But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him.
And Saul’s servants said unto him, Behold now, an evil spirit from the LORD troubleth thee.
Let our lord now command thy servants, which aye 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.
At first it may almost have provided Saul with a sense of relief to see Samuel go away from him at Gilgal. Not as though, of course, he really wanted that. For many years now,—in fact, since first he became king,—he had looked upon Samuel as one of his most reliable and influential supporters. After all, Samuel was the first one who had really recognized his royal potentials, and it had been Samuel who had done more than anyone else to set him upon the throne. And he knew, even as the people knew, that Samuel stood in a relationship to the God of Israel such as no one else shared. Without personal ambition for himself, Samuel was the kind of friend for a king to have; and Saul would have done almost anything he could to have saved the favor of that old man. Nevertheless, the fact was that his relationships with Samuel had not been the best the last couple of years. That old man had become quite troublesome. Again and again he would insist upon probing into all kinds of things that were none of his business. He would come around making great big issues out of little things that really couldn’t be very important. He was always placing him, the king, on the defensive and forcing him to make up all kinds of excuses for things of which a king shouldn’t really have to feel ashamed. Samuel had become a nuisance, to say the least; and it may well have been with a certain sense of relief, a frustrated anger, and a few muttered curses, that Saul watched that gray head bob along into the distance. If the old man wanted to act that way, he would show that he was perfectly capable of getting along without him.
And when it came down to it, there was no apparent reason why he, Saul, should feel any need for Samuel. It could be understood that when he had first become king he had needed a man like Samuel upon whom he could lean if need be. It had always proved worthwhile in those days to call in Samuel for consultation whenever the problems had become too great. And it had always helped too, if for no other reason than that Samuel always respected his right to the throne, more so perhaps than anyone else. But that was quite a few years ago now, and through those years he, Saul had grown and developed in his own right. He had learned to carry himself about with a kingly bearing, and he had proved himself before the people with all of the great victories which he had won against enemies on every side. He knew how to give orders and the people obeyed them. The reins of the kingdom were firmly in his hands; why should he worry? If Samuel wanted to be that way, let him be that way. If Samuel thought that he could bother him by throwing around all kinds of wild threats and predictions which he didn’t really know anything about, let him go. What did he care. He would prove to Samuel, the people, and everyone that he was king in Israel and could do anything he wanted.
And so it was that Saul returned to his victory celebration at Gilgal. Agag was now dead so he could not parade him about the way he had planned. But that wasn’t so bad. After his meeting with Samuel such pomp no longer appealed anyway. But the cattle were still there. They would have their sacrifices and their feast regardless of what Samuel had said. For the rest of the day, Saul threw all that he had into the merriment of a great victory celebration, trying with all that was in him just to forget about Samuel; and for a time it seemed that he succeeded—almost. But underneath, that feeling was there, that hollow emptiness, that gnawing pain at the pit of the stomach, that strange uneasiness. It wouldn’t go away.
But the celebration wasn’t the worst. It was when he went home that night and tried to sleep. Then it came back to him—that voice of Samuel, louder and louder and louder still until it shouted and screamed through his head, and hour upon hour he tossed, searching for an answer he could give to drive it away, or dozing in nightmarish frenzy as he dreamed of himself trying to hide from that voice. Only the breaking of dawn finally brought some relief.
And yet, was it really relief? True, the awful fantasies of the night were gone, perhaps never to return in so emphatic a form again; but the uneasiness, the trouble was still there. The morning was different too, and the day. Saul found himself unable to return to normal activities and work. He tried; but he couldn’t work. He sought diversions as only a king can do, but they didn’t help. He called friends to talk to him, only to send them away again, or to sit staring past them in stony silence, not hearing a word that they said. Hour after hour he sat thinking, morose, and angry, and sad.
And it wasn’t just hours either. Soon they stretched out into days, and the days into weeks; and the weeks into months, and nothing would bring any relief. Gone, really in a moment, at the pronouncement of a prophet of God, was the king that Israel through the years had come to know and love. Naive he had been at times, but they had liked him just the same; proud he had been to an extreme, but that was expected of a king; self-willed and foolish had been his orders at times, but what did that matter when he could laugh and smile and make them glad? But now that was gone; it was different. They had told themselves it was temporary and soon would pass by. The servants pretended they didn’t notice; but their eyes betrayed their concern, and then their sadness, and finally their fear; and Saul knew that they knew even though he tried to ignore it. He too tried to pretend there was nothing and tried to shake it off, especially when someone else was near; but the effort was too great and it never really left him, so that he finally just gave in. His nerves became frayed, his temper short, and laughter disappeared from the palace while the business of the kingdom ground to a halt. His eyes seemed to withdraw into their sockets to become dark, shifty, and obscure so that fewer and fewer even tried to look him in the face. A cloud seemed to have settled over the palace, and all of the land was darkened.
At long last one of the servants approached to dare to say to the king what the servants had been saying among themselves for some time. He said, “Behold now, an evil spirit from God troubleth thee. 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.” Here was a dangerous thing to say with its deep insinuation. A few months before it might only have been spoken at the danger of the servant’s life. But now the resistance was gone. Saul knew that what the servant said was true.
It was that which had never ceased to haunt him from the time that Samuel left him at Gilgal, those words, “Thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD hath rejected thee from being king over Israel. . . The LORD hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbor of thine, that is better than thou. And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent.”
Actually Saul could not understand why those words of Samuel should bother him so much. Samuel had often come to him, particularly in the early days of the kingdom, and had talked to him at length about Jehovah, the God of Israel, who He was and why He should be worshipped; but most of it Saul had ignored almost completely. He had taken note of those actions which were to be required of him, and for the rest had let it slip by. Nevertheless, through it all, there was one thing that Saul had felt to be important, and that was the fact that he had received his appointment as king from Samuel under the authority of Jehovah. Saul did not know a great deal about this God of Israel, and he had no great desire to know much either, but he did recognize the fact that in this God there was some strange and supernatural power. And now that power was turned against him. It was that consciousness which he could not seem to shake; it was from underneath that cloud that he could not seem to draw. Not, of course, that he was in any sense repentant for anything he had done. That wasn’t the point. It just seemed to make his whole life so much more difficult, and he really didn’t even know what he could do to counteract it, although counteract it he surely must.
For that reason the suggestion of the servants even struck him with a bit of welcome. He had heard before that there was a certain spiritual power to music, and maybe it was worth a try. Maybe some music would be able to counteract at least the depressive power of that curse which Samuel had placed upon him.
At his word, the preparations were soon in the making. The servants themselves already had in mind a young man who had in his own locality become somewhat renowned for his abilities upon the harp. Soon he was summoned; and there was no delay, for the request of the king was an order to be obeyed without question, particularly for a man like Jesse. The presence of his son David was requested at the court, and accordingly he sent him with a rich gift of bread and wine and meat.
It must surely have been a strange meeting: the tall, dark, overbearing and somber king with the young David, hardly any more a boy and yet not a man, fresh from the invigorating duties of the field. To the young lad, overawed by the splendor of the court, it seemed that the deep, dark eyes of the king were almost indifferent to his presence, for the sad look of the king’s face varied not at all. Little did he realize that those eyes were set intently on his every move Yet it was not David’s features as such with which the king was concerned; it was more his general bearing and attitude, his innocence, his vitality, his unassuming confidence, his gracious bearing and strength. These were the things which Saul had always wanted for himself, the things which he had expected to come to him with the kingship; but instead it seemed that they were receding farther and farther away.
It was, however, when this young man took up his harp and began to play that the king was most affected. There was a light, care-free, joyful air about the youth which seemed to unite him naturally with the instrument and radiated out from him upon the sound of the music. From the lad it seemed that a buoyant spirit of unfearful joy lilted forth to surround the king completely and to catch him up into its grasp. For the first time since Samuel had left him, Saul found himself capable of forgetting that fearful curse that had been pronounced upon him; and he could assume once again that in the end all was sure to turn again toward his favor. For a few days he kept the lad there in the palace to play for him, and then he dismissed him. By the sound of his music it appeared that that spirit of foreboding evil had been driven from him, and he was cured.