The Madness of Saul (12 December 2017, 24 Kislev, 5778)
Maimonides numbers both Moses and Joshua as Kings of Israel. Nevertheless it is usually accepted to give that title to Saul. Before Saul Israel had been ruled by Judges and Prophets and the Elders of the nation. In the time of the Prophet SamuelÂ the people demanded a monarch. We learn later (1-Samuel 12:12) that it was the incursion of Ammonites led by theirÂ Nahash the King of AmmonÂ and the unpreparedness of the Israelites that precipitated the Israelite urge for a king of their own. God told Samuel to listen to the popular voice. In Chapter 9 of 1-Samuel we are told how Saul son of Kish of the Tribe of Benjamin was appointed. Samuel had been told the future king would come to him. Meanwhile Saul and his servant had been searching for a flock of donkeys belonging to his uncle that had gotten lost. They passed by the place of Samuel and decided to ask him if he could help them. Samuel had already prepared a feast with the local dignitaries. He told Saul that the donkeys had already been found. He then invited Saul to the feast after which he took Saul aside and anointed him (1-Samuel 10:1). Shortly afterwards the spirit of God came upon Saul and he prophesied (1-Samuel 10:10). Therefore it became a proverb: 'Is Saul also among the prophets?' (10:12), applied to someone who suddenly reveals abilities nobody knew he possessed. After this Samuel called an assembly of all Israel and Saul was officially chosen by public lottery to be king. Saul returned to his house as if nothing had happened. At first there were bad people among the Israelites who refused to accept the rulership of Saul and despised him (10:27). Some time later, Nahash the King of Ammon besieged the Israelite town of Jabesh-Gilead east of the Jordan. He demanded that the inhabitants submit to him and that they agree to have the right of them all gouged out (11:2). The Israelites requested a stay of three days during which they sent for help to the rest of Israel. When Saul heard what was happening the spirit of God came upon him.
6 Then the Spirit of God came upon Saul mightily when he heard these words, and he became very angry.
Saul led the Israelites to war against Ammon and the people of Jabesh-Gilead were saved. After this Samuel the Prophet called the people to Gilgal. They renewed the Kingdom and Saul was accepted as king (11:15). Saul ruled over Israel and led them in defeating their enemies around about (1-Samuel 14:47) . He was assisted by his son Jonathan. The Prophet Samuel commanded Saul to wipe out the Amalekites and all of their domestic animals (15:1-3). Saul did as commanded but left Agag their king and the best portion of the animals alive (15:9). Samuel informed Saul that because of his disobedience he would be rejected as monarch and the position given to another (15:29).
God then sent Samuel to Beth-Lehem in Judah,Â to the house of Jesse who had eight sons. There he was told to anoint David, the eighth and last of the sons.
1-Samuel (NASB) 16:
13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward. And Samuel arose and went to Ramah.
14 Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD terrorized him.Â
The Rabbinical Commentators (e.g. Abarbanel) point out from the Hebrew text that the spirit of God that came on David was the same that departed from Saul.
The text may be paraphrased from the Hebrew as saying:
Then (i.e. after the anointing of David) the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit (due to that ofÂ LORD having left) terrorized him.Â
We shall return to this point.
The servants of Saul recommended that the services of David be used in playing the harp to calm the spirit of Saul and allay his melancholy. David was known asÂ a skillful musician besides his other attributes of note (16:17).
1-Samuel (NASB) 16:
23 So it came about whenever the evil spirit from God came to Saul, David would take the harp and play it with his hand; and Saul would be refreshed and be well, and the evil spirit would depart from him.
David later saved Israel from the giant Goliath and the Philistine host (1-Samuel 17:31-54). David continued to succeed and Saul became jealous and angy (18:8-9). He tried to kill David several times. There would be periods of alleviation but the evil spirit would get the better of Saul so David fled for his life. Eventually Saul and his sons were slain fighting the Philistines at Mount Gilboa in northern Israel. David became king at first just over Judah and later over all Israel.
[Incidentally, Isaac Mozeson, "The Origin of Speeches," 2005, points out that the name Goliath in Ashkenazic Hebrew can be pronounced as "Golias." This is hwere the English words "Colossus" (giant statue) and "Colosseum" (i.e. a large stadium from the Greek "colloseus," i.e. gigantic) come from
2. What was the Madness?
Different explanations have been given concerning the "evil spirit" that afflicted Saul. These are not necessarily contradictory but rather complementary. They may be understood as differing ways of viewing the same phenomenon.
The Abarbanel (1437-1508) and others attribute it to the effects of depression, disappointment, and melancholia that overcame Saul when he was informed that his kingship would not last.
Rabbi David Valle (1697- 1777) says that "the evil spirit from the LORD" that terrorized Saul was not directly from God. Rather it came due to a fault of Saul and requested permission from God to come on Saul. The permission was given and this is accounted as if God had sent it.
Shavtei Sheftal Veiss (in his commentary "Mishbotsat Zehav," 5764, 2003) paraphrases the Zohar and other works:
Saul had received the Spirit of God. When this left Saul was overcome with emptiness.
He had reached a higher level. When it was gone he was conscious of his loss. He became unclean and let melancholic thoughts overcome him.
David through his music was able to alleviate the pain of Saul. Happiness induced by the music drove away the bad thoughts.
The Spirit of God that on David through the music entered into Saul and drove out the bad spirit.
David had the power to make sad people happy and to find happy solutions after facing disaster.
The relevant verse we are considering is the following:
1-Samuel (NASB) 16:
14 Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD terrorized him.
The term translated as "terrorized him" in Hebrew is "biatato." This is from the word-root "baah" or "bat."
It is probably related to the English word "beat." The Online Etymological Dictionary derives "beat" from the Old English "beatan" i.e.Â "inflict blows on, strike repeatedly, thrash."
So too, in Hebrew "baat" connotes "trouble, disturb, strike, " and also "kick." The Radak (1160-1235) points out the expression used here "biatato" suggests a repetitive action.
Saul was perturbed and troubled over and over again until he went out of his mind.
The commentary "Daat Mikra" (by Yehudah Kiel, 1981)Â compares the spirit leaving Saul to similar passages in the Bible.
13 If I say, 'My bed will comfort me,
My couch will ease my complaint,'
14 Then You frighten me with dreams
And terrify me by visions;
15 So that my soul would choose suffocation,
Death rather than my pains.
Â Saul was disturbed after being deprived of the kingdom. An evil spirit sent by God isÂ associated with visions, hallucinations, and dreams. This brings on depression and despair, suspicion, anger, mood reversals,Â cf. Abimelech and the men of Schechem (Judges 9:23) where to it ended in recriminations and treachery. Only someone who once experienced the pleasantness of the spirit of God can suffer so much when the spirit departs.
In 1-Samuel 16: 14 it says the evil spirit terrorized Saul where the word for terrorized is "baata" connoting according to Kiel "fear and trembling."
3. The Music of David
Saul employed David to play music on the harp before him. Music can uplift the spirit, relieve tension, and make a person happy. This affects the spirit of a person. We find that music can help elevate the inner being and bring on the spirit of Prophecy.
2 Kings 3:
15 But now bring me a minstrel. And it came about, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the Lord came upon him [i.e. on the Prophet Elisha].Â
Music has both a spiritual and a material quality. Not only music but physical well-being in general can influence spirituality. Isaac requested that Esau bring him him the kind of food he liked so that his spirit would be favorably affected.
34 When Esau was forty years old he married Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite; 35 and they brought grief to Isaac and Rebekah.
We see above that Isaac and Rebekah were embittered towards Esau. The next verse says:
1 Now it came about, when Isaac was old and his eyes were too dim to see, that he called his older son Esau and said to him, My son. And he said to him,Â Here I am.Â 2Â Isaac said, Behold now, I am old and I do not know the day of my death. 3 Now then, please take your gear, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me; 4 and prepare a savory dish for me such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat, so that my soul may bless you before I die.
Isaac had reason to be bitter towards Esau because he had married unworthy women who brought grief to Isaac and Rebekah. Isaac wished to bless Esau. He needed to feel good in order to give Esau the blessing. The sense of physical well-being was intended influence his spirituality.Â Â
We see that Saul suffered fromaÂ kind of Manic Depression. This is otherwsie known as Melancholy. It is quite common. Maimonides quotes Aristotle as saying that all Great men suffer from it to some degree. Winston Churchill also had attacks of melancholia and referred to them as "the black dog." King david also suffered fromt hem and overcame them through the Psalms. Physical exercise and sound eating habits also help.