TRA Wordtalks

TRA 1st April, 2001
The Envy Leadership Creates

1 Samuel 18:1-16

One of the earliest choruses I learnt at Sunday School, was about four rabbits that inhabited a field of corn. They were doing no good and had to be eradicated. I do not remember if this chorus applied to our lives, but that was the intention. From an age of under six, I remember to this day their names.

"Look them out! Get them gone!
All the little rabbits in the fields of corn.
Envy, jealousy, malice and pride,
They must never in your heart abide."

I have a fair idea that just now, tens of thousands of people listening, are singing the tune!Envy was the first rabbit which could cause a problem in a young life. I probably did not think much about whom I might have been envying. Perhaps Denis Beanland who had a new cricket bat. Or Margaret Perry, who had a beautiful rocking horse with horse hair and real eyes. I am not sure envy was high on my list of character deficiencies. But since then I have seen envy ruining lives. Envy is the painful or resentful awareness of another person's advantage joined with the desire to possess the same advantage. The advantage may concern material goods or social status, or the standing of other people in the eyes of the community. Someone else wants it! In the New Testament envying another is set in sharp contrast to living by the Spirit. In the Epistles it features in several lists of bad qualities which characterize the unredeemed life. It is one of the "works of the flesh" which are opposed to the "fruit of the Spirit" Gal. 5:19-24

Envy marks those whom God has given up to a "depraved mind" Rom. 1:29 It is a feature of the unconverted life. Tit. 3:3, which Christians have left behind. Envy was the evil motive of those who delivered Jesus to Pontius Pilate. Mk. 15:10 Envy motivated some who preached the gospel in order to undermine Paul's evangelistic reputation.

One of the first people to realise what damage to our mental health envy could do, was Sigmund Freud. He saw envy driving many people. In the last quarter century feminists have attacked Freud because he wrote that women had weaker superegos than men and were driven largely by envy. Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar", was first performed 400 hundred years ago. The play concerns events before and after the assassination of the Roman emperor Julius Caesar in Rome. The clever and eloquent Mark Antony delivers a funeral speech over Caesar's body. Antony tells the people, "I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him." He sarcastically describes the plotters "honourable men." At the same time, Antony points out Caesar's virtues and thus gradually turns the crowd into a mob ready to avenge Caesar's death. Mark Antony says the plotters killed Caesar out of envy.

Could envy lead a man to murder another? Not just in Roman times but in modern times? In the ancient times of 1000BC King Saul became so envious of the Shepherd David, that despite the fact that as King, Saul had power, position and fortune, he allowed envy to eat him away, until he tried on several occasions to murder the young man.

In 1 Samuel 18 we read that Saul's son Jonathan forms a lasting friendship with David. Saul becomes increasingly jealous of David, as his fame extends in Israel. Saul endeavors to destroy David by making him a captain over a thousand armed men, hoping he will be killed in battle. But David leads the men to victory and his fame spreads even more. Saul, in order to ensnare him, offers him his eldest daughter in marriage provided David can pay a dowry. It was a trap. The dowry was a hundred foreskins from the penises of one hundred Philistines. Saul hoped that in endeavoring to get them David would be killed by the Philistines. David once more survives so Saul reneges and gives his daughter to another. But Saul's younger daughter Michal loves David and marries him. After David unexpectedly slew Goliath, Saul became jealous. The negative side of his character surfaced. What caused the envy that grew into hatred and a desire to murder the young shepherd?

1. David's Friendship with Jonathan
Jonathan was the apple of his father's eye, and the heir apparent. If anyone should have been threatened by David it should have been Jonathan. So the friendship of David and Jonathan troubled Saul. The two young men got on extremely well. Saul felt David had come between him and his son. When Saul's daughter Mical also loved David, Saul was furious. Many parents cannot handle the friendships of their children. What made it worse was that Saul's son Jonathan entered into the closest of bonds with David and made a covenant with David. The ambiguous verb "loved" describes the relationship. v1,3

18:1-4 "After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself... And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt." Many parents become anxious when close ties between young friends become cemented like this. Saul was no exception. Today parents think a homosexual relationship might be developing. This passage has been seized upon by those who want to find Biblical support for their homosexual practise and they say: "There - David and Jonathan were homosexuals." That has ruined this passage for many people.

But reading into this passage a homosexual relationship is wrong on four grounds. First, David was heterosexual. He fell in love soon after with Jonathan's sister Mical and married her. Later he infamously fell in love with Bathsheba. Second, there was a word in Hebrew for homosexual love and that word is not used here. The word used here for the relationship between two close friends is never used for homosexual relationships. It was used for the close friendship between leaders of different nations who lived at peace with each other. Third, it is qualified by the phrase: "Jonathan became one in spirit with David", a phrase used to describe the closest family relationships. Finally, some homosexuals have said: "But didn't Jonathan take off his clothes and belt with its sword and give them to David?" Is not this evidence enough?" No it isn't. For there is a simple reason of Eastern culture here that the homosexual commentator does not understand.

When Jonathan, the son of the King, took off his robe (a symbol of the kingdom) and sword and spear (the symbols of his standing as prince and heir) and gave them to David, he was in effect transferring his own status as heir apparent to him. Saul had earlier tried to put his tunic and armour on David to fight Goliath in his authority, but to no avail. Jonathan now gives his own tunic and armour (including a belt that was often used to hold a sheathed dagger) to David, who accepts it. Jonathan is declaring this young hero of the nation, has the right to be the next King, and that he, Jonathan will be his friend for life. That made Saul mad!

2. David's Success as a Leader
Saul became increasingly envious as David became increasingly successful. People do not envy a failure or a fool. But they do envy a successful leader. In an attempt to have David killed Saul makes David an army captain and sends him into battle. But instead of being killed David returns victorious. David's triumphs combine success and wisdom. The people conferred on him hero status. His victorious troops were given a victory parade through the streets. There is a contrast between how David is seen: in the eyes of the people, he was seen as a hero; in the eyes of Saul, he was seen as a threat. The celebrations were led by women, who came to meet the triumphant warriors with "dancing" accompanied by "tambourines". The Israelites did not make statues or paint pictures of people, as this would be against the commandment not to make idols. But the Canaanites did. On the screen is a small statue of a dancing Canaanite woman with a tambourine from the same era as this passage about David.

The celebrating women sang: "Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands." It is a song of praise. Saul's reaction is not surprising: He becomes angry, assumes David is receiving ten times more praise than himself. v8 The refrain gives Saul pride of place but the comparison infuriates him. Saul now fears for his kingdom. David's military prowess makes him Saul's equal or better in the eyes of the people. Saul's former positive attitude toward his young armour-bearer now becomes decidedly negative: He "eyed" him, meaning "kept a jealous eye on" David. How frequently the extremely successful businessman, politician, athlete, entertainer cannot cope with praise being given by the community to some up-and-coming successful younger person. They become paranoid about every bit of praise and jealous of every success. They do not realize that in doing so, they are contributing to their own downfall.

3. Kins Saul's Mental Health Problems
Was Saul's paranoia concerning David causing his increasingly odd behaviour? Or was his odd behaviour attributable to his declining mental health? We will explore this more next week. Suffice to say that Saul's behaviour was exacerbated by the frequent arrival of "an evil spirit from God." v10-12 "The next day an evil spirit from God came forcefully upon Saul. He was prophesying in his house, while David was playing the harp, as he usually did. Saul had a spear in his hand and he hurled it, saying to himself, "I'll pin David to the wall." But David eluded him twice. Saul was afraid of David, because the LORD was with David but had left Saul." Saul had a spear. David had a harp. What a contrast!

Saul's behaviour was becoming more bizarre and murderous in intent. Although Jonathan at first could not believe that Saul was determined to kill David, 20:9 Saul's attempt to impale even his own son with a spear, finally convinced him. 20:32-33 Envy, jealousy, malice and pride were ruining his life.

The early Fathers of the Church, warned strongly against envy. They said envy was the particular fault of the Devil for it is the antithesis of the injunction to love our enemies. Envy is the Devil's chief and defining characteristic because behind all evil, is the desire to be like God and to prevent God from being successful. Since an envious person will hate even a friend if that friend is fortunate, envy is a grudging, mean-spirited condition of mind. Such a person finds it impossible to share his or her goods with another and cannot bear to see anyone else successful. Every successful person makes someone envious.

What can we do about envy? Paul's answer was to project positive love towards the person who was successful and against whom you may feel envy. Envy is the very opposite to Christian love. Envy is self-absorbed and filled with ill will toward others. Love is selfless and projects goodwill toward others. Paul Roms 12:15 tells believers to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. Those who rejoice usually leave others envious. Christians have to make themselves positively project loving goodwill towards those who are successful. That can make all the difference. And the greatest difference is within yourself! For envy only ever destroys the one who is envious.

  • Heart Like His. B. Moore Broadman & Holman 1999
  • The Anchor Bible Dictionary, D N Freedman,ed., Doubleday 1992.
  • Jonathan Loved David: Homosexuality In Biblical Times. Tom Horner. Westminster, 1978.
  • The Expositors Bible Commentary. Ed F Gaebelein Vol 3. Zondervan 1992.

Gordon Moyes

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