And it came to pass on the morrow, that the evil spirit from God came upon Saul….
Suddenly in a moment, as though struck by a fiery bolt of judgment, Saul’s life was cast into the depths of dark depression. For a time things had looked so much better. His problems had appeared solved, his fear had abated, it had seemed that the light again shone upon him. Saul had nearly come to believe that Samuel was completely wrong, that the God of Israel had not left him forsaken, that His blessing did rest upon his life. That blessing he had thought to find personified in David. David had slain the giant, David had come to fill the royal court with gaiety and life, David had gone with them unto victory after victory in battle, David had seemed to bring to him everything good in life. But then all had changed, suddenly and without notice. It was those shallow and farcical songs of the women which they were always singing when they came out with their dances to greet the returning army. Those songs weren’t normally anything that anyone should take very seriously, but somehow that song that day cut him to the quick. “Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” That was it. All at once he saw it. David was not his blessing. David was actually favored above him. David was really his curse, that neighbor of whom Samuel spoke who was destined to take from him his throne and the kingdom.
It was all that Saul could do to get home without giving sudden vent to those waves of fury and blinding rage and fear and hatred and anguish that came one after another to engulf his soul. But no one was paying any attention to him and no one noticed. They were all too preoccupied with David; and that in itself only drove that dart in deeper and aggravated the more his inner pain and anger.
But it was not long before the truth was no longer hidden. By morning the whole palace was aware of it. All through the night the king had not slept, but had alternated between furious pacing and wild demands hurled at his servants, as though they were to blame for all of his troubles. It was as though one great shudder went throughout the palace, shaking it down to its very foundation — an evil spirit from the Lord had settled again upon their sovereign. No one knew better than those who lived in the royal residence what dreadful implications this held. They had been through it once before. But this time it was different and even more terrible, if that were possible, than the time before. Then he had merely sat for hours and days in dark, moody fits of deep depression. Now he did that too, but they were periodically broken up by sudden outbursts of angry curses and prophecies of black foreboding. The servants of the king and all of the royal household trembled within themselves in terrified fear. For them there was only one consolation. Once before David had proved himself to be the solution to this same problem, and now he was right there in the court. Surely now again he would be able to drive out this evil spirit to bring peace again to the palace and the kingdom.
Little did anyone besides Saul himself realize how completely things had changed since the first time David had appeared with his harp at the palace to play for the king. Then he had been to the king only a stranger, a mere shepherd boy called from the field because he was able to make such sweet music. As such Saul had received him and listened to his music and enjoyed it and even allowed it to carry his fears away. But now it was different. He knew David. He recognized David for what he was even if no one else did — the challenger to this throne. To Saul it must have been like a cruel joke to have David of all people set before him to try to cure this depression. O yes, Saul could understand it. He may have even anticipated it. He had not lost his mind, although sometimes it felt like it. It was but natural that David’s harp should be brought in to see if it couldn’t do again what it had done so ably before. But now the sound of that harp was to him like a taunting refrain, designed to remind him of his misery. Every tune that was played seemed but another one made to fit the words of the women, “Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” For a time the king sat silently and sullenly trying with all that was in him to endure the sound of that music, so that no one would know how he really felt about David; but at last his feelings became so pent up within him that he could withhold it no longer. With one sudden lunge he swept up the javelin that was always lying ready beside him and flung it with all of his might at the unsuspecting musician.
To those who were present there in the court, it was little short of miraculous that David should have escaped the thrust of that javelin. Saul’s ability with the javelin had a reputation which was not to be despised. He was a tall man with arms that were long and powerful, and his aim was true when he chose to use it. And yet David, although he had been completely relaxed and absorbed in his music, started to spring from his seat almost before Saul had lifted his javelin from its position beside him. It was as though something within him had sounded a warning so that, by the it only dulled its sharp point against the stones of the palace wall and clattered harmlessly to the floor. No one, however, was more astonished at the escape of David than Saul himself. He found it almost impossible to believe his eyes. He could hardly have been more amazed if the javelin had passed straight through David’s body without drawing blood. For a long hard moment he stood staring at that empty seat as though he had seen a ghost, while waves of amazement and anguish and hatred and fear and terror swept one after the other across his face. And then he slumped down into his throne and sat in deep, moody silence, unmoving, while hour after hour passed by. Now he knew, that power of God which once had strengthened him had passed on to David and was keeping him from harm.
Meanwhile, David was perhaps less affected by the whole incident than anyone else. In a sense it was his youthful innocence. He had grown up in the quiet of the open field alone with his sheep and his faith in God. As yet he had not come to the maturity of having experienced the subtle complexities and sorrows of life. He knew only one kind of enemy — those heathen nations which were openly hostile to Israel. To the simplicity of his young mind, all who belonged to Israel were basically good, and especially was this true of Israel’s king who had been appointed to his office by God. To David it was really impossible to be afraid of the king; he couldn’t bring himself to distrust him, and fear for him was unknown. As he looked upon the king sitting silently in his fit of dark depression, his heart went out toward him in sympathy so that, even if he couldn’t understand this strange malady, his concern was only with what he could do for the king to cure him. Thus it was that, before many days were past, David had taken up his harp again to enter the royal court and to try once more to sooth the king with his music; He would perhaps have come earlier if the other servants had not tried to prevent him. For himself, he could not feel that there was anything to fear, he could not imagine that the king should see in him anything but a faithful servant who only sought the king’s good. As for that javelin thrust, that he could only understand as the accidental quirk of a troubled mind and he could not believe that there was any reason why it should soon be repeated. Calmly and with hope, David again sat down before the king to make for him sweet music upon the harp.
This time, however, it did not take long at all for everyone to realize that David’s music was giving king Saul no pleasure. Before it, the kings face reflected only distaste and disgust. Sooner than anyone might have expected, his hand reached out for the javelin and heaved it toward David’s seat. Only this time there was none of the speed and strength and determination there had been the first time. It was almost as though the king knew that his javelin would never be able to strike home, but still he had to throw it anyway. And so it was not quite so quickly, almost sadly, but well in time that David leaped aside and retreated from the presence of the king.
Now it was evident to everyone, the anger and hatred of Saul had centered itself upon David. It was strange. Before this Saul had wanted David with him wherever he went. David had revived him and added a gaiety to his life that he had never known. There had been no end to the gestures of favor which he had shown to this young man. And now it had suddenly become the exact opposite. He could not stand the sight of David and did all he could to drive him away. In the presence of David his ready tempter burst forth in uncontrollable fury. He seemed to hate David with a passion which he had never shown toward anyone else. It was hard for anyone to understand and most of all for David. To him hatred was completely foreign. In all of his life, he had never really come to hate anyone personally, except perhaps for Goliath and that was but for a few short hours there in the valley of Elah. That now Saul should hate him was completely incomprehensible. It bothered him, it made him sad, but he couldn’t really grasp it and felt every moment quite sure that something was sure to happen that would make everything right once again.
For himself, Saul also knew that things couldn’t continue to go on this way. It was not that his hatred was in any way abated. He still hated David, every day a little more it seemed, and he knew with a certainty that David had to be killed. It was just that his own sword and his own javelin ought not do it. David’s reputation was too great in the kingdom, and if his own hand would kill him, the people would never forgive.
He had to get David out of his sight so that those sudden bursts of uncontrollable anger could be restrained; and maybe it would be best if he could find some place where someone else would be apt to end David’s life.
Something had happened to king Saul, something which in its own way gave him a certain relief. It wasn’t that his depression was really cured or taken away; it was just that it didn’t hold him paralyzed anymore. At last he had been able to localize his trouble, to center it in David. And so it gave to him a certain sense of satisfaction just to sit and think and plan what he could do to destroy this enemy, it gave a certain sweetness in the midst of his bitter hatred, it gave a hope in the midst of his fear. From now on Saul’s life, was to be preoccupied with that one thing, how to get rid of David. If only he could do that, then the curse of Samuel would be overcome.
Thus it was that Saul devised his first great plan affecting the whole military structure of his kingdom. Before this he had always gone himself out into the field to meet the enemy, a practice he had never really liked because of his natural fear for his own safety. Now he promoted David to a position of captain over a prize-fighting force of one thousand men and sent them out to wage the battles of the kingdom while he remained safely at home in his palace. It gave him a sense of satisfaction to order David’s force from one battle to another while he waited at home for the day when the enemy would finally overcome David and take his life.