The Destructive Nature of Jealousy
1Sam. 17:28 ¶ His eldest brother Eliab heard him talking to the men; and Eliab’s anger was kindled against David. He said, “Why have you come down? With whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart; for you have come down just to see the battle.”
1Sam. 17:29 David said, “What have I done now? It was only a question.”
David had been sent by his father to bring food to his older brothers who were lined up for battle against the Philistines. When he arrived he began to ask questions about the situation. This short exchange allows us to catch a glimpse of the relationship that existed between David and his oldest brother Eliab. David must have been the pesky little brother and Eliab was annoyed at his sudden appearance. David had a curious nature and was asking questions, taking stock of the situation. David was probably being a little more assertive than Eliab had been and this touched a nerve.
What right did this little punk have to be coming and asking these kinds of questions? It was time for Eliab to put his little brother in his place, and he decided to do so publicly. His intention was to embarrass him. He questions David’s motives, when clearly David had come at his father’s instruction. Notice he mentions “those few sheep” — belittling the work of his little brother. Then he accuses him of having evil in his heart. In fact this is quite the verbal lashing given in front of all of those who can hear.
Eliab appears to be very jealous of David and his method of coping with his feelings is to attack David. If only he can make David sound small, then maybe Eliab will feel better about himself. The sad truth was that this big brother had done nothing about Goliath. David had come and already assessed the situation and discovered that the very dignity of God was being challenged. He wanted to make a difference.
You can hear the defensiveness in David’s response. I doubt this was the first encounter of this type with his big brother. “What have I done now?” Yes, David had been challenged time and again by this big brother. Probably every time David did something right, Eliab did his best to make David feel like it was something wrong. David was weary of this whole scenario. He defends himself, “It was only a question.”
David had the opportunity to respond to this situation in one of two ways. He could have allowed the jealousy of his older brother to define the way in which he lived. If that were the case he would have kept his mouth shut. He wouldn’t have asked questions and he certainly would not have offered to fight against Goliath.
On the other hand David could have, and did decide that he would not be defined by the taunting of his jealous older brother. David was indignant about the way in which God was being taunted and the way in which the Israelites were being treated. This mattered more than his own ego. He was determined to continue to do what was right and he decided to challenge his brother, asking him “What have I done now?”
Jealousy is very destructive and it would be pleasant to know that it didn’t exist within the ranks of followers of Jesus Christ. The reality is that it should not exist because God’s people are called to be filled with God’s nature of holy love. That love should so infill every part of our being, sanctifying us and making us holy that we would not allow attitudes like jealousy to creep in. Sadly, it still happens and there are those who would call themselves members of the family who would treat one another just like Eliab treated David.
The destructive force of jealousy ruins relationships within the family. This, in turn, ruins the witness of the family to the world who should be seeing how we love one another. Jealousy stifles the work of God because we may decide not to ruffle any jealous feathers by doing what God would ask us to do. David could have packed up his things and gone home. That would have made Eliab happy.
The difficult response is the one that David gave. He chose to be faithful to the living God. He endured the verbal abuses of his big brother and continued to do what he knew was right. Was his relationship with Eliab ever a happy one? We don’t know, but we do know that David was a man after God’s own heart. Sometimes we have to break beyond the destructive nature of jealousy and press on toward obedience to God. Just like David, we can learn that this is possible when we trust in him!
Lord, thank you for your enduring strength. Amen.