So Saul eyed David from that day forward. (1 Samuel 18:9)
I read this quote today, “Imagine being so free from envy that you can rejoice in other people’s successes.” (Erwin Lutzer) How convicting! You know pastors struggle with this. The church down the road soars while theirs struggles and you have fertile soil for the weeds of envy to flourish. Someone else makes more money, another family’s children receive the college scholarships, some other choir member is asked to sing a solo, and on and on it goes. Saul was poisoned by envy of David. It would prove deadly—ending in the king’s suicide and death of his son, Jonathan, in battle. What a difference David might have made in Saul’s life had he leaned on David, rather than loathing him!
David’s success was the seed of envy’s weed (1 Sam.18:1-9). After the victory over the Philistines, Saul was celebrated, but not with the fanfare that David the giant-slayer received. It is interesting to note that Prince Jonathan overcame this temptation—he pulled those weeds—and became a loyal friend to David. Jonathan would have to walk a tightrope of loyalty to his father and his friend, yet was able to do so. We cannot avoid facing the temptation to envy, yet we can refuse to yield to it. Martin Luther put it this way, “You cannot keep birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”
Saul did not get the same accolades as David, but he had not accomplished the same feat. Goliath had been challenging the armies of Israel and defying God for days when the shepherd boy showed up with a slingshot. Why didn’t the King—who was the most physically qualified to battle a giant—represent the nation? His faith toward God and faithfulness to God failed. In his heart he knew, and that shame in his soul bred envy. Saul’s life became a mission—not to succeed, but to survive—to retain his position at all costs. Many ministries and ministers are stifled by that same strife—instead of bearing fruit for God’s glory, they are overrun by the weeds of envy. What is in the garden of your heart?
Envy is called one of the seven deadly sins—along with pride, covetousness, lust, gluttony, anger, and sloth. Thomas Aquinas, a thirteenth century theologian, taught that they were deadly not just for their own severity as sins, but that they opened the door for other evils. Envy certainly opened the door for God’s departure from Saul’s soul, and the entrance of a demonic spirit to torment him (1 Sam.18:10-16). The troubled king could find no peace. Fear gripped him. Paranoia plagued him. Envy would bring strife between Saul and his daughter who married David, and the king and his son who befriended David. This is the evil of envy.
Saul would never become what he might have been. He instead became what he should not have been. David was a man after God’s own heart. That is a choice Saul might have made—that any of us can make—yet, he chose a heart to pursue and preserve worldly power and position. God is no respecter of persons—we can have as much of God as we want. Saul wanted something else. He desired his own glory rather than the glory of God. Jonathan did not succumb because he trusted a Sovereign God to place people as He saw fit. Promotion comes from the Lord.