Saul & the Evil Spirit

This morning I found myself in 1 Samuel 16. I started reading through the whole Bible cover-to-cover for my devotions an embarrassingly long time ago, (5 years?), but I always find it interesting that what I read connects so well with what’s going on in my life at the time. I assume this is more a testament to the applicability and relevance of the Bible than Providential approval of slacking off.

God’s been working in my heart a lot since the move, and one thing that was weighing heavily on me is a desire to be more loving to my neighbors, more outgoing and encouraging to those around me. There seems to be a different dynamic to city life than back home; or maybe a change in perspective has simply uncovered this problem in me. The Christians I’ve met here are really outgoing people… even ones I would term introverts. (A lot of them are or plan to be missionaries… hmm…)

I had spent some time praying about this, about knowing how I could be more loving, and then I read the second half of the passage I mentioned.

Saul had just been rejected by God. He was given the throne before there was a throne to be had, and the power went to his head. He began listening to the people, doing what was best for himself, and he even built himself a monument! He only sought God’s will as a last resort, and when Samuel confronted him, he repeatedly lied to Samuel’s face. The result? Since you have rejected the Lord, He has rejected you as king.

Then we find a controversial passage of Scripture: God removes His Spirit from Saul and sends an evil spirit to torment him. Why would God bring evil into Saul’s life? And not just a circumstance but demonic presence? Can God do that and still be holy and good? At the surface, this passage doesn’t really bother me. God is sovereign, He always has a plan, and He has given me his Holy Spirit. I don’t have to walk in fear.

It was at that point that the first conviction hit: no, you don’t, Josh… but your neighbors do. Maybe they aren’t all harassed by demons, but they all have pain in their lives. Granted, some more than others, but they do have reason to fear. Meanwhile, Josh has been looking out for #1.

So I read on. Saul’s advisers, who may or may not have been spiritually-tuned guys, seem to think the solution is obvious. They don’t go to a priest, a psychologist, a medicine man… they don’t send him to a day spa to relax or encourage him to find himself in a hobby. They turn to music. Could music soothe more than just the savage beast? Could it really ward off this evil spirit? They seemed to think this was logical, so I have to think there was some evidence somewhere to lead them to this conclusion.

The great irony here is that the best harpist around happens to be the guy that Samuel just secretly anointed as king to replace Saul. His name is David, and he doesn’t seem too concerned with the fact that he’s in this potentially awkward middle phase of knowing God’s will and not being there yet. He agrees to come serve Saul, with no hint of jealousy or animosity… nothing smug in his demeanor. He would end up waiting a long time to actually take Saul’s crown.

Sure enough, when David would play his harp for Saul, the evil spirit would go away, and Saul would find peace again. And this is when the second conviction hit me: God has blessed me with this gift of music and so often I keep it to myself. The only times I share are when I have a stage and attention. If I do play in an unstructured setting, my thoughts are about me. (It gives me no pleasure to admit it, but I believe it is true.) What do they think of my song? I bet they’ll be impressed if they hear this. To my shame, I cannot think of a single time that I picked up a guitar and sat in the corner thinking about how I could bless someone, how they could benefit.

David had this ability to give relief to someone in pain through a gift of God that had no doubt given him much joy as well. In fact, I would go so far as to say this is [at least partly] why God sent that evil spirit in the first place: so that David could come and minister to Saul.

I have often wondered what it would have been like to hear Jesus and his disciples sing that last hymn together at the Last Supper. To hear these simple, devoted men sing WITH God for the last time before the world was turned on its ear… the significance and meaning takes my breath away. To a lesser extent, I wish I could hear what David played for Saul. Did he sing? Were they songs about God? Or was it just the music itself? I wonder how David must have felt as he watched Saul’s composure change and know he had a hand in that. I wonder if these intimate moments would play a part in David’s refusal to do Saul any harm when Saul later devoted his life to killing him.

So by now you can probably guess where I’m going with this: if I would just let go of my pride and fear and share this gift of music to bless others and not myself, it could be one simple way of answering that prayer. Maybe instead of practicing for the stage, I should start practicing for the corner. Maybe instead of being concerned with presence, I should be attuned to absence.

There are no doubt many ways that I can be more loving to others, but this was the one God showed me this morning. And for my part, I’m thankful for Saul and the evil spirit, and even more so for humble David and his music.

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