David has now at once become a public man. There is no more obscurity—no more sweet solitude of private life—no more feeding of sheep, for him. If we look to the deep depression into which the Israelites had fallen, so that the most daring spirits, under the stimulus of the highest rewards, had not ventured upon the enterprise which the son of Jesse had so nobly and so piously achieved, we may form some notion of the admiration and gratitude with which this exploit was regarded, and the enthusiasm which it excited. It was the one great act by which some men are enabled, in one little hour—or even in the time of a passing thought—to illustrate and adorn their whole career, presenting to the public view one illustrious deed, the memory of which becomes in every mind inseparably connected with their name, and goes down with it to future ages. It was impossible for any Israelite thenceforward in David’s lifetime to behold him, or in the ages to come to think of him, without remembering this great exploit, with its antecedents and its consequences. How naturally, even in David’s old age, the remembrances of this rise freshly to the minds of the people—“The king delivered us out of the hands of the Philistines.”
Glorious spoil had the Israelites when they returned to the camp, from the abandoned tents of the Philistines. It was then that David was brought before the king, bearing the enormous head of Goliath in his hand. The king’s words evince that he had not the slightest recollection of David. At the time Goliath fell, Saul had asked Abner, “Whose son is this youth?” a natural question, seeing that in those days a man was more known by his father’s name than by his own, as is still the case in Arabia, where a man is generally called the son of such a person. Thus David is quite as frequently, when spoken of by others, called “the son of Jesse” as by his proper name. Saul had a farther interest in the inquiry, as he had promised that the conqueror of Goliath should become his son-in-law, and he would naturally wish to know something of the parentage of the youth on whom this honor had fallen. Abner was unable to answer the question; for he too failed to recognize the son of Jesse, or, very probably, he had not been at Saul’s court during David’s previous residence there, his services being little needed in time of peace. It is now Abner who brings David before Saul, that he may answer the question for himself. Saul asked—“Whose son art thou, thou young man?” The answer is—“I am the son of thy servant Jesse, the Bethlehemite.” It strikes us that the form of expression implies that David felt that Saul would recognize him and his father by this description, thus corroborating the account of their previous connection. We may also note two things in this answer—that David does not give his own name, which was not indeed asked, his father’s name being a sufficient designation; and that he does not say, “thy servant is the son of Jesse”—but “I am the son of thy servant Jesse”—the latter form expressing more profound homage, seeing that one to whom David owed filial respect and obedience, was himself thus described as the king’s servant.
How Saul received this intimation we are not told. He was probably too much astonished to say anything, and kings conceive that their dignity requires them to be men of few words. He, however, intimated that he was to remain at court, and from that day “would let him go no more home to his father’s house.” It was at this interview that the young prince Jonathan found his heart drawn towards David, in whom, as the hero, he recognized the congenial spirit which he had overlooked in the minstrel. He soon made known his sentiments of deep admiration to the object of them, and the two young men soon entered into covenants of a friendship strong as death, which was in the highest degree honorable to both, and which, in the case of Jonathan, constitutes his chief claim to our admiration and regard. We read that Jonathan, to evince his regard and admiration, “stripped himself of the robe that was on him, and gave it to David.” In the East this mode of showing regard or approval is still very general. “I recollect,” says Mrs. Postans, “a tiger-hunting party, held by Meer Alli Moorad in Upper Sindh, where that chief sat in a small tower with his personal friends to see the sport. A Sindhian behaved most valiantly, killing a tiger and her cubs, and the hero was brought up on the tower, when Meer Alli Moorad took from his neck a muslin scarf, and bestowed it on the man, who felt himself distinguished above all honor, and remunerated beyond all price.” Note: Journal of Sacred Literature, iv. 51.
Thus far all was favorable to David; but, on the homeward march from the camp, matter arose which first awakened in the mind of Saul that suspicion and dislike, which never after left his mind, and which perhaps gave to him the first dim notion that in Jesse’s son he had at length found the long threatened and long dreaded inheritor of his throne.
As they went along the damsels came out of their towns and villages to hail their deliverers with songs and music. And this was the burden of their song—
“Saul hath slain his thousands—
David hath his ten thousands slain.”
Saul was keen enough to see that this expressed the popular appreciation of their respective merits; and his morbid craving for the pre-eminence and for the sole glory in all things, caused him to be deeply mortified at this preference of David’s share of the exploit before his own. Perhaps, as since then has been common, he held that all the honor won by subjects merely went to fill up the measure of his own renown. At all events he was greatly displeased. “They have ascribed unto David,” said he, “ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed but thousands; and what can he have more but the kingdom.” These last were dangerous words; full of evil omen to David, as indicating a line of thought in the king’s darkening mind, which was destined to spoil his own peace and that of David for many years. It is added that “Saul eyed [invidiously] David from that day and forward.” Indeed, it was but the next day that these rankling thoughts brought back upon the king a strong paroxysm of his former disease. David, who was present, and whose experience detected the symptoms of the gathering cloud, seized his harp, and once more sought by its powerful strains to soothe the troubled mind. But at that moment the king, before the softening influence could be felt, launched from his hand the short spear or javelin which he bore as the symbol (equivalent to a scepter of regal power, at the son of Jesse, with the full purpose of pinning him to the wall. Had he succeeded, the act would have been ascribed to his madness, and he would have been more pitied than blamed. But he was not to enjoy the advantage of this construction of his acts, for David shunned the stroke at the critical moment, and left the presence. This happened more than once, and Saul began to be terrified, thinking that his arm had become powerless, or that (as was true) the son of Jesse bore a divinely protected life. He began to be “afraid of David,because the Lord was with him.”