If anyone in the Bible was bullied, it was David — before he became king. And he was bullied by Saul, who was then king.
Coming off his stunning victory over Goliath as an unknown young shepherd boy, David was celebrated by one and all. His name became a household word. The people of Israel celebrated David — extolling his achievements far over what they had seen from King Saul (1 Samuel 18:6-7).
Saul was very angry; this refrain displeased him greatly. “They have credited David with tens of thousands,” he thought, “but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?” And from that time on Saul kept a close eye on David (1 Samuel 18:8-9).
When this hit Saul’s ear, he immediately saw David as a threat, a challenger to his throne. He immediately feared David and was jealous of David’s popularity with the people. From that moment forward, Saul made every attempt to bully David, to bring about David’s death.
Saul twice hurled spears at David while he played the lyre for Saul at his house (1 Samuel 18:11). He challenged David to lead Israel into war, hoping David would get killed (19:1). Saul ordered his son Jonathan and his servants to kill David (19:1).
He again tries to kill David with a spear (19:10). Saul sends messengers to kill David (19:11). He sends messengers again to bring David back — so he can kill him (19:20).
He sends messengers twice more to kill David (19:20,21). Saul goes himself to kill David (19:22). Saul then pursues David in the wilderness of Ziph and Horesh (23:15).
There were times when Saul swore that he would not kill David, but the anger, the jealousy, and the fear returned to Saul time and again. David spent the better part of 15 to 20 years running from Saul.
Many of those years David spent in the company of the Philistine enemy. Yet despite all this, David, knowing he had been anointed king, kept his faith in the Lord.
Why Do People Bully?
Bullying is a word known to us all but is nowhere to be found in the Bible. The roots of the word, in its current usage, are muddy at best but seem to stem from sometime in the 16 or 1700s. But while its origins may be murky, its impact on lives is clearly not.
Bullying is a behavior that is often associated with kids on the playground. Growing up, we have all likely witnessed bullying of one form or another in the schoolyards. Quite unfortunately, however, today bullying can occur among people of any age in any setting.
We see bullies not only in schools, but in households, workplaces, and even online. Cyberbullying is now something about which we have all heard horrific stories, up to and including criminal convictions.
There seems to be no singular or specific definition of bullying. It comes in a great many forms. It can be as simple as unwanted behavior from one toward another, designed to inflict pain, harm, and cause the target distress.
It can be as simple as intimidation or insults — or as difficult as humiliation and blackmail. But this is certainly not a complete list.
This all begs the question, “why do people bully others?” A very difficult question with a broad multitude, and likely incomplete, list of answers. Low self-esteem. Having been bullied themselves. Sense of power and domination.
Loss or lack of relationships. As a coping mechanism with their own stress or trauma. All possibilities. No matter the reasons behind it, people who bully are looking to gain a feeling of power, purpose, and control.
One thing we do know — the reason someone is bullied never has anything to do with who they are. It is not because they are different or unique, or because of what they believe.
The bully, or bullies, certainly will try to focus on something that is different about their target, preying on insecurities that may already exist, with an intent to inflict pain and suffering either physically or emotionally.
But as followers of Christ, how are we to respond to bullying? What does the Bible teach about how to deal with bullies?
How Should We Respond?
One important note here: if you are being bullied, cyber or otherwise, there are a great many professional resources available to you. It is critical that you not remain silent. It is critical that you open up and share with someone else what is going on.
Again, please do not remain silent. Bullying is horrific behavior, but it can also be a criminal offense. If someone, anyone, physically abuses you, sexually attacks you, steals from you or is trying to steal from you, or shares private information or images — please, please, please report it to the police.
Whatever is occurring — you are not the problem, and others are there to help.
Aside from that, what does the Lord expect of us? To borrow an old phrase WWJD? What would Jesus do? We all know that Jesus’ response to being unjustly executed on a cross was to forgive his offenders. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
We also know what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount about loving our enemies: “you have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
In his letter to the Romans, Paul expounds on Jesus’ teaching:
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good (19-21).
Paul borrowed a phrase that Solomon used in Proverbs:
If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you (25:21-22).
“You will heap burning coals on his head.” The meaning of the phrase is not to inflict suffering or gain revenge, but rather to cause someone to feel remorse by returning good for evil.
You might not be the target of a bully, but what if you know someone who is? What then?
We stand up for them. We help them. Give them an open ear and a shoulder to lean on. Listen, without judgment. Let them know you care. Ask what you can do to help. Try to help them get professional assistance. Most importantly — just be there for them.
A Biblical Example
What did David do, and what did those around him do?
Two of Saul’s children helped David escape, even incurring the wrath of the king, their father, to do so. David was married to Saul’s daughter, Michal, who helped David flee from those her father had sent to kill David, lowering him out a window (1 Samuel 19:12).
Jonathan, David’s closest friend, learned that his father indeed was trying to kill David, and warned him to flee for his life (19:9-20,34).
During his flight, David had two opportunities to kill King Saul, and both times relented, despite the encouragement to do so from the men with him.
He also refused to allow his men to kill “the Lord’s anointed” (1 Samuel 24-28). Instead, David publicly accuses Saul of wronging him, and restated his innocence and loyalty:
May the Lord judge between you and me. And may the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you. As the old saying goes, ‘From evildoers come evil deeds,’ so my hand will not touch you (1 Samuel 24:12-13).
Despite the opportunity, despite the apparent justification, and despite all Saul had put him through, David refused to kill the king, the “Lord’s anointed.” By doing so, he “heaped burning coals upon his head.”
Keeping Our Faith
Twenty years. For 20 years David ran from his bully. King Saul’s influence was far and wide across the land, and David had to flee to avoid being killed.
And yet…through it all, David’s faith stayed in the Lord. Many of the Psalms were written while David was in the wilderness escaping Saul’s wrath. In fact, the Psalms read almost like David’s journal during his trials.
We have much we can learn from David. David learned to praise God in bad times, as well as the good. He learned to lean on God because the Lord would always be there and never let him down. Despite the circumstances.
May we learn to follow that example.
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Greg Grandchamp is the author of "In Pursuit of Truth, A Journey Begins" — an easy-to-read search that answers to most common questions about Jesus Christ. Was he real? Who did he claim to be? What did he teach? Greg is an everyday guy on the same journey as everyone else — in pursuit of truth. You can reach Greg by email [email protected] and on Facebook.
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