Psychopathic Leaders

The One Year® Chronological Bible, NKJV (Tyndale, 2013), April 17 

“So it was, when David had finished speaking these words to Saul, that Saul said, ‘Is this your voice, my son David?’ And Saul lifted up his voice and wept. Then he said to David: ‘You are more righteous than I; for you have rewarded me with good, whereas I have rewarded you with evil’” (1 Sam. 24:16-17).

Sometimes little men live in big bodies. King Saul is such a man. He stands head and shoulders above his men physically, but he is knee high to them psychologically. Saul would score high on a test for psychopathic behavior.

imagesKing Saul is suffering the consequences of his earlier disobedience. God is not with him, but, instead of repenting, he strikes out against anyone whose life bears God’s favor. His kingdom suffers from Philistine incursions, his rule suffers from improper focus, and his family suffers from sullen anger and rage. Saul twists the joy of ruling as a king into the jealousy of infighting as a proud paranoiac. No wonder he later declares, “I have played the fool” (26:21).

Although David kills Goliath and causes the Philistines to run “with their tails between their legs,” Saul is insanely jealous when Israel credits David with greater success than Saul. Rather than rejoicing along with Israel, he becomes jealous of David. Never mind that King Saul and his army have trembled in fear for 40 days when David shows up and that he owes David his daughter’s hand in marriage and tax-free living to his family for life!

While David plays the harp to soothe King Saul during one of his fits, Saul tries to pin David to the wall with his spear, not once but twice. His fear of David increases when he gives him command of 1,000 troops. Instead of losing battles and life, David defeats the Philistines at every turn. Saul cannot rejoice; rather, he becomes obsessed with ridding himself of David.

To make matters worse, Saul’s insane jealousy of David pushes his family away from him and to David. When Saul seeks to kill David while he sleeps, Michal, David’s wife and Saul’s daughter, hides an idol beneath the sheets to allow David time to escape. (Such close proximity of idols in Saul’s house provides a clue his lack of spiritual and psychological health.)

Jonathan, Saul’s son, runs interference for David as well. He covers for David’s absence at a feast. For that, Saul throws a spear at him—his own son! Jonathan warns David of his father’s evil intent, and David flees.

Over the years, circumstances provide David with several opportunities to kill King Saul, but he steadfastly refuses to lift his hand against the Lord’s anointed.

King Saul’s insane jealousy of David costs him the respect of Jonathan, Michal, and Israel.

This story reveals a number of truths about psychopathic leaders:

  • They are suspicious, without cause, of everyone around them.
  • They are jealous when others succeed and are elevated.
  • They believe the worst about those who are a blessing to them and seek to destroy them.
  • They focus on internal “enemies” instead of true foes, and their sphere of influence suffers as a consequence.

Questions from today’s reading (1 Samuel 23:13-25:44; Psalm 54):

  • How does the LORD intervene in David’s behalf when Saul pursues him in the Wilderness of Maon? What does this reveal about God? How does David interpret this event?
  • How does David distinguish himself in the Wilderness of En Gedi? What has he learned about God throughout his flight from King Saul?
  • How does the LORD intervene to prevent David from seeking revenge against Nabal? What does this reveal about God?