Summary: God is the one who saves, not by sword or spear, but by his power, by his word proclaimed in the gospel, by his Spirit who fills each one of us just as he filled David.
I guess this would be one of the best known, if not THE best known story in the Bible. In fact it’s so well known that David has become a metaphor for the victorious underdog. He’s the archetypal cutter down of tall poppies. The one who can overcome the greatest odds to win through to victory. But of course the trouble with such an archetype is that it actually misses the essential facts of the story. As we’ll see as we go through the story it isn’t anything to do with David that brings about this victory. He’s simply a man of faith who believes intrinsically in the God he worships and trusts him to act.
Although it seems that David is now moving to centre stage to replace Saul as the focus of God’s plans for his people, the reality is that it’s actually God who holds the central place in the drama that’s been and continues to unfold before us.
In fact we need to go back to ch16:13 to discover the source of David’s success: "the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward." As we saw with Saul, the motivating and enabling power for everything that David accomplishes is the Spirit of God. Provided that David remains faithful in following the Lord, God will bring him success as king. God is at work as David comes to prominence as the one who will lead his people to finish the conquest of the land.
Now before we think about David and Goliath we should first look at the end of ch 16 because here we’re introduced a little more to David. First though, we discover something that’s both surprising and a little disturbing. The section begins with the statement that the Spirit of God has departed from Saul. The effect of God’s anointing moving to David from Saul, is that God no longer empowers Saul for the kingship. In fact the opposite is the case. Saul is now afflicted by an evil spirit, sent, you’ll notice, not by Satan, but by the Lord. Here’s a surprising thing. You may have thought that evil spirits were the sign of Satan at work but here we discover that God is in control of everything that happens in his world. Saul has rebelled against the Lord and so the Lord sends an evil spirit to torment him. But this evil spirit, whatever it is, is also the means by which David is introduced to Saul’s court.
How do you soothe someone who’s afflicted by an evil spirit? Well it seems you provide someone to play music to help them relax, to soothe them. And so we discover that David is a gifted musician as well as being handsome. And he’s a man of valour. What a combination! He’s both a man of culture and a man of action. And he’s someone who has a good presence. When he walks into the room, people look up, take notice. He’s the sort of man that others follow. When he speaks to you, you feel good, you’re glad that he’s noticed you. So much so that when Saul meets him and gets to know him he’s pleased with him. In fact we’re told that he loved him greatly, and David became his armor-bearer.
But there’s something else that strikes you about this small episode in the life of Saul and David. The passage both starts and finishes with the reference to the evil spirit. And so we need to think a bit more about what’s going on here. You know, some people say, well, Saul’s suffering from depression and David comes along and sings to him and that lifts the depression. But that isn’t what the passage says. What it says is that when David played, the evil spirit would depart from him.
It’s almost as if the evil spirit is driven away by the Spirit of God, within David, who inspires, not just his military success, but also his musical gifts. Saul has lost contact with God’s Spirit until David comes and brings the Spirit close again.
There’s an incident recorded early in Mark’s gospel where a man with an unclean spirit encounters Jesus. Listen to what happens: "23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God." 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. (Mark 1:22-26 NRSV) The unclean spirit within the man recognised the presence of God in the person of Jesus and was afraid. And perhaps the same thing was happening when David sat down to play for Saul. The evil spirit within Saul couldn’t stand the presence of God in David and so it departed.