Perseverance in Christ

By Dan Claire. This is part of a series of posts on 1 Samuel, supplementing messages in our preaching series this fall. In this post we consider 1 Samuel 16:14-23.

“Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.” –from “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” 1757. Few lines better capture our proclivity toward spiritual infidelity. We may know in our heads that following the Lord is the way of wisdom and blessing (Ps 1; Prov 3:5-6), but our hearts are fickle and easily distracted. So we wander, turning aside from God to follow after empty things.

At the enthronement of Israel’s first king, Samuel challenged both King Saul and his subjects not to wander. He said:

Do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart.
And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. (1 Sam 12:20-21)

Sadly, from that point on, Saul’s kingship was marked by nonstop wandering. Instead of copying God’s Law for himself and meditating on it day and night as he should have (Deut 17:14-20), Saul became a law unto himself. Instead of following God in giving generously to the people, he took the best from them and squandered it foolishly. In his mercy, God permitted Saul to remain in office for many years, giving him ample opportunity to repent and reform. But Saul only wandered further away. And so Samuel came to him one last time with a message from the Lord: “You have rejected the word of the Lord, so the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.” (1 Sam 15:26).

In today’s passage (1 Sam 16:14-23) we see the personal consequences of Saul’s persistent disobedience. While in the previous section the Holy Spirit came upon David with his anointing to be king, this passage begins with God’s Spirit turning aside from Saul (16:14). The same Hebrew word used twice earlier to warn Saul against infidelity is now used to describe the results. Saul turned aside from the Lord, and so the Lord finally turned aside from him.

Into the resulting vacuum in Saul’s life came a “spirit of disaster from the Lord” (16:14). Was this a demon sent by God? The Hebrew word here describing the spirit could be translated as “evil,” but it doesn’t have to be. If it were a demon, this one episode would be entirely inconsistent with all the others in the Bible, in which God is never responsible for temptation or evil. A more fitting alternative is to understand the word as meaning “injurious or destructive.” Taken this way, the “spirit of disaster” came as an agent of God’s justice in response to Saul’s persistent disobedience.

Having wandered so long from the Lord, Saul’s sin began to have physiological consequences, and so Saul’s servants suggested David as a court musician to ease the pain. In 16:18, Saul’s servant described David as having all the right qualifications: he was a skillful musician, from a noble family, well-spoken and handsome. Oh, and one more thing: the Lord was with him!

The Lord was with him. What brilliant irony! When David came to Saul’s court, the Lord returned to Israel’s throne room. Whenever Saul was troubled, David played for him and turned aside God’s wrath (16:23). In this way, David became an instrument of God’s mercy to Saul. Not only was Saul blessed by David’s presence, but also Saul’s subjects, for in the next chapter David turned aside the entire nation’s humiliation (17:26) by turning aside Goliath’s head from his body (17:46).

In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul quotes David, who sang “everyone turns aside from the Lord” (Ps 14:3). Adam and Eve did it, and every single one of us since–except the Lord Jesus. The good news of the Gospel is that there is a righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe (Rom 3:22). If you have put your faith in Jesus, then the Spirit of God dwells within you (Rom 8:9). By faith, the Holy Spirit empowers you to turn aside from sin, to follow the Lord, and serve him with all your heart (Rom 8:13).

Many years later, when David himself was caught having turned aside from the Lord in adultery with Bathsheba, he remembered what had happened to Saul. So he sang:

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me. (Ps 51:10-11)

In so doing, he looked ahead by faith to the Lord Jesus Christ, through whom he could not only be forgiven his wandering, but also sealed by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will never turn aside from Jesus. We who by faith enjoy union with Christ have the assurance that the Spirit will likewise never turn aside from us.

A Prayer for Today
Almighty and everlasting God, so fill us with your Holy Spirit that we may not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, but to fight bravely under his banner against sin, the world, and the devil, and to continue as his faithful soldiers and servants until the end of our days. Amen.