Music For A Madman
I Samuel 16:14-23
August 13, 2000
The following story happened quite a few years ago. I was getting my hair cut at one of those places where you generally don’t know in advance who is going to do the cutting. It happened that the girl who cut my hair had done it the last two times as well. She remembered me immediately as a pastor and somewhere along the way asked what I was preaching on. When I told her I was preaching about David, she said, “King David is one of my favorite people in all the Bible.” “Really?” I replied. And she said-no kidding-“He’s such a louse.”
I laughed and she added, “You know what I mean. He was always getting into trouble but he was still called a man after God’s own heart.” Then she said, “His story is an encouragement to a scuzzbug like me.”
And that’s one reason David’s story is in the Bible in such detail. Sixty-two chapters. His name is mentioned over 1,000 times. David, King of Israel. A man after God’s own heart. And yet a man whose story encourages everyone who reads it.
He wasn’t perfect, that’s true. I ran across a piece of poetry I thought you’d like:
King David and King Solomon
Led merry, merry lives
With many, many lady friends
And many, many wives
But when old age crept up on them
With many, many qualms
King Solomon wrote the Proverbs
And King David wrote the Psalms!
We’ve just started our survey of the early years of his life-the story of his journey to power. What we know so far is essentially this: David was the youngest son of a man named Jesse of Bethlehem. He had seven older brothers. Because he was the youngest, he was apparently easily overlooked. Certainly his father did not think much of his abilities. When we pick up the story in I Samuel 16, David is perhaps 16 years old, assigned the menial task of caring for the family flock of sheep.
One other fact: David is God’s choice to be the next king of Israel. It is a choice made to demonstrate one central truth: When God gets ready to pick a man, he isn’t bound by purely human considerations. Man’s checklist and God’s are two different things. To put it in the words of Holy Scripture, man looks on the outside but God looks on the heart (I Samuel 16:7):
-Instead of the oldest, he picks the youngest.
-Instead of the first, he picks the last.
-Instead of the obvious, he picks the obscure.
-Instead of the popular, he picks the forgotten.
It is all a demonstration of the principle of Grace: All of life is a gift from God and even the things I think I have earned by the work of my hands-even those things have come down from heaven as gifts to me. David was a man whom God could trust to be king because he wasn’t trying to be king and he never forgot-even in his worst moments-that he had come to the throne only by the grace of God. And that is why David’s story continues to encourage us. If God could use a man like David, there’s hope for scuzzbugs like you and me.
But that’s only the beginning. When we ended last week, David was back out on the hillside tending the sheep. It’s a long way from the pasture to the throne. And frankly David has as much chance, humanly speaking, of ever making it to the throne room as you and I have of going over to the Vatican for a cookout with the pope. It’s just not going to happen. Shepherds and kings don’t mix.
Unless God is involved. Because when he gets involved, unusual things start to happen. And when God picks out his man, that man is going to rise to the top. Count on it, God knows what he’s doing and by hook or by crook, David will some day be king. I Samuel 16:14-23 is the story of how God begins to open the door. It illustrates the doctrine of divine providence: God is able to find us no matter where we are and he is able to put us in the place where we can be most effective for him.
I. Saul’s Strange Malady I Samuel 16:14-17
“Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him. Saul’s attendants said to him, ’See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the harp. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes upon you, and you will feel better.’ So Saul said to his attendants, ’Find someone who plays well and bring him to me’” (I Samuel 16:14-17).
Immediately we are faced with a mystery. I Samuel 16:13 says that when the prophet Samuel anointed David the Spirit of the Lord came upon him with great power. Then the very next verse tells us that the same Holy Spirit had departed from Saul. That’s no accident. Those two verses belong together. From this point on, the sun rises on David and sets on Saul. David rising in the knowledge of God, Saul sinking, sinking, sinking. David and Saul put side by side for our examination, our warning, our encouragement. If you graphed this part of the Bible, it would show David’s arrow rising while Saul’s would slowly decline.
A. Examining the Problem
Two strange things happen to Saul. First, the Spirit of the Lord leaves him. Two questions come immediately: Why? and How? The why is the easiest to answer. The Spirit of God departed from Saul because of his deliberate disobedience to God. It was a judgment from God on his life. No longer would God’s Spirit be with him. But how could it happen? The answer seems to be that in the Old Testament God often sent his Spirit to certain men for certain special tasks or occasions. But it does not seem that the Old Testament believers were permanently or universally indwelt as we are today. The verse to keep in mind is John 14:17 where Jesus tells the apostles in the Upper Room: “But you know him (the Holy Spirit), for he lives with you and will be in you.” The difference between those two prepositions-with and in-is the difference between the Old Testament and the New. So the Holy Spirit was taken from his life as a direct judgment from God.
Second, an evil spirit from the Lord comes to torment him. We have even more questions about this. What is this evil spirit? I think we should understand it just the way it sounds-an actual evil spirit being, a demon if you will. But how could God send an evil spirit? He could because He is God and all creation is subject to him-even the devils of hell. Satan can do nothing without God’s permission and if God orders (or allows) a demon to torment a man, no one can stand against him. Third question, is this a case of demon possession? Not necessarily. The word itself means “to startle, to terrify, to fall upon suddenly.”
Writing almost a hundred years ago, the Keil and Delitszch commentary explains it this way: “The ’evil spirit from Jehovah’ which came into Saul in the place of the Spirit of Jehovah was not merely an inward feeling of depression at the rejection announced to him, which grew into melancholy, and occasionally broke out in passing fits of insanity, but a higher evil power, which took possession of him, and not only deprived him of his peace of mind, but stirred up the feelings, ideas, imagination, and thoughts of his soul to such an extent that at times it drove him even to madness… This demon is called an evil spirit from Jehovah.” (pages 170-171).
Saul had become a madman. He had begun to go crazy. He was slowly losing his mind. Not simply because an evil spirit had come but because Saul had given way to the evil already within. Before the evil spirit tormented him there was fear, paranoia, jealousy, violent rage. When the Spirit of God was with him, those impulses were largely checked. Without the Spirit of God, he got worse and worse. When the evil spirit tormented him, Saul lost all rational control.
B. Searching for a Solution
It is characteristic that when men in power go bad, the fact is hidden from the public at first. Only the inner circle knows something is wrong. A desperate search begins for a cure. Notice the suggestion in verses 15-16: “Saul’s attendants said to him, ’See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. (Interesting, they knew it was from God.) Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the harp. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes upon you, and you will feel better.’”
As a matter of fact, that’s excellent advice. Did you know there is an entire field called “Music Therapy” which is based on the premise of our text? It has its roots in the entertainers who played for wounded soldiers in World War II. They found that music helped the soldiers recover faster. In the years after the war, the Veterans Administration began using music therapy in mental hospitals because they found that patients who listened to certain kinds of music were less depressive and more sociable. It is widely used now to treat cancer patients, autistic children, and alcohol and drug abusers. Several hospitals use music therapy to help coronary patients because they found that soothing music can actually reduce blood pressure and the pulse rate. Psychology Today in 1985 reported on a certain mental hospital in Great Britain, one wing of which was built next to a chapel where they had daily hymn singing. The sound of the hymn singing could be heard in the one wing. The doctors found that patients in that one wing got better faster than patients in other wings. By the way, one of the latest developments is the use of music therapy to reduce pain during childbirth. Finally, this quote from the April, 1984 issue of Omni magazine: “Doctors worldwide are gradually discovering that music therapy has vast potential in influence both mind and body.”
“Someone who plays well”
Saul’s advisors are acting on that premise-that music could help him get better. To his credit, the afflicted king agrees. And with a note of desperation he says, “Find someone who plays well and bring him to me.”
Notice that. “Someone who plays well.” Let me ask a question. How many of you took piano lessons when you were young? How many of you quit before you got very good? How many of you were warned by your parents, “You’ll regret this someday?”
It’s a little-known fact but I took piano lessons for five years. Just long enough to get good and frustrated. If only I hadn’t quit. But back in the fifth grade piano practice didn’t seem very exciting compared with football, baseball, basketball, band practice, school and girls. I couldn’t see the benefit, so I quit. And, yes Mom, I regret it greatly.
Ah, but Saul wants somebody who plays well. That means, somebody who didn’t quit after five years. That means somebody who practiced when it wasn’t fun and kept at it till they were good. That means somebody who had a long-range goal and who would not be turned aside by trivial pursuits.
Who do you think fit that bill? Where in all Israel can we find a harpist who plays well and who is willing to come to King Saul? There are no doubt plenty of harpists who don’t play well and there are no doubt some who play well who just aren’t available. I wonder who it could be?
Read on. “One of the servants answered, ’I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the harp.’” Coincidence. Chance. Luck. A stroke of fate. How did this happen? Could it be God? “He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well (literally prudently, meaning he wasn’t a smart-mouth) and is a fine-looking man.” Then notice the last thing. “And the Lord is with him.”
Pretty impressive r