I Samuel 16:14-23

The Arrival of David in the Court of Saul (1 Samuel – 16:14-23)

As noted above, the two halves of Chapter 16 are linked together in various ways and therefore constitute a literary unit. First, David being “seized” (in the Hebrew) by the spirit of Yahweh (vs. 13) and Saul’s request to “send” (the same Hebrew word) David to him links both halves. Second, God’s choice of a king undergirds both halves. Finally, the transfer of power from David to Saul – in relationship to each other – ties both halves together [2].

While these facts tie together the two halves literarily, I want to comment only on the irony in the second half of this chapter. I want to comment on the irony embedded in the statement “an evil spirit from the Lord” and the irony of God’s choice of David.

Irony – “An evil spirit from the Lord”

How ironic that a holy God would choose to use an evil spirit. Before you throw up your hands in protest, note the following: 1) The normal translation “an evil spirit from the Lord” is not adequate for the Hebrew original. It is probably better translated “the spirit of Yahweh which brings forth disaster” [3]. 2) As David M. Howard, Jr. has noted: “This was a tragic and momentous occasion for Saul: It is the only time in the OT that YHWH’s spirit is said specifically to have left someone, and we see in 18:12 that Saul understood the import of this. He had forfeited the presence of YHWH Himself.” [1] And like a vacuum, something always rushes in to fill in the space. In this case, a spirit of evil – no longer restrained by the Spirit of God – rushes into the vacuum Saul’s loss of favor has created [2]. 3) That God uses alien spirits to serve Him is taken for granted in the OT. Everything ultimately was attributed to Him. Or stated a different way: “Saul’s evil bent was by the permission and plan of God” [3].

Practical Application – Walking in faith and obedience – being in God’s favor – protects us from our own sinful nature and evil spiritual forces that would love to fill the vacuum in our soul were we not to be in God’s favor.

Irony – God’s Choice of David [1]

A closer look at the chiastic structure in verses 14-23 will help us appreciate this passage:

Departure of Yahweh’s Spirit, 14

Proposal for therapy, 15-16

Saul’s authorization, 17

David’s nomination, 18

Saul’s call for David, 19

David’s arrival, 20-21a

Saul’s favor, 21b-22

Experience of therapy, 23a

Departure of evil spirit, 23b

The center of this section is verse 19 – Saul’s order or request to Jesse for the services of David. The primary importance of this centerpiece consists in its irony – the rejected king unknowingly seeks to obtain relief from the newly anointed king! No wonder the writer has placed the two halves of Chapter 16 back to back. He is saying to us: “Look at that! Doesn’t that beat all? David is not only God’s choice but Saul’s choice! And it’s the chosen king who keeps the rejected king from falling apart.” That is, the chosen king is not a threat but a means of grace to Saul.

Practical Application – The picture of 16:14-23 proves instructive for Christ’s disciples. Should our call not follow a similar pattern? As Saul will hate David, and as he is rejected by God yet sustained by David’s service, so the world hates Christ’s people (John 15:18-21) yet, in its doomed state, is only benefited by them. They are the ones who are the salt of the earth (Matt. 5:13), that is, who keep society and culture form rotting into complete decay.

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