I Samuel 16:14-23
14 Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil[a] spirit from the Lord tormented him. 15 Saul’s attendants said to him, “See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. 16 Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the lyre. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes on you, and you will feel better.” 17 So Saul said to his attendants, “Find someone who plays well and bring him to me.” 18 One of the servants answered, “I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the lyre. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the Lord is with him.” 19 Then Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me your son David, who is with the sheep.” 20 So Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them with his son David to Saul. 21 David came to Saul and entered his service. Saul liked him very much, and David became one of his armor-bearers. 22 Then Saul sent word to Jesse, saying, “Allow David to remain in my service, for I am pleased with him.” 23 Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.
I. Saul is His Own Biggest Problem 14, 15
Saul is made a terror unto himself. “. . .the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul,” (v 14) Saul, disobeyed and failed God, so God, in righteous judgment, withdrew from Saul the help of the good spirit God had given him and by which Saul was directed, motivated, and encouraged in military and state affairs. For his disobedience, Saul lost his good qualities. When the Spirit of the Lord departs from us, good and the Source of good, goes.
The cause of the departure of the divine Spirit from him was his rejection by the Lord, due to his persistent, impenitent pride and disobedience toward the Lord shown in I Sam. 13 and 15. Instead of yielding humbly to God’s righteous judgment and bowing beneath God’s mighty hand, he gave himself to displeasure and discontent at God’s holy ways, and was therefore given over to the power of an evil spirit which vexed him and sometimes even drove him to madness.
“. . . an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.” This is an awful sentence. Literally in the Hebrew, it means ‘fell upon him and frightened him.”
I thought God gave good things. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). God had given Saul a good and perfect gift. On that glad occasion, “God changed Saul’s heart” (I Sam. 10:9). Saul became another man, that is, a man full of royal thoughts, courage, faith, wisdom and inspiration. Read I Sam. 10 – 12 and you will see how good Saul was at the beginning. The “Spirit” which Saul lost, is the One Saul received when he was anointed by Samuel.
Those that drive the good Spirit away from them become subject to the powers of evil spirits. If God and His grace do not rule us, sin and Satan will have possession of us. The devil, evidently with God’s permission, troubled and terrified Saul through corrupt emotions of his body and passions of his mind. The devil hitchhikes on our problems—making them worse than they were without his “help.”
“an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.” When men grieve and quench the Spirit, by willful sin, He departs; He will not always try to convince us. It is possible to push God too far.
When the Spirit of God departs from the man, he is not simply left to himself, but, as Saul’s example shows, his heart becomes the home of the evil spirit. Where the divine spirit departs, the wicked spirit comes in his place. One spirit or the other will occupy us.
When God’s Spirit corrects and guides us, if we continue to disobey and become hard, God will eventually reject us and that means He will withdraw His Holy Spirit from us.
He who will not let himself be ruled by the Spirit of God, drives it out; and where that is driven out, there is no third state possible, but the evil spirit goes in again “And the final condition of that man is worse than the first” (Luke 11:14-26 makes it clear that one will have one kind of spirit or the other). We should have compassion even on those who by their sins have drawn on themselves God’s chastisement, and should give them counsel as to how their case may be bettered. And we ourselves should be careful not to do or think anything that would make the Holy Spirt unwelcome in our lives.
David saw what it was like for God’s Spirit to be withdrawn and an evil spirit take His place. So when David sinned with Bathsheba he prayed desperately, “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me” (Ps. 51:11). He did not want to happen to him what he saw happened to Saul. This should teach us to pray as David prayed.
God will remove His love if we press Him to. Later in this history, in making a good promise given to David, according to Nathan in II Sam. 7:15, God says He took His love from Saul. “But my love will never be taken away from him (David’s descendant), as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you.” I don’t want God to remove His love or Spirit. Do you?
For contrast, notice what David did when difficulties occurred. “The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears” (Ps. 18:4-6).
David, you should see what is ahead for you in Saul’s court. The same condition continued for years. Two chapters later, in I Sam. 18:10 and 11, “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.”
How can an evil spirit be from the Lord? Man is governed either by the Spirit from above or by the spirit from beneath; there is no third course; he must either belong to the kingdom of light or of darkness; he is guided either by the Spirit of the Lord or by the evil spirit. Man is under the dominion of either the Holy spirit or evil spirits. But this sad story teaches us more: that, when by our choice we reject God’s ways, God releases the disobedient person to the power of evil spirits for punishment. Punishment for wrong, regardless of the “tool” God uses, is always “from the Lord.” You would have a hard time persuading me that just punishment was not a “good and perfect gift.” Just punishment warns, acts as a deterrent, and gives me caution—all of these are good for me.
2. God, Without Anyone’s Manipulation, Prepared a Way for David. 16 – 19
“. . . search for someone who can play the harp” (16). God was at work to prepare a place for David to be trained for kingship in the king’s court.
How much better servants they would have been to Saul had they advised him, since the evil spirit was from the Lord, to make his peace with God by true repentance, to send for Samuel, to pray with him and to intercede with God for him! Then might he not only have had some present relief, but the good Spirit would have returned to him. But their project is to make him merry, and so to cure him. They were content to make him “feel” better and missed the opportunity to help him “be” better.
Yet Saul’s servants did not miss entirely, for the music David provided gave God’s Spirit an opportunity to work again. Even the good prophet Elisha requested music and only after his spirit was soothed, relaxed, and focused on the Lord was he able to give the Word of the Lord. “But now bring me a harpist. While the harpist was playing, the hand of the Lord came upon Elisha and he said, ‘This what the Lord says, . .” (II Kings 3:15).
And they could have sent for a witch, but did not. To consult with demons, devils, or anything on the darker side is a very poor way to handle trouble with an evil spirit. It is inviting more trouble. Their solution was neither the best nor the worst.
“I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the harp. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the Lord is with him” (18). Saul’s servant, to persuade Saul to call David to court, describes him at length, as not merely a harpist, but also what would especially be interesting to Saul, a valiant man, a man of war, and eloquent man, a handsome person with whom the Lord is present. All these characteristics appear clearly in David’s history; their combination in this description shows that the young man was well acquainted with David. David had a reputation in his neighborhood. What is your reputation? “Even a child is known by his doings, whether they be good or bad.”
David’s chief qualification, according to the servant speaking to Saul, is that the Lord is with him. As David returned to his country business after being anointed by Samuel, there were no marks on his head left by the oil, and as careful as he was to keep that anointing a secret, yet the workings of the spirit signified by the oil could not be hidden. Even in obscurity, the neighbors noticed with wonder the improvements of his mind, attitude, poetry, music, and manly skills. David, even in his shepherd’s garb, has become a champion and his fame even reached the king’s court and, through the king’s servant, even the king’s ears.
David’s fellowship and communion with the Lord, the culminating point of the description, is already known to us from earlier in the chapter, and is the best commendation any person can ever have. The Lord was with him. Great.
But his eloquence appears here for the first time. Could it be that because of the Spirit of the Lord on David he became eloquent—a better talker? What do character and speech have to do with each other? When God’s Spirit is with us, changes occur, we have more courage and confidence, it often affects our speech, we talk better, our verbal skills increase, we speak more powerfully.
3. Jesse Waited For and Then Worked With Providence. 20
David is brought to the king’s court without any arrangement or manipulation of events of his own or his friends. David served faithfully in the sheep field, and God brought him to the king’s court where he would be “trained” for kingship.
Jesse would not force Providence by sending David to court uncalled, yet he followed Providence very cheerfully when he saw it plainly putting him into the way of opportunity. We need to learn when God wants us to press forward as Esther did and when to wait quietly as Jesse and David both did in this instance.
Some suggest that Jesse was afraid of Saul from the time of the so called “sacrifice” in Bethlehem and therefore, when David was called to court, sent the pacifying and generous gift of bread, wine, and a young goat to him, but that does not seem to be Jesse’s motive. Jesse was simply playing the part of a good citizen—supporting the war effort.
4. David Begins Public, yet Secret, Preparation for Kingship. 21, 22
David is made a physician to help Saul against the worst of diseases. Yet he is only able to place a bandage on the wound—not heal it. The wound needed Saul’s change of heart, not David playing a harp.
The anointing does not at once give the throne, but it first leads into lowliness; the anointing does not annihilate natural gifts and powers, but sanctifies them and fits them for the service of the Lord. A youth leaving home for scenes of temptation is safe if “the Lord is with him.”
With the beginning of his service at the court of Saul, the recently anointed David, under the wonderful guidance of God’s hand, entered on the path of inner and outer development until years later he ascended the throne.
A way of deep suffering, which tried and tempted David, also purified, proved, confirmed, and established his inner communion with God. From this school of suffering, whose experiences later resound throughout the book of Psalms, David comes forth as a man who has been educated from shepherd boy to king. Anyone who has character has been through some training.
5. The Power of Music and Worship. 23
David’s playing had the effect of temporarily relieving Saul from his suffering. But how deep was the peace Saul gained each time David played and sang?
This raises the question of whether David’s songs were sacred or secular. I suspect they were about God. The Psalms reveal a man who thought, wrote poetry, testified, and sang about God. I do not believe he soothed Saul’s evil-spirit induced mental trouble with songs about the pretty girls living in Bethlehem or even of the lions, bears, wolves, and lambs that could have made up another kind of lyric. That the evil spirit left as a result of David’s music is a strong indication to me that God was involved in the subject matter of David’s songs.
Only the instrumental music with his harp is mentioned in Samuel, but Josephus, in his history, adds a note about vocal music, probably hymns and songs of praise accompanied by the harp.
The contrast with Saul who is controlled by evil spirits, is the anointed David, under the guidance and discipline of the Spirit of God. His gift of poetry and music is set apart, cleaned up, powerfully developed, and intensified with God’s anointing. This wonderful gift of poetry and music had the power to alleviate Saul’s sufferings and stir the chords of something good that may still have lingered in him. Even if only temporarily, they drowned the demon-inspired darker emotions, expelling the power of evil, and roused again the nobler feelings of human nature, restored for a time the disturbed harmony of the life of the soul. My question is: Why then did Saul not yield to the Source and Object of that poetry?
David’s music was extraordinary, and in mercy to him, that he might gain a reputation at court, the Lord was with him. God made his performances in music more successful, in this case, than those of others would have been. Later, even after Saul had open hatred toward David, no one else could serve Saul as David did. This is testimony of the power of worship. When we worship each Sunday, we focus on Jesus and let the Holy Spirit open and prepare our hearts for God’s Word. Music and worship have power. When alone we sing worship songs to the Lord. In our homes we play worship music. Let us be a worshiping, joyful, and, therefore, victorious people. Let’s all be a David.
It is sad that music, which may be so helpful to peace of mind, stimulating the human spirit, and exciting worship to God in us, should ever be abused or misused to support evil desires and used to draw the heart away from instead of to God. When music is misused, it drives away the good spirit; not the evil spirit.
There is a wonderful power over the human heart in godly song and music instruments. How sorrow and anguish retreat before it, how the power of darkness is broken, how the power of evil spirits gives way! Where the good Spirit comes, hell is silent and heaven comes down.
Did the harmonies banish the demon? No! The higher mood merely gave the evil spirits less room to work for a time. Much better would it have been for Saul to change—if he had earnestly repented. But Saul would know nothing of repentance; he let himself be cheered, but he would not change. Our sins give power over us to the kingdom of darkness, we must repent.
The mourning of this world and the heaviness of an evil conscience cannot be relieved by harping, songs, or any other sweet diversion. If forgiveness of sins is not earnestly sought and gained, the heart is not truly bettered.
If we expect God to bless us as we lead His people, then we need to have the Spirit of God in us. Our own love, patience, self-control, wisdom and understanding are simply inadequate. God’s shepherds need God’s Spirit if they are going to benefit God’s sheep.