Saul, desperate to know the outcome of his imminent battle with the Philistines, gives up on waiting for an answer from God. He disguises himself and seeks the help of a sorceress. Not recognizing Saul, she summons the ghost of Samuel who pronounces that both Saul and his son Jonathan will die in the battle leaving David, whom Saul has been persecuting, to inherit Saul’s crown. Saul despairs at this news.
David returns to the Philistine camp after a victorious battle against the Amalecites. He is praised extravagantly by a party of soldiers, captives, and shepherds. David admonishes them for crediting him with the victory rather than God. Alone, he privately confesses his distress at the prospect of fighting against both Saul, the king he serves, and Jonathan, his friend. David then meets with Achis, the Philistine leader, who is about to parlay with Saul to decide whether or not there will be a battle.
Joadab is jealous of David’s glory and attempts to convince him to fight, hoping he’ll be killed. David refuses, preferring peace to war and joins Jonathan. Joadab decides to tell Saul that the peace David is advocating is not genuine and that David is trying to trick Saul to steal his crown. David and Jonathan enjoy each other’s company and hope for enduring peace.
Saul and Achis meet. While Saul accuses David of treachery, Achis defends David’s loyalty to Saul. Achis leaves and Saul laments his situation, torn between his reason and fear that the prophecy of the sorceress will come true. David and Jonathan plead with Saul to forgive David but Saul angrily calls him a traitor and threatens his life. David flees and Joadab rejoices in the success of his scheme.
David is praying alone. Jonathan interrupts to tell him that the truce is over and they will have to fight against each other. David leaves and Jonathan despairs at having to choose between his father and his friend. Everyone on both sides prepares for the upcoming battle.
The battle rages and Jonathan is wounded. Saul discovers him and rails against god’s punishment. He leaves, vowing to find and kill David. David arrives and grieves as Jonathan dies in his arms. Saul enters, now wounded and dying, and assails David, accusing him of causing the tragedy. Saul dies, and Achis enters, congratulating David on inheriting the crown but David is inconsolable. The chorus rejoices at David’s victory while he mourns.