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Power-Hungry Sons: Gideon and David

To paraphrase the well-known quote, we have all heard that history is destined to repeat itself. The Bible certainly holds a multitude of examples of this as we repeatedly forget God’s power and goodness. As I read the story of Gideon’s son Abimelech, it struck me as similar to the later story of David’s son Absalom. Let’s compare the stories of the power-hungry sons of Gideon and David.

Power-Hungry Sons

Gideon’s son Abimelech killed his seventy brothers and took control of Israel (Judges 9). In contrast to his father, Abimelech did not hold the same view that God ruled Israel. Instead, he led the people of Shechem to take over leadership. His reign caused controversy. Within three years, the people in Abimelech’s territory divided into civil war. Abimelech finally died so that the chaos could stop. Abimelech exemplifies how a power-hungry son can divide a nation.

Decades later, we find conflict from a power-hungry son repeated in David’s family. For two years, David’s son Absalom plotted to kill his brother Amnon for raping Absalom’s sister, Tamar (2 Samuel 13). Honestly, the whole thing gets pretty messy from there. Absalom flees to Geshur, where he lives for three years. David mourns Absalom’s loss when he finishes grieving Amnon’s death. So, the army commander Joab convinces the king to bring Absalom back. David agrees but refuses to see Absalom for two years (2 Samuel 14). Once Absalom sees his father again, he begins manipulating all of Israel into rebelling against David (2 Samuel 15). This turns into a massive battle dividing all of Israel (2 Samuel 16-20). A large number of people died from both sides because of the power-hungry son’s actions.

Anxious Fathers

Both Gideon and David seemed to have struggled with anxiety in their lifetimes. Yet, God uses them to fulfill his purposes and bring peace to Israel. So, what went wrong with their sons? First and foremost, the Bible never lays blame for the power-hungry sons’ actions on the fathers. We only know that Gideon created an ephod that became a stumbling block, and David had an affair leading to the death of an innocent man. However, the Bible does not connect these sins to the sins of their children. At least in David’s case, Absalom’s rebellion seems to test David again and stretch his faith in the Lord. I imagine that if Gideon lived to see Abimelek’s actions, he would feel tested just like David.

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Ish-Bosheth Son of Saul

To be honest, I don’t recall Ish-Bosheth appearing in the book of 1 Samuel. We learn a great deal about Jonathan, we see three of Saul’s sons die on Mt. Gilboa, but Ish-bosheth stays silently in the background. That is, until Abner gets ahold of him in 2 Samuel. He steps forward as a puppet king of Israel for two years while David leads the tribe of Judah. So, how did the family lines of depression affect Ish-Bosheth, son of Saul?

The Passage

Meanwhile, Abner son of Ner, the commander of Saul’s army, had taken Ish-Bosheth son of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim. He made him king over Gilead, Ashuri and Jezreel, and also over Ephraim, Benjamin and all Israel.

2 Samuel 2:8-9 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. Now Saul had had a concubine named Rizpah daughter of Aiah. And Ish-Bosheth said to Abner, “Why did you sleep with my father’s concubine?”

Abner was very angry because of what Ish-Bosheth said. So he answered, “Am I a dog’s head – on Judah’s side? This very day I am loyal to the house of your father Saul and to his family and friends. I haven’t handed you over to David. Yet now you accuse me of an offense involving this woman! May God deal with Abner, be it ever so severely, if I do not do for David what the LORD promised him on oath and transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and establish David’s throne over Israel and Judah from Dan to Beersheba.” Ish-Bosheth did not dare to say another word to Abner, because he was afraid of him.

2 Samuel 3:6-11 NIV

Family Ties

In addition to being commander of Saul’s army, Abner was Ish-Bosheth’s uncle. He not only brought his political experience to the table, but he also brought his position of family authority over Ish-Bosheth. It is no surprise that Abner’s previous positions alone were enough to sway Ish-Bosheth into becoming a puppet king. Between Abner and David, every decision Ish-Bosheth made was directed by someone else. Even Ish-Bosheth’s death in 2 Samuel 4 occured at the hands of two of his men while he was sleeping. In fact, the only report of Ish-Bosheth ever making a decision on his own occurred when he confronted Abner about Rizpah, and it ended with his authority as king being stripped away.

Outside of Abner’s direct influence, Ish-Bosheth had an unusual relationship with the rest of his family. We don’t see Ish-Bosheth fighting in any battles alongside Saul. In 1 Samuel 28, the ghost of Samuel warns Saul that he will lose all of his sons in the battle against the Phillistines. So, how does Ish-Bosheth survive the carnage? Based on 2 Samuel, he must have been at home. Ish-Bosheth was not a warrior like his father and brothers. He did not lead thousands of men every day like his older brother Jonathan did. We really don’t find out anything that Ish-Bosheth did do. He certainly did not have any experience or qualities to enhance his claim to Israel’s throne. Yet, thanks to Abner, he sits in charge of eleven loosely connected tribes.

Ish-Bosheth Son of Saul

Unlike Jonathan and even Michal, Ish-Bosheth seemed to inherit none of his father Saul’s warrior instincts. Instead, he inherited all the fear and silence Saul ever possessed, and he seems to have inherited it ten-fold. Ish-Bosheth faced a bully in his Uncle Abner, and he did not know how to stand up for himself or his family. We don’t even see him wake up or fight back at his death. He reacted to every circumstance we see him face, and he never made proactive changes to protect his household.

Ish-Bosheth really exemplifies the breakdown caused among his family because Saul never treated his depression. Aside from God’s punishment for Saul’s poor choices, the family never learned to readjust their negative thinking. Those like Jonathan who didn’t struggle with mental illness themselves spent the majority of their time trying to play catch-up and keep the peace. Ultimately, the family met with a tragic end. Perhaps the tragedy could have been avoided if Saul had sought help for his struggles instead of running from them in fear.

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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 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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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.