David was anointed as king of Israel after King Saul disobeyed the Lord (1 Sam. 15:1–16:13). However, that does not mean Saul was immediately removed from the throne. As we will see, Saul continued as king over Israel for a time even though God had anointed David to take Saul’s place.
Ironically enough, David ended up serving the very man whom he would replace. He entered Saul’s service in order to minister to Saul in his suffering, as today’s passage reveals. The Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul when God rejected his kingship, and in his place came “a harmful spirit from the LORD” to torment him (16:14). The exact nature of this spirit is not clear in the text. One commentator says it was a bad mood or a depressed, anxious condition. Others suggest a spirit such as a demon. Still others say it was a holy angel who harassed Saul as judgment on him. Whatever the case, this spirit operated according to the sovereign ordination of the Lord, proving that God’s control does not stop where the infliction of harm begins. The Lord cannot commit moral evil, but He remains sovereign over it, and He can and does inflict pain as part of His holy judgment (Gen. 19:24; Amos 3:6; James 1:13).
Seeing that Saul was suffering, the servants of Saul encouraged him to call a musician whose playing of the lyre could bring relief. And it just “so happened”—and of course, in God’s world nothing ever just happens by coincidence—that one of the servants knew David would fit the bill (1 Sam. 16:15–18). Not only was David a good musician, but he was also a “man of valor,” a “man of war,” and one “prudent in speech” (v. 18). Given that Saul prized strength and valor, we are not surprised that Saul sent for David to serve him (vv. 19–23; see 14:52). Most importantly, the Lord was with David (16:18), and that would prove to be the secret of David’s success. God left Saul—He no longer blessed him or guided him directly—but He was with David all the days of his life (2 Sam. 22). When God is with a person, that person cannot finally fall.
We can see then the hand of God’s providence at work in David’s life. Saul would remain on the throne a while longer, but David became a member of Saul’s court where he could observe the ways of kings firsthand and learn how to—and how not to—lead the people of God. The Lord blessed David in his ministry to Saul, putting him in place to finally sit on God’s throne (1 Sam. 16:23).