Being a Relief Worker (I Samuel 16:14-23)
Topic: I Samuel Passage: 1 Samuel 16:14–16:23
Crying for a King
I. "How-To" Help
On a popular "how-to" website, situated snugly in the midst of "how to caulk a new bathtub" and "how to file for worker's comp in Texas", I found a short five step write-up on "how to become a relief worker".
Now that's really not that surprising given how many times we hear the phrase "relief worker" on the evening news. From stories about relief workers serving the suffering after a natural disaster to other accounts of relief workers falling victim to some terrorist group, this position, this job seems to be constantly in the public spotlight.
What did this "how-to" article contain? Well here's one of the five steps that was listed by the writer: "Prepare yourself by getting a valid passport, a physical examination to confirm that you are in good health and all required shots and immunizations necessary to travel outside the United States."
That seems pretty obvious, doesn't it? What caught my eye on this webpage was the little blurb written in the "Tips and Warnings" section of the page. This is what it said: "Make sure you sincerely have the desire and stamina to work in the midst of challenging and dangerous environments."
I think that was the most important piece of advice on the page. Being a relief worker is not like being an interior decorator or a waiter or a file clerk. Being a relief worker often means going way outside your comfort zone in order to help people who are extremely needy. It is rewarding work, but very often, grueling work.
Do you have any interest in being a relief worker?
Turn with me this morning to I Samuel 16:14-23 (pg. 239). We are coming back, once again, to the book of Samuel, and resuming the study that we began exactly a year ago.
II. The Passage: "...And the Lord is with Him" (16:14-23)
Now, it's been about six weeks since we spent any time in Samuel, so let me remind where we left off. We saw in chapter 13 through 15, how Saul, the first king of Israel, repeatedly resisted, or ignored, or dismissed the commands of God.
Of course, from the moment we meet Saul back in chapter 9, and then in subsequent chapters, there are a number of red flags that pop up in regard to his character.
God's people didn't need any old king. They desperately needed to be led by a king who was himself led by God. Saul was not that man.
So in verses 1 through 13 of this chapter, chapter 16, we read that God chose for himself a new king: a young man named David. Unlike Saul, who was quite an impressive specimen physically, a man who looked the part of king, David was the runt of his family; he was the youngest son, and therefore stuck out in the fields, taking care of the sheep. He wasn't exactly what most people would describe as 'kingly'.
But after David's anointing by the prophet Samuel, look at what we read in verses 14 through 23 as the focus shifts back to Saul. Verse 14...
Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him. 15 And Saul's servants said to him, "Behold now, a harmful spirit from God is tormenting you. 16 Let our lord now command your servants who are before you to seek out a man who is skillful in playing the lyre, and when the harmful spirit from God is upon you, he will play it, and you will be well." 17 So Saul said to his servants, "Provide for me a man who can play well and bring him to me." 18 One of the young men answered, "Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and the Lord is with him." 19 Therefore Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, "Send me David your son, who is with the sheep." 20 And Jesse took a donkey laden with bread and a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them by David his son to Saul. 21 And David came to Saul and entered his service. And Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armor-bearer. 22 And Saul sent to Jesse, saying, "Let David remain in my service, for he has found favor in my sight." 23 And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him.
Let's go back and look at the different parts of this passage in order to better understand this passage in the context here.
A. The Problem (16:14)
First, the purpose of verse 14 is to present to the reader what we might call, "the problem". What is the problem? Well, it's clear from this verse: the Spirit of God has departed from Saul, AND a harmful spirit from God has taken its place.
Now some of you may remember that there were two places in previous chapters, in chapter 10, verse 10, and in chapter 11, verse 6, where we read that "the Spirit of God rushed upon" Saul. But the next time we find this expression used is in verse 13 of this chapter, chapter 16.
There we read: Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward.
So the Spirit has come upon David, and at the same time, has departed from Saul. Now, given the circumstances, given the fact that Saul has been rejected as king, and David has been anointed as the new king, it's pretty clear that presence of the Holy Spirit is not only a source of power, but also a mark of God's favor.
But what is this "harmful spirit" that is now tormenting Saul? Your Bible may in fact say that an "evil spirit" came on Saul. AND, maybe most troubling, we read that this harmful or evil spirit was from God!
Well, first of all, the word some Bibles translate as "evil" does not always have a moral force to it in Hebrew. It can simply mean "troubling" or "grievous" or "harmful". And so this spirit may be what the Bible calls a demon, OR it may be some kind of angel of judgment. Either way, what is affirmed here is God's absolute sovereignty. Angels only act according to God's commission and demons only torment according to God's permission.
So this "harmful spirit" may represent God's punishment for Saul's rebellion. However we understand it, the result is that David will be brought in the court of the king.
B. The Proposal (16:15-17)
Look again at verses 15-17. In light of "the problem" revealed in verse 14, these verses present to us "the proposal" offered up in order to deal with the king's dilemma.
Saul's court attendants, his advisors, propose a course treatment involving what we might call, "music therapy". Why they suggest this is not clear. It may have been that they observed that when there was music around, the king did a little better.
Desperate and frustrated, Saul endorses their suggestion and gives the order to find a man to come and play. The instrument mentioned here, the lyre, is a stringed instrument, similar to a small harp. The lyre is actually mentioned 47 times in the Bible.
C. The Prescription (16:18-20)
But look back at verse 18. After Saul endorses this proposal, one of the young court attendants offers what we might call a specific "prescription". The young man says, "Hey, there's no need to put an "Israelite Idol" talent search. I know just the guy!"
Verse 18: "Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, [but look what the young man goes on to add to his description of David] ...a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and the Lord is with him."
Now, given what we know of David up to this point, this description of him as "a man of valor" and "a man of war" seems surprising. Saul himself goes on to say to Jesse, "Send me David your son, who is with the sheep." Not necessarily the place you'd expect to find "a man of valor" and "a man of war".
Some scholars suggest that the stories are not in chronological order here, that David has already defeated Goliath, and therefore, is well-known. But that doesn't seem to fit with how David is suggested as an anonymous "son of Jesse". There's no reason to believe that Saul has any knowledge of the young man David.
What we will go on to learn in the next chapter is that, even before Goliath, David was already a skilled fighter, so much so, he was able to kill lions and bears that threatened his family's sheep.
Maybe word of these kills had spread among the young men of the region. Maybe David's prowess with weapons was well-known from sparring with other young men. We can't be sure, but it is clear that this young attendant in Saul's court wants to paint a very favorable picture of David.
In essence, he tells the king, "Hey, not only is this guy good with a lyre, but he's also a good warrior, a good speaker, and good looking. He's a rising star, O king, someone you should have in your court."
So David does end up coming to Saul, and even brings gifts to the king from his father, Jesse.
D. The Provision (16:21-23)
And so, in the final verses of this chapter, verses 21-23, we read how David was, in fact, "the provision" that Saul needed...and in more ways than one. Saul was so impressed by David that he made the young man his armor bearer, which was a position of great honor in the king's court.
But verse 23 simply brings us full circle back to the problem described in verse 14. By taking up the lyre and playing it whenever the harmful spirit came upon Saul, David was able to bring relief to the king AND cause the spirit to leave.
III. Perspective: Blessed to be a Blessing
Now, let's step back for a minute and think about why this story is here. Why did the author choose to include this story about David coming to Saul's court as a royal musician, as a royal therapist?
As we ask that question, what's important for us to understand here is that this is the first time David and Saul's paths have crossed. And if you know anything about the book of Samuel, or if we were able to fast forward this morning, we would see that the relationship between these men is the central storyline for the rest of the book.
So in light of that, I think there are three reasons why God has given us the account of Saul's introduction to David.
First, I believe this story is here because it confirms for us that David entry into Saul's court was not by invasion, but by invitation.
Given the fact that David was just anointed as king, we would expect to find in these verses a story describing the 'transfer of power' from Saul to David, from the old king to the new king. There is no transfer of power in these verses, or in the next chapter, or even the chapter after that. That transfer, that transition won't take place for another sixteen or seventeen chapters! David is the new king, but Saul will linger on the throne...not for months, but for years.
And as you may know, Saul didn't just linger. He pursued David. He tried to destroy David. But this story confirms for us that David's entry into Saul's court was not by invasion, but by invitation. David didn't seize power. His rise into the spotlight in Israel began with Saul.
You see, the whole saga of David's slow rise to power and Saul's slow fall from the throne is intended to show us what it means that David is a man after God's own heart (13:14). David will prove time and time again that he trusts, not in his own merit or methods, but in God's perfect timing.
Second, I believe this story is here because it confirms for us that the Lord really was with David.
We see how the words of the young court attendant, how the description of David given at the end of verse 18, we see how those words are proven in this account.
Remember he described David as one who is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and the Lord is with him."
We know the Spirit of God came upon David in verse 13, and we see here how the Spirit's power was expressed in David's ministry to Saul. Verse 23 is not giving us a helpful tip about exorcism; it's not laying down a principle for how to use music to deal with "harmful" spirits. No, Saul finds relief from his torment through David because the Spirit of God has come upon David, because God "is with" David. David has been blessed by God.
Third, (and here's the point I want us to focus on this morning) I believe this story is here because it confirms for us that David was blessed in order to be a blessing to all of Israel.
Was Saul a blessing to all of Israel? No! Because he always puts himself first rather than the will of God. But David's heart is different. God has chosen David to be a blessing to all Israel. David will bring victory to God's people. He will bring rest to God's people. He will direct them to God. God has chosen David to be a blessing to all Israel, and that blessing begins with, ironically, the man he was chosen to replace.
Of course, this principle is not new to the Bible's story of redemption. Like David, Joseph was a man blessed by God. Like David, Joseph was a man of whom it was said "the Lord is with him"; and His blessedness was also used to bring relief to a king, the king of Egypt. And long after David's time, we learn of another man named Daniel who was blessed by God and how he too brought relief to several kings.
We can actually trace this idea back to Abraham. Listen to how Genesis 12:1-3 introduces this principle: Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."
Abraham was blessed in order to be a blessing, and David was blessed in order to be a blessing. Specifically, what see here is that David was anointed as king in order that he might become a relief worker. Do you see that? Verse 23 tells us about the blessing of God that came through David: And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed [we could translate that "So Saul was relieved"; because of David, Saul found relief!]...
IV. Practice: Working for Real Relief
Brothers and sisters, if you think David was a man blessed by God, listen to what the Apostle Paul tells us about anyone...anyone who trusts in Jesus Christ as their only hope:
And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, 22 and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. (II Corinthians 1:21, 22)
Was David anointed? Yes, but so were you if you have trusted in Christ through the gospel. Did the Holy Spirit rush upon David? Yes, but He dwells in your heart if you trust in Christ. Brothers and sisters, David's blessings were only a shadow of the fullness of blessing we have in Jesus.
Ephesians 1 tell us that God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places... (1:3)
And like David, the New Testament confirms for us, time and time again, that we have been blessed in order to be a blessing. That's a phrase I love to use with my kids when we pray together. We don't simply say, "God, bless us, and bless grandma, and bless grandpa...". We ask for that blessing, but we also pray like this, "God would you bless us in order that we might be a blessing." What a wonderful prayer that is; what a biblical prayer that is!
Do you know how blessed you are this morning? If you do, are you savoring God's blessings? Good. Are you giving thanks for His blessings? Good. But it cannot stop there! His blessings TO us should always lead to His blessing THROUGH us.
Paul writes in II Corinthians 5:14, 15: For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (II Corinthians 5:14, 15)
What does it mean to not live for ourselves? What does it mean to live for him? Paul summed it up a chapter earlier in II Corinthians 4 when he wrote:
For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. (II Corinthians 4:5)
We have been blessed by God in order that we might live for the glory of God and the good of others. We have been blessed in order that we declare good news and demonstrate good works. We have have been blessed so that we might exclaim His love and expres His love.
Do you have any interest in being a relief worker? If you're a Christian this morning, that's exactly what God has called you to be. The torment that Saul experienced was a consequence of his spiritual rebellion. I think it's safe to say that if we think about that idea in a general way, there are tens of thousands of men, women, boys, and girls, in our community, who live in that kind of torment everyday. They are living, right now, under the weight of their spiritual rebellion. Tormented.
How will they find relief? New job? Any job? A love interest? A new prescription? Money? Therapy? A dream vacation? No, things like this only mask the symptoms...symptoms that point to a far deeper, a far more desperate condition.
Real relief only comes through the One who spoke these words: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest [relief]. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest [you will find relief] for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)
If you belong to Jesus, then you have been called to play, each day, the music of the gospel. The strings we pluck are not the strings of a lyre. They are the truths of God's word. Only God's word can bring relief to the soul tormented by sin.
The Lord is with us. Do you believe that? If you do, play...play! Speak God's word to one another. Speak God's word to those God puts in your path.
We have been blessed, not so we can sit around and selfishly fixate on our blessings. No, like David, we have been blessed so that we will be a blessing.
But be warned: "Make sure you sincerely have the, not the "desire and stamina", but the faith to work in the midst of challenging and dangerous environments."
Being a relief worker is not like being an interior decorator or a waiter or a file clerk. Being a relief worker often means going way outside your comfort zone in order to help people who are extremely needy. It is rewarding work, but very often, grueling work. Most importantly, it is God-glorifying work.
Brothers and sisters...here's the application: first, count your blessings. Let's take our eyes of our problems and savor that fact that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ. And, number two, when we do that, let's look for ways to be his relief workers; let's look for ways to be a blessing to those who are suffering under sin's torment.