Attempted Murder

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1 Samuel 19:1-24 (Saul tries to kill David)

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is on David and Saul, and we are tracing David’s upward progression to the throne while Saul continues his downward slide. Today we finish up a set of three messages on the specific sins of Saul which contributed to his decline. So far, we’ve looked at jealousy and manipulation, and today we come to attempted murder. Don’t worry, we will move on to more positive subjects next week when we take a closer look at David and Jonathan and their amazing friendship. (Read 1 Samuel 19:1-3 and pray)


So, today’s message is called “Attempted Murder.” In today’s passage Saul tries to kill David. Now this isn’t the first time Saul has attempted to kill David, but in today’s chapter Saul attempts to murder David four times.

Now, there are a couple ways we could approach this passage today. For example, we could go to the Ten Commandments and look at the command against murder itself. The sixth commandment says, “You shall not murder,” although I’m really hoping all of you already know not to murder. Don’t do that, okay?

Or we could go to the Sermon on the Mount and look at Jesus’ deeper teaching against murder, where Jesus tells us not only is murder wrong, but also those things that lead to murder are wrong, things like anger or hate, that if you are angry with someone or hateful towards someone you are guilty of the sin of murder even if you don’t actually take someone’s life. That’s an important teaching, and yet it is not really the focus of our passage this morning.

Although 1 Samuel 19 tells us about Saul’s attempts to murder David, the chapter doesn’t focus on Saul so much as on the responses to Saul and his various attempts on David’s life. So, what can learn from the responses of those around Saul to his repeated attempts to murder David? When we look at the responses to Saul, a very clear pattern or principle emerges. We should take God’s side against evil. We make choices every day. There is a lot of evil in the world, and as Christians, how are we to respond? We are to take God’s side against evil.

But what does that mean? What does it mean to take God’s side against evil? What does that look like in everyday, practical real-life situations? That’s what we learn from studying these four responses to Saul’s four attempts to murder David.

So, this morning we are going to look at Saul’s four attempts at murder and at the four responses of Jonathan, David, Michal and God. And in the process, we will see what it means for us to take God’s side against evil.

I. Murder Attempt #1: Delegated evil and Jonathan’s response (1-7)

So, let’s look at murder attempt #1. In Saul’s first attempt he sends Jonathan and his servants to kill David. This is an example of delegated evil, but delegating doesn’t get you off the hook. In delegating the evil, Saul is just as responsible as if he did the deed himself. We learn several things about taking God’s side against evil in this situation.

   A. Obey God rather than man (1)
      – Acts 4:18-19, 5:29

First of all, you should obey God rather than man. Look at 1 Samuel 19:1 with me:

Saul told his son Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David. (1 Samuel 19:1)

Notice Saul has dropped all pretenses here. Last week we saw how Saul worked hard at manipulating the situation so that the Philistines would kill David. But that didn’t work, and now Saul comes out of the shadows and his intentions are clear to everyone. Saul wants David dead, and he sends Jonathan and his servants to do the dirty work.

So, if you’re Jonathan, what do you do? Saul’s the king, and you’re supposed to obey the king. Not only that, but Saul’s also your father, and you’re supposed to obey your father. What do you do when someone in authority over you tells you to do something that is clearly against God’s commands?

The Bible’s answer to this is very clear. Even though the Bible tells us again and again we are to obey those in authority over us, when those in authority tell us to do something against God, we are to obey the higher authority of God himself. We are to obey God rather than man.

We find an interesting example of this in the book of Acts. When the disciples first started preaching in Jesus’ name, just as Jesus had commanded them to do, the religious authorities arrested them and flogged them. We read in Acts 4: “Then they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God…. We must obey God rather than men!’” (Acts 4:18-19, 5:29)

Henry David Thoreau in his famous essay on Civil Disobedience wrote: “Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.” So, when the laws of a nation are unjust, the right place for a just person is in jail.

And it’s the same for us as Christians. When someone in authority tells you to do something against God, you obey God rather than man. Saul tells Jonathan to kill David, and Jonathan rightly refuses. Instead of blindly following orders, Jonathan takes God’s side against evil and obeys God rather than man.

   B. Watch out for your fellow man (2-3)
      – Genesis 4:9

And that leads us to a second way we are to take God’s side against evil. Watch out for your fellow man. Look at 1 Samuel 19:2-3:

But Jonathan was very fond of David 2 and warned him, “My father Saul is looking for a chance to kill you. Be on your guard tomorrow morning; go into hiding and stay there. 3 I will go out and stand with my father in the field where you are. I’ll speak to him about you and will tell you what I find out.” (1 Samuel 19:2-3)

Jonathan could have refused to kill David and just left it at that. But Jonathan took that next step and reached out to David and warned him as well. We’ve already seen Jonathan’s covenant of friendship with David back in chapter 18. Here Jonathan is true to his commitments. And even though Jonathan is next in line to the throne, he protects David who is destined to take his place.

Jonathan puts his plan into action. He warns David about Saul. He tells David to hide in the field, and Jonathan will go out with Saul close to him and question Saul further. Then he will fill David in on all the details.

In the book of Genesis when Cain murdered his brother Abel, God came looking for him. We read in Genesis 4:9: “Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ ‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’” (Genesis 4:9) And the answer to Cain and to all of us is, “Yes, you are your brother’s keeper.” You have a responsibility before God to watch out for your fellow man.

   C. Dissuade others from evil when you can (4-7)
      – James 5:19-20

If you are going to take God’s side against evil, you must obey God rather than man. You must watch out for your fellow man. And you must dissuade others from evil when you can. Look at 1 Samuel 19:4-7:

Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, “Let not the king do wrong to his servant David; he has not wronged you, and what he has done has benefited you greatly. 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?” 6 Saul listened to Jonathan and took this oath: “As surely as the LORD lives, David will not be put to death.” 7 So Jonathan called David and told him the whole conversation. He brought him to Saul, and David was with Saul as before. (1 Samuel 19:4-7)

Jonathan takes another extra step here. Not only does he refuse to kill David himself. Not only does he warn David of Saul’s intentions. Jonathan also puts himself at risk by confronting Saul. And he gives Saul three reasons not to kill David. 1) David is innocent, 2) David has been of great benefit to Saul, and 3) Saul would be committing a serious sin. Jonathan is persuasive, and Saul is convinced – for now. Saul takes an oath and swears David will not be put to death.

James 5 says: “My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20) If you want to take God’s side against evil in this world, you need to be proactive as well as reactive. You need to dissuade others from evil when you can. This takes courage, and it’s not always easy to do. But it is part of taking God’s side against evil.

So, what should be our response when others try to delegate evil? We should obey God rather than men. We should watch out for our fellow man. We should dissuade others from evil when we can.

II. Murder Attempt #2: Returning evil for good and David’s response (8-10)

Saul’s second attempt on David’s life takes place in verses 8-10. In this second attempt Saul throws his spear at David again. Now remember Saul had done this earlier back in chapter 18 in a similar scene. David had just defeated Goliath. The people were singing David’s praises. Saul was jealous, and in a fit of rage he threw his spear at David twice.

Well, now he does it again. This second attempt is an example of Saul returning evil for good, and we learn several things about taking God’s side against evil in this situation, too.

   A. You should suffer for doing good rather than evil (8-9)
      – 1 Peter 2:20-21

First of all, if you suffer, you should suffer for doing good rather than evil. Look at 1 Samuel 19:8-9:

Once more war broke out, and David went out and fought the Philistines. He struck them with such force that they fled before him. 9 But an evil spirit from the LORD came upon Saul as he was sitting in his house with his spear in his hand. While David was playing the harp … (1 Samuel 19:8-9)

We’ve talked about this evil spirit from the Lord before. We’ve seen that this is an example of God’s sovereignty over evil, that even the evil spirits have to obey God’s commands. God is not doing evil here. Rather he is punishing Saul for his rebellion.

Well let’s look at David. Has David wronged Saul in any way here? No, David is doing Saul good rather than evil. Out on the battlefield David is winning Saul’s battles for him against the Philistines. Back at home David is playing the harp to soothe Saul during his evil moods. David is doing nothing but good for Saul.

The Bible says if you suffer, you should suffer for doing good rather than evil. We read in 1 Peter 2: “But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:20-21)

Jesus is the ultimate example of someone who suffered for doing good. Jesus never committed any sin at all. And yet Jesus suffered. He went to the cross to pay the price for all our sins. As Christians you and I are called to follow Christ’s example. If you suffer, you should suffer for doing good rather than evil.

   B. Escape persecution when you can (10)
      – Matthew 10:23

Another thing we learn about taking God’s side against evil in this section is to escape persecution when you can. Look at 1 Samuel 19:10:

Saul tried to pin him to the wall with his spear, but David eluded him as Saul drove the spear into the wall. That night David made good his escape. (1 Samuel 19:10)

Notice David doesn’t stick around to give Saul a second chance like last time. Saul throws the spear once, and David is out of there.

Jesus told his disciples to expect persecution, but he also told them in Matthew 10:23: “When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another.” (Matthew 10:23) Although as Christians we should expect persecution, and we should never try to avoid persecution by compromising with evil, we should still seek to escape persecution when we can. Why? Because persecution is evil, and as Christians we are called to take God’s side against evil.

So, how should we respond when people return evil for good? We should suffer for doing good rather than evil. We should escape persecution when we can.

III. Murder Attempt #3: Premeditated evil and Michal’s response (11-17)

Now we move on to murder attempt #3. In this third attempt Saul invades David’s home to try and kill him. And when the guards report back to Saul that David is ill, Saul even tells them to bring David to him on his bed so that he can kill him himself. This is an example of premeditated evil. This is premeditated murder, and we learn several things about taking God’s side against evil in this situation, too.

   A. Protect the innocent (11-14)
      – Psalm 59:1-3, 82:4

First, you should protect the innocent. Look at 1 Samuel 19:11-14:

Saul sent men to David’s house to watch it and to kill him in the morning. But Michal, David’s wife, warned him, “If you don’t run for your life tonight, tomorrow you’ll be killed.” 12 So Michal let David down through a window, and he fled and escaped. 13 Then Michal took an idol and laid it on the bed, covering it with a garment and putting some goats’ hair at the head. 14 When Saul sent the men to capture David, Michal said, “He is ill.” (1 Samuel 19:11-14)

In this section we will be looking at Michal’s response to evil, and we will focus on her positive responses, although she does some questionable things here as well. But one thing she certainly gets right. Even though she is the king’s daughter, just like Jonathan the king’s son, she protects David from Saul. She warns him of danger and helps him escape. She protects the innocent.

And this is the proper response to premeditated evil. Psalm 82:4 says: “Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” (Psalm 82:4) When you know someone is planning evil against another, you need to do all that you can to protect the innocent and prevent the evil.

David wrote a whole psalm about this particular incident. You know what they say about song writers. No matter what happens, you always get a song out of it, right? Well Psalm 59 in the Bible is about this incident with Saul and Michal.

Many of the psalms have what we call a superscription at the beginning giving us a little bit of information about the psalm before we read or sing it. And the superscription for Psalm 59 reads like this: “When Saul had sent men to watch David’s house in order to kill him.” And then you jump right into the psalm itself where David writes: “Deliver me from my enemies, O God; protect me from those who rise up against me. Deliver me from evildoers and save me from bloodthirsty men. See how they lie in wait for me!” (Psalm 59:1-3)

That’s exactly what happened in 1 Samuel 19. And God used Michal to protect David from Saul. So that’s one way we should respond to premeditated evil. We should protect the innocent.

   B. Stand up to evil (15-17)
      – Psalm 94:16

You should also stand up to evil. Once again, this isn’t easy. It takes courage and involves risk. Look at 1 Samuel 19:15-17:

Then Saul sent the men back to see David and told them, “Bring him up to me in his bed so that I may kill him.” 16 But when the men entered, there was the idol in the bed, and at the head was some goats’ hair. 17 Saul said to Michal, “Why did you deceive me like this and send my enemy away so that he escaped?” Michal told him, “He said to me, ‘Let me get away. Why should I kill you?’ ” (1 Samuel 19:15-17)

Notice the progression here. First Saul tries to manipulate the situation so that David is killed by the Philistines. Then Saul tries to delegate evil by sending Jonathan and others to kill David. But now Saul is ready to kill David himself, by his own hand, while David is lying ill in his bed! Sin unchecked goes from bad to worse. Sins of passion and opportunity quickly turn into sins of planning and premeditation if we do not turn from our sin and go to God.

Saul is angry with Michal for helping David, but Michal doesn’t back down. She stands right up to Saul. The psalmist writes in Psalm 94:16: “Who will rise up for me against the wicked? Who will take a stand for me against evildoers?” (Psalm 94:16) The proper response to premeditated evil is to protect the innocent and stand up to the evil.

Now we need to be careful here with Michal’s response, because as we mentioned before, Michal does some questionable things along with the admirable things we’ve already looked at. When Saul first sends the men to capture David, Michal lies and tells them David is ill. Then she deceives them by putting a large idol in the bed with some goats’ hair at the head and covering it with a garment. It’s all very creative, but where did she get the idol, and why does she even have an idol in the house? And then when Saul confronts her and she stands up to him, she lies again, saying David threatened to kill her.

So, what do we do with this? What are we to make of Michal lying to Saul in this situation? We know the Bible tells us not to lie. The same Ten Commandments that say, “You shall not murder,” also say, “You shall not bear false witness.”

But what do you do in a situation when someone’s life is at stake? We have other examples in Scripture of people lying to save a life. In the book of Exodus, the Hebrew midwives lied to Pharaoh in order to save the lives of the infant Hebrew boys they were delivering. (Exodus 1:15-21) In the book of Joshua, Rahab lied to the Canaanites about the Hebrew spies to protect them and save their lives. (Joshua 2:4-6; Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25)

Is it okay to lie in order to save a life? Is it ever okay to do wrong in order to achieve a greater good? It is a very difficult moral question and one that we don’t have time to fully address this morning. We live in a sinful, messy world, and sometimes you don’t always know the right thing to do. You need to ask the Lord for wisdom in difficult situations and seek to obey his word with all your heart.

But just know that whether you lie with good or bad motives, a lie is still a lie. And when you choose the lesser evil, you are still choosing evil, and you need to confess that evil to the Lord. We should never feel comfortable about lying, even when our motives may be good.

Michal took steps to protect David from being killed by Saul. She stood up to Saul when he confronted her about helping David. In the face of premeditated evil, we should protect the innocent and stand up to evil.

IV. Murder Attempt #4: Persistence in evil and God’s response (18-24)

Now we finally come to murder attempt #4. In this fourth attempt, Saul learns that David is with Samuel and the prophets and repeatedly sends men to capture him. This is an example of persistence in doing evil, and we learn several things about taking God’s side against evil in this situation, too. Here we learn by looking at God’s response to Saul’s persistent attacks on David.

   A. Heed God’s warnings (18-22)
      – Proverbs 29:1

First of all, you need to heed God’s warnings. Look at 1 Samuel 19:18-22:

When David had fled and made his escape, he went to Samuel at Ramah and told him all that Saul had done to him. Then he and Samuel went to Naioth and stayed there. 19 Word came to Saul: “David is in Naioth at Ramah”; 20 so he sent men to capture him. But when they saw a group of prophets prophesying, with Samuel standing there as their leader, the Spirit of God came upon Saul’s men and they also prophesied. 21 Saul was told about it, and he sent more men, and they prophesied too. Saul sent men a third time, and they also prophesied. 22 Finally, he himself left for Ramah and went to the great cistern at Secu. And he asked, “Where are Samuel and David?” “Over in Naioth at Ramah,” they said. (1 Samuel 19:18-22)

So, this is a fun scene. Saul learns that David is with Samuel at Ramah and sends his men to capture him. But when they get there, God sends his Spirit on them, so they start prophesying along with the other prophets at Ramah. So, Saul sends a second group, and God does the same thing. So, Saul sends a third group, and they start prophesying, too.

You would think Saul would have got the message the first time, but he keeps sending his men after David, and after the third time, he goes himself. Proverbs 29:1 says: “A man who remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed – without remedy.” (Proverbs 29:1) Sadly, this becomes Saul’s life verse, or death verse, as find out when we get to the end of 1 Samuel and chapter 31. Saul was stubborn and persistent in doing evil, and he chose not to heed God’s warnings.

   B. Choose God’s side (23-24)
      – Proverbs 21:30

And in not heeding God’s warnings, Saul continued to choose the wrong side. Instead of taking God’s side against evil, he took evil’s side against God. And you’re never going to win when you choose the side against God. Look at 1 Samuel 19:23-24:

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?” (1 Samuel 19:23-24)

Notice God sends his Spirit on Saul even earlier than he did with the soldiers. God doesn’t even wait for Saul to get to Ramah. The Spirit comes on Saul early, and he walks along prophesying all the way. When he gets there, he strips off his robes and lies down prophesying in Samuel’s presence all that day and night. This obviously gave David plenty of time to escape.

Remember back in chapter 18 Jonathan voluntarily gave David his royal robes in a covenant of friendship. Here in chapter 19 Saul involuntarily removes his royal robes under the compulsion of the Spirit. One day every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Some will do so willingly and joyfully, while others will be compelled to do so by God’s power.

Proverbs 21:30 says: “There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord.” (Proverbs 21:30) Saul persisted in his evil plans against David, and God stopped him again and again. What’s the lesson here? Heed God’s warnings and choose God’s side. Choose God’s side against evil, not evil’s side against God.

CONCLUSION: As Christians we need to take God’s side against evil. Like Jonathan’s response to delegated evil, we should obey God rather than man. We should watch out for our fellow man, and we should dissuade others from doing evil when we can. Like David’s response when Saul returned evil for good, we should suffer for doing good rather than for doing evil. We should escape persecution when we can. Like Michal’s response to Saul’s premeditated evil, we should protect the innocent, and we should stand up to evil. And as we learn from God’s response to Saul’s persistence in evil, we should heed God’s warnings, and we should choose God’s side against evil every time.

Evil is all around us in the world, but even in taking God’s side against evil, we should remain humble and remember that evil is in us as well, which is why we need to trust Jesus as our Savior.

I’ll close the message with these words:

When I was young and saw evil in the world, I said, “Judge them, O Lord.”
When I grew older, I learned to say, “Forgive them, O Lord.”
Now when I see evil in the world, I say, “Forgive me, O Lord.”

© Ray Fowler

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