Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

God is at work, even when the dominant power is selfish, manipulative, and dangerous

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June 23, 2024

Alternate First Reading
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Commentary on 1 Samuel 17:57—18:5, 10-16

After the narrative of killing Goliath, David grows in military skill and notoriety; King Saul feels threatened. The palace intrigues begin!

Textual horizons

There is a red thread through the books of 1–2 Samuel and 1–2 Kings. It is the theological framework of the author(s), called the Deuteronomist, because the theology is based upon the book of Deuteronomy. Writing from the Babylonian exile (587/586 to 539 BCE), the author argues that the reason for being in exile—preceded by the destruction of Israel (722/721 BCE), then Judah and Jerusalem (587/586 BCE)—is due to the failure of God’s people to be faithful to the covenant with YHWH.1

The broader narratives reinforce the core of faithfulness by highlighting that disobedience has consequences, while obedience sustains covenant blessings. This theme is laid out from the beginning in Hannah’s song, where the reversal-of-fortune motif illustrates that the humble faithful are raised up, while the arrogant disobedient are brought low.2

If read reductionistically—not holding the tensions with books like Job, the lament Psalms, and even Jesus’ life in the Gospel accounts—this “Deuteronomistic History” can be fuel for the prosperity gospel. However, the central theological concern is faithfulness to YHWH regardless of outcomes.

Enter King Saul with the beginning of the palace intrigues, resulting from Saul feeling threatened by David’s ever-increasing notoriety following the narrative of the killing of Goliath (1 Samuel 17:10–58).

In the reversal-of-fortune motif, Saul’s power is diminishing, while David’s military skill is growing, as is his reputation among the people. While a close reading of the full narrative may unsettle 21st-century American sensibilities,3 the tiny nation of ancient Israel, geographically located between superpowers, would find consolation in knowing they had a war hero who was known for slaying giants and personally killing tens of thousands of the enemy’s warriors. Remember, this story was compiled and edited when the people of God were in exile and had no army. The military glory of the past was connected with God as the “mighty warrior” (or YHWH Sabaoth,4 see 1 Samuel 4:4), who was with them. This would have been of great comfort for those in Babylonian captivity.

Because YHWH was with David (1 Samuel 18:14)—in contrast to an evil spirit that came forcefully upon Saul (verse 10)—these aspects support the narrative of God’s choice of David to supplant the disobedient ruler and attempted murderer5—Saul.

Homiletic horizons

A key text in this pericope is: “David had success in all his undertakings; for the LORD was with him” (1 Samuel 18:14). Here, we see the Deuteronomist’s theological concern of faithfulness to YHWH, evidenced in the blessings that are manifested through obedience to the covenant.

The meaning of success, also defined as “to prosper,”6 in the broader biblical context is a holistic well-being grounded in shalom, a peace that is obvious when the enemies are vanquished. However, this peace goes beyond the absence of war. Shalom is centered in a right relationship with YHWH that is lived out in blessing all the people groups of the world and being gardeners who serve creation—that is, peace with others and with nonhuman creation. Thus, prospering is directly related to YHWH’s blessings poured out on those who are faithful to the covenant.

In contrast, Saul is “afraid” (1 Samuel 18:12), clearly lacking the peace that comes from being with God. Many pray to God for peace but without realizing that a deeper peace can only come from being with God—in relationship with God.

While a flattened understanding of the Deuteronomistic History can foster prosperity gospel perspectives, thoughtful analysis and good teaching can mitigate this reductionism. First, hold these texts in tension with the whole of Scripture. Then, we understand that living as reconciled to Christ in faithful obedience means loving God and loving others in ways that place comfort and “success” (as defined by the world) as subservient to the calling to be a priesthood of all believers and servants of all.

In a biblical understanding, success is not how much money you have in your bank account (or for David, how many people he killed), et cetera. Instead, success comes from increasingly trusting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and leaving the outcomes to God. Blessedly, we have the Holy Spirit, who empowers us to walk by faith and who gives a deeper peace beyond circumstances—even when we do not fit the world’s definition of success.

Finally, this text shows us that God is at work, even when the dominant power is selfish, manipulative, and dangerous.


  1. Sandra L. Richter, “Deuteronomistic History,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books, ed. Bill T. Arnold and H. G. M. Williamson (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2005), 219–30.
  2. Mark Throntveit, “Enter the Bible – Books: 1 Samuel,” n.d., accessed February 1, 2020,
  3. Perhaps that is why the chant about killing tens of thousands is cut from the lectionary reading!
  4. C. L. Seow, “Hosts, Lord of,” The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 306. “From the start, the epithet YHWH Sebaʾot is understood in military terms—at least in part.” See also L. Daniel Hawk, “Joshua, Book of,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2005), 568.
  5. This limited discussion is not adequate to deal with the text’s reference to the evil spirit rushing (“coming in power” in the Hebrew) upon Saul, which then prompts Saul twice to try to spear David. One of many cogent approaches is to recognize that the ancient authors had such a deep respect for the sovereignty of God that all actions must be connected to this God.
  6. Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon, 1977), 968.
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