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Depression and Anger: Return to King Saul

We’ve discussed how King Saul’s insecurity and poor choices affected his mental health. His naturally negative perspective compounds the stress of establishing the first man-led kingship of Israel. With the removal of God’s favor from his reign in 1 Samuel 15, we see Saul deteriorate in bouts of depression and anger.

The Passage

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 timbrels and lyres. As they danced, they sang, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.”

Saul was very angry; this refrain displeased him greatly. “They have credited David with tens of thousands,” he thought, “but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?” And from that time on Saul kept a close eye on David.

The next day an evil spirit from God came forcefully on Saul. He was prophesying in his house, while David was playing his lyre, 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.

Saul was afraid of David, because the LORD was with David but had departed from Saul.

1 Samuel 18:6-12 NIV

Depression and Anger

In some people, depression actually presents itself through mood swings and outbursts of anger or irritability. Saul clearly experienced his depression in this way, since his mood swings left everyone in the room running for cover from flying spears. This section from 1 Samuel 18 showed just one example of Saul’s uncontrollable temper, which gets more and more out of control as the book continues. He even throws a spear at his own son in 1 Samuel 20 and slaughters the Lord’s priests in 1 Samuel 22.

While anger is an outward symptom of Saul’s depression, 1 Samuel repeats the fact that “Saul was afraid of David.” In Saul’s mind, he didn’t see that he was driving his family apart and putting the people of Israel at risk. With his brain not operating properly and dieting on fear, all Saul could see were enemies, even in the corners of his palace. He lashed out and accused good people who strove after God’s will because he only saw threats to his kingly reign.

As this article from Psych Central describes, addressing thought patterns could have greatly helped Saul’s deteriorating mental state. Of course, he had the added disadvantage of being rejected by the Lord and standing in the way of His next anointed. However, if Saul had received help for his uncontrollable brain back when the symptoms were fear and insecurity, perhaps Saul could have been a great king of Israel. At the least, his life might have been less tormented.

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