The Harp and Psalms of David
January 29th, 1961 @ 7:30 PM
THE HARP AND PSALMS OF DAVID
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Samuel 16:14-23
1-29-61 7:30 p.m.
Now let us all turn to chapter 16 in 1 Samuel, and all of us read 1 Samuel 16, beginning at verse 14 to the end of the chapter, 1 Samuel, chapter 16. Last Sunday night, we left off preaching at the thirteenth verse of chapter 16. Tonight we begin at verse 14 and read to the end of the chapter. Do we all have it? Now, brother assistant pastor, you lead us as all of us read 1 Samuel 16:14-23:
But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him.
And Saul’s servants said unto him, Behold now, an evil spirit from God troubleth thee.
Let our lord now command thy servants, which are before thee, to seek out a man, who is a cunning player on an harp: and it shall come to pass, when the evil spirit from God is upon thee, that he shall play with his hand, and thou shalt be well.
And Saul said unto his servants, Provide me now a man that can play well, and bring him to me.
Then answered one of the servants, and said, Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, that is cunning in playing, and a mighty valiant man, and a man of war, and prudent in matters, and a comely person, and the Lord is with him.
Wherefore Saul sent messengers unto Jesse, and said, Send me David thy son, which is with the sheep.
And Jesse took an ass laden with bread, and a bottle of wine, and a kid, and sent them by David his son unto Saul.
And David came to Saul, and stood before him: and he loved him greatly; and he became his armor-bearer.
And Saul sent to Jesse, saying, Let David, I pray thee, stand before me; for he hath found favor in my sight.
And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.
[1 Samuel 16:14-23]
In the passage last Sunday evening, they sent and fetched this youngest son of Jesse who was keeping the sheep. And when he came in he was ruddy, withal of a beautiful countenance and goodly to look to. And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him: this is he. Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward. Then Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah, for there was his house” [1 Samuel 16:12-13], and on the edge of the town, the school of the prophets [1 Samuel 10:5], and there had he judged Israel for forty years [1 Samuel 7:17, Acts 13:41]. And David—the boy David, the ruddy, unshaven, beautiful boy David [1 Samuel 16:12], returned to his sheep, awaiting God’s time and God’s hour for the fulfillment of Samuel’s prophecy. Now, when we come to the passage that finishes the chapter that we have just read, several years have passed and in that meantime, the boy has grown up, and he has greatly and quickly matured. An evil spirit from the Lord came upon Saul as the Spirit of God left him to his own devices and to his own self-will and rejection [1 Samuel 16:14]. And when those times came and Saul was troubled and an evil spirit from the Lord drove him mad, somebody suggested maybe, if one can be found who can sing and play, maybe your heart will quieten and reason will come back and you can be yourself again. And the saying pleased Saul, the king, and he directed that throughout the coasts of Israel search be made to find somebody who could play and who could sing. And one of the servants of Saul said, “Behold—behold, I have found somebody—I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, that is cunning in playing, and he also is a mighty valiant man, and a man of war, and prudent in matters, and a comely person, and the Lord is with him [1 Samuel 16:15-18]. Wherefore Saul sent messengers to Jesse, and said, Send me David thy son, that keeps the sheep. . . .” [1 Samuel 16:19]. And he came, and he stood before Saul. And the book says, and Saul loved him greatly [1 Samuel 16:21], and so “it came to pass when the evil spirit from God came upon Saul”—and his heart was troubled and his reason had left—”that David took an harp, and he played with his hand”—and he sang with his voice and so it was that “Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him” [1 Samuel 16:22-23]. The power of music and of singing, of the organ, of the piano, of the choir and the great diapason of God’s people. Ah, I could hardly think of a man who is not moved in his soul with beautiful songs and psalms and the singing of God.
I want for a moment to speak before we talk of his singing and his psalms. I want to speak of the characterization of this son of Jesse by that servant of Saul that found him in the home in Bethlehem. Look how he is described. As the servant of Saul came back and reported to the king, “Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite—the Bethlehemite, he is a cunning in playing, he is a man of war, he is prudent in matters, and he is comely in his person, beautiful, handsome in his person” [1 Samuel 16:18]. He is described as a man of war, a mighty, valiant man, and he is just a youth [1 Samuel 16:18]. But he is strong, and he is able, and he is fearless, and he is courageous, and he is unafraid. You see, Bethlehem was taken over by a garrison of the Philistines. A little later on, you will read how a guard of that garrison stood at the gate of the well of Bethlehem and demanded toll from all who came to find water there [2 Samuel 23:14-16]. And many, many times, this son of Jesse had met those marauding bands as they came to waste the harvest of the vineyard of the field and as they were intent to plunder the flock. That is how he gained his reputation as being valiant and a youth of war. As he guarded his sheep and his father’s property and the harvest and the vineyard, this fearless, courageous youth gave the impression as being a man of battle and of war. You will find a reference to it in one of his psalms that David sang [Psalm 18]. His arms were strong so he could break a bow of steel, and with his shepherd’s staff, he could club the lion and the bear, and with his sling, he could unerringly put a mark just exactly according to what he purposed.
And listen to the youthful, buoyant challenge of the boy as he sings in his psalm: “For by Thee I have run through a troop; and by my God have I leaped over a fence, a wall. . . . It is God that girdeth me with strength, . . . He maketh my feet like hinds’ feet, . . . He teacheth my hands to war, so that a bow of steel is broken by mine arms. . . . For Thou has girded me with strength unto battle: Thou hast subdued under me those that rose up against me” [Psalm 18:29-39]. You can feel the vibrancy and the challenge and the buoyancy of the youth of his life, as he protected from those marauding Philistine bands the flocks and the fields and the vineyards of his father. A man of war, valiant! [1 Samuel 16:18].
Now, look at a second characterization of him as this servant reported back to King Saul, “And comely in his person” [1 Samuel 16:18], a handsome youth, beautiful in his face and in his countenance. There was a charm about David that never left him. To the end of his life, he commanded the love and devotion of the people beyond anything the world had ever seen. In the story that you read, “And David came and stood before Saul; and Saul loved him greatly” [1 Samuel 16:21]. Just to look upon that handsome youth, Saul loved him greatly, and not only Saul, but all the royal servants of the household loved David [1 Samuel 18:22], and not only the servants of the household, but Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved David [1 Samuel 18:20]; not only Michal, Saul’s daughter, but the Book says, “The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David” [1 Samuel 18:1]. Not only the household of Saul, his children and his servants, but all Israel forgot the glory of Saul. And the women began to sing the prowess and the heroics of David [1 Samuel 18:6-8]. Not only all Israel, but the priests gave to David the consecrated bread and entrusted to his hand the sword of Goliath [1 Samuel 21:2-9], and beautiful Abigail thought it a charming obeisance to wash the feet of his servants [1 Samuel 25:41]. And Ittai the Gittite clung to David in his exile [2 Samuel 15:19-22], and the people slunk back into the city of Jerusalem when they saw him weeping at the gate over the slaying of his son Absalom [2 Samuel 19:2-3]. Every period of his life, they loved David. His name means “beloved.” David, dawid, beloved, and he is the only man in the Bible that carries the name. Isn’t that a strange thing? In the Old Testament, in the New Testament—just this one. David, the beloved of the Lord, comely in his person, a handsome man and cunning with the heart, cunning in playing and in singing [1 Samuel 16:18].
The psalm begins with David, the youth out in the pasture, in the fresh air of the mountains, tending his helpless and defenseless charges as he guided them to the gloomy defiles of the gorges, as he sought pasture for them and water when they were thirsty, as his staff guided them, as his strong arm protected them. And as he lived out in the open of God, somehow his soul was touched with the nearness and the glory and the presence of the Almighty Jehovah, and his sensitive, heaven-touched soul reverberated and vibrated with the charge of the finger work of God in heaven above and the glory of His emerald earth below. And to his sheep and maybe to his sympathetic and loving mother, he sang those early songs. So full of God’s presence and God’s beauty and God’s glory and God’s care, out there in the pasture and in the cold and in the night and in the early morning, the overflow of this boy in the presence of God who had the poetic temperament and the sensitivity to notice what the Lord hath done around him, the boy began to sing and to compose songs and to accompany the songs on his harp. And God listened, and the angels stopped to hear, and a passerby, a servant of Saul, said, “I have heard him play, and he is cunning with the harp” [1 Samuel 16:18].
The Psalms began with David. There were many, many, I say, many. There were some fragments—some attempts at songs before David. For example, Miriam sang, and the children of Israel sang when they overcame Pharaoh at the Red Sea [Exodus 14:15-31]—the song of Miriam and the women [Exodus 15:20-21]. There was a song of Moses, the ninetieth Psalm [Psalm 90:1-17]—the saddest of all of the songs that were ever written. In its archaic wording, you find the weariness of the wilderness, and you find the endless procession of death and funerals as for forty years they buried that generation under the blazing sun in the restless, ceaseless, shifting sands of Sinai, the psalm—the prayer of Moses, the man of God, the ninetieth Psalm. And you have the archaic, ancient song of Deborah and of Barak as they triumph over Sisera [Judges 5]. But actually and practically and really, the Psalms began with David; those hymns that combine the tender grace of a sensitive, worshipful heart with the lyric and the movement and the rhythm and the measure of beautiful, inestimably, precious and celestial poetry, binding together nature and godliness, the Lord and His hosts in heaven and all of the glories of the earth beneath. The Psalm is peculiarly and unusually the gift to the world of this sweet singer of Israel. He is called that in 2 Samuel 23:1: “the sweet psalmist, the sweet singer of Israel, David.”
Now, I have here just in passing the psalms that he wrote. In the Hebrew, the Psalter—the Psalms—is divided into five books. And each one of the five closes with a beautiful doxology—all except the fifth one. The first book is Psalm 1 through 41. The second book is Psalms 42 through 89. The third book is Psalms 73 through 89. The fourth book—the fourth book is Psalm 90—the prayer of Moses—through 106. And the fifth book is Psalm 107 through 150. And each one of the books, I say, closes with a beautiful doxology all except the last one. Now, in those Psalms, seventy-three of them are attributed to David. In book one, thirty-seven; in book two, eighteen; in book three, one; in book four, two; and in book five, fifteen. Seventy-three of them in all are written by the sweet singer of Israel.
Now, I want to speak of this text: “And it came to pass when the evil spirit from God came upon Saul, that David took the harp, and he played upon it with his hand” [1 Samuel 16:23]—and he sang with his heart and his voice, and it was so that when he played and when he sang those psalms—that “Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him” [1 Samuel 16:23]. Ah, the movement and the response of the human soul to music! And a man would have to be dead; he would have to be iron; he would have to be brash; he would have to be clay not to vibrate, not to be quickened by beautiful music. For example, martial music does something to a country and to a people—the martial air of France, one of the most militant of all the martial airs ever written; and our own beautiful, patriotic national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The singing of martial music does something to a country and to a people. And the songs that speak of home and of love and of the household, why, I could never forget my mother as she washed the dishes in the kitchen and worked about the household, singing songs that shall live in my heart forever and forever. The songs of the church, when we sing songs of Zion, something happens to us. Our souls are moved. There is a song that they sang when I confessed Jesus as my Savior, and I never hear it but that it brings back to my heart the mood and the preciousness of that day now so long ago.
Fred Brown, pastor for so many years of the First Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, was the most ideal pastor of our whole Southern Baptist Convention. He was greatly beloved, greatly loved. I heard Fred Brown speak one time when he was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention and became ill. Never one time presided over that august far-flung assembly. But I heard him speak when they elected him president of the Southern Baptist Convention, that wonderful man with a shepherd’s heart. And in that address, he told this story that has lingered in my memory to this present day. He was a chaplain, he said, in World War I, and after the war and the battle was over, he remained in France for an extended ministry as a chaplain to our American soldiers. And, he said, he was present in Versailles when the Treaty of Versailles was drawn up between the Allied forces and Germany. And he said that as the day was long and the work was hard, that they broke the session for a rest, and Chaplain Pastor Fred Brown said they brought in four doughboys. In World War II, we would call them GIs, but in World War I, they called them doughboys. And Fred Brown said four American doughboys came into the conference there at Versailles, where the treaty was being written, and those four doughboys sang a song. And Fred Brown said the song they sang was this:
There’s a church in the valley in the wildwood
No lovelier spot in the dale,
How dear to the thoughts-days of my childhood
The little brown church in the vale.
How sweet on a clear, Sabbath morning
To list to the clear ringing bell,
[Its tones] so sweetly are calling us to worship
Oh, come to the church in the vale.
[from “The Church in the Wildwood,” William Pitts]
And the chaplain said as the doughboys sang the song, Woodrow Wilson, the president of the United States, and—as Fred Brown called him, the tallest man then in the world—he said he was standing close to Woodrow Wilson as those four boys sang that song of “The Little Brown Church in the Wildwood.” And he said as the boys sang, the tears ran unthinking down the cheek of the president of the United States, Woodrow Wilson—in heart, remembering the little church in Virginia where he found the Lord. Music—the power of music, the recollection in memory of music, the soothing, gracious tender touch and tone of music. And it was so. When the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took a harp, and played with his hand, and he sang his psalms: and Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit from the Lord left him [1 Samuel 16:23].
Now, I want to take some of the psalms that David sang that day when he played before Saul. Pastor, how would you know what psalms that he sang? I think they can be picked out very easily. You see, the afterlife of David was filled with sorrow and trouble and darkness, oppressed by enemies, afflicted by his own countrymen [2 Samuel 15:13], driven off of the very throne by his son, Absalom [2 Samuel 15:1-37; Psalm 3:1-8]. And all of the after psalms reflect those troubles, and those sorrows, and those darknesses, and the tribulations and trials through which David went. So if you take a psalm that is free from any trace of those after years, you’ll find the psalms that he wrote when he was an untroubled boy out on the fields of Bethlehem, under the starry chalice of the sky at night or watching the blazing sun cross the meridian of the sky, untroubled with his heart so free and marveling at the wonderful care and love of Jehovah God, singing as fresh as the breezes that blew over his mountain home in the hills of Bethlehem. If we take those psalms that are untroubled without any trace of the tears, and the sobs, and the sorrows, and the persecutions, and the hurts of his later life, you will have the psalms that he sang when he was a boy, and the sheep heard them, and the heavens listened to them and maybe his mother. And those are the psalms that he sang to Saul, and the evil spirit left him [1 Samuel 16:23].
Now, bear with me for I have prepared this tonight, and I want you to listen. Here are the psalms that he sang when he played the harp for Saul. One is a psalm about the night, and the other is a psalm about the day; Psalm 8 and Psalm 19. Now, I shall read them. This is the psalm the boy wrote and the song that he sang about the night, Psalm 8:
O Lord our Lord, how excellent is Thy name in all the earth! who hast set Thy glory above the heavens. . . .
When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars which Thou hast ordained;
What is a man, that Thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that Thou look down from heaven upon him?
Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, but Thou hast crowned him with glory and honor.
Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of Thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet: . . . .
O Lord our Lord, how excellent is Thy name in all the earth!
It is a psalm of the night as you look into the wonder of God’s sky. Now, Psalm 19 is a psalm of the day. He watches the dawn over the purple hills of Moab, and then out of the east and above the horizon, there burst the glory of the sun like a radiant bridegroom coming out of his chamber or like an athlete ready for the race! And the boy sings in Psalm 19:
The heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament showeth His handiwork.
Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night exhibiteth, showeth, declareth knowledge.
There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.
Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath He set a tabernacle for the sun,
Who is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race.
His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and His circuit unto the ends of it; and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.
A paean of praise of the daytime when the sun bursts in its glory in the sky!
Now, another of the psalms of his youth that he sang to Saul is Psalm 29. This is a psalm of a thunderstorm. It begins to the north and breaks over Lebanon and Hermon and then sweeps down over the length of Palestine and finally bursts in fury over the deserts of the South and then passes away in the hush of the peace and the quiet of Jehovah Lord. And I have copied here a translation of that psalm—Psalm 29, one that he wrote in his youth, as he depicts a bursting of the thunder and the reverberation of the lightning and flash of a storm, Psalm 29:
Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of His name; worship the Lord in holy array.
[Psalm 29:1, 2]
That is addressed to the angels, the heavenly hosts, as they see the storm gathering from above. Then it thunders and breaks upon the earth, “The voice of the Lord is upon the waters” [Psalm 29:3]. Clouds are gathering.
The God of Glory thunders,
the Lord upon many waters,
The voice of the Lord in strength,
Of the voice of the Lord in majesty.
“The voice of the Lord rending the cedars!
And the Lord rends the cedars of Lebanon
And makes them skip like a calf,
Lebanon and Hermon like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord hewing flames of fire!
And it sweeps over Palestine
from the north down to the desert.
The voice of the Lord shakes the desert.
The Lord shakes the Kadesh desert.
The voice of the Lord makes the hinds writhe
And scatters the woods—and in His temple—
All in it are saying, “Glory.”
Then it quietens.
The Lord sits enthroned over the flood, the rain.
The Lord sits enthroned as a King forever.
The Lord gives strength to His people.
The Lord blesses His people with peace.
[from Psalm 29, source unknown]
As the storm dies away. And the voice sang the song to Saul and One other. And you know the One that I will now speak of.
Some say he wrote it in old age. Of course, I do not know. But the sentiment of it is the psalm of his youth. He is a shepherd boy, and he guides his sheep into the pasture. And he leads them to the blue crystal stream of water, and he guides them with his staff through the defiles of the darkness of the gorges, filled with terror from the lion and the bear. And he is a guest in the house of the host, and the oil of gladness is on his brow. And he thinks of the shepherds’ care of God. And as he sang the Shepherd’s Psalm [Psalm 23], Saul’s heart was quietened, and the evil spirit left him, and he was well again [1 Samuel 16:23]. I cannot remember when I didn’t know it, nor can I remember when I haven’t heard it in trouble, and in tears, and in sorrow and in bereavement. And choir and staff and blessed, beloved congregation, let’s say it together. This is the psalm of all of the psalms. This is the song of all of the psalms of the sweet singer of Israel as David played on his harp and sang in the court, in the presence of Saul, Psalm 23. Let all of us say it together:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
And as he sang the psalm and played with his harp, the soul of Saul was refreshed, and he was well again [1 Samuel 16:23]. And I close with a song, a psalm, that David wrote. His thoughts were so lofty, his life so conscious of the presence of God, but his tasks as a shepherd of the sheep were so menial and lowly. And he wrote the one hundred thirty-first Psalm:
Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too wonderful for me.
Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child.
Let Israel hope in the Lord from henceforth and for ever.
What a wonderful thing, that a king could write it! Lord, I haven’t been haughty, nor have mine eyes been lofty, nor have I sought to exercise myself in great matters, but I have guided sheep, and I led them to the pasture, and I bound up the broken and the bleeding, and I nursed the suckling and the lamb and carried them in my arms, and I sought for them food and shelter. Let Israel so live in that humility, leaning upon God, “Seekest thou great things for thy self? seek them not” [Jeremiah 45:5]. Let God live in your heart, and if His appointed task for us is to be a shepherd, or a king, to sing, or to go to war, to be a hero or an unknown, it’s in His hands. “Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty . . . but I have hoped in Thee” [Psalm 131:1-3], and committed it all to God. To live or to die, to be exalted or to be abased, it’s in His gracious hands. And so the boy sang before Saul, and his heart was refreshed [1 Samuel 16:23].
Now if God could use this service tonight to bless your heart and you’ve never trusted Jesus as Savior, would you do it tonight? If the Lord could bless this hour and you be saved, we’d thank Him forever. Is there a family to put your life with us in the circumference and circle of this glorious, precious, and beloved congregation, would you come tonight, the whole family of you or one somebody you? Is there a youth, is there a child, is there somebody who would come? “Pastor, I give you my hand, I give my heart in trust to Jesus, and here I am, here I come.” As the Spirit of God shall whisper the word of appeal to your heart, would you make it tonight? In the balcony, down one of these stairwells, on the lower floor, into the aisle and to the front, “Here I am, pastor, and here I come.” While we stand and while we sing.