1 Samuel 16:14
But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and a distressing spirit from the LORD troubled him.
1 Samuel 16:23
And so it was, whenever the spirit from God was upon Saul, that David would take a harp and play it with his hand. Then Saul would become refreshed and well, and the distressing spirit would depart from him.
When someone turns aside from the Lord – either wilfully or by yielding to temporary temptation – then they can expect that the Lord God will trouble them or allow trouble to come their way. When King Saul rebelled against the Lord, he didn’t just lose his anointing, the Lord sent a “distressing spirit” to truly torment the king. Various translations also describe that spirit as “evil” or “tormenting,” but whatever it was, we know that only David’s music would calm it and allow Saul some rest.
Today, the Lord may indeed still send distressing spirits on His servants who rebel, but we have no reason to suppose He sends such things upon all of us who twist and turn in His loving grasp. One should hope it is enough that His Holy Spirit operates as our conscience, tormenting us with guilt when we rebel against His teaching and guidance. And when such guilt comes upon us, often the only thing that can calm us is music.
Eighteenth century playwright William Congreve wrote:
“Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast,
To soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.”
But is it just ANY music that “soothes the savage breast” of a Christian’s soul? In Saul’s case, the music that soothed him came from someone who carried the Spirit of God. That is often the case with us: we are only soothed in our conscience by praise and worship music.
However, being soothed in our conscience, no longer being tormented by a spirit from God, is NOT the same as repentance. If you read on in the rest of the first book of Samuel, you will find that Saul never fully repented of his rebellion, and although David’s music was a balm for Saul’s soul, David’s anointing was a goad in Saul’s pride. King Saul literally spent the rest of his life trying to kill David, even causing division in the kingdom.
So when we rebel against God, when we wilfully disobey His commandments or His guidance, let us not suppose that a mere worship song or a nice hymn on Sunday will make things right for us. Oh, it will certainly make us feel better for a while, but music does not take the place of repentance. We must still come before the Lord with humility to seek His mercy. Here is what the Lord Himself says about this:
For thus says the High and Lofty One
Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
With him who has a contrite and humble spirit,
To revive the spirit of the humble,
And to revive the heart of the contrite ones.
16 For I will not contend forever,
Nor will I always be angry;
For the spirit would fail before Me,
And the souls which I have made.
17 For the iniquity of his covetousness
I was angry and struck him;
I hid and was angry,
And he went on backsliding in the way of his heart.
18 I have seen his ways, and will heal him;
I will also lead him,
And restore comforts to him
And to his mourners.
19 “I create the fruit of the lips:
Peace, peace to him who is far off and to him who is near,”
Says the LORD,
“And I will heal him.”
You see, when we repent and seek God, He will heal us and bring us peace. If we continue to go on sinning, if we keep rebelling like Saul, no amount of praise or worship music will calm us enough to save us from God’s wrath. We are only saved through Christ, and that salvation comes only after we have humbled ourselves and repented of our sins. Music can be a bandage for our wounded conscience, but only Jesus Christ can truly heal our souls.
Heavenly Father, You have promised to heal those who are broken and contrite. Please accept my confession today, Lord God, and teach me true repentance. Let me lift my voice in true praise and worship – not to heal my own heart but simply to touch Yours. Amen.