The next day an evil spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he raved within his house, while David was playing the lyre, as he did day by day. Saul had his spear in his hand; and Saul threw the spear, for he thought, ‘I will pin David to the wall.’ But David eluded him twice. Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with him but had departed from Saul. So Saul removed him from his presence, and made him a commander of a thousand; and David marched out and came in, leading the army. David had success in all his undertakings; for the Lord was with him. When Saul saw that he had great success, he stood in awe of him. But all Israel and Judah loved David; for it was he who marched out and came in leading them.
Then Saul said to David, ‘Here is my elder daughter Merab; I will give her to you as a wife; only be valiant for me and fight the Lord’s battles.’ For Saul thought, ‘I will not raise a hand against him; let the Philistines deal with him.’ David said to Saul, ‘Who am I and who are my kinsfolk, my father’s family in Israel, that I should be son-in-law to the king?’ But at the time when Saul’s daughter Merab should have been given to David, she was given to Adriel the Meholathite as a wife. Now Saul’s daughter Michal loved David. Saul was told, and the thing pleased him. Saul thought, ‘Let me give her to him that she may be a snare for him and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.’ Therefore Saul said to David a second time, ‘You shall now be my son-in-law.’ Saul commanded his servants, ‘Speak to David in private and say, “See, the king is delighted with you, and all his servants love you; now then, become the king’s son-in-law.”’ So Saul’s servants reported these words to David in private. And David said, ‘Does it seem to you a little thing to become the king’s son-in-law, seeing that I am a poor man and of no repute?’ The servants of Saul told him, ‘This is what David said.’ Then Saul said, ‘Thus shall you say to David, “The king desires no marriage present except a hundred foreskins of the Philistines, that he may be avenged on the king’s enemies.”’ Now Saul planned to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines. When his servants told David these words, David was well pleased to be the king’s son-in-law. Before the time had expired, David rose and went, along with his men, and killed one hundred of the Philistines; and David brought their foreskins, which were given in full number to the king, that he might become the king’s son-in-law. Saul gave him his daughter Michal as a wife. But when Saul realised that the Lord was with David, and that Saul’s daughter Michal loved him, Saul was still more afraid of David. So Saul was David’s enemy from that time forward. Then the commanders of the Philistines came out to battle; and as often as they came out, David had more success than all the servants of Saul, so that his fame became very great.
When I was 17 I had quite a crush on my father’s secretary and was saddened when she suffered a series of mental health problems and was admitted to what we school kids knew as the ‘loony bin’ (and yes I am ashamed of myself now). I heard that while I was away at university, she left employment. Later, in my first job, working in that same local psychiatric hospital, I encountered her again, this time as a long-term in-patient. I was dreadfully distressed to see the effect of her now chronic illness.
I am aware that not all mental ill-health is so catastrophic but it was the moment that convinced me that I was not suited to mental health nursing and led me instead to train as a general nurse.
But I see her in my mind’s eye as I read of Saul raving in his house. Reading on, we see further problems for Saul as his paranoia develops – another aspect of his mental health problems. Yes of course I am aware of the dangers of nurses (especially general nurses!) making diagnoses, but I’ve always thought of his having something like paranoid schizophrenia?
David plays the difficult hand he is dealt with skill, diplomacy and tact but his continuing military success and ensuing popularity do continue to feed poor Saul’s jealousy, undermining and destroying their relationship. What should’ve been a successful and triumphant partnership ultimately developed into a civil war that as well as destroying Saul, probably damaged David too.
Mental healthcare has come on in leaps and bounds since those days but tragically it is still desperately inadequate (not to mention desperately under-funded) and there are far too many lives damaged or destroyed, with family and friends as collateral damage.
God of sanity and order; we pray that you play your spiritual lyre of healing in those affected by the challenges of mental ill health; we pray too for those who are affected by pity, hurt and / or helplessness because of their loved ones’ conditions; and we pray for all working in the field of mental healthcare, giving them patience, wisdom and new and effective treatments. Amen
The Rev’d Peter Clark, Minister of the Bridport and Dorchester Joint Pastorate (Methodist & URC)