Manipulation and Deceit

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1 Samuel 18:17-30 (Saul and his daughters)

INTRODUCTION: We are continuing our series on David and Saul, and we are in a part of this series where we are focusing on some of the sins that brought Saul down. Last week we looked at the sin of jealousy and how harmful jealousy can be in our lives. This week we will look at a pair of sins that will also hurt you and others: the sins of manipulation and deceit. (Read 1 Samuel 18:17 and pray.)


So, we’re talking about manipulation and deceit this morning. I hate to say it, but some of us are experts in this area. Some of us are master manipulators, experts at working the system, pulling people’s strings, operating behind the scenes, basically getting our own way.

In other words, some of us are really good at being bad! In fact, we kind of like it. We take pride in our ability to manipulate the people and situations around us. But deep down inside we know it’s wrong. God has a better way for you and me this morning.

In our Scripture this morning Saul is afraid of David because the Lord is with David and has left Saul. So, Saul tries to manipulate the situation in various ways in order to get rid of David.

As we look at Saul’s dealings with David this morning, we will also take a close look at ourselves and our own deceitful ways. Manipulation and deceit are wrong, and there’s no need to manipulate or deceive when you’re trusting God.

I. Offering Merab (17-19)

We are going to be looking at five ways we practice manipulations and deceit in our lives, and one of those ways is when we backtrack on our promises. And we see this with Saul with the offering of his older daughter Merab to David in marriage. Now normally offering your daughter in marriage to someone is an act of love and trust and goodwill. And perhaps that’s what it looked like on the surface with Saul. But remember, manipulation and deceit always operate below the surface, so we need to dig a little deeper.

   A. Backtracking on your promises (17a)
      – Proverbs 26:18-19

Saul had promised his daughter in marriage to anyone who defeated Goliath in battle, so we would expect him to offer Merab to David in marriage. But this offer of Merab to David was actually a backtracking on his earlier promise. Look at 1 Samuel 18:17:

Saul said to David, “Here is my older daughter Merab. I will give her to you in marriage; only serve me bravely and fight the battles of the Lord.” (1 Samuel 18:17a)

It all sounds good at first but notice Saul has added some new conditions to the deal. The original agreement was, “Whoever defeats Goliath in battle gets my daughter in marriage.” Now Saul is adding more conditions. “I will give her to you in marriage; only serve me bravely and fight the battles of the Lord.”

Has anyone ever done that to you before? Promised you something but then kept changing the terms? Every time you meet one condition, they add another. They keep raising the bar, upping the ante. Well, that’s a form of manipulation and deceit. When you do that, you’re not honoring your original word or agreement. You’re manipulating behavior with promises that you never intend to keep.

The Bible has a word for people like that. It calls you a madman! Proverbs 26 says: “Like a madman shooting firebrands or deadly arrows is a man who deceives his neighbor and says, ‘I was only joking!’” (Proverbs 26:18-19) When you manipulate people in this way, it’s like shooting arrows. You are causing great damage. And it’s only a matter of time before it catches up with you.

So that’s one way of practicing manipulation and deceit – backtracking on your promises.

   B. Shifting the blame (17b)
      – Proverbs 16:2, 24:12

Another way is shifting the blame. Back to 1 Samuel 18:17:

For Saul said to himself, “I will not raise a hand against him. Let the Philistines do that!” (1 Samuel 18:17b)

There are a couple things going on here. First, now we see why Saul was so eager to give Merab to David in marriage. It’s not because Saul loves David and wants to welcome him into the family. Saul is really just hoping that David will get killed by the Philistines.

You see, marrying the king’s daughter was a great privilege, but it also put a target on your back. Saul is playing the law of averages here. If David marries Merab and then goes out and keeps fighting the Philistines, Saul figures he will eventually get killed. This way, instead of killing David himself, he can shift the blame to the Philistines for killing David, even though Saul’s true motive here is to get David killed anyways.

When we shift the blame to others, we are practicing manipulation and deceit by refusing to take responsibility for our actions. We justify ourselves, we distract, we deflect, we redirect people’s attention elsewhere.

And although you may trick others with your deception, you can never deceive the Lord. Proverbs 16:2 says: “All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord.” (Proverbs 16:2) Proverbs 24:12 says: “If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?” (Proverbs 24:12) You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you can fool God none of the time. You can’t fool God. God cannot be mocked.

And so, Saul offers Merab to David in marriage so he can shift the blame for David’s death to the Philistines who will now have an additional motivation for killing David.

   C. A reminder that God gives grace to the humble (18-19)
      – 2 Samuel 17:8; 1 Peter 5:5-6

Fortunately, David is protected by his own humility and refuses Saul’s offer. This is a reminder to us that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Look at 1 Samuel 18:18-19:

But David said to Saul, “Who am I, and what is my family or my father’s clan in Israel, that I should become the king’s son-in-law?” 19 So when the time came for Merab, Saul’s daughter, to be given to David, she was given in marriage to Adriel of Meholah. (1 Samuel 18:18-19)

David asks, “Who am I?” That’s a good question for any of us to ask anytime God blesses you with something. That’s humility. “Who am I to receive this blessing? I certainly don’t deserve this.”

Later on, when David becomes king and God promises David that one of his offspring will rule on the throne forever, David continues to demonstrate this same heart attitude of humility. We read David’s response to God’s promise in 2 Samuel 7:18: “Who am I, O Sovereign LORD, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?” (2 Samuel 7:18) David never took God’s blessings for granted.

This promise to David was of course fulfilled in his offspring Jesus, the Son of God who became man and will reign as King of kings and Lord of Lords forever. As Christians we have been brought into his kingdom, and we should never cease to wonder at Gods mercy and grace to us. “Who am I, that I should share in the grace of Jesus Christ my Savior?”

1 Peter 5 says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” (1 Peter 5:5-6) David had that heart of humility, and God would raise him up to be king in due time.

So that’s the first part of our passage this morning, Saul offering his daughter Merab to David in marriage. And we see two examples of manipulation and deceit in this first marriage offer: backtracking on your promises and shifting the blame.

II. Offering Michal (20-25)

Well, if you’re Saul, and David refuses your first offer, what do you do? If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. So next Saul offers his younger daughter Michal to David in marriage. And we see three more examples of manipulation and deceit in this offer of marriage.

   A. Using people for your own purposes (20-21)
      – Matthew 7:12 (Golden Rule)

First of all, we practice manipulation and deceit when we use people for our own purposes. And that’s what see Saul doing here with Michal. Look at 1 Samuel 18:20-21:

Now Saul’s daughter Michal was in love with David, and when they told Saul about it, he was pleased. 21 “I will give her to him,” he thought, “so that she may be a snare to him and so that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.” So Saul said to David, “Now you have a second opportunity to become my son-in-law.” (1 Samuel 18:20-21)

So, Saul learns that Michal loves David and figures he can use her to get at David. As you read this part of the passage, you can’t help but wonder, “How low can Saul go?” I mean, throwing spears at David was bad enough, but you can chalk that up to a moment of anger. But now Saul purposefully, intentionally uses Michal to try and kill David. Saul basically weaponizes his own daughter.

Does Saul even care about Michal at this point? She loves David! In marrying her off to David, does Saul care that he’s using her to try and kill off her new husband?

This is the exact opposite of the Golden Rule which Jesus gave us in Matthew 7:12: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12) How do you like it when you find out someone’s been using you? We don’t like it all, do we? Using people for your own purposes is a hideous sin and yet another example of how we practice manipulation and deceit in our lives. Saul used his own daughter to try and get at David.

   B. Using flattery and deceit (22-23)
      – Proverbs 26:24-28

But Saul’s just getting warmed up here. Another way we practice manipulation and deceit is through flattery. Look at 1 Samuel 18:22-23:

Then Saul ordered his attendants: “Speak to David privately and say, ‘Look, the king is pleased with you, and his attendants all like you; now become his son-in-law.’ ” 23 They repeated these words to David. But David said, “Do you think it is a small matter to become the king’s son-in-law? I’m only a poor man and little known.” (1 Samuel 18:22-23)

Saul sends messengers to speak good and pleasing things to David. But it’s all flattery and deceit. It’s nothing but a ruse. No, Saul is not pleased with David. Saul actually wants David dead. Saul is trying to manipulate David into marrying Michal in order to put that big target on his back so that the Philistines will be even more motivated to kill him.

How often do we use flattery and deceit with people in order to advance our own agenda? Proverbs 26 says: “A malicious man disguises himself with his lips, but in his heart he harbors deceit. Though his speech is charming, do not believe him, for seven abominations fill his heart. His malice may be concealed by deception, but his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly…. A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin.” (Proverbs 26:24-28) Watch out for flattery and deceit from others, and also watch out that you do not practice flattery and deceit yourself.

   C. Setting traps (24-25)
      – Matthew 22:15-18

A third example of manipulation and deceit we see in Saul’s offer of Michal to David is that of setting traps. Look at 1 Samuel 18:24-25:

When Saul’s servants told him what David had said, 25 Saul replied, “Say to David, ‘The king wants no other price for the bride than a hundred Philistine foreskins, to take revenge on his enemies.’” Saul’s plan was to have David fall by the hands of the Philistines. (1 Samuel 18:24-25)

Offering Merab to David didn’t work. Offering Michal to David didn’t work. Flattering David didn’t work. So, Saul moves on to his next strategy. He sets a trap for David by appealing to David’s bravery and sense of honor. He tells David the bride price for Michal is a hundred Philistine foreskins. Of course, Saul is hoping that the Philistines will kill David as David attempts to collect the price.

Now this is another gruesome part of the story, similar to David cutting off the head of Goliath back in chapter 17. Once again, it doesn’t mean that God likes these aspects of the story or approved of these practices. The author is just telling us what happened. These were brutal times, and people acted in brutal ways.

So, Saul sets a trap for David by appealing to David’s bravery and honor. David is too humble to simply accept Michal as his wife, but surely he will jump at the chance to win her as his bride.

We also set traps for each other, don’t we? We do it in subtle ways. We ask leading questions. We bait each other into arguments. We operate with hidden agendas. And it’s wrong. It’s wrong because we’re not being honest. We’re operating beneath the surface. We are practicing manipulation and deceit, and God will not honor our actions.

When it comes to setting traps, I think about the Pharisees with Jesus. We read in Matthew 22: “Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’ But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, ‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?’” (Matthew 22:15-18)

It’s all there. The flattery, the deceit, the hidden agenda, trying to trap Jesus so they can use his own words against him. Jesus isn’t fooled at all. He calls it for what it is. He says, “You are hypocrites, and you are trying to trap me.”

III. Running up against God’s sovereignty (26-30)

Backtracking on your your promises, shifting the blame, using people for your own purposes, using flattery and deceit, setting traps – these are all ways we practice manipulation and deceit in our lives. Not only are they all wrong, but they are ultimately self-defeating. When you practice manipulation and deceit, you will eventually run up against God’s sovereignty, which is exactly what Saul discovered in his deceitful dealings. All of Saul’s manipulation and deceit get him nowhere when he runs straight up against God’s sovereignty.

   A. God delivers David from Saul’s trap (26-27)
      – Psalm 141:8-10

Saul sets a trap for David. God delivers David from Saul’s trap. Look at 1 Samuel 18:26-27:

When the attendants told David these things, he was pleased to become the king’s son-in-law. So before the allotted time elapsed, 27 David and his men went out and killed two hundred Philistines. He brought their foreskins and presented the full number to the king so that he might become the king’s son-in-law. Then Saul gave him his daughter Michal in marriage. (1 Samuel 18:26-27)

Not only does God deliver David from Saul’s trap, God gives David overwhelming success in his mission. First, David brings back double the number of foreskins Saul asked for. Talk about going the extra mile! Of course, this would prevent Saul from backtracking on his promise and changing the conditions again.

And then we’re told David did this before the time allotted. Apparently, Saul had put some sort of time limit on this agreement in order to make the assignment more dangerous and to increase the likelihood of David getting killed. David completes the assignment before the allotted time elapsed. So, David brings back double the amount and sooner than expected. This is another sign of God’s blessing on David’s life.

David doesn’t take any of this for granted. David trusts God’s sovereignty and looks to the Lord for protection and deliverance. We read in Psalm 141, a psalm of David: “But my eyes are fixed on you, O Sovereign Lord; in you I take refuge – do not give me over to death. Keep me from the snares they have laid for me, from the traps set by evildoers. Let the wicked fall into their own nets, while I pass by in safety.” (Psalm 141:8-10)

   B. God uses Saul’s own schemes against him (28-30)
      – Proverbs 26:27

David prays, “Let the wicked fall into their own nets,” and that’s exactly what God in his sovereignty does with Saul. God uses Saul’s own schemes against him. Look at 1 Samuel 18:28-30:

When Saul realized that the Lord was with David and that his daughter Michal loved David, 29 Saul became still more afraid of him, and he remained his enemy the rest of his days. 30 The Philistine commanders continued to go out to battle, and as often as they did, David met with more success than the rest of Saul’s officers, and his name became well known. (1 Samuel 18:28-30)

God uses Saul’s own schemes against him. Saul tries to get David killed; God grants David success. Saul puts David in charge of the army; David gains the military experience he will need to be king. Saul tries to use his daughter against David; David ends up marrying Michal. What is the end of all Saul’s schemes against David? David is loved by all the people and by all Saul’s officers. David has great success and becomes well known among all the people. Saul’s son Jonathan is David’s best friend, and Saul’s daughter Michal is David’s wife. Everyone is for David. Saul is the only one against him.

Saul’s strategies keep backfiring on him. In fact, Saul will eventually meet his own end at the hand of the Philistines, the exact fate he kept trying to plan for David. Proverbs 26:27 says: “If a man digs a pit, he will fall into it; if a man rolls a stone, it will roll back on him.” (Proverbs 26:27) You can’t fight God. God is sovereign, and his purposes will always prevail.

CONCLUSION: Manipulation and deceit are always wrong, and the Bible tells us we should renounce all manipulative and deceitful ways. 1 Peter 2 says: “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that you may grow up in your salvation.” (1 Peter 2:1-2) You know that that sounds like? That sounds like a list of Saul’s main sins right there – malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy. We are to get rid of all that, and instead we are to crave pure spiritual milk. We are to pursue truth and sincerity and honesty, so that we may grow up in our salvation.

Manipulation shows a lack of trust in God’s sovereignty, and deceit shows a lack of respect for God’s truth. When you practice manipulation and deceit, you are taking things into your own hands instead of leaving them in God’s hands. That’s pride, and remember, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

When you practice manipulation and deceit, you only end up harming yourself as well as others. Remember, there is no need to manipulate or deceive when you’re trusting God. So, let’s get rid of all malice and manipulation and deceit. Let us commit ourselves to being people of the truth and trusting God’s sovereignty instead.

© Ray Fowler

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