When Kings Normally Go To War: Addressing A Potentially Unjustified Criticism of David

alba_bible_224v-sThis article used to be in included in Did King David Have Diabetes? It is a connected issue, but it has become sensible to split the topics, as my study is constantly leading me to enlarge on this area.

2 Samuel 11:1 says: ”In the spring of the year, a when kings normally go out to war, David sent Joab and the Israelite army to fight the Ammonites.” This is typically taken as a criticism of David, and used as a means to warn us that idle hands make the Devil’s work. However, there is also a strong possibility that this verse is a time marker, rather than a criticism.

While we look back on life in David’s time as being far simpler, we know that the work of a King was as demanding as it is in modern times. 1000 BC was not the stone age. Kings didn’t only look after the security of their country, striding into war to fight heroic battles. Archaeology tells us that from at the very least, 1500 years before David, administration, record keeping, civil works and diplomatic activity was well established in David’s area of the world. He did not have the luxury of being an idle King, and if the records of the Kings of Judah were still in existence, there would be mountains of ‘paperwork’ to back that up.

It was not King David’s custom to attend to smaller battles and as a king, it was his right to choose not to at his discretion. Delegation is considered a wise leadership strategy and handing smaller military actions off to Joab, does not immediately make David’s actions erroneous. Unless he was needed for morale or strategy, his time may have been better used in Jerusalem; David may have been more derelict of duty to go to war than keep the country in order, depending on what was happening in Isra’el at that time.

ftufuygfuThere are also other possibilities. We do not have the full details of how his army was ordered. Was he waiting to be called in with a reinforcement division? Was he needed for security within the Jerusalem area? Or could David staying home have been because because he was ill and thus, too greater liability on the battlefield at that time? [Several years later, his men force him off the battlefield permanently, as he is weak and tired. Ref: 2 Samuel 21:15-17]

A realistic view of David’s involvements in battle is presented in the introduction to Psalm 60. At times, Joab and the army went out without David to begin or finish a battle, and this was normal and acceptable. “…and Joab returned and killed 12,000 Edomites in the Valley of Salt.” Again, in 2 Samuel 2:12-17, Joab takes the army of Judah (David’s forces) into battle against northern Isra’el without David. I have not found any Biblical criticism of these actions.

The battle which the text is focussed on, had started in 2 Samuel 10. Joab took command of the first part, then in 10:6,7 when the Ammonites called in more reinforcements, David left for battle with more of his men. Cleaning up the entire mess took some time.

From Albert Barne’s commentary: “The language in the title “when Joab returned,” would seem to imply that these conquests were achieved not by David in person, but by Joab – a circumstance not at all improbable, as he was the leader of the armies of David; 2 Samuel 20:23, “Now Joab was over all the host of Israel.” …in the title to the psalm where it is ascribed to Joab, for though the battle may have been fought by Joab, yet it was really one of the victories of David, as Joab acted under him and by his orders – as we speak of the conquests of Napoleon, attributing to him the conquests which were secured by the armies under his command.”

12988ebNelsons New Illustrated Bible Manners and Customs: “Critics sometimes charge that David’s remaining in Jerusalem during the Ammonite war constituted a dereliction of duty. And he got into trouble with Bathsheba for shirking that duty. But that is not necessarily true. Kings did not always lead their forces into war… Moreover, the autocratic kings of the ancient Near East had so much administrative detail to attend to at home that they could not always handle both military and domestic affairs adequately.”

The biggest problem in understanding King David’s life is that there is so much detail and not enough detail! Explanations are housed in words which are easily missed in the text; plus as chapters sit end to end, timing is lost. The initial main purpose of writing this article was to encourage you to think outside the box on what circumstances and influences affected David. Human behaviour is complex, and from observing the events in our own life, we know that nothing is ever as cut and dried as it seems. One innocent incident can lead us into trouble, or we can cut a hard path to sin for ourselves by making poor choices. In the same way that we would want to be given the benefit of the doubt in regards to what led to our mistakes, David deserves the same open-minded treatment.

– King David’s Health: Diabetes, VD and his Probable Cause of Death
– Notes on the Bible by Albert Barnes, © 1834
– Nelsons New Illustrated Bible Manners and Customs, Dr Howard E Vos, © 1999


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The King David Project by Cate Russell-Cole is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://cateartios.wixsite.com/kingdavidproject.

Please note that this does NOT apply to any of the images on this site except for the free Psalm images which are marked as free. Most photos are purchased stock photos. It is ILLEGAL for you to take and use them, whether for yourself, commercially or for a non-profit venture such as a church or Bible Study. If you have not bought these photos from the source, the stock photography company has every right to sue you.


David, His Enemies and Vengeance: Psalm 109 “The Iscariot Psalm”

vending machineThis article is going to take an interesting look at how interpretations of Scripture can vary wildly; and suggest with respect, that if you wish to understand any part of the word of God: read, read, read and don’t just accept the first explanation placed in front of you. In this case, don’t just accept the second either!

The psalm in question is Psalm 109.

“To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.
O God of my praise, do not be silent;
for the mouth of the wicked and the mouth of the deceitful are opened against me; they spoke against me with a lying tongue.
And they surrounded me with words of hatred; and fought against me without a cause.
For my love they are my foes; but I am in prayer.
And they have rewarded me evil for good, and hatred for my love.
Set a wicked man over him; and let an adversary stand at his right hand,
when he is judged, let him be condemned; and let his prayer become sin.
Let his days be few; let another take his office.
Let his sons be fatherless, and his wife a widow.
Let his sons always beg and be vagabonds, and seek food out of their ruins.
Let the money-lender lay a snare for all that is his; and let strangers take the fruit of his labor.
Let there be none to give mercy to him; nor any to favour his fatherless children.
Let his posterity be cut off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out.
Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered to Jehovah; and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out.
Let them be always before Jehovah, that He may cut off their memory from the earth,
because he did not remember to do mercy, but persecuted the poor and needy man, and sought to kill the broken-hearted.
Yea, he loved cursing, so let it come to him; he delighted not in blessing, and it was far from him.
As he clothed himself with cursing, as with his robe, so let it come into his bowels like water, and like oil into his bones.
Let it be to him as the robe which covers him, and for a girdle with which he is always clothed.
This is the reward of my foes from Jehovah, and of them who speak evil against my soul.
But You, Lord Jehovah, deal kindly with me for Your name’s sake; because Your mercy is good, deliver me.
For I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me.
As a shadow when it is stretched out, I am gone; I am shaken off like the locust.
My knees stumble from fasting; and my flesh is losing its fatness.
And I became a shame to them; they looked on me; they shook their heads.
Help me, O Jehovah my God; save me according to Your mercy;
and they will know that this is Your hand; that You, Jehovah, have done it.
They will curse, but You will bless; they arise, and are ashamed; but let Your servant rejoice.
Let my foes be clothed with shame, and let them cover themselves with their own shame, as with a cloak.
will greatly praise Jehovah with my mouth; yea, I will praise Him among the multitude.
For He shall stand at the right hand of the poor, to save him from those who condemn his soul.”     [Modern King James Version]

2015-01-20_13-53-02_01My first introduction to the Psalm came from Charles Spurgeon’s “A Treasury of David,” which shows not only Spurgeon’s thoughts, but interpretations from other commentators. This is what Spurgeon had to say: “Not the ravings of a vicious misanthrope, or the execrations of a hot, revengeful spirit, David would not smite the man who sought his blood, he frequently forgave those who treated him shamefully; and therefore these words cannot be read in a bitter revengeful sense, for that would be foreign to the character of the son of Jesse. The imprecatory sentences before us were penned by one who with all his courage in battle was a man of music and tender heart, and they were meant to be addressed to God in the form of a Psalm, and therefore they cannot possibly have been meant to be mere angry cursing… one author has ventured to call [it] “a pitiless hate, a refined and insatiable malignity.” To such a suggestion we cannot give place… Truly this is one of the hard places of Scripture, a passage which the soul trembles to read; yet as it is a Psalm unto God, and given by inspiration, it is not ours to sit in judgement upon it, but to bow our ear to what God the Lord would speak to us therein…”

From there, things went in a few different directions which baffled me.

J.J. Stewart: “The language has been justified, not as the language of David, but as the language of Christ, exercising His office of Judge… It has been alleged that this is the prophetic foreshadowing of the words, “Woe unto that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It had been good for that man if he had not been born.” [Ref: Matthew 26:24]

There were a number of commentaries which spoke along those lines, of David penning the holy, zealous, powerful words of a prophet, which absolutely had to be about Judas Iscariot betraying Jesus. I was wondering whether or not I should believe them, as while David did pen several Messianic, prophetic Psalms, this didn’t sound like one of them. To me, this sounded too much like the other Psalms where David was facing a very steep challenge. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary helped me think clearly again.

“The combination of devout meekness and trust with the fiery imprecations in the core of the psalm is startling to Christian consciousness, and calls for an effort of “historical imagination” to deal with it fairly. The attempts to attenuate the difficulty, either by making out that the wishes are not wishes, but prophecies of the fate of evildoers, or that Psa 109:6-20 are the psalmist’s quotation of his enemies’ wishes about him, or that the whole is Messianic prediction of the fate of Judas or of the enemies of the Christ, are too obviously makeshifts. It is far better to recognise the discordance between the temper of the psalmist and that enjoined by Christ than to try to cover it over. Our Lord Himself has signalised the difference between His teaching and that addressed to “them of old time” on the very point of forgiveness of enemies, and we are but following His guidance when we recognise that the psalmist’s mood is distinctly inferior to that which has now become the law for devout men.”

That, I agreed with wholeheartedly! It seems it is easy to try and smother parts of Scripture which make us squirm, by falling into analysis paralysis. We add in a sweeter meaning, to dodge the hard realities of human emotion. Psychology is often criticised for going too deep, making mountains out of mole hills and over analysing things to depth. As theology is based on human nature (like it or not,) it can readily fall into the same trap.

As for me, I think this comes from righteous anger when an injustice has been done to an exhausted man, who has had a hard life. David has just had enough and has reacted in a very human manner; not a perfect one, but a genuine one and we’ve all done the same.

Ashalim_stream_(Nahal_Ashalim),_Judean_Desert,_Israel_(1)F.B. Meyer: “This psalm is like a patch of the Sahara amid a smiling Eden. But, terrible as the words are, remember that they were written by the man who, on two occasions, spared the life of his persecutor, and who, when the field of Gilboa was wet with Saul’s life-blood, sang the loveliest of elegiacs to his memory. These maledictions do not express personal vindictiveness. Probably they should be read as depicting the doom of the wrong-doer.”

From all the study I have done on David and his culture over the past few hears, what I read in this Psalm is in line with the beliefs that David had: that enemies receive their judgement when alive, as there was no concept of a final judgement, so he had every right under the Torah to call for such extreme actions to be taken against them. It makes far more logical sense to interpret it in line with the mindset of David’s time, than to jump to a sophisticated, theological conclusion.

This Psalm is also very much in line with what we know of the culture of the day, in that as long as prayer was accompanied by praise, you could be brutally honest with God and it was far more than acceptable to do so. It was an act of supreme faith.

I ‘d like to finish with Matthew Henry’s conclusion, which gives us something beautiful to take away from this Psalm: “It is the unspeakable comfort of all good people that, whoever is against them, God is for them.”
See also:
~ How Gentle Kings Become Killers: David as a Warrior and Psalmist
~ Boldly Approaching God: The Example of David


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The King David Project by Cate Russell-Cole is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://cateartios.wixsite.com/kingdavidproject.

Please note that this does NOT apply to any of the images on this site except for the free Psalm images which are marked as free. Most photos are purchased stock photos. It is ILLEGAL for you to take and use them, whether for yourself, commercially or for a non-profit venture such as a church or Bible Study. If you have not bought these photos from the source, the stock photography company has every right to sue you.

How the Psalms Teach Us the Torah

Psalms and TorahThere are two occasions in David’s life where scholars have been very vocal about David not knowing the Torah, otherwise known as the Laws of Moses or the Pentateuch. Those laws are found in the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

Depending on how you count them, which like many other things, is controversial, there are roughly 613 laws in those books. Important themes are repeated for emphasis and they are detailed. Reading them gives me a great admiration for Moses, who was a very hard working man! Deuteronomy 31:9 states that on God’s orders, “So Moses wrote this entire body of instruction in a book and gave it to the priests who carried the Ark of God’s Covenant, and to the elders of Isra’el.” They were to be read every seven years to remind the people of them and to inform new generations, of what the Lord wanted Isra’el to do. Obedience would dictate whether the people lived or died. (Deuteronomy 30:11-20)

The first place where David receives criticism for being ignorant of the Torah is in 2 Samuel 6. When David first attempts to move the Ark into Jerusalem, there is a disaster. They move it on an ox cart, and when an oxen stumbles, a man named Uzzah was killed for touching it. 1 Chronicles 13:1 tells us that “David consulted with all his officials, including the generals and captains of his army.” But David had made a tragic mistake by not consulting the Lord first. As King, he did it his way. After the tragedy, in 1 Chronicles 15:13 David says, “Because you Levites did not carry the Ark the first time, the anger of the LORD our God burst out against us. We failed to ask God how to move it properly.”

The most important parts of the tabernacle were designed to be carried on poles on the shoulders of the priests, elevated above men; however, I spent a long time searching for instructions on exactly how they were to be moved and couldn’t find a clear answer. (It’s in Numbers 7:9) The tabernacle had to be moved every time the Lord sent the infant nation of Israel on another part of their journey, so it was moved many times. I was looking for instructions on how to pack it up and shift it with the people, but all I could find was how to make it, maintain it, use it and how Moses installed it. (Exodus 25 to 31) So was this what happened with David too?

Unfortunately, it appears that David’s biggest mistake was in working with people other than the Lord. We don’t definitively know how well he knew Torah, and whether or not this mistake came about due to disrespecting God’s specific wishes in how His Presence was to be moved, or because David didn’t take the time to consult the Torah, remains a matter of debate as the complete facts aren’t available. I do wonder if his officials, includes the priests? Surely they would have known how to move the Ark?

The other instance in which David did not do his homework is when he took a Census of the people in 2 Samuel 24. He did not do it the right way, or for the right reasons; so it is unlikely he would have done his homework anyway.

So do these two incidents mean that David did not study Torah, as he was instructed to do in Deuteronomy 17:18-20? I am going to argue that it is unlikely, as if you read the Torah and then immediately begin reading the Psalms, you will hear the principles and commands of the Torah right throughout the Psalms. Plus 1 Kings 11:33b and verse 38 states that David did obey the law of Moses and all God’s commands.

1283995044We know that David grew up in a Godly family and in Psalms 116 and 86, David speaks about his mother as a faithful servant of the Lord. He would have been taught Torah from a young age.
“Truly I am your servant, Lord;
I serve you just as my mother did;
you have freed me from my chains.”   (Psalm 116:16)

Take Psalm 3 as an example:
“Lord, how many are my foes!
How many rise up against me!
Many are saying of me,
“God will not deliver him.”
But you, Lord, are a shield around me,
my glory, the One who lifts my head high.
I call out to the Lord,
and he answers me from his holy mountain.
I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.
I will not fear though tens of thousands
assail me on every side.
Arise, Lord!
Deliver me, my God!
Strike all my enemies on the jaw;
break the teeth of the wicked.
From the Lord comes deliverance.
May your blessing be on your people.”

Verses 5 and 6 relates to Leviticus 26:6, blessings for obedience. Verse 8 relates to Leviticus 26:7-8. Psalm 9 reflects Deuteronomy 28, and even Psalm 5:6 which speaks of lies, is covered in Torah under Exodus 19:5-6.

Some of David’s harshest words about his enemies are backed up in God’s promises in the Torah and the more I read the Psalms, the more I see those five books of the law as the blueprint for how David acted throughout his life. (Yes, he did abandon it when in sin, as do all of us.)

I’ll finish this with Psalm 5:11 which is so very central to the heart of David and which also corresponds to the teaching in Deuteronomy 33:27:
“But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
let them sing joyful praises forever.
Spread your protection over them,
that all who love your name may be filled with joy.”

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Please note that this does NOT apply to any of the images on this site except for the free Psalm images which are marked as free. Most photos are purchased stock photos. It is ILLEGAL for you to take and use them, whether for yourself, commercially or for a non-profit venture such as a church or Bible Study. If you have not bought these photos from the source, the stock photography company has every right to sue you.

David, the Underdog?

underdogOne of the lessons that I struggle the most to learn is who I am in the Lord, and how valuable I am to Him. I can get so stuck in my problems, that I forget that the One who built and maintains the Universe, loves me and is on my side. When I think like that, I defeat myself, by letting circumstances defeat me. I become the underdog, fighting to survive against a world which is bigger than I can cope with. I forget that God is bigger than my problems. I know I am not alone in this struggle to feel secure and treasured; many of us grapple with the same issue.

One of the things that intrigues me about the story of David and Goliath, is that even though we know how it ends, (spoiler alert: *God wins through David’s courage,) we call David the underdog. In reality, David cannot help but win, because of God’s massive love for His people. I scratch my head and wonder why we label David like this, when we know the value that Isra’el has to the Lord.

Isra’el had a very special position on the Earth. “Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Isra’el.” Exodus 19:5-6 “I will give you peace in the land, and you will be able to sleep with no cause for fear.” Leviticus 26:6

Even with promises like these, and the many testimonies of what God had done for Isra’el since Abraham’s time, Isra’el still forgot that they were a treasure to God, just as we do. [Ref. Genesis 22:15-18] By the time Goliath was threatening the nation, God’s beloved people were so displaced from their faith, that they had forgotten that God was there to help fight their battles. Knowing that, David could not possibly have lost unless he was acting in disobedience to the Lord.

“David replied to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies—the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. Today the LORD will conquer you… and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel! And everyone assembled here will know that the LORD rescues His people, but not with sword and spear. This is the LORD’s battle, and He will give you to us!” 1 Samuel 17:45-47

If David knew what the outcome had to be, why, three thousand years later, haven’t we caught up with his thinking? It appears that we have this compulsion to label threats big and God as smaller than He is. We are no different than Isra’el, in that we let fear take over. God is poised and willing to fight for us, but we have to be reminded of that, in order to wrestle our fleshly minds back off their disaster-focussed auto-pilot.

If we place God first in all our circumstances, then we will never be an underdog. There is simply no way that can happen. Why? We are as great a treasure to the Lord as the nation if Isra’el, and God will never stop fighting for us.

“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Even before He made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ. This is what He wanted to do, and it gave Him great pleasure.” Ephesians 1:3-5 “… all belong to God, whether Jew or Gentile and we are all partakers of the same divine inheritance through grace. For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:12-13

So the next time something towers above you, making you quake in fear, let your Heavenly Father deal with it. You’re not an underdog. There is no way you can’t win.

I am going to finish by joining Paul in saying, “I pray that from His glorious, unlimited resources He will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit. Then Christ will make His home in your hearts as you trust in Him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

Now all glory to God, Who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to Him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:16-21
*Please note that I have said God wins, not that David wins, as all victories for Isra’el were won by God and the glory does not belong to any man. David agrees with me. In 2 Samuel 22:1-4 David wrote these words on the day the LORD rescued him from all his enemies and from Saul.
“The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my Saviour;
my God is my rock, in whom I find protection.
He is my shield, the power that saves me,
and my place of safety.
He is my refuge, my saviour,
the one who saves me from violence.
I called on the LORD, who is worthy of praise,
and He saved me from my enemies.”

Not even a human warrior could care for Isra’el as the Lord did. This is a quick list of the battles the Lord won / engineered for Isra’el. Who else compares to this?

  • Crossing the Red Sea – Exodus 14
  • Victory over the Amalekites – Exodus 17:8-16
  • Promise to fight for the people – Exodus 23:27-31 and Deuteronomy 7:7-8
  • Jordan River dry crossing – Joshua 3:15-16
  • Fall of Jericho – Joshua 6:20-21
  • Ai – Joshua 8
  • Amonites – Joshua 10:11
  • North captured for Isra’el – Joshua 11:16-20, especially verse 23
  • South captured for Isra’el – Joshua 10:40-42
  • Deborah and Barak – Judges 4:14-15
  • Gideon – Judges 7
  • Samson – Judges 16, especially verse 30
  • Ark of the Covenant against the Philistines – 1 Samuel 7
  • Jonathan against the Philistines – 1 Samuel 14
  • David and Eleazar son of Dodai – 2 Samuel 23
  • David and Shammah son of Agee – 2 Samuel 23

Battles Won for Judah

  • God defeated the army of Jeroboam as Abijah and his army trusted God. 2 Chronicles 13
  • God saves King Jehoshaphat in battle – 2 Chronicles 18
  • Battle with Ammon, Moab, and some of the Meunites – 2 Chronicles 20
  • God helped Uzziah in his wars against the Philistines – 2 Chronicles 26
  • Rescue of Judah under the leadership of the righteous King Hezekiah – 2 Kings 19

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Please note that this does NOT apply to any of the images on this site except for the free Psalm images which are marked as free. Most photos are purchased stock photos. It is ILLEGAL for you to take and use them, whether for yourself, commercially or for a non-profit venture such as a church or Bible Study. If you have not bought these photos from the source, the stock photography company has every right to sue you.

Good King or Nasty Sinner? – Negativity Bias and the Life of King David

The range of reactions to David that I have heard, often leave me scratching my head. At times it sounds like people either love him, or loathe him, depending on what aspects of his life they focus on. If they focus on the negative, he is branded as a high achieving, warring, bad boy, with a degree of amazing godliness that just doesn’t fit in with his Psalm-writing character. If they focus on the positive, he’s an angel in a crude, human form.

Of course, the truth is always in the middle. David cannot be understood without knowing the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, plus God’s heart and plans for His people. If you read the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy then turn straight to the Psalms, you will see that most of David’s attitudes are built on the commands set down through Moses, and the identity of Isra’el in the eyes of God. King David lived and worked in line with God’s vision for His people. [Ref. 2 Samuel 5:12]

This is what fuels him as a warrior, powers his spiritual devotion and keeps him from becoming an egotistical tyrant, as many kings are. I have called David the anti-king, as instead of relying on wealth and muscle to succeed, he depends on the Lord to the point of severe persecution from other nations, and those around him. [See links at base.]

David has been set into many moulds: young hero, battle-hardened warrior, adulterer, and the “sweet singer of Isra’el.” While he has played all those roles, we need to stand back and look at his story as a whole, then allow him to change and grow past those roles. David changed as he aged, and as the Lord built and disciplined him. He went through many ‘character building’ desert experiences ,where he learnt to lead a nation and obey the Lord. His desire to listen to correction is what saved him from his sins, and gave him one of the most highly honoured places in the Word of God. [Refs. 1 Samuel 25, 2 Samuel 11 and 12, Psalm 18:17-25]

So even though most people are fans of the Psalms and see David in a positive spiritual light, why do some of us slide into a negative assessment of David, writing him off a sinner? There are several reasons.

1. We are used to kings and leaders being corrupt and automatically expect that to occur with David, which produces a ‘confirmation bias.’ For example, we read about BathSheba or the census incident, and subconsciously use those events to confirm our expectations of an abuse of power. (See negativity bias stats in point 2, for the balance of events.) [Refs. 2 Samuel 11 and 12, and 2 Samuel 24]

When studying David, I have been stunned at how humble he actually is and that he constantly presents himself before the Lord, seeking correction. I don’t have the courage to do that myself. I have a lot to learn from him. [Refs Psalm 18:17-25, Psalm 19:12-14, Psalm 139 and Psalm 41:12]

2. Society runs on a ‘negativity bias.’ We like the dirt. My best read articles are about whether or not David had venereal disease, or a homosexual affair with Jonathan. Less read are the ones which show David’s financial generosity, humility, and kindness. Thank God the articles on how his faith were built, are read! That is the most important lesson we can learn from David.

As a further example of negativity bias, here are some rough statistics on how his life appears in the Bible. Within the books of Samuel, 1 Kings and 1 Chronicles, there are 46 positive events which denote David as a righteous man, and 20 negative life events, of which only 3 list catastophic sins (Gath, Bathsheba and the census).

So if you get stuck judging David on his behaviour with BathSheba, you are ignoring the 46 times David got life right. That is not a balanced way to judge. [Gath: 1 Samuel 27]

Conversely, out of the Psalms which can be attributed to David (in name and by style), 21 are cheerful and 46 are distressed. That is overall. The sad Psalms do have positive verses in them, where David pulls himself up by his bootstraps. However, we brand these Psalms as happy or sad and that, again, demonstrates the pull our psyches have towards the negative.

iStock_000014054141XSmall3. If the negative stories we know are the first we’ve heard, or the most often repeated, they brand the person. It only takes five seconds to form an impression of someone, whether you have correct or complete facts, or not. One isolated incident can overwhelm logic, and despite whatever else has happened to that person, (known or unknown,) a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ label is assigned. So if you hear about BathSheba more than the temple, David becomes more of a sinner than a saint.

The blessing of the Word of God is that we don’t have to make any final judgements on people, as the Lord has already done it for us. The commands in the New Testament to judge, are not needed for those who have already gone home to be with the Lord. God saw all the parts of their lives that we can’t see and He handed down the correct justice. “For David had done what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight and had obeyed the Lord’s commands throughout his life, except in the affair concerning Uriah the Hittite.” 1 Kings 15:5 [See also 2 Samuel 8:15 and Acts 13:22-24 for summaries of his life.]

I encourage you to use the links below to learn more about David, and take the time to study his life. You’ll be surprised at how inspiring he is, and how little of him you know. It will help build you spiritually.


For more information on what made David tick, please see these articles:
– By Heart or By Sword
– Persecution for Praising the Lord
– How the Psalms Teach Us the Law (Torah)
– Does Absolute Power Corrupt Absolutely?
– Was King David a Megalomaniac?
– How Gentle Kings Become Killers
– The Anti-King: David and Humility
– Study Essentials for Understanding King David

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Please note that this does NOT apply to any of the images on this site except for the free Psalm images which are marked as free. Most photos are purchased stock photos. It is ILLEGAL for you to take and use them, whether for yourself, commercially or for a non-profit venture such as a church or Bible Study. If you have not bought these photos from the source, the stock photography company has every right to sue you.

The Trouble with Saul: Mental Illness or Character Flaw?

David_playing_the_harp_before_Saul._Engraving_by_W._van_der_Wellcome_L0012090Trying to understand Saul is a task that honestly, I have stalled on for some time. I am more interested in David, as David’s life holds so many keys to how we can forge a closer, more effective walk with the Lord. Saul only conjures up images of a confused, aggressive man, who was alienated from God by his own choice. It’s an unhappy forty-two year story with no happy beginning, or end.

I have read many opinions on what ailed Saul once he had been rejected by the Lord, and demonic torment commenced. There are only two symptoms to go on: aggression and anger. The most conclusive verse is: “Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.” That tells us almost nothing. The best clinical definition I can associate with Saul’s state of mind is hyperarousal, which goes with many psychological and medical conditions, and may be a transitory, fight or flight state, which dovetails with his fear. So linking Saul’s demonic oppression to clinical depression, post traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, paranoid schizophrenia, epilepsy, or anything else, is a long leap in logic.

The first time Saul was disobedient to God, it was because of fear. This becomes a thread that never leaves his life story. After his second act of public rebellion in 1 Samuel 16:14, when Saul chose greed over obedience, the demonic attacks commenced: “Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD terrorised him.”

In the original Hebrew, you can use the word terrorise, or troubled. Some versions claimed that this included depression, but there is no concrete evidence of that and interestingly, there is also no clinical reason to conclude that the demon caused any kind of mental illness. As the demon came and went, it was not a case of possession either.

So what can we assume? The evidence for what happened is quite solid. It centres around the fear and jealousy that obsessed Saul, knowing he was going to lose his kingdom. Plus if Saul knew the history of the people of Isra’el, it meant only one thing: he was also going to die. When judgement fell on disobedient people, the penalty was *death. [Ref. 1 Samuel 12:14-15 and see base of post for examples.] The demon would have used that to maximum effect and would not need to incite any form of mental illness, to be incredibly successful. Saul’s ego and lack of self-esteem did most of the work. [Self-esteem references: 1 Samuel 10:22-23 and 15:17]

Saul lost the kingdom through the disobedience that comes from not really caring about God. 1 Samuel 13:13-14 gives us the first point where it happened. “How foolish!” Samuel exclaimed. “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you. Had you kept it, the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom must end, for the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart. The LORD has already appointed him to be the leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.”

The damage was done, the next king chosen. So from then, Saul was on the look out for his successor, and it didn’t take long for Saul to find him.

1 Samuel 18:6-12 “When the victorious Israelite army was returning home after David had killed the Philistine, women from all the towns of Israel came out to meet King Saul. They sang and danced for joy with tambourines and cymbals. This was their song:

“Saul has killed his thousands,
and David his ten thousands!”
This made Saul very angry. “What’s this?” he said. “They credit David with ten thousands and me with only thousands. Next they’ll be making him their king!” So from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David.

The very next day a tormenting spirit from God overwhelmed Saul, and he began to rave in his house like a madman. David was playing the harp, as he did each day. But Saul had a spear in his hand, and he suddenly hurled it at David, intending to pin him to the wall. But David escaped him twice.

Saul was then afraid of David, for the LORD was with David and had turned away from Saul.”

759px-Smart_Hymn17_PraiseFrom that point on, the situation went around in circles. Saul did everything he could to get rid of David, his probable successor; then when David spared his life, Saul had a brief change of heart, before he allowed his total paranoia to take over again.

In the end, an aged Saul, “frantic with fear,” consults a medium to see if he can win against the Philistine army. At this point he also falls to the ground, paralysed with fear. [Ref. 1 Samuel 28] Fear is the problem. Magnified by a long term (at least twenty years) knowledge that he would die and lose his kingdom, that fear would have damaged Saul’s emotions and psyche on many levels, even without demonic interference.

Saul’s character flaws and unrighteousness showed in many ways. He argued with his son and successor, Jonathan, behaved cruelly to his daughter Michal; and his reign was summed up relatively early on, with this controversial and misleading verse: “Now when Saul had secured his grasp on Israel’s throne, he fought against his enemies in every direction—against Moab, Ammon, Edom, the kings of Zobah, and the Philistines. And wherever he turned, he was victorious.” 1 Samuel 14:47

Victorious is what Saul had always wanted, however, according to the Hebrew word which is used in the place of victorious in the original texts, it should read “and wherever he turned, he acted wickedly,” or “he mistreated.” The Hebrew word is rasha, which in Strongs Concordance numbers is 7561. (Have a look at it in Biblehub.com http://biblehub.com/hebrew/7561.htm and see for yourself.)

Rasha is a sad indictment on Saul’s behaviour and character.

For a comprehensive chart comparing both King Saul and King David’s character and behaviour, please visit the From Despair to Deliverance Facebook page. The chart tells most of the story succinctly and covers many more pivotal issues. Though one part I didn’t have room to put in, was that Saul left the Ark of the Covenant (the centre of worship) where it had been stashed after being returned by the Philistines and gave it no obvious attention. (God’s Presence was on the Ark.) David bought it into Jerusalem, the Capital city of Isra’el and centre of power and worship.


*Torah references regarding losing life due to disobeying God.
– After the golden calf: Exodus 32:27-29
– Strange fire: Leviticus 10:1-7
– Blasphemy: Leviticus 24:10-23
– The generation that rebelled in the wilderness: Numbers 14
– Korah’s rebellion: Numbers 16, specifically verses 20-35 then verse 49
– Moses and Aaron died before they could enter the promised land, because of disobedience:
Numbers 20:22-29 and Deuteronomy 34
– The men who worshipped Baal of Peor: Numbers 25

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Was King David Clinically Depressed or Bipolar?

Image Copyright Cate Russell-Cole. All rights reserved internationally.

Image Copyright Cate Russell-Cole. All rights reserved internationally.

Because the Psalms record the highs and lows of his life, people have referred to him as being bipolar. It is highly unlikely. Please see this page on David’s personality and read about the Psalms for a better answer to the bipolar issue.

As far as depression goes, I find David to be a highly motivated, active, productive, life-loving man. He didn’t want to die and he wept and mourned when he had excellent reason to. I cannot find extensive evidence of repeated instances of clinical depression which had little or no cause, though it could have been the case. I will keep an open mind. What I can see, is plenty of reason for reactive depression, associated with multiple instances of grief. This occurred when his first son to BathSheba died, then Amnon raped Tamar, then Absalom murdered Amnon, all within several years. Earlier in his life, I see him being realistically afraid and worn out at times, but not experiencing depressive episodes.

As a social worker, understanding grief psychology is part of my role. The worst grief is associated with losing a child. It is magnified to an unbearable extent when that loss has been associated with a murder which has been committed by another one of your own children. For David this is then magnified even further, as the prophet Nathan had forewarned David, that these things would happen as a result of his sin with BathSheba. Add severe guilt to grief and you have pure, living hell which David never fully recovered from.

Parents whose sons have been incarcerated for murder go through a grief process like no other. When two children are involved in the murder, it is a triple loss (death and loss of trust in the surviving son, plus separation due to incarceration), plus their emotional and mental energy is pulled in two directions. People cannot be totally supportive and sympathetic towards both children at the same time, there is simply not enough energy in an overloaded heart for that. In David’s case, he grieved Amnon’s death (his heir to the throne) and rejected Absalom for a long time.

Absalom was obviously terrified of approaching his father (who had a passionate temper and under the Laws set down through Moses, should have had Absalom executed), so Absalom sought sanctuary. The relationship between David and Absalom never fully repaired, though David grieved heavily went Absalom overthrew him as ruler and was subsequently executed by Joab, against David’s orders.

Under circumstances such as these, long term depression can only be expected. In addition, David withstood conspiracies to overthrow his position as king, he was frequently persecuted for the strength of his faith and he was ill, which can also lead to low mood swings. In the same situations, you wouldn’t feel too cheery either.

If you would like to understand more about what a parent goes through when a child commits murder, read this article. (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/augustweb-only/8-9-42.0.html?start=5) Though I warn you, it will tear your heart out. Also read this post for a greater understanding of the problems which would have occurred in David’s life and family.

I know David did the wrong thing with BathSheba, and some of what occurred after is also due to poor parenting and bad role modelling; however the penalty is abhorrently severe. But that is what life without grace is like. My heart really goes out to him. David had a hard life in many ways.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Please note that this does NOT apply to any of the images on this site except for the free Psalm images which are marked as free. Most photos are purchased stock photos. It is ILLEGAL for you to take and use them, whether for yourself, commercially or for a non-profit venture such as a church or Bible Study. If you have not bought these photos from the source, the stock photography company has every right to sue you.