“There must be some other explanation for his behavior. I am so confused. I know he loves me, so why is he treating me this way?”
The telltale signs of an abusive relationship were obvious to everyone else, but David just couldn’t see them. His friends kept warning him that something wasn’t right, but David didn’t want to believe it. Saul was his hero, the one everyone looked up to. Saul was the anointed one, the king that God had chosen to be in charge. Surely he wouldn’t be intentionally trying to hurt David. It was unthinkable to him that Saul could be that evil and conniving.
David came to Saul and entered his service. Saul liked him very much, and David became one of his armor-bearers. Then Saul sent word to Jesse, saying, “Allow David to remain in my service, for I am pleased with him.” Whenever the spirit from God came upon Saul, David would take his harp and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.
1 Samuel 16:21-23
Saul was like a father to him. From the first time had been invited to Saul’s home, David had known he was special to Saul. Saul had been so pleased with him that he had begged David’s father to let him stay there and live with his family. He had rapidly promoted David through the ranks of his army, and had offered to make him his son-in-law. They were all family now! Saul’s daughter was David’s wife; his son Jonathon was David’s best friend. They ate together, laughed together, and solved the nation’s problems together.
From that day Saul kept David with him and did not let him return to his father’s house. …
And from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David. The next day an evil spirit from God came forcefully upon Saul. He was prophesying in his house, while David was playing the harp, as he usually did. Saul had a spear in his hand and he hurled it, saying to himself, “I’ll pin David to the wall.” But David eluded him twice. Saul was afraid of David, because the LORD was with David but had left Saul.
1 Samuel 18:2, 9-12
David had to admit that Saul had gotten extremely possessive of him. He always wanted to know where he was and what he was up to. He didn’t allow David to go home and visit his own family any more. And his eagerness to tighten their family ties had seemed a bit odd, putting David in awkward positions where he had little choice but to acquiesce to Saul’s forceful overtures. But surely David should feel grateful that Saul wanted him around, not resentful. He should feel honored, not trapped.
Now Saul’s daughter Michal was in love with David, and when they told Saul about it, he was pleased. “I will give her to him,” he thought, “so that she may be a snare to him and so that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.” So Saul said to David, “Now you have a second opportunity to become my son-in-law.” …
Saul replied, “Say to David, ‘The king wants no other price for the bride than a hundred Philistine foreskins, to take revenge on his enemies.’ ” Saul’s plan was to have David fall by the hands of the Philistines.
1 Samuel 18:20-21, 25
It also seemed a bit strange that Saul kept demanding more and more of him, sending David instead of himself to lead the army into dangerous situations. Quite frankly, some of it seemed like an unnecessary risk (like the 100 Philistine foreskins Saul wanted for his daughter’s dowry). But at the same time, Saul always acted so concerned about his safety. David would never forget that tender moment when Saul had dressed him up in his own armor before sending him out to face Goliath. Then again, why had Saul sent a boy to do a king’s job? Surely Saul cared about him. Surely he valued David’s life.
Besides, Saul needed him. Who else could take care of him when those horrible fits came over him? David had seen Saul at his most vulnerable; he had seen that wild, frightened expression and had been the only one who could protect him from the tormenting spirit and soothe his frayed nerves. Yes, those had also been the times when Saul had lunged at him in a deadly rage, but David excused his violent behavior. Saul couldn’t really mean it; it must just be the evil spirit making him act that way.
Saul told his son Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David. But Jonathan was very fond of David and warned him…
Saul listened to Jonathan and took this oath: “As surely as the LORD lives, David will not be put to death.” So Jonathan called David and told him the whole conversation. He brought him to Saul, and David was with Saul as before.
1 Samuel 19 1-2, 6-7
And yet there was no denying the fact that Saul had told his friends that he wanted David dead. Even Jonathan had heard it, and had warned David. Was this for real, or should they chalk this up to his madness? After a clarifying conversation with his father, Jonathan was reassured that he had no intent to harm David. So once again, David returned to the intimacy of a relationship that felt increasingly confusing and dangerous.
Naming abuse is the first step towards healing it.
David wanted to believe the best about the man he loved, to be able to open himself to the relationship he thought they had. He sat in Saul’s presence, playing his harp and singing from his heart, but his mind was conflicted. Was this man his friend or his enemy, his father or his foe?
But an evil spirit from the LORD came upon Saul as he was sitting in his house with his spear in his hand. While David was playing the harp, Saul tried to pin him to the wall with his spear, but David eluded him as Saul drove the spear into the wall. That night David made good his escape.
1 Samuel 19:9-10
An angry shout. A violent lunge. Saul’s spear pierced the heart of the wall, bringing David face to face with the reality he had too long avoided. Saul meant to hurt him. The loving charade that Saul had carried on was unmasked, and David finally recognized his relationship for what it was: abuse.
Abuse rarely presents itself as obvious to those caught in its trap. We explain away the abuse because it is so antithetical to what we want to believe is true. And just when our excuses begin to wear thin, they are shored up by a tender act of kindness or a verbal affirmation of love from the person we had started to doubt. But flattering words don’t erase cutting remarks; extravagant gifts don’t heal deep wounds. As long as we remain oblivious to the true nature of an abusive relationship, we remain defenseless to its harm. Naming abuse is the first step towards healing it.