The Spirit, Descending and Departing
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The Spirit, Descending and Departing

1 Samuel 16:13-23  (ID: 3393)

God chooses to use unlikely people for unlikely tasks in unlikely places. To serve the Lord, we’re not expected simply to muster up adequate inner strength. Rather, God Himself enables us through His Spirit. We see this illustrated in 1 Samuel when the Holy Spirit descended upon David and departed from Saul, radically altering both lives. To do God’s work, cautions Alistair Begg, we need the Spirit’s empowering. His presence is crucial, even as His absence is dreadful.


Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to turn with me to 1 Samuel and to chapter 16, and we’ll read from the thirteenth verse through to the end of the chapter. First Samuel 16 and reading from verse 13:

“Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him”—that is, David—“in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah.

“Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him. And Saul’s servants said to him, ‘Behold now, a harmful spirit from God is tormenting you. Let our lord now command your servants who are before you to seek out a man who is skillful in playing the lyre, and when the harmful spirit from God is upon you, he will play it, and you will be well.’ So Saul said to his servants, ‘Provide for me a man who can play well and bring him to me.’ One of the young men answered, ‘Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and the Lord is with him.’ Therefore Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, ‘Send me David your son, who[’s] with the sheep.’ And Jesse took a donkey laden with bread and a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them by David his son to Saul. And David came to Saul and entered his service. And Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armor-bearer. And Saul sent to Jesse, saying, ‘Let David remain in my service, for he has found favor in my sight.’ And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him.”

Amen.

We bow down before you, our good God, acknowledging that the words to which we now turn proceeded from your mouth, that this is your Word. And we believe that it is your Word that does your work by the power of your Spirit in the lives of men and women. So, accomplish your purposes, we pray, and help us. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Well, if you do open your Bible, then if you turn, probably, if it’s like mine, back just one page, you will find yourself at 15:28, in which we have a defining moment in the events that we’ve been considering most recently. And there in verse 28, Samuel addresses Saul, and he says to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you.” It’s a dramatic moment. Saul, devastated by it, inevitably, could not know who this neighbor was. We’re about to find out.

But it wasn’t simply that Samuel’s robe had been torn in that departure. Something far deeper than his robe had been torn, and that was his heart. Relationships matter, and the relationship that he had formed with Saul was such that even though it had been bumpy at times, to say the least, nevertheless, he loved him. And so, the chapter ended—that is, 15—with a grieving Samuel; a grief that could not be assuaged with the passing of time, it would seem. And so it is that at the beginning of chapter 16, as we saw, God comes to him, and he says, “How long are you going to grieve over Saul? After all,” he says, “I have rejected him as king.”[1]

Now, neither Samuel nor Saul could really have been aware of the extent of the impact of this. It was to prove to be not only a life-changing but a turntable event. If you are ever in San Francisco and you go down by the water there where those trolleys come, it’s quite remarkable the way they come in, and then they manage to go out in an entirely different direction. And if you’re not paying attention, it seems a mystery as to how they manage to get turned around. Well, of course, they have come in and settled on a turntable, and as the turntable has moved, they’ve gone out on another track. Their direction has been radically altered. And in this incident here, that is essentially what is happening. And it’s happening both for Samuel and for Saul.

Samuel, as we saw last time, was immediately mistaken in his judgment about a replacement. If Saul was gone, who was going to take his place? Well, the sons of Jesse were assembled, and Samuel made his first pick and got it wrong. And as the other brothers had emerged, as we saw, none of them was an obvious candidate. And then the one who became the candidate was not an obvious candidate either. And as we find so many times in the Bible, God chooses to use unlikely individuals in unlikely ways to do what is often unlikely things.

And this final pick has to be extracted from the hillsides where he has been keeping the sheep. It hasn’t even occurred to his father to invite the boy, the ruddy-faced boy, to be part of that, because after all, we’re looking for a king, and nobody is less likely to be a king than this fellow. And yet, in actual fact, here he is, and he is anointed, verse 13, “in the midst of his brothers.” It’s just a small ceremony. There’s no big palaver. There is no indication that they invited a lot of friends and neighbors in. But this is what had taken place.

And we discover then that “the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David,” and then in verse 14, “the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul.” It should be already clear from the songs we’ve been singing that our focus this morning is on God the Holy Spirit as we have him revealed to us in this particular section. And if you want a title for this morning, it could simply be “The Spirit, Descending and Departing.” And we will look in turn at the way in which the Spirit comes, and then in the second instance in the way in which the Spirit goes. It’s a crucial transition, as I say, between the collapsing kingdom of Saul and the emerging kingdom of David.

As we find so many times in the Bible, God chooses to use unlikely individuals in unlikely ways to do what are often unlikely things.

Now, let’s just pause and acknowledge that although the Holy Spirit is often mistaken and referred to in terms that are other than personal, the Bible makes it very, very clear that from the very beginning of the Bible, God the Holy Spirit is at work. In the second verse of Genesis chapter 1, it is “the Spirit of God”—the ruach of God, or the wind of God—that breathes over the waters,[2] so that the Spirit of God, God the Holy Spirit, is present there at the very threshold of creation. And when you read on through your Bible, you discover again that the work of God the Holy Spirit is providing, establishing, and enabling those who will lead the people of God—calling out, for example, Abraham, or Moses, or you can go through the list: Joshua, Elisha, Elijah, and so on, all the way right up to where we are.

And the Spirit of God who rushes upon David here is God himself. This is something that I think it’s important for me just to restate. Every so often, we have to do a little theology check. We have to make sure that our orthodoxy is not only stated but it is understood. So, let me give you just four straightforward statements concerning God that help us keep on track. Because in our next service, service three, we will share together in the dedication of one of our children, and I will quote from there the Hebrew Shema—Shema being, “Hear, ” “Hear, O Israel,” “Shema, O Israel”—“Hear, O Israel: The Lord [your] God, the Lord is one.”[3]

Now, what are we saying? What is being said there? Number one, there is one and only one true and living God. There is one and only one true and living God. As you read on in your Bible, you discover that that one God eternally exists in three persons, God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit; that these three persons are completely equal in their attributes, and each share the same divine nature; and fourthly, while each person is equally and fully God, the persons are not identical. And indeed, the role that is given to the Son is distinguishable from the role that is exercised by the Father and the role that, as we see here, is present in the activity of the Holy Spirit.

Why does this matter? Because we live in a culture that is increasingly confused concerning this issue. And it is very, very routine for people to suggest that the gods of the world have an equal standing in these things. The big issue in northern India at the moment, in Uttar Pradesh, I noticed in the press yesterday, in the rivalry between Islam and Hinduism over a particular temple, and why the Hindus are concerned that their god Ram should have a place there. Well, of course, Ram is only one of hundreds and hundreds of gods within the framework of Hinduism. What are we to do with that? Well, the Bible is very, very clear. There is only one true and living God: the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. And it is God the Spirit that is at work in these events—first of all, as we will see, in his presence revealed in David, and in his absence as seen in Saul.

So, verse 13, let’s take a moment and notice that the Spirit of God “rushed upon David.” “Rushed upon David.” That fits, incidentally, with the whole notion of the wind—that the Spirit of God, the wind of God, the rush of God, if you like. It’s not unfamiliar to us; we saw it in relationship to Saul already. There are three occasions, we’ve noticed, where the Spirit of God is said to come upon Saul in this way. However, it is, in Saul’s case, intermittent. We mentioned it in passing but didn’t pursue it in terms of going back into the Judges, and particularly in relationship to Samson, where again it is said of Samson that the Spirit of God “rushed upon him.”[4]

And here the Spirit of God now rushes upon David, notice, “from that day forward.” In other words, it is not going to be intermittent in David’s case. This is going to be the defining feature of the kingship of David—which, of course, raises the question of Psalm 51, where David says, “Please don’t take your Spirit from me.”[5] I don’t want us to divert on that. We can say something of that this evening. But it is for David the defining feature of his entire kingship that the Spirit of God in this moment has come upon him.

Now, the thing we need to notice both in the presence and in the absence is this: that the picture is not of an individual mustering up their inner strength—in other words, it was a sort of propensity that was already present in David, and something happened, and he looked into himself, and he said, “You know, really, I am a mighty person of valor, and I am this, and I’m that, and I can play the guitar,” and so on. No. It is not that. It is the clear picture of a power that comes from outside—from outside of himself.

And it is in a context that is very, very limited, as I pointed out. It’s not a big crowd. It’s amidst his brothers that the anointing take place. Although it’s not a big crowd, it is a big deal. It is a big deal. And if anybody had had occasion to hear of it or to have happened upon it—bystanders—and looked at it, it is unlikely that they would have attached any significance to it at all. They would have gone on their way and said, “I don’t know what’s going on in there. There’s something going on with the family of Jesse, and there’s—one of the old boys is there, he’s got a horn of oil. But who knows what it is?”

The picture of the Spirit rushing upon David is not of an individual mustering up their inner strength. No. It is the clear picture of a power that comes from outside.

It’s the exact same thing that people say today about Jesus of Nazareth and the cross of Jesus. They said, “I don’t know what it is. There’s something about Jesus on the cross or whatever. It’s really not very important at all.” The same thing in Bethlehem, in the arrival of Jesus. There’s no big banner in the street, no crowds of people coming out to see what’s going on. No. The people would have walked past and said, “I don’t think this is anything of significance happening here at all. I mean, there’re many babies being born.”

It’s quite wonderful, isn’t it, the way that God does this—continues to do it? That’s why, as we said last Sunday, it is imperative that we view our culture and we view our world and we view our history through the framework of the Bible rather than viewing the Bible through the framework and perspective of our culture and of our preoccupations with history. It is the Bible that adjudicates in the unfolding story of the world. It’s not the world that has the privilege of announcing or denouncing the unfolding story that God has provided in his Word. Now, you may believe that, you may not believe that, but you can at least consider it. He was anointed, which gave to him his authority, and he was rushed upon by the Holy Spirit, which gave to him his ability. Anointed, now the king; and empowered, now the king in action.

From there, we go to verse 14. You say, “Please hurry up. There’s a long way to go.” I understand. In verse 14, “the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul.” I spent time on 13 because we never dealt with it, really, last Sunday, either in the morning or in the evening. Now, by way of contrast, there’s a kind of… There’s a seesaw in this—what you call, I think, a teeter-totter—so that down comes the Spirit on David, and the Spirit departs from Saul. And in this dramatic moment, a huge shift in the purposes of God is taking place.

The departure of the Spirit from Saul accounts, then, for his loss of authority and for his diminishing ability. He’s not left, though, with a vacuum, as you can see. Because we’re told that “the Spirit of the Lord departed” (capital S, God), “and a harmful spirit” (lowercase s) “from the Lord” (capital L-O-R-D, from God) “tormented him.”

 

And this was such that the events were observable, because you’ll notice in verse 15 that the servants were able to say to him, “Behold now, a harmful spirit from God is tormenting you.” In other words, this was not something that he was just experiencing in the isolation of his bedroom or when he was just going about his business on his own. No. Something observable had now happened to Saul. People would now look at Saul in these instances and say, “Something dramatic has happened to this character.” And the writer tells us exactly what it was: that the Spirit of God has now departed from him, thereby diminishing his abilities and impacting his authority, which will become apparent as we go on. He’s still ostensibly the king, he still has a throne, but it’s all really over. And so the people look on, and they understand this.

The Source

Now, notice the source of the harmful spirit: “And a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him.” This comes twice. Again in 15, the servants say the same thing: “Behold now, a harmful spirit from God is tormenting you.”

Well, in what sense can this be the case? Because we know that God is not the author of evil, nor does he tempt anyone to evil. Well, it is surely in this respect: that God sweeps that which is opposed to him and opposed to his people and opposed, in this case, to his servants—that which may be in the exercise of chastisement or full-on punishment—in order to achieve something that would not be achieved otherwise.

Now think about it in big terms. Think about God raising up Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians in order to take his people away into exile. Think about the arrival of the Ishmaelites when the evil actions of Joseph’s brothers have first of all put him in a pit and then brought him out of the pit and then stripped him for sale to be taken up by these evil characters.[6] Who was sovereignly in control of all of this? By the time you get to the end of the story, God.

So the source is clear. God reveals himself through the prophet in Isaiah when he says, “I bring prosperity, and I create darkness.”[7] And Job responds in the early chapters of that amazing book, he says to one of his inquirers, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”[8] God is either sovereign, or he isn’t sovereign. Therefore, he is sovereign over the good, the bad, and the ugly.

If in doubt, read Calvin. And let me give you just a couple of sentences to help you if you immediately find yourself stumbling over this: “That Satan’s agency is used to urge the wicked on whenever God in his providence would bend them this way or that is plainly shown in one part of Scripture.” And the one part of Scripture to which he goes to illustrate this is the part of Scripture we find ourselves in right now:

We learn that the unclean spirit was appointed by God, in the sense that it answered to his purpose and power. It was an instrument of his will and not an actor in its own right. Nevertheless, there is an enormous difference in one and the same event between what God does and what the devil or the wicked do. The evil instruments which lie in God’s hand and which he can bend in any direction he chooses are made by him to serve his righteousness. The devil and evildoers, being wicked, actively beget and bring forth whatever evil their minds have devised.

And so, this is exactly what is unfolding here. There’s nothing in the text to suggest that what we now have by way of description in the balance of the story concerning Saul is simply his predisposition. There is nothing to indicate that this shows up, if you like, a flaw in the emotional or the psychological framework of Saul as an individual. There’s nothing that suggests that! No. What is being said is very straightforward: Saul is confronted by a power outside of him—a power outside of him that is harmful. When it’s translated “evil” in some translations, we don’t necessarily need to view that in a moral context. “Evil” in the sense that it did despite to the one whom God loved and had set in this position, so it deprived him of his peace of mind. It came and went, as we will see. It stirred up feelings inside of him—ideas, imaginations—that drove him at times to the border of madness. And this was external to him. It was in the absence of the present activity of the divine Spirit that, in that vacuum, he faced this reality.

Now, what we cannot do is call Saul as a witness and say, “Now, Saul, we’re glad you’re here this morning, and we would like just to get it, as it were, from the horse’s mouth. How do you explain this period in your life?” “Well,” he said, “I can explain it very, very simply, and that is that I rejected God, and God rejected me. In other words,” he says, “don’t let anybody fool that it was a psychological issue. It was entirely a theological issue.”

Now, we have to be very careful. We’re dealing with Saul; we’re not dealing with the affairs of our present congregation, nor are we about to extrapolate from this to make determinations that would be unwise and, in many cases, unhelpful. Nor is this an opportunity for us to delve into the question, “Well, was he really a true believer, and if he was a true believer, is he not a believer now?” and so on. That’s not an issue here. That’s not even a cause for concern. If you want my take on it, I take it that he was a true believer, but he was a troubled one. True but troubled. He was troubled by his own sin, because sin will always make you restless. Sin will always uncover you. Sin will never be accompanied by the presence and the peace and the power that God intends for those who are indwelled by him.

And if we ever make it to chapter 26, there in 26, in a conversation with David, I think you have the absolute statement to this end, where he looks at David and he says to him, “I have sinned. … I have acted foolishly, [I] have made a great mistake.”[9] That’s good, you see, because that’s the turning point in a life. That was the turning point in the story that Jesus told, wasn’t it, after he’d told about the lost coins and the lost sheep, and then the lost boys—one a kind of superficial snob in the back garden, and another one who decided to kick it over and try it on his own. What was the turning point? “I have sinned against heaven, and in [your] sight.”[10] And what happened? A party.

You might be here this morning, you say, “This is me. I have sinned. I have acted foolishly. I have made a great mistake.” Let me tell you something:

The love of God is broader
Than the measure of man’s mind.
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.[11]

For he is the God who pursues the rebel. He is the God who comes by his Spirit to disarm us. And many times, it will be in contexts that may actually be almost akin to this.

The Symptoms

Well, that’s the source. We can’t avoid this. The symptoms we don’t need to delay on. There was a volatility about him from this point. He did some really crazy stuff—throwing spears around and going nuts half the time. He was miserable. He had lost his joy. He was restless. Restless. You know, you see, when a man or a woman abandons God’s plan and purpose, restlessness is an inevitable consequence. The Bible talks—I think I mentioned it in my prayer—that “the wicked are like the tossing [of the] sea.”[12] It’s always throwing stuff up, bits and pieces from here and there.

And the story of the Bible is actually the story of God providing rest for his people. Right at the very beginning, in all the chaos that leads up to Noah and the ark, the reason he’s given the name Noah, because the name sounds like “rest”—so that his parents and the people around him would have said, “Well, maybe there’s going to be rest. Maybe this man is the key to rest.” And then you go on through the Bible, and the prospect of the promised land, what is it? It’s the promise of rest. A place flowing with milk and honey and nice and fruit trees—and rest!

When a man or a woman abandons God’s plan and purpose, restlessness is an inevitable consequence.

And still there’s no rest. And on and on and on and on, in the restlessness of our world. And eventually a King, another King, an anointed King, an enabled King, enabled by the Spirit: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”[13] And the Spirit of God comes upon him, and he issues this amazing invitation: “Come to me, all you who are weary and [heavy laden], and I will give you rest.”[14] Rest.

This is part of our apologetic in our world today. You needn’t be embarrassed about this if you’re a Christian. Go on the underground, go on the bus, go anywhere you choose, and ask simple questions of people, and press just a little and say, “How are you doing? How is it going? How are you feeling? Would you say that you’re contented? Would you say that you’re restful?” And if they’re honest, they’ll tell you, say, “I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep since the fourteenth of February,” or whatever it might be, or “My this is that,” or “My that is that.” Say, “Do you know that Jesus is the one who provides rest for your souls?” It’s wonderful. It’s not a program, some mechanistic idea. No, Saul was restless. And so is man, absent the abiding presence of God.

The Solution

So, the source is from the Lord, the symptoms are as stated, and the solution which comes from God via David is quite fascinating. I mean, this little part of this is—I hope we can capture this before we wrap it up.

The servants… Incidentally, the servants! Don’t you love the servants? People say, “Well, you know, nobody knows me in the kingdom of God.” God knows you in the kingdom of God. That’s what really matters. One day I’m going to go through all the servant passages that I can find to help me understand how crucial the servants always are, all these people with no names.

So, for example, Naaman has got leprosy, and he doesn’t know what to do. And one of the servant girls, who’s a domestic help in the house, says, “If my master, if my lord, would go and see the man of God, then that would be a good idea.”[15] So the word of the servant creates the opportunity. He then doesn’t like the idea; he’s actually annoyed by the idea. And when he’s getting ready to get his chariot entourage and just take off for home again, the servant said to him—the servant said to him—“My lord, if you’d been asked to do something huge, you would probably have done it.”[16] The servants.

And the servants said to him, “You are facing a harmful spirit from God. You’re tormented. So let our lord—that is, you—now command your servants who are before you to seek out a man.” Now, those of you who are alert will remember that this is how we started at the beginning of the chapter and where he says, “For I have seen for myself a king,”[17] verse 1, the recurring verb here: “Seek out a man who[’s] skillful in playing the lyre.” In other words, “Let’s institute some musical therapy. Let’s do musical therapy. That’s what we’ll do: somebody who can play the guitar, and when the harmful spirit is upon you, he’ll play it, and you will be well.”

Well… And then, just with that in mind, Saul says, “Well, okay, let’s go with that program,” verse 17. And then, out of the blue, one of the young men says, “Well, I’ve got the man for you.” And the other servants must be looking round like “What do you mean, you got…? You only just said, ‘Find somebody,’ and now you’ve found him? But we didn’t even look for him!” God has a way of providing as necessary. He works in ways that are surprising.

Now, it wouldn’t be the first time in Saul’s life that he would have occasion to benefit from the counsel of a young man. In fact, the whole story had begun like that, remember? First time you meet him, he’s out looking for donkeys. Can’t find any of the donkeys. He’s got a young man with him. He says, “I’m going home. This is a waste of time.” The young man says, “Hang on. There is a man of God…”[18] Fast-forward all through the years. Saul is now tormented, and the young man says, “There is a man, the son of Jesse the Bethlehemite…” And then he describes him, notice: “skillful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, … a man of good presence,” and most crucial of all, “and the Lord [was] with him.” “I’ve got just the man,” he says.

Now, what I find striking—and I hope you do too when you read that—is, you say to yourself, “Goodness, that’s quite a description compared to what we saw back in verse 12,” where when David is brought into the proceedings, he’s described as “ruddy”—that’s presumably either his hair coloring, or he had a pale complexion and he got ruddy in the sun—he “had beautiful eyes,” and he “was handsome.” Okay. We put up a little picture last Sunday night, just for the fun of it, to make the point that even though that young fellow looked pretty good, he looked really good, but he didn’t look like a king. And so we said, “Isn’t it remarkable that God does that?”

Now we’ve got the description here which advances the ball considerably, doesn’t it? This is quite a résumé that is presented. Now, let me do something with you, and this is for the honors students only. All right. Okay. So, if you’re not doing the honors part, you can just go “Na-na-na-na-na” for a moment or two. That makes all of you want to be in honors. I understand that. But, so, this is not a main and a plain thing. This is not a main and a plain thing. But the challenge, as I’ve said to you, in going through 1 Samuel is in part dealing with the chronology of it, and especially in moving from 16 into 17. How is it that Saul apparently knows him, or doesn’t really know him, or whatever else it is?

Now, one of the things that we can’t tell is how much of a gap there is from section to section. So, for example, we don’t know how long has elapsed between what we read in verse 13 about the Spirit rushing on David and what we read in verse 14 about the Spirit departing from Saul. The fact that the verse comes right after the verse does not necessarily mean that it happened instantaneously. Now, again, this is not main and plain. But the chances are, the possibility is, that a significant period of time exists between 13 and 14—that the section that we’re dealing with, 14–23, is placed here not chronologically but is placed here thematically. In other words, the writer is making a point very clearly: that this transition is between the presence on the one hand and the departure on the other hand.

Now, if that is actually the case—if that is the case—then it is possible that chapter 17 actually fits inside this section (it’s actually called “recursive something” when you go to school) and, in actual fact, that 17 precedes this section in 16, because it’s placed here thematically.

All right. Not main and plain. Back on track.

Whatever the explanation regarding the time frame, David the son of Jesse is the one for whom Saul sends. Musical therapy. Some of you are involved in this. I had a little musical therapy this week myself. I couldn’t help but think about it. I had to have a very minor procedure that involved miserable injections, which I don’t like. And after they had done their best for me, they left me for a long while just lying in the room. And as I lay in the room, they had left music playing for me, which I didn’t really like, but I couldn’t get off my thing to get ahold of it, and so I had to endure it.

Well, they were very kind to me, and the doctor actually at one point came back and brought me a coffee, which I thought was very nice. And he said, “Is everything okay?” I said, “Everything except the music.” And he said, “What’s up with the music?” I said, “Well, it sounds like somebody left a piano accordion lying in the street, somebody found it, tried to play it, and the fellow who’s trying to play it can only play it with one finger.” And he says, “So you’re telling me you like it.” I say, “Yeah, exactly.” He said, “Well, I could fix that for you.” So I’m lying like this, just looking ahead, and he did something on the computer, and then he walked out of the door. You know what he changed it to? He changed it to the Psalms of David. Changed it to Shane & Shane. I said, “Well, maybe there is something in this musical therapy.” Depends on the music, depends on the source.

Now, our time is gone, so let me hasten to a conclusion by pointing out the irony that is contained in what now unfolds. It is absolutely inescapable. Saul, the depleted king, has now, without his knowing, invited the neighbor who is better than him. “Your kingdom has been torn from you. It’s being given to a neighbor who’s better than you.” “Wonder who that’ll be.” He still doesn’t know.

“We’ve seen a man. He’s this. He’s that. He’s the next thing. He plays the guitar.” He said, “Beautiful. Bring him in.” So he’s invited him in. The rejected king—namely, Saul—has invited the anointed king—namely, David—to come and ease his troubled mind. The anointed king comes in obeisance, guided by his father Jesse, and bringing all the things that you would bring as an expression of your recognition of the person to whom you come.

And as the issue is established, Saul, who momentarily is going to hate him, declares his love for him. He “loved him greatly.” And he put him in a position as his armor-bearer that was crucial to his security and also gave him the potential for his companionship on a daily basis. He sent word, then, to the family to say, “I would like to keep him, because he has found favor in my sight.” And so, verse 23: “Whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul,” David applied the medicine, “took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him.”

Outwardly, Saul is still the king. Privately, David is a harp-strumming, good-looking man of valor. From God’s perspective, things are radically different.

Now, we can come back to this, but many years later, Zerubbabel, who was a descendant of King David, was assigned the task of overseeing the rebuilding of the temple. And Zechariah the prophet comes to him, and he says, “Let me tell you how this is going to be accomplished. Let me tell you how you’ll be able to do this.” Zechariah 4:6: “Not by might, [not] by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord.”

He didn’t choose David because of David’s qualities. He chose David because God is sovereign. He didn’t choose his apostles because they were such an august and magnificent group. Even a cursory reading of the Bible tells you that they were an interesting bunch. But it is to them he gives the assignment to go to the ends of the earth with the gospel. But remember where he says, “But of course, don’t go yet. Because you will receive power after the Holy Spirit has come upon you. And then you will go.”[19]

What is the great dilemma—a great dilemma—personally, and also in terms of the church in contemporary America? It is the temptation to think that I, that we, can achieve apostolic ends without apostolic means. How much of my life is dependent upon the abiding presence of the Spirit of God? How much of the programmed life of Parkside Church depends upon the abiding presence of the Spirit of God—the songs that are sung, the prayers that are prayed, the ministries that are exercised?

And Jesus said, “And if you, even though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?”[20] There is no beginning to the Christian life apart from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. There is no ongoing usefulness in the Christian life apart from the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. And there is no prospect of that great welcome and that abundant entry into heaven apart from the work of God the Holy Spirit. That’s why his presence is crucial and his absence is dreadful.

Now just a prayer:

Dear God, please forgive us as a church if we think that we’ve got things so buttoned down that we can pretty well handle it on our own, as if somehow or another the work of the Spirit was just a little extra, as opposed to it being the very foundation. Help us to this end. Come, Lord, and descend upon us afresh, we pray. For Christ’s sake. Amen.


[1] 1 Samuel 16:1 (paraphrased).

[2] See Genesis 1:2.

[3] Deuteronomy 6:4 (ESV).

[4] Judges 14:6 (ESV).

[5] Psalm 51:11 (paraphrased).

[6] See Genesis 37:18–28.

[7] Isaiah 45:7 (paraphrased).

[8] Job 2:10 (NIV).

[9] 1 Samuel 26:21 (ESV).

[10] Luke 15:21 (KJV).

[11] Frederick William Faber, “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” (1862).

[12] Isaiah 57:20 (ESV).

[13] Mark 9:7 (ESV). See also Matthew 3:17; 17:5.

[14] Matthew 11:28 (NIV).

[15] 2 Kings 5:3 (paraphrased).

[16] 2 Kings 5:13 (paraphrased).

[17] 1 Samuel 16:1 (paraphrased).

[18] 1 Samuel 9:5–6 (paraphrased).

[19] Acts 1:8 (paraphrased).

[20] Luke 11:13 (paraphrased).

Copyright © 2021, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.