Thursday of Week 2 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on 1 Samuel 18:6-9; 19:1-7

Saul was deeply impressed by David’s great exploit in killing Goliath and took him into his palace. A deep friendship developed between David and Jonathan, Saul’s son. We are told a little earlier that:

When David had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. (1 Sam 18:1)

Jonathan, as a sign of his affection, gave David his own mantle, his military dress, his sword, his bow and his belt. David was now transformed from a shepherd into a soldier.

Our reading today opens by saying that, as David and Saul returned from David’s famous victory over Goliath, the women came out from all the cities, singing and dancing. They played and sang:

Saul has killed his thousands
and David his ten thousands.

In accordance with the normal convention of Hebrew poetry, this was the women’s way of saying: ‘Both Saul and David have slain thousands’ (10,000 was typically used as the parallel of 1,000 – see Ps 91:7). It is a measure of Saul’s insecurity and jealousy that he heard their words literally and took offence. His resentment would also be triggered simply by having David’s name put alongside his own. From then on a seething jealousy and resentment against David grew in his heart.

Things reached a stage where Saul actually intended to kill David. He even tried to contrive that David would be killed in battle by the Philistines. If this happened, Saul’s evil intention would not be known, for he was aware of David’s popularity with the people. Of course, ironically, David himself will do exactly the same thing against the husband of a woman with whom he had an adulterous affair. Except that, in David’s case, the husband was killed and David’s sin was exposed (see 2 Sam 11:14-17 and 2 Sam 12:1-15).

In another ruse, Saul offered his own daughter as a bride to David. He hoped that, as Saul’s son-in-law, he would become a target for the Philistines. Unfortunately, this did not work, even though the daughter, Michal, who loved David, did become his wife.

In today’s reading we see Saul trying now to get his son Jonathan to bring about David’s death. He is abandoning the indirect attempts he has so far been contriving. He now adopts a more direct approach which will ultimately lead to David’s leaving the court and Saul’s service. However, Jonathan told David about his father’s intentions and later spoke to Saul on David’s behalf. After all, David had done so much to protect Saul and the people by his exploits. Why kill innocent blood?

Considering that David could have been seen as a threat to Jonathan’s own expectations of succeeding his father, his behaviour is both an indication of Jonathan’s integrity and his love and respect for David. Saul was won over and swore not to kill David, who was reinstated fully. However, Saul had made oaths in the past and not kept them. He won’t keep this one for very long either.

Jealousy can be a terrible thing. It is closely linked with one’s own insecurity and difficulty in accepting what one is. It is very difficult to see others surpassing the skills of which we were proud. It is difficult to see people turning their attention away from us to others. It is difficult for us to have the spirit of John the Baptist who, referring to Jesus, said:

He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:30)

The cure for jealousy is for us to accept fully our strengths and our weaknesses and not to measure our success as persons by what we can do or by what people think of us. All that matters is that God be given glory and that the work of the Kingdom be done.

If some are doing it better than us, we should be grateful. If some are not doing it better than us, but are getting all the credit – does it really matter?

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