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Depression in the Bible: King Saul



When life is swirling all around you, where is your focus?

As individuals in a busy society we are inundated daily with to do lists, obligations, appointments, goals, places to go and people to see.  Everyone is busy with the business of living.

Many of the things that consume our time are very honorable, expected, accepted, and often good things to participate in for all people. Humans are, well, human.  No matter the  social status, the race, creed, or pin point on the global map, all people have in common certain basic functions and certain basic needs.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology, proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation.” Maslow’s theory was fully expressed in his 1954 book Motivation and Personality.  In a different study, Max-Neef classifies the fundamental human needs as:  subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, leisure, creation, identity, and freedom.

“Wait, I thought this was going to be about Depression in the Bible with King Saul as the example.” you may be saying to yourself.   Well, yes, as a matter of fact it is.

So what does all this science, psychology, sociology stuff have to do with King Saul or depression or God?  So glad you asked.

King Saul’s downfall and subsequent depression was the direct result of his focus.  Let’s take a look.

Who was Saul and how did he get to be King?

Saul was tall and very handsome.

1 Samuel 9:1-2    There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish, a mighty man of power.  He had a choice and handsome son whose name was Saul. There was not a more handsome person than he among the children of Israel. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people.

Saul was chosen of God.  The Spirit of the Lord was on Saul and God gave him a new heart.

1 Samuel 10:5-9    Samuel is speaking to Saul:

“You shall come to the hill of God where the Philistine garrison is. And it will happen, when you have come there to the city, that you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with a stringed instrument, a tambourine, a flute, and a harp before them; and they will be prophesying.

Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man.

And let it be, when these signs come to you, that you do as the occasion demands; for God is with you.”

So it was, when he had turned his back to go from Samuel, that God gave him another heart.

Saul was chosen by God to be King.

1 Samuel 10:17-27    Samuel called the people together to the Lord at Mizpah, and said to the children of Israel, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all kingdoms and from those who oppressed you.’ But you have today rejected your God, who Himself saved you from all your adversities and your tribulations; and you have said to Him, ‘No, set a king over us!’ Now therefore, present yourselves before the Lord by your tribes and by your clans.”

When Samuel had caused all the tribes of Israel to come near, the tribe of Benjamin was chosen. When he had caused the tribe of Benjamin to come near by their families, the family of Matri was chosen. And Saul the son of Kish was chosen. But when they sought him, he could not be found. Therefore they inquired of the Lord further, “Has the man come here yet?”

And the Lord answered, “There he is, hidden among the equipment.”

So they ran and brought him from there; and when he stood among the people, he was taller than any of the people from his shoulders upward. And Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see him whom the Lord has chosen, that there is no one like him among all the people?”

So all the people shouted and said, “Long live the king!”

Saul let fame and success go to his head so that he took credit for victory instead of giving it to God.

1 Samuel 13:1-14    Saul was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned over Israel forty- two years.

Saul chose three thousand men from Israel; two thousand were with him at Mikmash and in the hill country of Bethel, and a thousand were with Jonathan at Gibeah in Benjamin. The rest of the men he sent back to their homes.

Jonathan attacked the Philistine outpost at Geba, and the Philistines heard about it. Then Saul had the trumpet blown throughout the land and said, “Let the Hebrews hear!”  So all Israel heard the news: “Saul has attacked the Philistine outpost, and now Israel has become obnoxious to the Philistines.” And the people were summoned to join Saul at Gilgal.

The Philistines assembled to fight Israel, with three thousand chariots, six thousand charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They went up and camped at Mikmash, east of Beth Aven.  When the Israelites saw that their situation was critical and that their army was hard pressed, they hid in caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns.  Some Hebrews even crossed the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead.

Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear.  He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter.  So he said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings.” And Saul offered up the burnt offering.  Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him.

“What have you done?” asked Samuel.

Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Mikmash,  I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the Lord’s favor. ’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.”

“You have done a foolish thing, ” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time.  But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.”

God, through His prophet Sanuel, gave a direct order.

1 Samuel 15:1-3    Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the Lord sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the Lord.  This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt.  Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’”

Saul chose not to obey the voice of God.

1 Samuel 15:7-26    Saul attacked the Amalekites and took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword.  Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them. But everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.

Now the word of the Lord came to Samuel, saying, “I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments.”

Samuel was grieved and cried out to the Lord all night and then rose early in the morning to meet Saul, it was told Samuel, saying, “Saul went to Carmel, and indeed, he set up a monument for himself; and he has gone on around, passed by, and gone down to Gilgal.”

Then Samuel went to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed are you of the Lord! I have performed the commandment of the Lord.”

Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?”

Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and the oxen, to sacrifice to the Lord your God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.”

Then Samuel said to Saul, “Be quiet! And I will tell you what the Lord said to me last night.”

“When you were little in your own eyes, were you not head of the tribes of Israel? And did not the Lord anoint you king over Israel? Now the Lord sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go, and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do evil in the sight of the Lord?”

Saul said to Samuel, “But I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, and gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me, and brought back Agag king of Amalek; I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took of the plunder, sheep and oxen, the best of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.”

Samuel said:

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, As in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king.”

Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. Now therefore, please pardon my sin, and return with me, that I may worship the Lord.”

Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you, for you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.”

1 Samuel 16:14-23    But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a distressing spirit from the Lord troubled him.

God understands the things we consider basic human needs.  Not just food, water, and shelter, but a deep desire for:

  • affection
  • understanding
  • participation
  • self-esteem
  • confidence
  • achievement
  • respect of others
  • friendship
  • security

Saul, not unlike all of us from time to time, got distracted.  Saul took his focus off God and God’s plan and put the focus on what?

The affection of the people.

Self esteem of his own design.

Confidence that comes when you feel you have proven yourself.

Achievement, taking credit for success in battle.

Respect of the people, caring more about what they thought of him than what God thought of him.

He thought he was winning their friendship and he was seeking his feeling of  security based on people, not on God.

There is no apparent sin in living life.  Home, work, kids, vacation, promotion, bills, groceries, dishes, babies, dogs, cleaning, watching TV, and all the many things that make up our every day lives are perfectly normal.  We are human. We are living.

We get off track when we do what Saul did – take our focus off God and God’s will for our lives.

Break It Down

Just to be clear.  Israel, the Israelite children, the Hebrews, the Jews, God’s chosen people, the ones God delivered from the harsh hand of Pharoah and brought them out of Egypt, provided for them, blessed them with the land of Canaan, a land “flowing with milk and honey” – THAT ISRAEL wanted a king like the other nations around them.

The Lord told Samuel that the people had rejected Him.

Samuel tried to tell Israel what a king would do to them but the people refused to listen.

The Lord told Samuel to give the people what they wanted.



  1. When God chooses you, delivers you, provides for you, and wants to be your God, GO WITH IT. 
  2. Be careful what you ask for lest God give it to you. 

Back to King Saul

What do we know about Saul?  He was a very tall and handsome young man.  Choice.  Fit.  He was somewhat shy and skittish because he hid when Samuel came asking for him.  Saul no doubt longed for the approval of the people.  He wanted to show them what a good King he could be.

Saul’s downfall was trying to get the people’s approval AND trying to get the people’s approval by his own strength instead of resting in the strength and will of God.

God had put a new heart in Saul and sent His Spirit upon Saul in order to give him what he needed to do the job God had called him to do.  Saul had no reason to try and do anything on his own.  It was like God gave him a new truck but Saul wanted to run back and forth across the construction site carrying beams and equipment on his own back just to prove himself instead of just loading it in the vehicle God gave him.  How dumb does that sound?


  1. When God calls you He equips you.
  2. When God equips you have the common sense to use what God gives you instead of trying to do it on your own.


There are six Greek words from the Bible that translate into the equivalent modern day English words that we associate with light, moderate, and severe depression.  They range from sadness to acute mental anguish, loss of hope, despair, the inability to enjoy life.

DEPRESSION DEFINITIONSDepression is real.  It ranges from discouragement all the way to despair and hopelessness.

From a modern day medical point of view, if a person experiences at least five of these symptoms for one month they have major depression. Mild depression would typically be defined as having two to four of these symptoms for over one month:

  • deep sadness or emptiness
  • apathy, loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities
  • agitation or restlessness, physical hyperactivity or inactivity
  • sleep disturbances
  • weight/appetite disturbances
  • diminished ability to think or concentrate
  • feelings of excessive guilt, self-reproach or worthlessness
  • feelings of fatigue or loss of energy
  • morbid thoughts of death or suicide

Often times children of God are afraid to admit they are suffering because they feel it will be seen as a spiritual problem. Depression CAN be the result of a spiritual problem, of sin in one’s life, and of disobedience to God, but it does not always follow it IS a spiritual problem just because you are a believer.

There are many factors that cause depression and usually there are more than one at work. These are common factors known to contribute to depression:

  • not having proper nutrition whether eating too little, too much, or not eating the right foods for your body
  • chemicals such as prescription drugs, illicit drugs, or common accepted substances such as caffeine and sugar
  • hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) can leave you feeling exhausted, depleted, lacking energy and mental clarity
  • hormonal imbalances
  • allergies
  • heavy metals
  • mental, physical, and sexual abuse from your past that you have not dealt with and overcome the emotional scars
  • microbial over-growths/toxins
  • any number of medical conditions (stroke, heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s, diabetes, thyroid)
  • natural light deprivation as sunlight is a key factor not only in mood but also in natural production of key vitamins your body needs to function properly
  • imbalances of naturally occurring chemicals in the brain along with other neuro and psychological disorders
  • life trauma such as severe loss as the death of a loved one, close friend, family member, also the loss of a job, or of the support of a church or group of friends

There is a huge difference between having the “blues” or the “blahs” or having a bad day or even having a bad week, and severe clinical depression.  There is no shame in admitting you are weak or have need of help.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10    And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Many of the Bible’s most faithful suffered from bouts of depression, including Jesus.  As in anything, if you are struggling, or sense that you have or may have some level of depression, always, go to God first.

Proverbs 3:5-6    Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.

If you even remotely suspect it is a spiritual problem then talk to God about how you can make it right.

1 John 1:9  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

But also remember that if you fell off your roof and your arm was broken you would get in the back of the ambulance without thinking twice about it.  It is doubtful you would sit around worrying if you fell off the roof, [or down the stairs, or slipped on ice on a winter’s day, or whatever misfortune befell you that would render you in a situation that called for an emergency room visit], whether or not sin in your life got you to that point.  Maybe it did or maybe it did not but if your arm is broken you need a doctor to set it.  Likewise, if your mental state is broken, seek professional help.

Proverbs 1:5    A wise man will hear and increase learning, And a man of understanding will attain wise counsel

Proverbs 2:6    For the Lord gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding

Proverbs 16:22    Understanding is a wellspring of life to him who has it. But the correction of fools is folly.

God calls us to have life and to have it more abundantly.  Letting pride or embarrassment prevent you from being able to have and enjoy your life is as much of a sin as any sin you may think you have committed to get you to the point of depression in the first place.

The Cure for Saul’s Depression

Sadly, there was no cure for King Saul’s depression.  Saul would have done well to have known and embraced some of the wisdom we are graced with:

Proverbs 3:5-6  Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 14:12  There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.

Was Saul a bad person?  No.  Saul was human.  He let his pride and insecurities get the best of him.  Saul’s lack of humility, lack of dependence on God, and loss of focus led to his downfall and subsequent depression.  Sadly, Saul ended up a whacked out nut job.  His decline into madness never let up and his deep seething jealousy over David eventually ended in his death by his own hand.  Can you think of a sadder story?

Still, before you write Saul off as  a bitter, paranoid, old man who got what he deserved, think about this –

God ultimately knew Saul’s heart.  1 Samuel 16:7 tells us:  “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  

Remember what we know:

  • No matter what, God is ultimately in control.
  • God chose Saul and God gave him a new heart and sent His Spirit upon Saul.
  • God sent an evil spirit to harass Saul. 

God used Saul’s depression for David’s advantage.  Saul’s depression got David into the palace.  David was exposed to Jonathan who became a life long best friend to David.  David learned about palace life and was exposed to social graces and warfare.  David came into a place of education through Saul’s depression.  Ultimately, God still used Saul for the furthering of His purpose regardless of Saul’s weakness and disobedience.  God is ultimately in control.

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Next:  Depression in the Bible: Hannah  >

Depression in the Bible: Moses
Depression in the Bible: King Saul
Depression in the Bible: Hannah
Depression in the Bible: Jonah
Depression in the Bible: Elijah

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3 comments on “Depression in the Bible: King Saul

  1. Pingback: 6/14/2015 See with God’s Eyes | ForeWords

  2. harman747
    June 11, 2014

    Reblogged this on harman747's Blog and commented:

  3. Pingback: 6/17/2012 Chosen to Serve | ForeWords

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