Music For A Madman

I Samuel 16:14-23

August 13, 2000 | Ray Pritchard

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 resumé. Not bad for a shepherd. Not bad for a kid who couldn’t get his father to notice him. Not bad for a nobody.

I want to make an application right here. Somebody was watching David all the time he was out in the field. He thought he was alone, He thought it was just him and the sheep. But no, somebody was watching. And when the time came for somebody with just his qualifications, David’s name popped up.

So often we think nobody is watching but it isn’t true. Somebody’s always watching. We think our influence makes no difference and our effort goes unnoticed. We see inferior people promoted over us and think, “What’s the use of trying?” But, if you’re only in it for the promotion, then you’re in it for the wrong reason. Somebody is always watching you. Doing a good job, being well-prepared always pays off.

There are two key passages to keep in mind. The first one I’ve already mentioned but it bears repeating: “No one from the east or the west or from the desert can exalt a man. But it is God who judges: He brings down one, he exalts another.” Psalm 75:6-7. That’s one side of it.

The other side is Proverbs 22:29, “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings. He will not serve before obscure men.”

Often times we see others rise above us and we snidely say, “It’s luck.” But as they say, luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. That’s what happens here.

Please understand. David has no desire to be king. That’s God’s idea. He has no desire to play his harp for Saul. That’s Saul’s idea. He’s just out there on the hillside watching sheep and strumming away under the stars. Learning how to make words and music go together. That’s all. He doesn’t have a “career path” because being a shepherd is not an upwardly-mobile profession.

But behind the scenes God has arranged to bring David to Saul’s court—something that could never happen without divine intervention. And he’s going to use Saul’s strange malady and David’s skill on the harp to make it happen.

II. David’s Second Fiddle 18-22

So Saul sends for David and this is what happens: “David came to Saul and entered his service. Saul like him very much. And David became one of his armor-bearers.” Let me read that for you from the Living Bible: “From the instant he saw David, Saul admired and loved him; and David became his bodyguard.”

David now is in the court of the king. But not as king, as bodyguard. But there’s no problem. David didn’t set out to become king, therefore, he could wait for God. No pushing. No manipulation.

That’s one of the hardest lessons for any employee to learn. If you work for a large company—or even a small one—it’s almost inevitable that some of the people over you are clearly inferior in talent to you. It’s almost inevitable that you could do a better job than some of the folks who give you orders.

There may be no greater test than this—Am I willing to serve under someone who is not as qualified as I am? It’s not easy. But what a test of a servant’s heart.

David clearly, without any doubt, is the better man. Far better. And God has said, “You are my man.” But he doesn’t start a “Dump Saul” campaign. No whispering, no complaining. His one goal in life is to make Saul look good as a king. You would think, “David, that’s crazy. You’re cutting your own throat. You’ll never be king if you keep covering for that crazy old coot. He’s nuttier than a fruitcake.”

But David understood that promotion comes from the Lord. His sole job is to be ready when his moment comes. And being ready means making Saul look good. That’s what servanthood means from nine to five Monday through Friday.

III. Music for a Madman      23

Here’s the end of the story. “Whenever the spirit form God came upon Saul, David would take his harp and play. Then relief would come to Saul; He would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.”

You have there the three ways David’s music helped Saul. It helped him physically—he felt relieve. It helped him emotionally—he felt better. It helped him spiritually—the evil spirit would leave him.

The application, of course, is a kind of sidelight to the main theme. Good music does all three things for us. It helps us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. That is also a good three-way test for music that might be borderline or questionable. If it drags us down or leads us in the wrong direction physically, emotionally, or spiritually, then we would be smart to leave it alone.

By the way, why did the evil spirit leave when David played? No doubt because it didn’t like the music. What was David playing? Well, there’s a whole book in the Bible which answers that question. It’s called the Book of Psalms. David wrote over half of the Psalms.

There was something about the music and the God-honoring lyrics which drove out the evil spirit. I haven’t the slightest doubt that the same thang happens when God-honoring music is played. I also don’t doubt that some kinds and types of music are specifically designed to appeal to our lower nature and that all kinds of evil spirits may enter in through the door of sensual music.

IV. Putting it all Together

The Principle Explained

Let me sum all this up if I could. The purpose of this story is to tell us how David the shepherd arrives at the royal court of King Saul. After all, if David is going to be the next king, he’s got to learn how to “king it.” This was on-the-job training for a much bigger assignment.

Note the two things God used to get him: First, he used Saul’s strange malady. Second, he used David’s skill on the harp. He brought both of them together to get his man right where he wanted him.

In the beginning of the story, David is out in the field playing How Great Thou Art on his harp. He’s never met Saul and Saul has never heard of him. By the end of the story, through some very odd circumstances that some would call luck or coincidence—God brings them together.

There is a key principle at work here: It is the principle of Providence. Here’s a definition: Providence is the “benevolent care and guidance of God.” It literally means that God is looking out for his children. He guides their steps from beginning to end. He knows where they start out and he knows where they should end up. And arranges even the quirky details of life to make sure they get there.

David was not ready to be king until he understood from experience that God’s providence was at work in his life. Nothing happens by accident. Nothing is wasted. Not even making music for a madman.

The Principle Clarified

Note, finally, that believing in God’s providence did not mean David was passive. Three great characteristics of his life shine out in this story.

  1. He was a prepared man—Shepherd, warrior, prudent speaker, a fine-looking man. And he played the harp. What an unlikely combination.
  1. He was an available man—He was ready and willing to answer the call when it came.
  2. He was a godly man—He was a man after God’s own heart.

The Principle Applies

What about you? Are you prepared for God to use you or are you frittering your days away on things that eternally don’t matter? Do you spend your best efforts dreaming about what might be or actually doing what lies at hand?

And if God should call, are you available to him or would you say, “Lord, I’m sorry, I’m just too busy?” Are you available if God wants to use you to help somebody else get ahead? What if God wants to hide you in obscurity out on some hillside for awhile? Is God free to do even that in your life? What if God wants—for reasons of his own—to promote an inferior person ahead of you? Is God free to do that without bitterness and resentment on your part?

Are you a man or woman after God’s own heart? Would anybody say that about you? How about your reputation? If the Help Wanted ad said, “Must have a servant’s heart,” would your friends automatically think of your name?

I interject a simple word: No one will ever live this way who has not first come into a personal relationship with God.That was the bottom line on David. He knew God personally as a friend knows a friend. He had made a commitment to God and all else flowed from that fact. Those who trust in Jesus Christ have the same relationship with God. That’s the first step. To trust in Jesus Christ and believe that his death was the payment in full for all your sins. If you have never come to Christ, I urge you to come right now. Delay no longer. Come to the cross. Say, “Thank you, Lord Jesus, for dying for me. I take you as my own Savior.” Nothing else could ever be as important as that step of personal faith.

God grant that we should be people who not only believe in God’s providence, but live as those whose very lives depend upon it.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?