God fiercely judged Saul for his disobedience. He rejected him from being king (1 Sam. 15:23), rent the kingdom of Israel from him, and gave it to David (15:28). “The Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled” him (16:14).
Somehow, Saul’s servants knew that “an evil spirit from God” troubled Saul (16:14). They informed him of that fact and counseled him to seek out a skilled musician whose playing would relieve him of the affliction caused by the evil spirit (16:16). Responding to Saul’s request that his servants provide such a musician for him, one of his servants commended David to him (16:17-18).
The servant’s commendation informed Saul of much more than the fact that David was a skilled musician. The servant ended his six-fold commendation by saying, “The Lord is with him” (16:18). Saul sent for David (16:19-22), and David ministered effectively to him when he was troubled by the spirit: “Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him” (16:19-23).
This account is often referenced by Christian musicians in their discussions of the value of good music. Although such use is valid, what the passage teaches about God’s mercy in His judgment is sometimes not fully appreciated. God rightly and fiercely judged Saul for his sinfulness. But, God extended mercy to Saul in His judgment through providing a means for him to be relieved of some of the ill effects of part of that judgment. Had God chosen to do so, He could have prevented Saul from ever learning of an effective remedy for the trouble the evil spirit was causing him.
Furthermore, God did not just allow him to learn of an effective remedy (16:16); He also put a servant among Saul’s servants who informed him of someone who could provide that remedy (16:18-22). Then, God allowed Saul’s request for that one to come to minister to him to be granted, and He allowed the ministry of that person to be effective in relieving him of his trouble (16:23).
As He did for Saul, God extends mercy in His judgment today to many who are suffering directly for their sinfulness. For example, He often allows people who have health problems directly attributable to their own evil behavior to yet learn of and obtain effective treatments that relieve some or all of their suffering.
God’s providing David as a means of relieving Saul of some of his trouble should inspire great appreciation for His mercy in His judgment. Let us praise God that He is the Judge who delights in mercy (Micah 7:18)!