One of the many difficult and important challenges for victims of abuse is to predict future behaviour. Is the abuser going to change? Abuse often happens in a cycle, with increasing tension until there is an episode, followed by a show of “remorse” from the abuser, and a kind of honeymoon period1.
We see this in Saul’s abuse of David.
Please be aware there are potential triggers in this story, which involves stalking and violence.
Saul shows a number of abusive, narcissistic traits. One of those was his violent jealousy towards David, who was successful, wholehearted, and much loved. After just a few years in Saul’s service, Saul had a violent episode while David was in his presence, and tried to kill him.
David, who was perhaps only around 18 at the time, remained in Saul’s service, but it wasn’t long before Saul tried to kill him again. This time, we can see his abusive, stalking behaviour has increased. He sent men to David’s home to kill him, and David escaped.
Even though David had these two life-threatening episodes, his best friend Jonathan, who seems to have been a good-hearted person, did not believe him. Here is some of their conversation just after David had fled for his life:
David: “What have I done? What is my crime? How have I wronged your father, that he is trying to kill me?”
Jonathan: “Never! You are not going to die! Look, my father doesn’t do anything, great or small, without letting me know. Why would he hide this from me? It isn’t so!”2
Thankfully, David manages to convince Jonathan to at least do some testing. But this is a classic, and tragic scenario.
David’s escape at this point is still not enough. Saul continues to pursue him, no matter how far David runs, and it goes on for years.
If you know of the incident at the cave – David had the chance to kill Saul, and spared him. Saul shows remorse, and affection. When David talks to him, Saul says:
“Is that your voice, David my son?” And he wept aloud. “You are more righteous than I,” he said. “You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly.”3
He sure sounds remorseful. He went home for a while before renewing his behaviour of stalking David with intent to kill.
Why is this relevant to this psalm? In all that time, (at least ten years, perhaps much more), David had been anointed as future King. Implicit in that promise was that he would be free from Saul’s abuse at last. But it took a long, dangerous time. It would not be at all surprising if David suffered post traumatic stress or similar mental injury.
So when David talks about this journey of trusting in God, he speaks from long and difficult experience. He did not always show trust in God through that time, as we see in Abigail’s rebuke of him. But eventually David writes:
Now this I know:
Yahweh gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
with the victorious power of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of Yahweh our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.
Yahweh, give victory to the king!
Answer us when we call!4
It is both a statement of trust, and a longing for God, the same God who brought the Hebrews out of a hopeless situation in Egypt, to turn up.
Abuse is torturously difficult. We see in the story of David and Saul that even though David tried to break free, and maintained his own ethics, he couldn’t control Saul’s choices. And Saul was relentless. If you are in a situation like this, I pray God will give you the desire of your heart, and soon!
PS Again we recommend 1800 RESPECT as a good starting point if you, or someone you know, is in danger.
- More info on the cycle of abuse here
- 1 Samuel 20
- 1 Samuel 24:17
- Psalm 20:6-9