Saul was out of control! He was trying to kill David, the person God has chosen to be the next king of Israel. In fact, he was determined to do this. He personally tried to kill him (18:10-11,19:9-10), he put David in a situation where he thought there was a good chance he’d be killed (18:12-17), and then he sent others to kill him (19:11ff).
Everything was in chaos!!! Where was God during this time? He was on the throne where He’s always been. He was as much in control at this time as He was when He directed Samuel to choose David from Jesse’s eight sons or when He enabled David to defeat Goliath in the valley of Elah. In fact, the writer of 1 Samuel makes it a point to tell us a couple of times that Saul’s actions were at least in part due to an evil spirit sent from God (18:10-11,19:8-9).
The people of Samuel’s time would read this and nod their heads—their God was sovereign over everything. They wouldn’t flinch as we moderns do at the thought that God sent an evil spirit to torment Saul. After all, God was over everything and the evil spirit God sent was an instrument of punishment for Saul for his disobedience.
Here is a sobering thought: through his disobedience, Saul invited destructive forces into his life. The same truth can be found in a case study of Pharaoh or in Romans 1, where three times Paul pronounced the verdict, “God gave them over,” (v. 24,26,28), in reference to destructive forces that God allowed to come into the lives of people who stubbornly pursued their own ways rather than His. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul commanded the Christians at Corinth to “hand . . . over to Satan,” (v. 5), an individual who had turned from God. If you play with fire, you will get burned. If you play with sin, you will invite destructive forces into your life.
Yet even in Saul’s punishment, there was mercy. The same God who sent the evil sprit to bring justice to Saul also brought the harp-playing David to soothe him in his distress. Unfortunately, Saul didn’t see it that way. He turned on the very mercy God has provided and went from bad to worse. He failed the test.
David was also taking a test. God’s mercy to Saul has put him in a difficult position. It has been suggested that David is being tested in a way similar to Job, to see if he will continue to serve God when favorable circumstances are removed. Perhaps this is right. Perhaps God was toughening David for the trials he would one day face as king. Regardless, whatever chaos existed was on earth, not in heaven. Circumstances may confuse us, purposes might evade us, but God still rules over us. That never changes.
I don’t know how much of this David understood, but I know this—he never stopped following God. He didn’t allow the difficulties of his life to drive him away from his Father. One minute he was pointing the spear (his victory over Goliath); the next minute he had the spear pointed at him. He showed the same kind of faith in adversity as he did in prosperity. He passed the test.
How do we respond when the spear is pointing at us?