The Malady Of Saul, King Of Israel -- By: Edward M. Merrins
BSac 61:244 (Oct 1904) p. 752
The Malady Of Saul, King Of Israel
“Ye daughters of Israel, weep over Saul. How are the mighty fallen!” This text has furnished the theme for many noble and eloquent sermons; and not great preachers only, but great artists, poets, and musicians have also felt the singular fascination of the tragic career of the first king of Israel,—”the half-shrouded figure that stands erect and stately, but touched with such unutterable sadness, at the very threshold of Jewish kingly history; that still attracts, and touches, and interests, and still appeals across the ages to human sympathy, in spite of crime, and error, and madness, and defeat.” In the crucible of modern historical criticism, however, the facts of Saul’s life seem to be melting away into myths and unwarranted redactions, and it is a very shrouded, ghostly creature that is now left to us. We are told that neither the outer nor the inner life of the heroic king is intelligible. It is hinted that his malady may have been nothing more serious than “that heightening of the physical powers under the influence of rage against Yahweh’s enemies, which characterized the successful great warriors and athletes.” But as such wild moods are found in substantial creatures of flesh and blood, there is a series of questions which dissipate the malady entirely. “Was it a melancholy produced by a wild longing for battle? Was it but the morbid reflex of the prophetic inspiration of Saul’s heroic period? Does the story of the witch
BSac 61:244 (Oct 1904) p. 753
of Endor suggest it was a frenzied anticipation of evil for Saul and his people? Is it historical at all?”1 And so these our actors were all spirits, and are melted into air, into thin air, and the unsubstantial pageant fades, and leaves not a rack behind. Perhaps a reconsideration of the narrative, accepting the facts practically as they are stated in the sacred records, will enable us to identify the disease from which Saul suffered, and to that extent at least will help to preserve his history as that of a real though sorely tried human being. That he should be classed among “the shipwrecks of faith “may be unavoidable, yet the sympathy which can be touched with the feeling of human infirmity, physical as well as moral, may extenuate the misdemeanors for which the unfortunate king has been severely judged, and induce pity rather than condemnation, when his affliction is more clearly understood.
The relation of moral evil to physical infirmity is often very-close, and in few diseases are the two more inextricably tangled than in epilepsy. As we believe this was the malady of Saul, a brief description of it must be give...
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