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Bible Search
From the Sheep Pens to the Palace
Music For A Madman
I Samuel 16:14-23
 
For those of us who are familiar with the life and experiences of King David, it's somewhat confusing that somebody like him could be referred to as a man after God's own heart. 
 
In fact, one could come away from his story believing that David was a pretty sorry individual and it just doesn't seem right that he could do the sinful things he did and still enjoy the success and favor that he does. 
 
But to believe that is to forget one very important detail and that is that David's story is our story.  Anyone who is critical of David is ignoring, and perhaps even justifying their own shortcomings and sins.  Because the truth of the matter is that everyone of us, just like David, are pretty sorry individuals and yet, by the grace of God, we are privileged to enjoy undeserved success and favor. 
 
In fact, just like David, we are destined to a throne!  And as God moves David from the sheep pen to the palace, we have the privilege of taking some notes along the way and learning from them.  I think that's why the Bible gives so much time and space to David. There are 62 chapters devoted to his story.  
His name is mentioned over 1,000 times. David, King of Israel, a man after God’s own heart and yet a man whose failings were tragic.  A man whose story in many ways is a great disappointment and at the same time, an encouragement to everyone who reads it.
We started our survey of the early years of his life last week and 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 1 Samuel 16, David is perhaps 16 years old, assigned the menial task of caring for the family flock of sheep.
 
There is one other fact that needs to be mentioned: David is God’s choice to be the next king of Israel. And it is a choice that was made to demonstrate one primary 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 (1 Samuel 16:7).  So,
 
-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, then there’s hope for losers like you and me.
 
But that’s only the beginning. When we ended last week, even though he has been anointed by the prophet of God and endowed with the power of God, David was back out on the hillside tending the sheep. It’s a long way from the sheep pen to the palace. 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 because shepherds and kings don’t mix.
 
Unless God gets involved. And when God 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 someday be king.
 
Our text today in 1 Samuel 16:14-23 is the story of how God begins to open the door to make that happen.  And just as the choosing and anointing illustrates god's grace, today's text teaches us about God's 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.
 
The story opens by focusing on
 
1. Saul’s Strange Circumstances
 
1 Samuel 16:14-17
 
 
Immediately we are faced with a mystery. 1 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. I find that to be more than coincidental.  Those two verses belong together.  In fact, i see the second verse as a continuation of the first. 
 
From this point forward, we see the sun rising on David and setting on Saul. And even as David is rising in the knowledge of God and God raises him up as a leader, Saul sinks farther and farther away. 
 
And I believe with all my heart these two verses intentionally put David and Saul side by side for our consideration.  They are there as both a warning as well as an encouragement.
 
Now, on Saul's side, two strange things happen in verse 14.  First, the Spirit of the Lord leaves him. Two questions immediately come to mind.  The first one is "Why?" and the second one is "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?  We need to be careful how we answer that because if we aren't careful, we apply New Testament theology to an Old Testament story. 
 
 
 
As New Testament believers we are tempted to go to places like John 14:17 where Jesus tells the apostles in the Upper Room about how the Holy Spirit will live with them and in them.  We remember things like the promise that God will never leave us or forsake us. 
 
But in the Old Testament, things were different.  Old Testament believers did not enjoy a personal relationship with God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  In fact, that was one of the prophecies that was associated with the coming of the Messiah. 
 
When He came, then the Spirit would be poured out and live within them.  But until then, God would send his Spirit to certain men for certain special tasks or occasions. Old Testament believers were not permanently or universally indwelt as we are today.
 
And the difference between these two ministry functions of the Holy Spirit is one of the primary differences between the Old Testament and the New Testament and how we relate with God.
 
So here, we read that the Holy Spirit was taken from Saul's life as a direct judgment from God.  At one time he had enjoyed the manifest presence of God and that would no longer be the case, while at the same time God's power has now come upon David in anticipation of his service as king.  So that part is relatively easy to understand through a little bit of study of the Bible. 
 
The other strange thing regarding Saul is found in the second half of verse 14.
 
verse 14b  
A distressing spirit from the Lord troubles him.  Some translations use the word "evil" to describe this spirit.  And it comes to torment him.
 
So what is this evil spirit?  I looked those two words "distressing" and "troubled" up in the Hebrew, and I will tell you, it is a bad combination. 
 
The word translated "distressing" is always defined as bad or evil.  Sometimes it is further defined as disagreeable or malignant.  Sometimes it is sad or unhappy.  It can carry the idea of being hurtful or vicious.  Just think of the meanest, nastiest, most vitriolic, ugliest person you've ever known, and that's what this word means. 
 
Then, the word "troubled" is the idea of being suddenly frightened or terrorized, so much so that it is overwhelming. 
 
That's what happened with Saul.  All of a sudden, he is terrorized by the Lord and it changes everything about him.  And the result is this hurtful, vicious, vindictive evil ruler who no one can get along and is impossible to please.  It is nothing other than a demonic spirit.   
 
But how could God send an evil spirit? He could just because He is God and all creation, including the demons and devils of hell are subject to him.  Satan can do nothing without God’s permission and if God orders or allows a demon to torment a man, who are we to question that?  He does what He wants to do. 
 
And as a result of this evil, distressing spirit, Saul becomes a madman. He began 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, violence and rage. When the Spirit of God was with him, those impulses were largely checked.  But without the Spirit of God, he got worse and worse. And when God allows this evil spirit to torment him, Saul lost all rational control.
 
And it is immediately recognizable, and those closest to Saul, seeing what is happening and that it is from God, begin to search for some answers and solutions to the problem. 
 
verses 15-16
 
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 depressed 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.
As far back as 1985, Psychology Today 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.
 
And Saul's advisors, understanding the power and influence of music, offer the suggestion that they be allowed to go find someone who can play the harp and let him come play when this evil spirit is present.
 
And by the way, notice they want someone who can play "skillfully".  Notice they didn't offer to bring in the 6th grade band and let them perform.  I've been to the first concert of a 6th grade band . . . 4 times.  And I can tell you every time I've listed to the first performance of a 6th grade band after they've been playing for a grand total of about 3 months, far from being soothed, I have, in fact, been troubled by a distressing spirit! 
 
I don't know if it was sent by the Lord or not, but I can tell you there is a special place in heaven for the directors of 6th grade bands! 
 
But I've also had the privilege of watching those bands develop and grow and mature and become skillful at their instruments.  And I have listened and blessed as the beauty of their music fills the air.
 
How many of you took piano lessons when you were young?  Now for those of you who are quitters, don't you wish you'd stayed at it? 
And now that you are advanced in years and your bodies are worn out, aren't you glad you stayed with baseball and gymnastics and let your musical training go?  Just remember, you were warned by your mother that you would someday regret giving up the music lessons!
 
Every so often someone says, "I wish I could play the piano like you."  I respond, "Then get you a piano and start practicing!  Do you think it just happens?  That I could just sit down and automatically play?"
 
You've got to practice and work at it!  Do you know why God wants you to learn to play skillfully and well?  It is so you can be a blessing to someone else and serve the purposes of God!
 
Notice, the servants of Saul know he needs someone who can play skillfully, somebody who plays well, somebody who didn't quit after a few months because baseball was more important!  They want somebody who practiced when it wasn’t fun and kept at it till they were good.
 
So where do you suppose you look in Israel to find a harpist who plays well and who is willing to come to King Saul? I would guess there were plenty of harpists in Israel.  Some of them played well, and some didn't.  But from those who played well, who is  available. So who could they get?
 
verse 18
 
 
 
What a coincidence!  This servant of Saul who happens to know of the need for a harpist happens to have heard David play and he knows all about his resume!   He not only plays the harp, he is a brave man and a warrior. He is well-spoken and respectful,  He's good looking and most importantly, the Lord is with him.
 
Pretty impressive résumé. 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 think this is more than chance!  Could it be that God is directing the details?  I think so!
 
That means 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.
 
Let me remind you of a couple of Scriptures to keep in mind:  The first one is
 
Psalm 75:6-7
 
That’s one side of it.
The other side is
 
Proverbs 22:29
 
Often times we see others rise above us and we get angry or defensive or try to pass it off as luck or human circumstances.  I want to remind you, luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. And that’s what happens here with David.
 
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 servants 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 circumstances and David’s availability and skill on the harp to open the way for
 
2. David’s Unusual Ministry
 
verse 19-23
 
Saul sends for David and they hit it off immediately. David now is moved from the sheep pen to the palace.  He is not yet king.  He is just the king's bodyguard and resident musician.  But that's okay!  David didn’t set out to become king anyway.  He doesn't have an agenda  He didn't have to push his way to the throne.  He doesn't have to manipulate the circumstances.  He can just wait for God.
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 extremely apparent, especially to you, that you should be the one giving orders to some of the folks who give you orders. But there may be no better test of who you are in the Lord than this one: Are you willing to serve under someone who is not as qualified as you are? It’s not easy but your answer to that question will reveal whether or not you have a servant's heart.
 
There is no doubt that of the two, David and Saul, David 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.
 
God took him out of the sheep pen and put him in the palace to learn how to be king. How did he learn it? By watching Saul.  In reality, he was learning how NOT to be king. But by doing the opposite of what Saul did, he was better prepared for his own future reign. Along the way he was forced to serve the man he would one day replace.
This is the surprising grace of God. He learned that to lead others, he must first learn to serve.  So what happened in the meantime?
 
verse 23
 
David’s music helped Saul in at least three ways.
 
  • It helped him physically in that he was relieved of the effects of this evil spirit.
  • It helped him emotionally in that he felt better.
  • It helped him spiritually in that the evil spirit would leave him.
 
The application, of course, is 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 that 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 that drove out the evil spirit.
 
I have no doubt that the same thing happens today 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.
And that’s why the devil uses music too. He fills the airwaves and the Internet with filthy music because that music captures the mind and the heart. Music draws us to God or it drags us down to hell. Be careful what you listen to because every song leads you one direction or another.
 
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 what being a king is all about. 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 circumstances, and 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.
 
I began to day by saying this text teaches us about the providence of God.  Let me give you a definition of providence.  Providence is the 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 He arranges even the quirky, odd details of life to make sure they get there.
Think about that in light of Saul and David.  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. And God will even arrange the circumstances so you wind up playing the harp for a psychopath if he needs to. 
 
In closing, I want to mention three great characteristics from the life of David that are already beginning to emerge.  
 
First, I notice David was
 
- a prepared man
 
David knew how to tend sheep.  He knew how to be a warrior.  He was well-versed in how to speak.  He took care of himself physically and he was trained and proficient in playing the harp.  All this, and he's still just on the verge of adulthood.  No wonder he captured the attention of the King's servant.   .
 
Second, he was
 
- an available man
 
He was ready and willing to answer the call when it came.
 
And third, he was
 
- a godly man
 
He is described as a man after God’s own heart.  I've known a lot of good men through my life, but I've also known a few godly men.
So what about you? Are you prepared for God to use you or are you squandering your time and days on things that eternally don’t matter? Do you make any difference when it comes to the kingdom of God?
 
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 a while? Is God free to do even that in your life? What if God wants, for reasons known only to His own providence, 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 close with this simple thought: 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 confess You as my own personal Savior.” Nothing else could ever be as important as that step of personal faith.
 
1n 1890 George Matheson wrote a lovely hymn called Make Me a Captive, Lord. Chances are very few, if any of us have ever heard it. It is a hymn filled with paradoxes.   
 
But the life of George Matheson was a paradox.  Although he was nearly blind by age 18, he became a brilliant student at Glasgow University, eventually earning his masters and two doctorates.  He served faithfully and effectively as a minister in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and wrote several books on theology as well as devotional materials and a book of poetry. 
 
As one who understood paradox, I wonder if he didn't have David in mind when he wrote:
 
Make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free.
Force me to render up my sword, and I shall conqueror be.
 
I sink in life’s alarms when by myself I stand;
Imprison me within Thine arms, and strong shall be my hand.
 
My will is not my own till Thou hast made it Thine;
If it would reach a monarch’s throne, it must its crown resign.
 
It only stands unbent amid the clashing strife,
When on Thy bosom it has leant, and found in Thee its life.
 
Commentator John McNeil said of David: “The grace within him could not be hid.” I find that an arresting thought. God grant that the grace within us might not be hid but might be seen by all who know us.
 
Let's pray.
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