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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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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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Handling Stress like Moses: Two Methods

Moses was a pretty stressed-out dude. I mean, leading thousands of grumbling people through a desert when you really don’t like talking anyway doesn’t sound like the best way to spend your day. But, God called Moses to lead His people, and Moses was obedient. That doesn’t mean God left Moses to learn handling stress on his own, though! God sent advice in a surprising source: Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro.

The Passage

The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?”

Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and laws.”

Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. Teach them the decrees and laws, and show them the way to live and the duties they are to perform. But select capable men from all the people – men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain – and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”

Exodus 18:13-23

All the grumbling people were wearing Moses out! It seems to me that Moses didn’t even realize how much his work as judge was affecting his health and ability to lead God’s people. It took an outsider, Jethro, looking in on the situation to notice the path that Moses was headed down.

Two Tips for Handling Stress like Moses

  1. Listen to advice from those who know you. Moses had lived with Jethro a “long period” before he found the burning bush and returned to Egypt (Exodus 2:23). He tended Jethro’s sheep, married Jethro’s daughter, and lived in Jethro’s house. When Jethro watched Moses at work, he knew Moses well enough to recognize that the work would overwhelm him. In response, Moses listened to Jethro’s advice. He acknowledged the relationship he had with his father-in-law, recognized the advice for the help that it was, and implemented the advice quickly to avoid the negative outcome he was headed for. It’s not always easy to take advice, but sometimes it can make a dramatic difference in our health if we listen.
  2. Delegate, delegate, delegate. Jethro’s advice was fairly simple. If Moses taught other faithful, respectable men God’s commands directly, they could handle the smaller cases based on that knowledge, and Moses would only have to judge the difficult cases. Delegation isn’t easy. It requires time to teach the skills and principles needed to complete the work. It means the delegator has to trust the workers to implement what they’ve learned. However, delegation also took a lot of repetitive busy work off of Moses’ plate. Delegation allowed Moses to focus on what was important – leading the people in God’s will – and helped him in handling stress.

God sent Jethro to teach Moses ways of handling stress. Just as God provided food for the Israelites in the desert, and just as God provided Aaron to be Moses’ mouthpiece, God provides us with wise friends who warn us when we are headed down a path that is dangerous for our health.