Music for Madness

July 20th, 2007 • Category: Life of David
by Christen Peters

Today’s scripture: 1 Samuel 16:14-23 (NRSV) (The Message)

As you read, consider these questions: What might God be saying to me in this passage? What jumps out at me? Summarize your thoughts in a sentence or two before reading on.

My thoughts on this passage (Christen Peters):

“Now the spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.”

That is a pretty powerful picture. Can you see it? Can you see God saying “I am finished with you” and turning his back on Saul? Not just turning his back, but actually commanding an evil spirit to torment the man?

I see something a little different going on here. It’s similar to experiences I’ve had from time to time in my own life. While I am as far from a monarch as can be, I have sometimes felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. I have looked at my life and seen all those who count on me — and wondered how I’d ever be a proper example, how I’d ever fulfill their expectations. I have looked at the world around me and wondered how I’ll ever make an impact for the better — wondered what I’m not doing enough of because the world isn’t better enough yet.

There have certainly been times, too, when I have been far too proud of myself. Some project goes well and I become impressed with my skills. My daughter brags about how cool her parents are and my head can swell like an over-inflated balloon. I, like Saul, have lost my focus on God at times. And when I’ve allowed worldly matters to distract me, I’m sure my behavior has shown that.

I can only imagine what it must have been like to be Saul. To be the first human king of Israel must have been tough. God is a tough act to follow! Imagine the expectation of the Israelites — imagine going through each day wondering if you’re measuring up. And what a rush it must have been when things went well! Saul must have felt like he was God on earth. That could certainly have blinded him to God’s eternal power — and would probably have kept him from recognizing God’s dominion over his own life.

Along comes this kid who, unbeknownst to Saul, has been anointed as the next king of Israel, a human king of God’s choosing. And when Saul is being tormented, David simply plays his lyre, and Saul is relieved of his torment for a little while.

This must surely be the first example of formal music therapy. But what is really happening? How is it that a little bit of music has the power to even temporarily relieve Saul? Look at the songs that David was playing for Saul — read Psalms. Here are songs of praise, outpourings of fear and anger, and prayers of supplication. Every one of them is God-focused. What David did, even for just those few minutes, was allow Saul to let go of that weight of the world (and his own arrogance) and focus on the power of God.

Thought for the day: Just as when I’m caught up in myself and what I should be, could be, would be, Saul was caught up in Saul instead of God. When I remain focused on the fact that God is God and I am not, my psyche feels so much better. Music happens to be a great way for me (and apparently Saul) to re-focus on God.

We encourage you to include a time of prayer with this reading. Use the item above as a starting point, or consider the guidelines on the How to Pray page.

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