The Sin of Envy — 1 Samuel 18:6–19

The story of Saul and David help Christians identify the precursors, the development, and the manifestations of the sin of envy.

The Sin of Envy — 1 Samuel 18:6–19
Sermon given during the Sunday Equipping Hour for adults and children at Grace Bible Church of Pleasant Hill on November 19, 2023.
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It was Pope Gregory I (540–604 AD) who finalized a list of seven vices, which we commonly refer to now as the seven deadly sins.

  • Much has been written on these seven "capital" sins over the last 1,500 years because they are "root-level sins from which a host of other sins often spring."[1]
  • The first sin on this list is pride.
  • But our focus today is on the second sin on this list: envy.

Envy is an often tolerated sin.

  • Envy deceives us. It seems so innocuous.
  • But God tells us repeatedly envy is insidious, destructive, and deadly.
  • "A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot." (Prov 14:30, ESV)
  • "Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy?" (Prov 27:4, KJV)

The biblical account of Saul and David is one of the most explicit examples of envy found in Scripture.

  • Our objective through this passage is to gain a better understanding of envy so we can mortify this deadly sin.

God commands us to put off all envy.

  • "[Lay] aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy." (1 Pet 2:1)

  • To help us overcome this sin of envy, we will seek to understand envy's precursors, envy's development, and envy's manifestations.

1. The Precursor to Envy (v.6–7)

There are two common precursors that can facilitate envy.

A. Success

"And it happened as they were coming, when David returned from striking down the Philistine, that the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with gladness, and with musical instruments." (v.6)

  • Since God had chosen Saul and anointed him king, Saul had become accustomed to success.
  • God had blessed him with physical stature, power, and wealth.
  • Saul had led Israel to victory over the Ammonites and Philistines in 1 Samuel 11 and 14.
  • And most recently in 1 Samuel 17, Israel had experienced their greatest military triumph over the Philistines under Saul's watch.

The Bible describes multiple instances when women sing and dance to celebrate military victories.

  • "And Miriam the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took the tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. And Miriam answered them, 'Sing to Yahweh, for He is highly exalted; the horse and his rider He has hurled into the sea.'" (Ex 15:20–21)
  • Deborah led a victory song in Judges 5.
  • After Jephthah's military victory, "his daughter [came] out to meet him with tambourines and with dancing." (Judges 11:34)
  • Archeologists have discovered in Israel many clay figurines depicting women playing tambourines, and they appear to have a connection with praises for victory. [ESVSB]
  • When God intervenes decisively in the lives of his people, their response is to sing his praises. [CSBSB]
  • The Hebrew term translated as "musical instruments" is only used here in the Old Testament. It could be a three-stringed lute. [USBH]

Once a person experiences success, when his success wanes, he may be tempted to ask, "What about me?" "Why not me?"

  • One person wrote, "Envy follows success, like night follows day."[2]

  • Success precedes envy. We are typically tempted to become envious when we are good at something or when we value something.

  • Illustration: I have zero skills at figure skating. When I see a potential Olympian compete at figure skating, I have little risk of developing envy toward the Olympic competition.

    • But if I have won several national competitions in figure skating, and I have the potential to become an Olympian someday, my success can create an opportunity for envy.
  • The first precursor to envy is success.

The second precursor to envy is comparison.

B. Comparison

"And the women sang as they were merry and said, 'Saul has struck his thousands, and David his ten thousands.'" (v.7)

  • We are not sure if the singers had intended to contrast what Saul and David had accomplished. Perhaps, they were simply stating what both had done. [USBH]
  • But what is clear is that the verse in their song compared Saul and David. Both names are used in the same song and in the same sentence.

It is a common feature of Hebrew poetry for one or more terms in the first half of a verse to be increased or intensified in the second half. [RSB]

  • This 1,000 to 10,000 parallelism is used in Deuteronomy, the book of Psalms, and in Micah (Deut 32:30, Ps 91:7; 144:13; Mic 6:7).
  • And this verse, "Saul has struck his thousands, and David his ten thousands" is repeated in 1 Samuel 21:11 and 29:5. This verse became ubiquitous throughout the land of Canaan.
  • It became the chorus of a popular song that everyone has organically memorized.

"Where there is no comparison, no envy."[3]

  • When we are envious, we are always comparing ourselves with others.
  • When we are good at something and have experienced success, and we compare ourselves to others, that double combination creates fertile soil for envy.

And this is exactly what happens to Saul.

2. The Development of Envy (v.8–9)

Saul's envy develops in three stages.

A. Anger

"Then Saul became very angry" (v.8a)

  • When a person weighs something and finds it lacking and wrong, it leads to anger.[4]
    • God, who is holy, responds to sin with His wrath.
    • Anger is a "moral emotion."
    • It is a self-contained judicial system, reacting to perceived wrong with energy.

Saul heard the women singing this chorus. He evaluated the song and became furious.

  • When something is not morally right in our estimation, our natural response is anger.
  • When we get angry over the wrong things in the wrong way, that anger is sinful.

B. Discontentment

"for this saying was displeasing in his eyes" (v.8b)

  • Saul resented what he perceived as their lower assessment of his fighting ability. [CSBSB]
  • Unlike God, Saul could not fully control what he was seeing.
  • He was displeased.
  • Saul reflected on his own situation, and he became discontent.

Discontentment is closely associated with ingratitude.

  • You and I must constantly guard our hearts and replace discontentment and complaining with a heart of thanksgiving.
  • "In everything, give thanks, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." (1 Thess 5:18)
  • "Be filled with the Spirit...always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God." (Eph 5:18–20)

C. Jealousy

"what more can he have but the kingdom?" (v.8c)

  • Samuel said to Saul, "Yahweh has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to your neighbor, who is better than you." (1 Sam 15:28)
  • Saul sensed that David might be the "neighbor" who would replace him.
  • Saul felt threatened that something that was his might be lost.

Jealousy is the fear of losing something that you have.

  • A jealous person fiercely protects one's rights or possessions.
  • God is a jealous God. He demands from us faithfulness and exclusive worship.

"So Saul looked at David with suspicion from that day on." (v.9)

  • A jealous person feels and shows suspicion towards another person.
  • If his girlfriend stays out late without him, a jealous boyfriend may feel uneasy and raise suspicion.

Anger, discontentment, and jealousy develop. It finally culminates with the sin of envy.

3. The Manifestation of Envy (v.10–19)

Definition of Envy [5]

  • Socrates called envy "the ulcer of the soul."
  • Aristotle wrote that envy is "a disturbing pain excited by the prosperity of others."
  • Thomas Aquinas described envy as "sorry for another's good."
  • Jonathan Edwards said envy is "a spirit of opposition to other's comparative happiness, or the happiness of others considered as compared with their own."

"Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep" (Rom 12:15)

  • An envious person does the opposite.
  • He rejoices at the misfortunes of others and grows sad when they are blessed.
  • A person who is envious is highly competitive and has an inflated sense of entitlement.
  • Envy "hates to see others happy."

What is the difference between jealousy and envy?

  • If you pull up an English dictionary, you may not find a difference.
  • One dictionary states that jealousy and envy are synonymous.
  • But we can and should make a distinction.
  • Jealousy is a hostile disposition toward a rival.
  • Envy seeks pleasure in the misery of his rival.

Illustration: Jealousy vs Envy

  • Suppose there is a restaurant owner

Envy cannot be bottled up in one's soul. If left unchecked, envy will lead to an action to harm. Notice the manifestations of Saul's envy.

A. Saul's Speech (v.10a)

We saw the Spirit of Yahweh coming mightily upon Samson (Judges 14), Saul (1 Sam 10), and David (1 Sam 16:13).

Now, instead of the Spirit of Yahweh, the text states that "an evil spirit from God came mightily upon Saul, and he raved in the midst of the house." (v.10)

  • Instead of the Spirit of the LORD, it is an evil spirit that is leading and controlling Saul.
  • "Then the Spirit of Yahweh will come upon you mightily, and you shall prophesy with them and be changed into another man...and the Spirit of God came upon him mightily, so that he prophesied among them." (1 Sam 10:5, 10)
  • The Hebrew verb translated "prophesy" in 1 Samuel 10 is the same verb used here in 1 Samuel 18:10. But because this is not the Holy Spirit but an evil spirit, some Bible translators translate this word to "rave" because in this context, it means to talk wildly and incoherently.
  • Once envy sets in a person, he will often speak and act irrationally.

B. Saul's Assault (v.10b–11)

"Then Saul hurled the spear for he thought, 'I will pin David to the wall.' But David escaped from his presence twice." (v.11)

Envy will often incite a person to violence. There is such a strong desire to destroy another person that the person will look to hurt, sabotage, or even kill his rival.

Illustration: Cain and Abel

Read Genesis 4:3–8

Notice the two precursors to Cain's envy.

  • First, there is success.
  • Cain had success as a cultivator of the ground, and Cain voluntarily brings an offering of the fruit of the ground.
  • Then there with comparison. Remember, "where there is no comparison, no envy."

Next, notice the development of Cain's envy.

  • First, there is anger. "So Cain became very angry." (v.5b)
  • Second, there is discontentment. "His countenance fell" (v.5c)
    • Cain looked despondent [CSB]. His face was downcast [NIV]. Cain was dejected [NLT].
  • Third, there is jealousy and envy.
    • Cain was the first person recorded in human history recorded in Scripture to bring an offering to God.
    • Cain expected God to accept his offering.
    • Instead, God had regard for Abel and his offering but did not regard Cain's offering.
    • Cain surmised that it was morally wrong that God did not regard Cain and God had acted unjustly by favoring Abel and his offering.
    • To be clear, God did not regard Cain and his offering, because of the underlying sin in Cain's heart.

Then Yahweh said to Cain, "Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is lying at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must rule over it." (Gen 4:6–7)

  • Envy had already set in Cain's heart.
  • So God personally warned Cain that should he continue in his envy, He will be in great spiritual peril.
  • But unfortunately, Cain allowed the sin of envy to take hold.

"Then Cain spoke to Abel his brother; and it happened when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel, his brother and killed him." (v.8)


  • Therefore, you and I must keep envy in check.
  • If we allow envy to set in our hearts, it will eventually yield destructive and sometimes violent behavior.

C. Saul's Fear (v.12-17)

Saul's envy affected his words and action. His envy also affected his soul and brought him anxiety and fear.

  • Saul's primary concern was not God's honor or his people's welfare.
  • Rather, Saul was concerned about himself, and that was the root cause of his anxiety and fear—Saul's reputation was at risk.

"And Saul was afraid of David, for Yahweh was with him but had turned away from Saul...Then Saul saw that he was prospering greatly , so he dreaded him." (v.12, 15)

Consequently, Saul (1) removed David from his royal court and (2) demoted him from head "over the men of war" (Saul's entire army) to serve as commander of over 1,000 men.

  • Saul removed David from his royal court to decrease David's visibility and quell David's popularity.
  • Saul sent David into battle in hopes that David would be killed.
  • But instead, Saul's actions had the opposite effect.

"But all Israel and Judah loved David, for he went out and came in before them." (v.16)

  • This put Saul in an even more difficult position since people would not understand if Saul should remove someone as effective as David. [CSBSB]

Given David's great popularity, Saul could not delay fulfilling his promise.

  • So Saul proposed that David marry Saul's oldest daughter, Merab, in exchange for David's increased role in the military.
  • Saul knew David's chances of dying increased the more time he spent in war and military conflict.
  • If the Philistines could only kill David, Saul thought that would end his problem. [CSBSB]

D. Saul's Duplicity (v.18–19)

"Who am I, and what is my life or my father's family in Israel that I should be the king's son-in-law?" (v.18)

  • David acknowledged his lack of social standing to marry the king's daughter.
  • Saul used David's reply as an excuse to revoke his promise and give Merab to another man.

"So it happened at the time when Merab, Saul's daughter, should have been given to David, that she was given to Adriel the Meholathite as a wife." (v.19)

  • Saul reneged on his pledge and showed himself to be a duplicitous man.


A. Watch out for the precursors of envy.

  • Remember, like night following day, envy follows success.
  • And where there is no comparison, no envy.

B. Recognize the development of envy.

  • It begins with sinful anger that comes from seeing something that is not right according to our estimation.
  • It continues with discontentment and being displeased and dissatisfied with our circumstances.
  • Discontentment leads to jealousy, a hostile disposition toward a rival.
  • Jealousy naturally leads to envy and seeking pleasure in the misery of his rival.

C. Mortify envy before its manifests destruction.

  • Irrational words, harmful assault, consuming fear, and wicked duplicity.

Three practical ways we can overcome envy.

  • First, confess your sin of envy and invite Jesus to forgive your sins and sanctify you.
  • Second, cling to the grace of God.
    • "But by the grace of God I am what I am." (1 Cor 15:10)
    • You don't need all those things that others have.
    • You have grace. You have God. Your value is wholly based on what Christ has done. His righteousness has been credited to your account.
  • Third, be thankful.
    • A thankful person does not grumble or complain.
    • A thankful heart is content with God.
    • Contentment and envy cannot coexist.
    • "Not that I speak from want, for I learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in abundance...I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." (Phil 4:11–13)

  1. Marshall Segal, ed., Killjoys: The Seven Deadly Sins (Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God, 2015), 1–2. ↩︎

  2. Segal, 26. ↩︎

  3. Brian G. Hedges, Hit List: Taking Aim at the Seven Deadly Sins (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Cruciform Press, 2014), 39. ↩︎

  4. Lou Priolo, The Heart of Anger. ↩︎

  5. Hedges, 36. ↩︎