King Saul may well be the first recorded mental health patient of our times. Jealousy is the trigger for Saul's malaise: a slipping into a state of madness as recorded nowhere else in the Bible among God's prophets and kings.David had come to fame by slaying Goliath and was presented to Saul who was oblivious of his heritage–that he was a shepherd boy, the son of Jesse of Bethlehem, this same Jesse in the lineage of Jesus Christ.Having slain Goliath, David was given greater accolades right before Saul's eyes and Saul's heart burned with anger as the people sang, "Saul has slain his thousands but David his tens of thousands."
Saul's descent into multiple spiritual and mental health issues begins in 1 Samuel 18.The Bible says, "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" (I Samuel 18:10-11; 19:9-10).Later, David marries Saul's daughter and the Bible says, "When Saul realised that the Lord was with David and that his daughter Michal loved David, Saul became still more afraid of him and he remained his enemy for the rest of his days" (vs 28-29). So, Saul continues looking for opportunities to kill David.Saul instructs his son Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David on sight. When Jonathan stood in David's defence Saul "hurled his spear at him to kill him." Accusing him of conspiring with David, Saul said "you son of a perverse and rebellious woman... you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you (20:30-31).
While pursuing David, Saul is overtaken by the "Spirit of God" and the account says Saul "stripped off his robes and also prophesied in (the prophet) Samuel's presence. He lay that way all that day and night" (19:23).Israel's King, in a jealous fit of rage chases David to kill him and is now lying on the ground naked and writhing for a day and a night. What is that if not a descent into madness? This conduct exceeds the usual afflictions Saul had. He is now in a depressive state overcome by paranoia lying naked before God's prophet Samuel.One exposition on the subject says, "Saul's behaviour is so much like that of (some) people with a mental illness that some interpreters propose a diagnosis, for instance: anxiety disorder featuring panic attacks, psychosis– evidently, fits of depression later accompanied by paranoia, or perhaps manic depression."
The Rev Michael A Tanner in his work, King Saul & The Stigma of Madness continues, saying, "Other interpreters (of Saul's actions), while not attempting a diagnosis, speak in terms of mental illness, for example: madness; disorder; psychological illness; inward feeling of depression, which grew into melancholy, and ... passing fits of insanity; a gloomy, suspicious melancholy, bordering on madness; unhingement of mind; a mental illness" (https://holycomforter.episcopalatlanta.org/).By 1 Samuel 22, King Saul lives abandoned by God, fearful and suspicious, obsessed with murderous intent toward David and any who help him. He descends to his most vicious when, supposing that some priests have conspired with David against him, he orders the priests and their families killed.
Verse 17 says, "Then the king ordered the guards at his side: 'Turn and kill the priests of the Lord, because they too have sided with David. They knew he was fleeing, yet they did not tell me'."
But the king's officials were unwilling to strike the priests. Saul then ordered a guard to strike down the priests. That day he killed 85 priests, the entire town of the priests, with its men and women, its children and infants, and its cattle, donkeys and sheep, in his quest to kill David.Just for his popularity, David, a loyal son-in-law, captain of Saul's bodyguard, and highly respected in Saul's household was hunted down. He had opportunity to kill Saul but never laid a hand on him, all the while hoping for conciliation.On two separate occasions when David confronted Saul about his unjustified conduct, Saul burst into tears and apologised profusely. These hysterics were swiftly followed by the continuation of his campaign to kill David.
What is that conduct if not one of bipolarism, schizophrenia, or some personality disorder? Believing that someone was out to kill him, Saul moved from unfounded suspicious, relentless attacks, dramatic mood swings, sadness, all reeking of paranoia!Yet, this all came after God had threatened the disobedient Israelites from Mt Ebel with insanity if they sinned against him: "The Lord will smite you with madness, blindness and with bewilderment of heart" (Deut 28:27-29), a scripture conveniently not seen by churches that avoid the mental illness issue at all cost.