David and Saul

This is the ultimate toxic person story: David– well-meaning, honorable, upright, and good– versus Saul– impulsive, unstable, insecure, and jealous.

David has a strong faith and understanding of God. He has been anointed and the Holy Spirit clearly works through him. His heartfelt psalms and victories over the Philistines attest to his sincere devotion to the Lord. And he is commended as being one after God’s own heart. Yet despite all that, toxicity thoroughly invades his life.

He is first introduced to Saul as his king. The position Saul has over David is one of authority– Saul deserves respect because he has been anointed by God Almighty and he has power over the people of Israel. David is obligated to being his subject, a role he undertakes with all that is in him. He gives up everything he has known for the greater good of serving Israel (and hence God) by serving the king. His whole-hearted devotion is widely recognized and respected. People notice that he is serving sincerely and well. This begins as just playing the harp and then continues by endangering his life time and time again in risky battles against the Philistines. David is all-in.

Not so Saul. He meets David when he’s looking for relief from his own torment. And David’s devotion, energy, and power of the Holy Spirit do offer some relief. So he keeps him around. Though not great, the soothing mechanism offers Saul just enough relief to remain unmotivated to change, despite the glaring warning signs. Then David proves valuable in another way: military leadership. So Saul uses him against his external enemies also. Battle after impossible battle, David return victorious. And the people rejoice. This attention then excites another beast inside of Saul: jealousy. Now Saul is torn– David is both an asset and a liability. Saul wants to keep him for the good he does and wants him dead for how he makes Saul feel.

So for years, David teeter-totters between loyal patriot/son-in-law/mighty hero and traitor/outlaw/vagabond. How he is, where he stands, what he is able to do are all dictated by the unpredictable, irrational whims of Saul. And it is maddening.

Every minor misjudgment, David (and those who help him) suffer serious consequences (1 Samuel 21-22). So he has to alienate himself from his family for their own protection (1 Samuel 22:1). He has the strongest human advocate defending his innocence, to no avail (1 Samuel 20:32). And every tremendous act of faith and courage might offer a temporary truce but does nothing in the long-run (1 Samuel 24). His life, his skills, his investments are all sucked dry.

Saul is a powerful man. David has done nothing wrong, except perhaps inadvertently link his lot to a toxic man and excite his hatred. (Far more, it is a hatred of Saul for himself, yet it manifests itself as a relentless manhunt for not only an innocent man but also his most loyal subject.) His intensions were pure. There is no reason, no sense, no justice about it. It is madness shielded by power, and that is terrorizing.

Ultimately David is not freed from the terror until Saul is dead. Yet even then, David morns his loss. The good that could have been was never embraced, the snippets of regret never went anywhere, the potential was completely wasted on an unreasonable obsession. Despite Saul’s cruelty, David loved him still, and that is the sharpest sting of toxic people.

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