1 Samuel 16:16
Let our lord now command thy servants, which are before thee, to seek out a man, who is a cunning player on an harp: and it shall come to pass, when the evil spirit from God is upon thee, that he shall play with his hand, and thou shalt be well.
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(16) And it shall come to pass . . . thou shalt be well.—It has been a well-known fact in all ages that music exerts a powerful influence on the mind. We have several instances in ancient Greek literature, where this influence is recommended to soothe the passions or to heal mental disease. Pythagoras, whenever he would steep his mind in Divine power, was in the habit before he slept of having a harp played to him; Æsculapius, the physician, would often restore such sick souls with music. (See reference from Censorinus, De die natali, quoted by Keil.)

“Priests would call

On Heaven for aid: but then his brow would lower

With treble gloom. Peace! Heaven is good to all.

To all, he sighed, but one—God hears no prayers for Saul

At length one spake of music.”—HANKINSON.

16:14-23 Saul is made a terror to himself. The Spirit of the Lord departed from him. If God and his grace do not rule us, sin and Satan will have possession of us. The devil, by the Divine permission, troubled and terrified Saul, by the corrupt humours of his body, and passions of his mind. He grew fretful, peevish, and discontented, and at times a madman. It is a pity that music, which may be serviceable to the good temper of the mind, should ever be abused, to support vanity and luxury, and made an occasion of drawing the heart from God and serious things. That is driving away the good Spirit, not the evil spirit. Music, diversions, company, or business, have for a time often been employed to quiet the wounded conscience; but nothing can effect a real cure but the blood of Christ, applied in faith, and the sanctifying Spirit sealing the pardon, by his holy comforts. All other plans to dispel religious melancholy are sure to add to distress, either in this world or the next.The medicinal effects of music on the mind and body, especially as appeasing anger, and soothing and pacifying a troubled spirit, are well known. It is deeply interesting to have the youthful David thus brought before us, as using music for its highest purpose, that of turning the soul to the harmony of peace and love. We may infer that some of his Psalms, such e. g. as Psalm 23:1-6, were already composed. 14-18. The Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him—His own gloomy reflections, the consciousness that he had not acted up to the character of an Israelitish king, the loss of his throne, and the extinction of his royal house, made him jealous, irritable, vindictive, and subject to fits of morbid melancholy. And the success confirms their opinion. For although music cannot directly have any influence upon an evil spirit to drive him away; yet because the devil, as it seems, had not possession of him, but only made use of the passions of his mind and ill humours of his body to molest him; and because it is manifest that music hath a mighty power to qualify and sweeten these, and to make a man sedate and cheerful, as is evident by the unanimous consent of learned writers, and by common experience; it is not strange if the devil had not that power over him when his mind was more composed, which he had when it was disordered; as the devil had less power over lunatics in the decrease than in the increase of the moon, Matthew 17:15,18. And seeing music prepared the Lord’s prophets for the entertainment of the good Spirit, as 2 Kings 3:15, why might it not dispose Saul to the resistance of the evil spirit? and why might not the cheering of his heart, in some measure, strengthen him against those temptations of the devil which were fed by his melancholic humour?

Let our Lord now command thy servants which are before thee,.... Meaning either themselves, or some of a more inferior rank, who were in some post and office at court, waiters there, such as yeomen of the guards:

to seek out a man who is a cunning player on the harp: a musical instrument much in use in those days:

and it shall come to pass, when the evil spirit from God is upon thee; when in a melancholy mood, and Satan takes the advantage of it to distress and terrify, to spread the gloom, and stir up evil passions, and promote distraction and confusion:

that he shall play with his hand: upon the harp, that being not an instrument of wind, but of hand music:

and thou shalt be well: music being a means of cheering the spirits, and removing melancholy and gloomy apprehensions of things, and so of restoring to better health of body and disposition of mind; and that music has such an effect on the bodies and minds of men is certain from observation and experience in all ages. Music has been found to be medicine to various diseases, not only for the curing of the bite of vipers, and of the tarantula, but for easing the pains of the sciatica, and for helping persons labouring under the disorders of the frenzy (k); and Pythagoras used to compose the mind, and remove the perturbations of it, by the use of the harp (l), the thing here advised to.

(k) A. Gell. Noct. Attic. l. 4. c. 13. Alex. ab Alex. Genial. Dier. l. 2. c. 17. Vid. Philostrat. Vit. Apollon. Tyan. l. 5. c. 7. (l) Seneca de Ira, l. 3. c. 9.

Let our lord now command thy servants, which are before thee, to seek out a man, who is a cunning player on an harp: and it shall come to pass, when the evil spirit from God is upon thee, that he shall play with his hand, and thou shalt be well.
16. a cunning player] “Cunning,” from A.-S. cunnan, to know, ken, is generally used in the E. V. in its original sense of knowing, skilful, without any idea of underhand dealing.

thou shalt be well] The power of music to restore the harmony of a troubled mind is well known. Kitto (Bible Illustr., p. 212) quotes among other instances the case of Philip V. of Spain in the last century. He was seized with a total dejection of spirits, which rendered him incapable of attending to business. After all other methods had been tried unsuccessfully, the celebrated musician Farinelli was invited to perform at a concert in a room adjoining the King’s apartment. The music attracted his attention; by degrees the disease gave way, and the King was restored to his usual health.

Verses 16-18. - A cunning player on an harp. Literally, one skilful in striking the chords on the harp. In Saul's case music would have a soothing influence, and turn the current of his thoughts. His officers suggest, therefore, that search should be made for an expert musician, and Saul consents; whereupon one of the servants recommended the son of Jesse. The word used here is not the same as that found in vers. 15, 16, 17. There we have Saul's officers; here it is na'arim, "young men." Thus it was a youth of David's own age, who had probably been with him at Naioth in Ramah, that described him to Saul. The description is full and interesting, but it has its difficulties. David is not only skilful in music, of which art he would have had ample scope to manifest his powers in the service of the sanctuary at Ramah, but he is also a mighty valiant man, and a man of war, and prudent in matters, or, rather, intelligent in speech (see margin), as well as handsome and successful. Nevertheless, in 1 Samuel 17:33-36 David appears as a youth about to make his first essay in fighting; and though the two exploits mentioned there, of killing the lion and the bear, might justify his friend in calling him a mighty valiant man, literally, "a hero of valour," they do not justify the words a man of war. It is strange, moreover, that Saul should be so entirely ignorant of David's person and lineage as he is represented in the narrative in ch. 17, if thus David was court musician, though reference is made there to this visit of David to Saul in ver. 15. Possibly, however, David and this youth may have served together in repelling some marauding expedition of the Philistines, and though David may not have actually done much, - nothing, at all events, so well worth repeating to Saul as the combats with the wild beasts, - yet he may have achieved enough to convince his friend that he had in him the qualities of a man of war, i.e. of a good soldier. For the rest, we must conclude that this first visit of David was a very short one, and that after playing before Saul and being approved of, he then returned home, ready to come again whenever summoned, but that Saul's malady did not immediately return, and so a sufficient interval elapsed for Saul not to recognise him when he saw him under altered circumstances. Saul's question, "Whose son is this stripling?" (1 Samuel 17:56) seems to imply that he had a sort of confused idea about him, without being able exactly to recall who he was. The ultimate consequences of this introduction to Saul, as well as its immediate effect, are all narrated here after the usual manner of Old Testament history (see 1 Samuel 7:13). 1 Samuel 16:16When Saul's attendants, i.e., his officers at court, perceived the mental ailment of the king, they advised him to let the evil spirit which troubled him be charmed away by instrumental music. "Let our lord speak (command); thy servants are before thee (i.e., ready to serve thee): they will seek a man skilled in playing upon the harp; so will it be well with thee when an evil spirit of God comes upon thee, and he (the man referred to) plays with his hands." The powerful influence exerted by music upon the state of the mind was well known even in the earliest times; so that the wise men of ancient Greece recommended music to soothe the passions, to heal mental diseases, and even to check tumults among the people. From the many examples collected by Grotius, Clericus, and more especially Bochart in the Hieroz. P. i. l. 2, c. 44, we will merely cite the words of Censorinus (de die natali, c. 12): "Pythagoras ut animum sua semper divinitate imbueret, priusquam se somno daret et cum esset expergitus, cithara ut ferunt cantare consueverat, et Asclepiades medicus phreneticorum mentes morbo turbatas saepe per symphoniam suae naturae reddidit."
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