“So the women sang as they danced, and said: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” (1 Sam. 18:7)
This song has always struck me a little funny. It’s the ‘exclamation of praise’ that some women began to sing as David and Saul returned from the slaying of Goliath. When you read what they sang it’s almost incumbent upon you to ask, “Really? Did they seriously think that was a good song choice?” Did they really give any thought to the lyrics and think, “I know what we should sing, let’s keep it simple, how about…‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.’”
Now, as you might have already noticed, there are quite a few issues with this song. And they surely didn’t escape Saul’s attention (1 Sam. 18:8-9). In fact, the women’s chorus became Saul’s impetus to eye David from that day forward (vs.9). It was a simple song with serious consequences.
Having seen the way the song fits into the narrative, I think it’s worth taking a moment to consider what we can learn from these women; namely, how not to write a song.
First, where was God? The song was man-centered and lacked the thrust of worship, or at least God-centered worship. The focus of their singing was Saul and David. This song was not like Miriam’s song on the other side of the Red Sea in Exodus 15 where she sang: “Sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!” (Ex 15:21). Miriam didn’t sing to the glory of Moses; she sang to the glory of Yahweh. And because of that her song had the vital component that the 1 Samuel 18 chorus lacked.
Second, were they accurate? If they were singing this when David and Saul returned home from “the slaughter of the Philistine” (1 Sam 18:6) was it accurate to say, “David has slain his ten thousands”? Probably not. David killed Goliath and as the Philistines scattered he probably slayed many more, but, ten thousands? Again, probably not. So, you could say, at least to some degree, they were throwing truth out the window. Yes, hyperbole has its place now and again, but this was clearly unnecessary hyperbole that created an unhealthy and (likely) untruthful comparison. Some years back someone told me about a Christmas song they heard on the radio that talked about Joseph and Mary in such a way that the artist sang fanciful fiction as though it was fact. I checked out the lyrics and saw that the majority of the song was just that – conjecture sung like it was Biblical truth. We must remember that poetic license is not a license to be inaccurate in our depiction of Biblical truth.
Third, their song provoked jealousy, and namely the jealousy of Saul (1 Sam 18:8). While much of the world’s music is intended to do just that, Christian music should bear the tone of Gospel-centered humility, making a boast in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, and singing for His name and His renown. God-honoring music should communicate grace and truth to hearers, and come nowhere close to provoking envy and jealousy.
Therefore, for those who desire to write songs, along with those who enjoy listening to songs, let the bad example of the women in 1 Samuel 18 point you in the direction that you ought to go for either song-writing and or song-listening. A synopsis could go something like this: write (or listen to) songs that are God-honoring and truth-saturated, bearing a humble tone that resembles the Lord and Savior it is intended to glorify.