One of the main objectives of the author of 1 Samuel is to show the difference between Saul, the rejected king and David, the man chosen to succeed him. Generally speaking the contrast between these two men is fairly obvious yet there are a number of instances in the book where Saul and David are contrasted in more subtle ways. They are found in particular in the chapters describing David’s time in the wilderness. In the next few posts I want to present several examples of such contrasts that may not be evident at first sight.
We begin in 1 Samuel 22. The chapter begins as follows:
So David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam; and when his brothers and all his father’s household heard of it, they went down there to him. And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented, gathered to him; and he became captain over them. Now there were about four hundred men with him. And David went from there to Mizpah of Moab; and he said to the king of Moab, “Please let my father and my mother come and stay with you until I know what God will do for me.” Then he left them with the king of Moab; and they stayed with him all the time that David was in the stronghold. And the prophet Gad said to David, “Do not stay in the stronghold; depart, and go into the land of Judah.” So David departed and went into the forest of Hereth. (1 Sam 22:1-5)
Note that in these verses David is presented as a captain over four hundred men who have sought refuge with him as well as a concerned son who seeks to ensure the safety of his parents. Now take a look at the very next scene that features Saul and his servants:
Then Saul heard that David and the men who were with him had been discovered. Now Saul was sitting in Gibeah, under the tamarisk tree on the height with his spear in his hand, and all his servants were standing around him. And Saul said to his servants who stood around him, “Hear now, O Benjamites! Will the son of Jesse also give to all of you fields and vineyards? Will he make you all commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds? For all of you have conspired against me so that there is no one who discloses to me when my son makes a covenant with the son of Jesse, and there is none of you who is sorry for me or discloses to me that my son has stirred up my servant against me to lie in ambush, as it is this day.” (1 Sam 22:6-9)
Note that both David and Saul are presented as leaders of a group of people. Yet that is as far as the similarities go. For while the first few verses of the chapter show a very active David who is concerned about the well-being of others and who moves from being a lone fugitive to becoming the leader of several hundred men, vv 6-9 feature a rather passive Saul who is focused entirely on himself and seems to become more and more isolated (only Doeg, a foreigner, is still on his side). He also does not seem to have much authority over his men anymore as becomes evident when they refuse to obey his command to kill the priests (6:17). Compare this to the opening scene of the very next chapter:
Then they told David, saying, “Behold, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah, and are plundering the threshing floors.” So David inquired of the LORD, saying, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?” And the LORD said to David, “Go and attack the Philistines, and deliver Keilah.” But David’s men said to him, “Behold, we are afraid here in Judah. How much more then if we go to Keilah against the ranks of the Philistines?” Then David inquired of the LORD once more. And the LORD answered him and said, “Arise, go down to Keilah, for I will give the Philistines into your hand.” So David and his men went to Keilah and fought with the Philistines; and he led away their livestock and struck them with a great slaughter. Thus David delivered the inhabitants of Keilah. (1 Sam 23:1-5)
Note that like Saul’s servants, David’s men are at first unwilling to obey their leader. But while Saul’s servants remain unwilling, David’s men eventually do go with him. The different reactions seem to be directly related to the attitude of their leader and his relationship with God. Saul wants to selfishly kill, though he has no Word of the Lord to back him up. It is his own idea and is in fact contrary to the will of God. David, on the other hand, wants to unselfishly save and twice asks God for confirmation. God assures him of victory and it appears to be this assurance that convinces David’s men to join him. Thus David’s success as leader does not appear to be based so much on his own skills and talents but rather on his close relationship with the ultimate Leader. It is this relationship that most strikingly sets him apart from Saul and causes him to be successful where Saul is not.