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King Saul’s Daughter: Another Look at Michal

I became interested in the story of King Saul’s daughter, Michal, when I read The Wives of King David series by Jill Eileen Smith. Getting an on-the-ground view of the book of 1 Samuel completely changed my opinion of Michal. Today, let’s look at Michal again so we can understand how depression affected King Saul’s daughter.

The Passage

Then [Saul] himself went to Ramah and came to the great well that is in Secu. And he asked, “Where are Samuel and David?” And one said, “Behold, they are at Naioth in Ramah.” And he went there to Naoith in Ramah. And the Spirit of God came upon him also, and as he went he prophesied until he came to Naoith in Ramah. And he too stripped off his clothes, and he too prophesied before Samuel and lay naked all that day and all that night. Thus it is said, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”

1 Samuel 19:22-24 ESV

And it was told King David, “The LORD has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the city of David with rejoicing. And when those who bore the ark of the LORD had gone six steps, he sacrificed an ox and a fattened animal. And David danced before the LORD with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod.

2 Samuel 6:12-14 ESV

Parallels between Saul and David

Anger often hides a deeper emotion like fear. Michal certainly had reason to fear her husband David following her father’s footsteps. After all, Saul was Israel’s first king. Who was to say that Saul’s fate wouldn’t also be David’s?

Consider 1 Samuel 19. Saul ramps up his attempts to kill David. After three rounds of soldiers have fallen to the ground in prophesy before they can complete their mission, Saul himself journeys to David. In contrast to the joyful prophesying Saul preformed at his anointing, Saul winds up naked in the streets for a day. No doubt his family at home was ashamed by the scandal and the turmoil.

Now in 2 Samuel 6, David has taken over Israel. He already failed once at moving the Ark of the Covenant. In fact, Uzzah died stabilizing the ark in transit, and 2 Samuel reports David trembling in fearful humility because of it. However, word arrives that the house currently holding the ark was blessed, so David decides to move it again. Michal probably recalls her father’s fearful attempts to gain power as David left for Ark Transport Round 2. She probably feels fear for the Ark herself.

Next thing Michal sees, her husband is dancing basically naked in the streets because of this ark. I imagine the scandal of her father’s naked prophesying flashed before her eyes. She probably fears that this foreshadows David following in Saul’s depressed footsteps. She lived in that unstable palace once before; I doubt she wants to live there again. So, Michal waits with all her fury at the door to the palace for David to come home.

King Saul’s Daughter

Besides the stress of living in royal palaces led by men with mental illnesses, Michal has another fact working against her. Genetics play a large role in anxiety and depression. Saul’s early pattern of silence certainly parallels Michal’s stuffed feelings. It is very possible that Michal inherited her father’s depressive tendencies. Add a life of stress to genetic inclinations, and Michal’s own depression kicked in full swing. As 2 Samuel 6:20-23 repeats, Michal was “the daughter of Saul” in more ways than one.

Unfortunately, Saul’s untreated mental health problems led to further problems for his children. While Jonathan lived in the shadow of Saul’s poor decisions, Michal faced the scary truth of depression in the mirror. Without the example of someone seeking help for their mental struggles, Michal played defense like her father did. She put up rules to stop the cycle from returning, but it cost her more family in the end.

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The Relationship of Jonathan and Saul

We’ve looked at how King Saul’s life was affected by depression in 1 Samuel. However, Saul’s struggle with mental illness affected more people than just himself. His warrior son, Jonathan, was not immune to the consequences of Saul’s depression. Today, we’re looking at the relationship of Jonathan and Saul.

The Passage

But Jonathan had not heard that his father had bound the people with the oath, so he reached out the end of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it into the honeycomb. He raised his hand to his mouth, and his eyes brightened. Then one of the soldiers told him, “Your father bound the army under a strict oath, saying, ‘Cursed be anyone who eats food today!’ That is why the men are faint.”

Jonathan said, “My father has made trouble for the country. See how my eyes brightened when I tasted a little of this honey. How much better it would have been if the men had eaten today some of the plunder they took from their enemies. Would not the slaughter of the Philistines have been even greater?”

1 Samuel 14:27-30 NIV

Saul told his son Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David. But Jonathan had taken a great liking to David and warned him, “My father Saul is looking for a chance to kill you. Be on your guard tomorrow morning; go into hiding and stay there. I will go out and stand with my father in the field where you are. I’ll speak to him about you and will tell you what I find out.”

Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, “Let not the king do wrong to his servant David; he has not wronged you, and what he has done has benefited you greatly. He took his life in his hands when he killed the Philistine. The LORD won a great victory for all Israel, and you saw it and were glad. Why then would you do wrong to an innocent man like David by killing him for no reason?”

Saul listened to Jonathan and took this oath: “As surely as the LORD lives, David will not be put to death.”

1 Samuel 19:1-6 NIV

The Relationship of Jonathan and Saul

Jonathan shows the unfortunately difficult parts of living with someone struggling with mental illness. While fighting depression surely took its toll on Saul, it also affected Jonathan’s actions. As shown in 1 Samuel 14 and 19, Jonathan spent most of his time undoing his father’s poor choices. When Saul forbade the men from eating food, Jonathan had to accept the consequences of breaking the oath. (Thankfully, the men saved him from dying.) When Saul decided yet again to kill David, Jonathan tried to make peace between them. He hid David and attempted to reason with his father multiple times. Unfortunately, he wasn’t always successful.

While Jonathan may not have inherited his father’s mental struggles like his siblings did, countering Saul’s unreasonableness came with its own stress. Jonathan never knew when a spear would fly across the room. He could not let his battle instincts relax in his own home. On top of all of that, Jonathan never got to see his best friend David again when David went on the run from Saul.

I hope the story of Jonathan reminds us that mental illness touches more than just the mind of the person battling it. When we seek to support those fighting mental illness, let’s also remember and support the family members and close friends who often bear the brunt of outbursts. Moreover, I think the relationship of Jonathan and Saul shows us how important it is to treat mental illness as soon as possible. Had Saul learned to cope with his depression early on, he might have had a closer relationship with his son.

Jonathan was not the only family member affected by Saul’s mental illness. Stay tuned next week as we look at the stories of two more of Saul’s children.

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The Death of King Saul

Before we look at how King Saul’s mental illness affected his children, I thought we should look at his death. In my first post in the Return to King Saul series, I mentioned that his death ended in assisted suicide. Well, after rereading 1 and 2 Samuel more closely, I remembered that was only partly true. Let’s dive in to the accounts of the death of King Saul.

The Passage

Now the Philistines fought against Israel; the Israelites fled before them, and many fell dead on Mount Gilboa. The Philistines were in hot pursuit of Saul and his sons, and they killed his sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Malki-Shua. The fighting grew fierce around Saul, and when the archers overtook him, they wounded him critically.

Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and run me through and abuse me.”

But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it. When the armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he too fell on his sword and died with him. So Saul and his three sons and his armor-bearer and all his men died together that day.

1 Samuel 31:1-6 NIV

Then David said to the young man who brought him the report, “How do you know that Saul and Jonathan are dead?”

“I happened to be on Mount Gilboa,” the young man said, “and there was Saul, leaning on his spear, with the chariots and their drivers in hot pursuit. When he turned around and saw me, he called out to me, and I said, ‘What can I do?’

“He asked me, ‘Who are you?’

‘”An Amalekite,’ I answered.

“Then he said to me, ‘Stand here by me and kill me! I’m in the throes of death, but I’m still alive.’

“So I stood beside him and killed him, because I knew that after he had fallen he could not survive. And I took the crown that was on his head and the band on his arm and have brought them here to my lord.”

2 Samuel 1: 5-10 NIV

Two Accounts: The Death of King Saul

Both 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel note that Saul requested to die. Per his encounter with the ghost of Samuel in 1 Samuel 28, Saul knows he and his sons will die in this battle. He has lost his last hope of redemption. Fear overtakes him. Saul refuses to eat (a sign of his depression) until the medium and his men talk him into it. Saul leads the Israelites into battle the next day, but they flee in fear. Ultimately, the Philistines wound him, and the stress of battle compounds Saul’s existing mental health issues. He wishes to die.

Now, it gets a bit confusing with the two different accounts of the death of King Saul. Bearing in mind David’s fight with the thieving Amalekites just a few days earlier in 1 Samuel 30, I believe the messenger here is an opportunist. He reports nuggets of truth like Saul’s wounds and request to die. However, 1 Samuel records more definitively that Saul’s armor-bearer confirmed his death and that the Philistines stripped Saul of his armor before plastering his body on the wall. (Not my idea of fashionable decor.) Plus, Saul’s punishment of losing the battle comes because he failed to wipe out the Amalekites in the beginning (see 1 Samuel 28:18.) I have no doubt that this young messenger just wants to pounce on the opportunity for power in an unstable political landscape. Thankfully, David notices and makes sure that doesn’t happen. (Ahem, cue the sword.)

The Depression Wins

Regardless of which account you read, Saul requests for others on his side of the battle lines to help him die. He is understandably terrified of what the Philistines would do to him. In fact, the Philistines do cut apart his body and chop off his head; they just waited until his body started decomposing. (Yuck, politics.) Despite being a situation so gruesome that I’m trying to find humor in it, the death of King Saul really illustrates how deep his fears and negative thinking ran. Even his death is overshadowed by fear; no Braveheart moments for Mount Gilboa. The victory of the Philistines parallels the victory of depression in King Saul’s life. He just couldn’t beat it, so he gives in.

King Saul’s story doesn’t end there. On Wednesday, we’ll look at how Saul’s battle with depression affects his son Jonathan.

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Depression & Family Problems: Return to King Saul

Saul struggled enough with the issues occurring inside of his brain. He froze in fear, lashed out in anger, and generally lived his life from a defensive position. However, depression and family problems go hand in hand. Saul’s cousin and army commander, Abner, certainly didn’t help Saul in his struggle with mental health.

The Passage

Saul’s sons were Jonathan, Ishvi and Malki-Shua. The name of his older daughter was Merab, and that of the younger was Michal. His wife’s name was Ahinoam daughter of Ahimaaz. The name of the commander of Saul’s army was Abner son of Ner, and Ner was Saul’s uncle. Saul’s father Kish and Abner’s father Ner were sons of Abiel.

1 Samuel 14:49-51 NIV

So David took the spear and water jug near Saul’s head, and [he and Abishai] left. No one saw or knew about it, nor did anyone wake up. They were all sleeping, because the LORD had put them into a deep sleep.

Then David crossed over to the other side and stood on top of the hill some distance away; there was a wide space between them. He called out to the army and to Abner son of Ner, “Aren’t you going to answer me, Abner?”

Abner replied, “Who are you who calls to the king?”

David said, “You’re a man, aren’t you? And who is like you in Israel? Why didn’t you guard your lord the king? Someone came to destroy your lord the king. What you have done is not good. As surely as the LORD lives, you and your men must die, because you did not guard your master, the LORD’s anointed. Look around you. Where are the king’s spear and water jug that were near his head?”

1 Samuel 26:12-16 NIV

During the war between the house of Saul and the house of David, Abner had been strengthening his own position in the house of Saul.

2 Samuel 3:6 NIV

Depression & Family Problems

Because Abner is both Saul’s cousin and his army commander, he would see the effects of Saul’s mental illness firsthand. Theoretically, Abner worked the fields with Saul long before Samuel anointed Saul. Abner would have known his cousin’s insecurities and tendency to avoid situations out of fear.

I wonder if Abner knew these characteristics and changes in Saul and intended to use them to his advantage. Considering his play for power in 2 Samuel, I imagine Abner probably felt jealous that his cousin got to be king. Abner probably looked down on his cousin for his struggles. Perhaps he even manipulated Saul’s mental health to his advantage.

I didn’t find much detail on Abner’s intent in the Bible. Even in Abner’s dealings with Ish-Bosheth in 2 Samuel, his manipulation is implied more than stated. Regardless, Abner left Saul in a precarious situation when David and Abishai snuck into camp. If he didn’t protect his cousin physically, I doubt he supported Saul mentally and emotionally.

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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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Poor Choices: Return to King Saul

On Monday, we started digging deeper into King Saul’s beginnings. We found that by not acknowledging his God-given role and authority, Saul set the stage for his own decline. Today, we’re looking at some of the poor choices Saul makes that further separates him from his true identity.

The Passage

Saul, however, was still at Gilgal, and all his troops were gripped with fear. He waited seven days for the appointed time that Samuel had set, but Samuel didn’t come to Gilgal, and the troops were deserting him. So Saul said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings.” Then he offered the burnt offering.

1 Samuel 13:7b-9 CSB

Samuel said to Saul, “You have been foolish. You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you. It was at this time that the LORD would have permanently established your reign over Israel, but now your reign will not endure. The LORD has found a man after his own heart, and the LORD has appointed him as ruler over his people, because you have not done what the LORD commanded.”

1 Samuel 13:13-14 CSB

Saul answered Samuel, “I have sinned. I have transgressed the LORD’s command and your words. Because I was afraid of the people, I obeyed them. Now therefore, please forgive my sin and return with me so I can worship the LORD.”

Samuel replied to Saul, “I will not return with you. Because you rejected the word of the LORD, the LORD has rejected you from being king over Israel.” When Samuel turned to go, Saul grabbed the corner of his robe, and it tore. Samuel said to him, “The LORD has torn the kingship of Israel away from you today and has given it to your neighbor who is better than you. Furthermore, the Eternal One of Israel does not lie or change his mind, for he is not man who changes his mind.”

1 Samuel 15:24-29 CSB

Poor Choices

Starting in 1 Samuel 13, Saul steps up to lead the twelve tribes of Israel. He quits avoiding his role. Rather dramatically, he unites the tribes by slicing up his ox and sending it to everyone as a warning if they don’t join him in battle. He pronounces a curse on anyone who eats before the Philistines are defeated, which winds up landing on his son’s head. When the time came to fight the Amalekites, Saul ignores the task to kill everything and avenge the injustice done when the Israelites left Egypt. Instead, he keeps the best of the possessions and imprisons the king.

Basically, Saul does a 180. His actions show his fear and insecurity. He still does not trust God or his God-given abilities to lead the people of Israel. This time, instead of hiding from the responsibility, Saul relies on intimidation to bring the people together. It’s the same negative perception of the world that plagued him when Samuel anointed him. Now, his fearful perception is strengthening, and Saul’s poor choices exacerbate the problem. His fears come true. God rejects him. His control of the tribes weakens.

In his last encounter with Samuel, Saul shows remorse. He reaches for Samuel’s robe, and it tears. I imagine Saul relives this day over and over in his mind. His poor choices pile up, and Saul does not know how to cope.

Do you agree that Saul’s poor choices influenced his mental decline? Let’s talk about it in the comments! Stayed tuned next Monday when we see Saul’s mental state affected by irrational anger.

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Keeping Quiet: Return to King Saul

I received some great feedback last week asking me to go deeper into the minds and emotions of the Biblical people living with mental illness. For the month of February, we’re returning to King Saul. Saul starts 1 Samuel as Israel’s first king, but his life ends in 2 Samuel with assisted suicide. Today, we’re starting at the beginning and learning how keeping quiet set the stage for Saul’s decline.

The Passage

Samuel took the flask of oil, poured it out on Saul’s head, kissed him, and said, “Hasn’t the LORD anointed you ruler over his inheritance?”

1 Samuel 10:1 CSB

Saul’s uncle asked him and his servant, “Where did you go?”

“To look for the donkeys,” Saul answered. “When we saw they weren’t there, we went to Samuel.”

“Tell me,” Saul’s uncle asked, “what did Samuel say to you?”

Saul told him, “He assured us the donkeys had been found.” However, Saul did not tell him what Samuel had said about the matter of kingship.

1 Samuel 10:14-16 CSB

Samuel summoned the people to the LORD at Mizpah and said to the Israelites, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘I brought Israel out of Egypt, and I rescued you from the power of the Egyptians and all the kingdoms that were oppressing you.’ But today you have rejected your God, who saves you from all your troubles and afflictions. You said to him, ‘You must set a king over us.’ Now therefore present yourselves before the LORD by your tribes and clans.'”

Samuel had all the tribes of Israel come forward, and the tribe of Benjamin was selected. Then he had the tribe of Benjamin come forward by its clans, and the Matrite clan was selected. Finally, Saul son of Kish was selected. But when they searched for him, they could not find him. They again inquired of the LORD, “Has the man come here yet?”

The LORD replied, “There he is, hidden among the supplies.”

They ran and got him from there. When he stood among the people, he stood a head taller than anyone else. Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see the one the LORD has chosen? There is no one like him among the entire population.”

And all the people shouted, “Long live the king!”

Samuel proclaimed to the people the rights of kingship. He wrote them on a scroll, which he placed in the presence of the LORD. Then Samuel sent all the people home.

Saul also went to his home in Gibeah, and brave men whose hearts God had touched went with him. But some wicked men said, “How can this guy save us?” They despised him and did not bring him a gift, but Saul said nothing.

1 Samuel 10:17-27 CSB

The First King

1 Samuel 8-10 tells of Israel’s request for a king to lead them, of Saul’s anointing, and of Samuel’s announcement of Saul’s leadership. However, Saul either hides from or doubts his role as leader of Israel throughout all three chapters. In truth, he had good reason to be afraid. Israel created a brand new political role by demanding a king. Samuel made it clear that by demanding a king, Israel chose to worship an idol instead of God. If I wore Saul’s sandals, I would feel doomed to fail before I even started!

On top of stepping into an unprecedented role, Israel charges Saul with coordinating a forgetful, stubborn-headed bunch of people. Skip back a few pages in your Bible, and the Benjaminites (Saul’s own clan) committed some pretty heinous acts. Then all the tribes fought with each other over it, and tribes made plans against each other… It created a big ole mess. Now Saul (who didn’t ask for this… he set out just to find some lost donkeys!) is responsible for uniting and leading this mess. That’s a pretty stressful job.

Keeping Quiet

The odds certainly stacked against Saul, but his actions didn’t address the problems, either. When Saul’s uncle asks what Samuel told Saul, he avoids talking about his anointing, despite it coming directly from God. Further, when all the tribes convene to hear Samuel, Saul hides in the packs of food and blankets rather than standing with his tribe in the count. Then, Saul stays quiet when Israelite dissenters speak against him (and thus against God’s choice of a leader.)

Sometimes, keeping quiet in the face of rude, unreasonable people helps a situation. At least, it doesn’t escalate into anything worse. However, Saul’s silence about his role as King of Israel actually denies God’s authority and power in choosing him. This passage really shows us that Saul held some deep seeded insecurities. Saul demonstrates signs of a depressive personality where his negative self-perception tells him that he can’t do what God calls him to do.

I know I have often doubted that God would actually use me to bless others. I sometimes doubt his desire to bless me. Saul shows us, though, that we really need to focus on accepting our God-given worth if we want to expand God’s kingdom. Otherwise, we head down a dangerous, self-destructive path.

How do you feel about keeping quiet? Let’s talk about it in the comments! Stayed tuned Wednesday when we see how Saul’s poor choices have drastic consequences.

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Music and Depression: A Look at King Saul

I find it funny how music can affect my mood. Sometimes when I tense up with anxiety, I hear “Sunshine on my Shoulders” by John Denver and instantly calm to memories of my mother singing. Then there are times when the flowy worship of “10,000 Reasons” by Matt Redman makes me feel absolutely claustrophobic. It changes from day to day. When I think of music and depression in the Bible, King Saul of Israel best exemplifies the power music can have on mood.

The Passage

Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him.

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 lyre. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes on you, and you will feel better.”

So Saul said to his attendants, “Find someone who plays well and bring him to me.”

One of the servants answered, “I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the lyre. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the LORD is with him.”

Then Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me your son David, who is with the sheep.” So Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them with his son David to Saul.

David came to Saul and entered his service. Saul liked him very much, and David became one of his armor-bearers. Then Saul sent word to Jesse, saying “Allow David to remain in my service, for I am pleased with him.”

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.

1 Samuel 16:14-23 NIV

While this passage speaks of Saul’s mental distress as an evil spirit, Saul exhibits many of the symptoms of a depressed and anxious person. His mood swings without warning. Later in 1 Samuel, Saul responds to irritations by throwing spears at the people in the room with him. He lives in constant fear of losing his identity as King of Israel. The only source of relief he knows comes from a young shepherd who knows how to play the lyre.

Music and Depression in Therapy

Many studies have been done on the links between mood and music. In this academic article, Lucille Magill Bailey, D.A., discusses the effect music had on families dealing with cancer. She found that music eased their anxiety, facilitated communication and confidence, and allowed families to feel peace when their loved one passed on. She noted that songs from all genres of music could ease the family’s depression and anxiety. Patients and families needed the links to memories and feelings more than they needed a specific key or instrument played.

2 Tips on Music and Depression or Anxiety

  1. Listen to what you need now. The song that calms you the most on Monday may drive you up the wall on Thursday. Honor your body’s changing needs and listen to the songs that best speak to you in that particular situation.
  2. Remember to breathe. Deep breathing regulates mood and tension quicker than any other trick out there. (In fact, most tips I know of for anxiety and depression involve reminding yourself to breathe.) Try adjusting your deep breathing to match the flow of the song. Singing also requires controlled breathing, so sing out if that helps you.

How does music affect your mood? Let me know in the comments! And as always, seek a professional counselor for advice on your particular situation. (Mental health is not one-size-fits-all!)

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Stay in Your Lane, Michal

I think Michal gets a bad wrap. Her father was unstable and her husband had his own struggles with mental illness. She’s bounced around from husband to husband and place to place. All of that builds up, until one day she sees her husband acting a fool in the streets, and it all boils over. She bursts out in frustration when he gets home. And she’s told – stay in your lane.

The Passage

Now King David was told, “The LORD has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God.” So David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. When those who were carrying the ark of the LORD had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the LORD with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets.

As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart.

2 Samuel 6:12-16 NIV

When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said “How the King of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”

David said to Michal, “It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD’s people Israel – I will celebrate before the LORD. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.”

And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death.

2 Samuel 6:20-23 NIV

When You Stay in Your Lane Too Long

I imagine that the years of uncertainty and chaos took its toll on Michal. After all, her father, king Saul, starting throwing spears at people in random fits of rage. Then she marries David, and she has to cover his disappearance by sending him out the window and hiding an idol in their bed. At some point in the ensuing chaos, Michal marries another man. When her brothers and father die so that David assumes control of Israel, David’s bargain forces her to leave her current husband and return to his palace. While the Bible does not state Michal’s feelings on the matter, her husband Paltiel “went with her, weeping behind her all the way to Bahurim,” (2 Samuel 3:14). She disappears among the throng of wives, concubines, and children whom David amassed during his conquering years.

I think that would cause a heap of frustration in anybody.

*It is important to note that Michal clearly struggled with some spiritual issues of her own. Based on 1 Samuel 19, she had easy access to an idol. David’s rebuke in 2 Samuel 6 involved Michal’s concern for outward appearance rather than pleasing God. However, today we are focusing on Michal’s emotional state and what led her to the outburst in 2 Samuel.

Stuffing Your Feelings

Michal carried the weight of years of pain and frustration inside her. She had no opportunity to express her feelings to the male family members in her life; her father Saul raged without warning, her husband David disappeared for many years, her brother Jonathan was often in battle, and her brother Ish-bosheth completely depended on his father’s army commander to make decisions.

Without having any way to release her negative emotions in a way that caused positive change, Michal’s feelings festered. It is no surprise to me that Michal lashed out at David for acting the fool when she grew up watching her father do the same. Unfortunately for Michal, that outburst cost her dearly. She lost her already tenuous standing in the midst of David’s household. She never bore children, which could have given her purpose.

Like Michal, stuffing our emotions too long can lead to disastrous consequences in our own lives. For information on other ways of managing anger and negative emotions, check out this article. And as always, a professional counselor can be a great help in navigating these deeply entrenched patterns in our lives.

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How Hannah Coped with Depression in 1 Samuel 1

Happy New Year, everyone! Today is the first day of my new devotional series on coping with mental illness in the church. To be honest, I’ve gotten progressively more nervous about writing these posts the closer it’s gotten to 2020. I take that as proof that this is what I’m meant to be doing. Prayers are appreciated!

When I started thinking about depression, anxiety, and mental illness in the Bible, Hannah’s story was the first that came to mind. I always remember her story with the image of her weeping and praying so desperately that Eli the priest thought she was drunk. I can feel that swallowing hole in my chest that she must have felt. I can feel the sobs that come so hard I believe my eyelids flipped inside out. If anyone knows deep emotional pain, it is Hannah.

The Passage

Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the LORD had closed her womb. And because the LORD had closed her womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the LORD, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. Elkanah her husband would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”

1 Samuel 1:4-8 NIV

As she kept on praying to the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk and said to her, “How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine.”

“Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”

Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”

She said, “May your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.

1 Samuel 1:12-18 NIV

I imagine Hannah’s husband and rival wife did not help her depression. In fact, verse 7 says that Peninnah would remind Hannah of her barrenness so often that it led to Hannah refusing to eat! She exacerbated Hannah’s negative thinking out of sheer pettiness, as best I can tell. Then, there is Hannah’s husband, Elkanah. Verse 5 says that he loved Hannah, and he did give her a double portion of sacrifice to prove his love and care for her. However, his response to her weeping winds up being pretty selfish. I think if I was unable to have a child and my husband asked me, “Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” I would be ready to slap him. Hannah’s feelings weren’t about Elkanah. She was struggling with an issue of her identity.

Then, we meet Eli the priest. Eli’s first response to Hannah’s anguish isn’t much better than Elkanah’s. He asks her if she’s drunk. Whether as a cry of indignation or an outpouring of pent up hurt, Hannah tells Eli her story. Eli responds with the first helpful statement in the whole chapter. Eli recognizes Hannah’s strength of character and faith, and he offers her a blessing.

Hannah dealt for many years with a situation of barrenness that no one ever wants to go through. Coupled with undeniable relationship stress at home from Peninnah, it is not surprising that she sometimes feels hopeless and has no appetite. Thankfully for us, the author of 1 Samuel included three ways that Hannah responded to depression that turned her hopelessness into joy and generous obedience when her son finally was born.

Three Ways Hannah Coped with Depression

  1. She reached out for help instead of hiding. If I were Hannah, I would have run away in embarrassment and anger when Eli asked me if I was drunk. Instead, Hannah took the opportunity to reach out for help. She told Eli her story and entered in a brief conversation with him. Likewise, we can reach out to others in our depression and engage in a conversation that reduces our feelings of isolation.
  2. She allowed Eli’s blessing to reshape her view of herself. Before Hannah went to the tabernacle to pray, the identity spoken over her most often was from Peninnah. Peninnah, a petty rival wife, probably forced the idea down Hannah’s throat that she would never bear a child and that she was the lesser wife for being childless. However, when Eli spoke a blessing over Hannah, Hannah allowed herself to view her situation positively. She believed that her situation was not a flaw of her character but one in which God would prove His faithfulness. By listening to Eli, Hannah turned a negative view of her circumstances into a positive one.
  3. She addressed her physical needs. In verse 18, the Bible says that Hannah ate and then her face was not downcast. Praying and talking to Eli did not immediately fix her situation. In fact, verse 20 says that Hannah did not immediately get pregnant after this event, but that bearing a child occurred “in the course of time.” Instead, Hannah addressed the physical needs she had been neglecting by not eating. The combination of food and a changed mindset redirected Hannah’s path from hopelessness to praise.

Hannah’s deep pain of childlessness is exacerbated by a cruel rival wife and slightly clueless husband. Though the Bible does not call her depressed, her symptoms of anguish and not eating indicate that she probably struggled with years of depression just like many of us do today. Thankfully, the Bible shares a few tips we can use to cope with our depression like Hannah does so that we can praise God for His faithfulness in difficult situations.