David’s defeat of the giant Goliath was a high point in his leadership of the nation of Israel. 1 Samuel 17:50-51 tells us, “David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. There was no sword in the hand of David. Then David ran and stood over the Philistine and took his sword and drew it out of his sheath and killed him and cut off his head with it. When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled.” Goliath was a powerful man, a warrior and a tyrant, who was considered to be the hero of the Philistines. When David killed Goliath, his stature rose above that of Goliath’s and he was celebrated among the people of Israel. Even though David was a youth and had only fought in a single battle, the women sang about him, “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7). 1 Samuel 18:8-9 goes on to say, “And Saul was very angry, and this saying displeased him. He said, ‘They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands, and what more can he have but the kingdom?’ And Saul eyed David from that day on.” Saul was aware that the kingdom of Israel had been taken from him and was told that it would be given to someone, “who is better than you” (1 Samuel 15:28). Saul may or may not have realized that David was going to be his successor, but it is clear from his reaction to the people’s celebration of David that Saul was jealous of him and afterward wanted to get rid of David.
David and Saul’s relationship started out on a positive note. David was selected to play music for Saul when he was tormented by an evil spirit (1 Samuel 16:14-18). 1 Samuel 16:21-22 states, “And David came to Saul and entered his service. And Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armor-bearer. And Saul sent to Jesse, saying, ‘Let David remain in my service, for he has found favor in my sight.’” The dramatic shift in Saul’s attitude toward David may have been a result of demon possession. 1 Samuel 18:10-11 tells us:
The next day a harmful 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 hurled the spear, for he thought, “I will pin David to the wall.” But David evaded him twice.
The Hebrew word that is translated harmful in 1 Samuel 18:10, raʿ (rah) means “bad or (as noun) evil…The basic meaning of this word displays ten or more various shades of the meaning of evil according to its contextual usage. It means bad in a moral and ethical sense and is used to describe, along with good, the entire spectrum of good and evil; hence, it depicts evil in an absolute, negative sense, as when it describes the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:9; 3:5, 22)” (H7451).
The effect of Saul’s attack on David is recorded in Psalm 55. In this psalm, David expresses his deep distress over the situation and cries out to God for deliverance. David begins his prayer by stating:
Give ear to my prayer, O God,
and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy!
Attend to me, and answer me;
I am restless in my complaint and I moan,
because of the noise of the enemy,
because of the oppression of the wicked.
For they drop trouble upon me,
and in anger they bear a grudge against me.
My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me,
and horror overwhelms me.
And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest;
yes, I would wander far away;
I would lodge in the wilderness; Selah
I would hurry to find a shelter
from the raging wind and tempest.” (Psalm 55:1-8)
David likened Saul’s raving to a storm, a “raging wind and tempest” (Psalm 55:8) and admitted that the terrors of death had fallen upon him, fear and trembling had taken root in his soul (Psalm 55:4-5). The contrast between David’s response to the giant Goliath and King Saul was likely due to the fact that Saul had been anointed King of Israel and was operating under God’s authority. David identified Saul as “a man my equal” (Psalm 55:13) and understood that the evil forces behind Saul’s attack were ordained by God (1 Samuel 18:10). David said:
For it is not an enemy who taunts me—
then I could bear it;
it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—
then I could hide from him.
But it is you, a man, my equal,
my companion, my familiar friend.
We used to take sweet counsel together;
within God’s house we walked in the throng.
Let death steal over them;
let them go down to Sheol alive;
for evil is in their dwelling place and in their heart. (Psalm 55:12-15)
David indicated that evil had made its home inside Saul. The Hebrew word that is translated heart in Psalm 55:15, qereb (kehˊ-reb) means “the nearest part, i.e. the centre…On many other occasions, however, the word is utilized abstractly to describe the inner being of a person. This place was regarded as the home of the heart from which the emotions spring (Psalm 39:3; 55:4; Lamentations 1:20). It was also viewed as the source of thoughts (Genesis 18:12; Psalm 62:4; Jeremiah 9:8), which are often deceitful, wicked, and full of cursing. Yet wisdom from God can reside there also (1 Kings 3:28). This inner being is also the seat of one’s moral disposition and thus one’s affections and desires…The Lord promised to place His law in the inner beings of His people Israel (Jeremiah 31:33; see also Ezekiel 11:19, 36:26, 27)” (H7130).
Jesus told many parables about the kingdom of heaven and at one point told the Pharisees who had asked him when the kingdom of God would come, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:20-21). The phrase in the midst is translated within in the King James Version of the Bible and refers to something “inside” (G1787). Jesus’ declaration that the kingdom of God is inside you was likely related to his repeated focus on the condition of one’s heart. Jesus used the example of a tree’s fruit to explain that the heart is where our spiritual conduct originates. Jesus said, “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give an account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:33-37). Jesus went on to explain through the parable of the sower that the heart is where God’s word is processed and utilized by our spirits. Jesus said, “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart” (Matthew 13:18-19). The term sown was being used by Jesus metaphorically to represent the sowing of spiritual things in preaching and teaching (G4687). The fact that God’s word is sown or scattered around in the heart indicates that we are only responsible for what happens after it lands on us. We can decide to ignore what we’ve heard or contemplate and meditate on its meaning in our heart.
David’s attitude toward God is reflected in the psalms that he wrote and other psalms that were written during his reign. Psalm 42:1-4 states:
As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.
The comparison of the soul’s thirst for God to a deer that pants for flowing streams is a fitting illustration of every person’s need for spiritual refreshment. In this passage, the psalmist expresses his need for an intimate connection with God. He uses the phrase pour out my soul to convey the idea of holding nothing back, being completely transparent about what is going on inside him. Conversing with his own inner being, the psalmist states:
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God. (Psalm 42:5-6)
The term cast down signifies depression (H7817) and suggests that the psalmist has reached a low point in his struggle against despair. His question, “Why are you in turmoil within me?” (Psalm 42:5) indicates that the psalmist was experiencing a great deal of intrapersonal conflict. The Hebrew word that is translated turmoil, hamah (haw-mawˊ) means “to make a loud sound; by implication to be in great commotion or tumult” (H1993), conveying the notion of disturbing the peace. The psalmist continued:
I say to God, my rock:
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning
because of the oppression of the enemy?”
As with a deadly wound in my bones,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?” (Psalm 42:9-10)
The psalmist refers to God as his rock and yet, asks the question, “Why have you forgotten me?” (Psalm 42:9), suggesting that God had stopped paying attention to what was going on in his life. The rhetorical question, “Where is your God?” (Psalm 42:10) implies that the psalmist was being taunted because of his faith. As the conflict between David and Saul heated up, it seemed that God’s protection of David had been removed and that he was being left at the mercy of a ruthless killer. 1 Samuel 19:1-12 states:
And Saul spoke to Jonathan his son and to all his servants, that they should kill David. But Jonathan, Saul’s son, delighted much in David. And Jonathan told David, “Saul my father seeks to kill you. Therefore be on your guard in the morning. Stay in a secret place and hide yourself. And I will go out and stand beside my father in the field where you are, and I will speak to my father about you. And if I learn anything I will tell you.” And Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, “Let not the king sin against his servant David, because he has not sinned against you, and because his deeds have brought good to you. For he took his life in his hand and he struck down the Philistine, and the Lord worked a great salvation for all Israel. You saw it, and rejoiced. Why then will you sin against innocent blood by killing David without cause?” And Saul listened to the voice of Jonathan. Saul swore, “As the Lord lives, he shall not be put to death.” And Jonathan called David, and Jonathan reported to him all these things. And Jonathan brought David to Saul, and he was in his presence as before.
And there was war again. And David went out and fought with the Philistines and struck them with a great blow, so that they fled before him. Then a harmful spirit from the Lord came upon Saul, as he sat in his house with his spear in his hand. And David was playing the lyre. And Saul sought to pin David to the wall with the spear, but he eluded Saul, so that he struck the spear into the wall. And David fled and escaped that night.
Saul sent messengers to David’s house to watch him, that he might kill him in the morning. But Michal, David’s wife, told him, “If you do not escape with your life tonight, tomorrow you will be killed.” So Michal let David down through the window, and he fled away and escaped.
David’s sudden bolt through the window was likely the result of a fight or flight response to Saul’s repeated attempts to kill him. There is no indication that the LORD ever told David that he needed to run for his life. It appears that David was reacting to the situation rather than trusting God for his safety.
David’s soul was affected by what was happening to him and it caused him to react in a way that seemed to be contrary to his personality. David was known as a man of valor (1 Samuel 16:18), and he had conquered the 9 foot giant Goliath with seemingly little effort on his part, but Saul’s raving and his repeated attempts to pin David to the wall brought the terrors of death upon him (Psalm 55:4). David exclaimed:
But I call to God,
and the Lord will save me.
Evening and morning and at noon
I utter my complaint and moan,
and he hears my voice. (Psalm 55:16-17)
David used the Hebrew word hamah, which is translated moan in this verse, to describe his communication with God. David didn’t try to hide the turmoil that was going on inside of him, but instead, he expressed the agony that his soul was experiencing in an open and honest way.
Jesus understood the agony of the human soul. It says in Mark’s gospel that when Jesus took his disciples to the garden of Gethsemane to pray the night before his crucifixion, he “began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death’” (Mark 14:32-34). The soul is “that immaterial part of man held in common with animals. One’s understanding of this word’s relationship to related terms is contingent upon his position regarding biblical anthropology. Dichotomists view man as consisting of two parts (or substances), material and immaterial, with spirit and soul denoting the immaterial and bearing only a functional and not a metaphysical difference. Trichotomists also view man as consisting of two parts (or substances), but with spirit and soul representing in some contexts a real subdivision of the immaterial. This latter view is here adopted.” The soul “belongs to the lower region of man’s being…However, animals are not said to possess a spirit; this is only in man, giving him the ability to communicate with God” (H5590). In his distress, Mark tells us, Jesus “fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:35-36). The issue that was troubling Jesus was his betrayal into the hands of sinners (Mark 14:41). Jesus referred to Judas Iscariot, one of his twelve apostles, as “the betrayer” (Mark 14:44). The Greek word that is translated betrayer, paradidomi (par-ad-idˊ-o-mee) is derived from the words para (par-ahˊ) which means near or “at (or in) the vicinity of” and didomi (didˊ-o-mee) which means “to give.” The idea that these words convey is that of a convenient transfer of custody. Judas, a member of Jesus’ inner circle, made it easy for the Jewish religious leaders to arrest him in private.
David’s conflict with Saul didn’t involve hand to hand combat, as was the case with the giant Goliath; and yet, David described his conflict as a battle. David said of God, “He redeems my soul in safety from the battle that I wage, for many are arrayed against me” (Psalm 55:18). The many that David was referring to may have been Saul’s army, but it is more than likely that David was being attacked in his inner being by the turmoil of his own thoughts. David eventually came to the conclusion that God would stand by him because Saul had violated his covenant. David said:
My companion stretched out his hand against his friends;
he violated his covenant.
His speech was smooth as butter,
yet war was in his heart;
his words were softer than oil,
yet they were drawn swords.
Cast your burden on the Lord,
and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
the righteous to be moved.
But you, O God, will cast them down
into the pit of destruction;
men of blood and treachery
shall not live out half their days.
But I will trust in you. (Psalm 55:20-23)
Trust, the safety and security that is felt when one can rely on someone or something else, was an important part of Jesus’ ministry on earth. In the Greek language, the words trust and hope are sometimes used interchangeably (G1679). Jesus told his disciples that they should believe in him (John 14:1). The Greek word that Jesus used, pisteuo (pist-yooˊ-o) “means not just to believe, but also to be persuaded of; and hence, to place confidence in, to trust, and signifies, in this sense of the word, reliance upon” (G4100). Pisteuo appears in John’s gospel more than 100 times and is used by Jesus eight times in John 3:10-21 to explain to Nicodemus the meaning of being born again or born of the Spirit. Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:14-18).
The psalmist’s statement, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:5) was repeated at the end of Psalm 42 for emphasis and appears again at the end of Psalm 43. The purpose of this repetition was likely to drive home the point that turmoil can be a recurring problem that needs to be dealt with in a consistent manner whenever it crops up in our souls. The psalmist’s answer to the problem of turmoil was to “Hope in God” (Psalm 42:5, 11; Psalm 43:5). The Hebrew word that is translated hope, yachal (yaw-chalˊ) means “to wait; by implication to be patient” (H3176). The transition of leadership from Saul to David has been estimated to have taken as long as thirteen years. It is likely that David spent as much as a decade running from Saul before he was finally relieved of the constant threat on his life. This period of time, though marked with inner turmoil, was a time of great spiritual growth in David’s life. Shortly after he took the throne, David was able to conquer the city of Jerusalem. “The fortress Zion (2 Samuel 5:6, 7) was almost invulnerable, located as it was in the mountains of Judah. It was a strategic military site, centrally located between Judah in the south and the rest of Israel in the north. It also dominated the main trade routes in the area…Members of the nation of Israel had been living in the area, but the central fortress remained in the hands of a group of Amorite people called ‘Jebusites.’ After David captured the fortress, he began to rebuild and expand the city, making it the seat of his kingdom” (note on 2 Samuel 5:6-10).