Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands. 1 Samuel 18:7
In the film Amadeus, aging composer Antonio Salieri plays some of his music on the piano for a visiting priest. The embarrassed priest confesses he doesn’t recognize the tunes. “What about this one?” Salieri says, playing an instantly familiar melody. “I didn’t know you wrote that,” the priest says. “I didn’t,” Salieri replies. “That was Mozart!” As viewers discover, Mozart’s success had caused deep envy in Salieri—even leading him to play a part in Mozart’s death.
A song lies at the heart of another envy story. After David’s victory over Goliath, the Israelites heartily sing, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7). The comparison doesn’t sit well with King Saul. Envious of David’s success and afraid of losing his throne (vv. 8–9), Saul begins a prolonged pursuit of David, trying to take his life.
Like Salieri with music or Saul with power, we’re usually tempted to envy those with similar but greater gifts than we possess. And whether it’s picking fault with their work or belittling their success, we too can seek to damage our “rivals.”
Saul had been divinely chosen for his task (10:6–7, 24), a status that should’ve fostered security in him rather than envy. Since we each have unique callings too (Ephesians 2:10), maybe the best way to overcome envy is to quit comparing ourselves. Let’s celebrate each other’s successes instead.
Whom are you most tempted to envy? How can you celebrate their success?
Loving God, I thank You for my friends’ and colleagues’ successes.
The strange mix of emotions found in 1 Samuel 18:5–9 is worth noting. The troops and officers were “pleased” when David’s military success was rewarded with promotion (v. 5), and the homecoming of the army was met with dancing and singing (v. 6). But the emotional atmosphere soon shifted because the song celebrated David’s greatness above Saul’s (v. 7). Internal envy gave way to anger and displeasure (v. 8).
We see biblical warnings against envy throughout Scripture. The book of Proverbs says, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones” (14:30) and “Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?” (27:4). The word translated “envy” in Proverbs 14:30 and “jealousy” in 27:4 is the same Hebrew word. What’s in view are strong feelings of resentment or ill-will because of the actual or perceived advantages of another.