1 Samuel 19-20: When Bad Things Happen to Good People

Jonathan sends a message to David by shooting an arrow I Samuel 20:35-
1 Samuel 19 and 20 are sad chapters. King Saul makes it known that he is out to kill David. He even tries to enlist his son Jonathan – David’s best friend – to help in his plan, but Jonathan loyally sticks up for his friend. He manages to sway Saul’s mind, but only  for a short while. Pretty soon, the spirit of jealousy comes over Saul again, and he tries again to pin David to the wall with his spear.

When David escapes, Saul sends assassins to watch his house and kill him in the morning. But the princess Michal, David’s wife, somehow discovers the plot and helps him to escape. And then Saul gets upset with her, and she has to lie and make it seem like it wasn’t her fault that her husband got away!

David flees from his house to Samuel. Surely he would find safety in the prophet who anointed him. But Saul is not to be discouraged, and he sends messengers to Samuel’s hometown to take David. But once again, his plans are thwarted. God sends His spirit upon the messengers so that they are stopped in their tracks and start prophesying. In frustration, Saul goes himself – and ends up prostrated before Samuel, naked and prophesying. Kind of weird – but that’s what it says!

Even though Saul’s efforts are thwarted, David decides he is not safe in Ramah, and so he flees back to Jonathan, and asks, “What have I done? What is my iniquity, and what is my sin before your father, that he seeks my life?” (1 Sam. 20:1).

Jonathan doesn’t know what on earth David is talking about. Somehow all the assassination attempts against his friend have gone on without him knowing. Saul has kept it a secret from him, knowing where his loyalties lie.

The two friends talk things over and come up with a plan. Jonathan will sound out his father and find out whether it’s safe for David to return, while David hides out somewhere. At the appointed time, Jonathan will return to the field where they were, shoot some arrows, and send his servant lad to fetch the arrows. If, as the boy tried to find the arrows, Jonathan instructed him that the arrows were close on one side or the other, then that would signify that Saul was once more on David’s side, and he could return home. On the other hand, if Jonathan instructed the boy to keep going further to find the arrows, that would signify that David must go as well.

The results were not what Jonathan had hoped for. Saul made it very clear that he was out to kill David, and his anger was aroused against his own son, “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! Do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame and the same of your mother’s nakedness? For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, you shall not be established, nor your kingdom. Now therefore, send and bring him to me, for he shall surely die” (1 Sam. 29:30-31). When Jonathan protested, Saul threw a spear at him!

In grief, Jonathan went back to David and gave the coded message: David must flee. When the servant lad went back into the city,  “they kissed one another; and they wept together, but David more so” (vs. 41).

Jonathan knew that the kingdom would probably go to David. But unlike his father, Jonathan was not jealous or upset. He only asked that David show kindness to his family throughout the generations, and sent him away in peace.

For all they knew, it would be the last time they saw each other.

David had gone from being the hero in Israel to being an outlaw on the run – even though he had done nothing wrong. Estranged from his king, from his wife, and from his friends, David must have felt very alone.


After reading these chapters, I sat back and asked, “Where is the application for today? What can I learn from this time in David’s life?”

The answer that came to me was actually a question in itself, “Why might God have allowed this time in David’s life?”

It’s a good question. David had done nothing wrong; he didn’t deserve to be running for his life. But God obviously allowed it. Why?

I think that’s a question that a lot of people ask as they’re dealing with tough times, especially if those times weren’t caused by any fault of theirs. Why did God allow me to be let go from the job that I needed? Why did God allow my loved one to die? Why did God allow me to suffer with this disease?

We may never know the answers, but we are called to trust in the God who does know.

Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (NKJV).

Do we believe that?

When people face hard times, there are generally two responses toward God. One response is to become bitter against Him and blame Him. The other response is to lean on Him and trust Him even more.

David had a strong faith in the LORD when things were going great. And when things weren’t going so great anymore, his faith stood the test. His first response was to turn to the God of his salvation.

Psalm 59 was written around the time that Saul sent assassins to watch David’s house. It’s a prayer for deliverance, a plea for justice, and a declaration of trust. It ends with verses 16-17:

But I will sing of Your power;

Yes, I will sing aloud of Your mercy in the morning;

For You have been my defense

And refuge in the day of my trouble.

To You, O my Strength, I will sing praises;

For God is my defense,

My God of mercy.

Perhaps God allowed these times of hardship into David’s life to test whether he would really cling to the LORD. Would David continue to trust in his Deliverer? It seems that he did. Even in the midst of undeserved hardship, he was able to trust in the LORD and call out to the “God of mercy”.

The Bible talks a lot about tests. We see Satan come before God and claim that faithful Job only loves God for what He has given him – take those things away, and Job will curse God to His face! But while Job certainly questions why the LORD has allowed such devastation into his life, he passes the test. When his wife bitterly exclaims that he should “curse God and die!”, he responds instead, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).

Later he declares, “When He works on the left hand, I cannot behold Him; when He turns to the right hand, I cannot see Him. But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold. My foot has held fast to His steps; I have kept His way and not turned aside” (Job 23:9-11).

Zechariah prophesied about the End times and declared, “‘And it shall come to pass in all the land,’ says the LORD, ‘That two-thirds in it shall be cut off and die, but one-third shall be left in it: I will bring the one-third through the fire, will refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them. I will say, “This is My people”; and each one will say, “The LORD is my God”‘” (Zech. 13:8-9).

The writer of Psalm 66 sang, “For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined. You brought us into the net; You laid affliction on our backs. You have caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; but You brought us out to rich fulfillment” (vs. 10-12).

Much later, in the New Testament, we see James writing, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” (James 1:2-3).

Peter tells the Jewish believers, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you. . . In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen, you love” (1 Pet. 1:3-4, 6-8a).

If it was a test, I think David passed.

And what we see in these chapters is that, while God allowed David to go through some hard times, He was still in control. No one could take David’s life, hard as they tried, because God still had a purpose and plan for David.

I hope that is a comfort, to know that nothing can happen to us apart from God allowing it. What He has allowed, He has allowed for a reason. And what He has not allowed, He has not allowed for a reason. Instead of rebelling against His decisions, we are called to trust Him and to serve Him. If God has a purpose in it, then we must look for that purpose and seek to live as the LORD would have us live.

If you would like to read more about the analogies to be found in the phrases “testing by fire” and “refined like silver/gold,” I read a blog post recently that talks about this topic from the perspective of someone who went through a metallurgy class. Check it out; it’s worth the read.





2 thoughts on “1 Samuel 19-20: When Bad Things Happen to Good People

  1. This has been a recurring theme lately….the Lord keeps reminding me thru various means what our suffering produces if we remember to embrace it instead of complaining or rejecting it. Not easy to do but so rewarding when we do. Love you!


  2. I have believed all of these truths with all my heart and have trusted the Lord with many things that have happened in my life, even though I didn’t undestand why they happened. It is so good to be reminded that He will bring good throughout all our hardships if we trust Him. Love you Lissi Pooh!


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