Although Saul continues his reign for some time after the incidents in this chapter, this chapter does mark the formal textual end of his reign. Call this definitive foreshadowing, as well as some sort of formal closure. Put another way, for Saul this is all over but the shouting.
“And Saul spake to Jonathan his son, and to all his servants, that they should kill David. But Jonathan Saul’s son delighted much in David: and Jonathan told David, saying, Saul my father seeketh to kill thee: now therefore, I pray thee, take heed to thyself until the morning, and abide in a secret place, and hide thyself . . .” (1 Sam. 19:1-24).
Summary of the Text
Saul’s hostility to David now comes completely out into the open (v. 1). But Jonathan, who loved David, warned him about the immediate threat to his life (v. 2). Jonathan’s plan in response is to have David hide where he can overhear Jonathan remonstrate with his father (v. 3). This is what Jonathan did (vv. 4-5), and his father listened to him, swearing an oath in the name of God that David would not be killed (v. 6). So Jonathan succeeded in bringing about a temporary reconciliation (v. 7), but this lasted only until the next great military achievement of David’s (v. 8). Again the evil spirit was upon Saul and David played his harp for him, and Saul tried to spear him (vv. 9-10). This may be the second incident referred to in the previous chapter, or it may be another time. Saul then sent assassins to kill David, and Michal warned him (v. 11). This is the occasion behind the writing of Psalm 59. She let him down through a window (v. 12), and then came up with a ruse to buy David some time (vv. 13-14). Saul told his men to bring David to him so that he might kill him (v. 15), and so the ruse was discovered (v. 16). Michal covered for herself successfully by saying that David had threatened to kill her (v. 17).
David escaped to Samuel in Ramah, and so he and Samuel went and stayed nearby in Naioth (v. 18). Saul got word where they were (v 19), and so he sent men to capture David there (v. 20). But when they saw all the prophets prophesying, and Samuel presiding over them, they prophesied as well (v. 20). So Saul sent a second group, and the same thing happened, and then a third time as well (v. 21). And so Saul himself went, and he came to a great well and asked directions (v. 22). And so the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he prophesied all the way to Naioth (v. 23). And when he got there, he stripped off his clothes and prophesied naked before Samuel all day and night (v. 24). And so it was said, is Saul also among the prophets?
A Laban Story
We have already seen that Saul is a Laban, only with the power to kill. He is a public sector Laban. But we should note more than just one similarity—i.e. that both Saul and Laban changed the terms of their agreements. Scripture points to this striking similarity, and does so in a way as to make the point unmistakable.
Jacob was faultless in his dealings with Laban (Gen. 31:36). David was faultless in his dealings with Saul (1 Sam. 19:4). Laban deceived Jacob by withholding the promised daughter (Gen. 29:25). Saul deceived David by withholding the promised daughter (1 Sam. 18:19). Jacob escaped from Laban (Gen. 31:17-21). David escaped from Saul (1 Sam. 19:12). Laban pursued Jacob (Gen. 31:22-23). Saul pursued David (1 Sam. 19:11,18-24). Laban’s daughter deceived him (Gen. 31:33-35). Saul’s daughter deceived him (1 Sam. 19:13-16). Rachel lies about the teraphim (Gen. 31:33-35). Michal lies with the teraphim (1 Sam. 19:13-16). Laban wants to know why he was deceived, when the answer should have been obvious (Gen. 31:27). Saul wants to know why he was deceived, when the answer should have been obvious (1 Sam. 19:17). The writer of the book of Samuel is making the point very clear—he wants us to see Saul as a Laban.
The Second Bookend
We noted before that this chapter is the place where Saul’s reign comes to its formal closure. When he was young and humble, he came to Ramah (1 Sam. 9:6). When he was old and arrogant, he came to Ramah (1 Sam. 19:22). The first time he came to a well and asked for directions to Samuel (1 Sam. 9:11). The last time he came to a well and asked for directions to Samuel (1 Sam. 19:22). When he was first anointed, he came to a company of prophets and prophesied among them (1 Sam. 10:5), showing that God was with him. “Is Saul among the prophets?” was a marveling statement (1 Sam. 10:12). When he had forfeited his anointing, and God had departed from him “Is Saul among the prophets?” became a comic statement (1 Sam. 19:24). The Spirit came upon him and he was vested with kingly authority (1 Sam. 11:6). When the Spirit came upon him here, he was divested of his robe (1 Sam. 19:24). All the similarities are meant to highlight the radical difference in the spiritual condition of Saul’s heart. The first time he had a humble heart and the last time he had a heart full of envy and murder.
David’s Big Promotion
Throughout this story, David incurs Saul’s ire simply through his ongoing faithfulness to him. Just as Saul was unable to read the story he was in, David was enabled to accurately read it. Throughout this story, we can see how he trusts in God externally, and we can see how that trust looks from the inside as we read and sing the psalms. Samuel had been told not to look on the appearances, but to recognize that God looks on the heart. This is not just true of people; it is also true of situations. What was it when David finally had to flee from Saul’s court for good? What was that? It was his big promotion. Saul on the throne had lost it already. David in the wilderness was a kingly man already. Our God speaks those things which are not as though they were.