God solidifies His rejection of Saul as king over Israel by removing His Spirit from him and sending a tormenting spirit upon the king.
After David had been anointed by Samuel, the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD terrorized him. The Hebrew word for evil here is “ra” and does not always speak of moral wickedness. In its basic definition it can mean “bad, ill favored, calamity or trouble.” God does this knowing that Saul will call for David and come to rely upon him and eventually envy him. David, besides being a proper name, is a common noun in Hebrew that means “beloved” and is a title given to Jesus, as God’s beloved Son.
No doubt this terrorizing spirit made Saul and everyone around him miserable. So, Saul’s
servants then said to him, “Behold now, an evil spirit from God is terrorizing you. The servants of Saul had a correct diagnosis. In addition to having the correct diagnosis of Saul’s malady, they also offered a providential solution. They introduced their recommended solution by saying Let our lord now command your servants who are before you. Asking Saul to command them was a clever way to make a recommendation. It might be like leading someone to think a solution is their idea.
The command Saul’s servants ask to be given is to let them seek a man who is a skillful player on the harp; and it shall come about when the evil spirit from God is on you, that he shall play the harp with his hand, and you will be well. The idea is to find a skilled musician to sooth Saul’s spirit. Saul liked the idea and fell for the “this is now my idea” suggestion. So Saul said to his servants, “Provide for me now a man who can play well and bring him to me.”
In ancient times musical instruments and those who played them were seen as being endowed with spiritual powers. We know from archaeology that Greeks, Canaanites, and Israelites all made extensive use of playing the lyre. Though like the harp, the lyre has several features that distinguishes it from a harp. More than likely David played the lyre, which was common in Jewish culture. Below is a seal found in Jerusalem depicting a Middle Eastern lyre.
One of Saul’s servants speaks up and says that he has seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite who is a skillful musician. This of course is David, and we can see God’s hand at work. The servant adds however that David is also a mighty man of valor, a warrior, one prudent in speech, and a handsome man; and the LORD is with him. These attributes with which Saul’s servant describes David are not usually all gifted upon one individual.
The servant observed that David was a mighty man of valor as well as a warrior. A mighty man of valor, or a warrior would not typically have time to become a skillful musician. Warriors might be expected to be brutish in their speech, yet David is called prudent in speech. Likewise, a great warrior might not be expected to be handsome, but David is said to be a handsome man. Many imagine David as a young boy at this point in the Bible. However, it is clear from this description that while David might be a young man, he is certainly not a young boy. Upon hearing of David’s qualifications, Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me your son David who is with the flock.”
It is interesting that Saul appears to have accepted the fact that God has rejected him as king. Samuel told Saul this was the case after he disobeyed God in the prior chapter, saying “Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He has also rejected you from being king” (1 Samuel 15:23). Saul also accepts the word of his servants, that God had sent this evil spirit. He doesn’t seem to consider repentance, prayer, or even sacrifice as a means to petition God to remove this evil spirit, even though he knows it is from God. Instead, Saul sets his hope on David being a skillful musician to alleviate his condition.
When Jesse received Saul’s request, he took a donkey loaded with bread and a jug of wine and a young goat and sent them to Saul by David his son. Jesse is deferential to the king and sends gifts as well as sending his son. Perhaps at this point Jesse has begun to realize that David is something special.
David came to Saul and attended him; and Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armor bearer. Being given the position of armor bearer signifies that Saul trusted David with his life. It also confirms that Saul agreed with the servant who recommended David, that he also found David to be a valiant warrior.
Saul, wishing to keep David with him long term sent a message to Jesse saying, “Let David now stand before me, for he has found favor in my sight.” David’s duty before the king was that whenever the evil spirit from God came to Saul, David would take the harp (or lyre) and play it with his hand. David would go into the presence of Saul and give him a private concert. Since David was also an armor bearer, it seems likely that David was also busy with other tasks on Saul’s behalf when his musical services were not necessary.
When David would play music, then Saul would be refreshed and be well, and the evil spirit would depart from him. Later in the New Testament, Jesus, the seed of David, would also drive out evil spirits. It is somewhat ironic how God allows Saul to get to know David, and to see the Spirit of favor, blessing, and protection that God has placed on him without being aware that David has been anointed king in his place. But Saul, who was from the tribe of Benjamin, eventually suspects that God has chosen David as king, who was from the tribe of Judah.
Saul knew Samuel had pronounced that God had rejected him as king. However, he did not know that Samuel had anointed David to be king. From the text, we are not certain that David knew at this time that the anointing he had received from Samuel was intended to make him king (although God and Samuel knew). David was anointed later, when he was made king after the death of Saul (2 Samuel 1:7). This would indicate that Samuel’s anointing made David king before God, but David was later anointed to take possession of the throne. This, again, pictures the two advents of Jesus, first to come as a spiritual leader and servant, then to return again to possess the throne.
Perhaps Saul was familiar with the messianic prophecy Jacob proclaimed over his son Judah a few centuries earlier,
“The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.”
We will see that Saul will become envious and begin to persecute David and will try to kill him (1 Samuel 18:9). Saul also was afraid of David, because the Lord’s Spirit was with David but had departed from him (1 Samuel 18:12). This could picture the first advent of Jesus, the Son of David. Jesus was persecuted during His earthly ministry (Romans 8:17b). Roughly 1000 years after the time of King Saul, another Benjamite named Saul would persecute Jesus, the son of David. Jesus told Saul of Tarsus, “Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). Jesus suffered and died, and as a result of His obedience, even to death, His name was exalted above every name (Philippians 2:5-10). Jesus was anointed king of the entire earth (Matthew 28:18). However, like David, there is a time lag between Jesus’ anointing and the time when He will take possession of the throne and rule the earth. So far it has been almost two thousand years, and counting.
14 Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD terrorized him. 15 Saul’s servants then said to him, “Behold now, an evil spirit from God is terrorizing you. 16 Let our lord now command your servants who are before you. Let them seek a man who is a skillful player on the harp; and it shall come about when the evil spirit from God is on you, that he shall play the harp with his hand, and you will be well.” 17 So Saul said to his servants, “Provide for me now a man who can play well and bring him to me.” 18 Then one of the young men said, “Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite who is a skillful musician, a mighty man of valor, a warrior, one prudent in speech, and a handsome man; and the LORD is with him.” 19 So Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me your son David who is with the flock.” 20 Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread and a jug of wine and a young goat, and sent them to Saul by David his son. 21 Then David came to Saul and attended him; and Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armor bearer. 22 Saul sent to Jesse, saying, “Let David now stand before me, for he has found favor in my sight.” 23 So it came about whenever the evil spirit from God came to Saul, David would take the harp and play it with his hand; and Saul would be refreshed and be well, and the evil spirit would depart from him.
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