Khirbet Qeiyafa: Further Archaeological Evidence Found for the Time of David

ostraconFrom “excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa have had an enormous impact on our understanding of the formation of the Kingdom of Israel. The only known Judahite fortified city dating to the time of Saul and David, Khirbet Qeiyafa has reshaped debates on urbanism during the early Israelite monarchy. The 2008 discovery of the Qeiyafa Ostracon has captivated the attention of epigraphers and archaeologists alike…”

After reading the articles and the videos, my first impression on this is that the location of the site would be critical to both David and Saul, because of the proximity to the Philistine border. It will be very interesting to see what else comes to light in future years.


Related Resources:


Creative Commons License
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

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.


New Information: The Historical Isra’el in David’s Time

IMG_1765Update: Even more information can be also be found in this post: Sand and Sin: More Research on the History of Jerusalem, dated January 2017.

In August a post was published which talked about the economy and climate of Isra’el in King David’s time, and how this affected his reign. All my posts are written ahead of time, sometimes by months, and in the intervening time I have completed months of study on ancient Isra’el and her neighbours. This has made some of the information in that post redundant and given me a much clearer picture of what did go on.

That’s good news! The project is a process of growth and discovery, and after two years, it’s still exciting to ponder what gems I will come across next. The greatest take home message is that you need to study beyond the Bible to understand it. Ancient history is a critical resource, as is archaeology. Any proper course of study takes in all the surrounding information, and David’s life should be treated no differently.

This post will give you additional information which makes greater sense of Saul and David’s stories.


The late Bronze Age Collapse crippled all the empires and city states from modern day Greece up to Turkey, across to the Persian Gulf affecting Iran and Iraq, through the area of Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and Palestine and right down into Egypt. There is a list of around 38 *cities which show destruction layers from this time frame, some which were critical to economic survival. The impact of the collapse was greater than the end of the Roman Empire and is the greatest economic disaster in all of history.

Cities were completely abandoned, with no clues as to the cause left behind; the population dramatically declined, famines occurred, and even powerful nations such as Egypt and Mesopotamia, wilted and struggled for several hundred years. The affects were the same as if our modern key trading cities such as Singapore, New York and London all ceased to function within fifty years, with no one else arising to cover their function.

This collapse occurred during the era of the Book of Judges (1200 BC) and the effects lasted into and past Saul and David’s time. Smaller nations such as Mycenae, Minoa, and Ugarit ceased to exist altogether and Cyprus lost written language and all trade for around 300 years. The loss of written language is why the era following the collapse is known as a dark age. In essence, the progression of civilisation was catastrophically set back.

Before the collapse, the Near East had a very modern society which was not equalled until the height of the Greek Empire around seven hundred years later. The area is considered by historians to have had an “international economy” with extensive, well engineered diplomatic relations between the countries, and trade networks which bought a great deal of wealth into the region. Bureaucracy was in full swing, laws were well established, public works were undertaken, better military tactics were being developed and civilisation was anything but stone age and backwards. Life was surprisingly modern, much, much earlier than the Greek and Roman empires. Their later success was birthed in this period.

At this time, as we do today, most of the population relied on food supplies coming through the trade networks, as the bulk of the population dwelt in cities and worked as merchants or manufacturers. When the trade routes collapsed, many people faced starvation as they didn’t have their own land for food production. It is thought that natural disasters such as earthquakes and the possible eruption of the volcano at what is now Santorini, contributed to the collapse, as one simple factor alone is insufficient to create such wide-spread, long-term havoc. There is also a theory that climate change during that time led to the perfect storm which created the complex collapse.

There is archaeological evidence to back this up. The Near East is now much drier than it had been and the flora and fauna has dramatically changed as well. Elephants and hippopotamus populations used to roam Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), creating local sources of ivory. They are long gone, perhaps from hunting, perhaps from climate change or a combination of both?

Before and during the collapse, there were many diplomatic letters send back and forth between Kings, such as between the Kings of Egypt and Ugarit, which provide useful accounts of what occurred in the Near East during this time, some which were cries for help because of the invasion of the Sea Peoples.

From King Ammurapi to the King of Alasiya: “My father, behold, the enemy’s ships came (here); my cities were burned, and they did evil things in my country. Does not my father know that all my troops and chariots are in the Land of Hatti, and all my ships are in the Land of Lukka?… Thus, the country is abandoned to itself. May my father know it: the seven ships of the enemy that came here inflicted much damage upon us.” Translation by Jean Nougaryol et al. (1968) Ugaritica V: 87–90 no. 24.

These letters were well preserved on baked clay tablets, but in the dark age that followed the collapse, this form of communication ceased, leaving us with a frustrating black hole of lost information. Most of what we have comes from destruction layers uncovered by archaeologists, pollen records showing evidence of famines and some clay tablets. For that reason, this period is considered to be one of the great mysteries of history.

Disenfranchised populations threatened everyone’s national security, and the standard of living plummeted. The arrival of these “Sea Peoples,” as Egypt referred to them, (which we believe were the Philistines), were part of the Bronze Age Collapse. They arrived in several mass migrations, attacked the local inhabitants with the men at the forefront and their women, children and all of their possessions following close behind. It appears they were also homeless because of the collapse and this is the cause of their arrival in Canaan, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Isra’el and the Hittites land to the north-west. Not only were trading routes cut by invasion, but communication routes would have also been affected, so the problem simply snow balled as conditions became worse.


The Impact on Isra’el

We don’t know the actual impact of the collapse on Isra’el, except that David’s reign must have still been affected by the insecurity of the surrounding nations and still reduced trade routes. We do know that he was active diplomatically and that some luxury goods were available through Tyre, but life was still hampered by upheaval and uncertainty. It is not a peaceful time for anyone. Trade, government and communication didn’t have to be reinvented, but it was partially suffocated until empires such as Neo-Assyria could rise up and completely stamp out security threats.

War has always been common in antiquity in order to gain more land and better resources, but it does appear to be heightened in this period, which is seen in the desperate pleas for help to allied kings as seen above. Isra’el would have also been economically affected as trade was functioning at a lesser level than the past, and raiders were keen to relieve the Israelites of what wealth they did have.

“Many people say, “Who will show us better times?” Let your face smile on us, LORD.” Psalm 4:6

The necessity of enlarging and securing borders for economic survival and to ward off the Philistine threat, could have been the reason why kings routinely went to war every spring. [Ref. 2 Samuel 11:1] In 1 Samuel 13:19 we know that the Philistines were withholding blacksmiths from the Israelites, as they didn’t wish them to access better weapons. They would have done the same to any other territories they could bully, and would have to have been a menace to trade in and out of the area as well. This kind of stranglehold produces poverty, which gives rise to desperation and conflict. It all comes down to survival, possibly mixed with greed.

Long-term struggles such as these exhaust populations and can also create the kind of power struggles which threatened David’s leadership, even into his old age. [Ref. Psalm 71] David’s inability to quell all security threats against Isra’el quickly may have made him unpopular. It is easy to look back now and see all the factors and realise why David was still going to war twenty years after he became King of Isra’el, but to his population at that time, their main concern was that life was scary, unpredictable and tough and they needed deliverance now!

“Meanwhile, my enemies lay traps to kill me.
Those who wish me harm make plans to ruin me.
All day long they plan their treachery.
But I am deaf to all their threats.
I am silent before them as one who cannot speak.
I choose to hear nothing,
and I make no reply.
For I am waiting for you, O LORD.
You must answer for me, O Lord my God.”
Psalm 38:12-15

We know from the books of Samuel that David was allied with the King of Tyre who gave him the luxury items needed to build his palace. During those years, Tyre was an island (it is now a peninsula, a lot can change in three thousand years), and they traded in luxury items such as the cedars of Lebanon, tin, copper, ivory, perfumed oils and high-end hand crafted items. This shows a resurgence of luxury trade at around 1000BC, but a great deal of work was ahead of the nations to rebuild the wealth of the region, and much of that would have been hindered by the relentless wars, as everyone fought for survival and a secure, wealthy territorial share of the land and it’s resources.


Essential Study Resources:

University of California, Berkeley, Near East Studies:
Web site:
Youtube Channel:

The Oriental Institute
Web site:
Youtube Channel:

*Affected Cities and Nations
Anatolia (Asia Minor): Troy, Miletus, Hattusas (Hittites), Mersin, Tarhuntassa
Cypres: Palaeokastro, Kition, Sinda, Enkomi
Mesopotamia: Ugarit, Tell Sukas, Kadesh, Qatna, Hamath, Alalakh, Aleppo, Carchemish, Emar
Levant / Canaan: Hazor, Akko, Megiddo, Deir ‘Alla, Bethel, Beth Shemesh, Lachish, Ashod, Ashkelon
Modern Greece area: Teichos Dymaion, Pylos, Nichoria, The Menelaion, Tiryns, Mycenae, Thebes, Lefkandi, Iolkos, Knossos, Kydonia.


Creative Commons License
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

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.

Getting Over (Really) Big Mistakes

Archaeological evidence of Gath, from a lecture given by the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago

Archaeological evidence of Gath, from a lecture given by the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago. Click to watch video.

Two years ago I regained consciousness in a hospital bed, realising that I had deeply traumatised the people I loved the most and that I had permanently messed up my life. No one was ever going to trust me the same way again. It was the most horrifying thing I had ever been through. I couldn’t make it better; I couldn’t hide what I had done wrong, as it was publicly reported. It could affect my future employment potential and could tar my reputation for a very long time.

Thankfully, we don’t all go through experiences quite as dramatic, but regardless of the comparative size of the mistake made, if it feels like a destructive disaster to you, then it’s big and somehow, you have to get past it. That is not easy, especially if it’s had a huge, negative impact on your faith, but it can be done with patience and persistence.

David made a terrible mistake before he became the King of Judah. In 1 Samuel 26:17-21 we see the toll that Saul’s relentless pursuit of David had taken.
“Saul recognized David’s voice and called out, “Is that you, my son David?”
And David replied, “Yes, my lord the king. Why are you chasing me? What have I done? What is my crime? But now let my lord the king listen to his servant. If the LORD has stirred you up against me, then let him accept my offering. But if this is simply a human scheme, then may those involved be cursed by the LORD. For they have driven me from my home, so I can no longer live among the LORD’s people, and they have said, ‘Go, worship pagan gods.’ Must I die on foreign soil, far from the presence of the LORD? Why has the king of Israel come out to search for a single flea? Why does he hunt me down like a partridge on the mountains?”
Then Saul confessed, “I have sinned. Come back home, my son, and I will no longer try to harm you, for you valued my life today. I have been a fool and very, very wrong.”

Despite Saul’s confession, he continued to deploy both his time and his army to try and kill David, his rival to the throne of Isra’el. After years of this, an exhausted David fled to the Philistine city of Gath for sanctuary, where he knew Saul wouldn’t dare to follow him.

To summarise David’s time in Gath, to survive he repeatedly lied to the King of Gath; he raided the people living between Gath and Egypt’s borders to ensure the survival and wealth of his family and his men, and in those raids he killed every man, woman and child to ensure there would be no survivors to dob him in; then he wound up being marched into battle against his own people. David had been leading a precarious double life. The Lord saved him from fighting his own kinsmen, but many scholars believe that it is at least partly because of the atrocities that David committed at this time, that he never got his heart’s desire, to build a temple to house the Ark of the Covenant.

The young David was still building his faith and learning to tame his tongue and his character. From earlier events, we’ve seen that David was a popular, charismatic leader who could talk his way out of incredibly tight situations. [Ref. 1 Samuel 24:7 and later 1 Samuel 30:6] He was also battling with keeping his temper under control and learning how to be a righteous leader. [Ref. 1 Samuel 29] The fact that he had two wives by this stage (three if you count the exiled Michal,) shows that he was already acting like a man in power and that could easily lead to corruption. Yet, God was using that tough time in exile to build dependence on Him, and to shear off rough edges which could potentially become massive stumbling blocks, had they not been dealt with.

At that time David was also surrounded by several hundred men who maybe weren’t the most godly of influences. “Then others began coming; men who were in trouble or in debt or who were just discontented, until David was the captain of about 400 men.” 1 Samuel 22:2 Perhaps their complaints and suggestions had contributed to him stepping away from having faith in God’s deliverance and escaping over the border?

Despite how badly he’d messed up and how tragic the consequences could have been, there is one thing which saved David from disaster: he always turned to his faith in the Lord.

We see it demonstrated in 1 Samuel 30:3-7 “When David and his men saw the ruins and realized what had happened to their families, they wept until they could weep no more. David’s two wives, Ahinoam from Jezreel and Abigail, the widow of Nabal from Carmel, were among those captured. David was now in great danger because all his men were very bitter about losing their sons and daughters, and they began to talk of stoning him. But David found strength in the LORD his God. Then he said to Abiathar the priest, “Bring me the ephod!” So Abiathar brought it. Then David asked the LORD, “Should I chase after this band of raiders? Will I catch them?” And the LORD told him, “Yes, go after them. You will surely recover everything that was taken from you!”

ichthus_pencGGThis faith always stayed with David and is what kept him from becoming an unrighteous, power-crazed mess as a King, throughout the rest of his life. During the time he was in Gath, his faith would have been pushed to its limits, as the Israelites believed that if they were outside of the borders of their country, God could not reach them. As the Scripture above demonstrates, David believed that within Philistine territory, they were estranged from His delivering power. That a man of God was willing to take that risk and move to Gath shows his desperation. David’s mind must have been blown when he discovered that it didn’t matter where he was, or what he’d done, God was with him! It defied everything he’d been taught and must have been a joyful, humbling realisation.

There are two lessons from David’s experience which can help us get through the gigantic mistakes we’ve made in our own lives, regardless of how great the mess is. The first is get back to the basics of your faith. Get back to prayer, studying the Word of God and asking for help and obeying His lead. You don’t need to engage in any fancy acts of faith, pushing yourself into deeper waters than you feel you can swim in; just get back to a child-like dependence on Him, where you are secure and allow God to build you up again over time.

The second is, listen to the council of righteous people. David had the son of Isra’el’s high priest with him. Abiathar must have been an encouragement and support. In times of great need, we need to be around other Christians with strong faith, who will pray and help us find out how the Word of God applies to our life. The answers are not found in the bottom of a bottle, self-pity or escapism. Spending hours online or watching television won’t assist us: we need good, solid, reliable input from the Christians in our lives that we know have also gone through hard times and overcome them. Saul had killed Abiathar’s family, so he was in the same precarious boat as David; but he still had the Ephod the priests wore; he hadn’t thrown away his faith either.

David got through this trial and more, and in his old age, wanted to keep exhorting the next generation of young people to serve God. In Psalm 71, even as a King, his enemies are still after him, wanting his power, but despite a life of hardship, in verses 7 and 8, David says this:
“My life is an example to many,
because You have been my strength and protection.
That is why I can never stop praising You;
I declare Your glory all day long.”

Life can be a very long haul, filled with many trials and heartaches, but there will also be many occasions of victory and praise. I encourage you, whatever you are going through, to hold onto your faith, even when you’re in a place where you’re sure God can’t reach you. He will push through; just go back to the basics and pray study and praise your way through. You’ll be stunned at what His faithfulness will deliver for you.


The image at the top of the post is a screenshot from this lecture on the Philistine city of Gath:
Aren Maeir | New Light on the Biblical Philistines: Recent Study on the Frenemies of Ancient Israel
This is owned by the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago


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

Jonathan: Valiant Role Model of Faith

David_and_JonathanIf you’ve heard a sermon on friendship, then undoubtably you’ve either learned about Ruth and Naomi, or David and Jonathan. Jonathan is a beautiful example of a true friend who doesn’t allow age difference, social status, wealth, tribal ties or a high risk of violent parental disapproval, hold him back from loving and supporting David without reserve.
It is easy to treat Jonathan as a satellite of David, but he is an valiant man and amazing spiritual role model in his own right. He is smarter than his father, King Saul, and is a self-determining man of action, who gets tough jobs done using his own initiative. I have a special place in my heart for Jonathan, because of his bravery and his outstanding faith.

1. A Lifestyle of Faith
Jonathan was not only a highly accomplished warrior, but also a man of strong faith and courage from before David’s time. He may very well have been one of David’s strongest role models. He obviously knew the Word of God (Torah) and his belief in God was far greater than anything that his father, Saul, possessed or was willing to develop.

“To reach the Philistine outpost, Jonathan had to go down between two rocky cliffs… “Let’s go across to the outpost of those pagans,” Jonathan said to his armour bearer. “Perhaps the LORD will help us, for nothing can hinder the LORD. He can win a battle whether He has many warriors or only a few!” 1 Samuel 14:4-6

Jonathan doesn’t have a quiet, personal faith either. He not only demonstrates his belief, but he uses it to build David up. He fully intends to serve the Lord alongside David, and his faith in God’s provision in David’s life never wavers.

In 1 Samuel 23:16-18 David is desperately seeking sanctuary from Saul’s zealous plans to have him dead: “One day near Horesh, David received the news that Saul was on the way to Ziph to search for him and kill him. Jonathan went to find David and encouraged him to stay strong in his faith in God. “Don’t be afraid,” Jonathan reassured him. “My father will never find you! You are going to be the king of Israel, and I will be next to you, as my father, Saul, is well aware.” So the two of them renewed their solemn pact before the LORD. Then Jonathan returned home, while David stayed at Horesh.”

This is the kind of support we need to give to each other. In times of pain, fear and stress, it’s an invaluable gift and David must have been comforted by those words of assurance in the hard years to come. It is little wonder he grieved so heavily when Jonathan died. Close friends who lift you up are more valuable than all of a king’s wealth. Having a backbone of support from someone within the royal family, who was convinced of David’s future and fully supportive of it, (despite the sacrifice he’d personally have to make), must have played a strong part of David becoming the man of God he became. Jonathan would have given me great courage.

2. An Attitude of Submission and Obedience to God
As Crown Prince (heir to King Saul’s throne), Jonathan’s selflessness is particularly outstanding. He recognises that David is God’s choice for the King of Isra’el, and he is bravely willing to give David that place without hesitation, regardless of the rift it created between him and his father, Saul. His disobedience was no small thing. Saul had tried to kill Jonathan in the past for disobeying an oath he knew nothing about, so you can image how the following act of rebellion went over. [Ref. 1 Samuel 14]

“Saul boiled with rage at Jonathan. “You stupid son of a *perverse and rebellious woman!” he swore at him. “Do you think I don’t know that you want him to be king in your place, shaming yourself and your mother? As long as that son of Jesse is alive, you’ll never be king. Now go and get him so I can kill him!” 1 Samuel 20:30-31 Jonathan stuck up for his friend and God’s choice of King, no matter what.

It’s remarkable to me, that Jonathan made a clear decision about the quality of David’s character so early. He was a man who looked at life through discerning eyes of faith and ran on God’s priorities. There is no equivalent in history to match Jonathan’s willing submission to the Lord’s choice of king, especially as princes have a well-earned reputation for wealth and power seeking, spoiled behaviour. I studied historical abdications and no other royal has ever matched Jonathan’s determined heart. Kings stepped down because of illness, revolts against their reign, or because they were forced out. Nowhere was I able to find a reference to a king giving up his throne to someone who was not their son. Jonathan knew there was something special about David, from the moment he saw Goliath defeated.

“After David had finished talking with Saul, he met Jonathan, the king’s son. There was an immediate bond between them, for Jonathan loved David. From that day on Saul kept David with him and wouldn’t let him return home. And Jonathan made a solemn pact with David, because he loved him as he loved himself. Jonathan sealed the pact by taking off his robe and giving it to David, together with his tunic, sword, bow, and belt.” 1 Samuel 18:1-4 (Exchange of clothing was a part of sealing a pact, please don’t read anything else into it.)

We see little of it described, but Jonathan’s relationship with the Lord was one of depth, which enabled him to be the kind of friend that each of us needs in our corner. It is only by knowing the ways of God and communing with Him, that any of us achieve this kind of character. Jonathan’s actions are something that only the presence of the Lord in someone’s heart can achieve.

3. A Friend Who Inspires You to be the Best Version of Yourself
In a time when male friendship seems to be too often characterised by drinking together, pranks, competition, reckless behaviour and dirty jokes, the manner in which David and Jonathan interact is quite a contrast, and speaks volumes about the Godly character of both men.

“Then David bowed three times to Jonathan with his face to the ground. Both of them were in tears as they embraced each other and said good-bye, especially David. At last Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have sworn loyalty to each other in the LORD’s name. The LORD is the witness of a bond between us and our children forever.” Then David left, and Jonathan returned to the town.” 1 Samuel 20:41-42

True friends inspire us to be the best version of ourselves that we can be, and Jonathan had that affect on David. For someone you love and respect, you will go the extra mile to ensure you’ve done the right thing by them. David did this to fulfil his promise to Jonathan which was made in 1 Samuel 20:13b when Saul was trying to kill David.

“Jonathan said, “May the LORD be with you as He used to be with my father. And may you treat me with the faithful love of the LORD as long as I live. But if I die, treat my family with this faithful love, even when the LORD destroys all your enemies from the face of the earth.” So Jonathan made a solemn pact with David, saying, “May the LORD destroy all your enemies!” And Jonathan made David reaffirm his vow of friendship again, for Jonathan loved David as he loved himself.” It hasn’t escaped me that Jonathan’s words included his father, Saul. Again, I wonder what Saul put Jonathan through as a father, and what, if any, respect and faith Jonathan had left in him.

2 Samuel 9:1-11 speaks of the fulfilment of that vow. “One day David asked, “Is anyone in Saul’s family still alive—anyone to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake? … His name was Mephibosheth; he was Jonathan’s son and Saul’s grandson. When he came to David, he bowed low to the ground in deep respect. David said, “Greetings, Mephibosheth.” Mephibosheth replied, “I am your servant.” “Don’t be afraid!” David said. “I intend to show kindness to you because of my promise to your father, Jonathan. I will give you all the property that once belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will eat here with me at the king’s table!” … And from that time on, Mephibosheth ate regularly at David’s table, like one of the king’s own sons.”

Even in 2 Samuel 19:24-30 when I am not entirely sure of Mephibosheth’s true loyalty to David, (David had to flee Jerusalem to save it from Absalom), David does not let the pact down. “Now Mephibosheth, Saul’s grandson, came down from Jerusalem to meet the king. He had not cared for his feet, trimmed his beard, or washed his clothes since the day the king left Jerusalem. “Why didn’t you come with me, Mephibosheth?” the king asked him. Mephibosheth replied, “My lord the king, my servant Ziba deceived me. I told him, ‘Saddle my donkey so I can go with the king.’ For as you know I am crippled. Ziba has slandered me by saying that I refused to come. But I know that my lord the king is like an angel of God, so do what you think is best. All my relatives and I could expect only death from you, my lord, but instead you have honoured me by allowing me to eat at your own table! What more can I ask?” “You’ve said enough,” David replied. “I’ve decided that you and Ziba will divide your land equally between you.” “Give him all of it,” Mephibosheth said. “I am content just to have you safely back again, my lord the king!”

4. A Note on the Depth of the Friendship
“Oh, how the mighty heroes have fallen in battle!
Jonathan lies dead on the hills.
How I weep for you, my brother Jonathan!
Oh, how much I loved you!
And your love for me was deep,
deeper than the love of women!”

A question I see debated is whether or not David was bisexual or homosexual. Despite many opinions to the contrary, I am going to say, no. Why? Because of his cultural manner of communication and because both men are of outstanding God-fearing character. Thirdly, homosexual acts (not people) are openly stated as being an abomination in the Bible. God could not have allowed someone undertaking those acts to lead a nation, as the spiritual head of the nation, which the Jewish kings were. In addition, every one of David’s sins came with a penalty which involved life being lost. He did not get to build the temple, due to his earlier violent behaviour in life (no lives were lost here, this is the only exception). He was confronted and punished for his sin with BathSheba and their son died and he was confronted and punished for the census he never should have ordered and thousands of people died as a result. King-sized sins had king-sized repercussions which were harsh.

Homosexual acts incurred the death sentence, which he narrowly escaped because of BathSheba. Had David had an affair with Jonathan, he would have been severely dealt with, if not, dethroned and killed. The Davidic Covenant which led to the Messiah coming from his line could not have been established from David, under such circumstances. This is spiritual common sense. A covenant is a serious matter, especially one of such magnitude and the Lord would not have been able to slacken his discipline of David and compromise the law.

What I see here is David being too honest for our western ears. It is well worth noting the figurative and poetic language that David used in the Psalms was traditional to his culture and when reading verses such as these, Western society easily misinterprets the meaning based on our current norms. This part of the Song of the Bow sounds as though David is describing his relationship with Jonathan in a way which  indicates sexual intimacy. This is a cultural misunderstanding.

In **Manners and Customs of Bible Lands by Fred H. Wight, Fred points out that “The Oriental frequently makes statements that to the Westerner sound like uncalled-for exaggeration…. (we) must remember the fondness of the Oriental for the hyperbole.” and “The Oriental considers it to be perfectly proper to talk about anything that is natural in the presence of men, women, and children. And this is done in refined circles. A respectable woman (or man) from the Holy Land cannot understand why some critics of the Bible have condemned the Scriptural mention of certain matters deemed wrong for Westerners to talk about.”  *** I have written before about how David never held back from expressing his emotions, which is in line with his culture. In his time, a friendship between men could be expressed with as much affection without raising eyebrows.

The Bible always calls out homosexual acts as wrong. Had David been in a physical relationship with Jonathan, by the precedents already set in David’s story, he would have been called out for it by a prophet and punished. God never let David’s most severe sins go unpunished.

As for the wording, “…your love to me was more wonderful than the love of women.” Like any husband, David would have felt let down and harassed at times, by the complications of his relationships with his wives; and like many men, he would have felt a strong bond with other men who tend to be less demanding and complicated. How many men do you know who go to a friend’s place to watch sport when the heat is on with the Mrs? Men, especially on the battlefield, bond very deeply. They rely on each other for survival and that can build connections which are equally as strong as those of husband and wife, if not more so. If you doubt this, research why veterans miss war and watch this video by Sebastian Junger on TED Talks. It is exceptionally helpful. Romans 5:7 says “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.” In combat, men shield their comrades in this way. Don’t underestimate that bond’s power.

David was very normal for the type of life he lived. Close friends are more valuable than all of a king’s wealth and Jonathan was one of them.

To learn more about the consequences of David’s sexual sins and his time on the battlefield, please read this article: Was David Bisexual? It will also explain this issue further.



*This text is taken from the New Living Translation, but this wording is from the Hebrew translation of this passage.
**Manners and Customs of Bible Lands by Fred H. Wight, Copyright 1953 Read it here:
*** When You Just Lose It – Masculinity and Keeping it Real

– The Trouble With Saul: Mental Illness or Tormented by Fear?
– This is What Emotional Exhaustion Looks Like: Running Away from Problems and the Consequences
– How Gentle Kings Become Killers: David as a Warrior and Psalmist
– Does Absolute Power Corrupt Absolutely?

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.

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 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

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

All images in this post are public domain licensed.