistines. David declined on the grounds he wasn't worthy and Merab married someone else (Adriel of Meholah.) Saul discovered his younger daughter Michal was in love with David and offered her in marriage. David reminded the king that he was a poor man and Saul said, "The king wants no other price for the bride than a hundred Philistine foreskins, to take revenge on his enemies." David brought him two hundred Philistine foreskins.
*It is interesting to me that this "death by Philistines" trick is the same one David will use with Uriah. Also, notice that Saul is offering his daughters up conditionally. David was entitled to marry the kings daughter as a reward for killing Goliath. Saul is now altering the conditions.
Chapter nineteen begins with Saul expressly telling Jonathan and all of the attendants to kill David. Jonathan warns David to hide while he talks to his father. Jonathan is able to talk Saul out of killing David and Saul swears an oath to spare his life. Saul had a history of breaking his oath, however and soon, when an evil spirit from the Lord came and David was once again playing his harp, Saul tried pinning him against the wall with a spear. David had to run.
Saul sent men to David's house in order to kill him but his wife, Michal, warned him to flee. David escaped through a window and Michal took an idol (seriously!?) and put it in bed with some clothing and goat's hair to fool David's men. It worked and David was able to escape to Ramah where he met Samuel and told him of all Saul had done to him. Samuel and David went to hide in Naioth; not a town, but a complex of dwellings in Ramah that prophets lived in.
Word comes to Saul about where David is hiding and he sends some men to retrieve him, but when the men get there, they see a group of prophets prophesying with Samuel in the middle. The Spirit of God comes over Saul's men and they begin to prophesy as well. Twice more Saul sends men to Naioth in Ramah and both times the men begin to prophesy. Finally, Saul goes himself.
1Samuel 19:23-24 23. So Saul went to Naioth at Ramah. But the Spirit of God came even upon him, and he walked along prophesying until he came to Naioth. 24. He stripped off his robes and also prophesied in Samuel's presence. He lay that way all that day and night. This is why people say, "Is Saul also among the prophets?"
With God's help, David was able to escape at Ramah. He goes to Jonathan and asks if he knows why Saul is trying to kill him. At this point, Jonathan doesn't believe that Saul intends David any harm and tells David it's just a misunderstanding. David reminds Jonathan that Saul knows they are friends and would not tell him of his plans to kill David. Remembering the covenant between them, Jonathan asks how he can help.
The next day is the New Moon festival** and David is supposed to eat with the king; Jonathan will be there too. David suggests Jonathan attend the two day festival while David hides in the field. If Saul asks Jonathan, "Where is David?" Jonathan should say, "He asked permission to attend the festival with his family in Bethlehem." Saul's reaction would then indicate his intent: If he simply says, "Very well" then David is safe, but if he becomes enraged, then Jonathan would know Saul intends to kill David. David asks Jonathan, "Who will tell me if your father answers you harshly?"
1Samuel 20:11 "Come," Jonathan said, "let's go out into the field." So they went there together.
Genesis 4:8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let's go out to the field." And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
The first murder was committed with deliberate deceit. Both Cain and Abel made offerings to God but Abel's was given in faith while Cain's was given in obligation (Hebrews 11:4.) Here however, Jonathan and David both belong to God and they share a confidence and trust in the Lord. Jonathan aligns himself with David completely and they make a new covenant in verse sixteen:
1Samuel 20:16-17 16. So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, "May the Lord call David's enemies to account." 17. And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself.
At the New Moon festival, on the first night Saul didn't question David's absence and simply presumed something had made David ceremonially unclean (there's a long list of things that can do that.) On the second night Saul asks Jonathan about David and Jonathan tells him that David is with his father in Bethlehem. With that, Saul blew up at Jonathan, calling his mother names (perverse and rebellious) and accusing Jonathan of siding with David. Saul demands David's presence for execution, but Jonathan comes to his defense and so Saul threw a spear at his own son. Now Jonathan knows David is right and his own father is crazy.
Jonathan had worked out a way to let David know of his father's response. He went to the field where David was hiding and shot some arrow off to the side. When he sent a boy to retrieve the arrows, he was to say "the arrows are beyond you" if there was trouble, but he also added, "Hurry! Go quickly! Don't stop!" Jonathan then dismissed the arrow-boy and David came out and bowed to Jonathan. They kissed each other and wept together, then Jonathan told David to go in peace because they were friends in the name of the Lord.
Yes, it's really a thing.
Numbers 28:11-15 11. " 'On the first of every month, present to the Lord a burnt offering of two young bulls, one ram and seven male lambs a year old, all without defect. 12. With each bull there is to be a grain offering of three-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil; with the ram, a grain offering of two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil; 13. and with each lamb, a grain offering of a tenth of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil. This is for a burnt offering, a pleasing aroma, an offering made to the Lord by fire. 14. With each bull there is to be a drink offering of half a hin of wine; with the ram, a third of a hin ; and with each lamb, a quarter of a hin. This is the monthly burnt offering to be made at each new moon during the year. 15. Besides the regular burnt offering with its drink offering, one male goat is to be presented to the Lord as a sin offering.