1 Samuel 16:23
And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was on Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(23) David took an harp, and played with his hand.—“The music,” beautifully writes F. D. Maurice, “was more than a mere palliative. It brought back for the time the sense of a true order, a secret, inward harmony, an assurance that it is near every man, and that he may enter into it. A wonderful message, no doubt, to a king or a common man, better than a great multitude of words, a continual prophecy that there is a deliverer who can take the vulture from the heart, and unbind the sufferer from the rock. . . . As the boy minstrel played, the afflicted monarch was refreshed, and the dark clouds rolled away.”

“He is Saul, ye remember in glory—ere error had bent

The broad brow from the daily communion, and still, though

much spent

Be the life and the bearing that front you, the same God did

choose

To receive what a man may waste, desecrate, never quite

lose.”—BROWNING: Saul.

And the evil spirit departed from him.—Many instances besides those recorded above (see note to 1Samuel 16:16) might be quoted of the beneficial effects of music and singing upon a disturbed spirit, or on a mind diseased. The holy Elisha, we are told, when “disturbed in spirit,” would call for a minstrel, and after listening to the sweet, soothing strains, would write and speak his prophetic utterances.

In modern times a well-known instance of this strange power over a troubled spirit is that of Philip V. of Spain, who, we are told, was restored from the deepest melancholy and depression by the sweet voice and words of Farinelli. Luther speaks of this power of music over the sick and weary soul as “one of the fairest and most glorious gifts of God, to which Satan is a bitter enemy, for it removes from the heart the weight of sorrow and the fascination of evil thoughts.” Basil’s words on this subject are worth quoting:—“Psalmody is the calm of the soul, the repose of the spirit, the arbiter of peace. It silences the wave, and conciliates the whirlwind of our passions. It is an engenderer of friendship, a healer of dissension, a reconciler of enemies. It repels demons, lures the ministry of angels, shields us from nightly terrors, and refreshes us in daily toil.”

1 Samuel 16:23. The evil spirit departed — Namely, for a season. And the reason of this success might be partly natural, and partly supernatural, respecting David; whom God designed by this means to bring into favour with the king, and so to smooth the way for his advancement. 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 difficulty of reconciling this verse with 1 Samuel 17:55-58, is met thus: The words here are the ultimate sequence of David's first visit to Saul, and of his skill in music, and are therefore placed here; but they did not really come to pass until after David's victory over Goliath (see 1 Samuel 18:2). It is quite conceivable that if David had only played once or twice to Saul, and then returned to his father's house for some months, Saul might not recognize him. 23. David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well—The ancients believed that music had a mysterious influence in healing mental disorders. To wit, for a season. And the reason of this success may be partly natural and common; of which see on 1 Samuel 16:16; and partly supernatural and special, respecting David, whom God designed by this means to bring into favour with the king and his court, and so to smooth the way for his advancement. And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul,.... See 1 Samuel 16:14 though the word evil is not in the text here; wherefore Abarbinel thinks that this here was the Spirit of God, which stirred up in him thoughts of divine things, put him in mind of what God had said, that he had rejected him from being king, and had rent the kingdom from him; and this filled him with grief and trouble, and he became melancholy:

that David took an harp, and played with his hands; upon it; and, as Josephus (r) says, at the same time sung hymns and psalms; made use both of vocal and instrumental music:

so Saul was refreshed, and was well; became cheerful, his grief was removed, his black and gloomy apprehensions of things were dispersed, and he was cured of his melancholy disorder for the present:

and the evil spirit departed from him: at least for a while; he had his fits and intervals; of the effects of music in a natural way; see Gill on 1 Samuel 16:16, though no doubt the music of David was more than natural, being attended with the power and blessing of God, in order to raise his fame and credit at court.

(r) Ut supra. (Antiqu. l. 6. c. 8. sect. 2.)

And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was {g} refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.

(g) God would have Saul receive this benefit from David's hand, that his condemnation might be even more evident, for his cruel hate toward him.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
23. And it came to pass, &c.] The verbs in this verse are frequentative, expressing what happened repeatedly.

On the apparent inconsistency between this account of David’s introduction to Saul, and the narrative of the next chapter see Note VI. p. 241.When Saul commanded them to seek out a good player upon a stringed instrument in accordance with this advice, one of the youths (נערים, a lower class of court servants) said, "I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, skilled in laying, and a brave man, and a man of war, eloquent, and a handsome man, and Jehovah is with him." The description of David is "a mighty man" and "a man of war" does not presuppose that David had already fought bravely in war, but may be perfectly explained from what David himself afterwards affirmed respecting his conflicts with lions and bears (1 Samuel 17:34-35). The courage and strength which he had then displayed furnished sufficient proofs of heroism for any one to discern in him the future warrior.
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