Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

1 Samuel 16:23

So it came about whenever the evil spirit from God came to Saul, David would take the harp and play it with his hand; and Saul would be refreshed and be well, and the evil spirit would depart from him.
New American Standard Version

Bible Study Resources

Nave's Topical Bible - David;   Demons;   Harp;   Jesse;   Saul;   Thompson Chain Reference - Harps;   Instruments, Chosen;   Music;   Musical Instruments;   Torrey's Topical Textbook - Music;  
American Tract Society Bible Dictionary - Harp;   Jesse;   Music;   Bridgeway Bible Dictionary - David;   Disease;   Music;   Psalms, book of;   Saul, king of israel;   Spirit;   Baker Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology - Demon;   Disease;   Evil;   Psalms, Theology of;   Charles Buck Theological Dictionary - Prayer;   Easton Bible Dictionary - Harp;   Fausset Bible Dictionary - David;   Harp;   Music;   Neginah;   Samuel, the Books of;   Holman Bible Dictionary - Devil;   Diseases;   Samuel, Books of;   Saul;   Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible - David;   Exorcism;   Music and Musical Instruments;   Samuel, Books of;   Saul;   Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament - Exorcism;   Morrish Bible Dictionary - Harp;   The Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary - Music;   People's Dictionary of the Bible - Kingdom of christ of heaven;   Kingdom of god;   Kingdom of heaven;   Saul;   Smith Bible Dictionary - Exorcist,;  
Condensed Biblical Cyclopedia - Hebrew Monarchy, the;   International Standard Bible Encyclopedia - David;   Jesse;   Music;   Psalms, Book of;   Refresh;   Samuel, Books of;   The Jewish Encyclopedia - Exorcism;   Samuel, Books of;  

Adam Clarke Commentary

The evil spirit from God - The word evil is not in the common Hebrew text, but it is in the Vulgate, Septuagint, Targum, Syriac, and Arabic, and in eight of Kennicott's and De Rossi's MSS., which present the text thus: רעה אלהים רוח ruach Elohim raah, spiritus Domini malus, the evil spirit of God. The Septuagint leave out Θεου, of God, and have πνευμα πονηρον, the evil spirit. The Targum says, The evil spirit from before the Lord; and the Arabic has it. The evil spirit by the permission of God; this is at least the sense.

And the evil spirit departed from him - The Targum says, And the evil spirit descended up from off him. This considers the malady of Saul to be more than a natural disease.

There are several difficulties in this chapter; those of the chronology are pretty well cleared, in the opinion of some, by the observations of Bishop Warburton; but there is still something more to be done to make this point entirely satisfactory. Saul's evil spirit, and the influence of music upon it, are not easily accounted for. I have considered his malady to be of a mixed kind, natural and diabolical; there is too much of apparent nature in it to permit us to believe it was all spiritual, and there is too much of apparent supernatural influence to suffer us to believe that it was all natural.

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Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 16:23". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". 1832.

The Biblical Illustrator

1 Samuel 16:23

So that Saul was refreshed and was well.

The minstrel physician

Long and varied was to be David’s education for the throne. His shepherd experience had been one of his schoolmasters. And now acquaintance with the Court, and the glimpse it gave him into the duties of government and the nation’s condition, was to be another. At Court, too, he was to learn the poverty of human power. Was not King Saul bound in the cords of misery, and one of the poorest, because wretchedest, men in that or any other kingdom? Thus the King-elect was being prepared for his future eminence. But how came he at Court? By no seeking of his own. The youth had become a man. And many marked him, and one who had seen him told the king of him and wound up his eulogium with “the Lord is with him.” That servant’s knowledge of David, and the king’s ignorance of David, for little did he suspect that the commended shepherd youth was to be his successor, “worked together” for David’s advancement to be the royal harper. Thus the way began to open to the throne. By what varied and strange instrumentalities God’s purposes are wrought out! We see it in this ancient story. And do we not see it today in the life of nations? Think of United Italy and how Mazzini’s pen, and Cavour’s brain, and Garibaldi’s arm worked and successfully to the one difficult end of giving this beautiful, long-oppressed land a rightful place among the nations. Think of the enslaved multitudes of America, and of the many who, militant only for the “Union,” involuntarily helped them into liberty. The doors of opportunity have swung upon little hinges. He whose eyes are quick to note Providence in his life will never lack a Providence to note.

I. Saul’s need of David. He needed someone. God indeed, was his need! But that he forgot, as did his servants. They counselled a harper as the best physician for his melancholy madness. David’s name was mentioned. At length he stood before the king. What was this malady? Is the phrase “evil spirit,” “evil spirit from God” (or that came by Divine permission), only a strong Orientalism for melancholy? That is bad to bear, and, rooted in physical causes, many a good man has had to bear it. Dr. Johnson was one, and once under its terrible depression exclaimed, “I would consent to have a limb amputated to recover my spirits.” But such an interpretation as this will not cover the large, sad statements in reference to Saul. Josephus says, “The Divine Power departed from Saul, and strange and demoniacal disorders came upon him, and brought upon him such suffocations as were ready to choke him.” David “charmed his passion, and was the only physician against the trouble he had from the demons, whensoever it was that it came upon him, and this by reciting of hymns, and playing upon the harp, and bringing Saul to his right mind again.” (Antiquities, b. 6. c. 8.) Whatever view is taken of Saul’s malady the record is full of warning to us all. Well may we in the recollection of Saul “Stand in awe and sin not.”

II. The power and powerlessness of music. David proved its power upon the evil-possessed Saul. Great the mystery of music. It sighs in the breeze, whispers in the stream, thunders in the sea, rolls in the mountain echoes, “thinner, clearer, farther going.” It is hidden, too, in the very substance of things. From wood of most musical quality, the rarest, finest-sounding viols are made. Music waits to be tinkled out of steel, clashed out of brass, blown from horn, struck from tense string. Man plays upon the instrument and the instrument plays upon the man. In the words of Bushnell, “A man may plod, plot, speculate, and sneer, who has no fibred harp of music hid in his feeling; he may be a qualified atheist, usurer, demagogue, dogmatist, or hangman: but he cannot be one that stirs men’s blood Divinely, whether in song or in speech, and is very little like to be much of a Christian.” History has much to tell us of this wondrous God’s gift to man. The wisest ancient heathens told of the influence of music in their fable of Orpheus around whose lyre thronged trees and entranced rocks, and wild beasts charmed for awhile from their fury. One of our poets has imagined Cain, “an awful form,” half brute, half human, listening to Jubal’s harp, listening to the novel, anguish restraining harmony--

“Till remorse grew calm;

Till Cain forsook the solitary wild,

Led by the minstrel like a weaned child.”

This, if no more than a poet’s fancy, is at any rate his confession of the power of music. What nation has lacked its patriotic anthem? Songs like the Marsellaise have aided nations into freedom. Music is freedom’s friend and languishes in bondage. God’s gift is it to man. Cultivate home music, then. Let it be of the best. Alas! that this God’s gift should be desecrated. The noblest music is religious. It comes to its crown of nobility as it is consecrated to the Highest. We see it in David. What larger legacy of blessing could he have left than he has in his psalms? They are never old. They are the possession, the voice of God, of each willing soul. And they are all of musical make: written to be sung: sung when first written by Hebrew choirs and choral multitudes in worship. Grateful for this Divine gift, let us holily use it. The devil fled from his flute, said Luther. Let us, with cheerful, holy music, keep at distance the evil ones of doubt, fear, care. Let, the love of Christ be the marching song of our life. May His name be our life’s sweetest music. And may the music of that name be the refreshment of our dying hour. (G. T. Coster.)

The worth and worthlessness of music

1. In this chapter we have Saul and David brought together; and round the combination of these two names a wonderful history gathers. Saul and David! How bright is the halo that surrounds one of those heads, and how dark is the cloud that settles on the brow of the other! how increasingly bright the one; how increasingly dark the other! And let me say that these two men represent two great but opposing principles. David represents the man of grace. A man he is with many faults, with many things which make him like other men at their worst; but a man who is, notwithstanding, by grace, although with who could be Saul, a man who could be and might be Saul at his worst, but who, with all this, knows that he is bad, sincerely repents of his evil, and asks for grace that he may be better. And Saul is a man after, not God’s own heart, but a man after his own heart. Saul, notwithstanding many points wherein he seems to be a David, is of a totally different spirit from David. How bright he was at the beginning! how frank, how modest, how generous, how ingenuous! David himself could scarcely have played the part better than Saul played it at the time when he was chosen to be king by Samuel, and suddenly exalted to that high dignity. And yet Saul, after all, was so centred in himself, so proud, as rebellious, so possessed of an evil spirit, that his day went down into deep and deepening darkness.

2. Notice further how the old Book does not hesitate to trace everything up to God. The writers of this Book, whenever they come across a dark, perplexing problem, are men of this stamp--they get themselves to rest, to mental rest and consistency, when otherwise all things would rock and reel, by pressing everything up to God and letting it lie there. To put the very devil into God’s hands gives rest; I can wait now; he is on a chain Why is evil here? And it is remarkable how the writers of the Bible, without making God responsible, put Him in there in the meantime. We rest here, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” You see how the problem breaks out upon us. “An evil spirit from the Lord troubled Saul.” What is this? What imp from hell crept up to the Bible and wrote that in it? “An evil spirit from the Lord.” Well, but that rings all through the Bible! The Lord is put in in the meantime, for us short-sighted mortals, and He seems to say, “Rest here; nee as far along the difficulty as Me, and do not ask anything further.” And although it seems herd for Me, and although it seems awkward for Me, I will bear the brunt; and in the end of the day I will be just and justified, and clear Myself when I am judged.”

3. But now we will come at once, for we must hasten, to the real explanation of Saul’s misery It was this--secret sin; but I will give that sin a name: secret sin, taking the shape of self-will, which was not repented of and done away with self-will was the secret explanation of all Saul’s inward and outward misery, of all the still heavier distress which overtook him later on. The Spirit of God has laid Saul bars to the very backbone, and we know what was his disease. When will we understand that the Lord is always trying to lay us bare to ourselves? There is a stone in the machine: may it soon be detected and put away, then all the wheels shall move swiftly and without friction, as they used to do. There is war in your own heart. I grant there are troubles without--external sources of trouble and annoyance--but how many of us here today can say that we are free from the battle that raged in Saul’s breast--that worst of all fights: the fight between a man and his conscience; between a man and his God? Saul’s lust was a lust for power, a lust for his own way. But he cloaked it, he covered it, he disguised it, he twisted it into religious phrases, he kept justifying himself to himself and to Samuel. But he is laid bare, and all subterfuges are torn to pieces.

4. Just a word about the too-cheap and slim and utterly inadequate remedy that was tried for Saul. The help and the helplessness, the worth and the worthlessness of music--the use and the uselessness of recreation, of changer of pleasure, of relaxation. How far these go; and how far they don’t go! His servants came around Saul and virtually said, “What you need, dear master, is change; what you need is relaxation; what you need is music.” No treasures, says the poet of my country--

“Nae treasures, nae pleasures can mak us happy lang,

The heart’s aye, the pairt aye, that makes us richt or wrang,”

And if God is not in the heart, then the evil spirit is in it. Music! Well, we will say nothing against music. Music hath charms of every kind; who has not felt its power? The man is not influenced and softened by music, we are almost inclined to say with Shakespeare, “Let no such man be trusted.” We feel naturally suspicious of him. And yet how little it does! When we see what music sets itself to cure--London’s music, London’s sacred music, or its secular music--when we see what it is called in to cure, it is no wonder if I should get a little outspoken about it. Music for a madman!--whenever did it cure madness? Music for a man who needs Almighty God!--what a pitiful remedy! And is not that what the very Church of God is saying today? The masses--the squirming, wretched howling masses--fiddle to them, oh, fiddle to them; get up music for them, get up popular entertainments for them. Cast out the devil with the fiddle! You talk about curing earthquakes with pills, it is very much the same as curing poor Saul’s trouble by getting a man who was skilful with his hands upon the harp. And a word, let me put in here, to people who are susceptible of music. This which was meant to do good to Saul, I rather think that in the end it only deepened his trouble; for medicine, when brought in in a case like this, if it does not permanently benefit, it will permanently injure. Said a young man to me, “When I go into a church where there is an organ, even before the sermon begins, and there is ‘the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault;’ when the music from the organ begins to peal and to steal, I almost begin to think I am a new creature.” Well, if the organ is going to do it, it was an awful mistake for Christ to have climbed upon the cross. That was the blunder of all time--the Crucifixion was not needed if music and organs and choirs can cast out the evil spirit from a man. That is the trouble. Nothing will cure thy heart but the almighty grace from the Lord Jesus Christ, through the Word and the Truth of His Gospel. No; one of the sad things of this story is to find how near Saul came to a cure, and how far he remained from it. One could almost cry out, “Oh, Saul, you are on the right track, and yet you are altogether wrong! Oh, Saul, take not only the harp and the music, but if you would take the harper to your heart, that would cure you!” What was all Saul’s trouble? It was David. David was the stone, the stumbling stone, over which he tripped and fell. The story gets breathless in its sad interest: David brought so near; and if Saul had only lent his heart as well as his ears, and taken David in and loved him, David would have been his salvation. My parable is easily applied. You do make a certain use of Christ; like Saul, you make a certain use of David and a certain use of religion, and you admit its power so far as you use it. Now, in the name of salvation, come farther. You like music, you like sacred music; I have seen it on your faces--how the eye gets filled over the singing, and for the time being, a brief but holy light settles upon your troubled face, and I believe that a corresponding peace comes into your war-broken soul. But if that is all, if it is only these sounds and strains and these sweet words, that is not enough. The devil in you can stand that, and still be what he is. If, however, you would take in not only the praise, but Him who is praised, if you would take in Christ, you would be saved. Poor man, Saul was allowing his wound to be slightly healed, to be slightly skimmed over, and soon it broke out with worse virulence than everse The evil spirit departed from him when David took the harp and played with his hands; Saul was refreshed, but, as we know, only for a season. You are as near to the perfect cure as Saul was. See that you get it. And the perfect cure is to take the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the centre of the Church’s service, and the centre of the preacher’s preaching. Get past the singing, go past all our service, go past the preacher. I am but a harp, and a very poor harp, with little more than one string; but if the Spirit of God struck me, what wonderful tones He might bring out. Go past the harp, go past the sound that comes from the harp, and see to it that you discern Him. See that you discern the heavenly David who holds this rude instrument in His hand. Yea, I say unto you, “See that you discern Him and love Him; take Him in to you; then shall the devil of discord leave thy breast, and thy soul shall begin to fill with heaven’s own melody.” (John McNeill.)

The influence of music

Out of so distant a past as this comes this famous illustration of the influence of music. The power with which music is credited to “soothe the savage breast” will only be disputed by those who maintain that the noises that soothe the savage breast do not deserve the name of music at all. But to this it is sufficient answer that for elementary life elementary forms of music are appropriate. Nay, we might descend lower still, and illustrate our subject by examples of the influence of music over the lower forms of animal life. Even a very dull and unmusical ear can detect the difference between the low, dulcet strain that soothes the spirit and assuages its tumult, and the sharp, ringing, martial air that sets the heart heating and the feet starring. When it was said of John Knox that his voice stirred Scotland like the sound of a trumpet everyone realised the appropriateness of the simile. In the crises of great struggles men have been “played up” almost impossible ascents, when neither the ardour of the fight nor the chance of defeat would have stirred them sufficiently. The little child’s sleep waits on the croon over its cradle; and the strong man’s death in battle is made easy by the shrill call of the bugle or the pipes to blood and brain. Music can strike a chill to the heart with the wail of a dirge, or it can set the pulses dancing to the thrill of the march, or lift the soul irresistibly heavenward on swelling billows of chorus or magnificat. The passage that I have taken as a text has been expounded by Robert Browning in one of the greatest poems of the nineteenth century. It is in itself a moving incident, the great first king, drear and stark in his tent, and the bright, blithe young harpist seeking by music to win his soul back from the inferno of despair, where it was overwhelmed. But how? By what fashion of music can this miracle be accomplished? What craft can avail to bring back the dead to life? First, says Browning, he plays the tune of the sheepfold, the musical call to which they flock across the hills in the evening when the stars are coming out. Then he played strains which the creatures loved, the quails and the crickets, and the jerboa. And then the reaper’s song of rejoicing, and then:

The last song,

When the dead man is praised on his journey.

And then he breaks into the glad marriage chant, and follows this with a battle march, and then again with:

The chorus intoned,

As the Levites go up to the altar in glory enthroned.

This last effort, according to Browning, wrung a deep groan from the lips of the afflicted and desolate Saul. There was power in the music to break the chain of Saul’s captivity. But now, in my judgment, Browning is absolutely right in representing that for the higher and deeper influence music alone, mere instrumental music, will not suffice. David realises this; he begins to sing to his harp; he makes the music the vehicle of great and inspiring thought; and he sings these uplifting and invigorating beliefs and hopes into the sorrow-stricken soul before him. The question now comes to be: how much of this result was the influence of music, and how much the influence of ideas? I would say, rather, there is a previous question. Would the bare ideas alone have had this wizard power over the soul apart from the music? The language of music is broadly understood by all peoples. The music of Beethoven is far more universally appreciated than the poetry of Milton, because of the disabilities inflicted on mankind by the tower of Babel. A Greek or an Italian cannot understand a line of Shakespeare, but Wagner’s dramatic speech they comprehend. And, indeed, it may require a sensitive and discerning mind to appreciate Michael Angelo’s expression in stone or on canvas of the woes of Italy, but it hardly needs education to realise how the tragedies of Poland fail through the music of Chopin.

I. The danger of self-indulgence. An absorbing enjoyment of music and devotion to music is one of the commonest forms of selfishness. This power of music to take a masterful grip of the senses is so remarkable that it very commonly means the exclusion of all other objects and interests whatsoeverse Even as the Pied Piper in Browning’s legend played the children to their doom, and they followed him laughing and dancing, and careless of everything but, the pleasure of the hour, so, as it seems to me, the influence of music may be full of a fatal fascination, in the presence of which all life’s prosaic and commonplace duties go to the wall. There are tens of thousands of musical people, keenly sensitive to its almost incomparable joys, who ask only to be lapped

in soft Lydian airs

Married to immortal verse.

They seek life itself

In notes, with many a winding bout

Of linked sweetness long drawn out.

And the temptation of the Lotos eaters is their temptation, and the music of the Sirens draws them to their fate. It is in that nobler Orpheus song, of which it is recorded:

Nor sang he only of unfading bowers

Where men a tearless, painless age fulfil

In fields Elysian spending blissful hours

Remote from every ill

But of pure gladness found in temperance high,

In duty owned, and reverenced with awe:

Of man’s true freedom, which may only lie

In servitude to law

And how ’twas given through virtue to aspire

To golden seats in ever calm abodes;

Of mortal men admitted to the quire

Of the immortal gods.

Even the Siren sisters, so the legend ran, ceased their music and listened wistfully to so high and noble and deathless a strain as this.

II. The musical temperament. There is another peril, due less perhaps to the music itself than to the musical temperament. Life cannot be all music. Nothing that you and I can ever do can entirely rule the discords out of it. And when the hour of music is over the reaction is apt to be extreme. The musical temperament is for this very reason subject more than most to nervous irritabilities. It is subject to wide extremes of sensation and emotion. One hour it, is strung up to the keenest sensitiveness; but unstrung it is dull and flat beyond the common. And like all nervously fashioned temperaments this tendency to sudden and violent reactions brings special moral perils in its train. The lives of great musicians are almost without exception melancholy reading. As the Scotch would say, they were “gey ill to live wi’.” You have to be very charitable to their genius if they are to retain your respect.

III. Harmony in church choirs. And here you know, as one who has known so little of what many ministers have known so much, I might say a word on the thorny subject of church choirs. John Wesley, who never worshipped at Kensington Chapel, held strong opinions on this subject. But, honestly, I cannot say that I have come across what is ignorantly assumed to be the regulation trouble in churches, that these contribute least harmony who are humorously said to lead the harmony of the church. But, if it were so I should not be surprised. Let those be censorious who know least about the constitution of the musical temperament. I want to say, as I close, that, the truth of truths in regard to this subject is that the influence of music is a good servant but a bad master; that you need a higher master-influence over your lives than the influence of music. The famous lines of Milton ere no exaggeration:

Or bid the soul of Orpheus sing

Such notes as, warbled to the string,

Drew iron tears down Pluto’s cheek,

And made Hell grant what Love did seek.

Iron tears down Pluto’s cheek! There is power in music to soften the hardened spirit till it weep iron tears, till those who are familiar with evil catch a glimpse of love and innocence such as breaks down their self-complacency and stoicism. “And made Hell grant what love did seek.” Yea, it was the music of the life of Jesus--love seeking a lost world from the grip of hell, that conquered the powers of evil, and delivered humanity from its dark captivity. It was this Divine Orpheus who sang such piercing and penetrating strains that the captives of Hell were enamoured once again of the life of faith and virtue. He made Hell grant what Love did seek. Think of that, if you will, as illustration of the influence of the higher melodies. (C. Silvester Horne, M. A.)

The remedial power of music

The healing power of music has been recognised in all ages; and the afflicted who have come under its charms have often been conscious of relief. “Theophrastus is mentioned by Pliny as recommending it for the hip gout; and there are references on record by old Cato and Varro to the same effect, AEsculapius figures in Pindar as healing acute disorders with soothing songs.” It is said that Luther, who was often haunted with the demons of melancholy, had frequent recourse to music. “He had,” says Sir James Stephen, “ascertained and taught that the spirit, of darkness abhors sweet sounds not less than light itself; for music, while it chases away the evil suggestions, effectually baffles the wiles of the tempter. His lute, and hand, and voice, accompanying his own solemn melodies, were therefore raised to repel the vehement aggressions of the enemy of mankind.” Now, if true music has this power, we should observe:--

I. The kindness of the Creator in endowing some men of every circle with musical genius and voice. That man’s social circle must be very limited which does not contain someone whom nature has gifted with this remedial power. Schiller, in his dark hour of sorrow, calls to a little girl full of music, and says:--

Come here, my girl, seat thee by me,

For there is a good spirit on thy lips.

Thy mother praised to me thy ready skill:

She says a voice of melody dwells in thee,

Which doth enchant the soul.

Now such a voice

Will drive away from me the evil demon

That beats his black wings close above my head.”

II. The obligation of those thus endowed to cultivate their talents for the common good.

III. The mercy of God in ordaining its use in public worship. In the Temple of old, music of the highest class was appointed by God, and placed under the direction of the most musical spirits and accomplished performers.

IV. The duty of those who have the conduct of worship to promote the best psalmody. Good psalmody must include good hymns as well as good melodies. (Homilist.)

Cunning in playing

I. The minstrel. He had the poetic temperament, sensitive to nature, open to every impression from mountain and vale, from dawn and eve; and he had beside the power of translating his impressions into speech and song. A great modern poet imagines him reciting, as he sang to his harp, his call to his sheep, the song of the autumn vintage, the joyous marriage lay, the solemn funeral dirge, the chant of the Levites, as they performed their sacred duties, the marching music of the men of Bethlehem when they repelled some border foray. And we might add to these his marvellous power in depicting the sacred hush of dawn. The marvellous description of the thunderstorms, that broke over Palestine, rolling peal after peal, from the great waters of the Mediterranean, over the cedars of Lebanon to the far-distant wilderness of Kadesh. The psalm began with David. Its lyric beauty and tender grace; its rhythmic measure; its exuberant hallelujahs and plaintive lamentations; its inimitable expression of the changeful play of light and shade over the soul; its blending of nature and godliness; its references to the life of men and the world, as regarded from the standpoint of God--these elements in the Psalter which have endeared it to holy souls in every age owe their origin to the poetic, heaven-touched soul of the sweet singer of Israel. What wonder that Saul’s young man said that he was cunning in playing!

II. The young warrior. There was abundant opportunity for the education of his prowess. The Philistines’ frontier was not far away from his native town; and probably there were many repetitions of the incident of after years, when the sons of the alien held it, and placed a guard demanding toll of the water of the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate. But he would have been the last to attribute his exploits to his sinewy strength. By faith he had learnt to avail himself of the might of God.

III. Prudent in speech. David was as prudent to advise and scheme as he was swift to execute. He had understanding of the times, of human hearts, of wise policy; and he knew just how and when to act. Frank to his friends, generous to his foes, constant in his attachments, calm in danger, patient in trouble, chivalrous and knightly, he had every element of a born leader of men, and was equally at home in the counsels of the state and the decisions of the battlefield. Whatever emergency threatened, he seemed to know just how to meet it. And this was no doubt due to the repose of his spirit in God. The sad mistakes he made may be traced to his yielding to the sway of impulse and passion, to his forgetfulness of his habit of drawing near unto God, and inquiring of Him before taking any important step.

IV. The charm of his presence. He was David the beloved. Wherever he moved, he cast the spell of his personal magnetism. Saul yielded to it, and thawed; the servants of the royal household loved him; Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved him; the soul of Jonathan was knit with his soul; the women of Israel forgot their loyalty to Saul, as they sounded the praises of the young hero. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)

Theatrical estimate of life

Now listen to the poor hard-driven prayer: “Provide me now a man that can play well.” Can we trace the genesis of that poverty-stricken cry? I think we can. Begin here. “He who drives out the prophet will come to whine for a fiddler.” In the beginning, hard-pressed days with Saul found a messenger on the road speeding for Samuel. “Send for the prophet, bring the seer.” But now he asks for no prophet. The counsellors he seeks are a feckless company, whose theatrical estimate of life can suggest to them no better medicine for a mind diseased than song and minstrelsy, and for a soul tragedy no better helper than “a cunning player.” Surely better the prophet though his truth be hard, than this despairing hunt for a minstrel. It all has point for us. There are some of the young men, to whom I specially address these words, who have felt how serious the problem of life is, to whom sin and its penalty are real, and goodness known as the only lasting and blessed thing. But the prophet taxed their thinking, troubled their conscience, cut too deep for comfort, pointed a way too hard, and they dropped him. They do not take the preacher seriously; they do not want the seer with fact-seeing eyes and fact-revealing speech; they have no longer mind for the prophet who speaks through the strong, great pages of literature. Instead of such company they like the set who say, “Find a cunning player;” and the round of pleasure, the worship of recreation and sport, the steeping of mind in the frippery literature of poor romance, is their way of saying, “Provide me now a man who can play well.” But though the poor cry may assume with them a bravado’s bounce, it is at root a whine, and the confession of a bitter need for more radical deliverance than anything that touches only the senses can give. You can track still further the cry. You cannot satisfy the soul by the tickling of a sense. The soul is satisfied only with God, and Saul has lost touch with God. The Maker of us has so fashioned us that our nature must go out of itself, and make its sanctuary in a greater and holier nature, before it can be rightly centred or rationally satisfied. “Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I,” is the expression of this in David’s life. (Thomas Yates.)

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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Samuel 16:23". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

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 JosephusF18Ut supra. (Antiqu. l. 6. c. 8. sect. 2.) 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.

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The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
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Gill, John. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 16:23". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". 1999.

Geneva Study Bible

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.
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Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 16:23". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". 1599-1645.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

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.

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These files are a derivative of an electronic edition prepared from text scanned by Woodside Bible Fellowship.
This expanded edition of the Jameison-Faussett-Brown Commentary is in the public domain and may be freely used and distributed.
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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 16:23". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". 1871-8.

Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary


HERE my soul, in the view of Samuel's commission to anoint David king of Israel, do thou learn the infinite importance of singling out thy Almighty David, as thy king and chosen from among his brethren. Fear not all the Sauls which would oppose thee, but boldly put the sacred crown of thy redemption upon his holy Head; and let the world know that him, whom thy God and Father hath chosen as thy Sovereign, is thy chosen also. The Lord's Christ, is thy Christ; and his anointed, thine anointed from among ten thousand.

And as for thee, thou blessed, holy, Anointed One; to thee it belongs, both by thy natural right, as one with the Father, over all God blessed forever, and by thy appointed and acquired right, as Mediator, to reign over thy church and people. Do thou take to thee thy great power, and rule in my heart, and over my whole soul and body forever. Though like David, thou art taken from the lowest state of poverty, so that when on earth thou hadst not where to lay thine head; yet art thou placed above all thy brethren. Thou art he, whom all shall praise: and all thy Father's children shall bend before thee. The Father hath solemnly put all things into thine hand, and declared that men shall be blessed in thee, and all nations shall call thee blessed. Before thee, therefore, would I bow the knee and join with every creature to confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord of all, to the glory of God the Father.

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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 16:23". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". 1828.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

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 refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.

Departed — Namely, for a season. And the reason of this success, may 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.

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Wesley, John. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 16:23". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". 1765.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

1 Samuel 16:23 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 refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.

Ver. 23. David took a harp.] This music disabled the instrument of Saul’s distemper - melancholy, (a) Not the agent - the devil; unless David withal sang psalms to his harp, as Josephus saith he did; or prayed heartily there while, as others think. See 2 Kings 3:15.

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Trapp, John. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 16:23". John Trapp Complete Commentary. 1865-1868.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

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.

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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on 1 Samuel 16:23". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. 1685.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

23.David’ played’ Saul was refreshed — “They sit side by side, the likeness of the old system passing away, of the new system coming into existence. Saul, the warlike chief, his great spear always by his side, reluctant, moody, melancholy; and David, the youthful minstrel, his harp in his hand, fresh from the schools where the spirit of the better times was fostered, pouring forth, to soothe the troubled spirit of the king, the earliest of those strains which have soothed the troubled spirit of the world.” — Stanley.

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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 16:23". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

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.

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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 16:23". Joseph Benson's Commentary. 1857.

George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Departed from him. Chased away by David's devotion. (Challoner) --- The melody of David's harp, as some of the Fathers remark, represent that sweet and engaging demeanour, which should distinguish the peaceful ministers of the gospel,...whether they strive to allay the rage, or dispel the fears of a troubled mind." (Reeves) --- Nothing can equal the divine harmony of those sublime truths which are contained in the Psalms of David, and nothing can so powerfully contribute to drive away the spirit of pride from our hearts, and awaken them to the voice of heaven. (St. Augustine) --- Some of these truths might make some passing impression even on the mind of Saul; and the devil could not bear to hear the praises of God. (Haydock)

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Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 16:23". "George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". 1859.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

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 refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.

David took an harp, and played with his hand, [ hakinowr (Hebrew #3658), the kinnor] - not the large, heavy instrument denoted by the word harp among us, but the lyre, a light, portable instrument, resembling a bow in shape. The performers played on this instrument both in a standing (1 Samuel 16:21) and a sitting posture.

Saul was refreshed, and was well. The ancients believed that music had a mysterious influence in healing mental disorders (see 'Dissertatio Historico-Theologica de Saule per musicam curato,' by Casper Laescherus, Professor of Divinity at Wittemberg, 1868; 'Memoires de l'Academie Francoise,' 1707; Issac Vossius, 'De Poematum cantu et rhythmi viribus;' Kitto's 'Daily Bible Illustrations,' vol. 3:, p. 253, 254).

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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 16:23". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

(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


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 1 Samuel 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.”

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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 16:23". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

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 refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.
the evil spirit
18:10,11; Matthew 12:43-45; Luke 11:24-26 Reciprocal: 2 Kings 3:15 - bring me;  1 Chronicles 13:8 - with harps

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Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 16:23". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge".