Entering Saulís Service

1 Samuel 16 and 17 

In our last chapter we contemplated Davidís anointing; in our present study an entirely different experience in his varied career is before us. The two halves of 1 Samuel 16 present a series of striking contrasts. In the former, we behold David called to occupy the throne, in the latter he is seen entering the place of service. There we see the Spirit of the Lord coming upon David (v. 13), here we behold the Spirit of the Lord departing from Saul (v. 14). In the one David is anointed with the holy oil (v. 13), in the other Saul is troubled with an evil spirit (v. 14). Samuel was "mourning" (v. 1), Saul is "refreshed" (v. 23). Samuel approached Jesse with an heifer for sacrifice (v. 2), Jesse sends David to Saul with bread, wine, and a kid for feasting (v. 20). David was acceptable in Godís sight (v. 12), here he found favor in Saulís eyes (v. 22). Before he was tending the sheep (v. 11), now he is playing the harp in the palace (v. 23).

God did not set David upon the throne immediately: after his "anointing" came a season of testing. The coming of the Spirit upon him was followed by his having to face the great enemy. Thus it was with Davidís Son and Lord, the One whom, in so many respects, he foreshadowed. After the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Him at His baptism, Christ was tempted of the devil for forty days. So here: the next thing we read of is Davidís being sent to calm Saul who was terrified by an evil spirit, and shortly after that he goes forth to meet Goliathófigure of Satan. The principle which is here illustrated is one that we do well to take to heart: patience has to be tested, humility manifested, faith strengthened, before we are ready to enter into Godís best for us; we must use rightly what God has given us, if we desire Him to give us more.

"But the Spirit of the Lord departed From Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him" (1 Sam. 16: 14). Exceedingly solemn is this, the more so when we consider that which precedes it. In 1 Samuel 15:1-3 the Lord, had, through Samuel, given a definite commission unto Saul to "utterly destroy Amalek, and all that they had." Instead of so doing, he compromised: "But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them" (1 Sam. 15:9). When faced by Godís faithful prophet, the kingís excuse was "the people spared the best of the sheep and the oxen to sacrifice unto the Lord" (v. 15). Then it was that Samuel said, "Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and in sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, to hearken than the fat of rams" (v. 22).

Saul had openly defied the Lord by deliberately disobeying His plain commandment. Wherefore the prophet said unto him, "For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king" (v. 23). And now we come to the dreadful sequel. "The Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him." Having forsaken God, God forsook him. Rightly did Matthew Henry say upon this verse: "They that drive the good Spirit away from them, do of course become a prey to the evil spirit. If God and His grace do not rule us, sin and Satan will have possession of us."

"But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him." Great care needs to be taken against our reading into these words what is really not in them, otherwise we shall make one part of Scripture contradict another. The Holy Spirit had never been given to Saul as the Spirit of regeneration and sanctification: but He had been given to him as a Spirit of prophecy (see 1 Sam. 10:10 and contrast 1 Sam. 28:6), and as a Spirit of wisdom for temporal rule, thus fitting him for the discharge of his royal duties, In like manner, when we read that "God gave him another heart" (1 Sam. 10:9), this must not be confounded with "a new heart" (Ezek. 36:26)óthe "another heart" was not in a moral and spiritual sense, but only in a way of wisdom for civil government, prudence to rule, courage to fight against his enemies, fortitude against difficulties and discouragements.

It is a serious mistake to suppose that because the Holy Spirit has not come as the Spirit of regeneration and sanctification unto many professors, that therefore He has not come to them at all. Many are "made partakers of the Holy Spirit" as the Spirit of "enlightenment" (Heb. 6:4), of spiritual aspirations (Num. 24:2; 23:10 etc.), of deliverance from the "pollutions of the world" (2 Pet. 2:20), who are never brought from death unto life. There are common operations of the Spirit as well as special, and it behooves all of us to seriously and diligently examine our hearts and lives for the purpose of discovering whether or not the Holy Spirit indwells us as a Sanctifier, subduing the flesh, delivering from worldliness, and conforming to the image of Christ. "When men grieve and quench the Spirit by willful sin, He departs, and will not strive" (Matthew Henry).

The servants of Saul were uneasy over the kingís condition, realizing that an evil spirit from God was tormenting him. They therefore suggested that a man who had skill in playing the harp should be sought out, saying, "And it shall come to pass, when the evil spirit from God is upon thee, that he shall play with his hand, and thou shalt be well" (1 Sam. 16:16). Such is the best counsel which poor worldlings have to offer unto those in trouble. As Matthew Henry says, "How much better friends had they been to him, if they had 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 intercede with God for him; then might he not only have had some present relief, but the good Spirit would have returned."

How many whose consciences have convicted them of their careless, sinful, Godless ways, and who have been startled by the presence of an eternity in Hell, have been ruined forever by following a course of drowning the concerns of the soul by regaling and delighting the senses of the body, "Eat, drink, and be merry" is the motto of the world, and every effort is made to stifle all anxiety about the near prospect of a time arriving when instead of being able to go on so doing, not even a drop of water will be available to ease their unbearable sufferings. Let younger readers seriously ponder this. "Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will surely bring thee into judgment" (Eccl. 11:9).

The suggestion made by his servants appealed to Saul, and he gave his consent. Accordingly one of them told him, "Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, that is cunning in playing, and a mighty valiant man, and a man of war, and prudent in matters, and a comely person, and the Lord is with him" (1 Sam. 16:18). A high character is here accorded David, as one well fitted for the strange part he was to play. Not only was his person suited for the court, not only was he skilled upon the harp, but he was known for his courage and wisdom. The terming of him "a mighty valiant man" intimates that his single-handed victory over the lion and the bear (1 Sam. 17:37) had already been noised abroad. Finally, it was known that "the Lord is with him." How this illustrates and demonstrates the fact that one who has received the Spirit as the Spirit of regeneration and sanctification gives dear evidence of it to others! Where a miracle of grace has been wrought in the heart, the fruits of it will soon be unmistakably manifested to all around. Very searching is this. Can those with whom we come into daily contact see that "the Lord is with" the writer and the reader? O to let our light "so shine before men, that they may see our good works, and glorify our Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).

"Wherefore Saul sent messengers unto Jesse, and said, Send me David thy son, which is with the sheep" (1 Sam. 16:19). Little did Saul think that in giving this order he was inviting to his palace the very one of whom Samuel had said, "The Lord hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbor of thine, better than thou" (1 Sam. 15:28)! How marvelously does God, working behind the scenes, bring His own purpose to pass! Verily "manís goings are of the Lord," and well may we say "how can a man then understand his own way?" (Prov. 20:24). Yet while we are quite incapable of analyzing either the philosophy or psychology of it, let us admire and stand in awe before Him of whom it is written, "For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory forever, Amen" (Rom. 11:36).

"Wherefore Saul sent messengers unto Jesse, and said, Send me David thy son, which is with the sheep" (1 Sam. 16:19). What a testing for David was this! He who had been anointed unto an office wherein he would command and rule over others, was now called on to serve. Lovely is it to mark his response: there was no unwillingness, no delay. He promptly complied with his fatherís wishes. It was also a testing of his courage: Might not Saul have learned his secret, and now have designs upon his life? Might not this invitation to the palace cover a subtle plot to destroy him; Ah, "the angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them," and where God is truly feared, the fear of man disappears.

"And Jesse took an ass laden with bread, and a bottle of wine, and a kid, and sent them by David his son, unto Saul" (v. 20). What a beautiful typical picture is here presented to us. It was the dire need of poor Saul which moved Jesse to send forth his anointed son: so it was a world lying in sin unto which the Father sent His Beloved. Behold David richly laden with presents for the king: Jesse sent him forth not with weapons of warfare in his hands, but with the tokens of his good will. So the Father sent forth His Son "not to condemn the world" (John 3:17), but on an errand of grace and mercy unto it.

"And David came to Saul." Yes, at his fatherís bidding he freely left his home: though the anointing oil was upon him, he went forth not to be ministered unto, but to minister. How blessedly this foreshadowed Him of whom it is written, "Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death" (Phil. 2:6-8). )O that writer and reader may be so filled with His Spirit, that not only shall we unmurmuringly, but joyfully, perform our Fatherís bidding.

"And David came to Saul." Admire again the wondrous working of God. David had been called to reign over Israel, but the time had not yet arrived for him to occupy the throne. An unsophisticated shepherd-boy needed training. Observe then how the providence of God ordered it that for a season he should dwell in the royal court, thus having full opportunity to note its ways, observe its corruptions, and discover its needs. And mark it well, this was brought about without any scheming or effort either on his own part or of that of his friends. An evil spirit from the Lord troubled the king: his courtiers were exercised, and proposed a plan to him: their plan met with Saulís approval: David was mentioned as the one who should be sent for: the king assented, Jesse raised no demurs, David was made willing; and thus, working secretly but surely, Godís purpose was accomplished. It is only the eye of faith that looks above the ordinary happenings of daily life and sees the divine hand ordering and shaping them for the accomplishment of Godís counsels and the good of His people.

An important principle is here illustrated: when God has designed that any Christian should enter His service, His providence concurs with His grace to prepare and qualify him for it, and often it is by means of Godís providences that the discerning heart perceives the divine will. God opened the door into the palace without David having to force or even so much as knock upon it. When we assume the initiative, take things into our own hands, and attempt to hew a path for ourselves, we are acting in the energy of the flesh. "Commit thy way unto the Lord: trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass . . . Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him" (Ps. 37:5-7). Obedience to these exhortations is not easy to flesh and blood, yet they must be complied with if we are not to miss Godís best. The more we appropriate and act upon such divine precepts, the more clearly will the hand of God be seen when it intervenes on our behalf: the feverish activities of natural zeal only raise a cloud of dust which conceals from us the beauties of divine providence.

"And David came to Saul, and stood before him: and he loved him greatly; and he became his armourbearer. And Saul sent to Jesse, saying, Let David, I pray thee, stand before me; for he hath found favour in my sight" (vv. 21, 22). Here too we may perceive and admire the secret workings of God s providence. "The kingís heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever He will" (Prov. 21:1). It was the divine purpose, and For Davidís good, that he should spend a season at the court; therefore did the Lord incline Saulís heart toward him. How often we lose sight of this fact. How apt we are to attribute the favor and kindness of people toward us to any thing rather than to the Lord! O my reader, if God has given you favor in the eyes of your congregation, or your employer, or your customers, give Him the glory and the thanks for it.

"And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him" (v. 23). Here we see the readiness of David to perform every task which God allotted him. In this he evidenced his moral fitness for the important role he was yet to fill. "Thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things" (Matthew 25:21), expresses an important principle in the government of God, and one which we do well to take to heart. If I am careless in fulfilling my duties as a Sunday school teacher, I must not be surprised if God never calls me to the ministry. And if I am unfaithful in teaching and disciplining my own children, I must not be surprised if God withholds His power and blessing when I seek to teach the children of others.

The power of Davidís harp to quiet the spirit of Saul and to drive away temporarily the demon, ought not to be attributed either to the skill of the player or to the charm of music. Instead, it must be ascribed alone to the Lord, who was pleased to bless this means to these ends. The instrument, be it weak or strong, likely or unlikely, is utterly powerless in and of itself. Paul may plant and Apollos may water, but there will be no increase unless God gives it. In view of chapter 17:55, 56 some have concluded that what has been before us in the closing verses of chapter 16 is placed out of its chronological order. But there is no need to resort to such a supposition. Moreover, chapter 17:15 plainly refutes it. How long David remained in the palace we know not, but probably for quite some time; after which he returned again unto his humbler duties in the sheepfold.