Matthew Shanahan, M.Sc.

Matthew Shanahan M.Sc.

Living It

The Bible and Psychology -- David's Oil

This sixth psychological portrait focuses on zealous King David

Posted Apr 05, 2013

The Bible and Psychology – David’s Oil

The sixth psychological portrait in this series focuses on David.

In the Bible, David is King of Israel, and the composer of a great many of the Psalms. One of the Psalms states: “Pluck the strings skilfully” (Psalm 33). This applies to tapping the keys, to doing what you do for God as well as you can. That is what I am trying to do here.

David’s virtue appears to be his zeal. As a shepherd boy who fought off a lion and a bear, as the challenger of Goliath, as the champion of Saul’s army, as the King of Israel, as the Psalmist – David’s zeal is evident in every situation. What is zeal? It is the opposite of apathetic. It is vigour, life, energy, passion; focus and intensity. It is what real love is all about, too. It is “going all out”. God’s word about David in the Bible is that he is “a man after God’s own heart”.

The reason I associate David’s zeal with ‘oil’ is that he is anointed by the prophet Samuel with oil as the future king of Israel. He doesn’t become king right away. In fact, he has to prove himself repeatedly, serving under King Saul who was prone to dangerous mood swings. Many times David has to live on the run from King Saul, even though David is loyal. He at one point enlists in the army of his enemies against third parties (not Israel). He feigns madness at one point. His trials were many, but from these we also receive the record of his deeds, his Psalms, and the compelling story of his life. King David was a very intense man, who knew when to be reverent, warlike, patient – and when to repent.

Oil in the physical realm, like zeal in the emotional or spiritual realm, gives a sheen of excitement, passion, and a certain ‘glow’. This inspires others to ‘put their back into it’: to do with passion, hope, and enthusiasm what some may only do reluctantly or complaining. Returning to the theme of this series, the virtue of zeal defeats the vice of apathy. Once giving up or losing becomes a habit, there is a ‘coward’s payoff’. This involves suffering less because you are less and less upset at wasted efforts. David will have none of the coward’s payoff. Fellow PT blogger Dr. Tim Pychyl describes this concept practically in his blog entry on “Giving in to feel good: Why self-regulation fails”.

Getting anything worthwhile done requires perseverance (like Jacob’s tenacity), and a refusal to lose sight of victory (David’s zeal). As such, David is qualified to be a great leader. The true leader in any organization is the person who wants victory most. Through risking his life against a giant, through fidelity to a king who had it in for him, through repenting when he committed a great sin, David proclaimed by his life and actions: I want God more than anything.

About the Author

Matthew Shanahan, M.Sc.

Matthew Shanahan, M.Sc., is a doctoral student in clinical psychology at the University of Western Ontario.

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