"I Love You" vs. "I Love How I May Benefit From You"

God has officially rejected Saul as king and anointed David. Through the remainder of 1 Samuel, we get to juxtapose Saul’s and David’s lives. Saul is reprobate, rejected by God. David is a man after God’s own heart. So, we will see the difference between being rejected by God and having a heart after God’s own heart.

1 Samuel 16:14-23

Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord terrorized him.

Saul’s servants then said to him, “Behold now, an evil spirit from God is terrorizing you. Let our lord now command your servants who are before you. Let them seek a man who is a skillful player on the harp; and it shall come about when the evil spirit from God is on you, that he shall play the harp with his hand, and you will be well.”

So Saul said to his servants, “Provide for me now a man who can play well and bring him to me.”

Then one of the young men said, “Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite who is a skillful musician, a mighty man of valor, a warrior, one prudent in speech, and a handsome man; and the Lord is with him.”

So Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me your son David who is with the flock.”

Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread and a jug of wine and a young goat, and sent them to Saul by David his son. Then David came to Saul and attended him; and Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armor bearer.

Saul sent to Jesse, saying, “Let David now stand before me, for he has found favor in my sight.”

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.

Saul oppressed (v. 14-16)

Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord terrorized him.

We first notice that God’s Spirit departs from Saul. We have only seen God’s spirit move Saul to action on two occasions. One of the differences we see between Saul and David is that God’s spirit merely moved Saul while He constantly abides with David. Here, we see that God’s Spirit had been with Saul in some way even though He did not abide with Saul as He does David. In context, it seems that the Holy Spirit was present and guarded Saul in some way, but any claim we make about the nature of the Holy Spirit’s presence with Saul is merely conjecture—not explicit in the text.

When God’s Spirit departs, no longer guarding Saul, an evil Spirit from the Lord terrorizes Saul. This notion is conflicting for some. God is benevolent, yet the evil spirit is from Him. There are two ways that this phrase, יהוה רוּח–רעה, can be translated from the Hebrew into English. The first is “evil spirit of Yahweh.” The second is “spirit of Yahweh that does disaster (or evil).” While there are arguments present that utilize linguistics to lessen the blow of this particular verse, the truth remains—God sent a spirit to Saul for the purpose of oppressing him. Some will also try to lessen the blow by claiming that Saul is troubled because he is simply old. It may very well be the case that Saul is suffering from ailments that naturally accompany old age, but the text is perspicuous in its reason for Saul’s ailment. We cannot rightly naturalize what we read because the text is so explicit. There is an evil spirit from the Lord oppressing Saul. Since this is the explicit claim in Scripture, we cannot explain it away. We cannot get God off the hook. If God is sovereign, in control of all things, and providential, working all things together, then even evil spirits are on His leash and cannot go without God’s commission. He has placed all the elements in the world that He desires for His own glory and the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

In reading this, we notice the guardianship of God’s holy spirit. If the Holy Spirit stands guard, people under His guardianship cannot be oppressed by evil spirits. How much more does the Holy Spirit guard those with whom He abides? How much more still does the Holy Spirit guard those in whom He dwells? 

Saul’s servants then said to him, “Behold now, an evil spirit from God is terrorizing you. Let our lord now command your servants who are before you. Let them seek a man who is a skillful player on the harp; and it shall come about when the evil spirit from God is on you, that he shall play the harp with his hand, and you will be well.”

Saul’s servants recognize that the evil spirit is from God. Since it is from God, they desire to drive it away with harp music. That seems sensible. God is sovereign. He is in charge. He commands all spirits. So, instead of asking God and trusting Him, let’s figure out our own way. Harps make nice, angelic sounds. Perhaps a harp will drive away the evil spirit. Let’s find a harpist, not God. Let’s find a priest to say some cool latin stuff, not God. Let’s find a spiritualist who can burn a plant, not God.

Saul’s servants propose another method they think will accomplish Godly things. It’s another form of self-centered, human religion like we have seen with Saul throughout 1 Samuel to this juncture.

David summoned (v. 17-18)

So Saul said to his servants, “Provide for me now a man who can play well and bring him to me.”
Then one of the young men said, “Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite who is a skillful musician, a mighty man of valor, a warrior, one prudent in speech, and a handsome man; and the Lord is with him.”

Saul concedes to his servants’ recommendation. They recommend a boy about whom they have heard. David plays the harp. The Lord is with him. Notice the servants’ focus. They are not clinging to God but desire a man with whom the Lord is to cling to. People have always been this way; it’s not a new phenomenon. Worldly people always seem to consider what God’s people can do for them rather than trusting in God’s providence. They always want to cling to people who seem to be godly or spirit-filled instead of God, and they call it spirituality or religion. My friends, that is an unhealthy and self-centered way to live. It is therapeutic deism, not Christianity.

Saul relieved (v. 19-20)

So Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me your son David who is with the flock.”
Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread and a jug of wine and a young goat, and sent them to Saul by David his son. Then David came to Saul and attended him; and Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armor bearer.

David will be the one to depose Saul. God has already anointed David as king in Saul’s place. Saul does not know this. We see how God is working out David’s rise to kingship. David arrives with his gift for the king. He attends Saul, and Saul comes to love David. He loves David such that he gives the young shepherd a position in his court—armor bearer.

Why does Saul love David? Saul’s love for David isn’t unconditional because he will later become loathsome. The only reason Saul loves David is because he benefits from David’s presence. It is a remedy for him and brings him peace. He only loves how David can benefit him, not David’s person. Sadly, many worldly, self-centered people are this way also. Spouses can be this way toward each other. Children can be this way with parents. Business owners or practitioners can be this way with customers or clients. Pastors can be this way with congregations. Congregations can be this way with pastors or elders. While Saul measures love by how he can benefit, David brings gifts and comes to serve. There is a difference between the way a person who is rejected by God lives and the way a person who has the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit lives. The rejected, degenerating person asks, “What can I gain, how can I be fed, how might I benefit, and how much good will others do for me?” The elect, maturing person comes to ask, “How much can I give, how may I serve, and how may I build others up?”

This is not a works-based system of righteousness. The difference we see depends on the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit—which David has and Saul has never had.

Saul sent to Jesse, saying, “Let David now stand before me, for he has found favor in my sight.”
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.

We still see the guardianship of God’s Holy Spirit. When David, with whom the Holy Spirit dwells, plays his harp for Saul, the evil spirit departs. But, it is only a temporary departure because Saul does not have the Holy Spirit. I am not convinced that every illness or psychological oppression are the works of evil spirits. Many times we need doctors, therapists, or medicine. I am convinced that people experience great spiritual oppression and seek many insufficient remedies from church attendance to smudging to prayer to exorcism. The only permanent escape from spiritual oppression is the abiding presence of God’s Holy Spirit as God’s gift to His elect people in their conversion.

There are many people who, like Saul, only love Christ and His church because of their benefits. They only love what Christ has to offer or what the church or preacher may do for them or has done for them. Pastors and leaders, many times, tend to only love the people who sit in their auditoriums because of what they stand to gain from their audience. People attach themselves to all sorts of worldviews because they perceive the benefits thereof. What we learn, here, is that when people truly have God abiding with them, they is interested in giving of themselves rather than getting for themselves.

Our desires are evidence of whether or not we know Christ. Our desires are reflected in the way we pray, the reason we are involved in church or not, how we define our relationships, how we serve in our workplaces, how we take care of loved ones, how we treat those who reject us, and how we interact with those who cannot benefit us.

Have we loved Christ, or have we only loved His benefits? Are we clinging to Him or merely someone or something we think may remedy or better our lives?

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