Saul initially welcomed David into his service with open arms, even loving him, for David’s musical gifts brought the king relief when he was suffering from the torments of “a harmful spirit from God” (1 Sam. 16:14–23). Plainly, however, Saul did not know that he was also getting a mighty warrior when he hired David. Although his humble origins did not readily suggest David would be a skilled fighter, David took down Goliath when he trusted in the Lord (17:1–54). Saul was so amazed that he asked for information on David’s father—he wanted to know more about the kind of man who could produce such a capable lad (vv. 55–58).
Not only Saul but also Saul’s son Jonathan loved David, as we see in today’s passage. First Samuel 18:1–5 describes the deep covenant love and friendship between David and Jonathan, a bond all the more remarkable when we consider that Jonathan had much to lose in this relationship. David was on the rise, and this put Jonathan’s own position as crown prince in jeopardy. Jonathan could expect to inherit the throne from Saul, but his actions in handing over his robe, armor, sword, bow, and belt to David indicate that he was not grasping for the monarchy. No one who wanted the throne would do that because it would suggest to the people that David should take Jonathan’s place as Saul’s heir. Perhaps Jonathan was well aware that the kingship was not to go to Saul’s sons (13:13–14). In any case, the love between Jonathan and David was real.
Here, sadly, we need to deal briefly with a modern misuse of 1 Samuel 18:1–5. Reading of the love between Jonathan and David, some interpreters have suggested that the two men had a homosexual relationship. There is no evidence of that in the text. Furthermore, such a view reflects a horribly impoverished view of human relationships. How small one’s view of friendship must be when love between male friends can be seen only as evidence of homosexuality.
Saul’s initial love for David did not last, as we see in verses 6–16. News of David’s victory in battle resulted in great acclaim for David among the people of Israel, and this angered Saul. His pride made him fearful that he would lose his kingdom, and his former love for David turned to hatred. Yet the more Saul pursued David, the greater the success David enjoyed. Ultimately, this was “because the Lord was with [David] but had departed from Saul” (v. 12). David was rising even as Saul descended into madness.