Finding Relief

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1 Samuel 16:14-23 (David serves Saul)

INTRODUCTION: This is the second week in our new series on David and Saul. Last week we looked at David’s anointing and how God looks at the heart. In today’s passage we want to see how God used David to help Saul find relief in his distress. (Read 1 Samuel 16:14-17 and pray)


“Plop, plop fizz, fizz … oh what a relief it is!” Some of you remember that old commercial. Right, for Alka-Seltzer? “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing!” “Take two Alka-Seltzer and call me in the morning. Alka-Seltzer neutralizes all the acid your stomach has churned out. For your upset stomach and headache take Alka-Seltzer and feel better fast.”

Well, Alka Seltzer might be great for finding relief for your stomach, but where do you turn to find relief for your life? When life is hard and you are in distress, where do you find relief?

Unfortunately, when we are in distress, we often seek relief in the wrong places. We look for relief in pills or the bottle, in video games, in shopping or TV. Now there are times when we are under such mental distress, that it is fine and appropriate to take medication under the care of a doctor, but we shouldn’t be looking to medicate the normal stresses of life.

We live in a crazy world with so much trouble and distress. So how do you deal with the stresses of life? When you are in distress, where do you find your relief?

That’s what today’s passage is all about. And the answer is not found in pills or the bottle, in shopping or TV. When you are in distress, you need to find your relief in God. God is there, God cares, and God will help you.

I. Dealing with distress (14-17)

So, let’s talk about dealing with distress.

   A. Know that God is sovereign over your situation (14)
      – Isaiah 45:7; Matthew 6:31-32

And the first step in dealing with distress is knowing that God is sovereign over your situation. Look at verse 14 with me:

Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him. (1 Samuel 16:14)

In verse 13 the Spirit of God came on David. In verse 14 the Spirit of God leaves Saul. Once again, God is sovereign. God is always working. Sometimes he intervenes directly as when he told Samuel to go and anoint David. Sometimes God works less directly, but he is still overseeing people and events as we will see when God brings David into Saul’s courts.

Here God is sovereign even over Saul’s distress. Verse 14 tells us that Saul was distressed because of an evil spirit from the Lord.

Now that is confusing to us at first, because that doesn’t sound like God to us. God doesn’t do anything wrong or evil. And you’re right. God doesn’t do anything wrong or evil. Therefore, in allowing this evil spirit to distress Saul, we know that God was not doing anything wrong or evil.

The word translated “evil” in this verse is a word that can mean “bad or harmful” or simply “troubling.” And the word for “tormented” in this verse is a word that can mean “troubled, dismayed, terrified” or even “incapacitated.” So, we should understand this spirit as a spirit that had the effect of troubling Saul, causing him great fear or dismay, making it difficult for him to function. It is a spirit from the Lord, which means it is part of God’s divine plan, in this case part of God’s divine punishment for Saul’s stubbornness and rebellion and also part of God’s plan to get David into the palace.

God says in Isaiah 45:7: “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7) God is not the author of evil. Rather, God is sovereign over evil, and that should bring us great comfort when we are in distress.

In fact, when you are a believer in Christ, it will bring you even greater comfort because for you the sovereign God of the universe is also your heavenly Father. That’s why Jesus tells us in Matthew 6: “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” (Matthew 6:31-32)

   B. Seek good and healthy solutions (15-17)
      – Psalm 33:1-3; Proverbs 27:9; Ecclesiastes 11:7; Philippian 4:6-7

When you are in distress, first know that God is sovereign over your situation, and then secondly, seek good and healthy solutions. Look at what happens next in 1 Samuel 16:15-17:

Saul’s attendants said to him, “See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the harp. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes upon you, and you will feel better.” So Saul said to his attendants, “Find someone who plays well and bring him to me.” (1 Samuel 16:15-17)

Here the proposed solution was to find someone to play music for Saul when he was in distress. That’s a good solution. When you are in distress, go to God and his gifts instead of sin and its snares. Sin and its snares only bring temporary relief, never lasting satisfaction. And when the temporary relief is over, you will only find yourself worse off than before. When you are in distress, seek good and healthy solutions. Go to God and his gifts.

And one of God’s greatest gifts for bringing relief is music. Psalm 33 says: “Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him. Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.” (Psalm 33:1-3)

Martin Luther said: “Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise.” There is a healing power in music. That’s why God gave us a whole book of songs in the Bible, the book of Psalms. It’s even the longest book in the Bible! When you are in distress, play some music, especially music that directs your heart and attention to the Lord. Music can have a healing and calming effect on your soul.

What are some other good and healthy solutions? Proverbs 27:9 says: “Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one’s friend springs from his earnest counsel.” (Proverbs 27:9) When you are in distress, don’t isolate yourself. Don’t go into hiding. Get together with other people. Go to church. Talk with friends. Tell them what’s going on. Let them help and encourage you.

Ecclesiastes 11:7 says: “Light is sweet, and it pleases the eyes to see the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 11:7) A lot of people when they are depressed or distressed close the curtains and dim the lights. There’s a reason we call it going to a dark place. When you are in distress, don’t do that. Don’t hide in the dark. Open the curtains first thing in the morning. Turn on the lights. Get outside. Take advantage of the healing power of light and sunlight.

And then, don’t forget the spiritual side of things. Philippian 4 says: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippian 4:6-7) Don’t forget to pray. There is great power in prayer. This was what Saul needed the most and, unfortunately, he did not take advantage of it.

This passage begins with Saul in distress. The Spirit of God has left Saul and now Saul is tormented by an evil spirit from the Lord instead. His attendants propose a wise solution. Find a person skilled in the harp who can play for Saul and help him when these bad moods strike him. These verses teach us about dealing with distress. Know that God is sovereign even over the distressful situations in your life. Seek good and healthy solutions.

II. Preparing for service (18-20)

The next section teaches us about preparing for service. And we will see how this ties into finding relief by the time we get to the end of the passage. Look at verse 18:

One of the servants answered, “I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the harp. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the Lord is with him.” (1 Samuel 16:18)

So, one of the servants speaks up. “I know a guy!” Providentially, this man has run into David before, and David left a good impression. David plays the harp well. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and presents himself well. Most important of all God is with him. Saul is impressed and sends messengers to Jesse asking for David to enter his service.

   A. Develop your talents and skills for God’s glory (18a)
      – Matthew 25:20-21; 1 Corinthians 10:31

There are three things we can learn from this passage about preparing for service. First of all, you should develop your talents and skills for God’s glory.

David was skilled at playing the harp. Now David was clearly gifted from God with music, but he also had to put in the work. You don’t become a skillful musician just by looking at your instrument. David worked hard and developed his skill of music for God’s glory.

God can also use your talents and skills to serve others. And he wants you to develop your talents and skills for his glory.

Remember Jesus’ parable abut the talents? We read in Matthew 25:20-21: “The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’ His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’” (Matthew 25:20-21) Jesus approved of the man who used his talents well and developed them further.

1 Corinthians 10:31 says: “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31) How do you prepare for service to others? First of all, develop your talents and skills for God’s glory.

   B. Maintain a good reputation with God and others (18b)
      – Proverbs 3:3-4, 22:1

Secondly, maintain a good reputation with God and others. A good reputation will open up opportunities for you to use your talents and skills to serve others. David had a good reputation. He was already known as a brave man and a warrior. This shows that some time has passed from when he was first anointed by Samuel as a young teen. David is not a fighting man yet, but perhaps his exploits protecting the sheep from the bear and the lion had become known.

So, David has a pretty impressive resume. He plays the harp well, he is brave and courageous, he speaks well, he presents himself well, and the Lord is with him. By the way, that phrase “the Lord is with him” in reference to David will show up again and again in the coming chapters. (1 Samuel 17:37, 18:12, 20:13; 2 Samuel 5:10, 7:3,9) It is a major theme in this section of 1 Samuel, and it is presented as the main reason why David advanced while Saul regressed.

Proverbs 3:3-4 says: “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.” (Proverbs 3:3-4) Proverbs 22:1 says: “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” (Proverbs 22:1)

Investor Warren Buffet once said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” How do you prepare for service? 1) Develop your talents and skills for God’s glory. 2) Maintain a good reputation with God and others.

   C. Be ready for opportunities to serve (19-20)
      – Luke 16:10; 2 Timothy 4:2

And then 3) Be ready for opportunities to serve. Look at 1 Samuel 16:19-20:

Then Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me your son David, who is with the sheep.” So Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them with his son David to Saul. (1 Samuel 16:19-20)

Well that’s interesting. After David was anointed to be the future king of Israel, what did he do? He went back to tending sheep! He went back to work. He knew God would make things happen in his time, and he served faithfully behind the scenes while he waited for God.

It’s like when you’re playing sports but you’re not the starter. You may spend a lot of time on the bench, but you keep working, you keep practicing and developing your skills because you know you need to be ready the moment the coach calls on you. Well, David is back tending the sheep when suddenly he is called into the king’s service.

Notice God’s sovereignty at work here. Saul didn’t know he was inviting the future king into the palace. But God is behind it all. I like what A.W. Pink says here: “God opened the door into the palace without David having to force or even so much as knock upon it.”

You need to be ready for opportunities to serve. 2 Timothy 4:2 says: “Be prepared in season and out of season.” (2 Timothy 4:2) You never know when God is going to call you.

Jesus said in Luke 16:10: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much.” (Luke 16:10) You need to be faithful in the little things. As missionary Hudson Taylor said: “A little thing is a little thing, but faithfulness in little things is a great thing.”

How do you prepare for service to others? 1) Develop your talents and skills for God’s glory. 2) Be careful to maintain a good reputation with God and others. 3) Be ready for opportunities to serve that God will bring you way.

III. Being a channel of blessing (21-23)

We’ve talked about dealing with distress and preparing for service. Now let’s bring it all together as we talk about being a channel of blessing. The whole point of preparing for service is so that God can use you to serve him and those around you. And the whole point of receiving God’s blessings is so you can pass those blessings on to those around you.

   A. Serve well where God puts you (21-22)
      – Proverbs 22:29; 1 Timothy 3:13

There are a number of things we want to discuss from these final verses in the passage. First of all, serve well where God puts you. Back to 1 Samuel 16 look at verses 21-22:

David came to Saul and entered his service. Saul liked him very much, and David became one of his armor-bearers. Then Saul sent word to Jesse, saying, “Allow David to remain in my service, for I am pleased with him.” (1 Samuel 16:21-22)

So, David and Saul meet for the first time. Saul immediately liked David, in fact the text literally says, “Saul loved David.” David even becomes one of his armor bearers. Saul is so pleased with David’s service that he decides to keep him on. David’s temp job just became a full-time gig.

David served well when he was tending sheep. And David served well when he was called into the king’s service. Proverbs 22:29 says: “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men.” (Proverbs 22:29) That literally happened to David! He had prepared himself for service, and God promoted him to serve the king.

1 Timothy 3:13 in the New Testament says this about deacons: “Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 3:13) Whether you are a deacon or whatever your tasks, serve well where God puts you.

   B. Be a channel of God’s blessing to others (23)
      – Proverbs 11:25, 16:24; Romans 12:12-13; 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

And then, be a channel of God’s blessing to others. Look at 1 Samuel 16:23:

Whenever the spirit from God came upon Saul, David would take his harp and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him. (1 Samuel 16:23)

Relief would come to Saul. The word translated “relief” in this verse is a word that means “to be refreshed, to be wide open or spacious, to breathe easily.” When you are in distress, wouldn’t you like to be refreshed, to feel like you have plenty of room to move about, to breathe easily?

David was a channel of blessing to Saul, and God calls us to be channels of blessing to each other. Proverbs 16:24 says: “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” (Proverbs 16:24) Never underestimate the power of a kind word to refresh others.

Romans 12:12-13 says: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” (Romans 12:12-13) Be generous, loving and kind. God has blessed you. Now you be a channel of blessing to those around you.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) With God nothing is wasted. In God’s hands the troubles you experience become opportunities to help other people who are suffering.

There’s a song I like called “Blessing in Disguise.” The opening verses talk about how God takes the trials in our lives and turns them to good so that those trials are really a blessing in disguise. But I love the last verse the best, because it turns the phrase around in an unexpected way. It goes like this:

And after you’ve been broken,
You may not realize
That you are grace to the broken-hearted
And a blessing …
You are a blessing …
You are a blessing in disguise.
(Lost Dogs; Gift Horse; “Blessing in Disguise”)

Proverbs 11:25 says this: “A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.” (Proverbs 11:25) And there’s the key that brings it all together. When you go to God for relief, when you deal with distress in your own life in good and healthy ways, when you prepare yourself for service, when you make yourself a channel of God’s blessings to others, you will also find relief for yourself. He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.

You are not blessed to be blessed. You are blessed to be a blessing. So don’t hold all of God’s blessings for yourself. Be a channel of God’s blessings, not a reservoir. And when you become a channel of God’s blessings to other people, you also will find relief, refreshing, wide open spaces, room to breathe.

Of course, Jesus is God’s greatest channel of blessing to us. Jesus died on the cross for your sins so that you could be restored to right relationship with God. He is the only way to God. He is the Savior. All of God’s blessings flow to us through Christ. Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

CONCLUSION: Ultimately, this passage in 1 Samuel teaches us when you are in distress, find your relief in God. God is sovereign over the details of your life. So, seek good and healthy solutions. Go to God and his gifts instead of sin and its snares. Prepare to serve others for God. Be a channel of God’s blessings to others.

When you find relief in God, not only are you refreshed, but God uses you to refresh others. Everyone wins! And in all your hurting, in all your suffering, in all your brokenness, you will find that through Jesus you too can be grace to the broken-hearted. That you are a blessing … you are a blessing in disguise.

© Ray Fowler

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