Margin Notes: From 1 Samuel


1 Samuel 16:14–23 (NET) — 14 Now the Spirit of the Lord had turned away from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him. 15 Then Saul’s servants said to him, “Look, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you!” 16 Let our lord instruct his servants who are here before you to look for a man who knows how to play the lyre. Then whenever the evil spirit from God comes upon you, he can play the lyre and you will feel better.”17 So Saul said to his servants, “Find me a man who plays well and bring him to me.” 18 One of his attendants replied, “I have seen a son of Jesse in Bethlehem who knows how to play the lyre. He is a brave warrior and is articulate and handsome, for the Lord is with him.” 19 So Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me your son David, who is out with the sheep. 20 So Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a container of wine, and a young goat and sent them to Saul with his son David. 21 David came to Saul and stood before him. Saul liked him a great deal, and he became his armor bearer. 22 Then Saul sent word to Jesse saying, “Let David be my servant, for I really like him.” 23 So whenever the spirit from God would come upon Saul, David would take his lyre and play it. This would bring relief to Saul and make him feel better. Then the evil spirit would leave him alone.

A few years ago I met a retired professor of Psychiatry from Harvard in the airport. In our conversation, I asked what the biggest change was that he had witnessed in his profession in his 50 year career. He told me frankly (lamentingly): “we don’t treat people anymore, we just medicate them.” And as I ponder this text, I wonder how many Christians do the very same thing – by what appears to be superficially, a very “spiritual” thing?

You see Saul’s problem was that he had disobeyed God sorely in the affair with the Amalekites in the previous chapter. God has said he would take the kingdom away from Saul as a result. But rather than Saul repenting and seeking forgiveness – irrespective of reversing his penalty – he simply sulked. Sulked and suffered. And indeed suffered at the hand of God in being tormented by a spirit sent from God. True, the Lord had said Saul would lose the Kingdom – but that did not mean Saul himself was beyond recovery. Where there is repentance and a humble heart, God forgives. But at this point Saul would rather get any benefit or relief by proxy than to humble himself before the Lord and seek the remedy in his own relationship with Him. So he employs David to “medicate” him how? – with “Christian” music. For David was a Psalmist. And singing praises to God in that day was sometimes referred to as “prophesying” (see: 1 Sam. 10:5, 1 Chron. 25:103).

And I wonder just how many Christians have lapsed into a nearly identical state? They have sin in their lives, or have suffered a failure, but instead of seeking God directly for forgiveness, repentance and restoration, they defer to simply medicating themselves psychologically by hymns and songs and spiritual worship. The music of the Church makes them feel better – for a time. It is a sort of worship by proxy. But it is not the same as having had their relationship with the Father restored rightly. Never resolving their issue with their God – they let it tragically drone on in this horrible way. From the outside it looks spiritual, when in reality, it is little more than a mild placebo.

It is one thing for us to find solace and comfort in the worship and music of the Kingdom as a part of our ordinary course. God has provided it for us. But it is quite another to use it as a substitute for having our hearts searched and brought back to a right place with the Father. Confession, repentance and by faith receiving forgiveness because of the Cross of Christ will move us beyond the need for a Gospel “pill”, and restore us to sweet and intimate fellowship with the Father. Don’t settle for Saul’s poor remedy.

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