The following reading is rather long but I believe you will enjoy the reading. Biblical drama at its best.
1 SAMUEL 19:1-18 (19-24)
1Saul spoke to his son Jonathan and to all his servants about killing David. But Saul’s son Jonathan took great delight in David. 2Jonathan told David, “My father Saul is trying to kill you; therefore be on guard tomorrow morning; stay in a secret place and hide yourself. 3I will go out and stand beside my father in the field where you are, and I will speak to my father about you; if I learn anything I will tell you.” 4Jonathan spoke well of David to his father Saul, saying to him, “The king should not sin against his servant David, because he has not sinned against you, and because his deeds have been of good service to you; 5for he took his life in his hand when he attacked the Philistine, and the LORD brought about a great victory for all Israel. You saw it, and rejoiced; why then will you sin against an innocent person by killing David without cause?” 6Saul heeded the voice of Jonathan; Saul swore, “As the LORD lives, he shall not be put to death.” 7So Jonathan called David and related all these things to him. Jonathan then brought David to Saul, and he was in his presence as before.
8Again there was war, and David went out to fight the Philistines. He launched a heavy attack on them, so that they fled before him. 9Then an evil spirit from the LORD came upon Saul, as he sat in his house with his spear in his hand, while David was playing music. 10Saul sought to pin David to the wall with the spear; but he eluded Saul, so that he struck the spear into the wall. David fled and escaped that night.
11Saul sent messengers to David’s house to keep watch over him, planning to kill him in the morning. David’s wife Michal told him, “If you do not save your life tonight, tomorrow you will be killed.” 12So Michal let David down through the window; he fled away and escaped. 13Michal took an idol and laid it on the bed; she put a net of goats’ hair on its head, and covered it with the clothes. 14When Saul sent messengers to take David, she said, “He is sick.” 15Then Saul sent the messengers to see David for themselves. He said, “Bring him up to me in the bed, that I may kill him.” 16When the messengers came in, the idol was in the bed, with the covering of goats’ hair on its head. 17Saul said to Michal, “Why have you deceived me like this, and let my enemy go, so that he has escaped?” Michal answered Saul, “He said to me, ‘Let me go; why should I kill you?’”
18Now David fled and escaped; he came to Samuel at Ramah, and told him all that Saul had done to him. He and Samuel went and settled at Naioth. 19Saul was told, “David is at Naioth in Ramah.”20Then Saul sent messengers to take David. When they saw the company of the prophets in a frenzy, with Samuel standing in charge of them, the spirit of God came upon the messengers of Saul, and they also fell into a prophetic frenzy.21When Saul was told, he sent other messengers, and they also fell into a frenzy. Saul sent messengers again the third time, and they also fell into a frenzy. 22Then he himself went to Ramah. He came to the great well that is in Secu; he asked, “Where are Samuel and David?” And someone said, “They are at Naioth in Ramah.” 23He went there, toward Naioth in Ramah; and the spirit of God came uponhim. As he was going, he fell into a prophetic frenzy, until he came to Naioth in Ramah. 24He too stripped off his clothes, and he too fell into a frenzy before Samuel. He lay naked all that day and all that night. Therefore it is said, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”
We can consider one of several storylines here -- e.g., Jonathan's friendship and advocacy of David, Saul's schizophrenic behavior (shall I or shall I not kill David?), Michal's (David's wife) cunning courage, ....
Rather than any one of these, I'd like for us to consider the last section of this passage. The present passage comes from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible. This is the preferred version for mainline denominations like the PCUSA. Overall, it's a fine translation of the Bible. As its dictum for Bible translation states, "as literal as possible, as free as necessary," NRSV falls under the fine tradition of more-literal and more-literary English translations, like its immediate predecessor, the Revised Standard Version.
However, there are some sections of translation that are completely puzzling to me. I can venture to guess why the NRSV translation committee chose to interpret the Hebrew, נִבְּאִ֔ים [nib-bə-’îm] as "... in a frenzy" when the Hebrew literally says, "prophesying" (v. 20). By the way, every instance of "in (or into) a frenzy" in the above passage comes from some form of "prophesying" in Hebrew. Here's my guess: the mainly liberal translators are ill at ease attributing prophesying as the direct work of the Spirit of God. What makes better sense for them is to psychologize this supposed spiritual phenomenon as a result of some (un)healthy mental state. This company of so-called "prophets" are caught up in some "frenzy" whereby a type of mass hysteria overtakes them.
Thankfully, every other English translation (ESV, NIV, NASB, etc.) sticks with the Hebrew "prophesying" as "prophesying." Perhaps NRSV should change its motto to, "as literal as possible, as free as it is not offensive to the modern liberal mind." As you can tell, I'm a bit bothered by bad, biased translations of God's Word!
If my conjecture about why NRSV chose to translate the Hebrew "prophesying" as they did is correct, how should we understand this prophesying phenomenon?
We certainly do not want to psychologize the phenomenon away. We should be faithful to the actual text and then try to understand what's going on.
When we examine the story as an actual occurrence, I believe we can understand the prophesying phenomenon without too much difficulty.
Certain starting points are in order: (1) there is such a thing as a Holy Spirit work, (2) this work can involve more than one individual in a setting, and (3) this work can emphasize one of many possible Spirit-produced outcomes.
We actually have historical accounts of such group-wide, Holy Spirit empowered phenomena. The outpouring of the Spirit in Acts 2 resulted in a mass conversion on that one day, the text stating that 3,000 being saved. This type of phenomenon will be repeated thousands of times over throughout history, as revivals after revivals in different places and times will convict people of their sin and their need of a Savior. The Great Awakenings in America in the 18th and 19th centuries are but two examples of this type of group-wide, Spirit-empowered phenomenon.
Some of these revivals were also marked by healing and/or deliverance. The revivals in Argentina in the 1980's and in Africa often came with countless physical healings and instantaneous deliverance. What happened? The Spirit of God came down with tremendous power and a select spectrum of manifestations (e.g., healing, deliverance, visions, etc.) also came with it.
In 1 Samuel 19:19-24, the Spirit of God is coming down on the company of prophets with the gift of prophecy. Whoever is in the midst of this group can't help but prophesy. The Spirit "came upon" them with tremendous anointing and power manifesting primarily in the form of prophecy.
Sometimes the Spirit "comes upon" people and the people's main "felt" experience is one of heaviness or weakness such that they fall to the ground. Sometimes it's joy and laughter that are the main subjective experience. This kind of experience can even happen to people who are indifferent or hostile to God! The experience itself does not "save" them or make them "holy." And the experience itself says little or nothing about the quality of the recipient's relationship with God.
But it's easy for us to read too much into what's going on, as in the case with Saul. Saul, who is not in a good state with YHWH, is prophesying all day and night (in addition to stripping down to next to nothing). The onlookers naturally interpret this strange behavior as evidence that Saul must be a prophet! But Saul is not "among the prophets." He is only having this unusual experience because he's come under the Spirit's anointing and power. Soon enough, Saul will get up from this powerful experience of God and then resume his crazy, sinful ways, gripped by jealousy and oppressed by evil spirits, trying to kill David. This prophetic detour will prove itself to be just a blip of exception in a longer line of a sinful, pitiful life.
Unusual experience itself -- even a "God experience" -- does not necessarily mean that something deeply transformative has occurred. And such experience says very little about the sanctity of the person. All that we can say is that such-and-such experience took place. How that experience transforms a person's walk with God must be evaluated later, in character-and-relational transformation.
Let's pray: Father God, we want to understand your work in our lives. We want to understand the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives as well. We thank you that for a good number of us, we've been blessed to be touched by you in the past. Sometimes in some unusual manner. We truly appreciate the extra-ordinary ways that you come to us, opening up our eyes and hearts to see and feel you. Keep us honest and humble, knowing that we are who we are in you, not by the number of unusual experiences we've had, but by the kind of relationship we have with you. Keep us close to you in true intimacy and genuine dependence. May we continue to work out our salvation in fear and trembling, knowing that you are indeed at work in us, both to will and to work for your good pleasure (Phil. 2:12-13). In Jesus' name, amen.