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"David - Dealing with Difficulty, Pt.1: The Demented & Depressed"

June 14, 2015 1Sam.18:8-18


It can be difficult dealing with someone who's not in their right mind. Even if that person is generally favourably disposed toward you - which was not the case for David in dealing with Saul! Yet even with close family members, mental illness can make things taxing. It calls for dedication, patience, and genuine caring.

Someone shared this video on social media, from Thailand with English subtitles, about a husband caring tenderly for his wife who has developed Alzheimers. I found it very powerful and touching and wanted to share it with you (it's about 3 minutes long). Whatever else I may say today - if you can remember and learn to mimic this man's devotion, this couple's steadfast love, that will be enough!

(Opening - video: husband caring for wife with Alzheimers)

...Isn't that simply stellar? He knows her so well, cares for her with such dedication - and is so disappointed when she doesn't recognize him. So, dealing with someone with such mental illness can be trying.

In today's passage, we find young David doing his best to serve a deranged king who needs David's services yet can barely stand to have him around. God can teach us some things here about dealing with people who are hard to get along with due to their upset mental or emotional state.


Let's be clear up front that Saul's deteriorating condition was not due simply to ordinary physical illness such as Alzheimer's or dementia. There was a spiritual dynamic at play that aggravated his state severely. 1Sam 16:14 "Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him." Also vv 15&16 "an evil spirit from God"; 18:10 "The next day an evil spirit from God came forcefully upon Saul." 19:9 "An evil spirit from the Lord came upon Saul as he was sitting in his house with his spear in his hand." This spirit does seem to manifest itself in moodiness, depression, anger, and violent impulses; we can see some parallels to what in other cases are likely purely physiological conditions. But what's the spiritual root behind this particular attack?

Back when Saul was officially installed as king, the prophet Samuel was very clear about the terms the new ruler was to abide by: 1Sam 12:13-15 "Now here is the king you have chosen, the one you asked for; see, the LORD has set a king over you. If you fear the LORD and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the LORD your God-- good! But if you do not obey the LORD, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you, as it was against your fathers." Obedience or rebellion - which will it be?

In 13:8, King Saul is to wait 7 days for Samuel to come and offer a sacrifice. By the 7th day his troops are beginning to scatter so Saul in impatience presents the offering himself, acting arrogantly. Just then, guess who arrives? Samuel, who rebukes him for his foolishness.

In 15:2, Samuel gives Saul an assignment from the Lord: destroy (the term means to give over to God irrevocably) the Amalekites as punishment for waylaying the Israelites when they came up from Egypt. Saul and troops attack the Amalekites but spare their king and the best livestock: 15:9 "But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs-- everything that was good.These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed." That translates to giving God the WORST offering instead of your best. So Saul DISHONOURS God. GREED got the better of Saul and his men. DECEPTION creeps in as he later tries to tell Samuel they were really saving them to sacrifice to the Lord...Samuel doesn't buy that, because that was supposed to happen by killing them outright.

15:12 When Samuel is looking for Saul he's told, "Saul has gone to Carmel.There he has set up a monument in his own honour..." This would indicate PRIDE on Saul's part; quite a change from a man who, before he was made king, had to be hunted for and was found hiding among the baggage! (10:22)

When Samuel finally catches up to Saul, he rebukes him: 1Sam 15:19 "Why did you not obey the LORD? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the LORD?"" He has DISOBEYED God's clear instruction. Also vv22f: "Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king."" Disobedience, rebellion, arrogance, rejecting God's word: the prophet clearly diagnoses the king's spiritual disease. A man who won't submit to God's principles is not worthy to be entrusted with power. Saul had "blown it"; v35 "Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. And the LORD was grieved that he had made Saul king over Israel."


So, that's how the stage is set for Saul's slide into savage insanity. The very next paragraph that deals with Saul, 16:14, notes the departure of the Lord's Spirit, to be replaced by a tormenting evil (injurious) spirit. Circumstances precipitate other manifestations of Saul's deteriorating psychological condition, making him increasingly dangerous.

He is OUTPERFORMED: in 17:50 David, this young armourless stripling from the back-country, triumphs over the giant Goliath, the Philistine's 9-foot champion, without even a sword! Saul puts this "born warrior" in a leadership position in his army, where David thrives, much to Saul's chagrin. 18:5-7 "Whatever Saul sent him to do, David did it so successfully that Saul gave him a high rank in the army. This pleased all the people, and Saul's officers as well. When the men were returning home after David had killed the Philistine, the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with tambourines and lutes. As they danced, they sang: "Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.""

Note carefully how this affects Saul. Is he happy for David? Does he rejoice that his newest recruit is so triumphant? 18:8 "Saul was very angry; this refrain galled him. "They have credited David with tens of thousands," he thought, "but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?"" Here we see ANGER turning to BITTERNESS ("galled"). Anger is not always sinful: a passion for righteousness can cause a person to be angry for the right reasons. Paul reminds the Ephesians (4:26f), ""In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold." Don't let anger simmer unceasingly and turn to bitterness: that opens the door to the devil!

Saul also displays SELF-PITY ("but me with only thousands"). Then v9 "And from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David." See the slide happening? Anger - bitterness - self-pity - JEALOUSY. Not wanting the other person to do quite so well compared to you. Any of that in our culture?

That's all lead-up to 18:10, "The next day an evil spirit from God came forcefully upon Saul." One deduces these spiritual sins "set Saul up" for demonic attack. It made him depressed, moody, surly, suspicious, violent. Vv10-11 "He was prophesying in his house, while David was playing the harp, as he usually did.Saul had a spear in his hand and he hurled it, saying to himself, "I'll pin David to the wall."But David eluded him twice." Golly! Twice is bad enough; but note 19:10, after Jonathan had managed to patch things up between Saul & David: "Saul tried to pin him to the wall with his spear, but David eluded him as Saul drove the spear into the wall.That night David made good his escape." A THIRD time trying to kill him with the spear! How many of us would have kept our distance after the first time?!

At this point, Saul's murderous intents become more deliberate, premeditated, not just impulsive as in throwing a spear. 19:11 "Saul sent men to David's house to watch it and to kill him in the morning." The king avows he'd even do it himself, v15: "Then Saul sent the men back to see David and told them, "Bring him up to me in his bed so that I may kill him."" Absolutely deadly.

Saul's animosity toward David has other negative effects, damaging his relationships with members of his own family. David is unswervingly loyal to his liege because the Lord's prophet Samuel had anointed Saul. But Saul is blind to David's loyalty; he becomes paranoid - 18:12 "Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with David but had left Saul." Jonathan the king's son, and Michal his daughter, David's wife, both know David is no threat to Saul, but can't convince Saul of that. This results in ALIENATION from his own son and daughter. In 19:17 Saul blames and accuses his daughter: "Saul said to Michal, "Why did you deceive me like this and send my enemy away so that he escaped?"" In 20:32f Jonathan stands up for his friend's virtue: ""Why should he be put to death? What has he done?" Jonathan asked his father.But Saul hurled his spear at him to kill him." Saul's obsession with killing David, a non-enemy, shatters even his relationship with family members who are closest to him.


How then should one deal with a person who is at risk of becoming deranged, demented, delusional? Are there some suggestions here in how others respond to Saul? (5 "T"s)

1) TRUTH OF REALITY & REVELATION: If the person is somewhat rational and receptive, try to work with them to keep them oriented to the real world as much as possible. Even simple things like patiently reminding them what day it is, what's going to be happening the next few hours.

When Saul greets Samuel after supposedly carrying out God's instructions against the Amalekites, Saul maintains, "I have carried out the Lord's instructions;" but how does Samuel respond? 15:14 "But Samuel said, "What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?"" Back to reality, Saul!

To this Samuel adds REVELATION, the truth of God's revealed word, verses 22-23 - saying "to obey is better than sacrifice...rebellion is like the sin of divination", etc. In John Regier's counselling method, part of the process is identifying wrong thought patterns (the lies of the enemy) and countering them with Scriptural principles, the truth of God's word, how we're MEANT to think. This is followed in Saul's case by CONFESSION as God's truth hits home in his heart and convicts him: 15:24 "Then Saul said to Samuel, "I have sinned.I violated the LORD's command and your instructions.I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them." (Ah - now we're getting somewhere.)

A pastoral side-note here: sometimes when visiting a person with dementia, if safety and practicality aren't issues, it's OK to "roll with them" if they'd rather talk about an incident that happened decades ago as if it's today. That may be THEIR reality in their medically-afflicted state of mind. You're just travelling with them back in time. But as you "roll", keep praying about to what extent you enter into that 'other' reality, and seek God's wisdom as to what extent you need to ground them in the actual environment TODAY.

2) TREATMENT: In Saul's case, his courtiers recommend "music therapy"! 16:15f "Saul's attendants said to him, "See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you.Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the harp.He will play when the evil spirit from God comes upon you, and you will feel better."" And David's playing did generally bring Saul relief. Today such alternative therapies can be supplemented with personal counselling and medical treatment - check with your family doctor, and get a Christian counsellor if at all possible.

3) TRAINING & TALENT: David was brought in and played for Saul. Are there support groups in the area that can help? Do you as caregiver need to learn new approaches, get educated about treatment options? Is it time for you to take over some responsibilities the person affected USED to look after, such as keeping track of the finances, watering plants, catching up some of the housework? You can develop new talents in order to cope, too.

4) TIME: Can you learn to be just a little more patient?

You may have to explain a few times what day of the week it is, what's happening next in the schedule. David eluded the spear THREE TIMES (18:11, 19:10) - how many of us would have vamoosed after just once?! He was patient with Saul - though I'm sure he also kept an eagle-eye on that spear hand.

5) Find a TRUSTED TEAM. The attendants were smart enough to call in outside help in the form of a little-known shepherd boy with an amateur therapeutic music sideline. David drew on assistance from his wife Michal, Saul's daughter: 18:28 says "Michal loved David", then in 19:11f she helped him escape her father's murderous plot by letting him down through a window (now that's some woman!), then stuffing the bed to make it look like he was sick and still lying in it.

Also on David's "trusted team" was Jonathan, Saul's son, who interceded on David's behalf more than once with his father. He proved a valuable advocate for David - see 19:4-6 and 20:28f.

And still in the background was the prophet Samuel. 19:18 "When David had fled and made his escape, he went to Samuel at Ramah and told him all that Saul had done to him.Then he and Samuel went to Naioth and stayed there." One can sort of imagine what David might have said to the prophet: "Help! This guy's out to KILL me! What can I do?! I've no place else to hide." Samuel hid David, protected him, and proved God was strong enough to handle Saul (19:23f).


Dr.Paul Meier has operated Christian counselling clinics in various states since 1976. On the MeierClinics.com website he offers insights in an article titled "Overcoming Depression"; I conclude here with an excerpt.

"About 10% of the population of the world inherits either a steady lifelong "dysthymia" (mild to moderate depression), or reoccurring depressions (mood swings), or extreme genetic perfectionism (obsessive-compulsive disorder).If these people applied every single biblical principle and received intensive counseling, they would still have depression because they inherited it.Another 30% or so have inherited depression that shows up periodically, but not all the time.

"Nearly 100% of depressions are managed in this modern era, unless there is severe brain damage from substance abuse or brain trauma...Each antidepressant works about 75% of the time...Steroids can make people depressed or even psychotic.Some women react that way with hormone replacement.Others have a low thyroid, and will remain depressed all their lives, even with the best antidepressants, until they also get the right amount and kind of thyroid medicine.Proper nutrition is important...Nearly 100% of depressions are manageable...80% of patients who come to Meier Clinics around the USA do not get medicine.They get over their depressions by learning and applying biblical principles, like:

"So, in summary, about 80% of depressions are situational - the result of either your sins (grudges, etc.), unresolved grief (abuse victims), or stressful life situations.Some of these need antidepressant meds for one year then can quit the meds after counseling has brought them to recovery...Some situational depressions, and nearly all genetic depressions, require the right dose of the right medicines for the unique needs of the individual."

Dr.Meier notes: "Jesus said he came so we could experience life, and experience it abundantly.Joy is a fruit of the Spirit.So God obviously intends for us to be happy, even though our primary goal in life is to serve Him, not to be happy.And yet, at any moment in time, about 20% of Christians worldwide experience enough depression to interfere with their lives.Non-Christians have about a 20% higher rate of depression than Christians.So applying biblical principles obviously does reduce the depression level." (Source: Meier Clinics) Let's pray.