Now the spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him. And Saul’s servants said to him, “See now, an evil spirit from God has tormented you. Let our Lord now command the servants who attend you to look for someone who is skillful in playing the lyre; and when the evil spirit from God is upon you, he will play it, and you will feel better.”
So Saul said to his servants, “Provide for me someone who can play well, and bring him to me.”
One of the young men answered, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite who is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a warrior, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and the Lord is with him.
So Saul sent messengers to Jesse. They found him working in his wood shop. One of the young messengers, like a fanned out peacock full of authority and pride demanded of Jesse, “Send to Saul the king your son David who is with the sheep. Tell him to bring his lyre. Tell him to come with us now.”
“Wait here, I will fetch my son. Mother will take care of you.” Jesse went straight away to find David in the south pasture where he sent him that morning.
“David!” called Jesse from afar when he first spotted him. “Come here !”
David ran over to his father wondering if there had been an emergency with his mother. “What is it father?”
“Two messengers from King Saul have come for you. The king is suffering and needs to hear you play your lyre to soothe him. Get cleaned up, pack and go with them. This is the Lord’s doing.”
“What does this mean father?”
“Observe and serve King Saul. You are a lowly young shepherd of Bethlehem. Look at this invitation as nothing more than the first step of climbing the mountain of the Lord. Go in peace and in prayer my son.”
Together David and Jesse rounded up the sheep and steered them back to their corral.
Father and son walked silently to their home as if walking backward through time and ending up in a mysterious future. Each man filled with his own thoughts and fears translating them into prayer to the Lord dared not speak.”
Meanwhile, David’s mother had prepared a meal for the messengers who waited patiently for David’s arrival so they could return to their distressed king. She prayed while preparing the food.”Lord, may my son and Yours become worthy to lead your Holy people Israel. Teach him and guide him. I see your hand upon him now and I give you glory, honor, praise and worship.” A tear spilled out of the mother’s eye as she became overwhelmed by the significance of this first step since the anointing by Samuel. Through the prayer of her heart this daughter of Judah burst out of the small and dusty village of Bethlehem and into the luminous clean heavens where God heard her and answered her with peace.
With the sheep safely in their pen, Jesse, and then David entered their home and nodded to the strangers, “Greetings, I will soon be ready.” David washed his face and hands in the sink bowl and changed his clothes. Then he gathered some fresh clothes and placed them in a cloth satchel.
While the messengers were eating, Jesse took a donkey and loaded it with bread, a skin of wine, and a kid to send to the king along with his youngest son David.
David, with the confidence of a child of God, not of a man educated and wise in his own eyes, set out for the journey with the messengers and the kid, and his lyre to meet King Saul, whom the prophet Samuel said he would replace.
David was glad to have the lamb walking beside him, his father’s gift to the king. He wondered if this lamb would become a sacrifice of Saul, to carry his sins and to be slaughtered. Certainly, thought David innocently, the sins of Saul must be great for God to want to replace him. He had no idea of why Saul was to be replaced, and neither did Saul. Walking beside the lamb to meet the king David felt chills run down his spine when it occurred to him, that he too was as the lamb being offered to Saul to free him from the torment of his sin. David was as a bloodless sacrifice whose life was about to be altered.
With every step David felt a layer of childhood peel away from his consciousness. A stream of questions came to his mind. Will Saul love him or kill him? Will his sheep back home be well cared for in his absence? Will they wonder where he is?”
David arrived at the palace and looked around in awe. The shepherd boy had never before seen such opulence. Before he could adjust to the grandeur of the space, David was immediately whisked into the parlor where Saul lay on a divan being fanned by his servants. A muscular, nearly naked guard announced their arrival. Another servant pointed to the seat for David. David bowed to the king and sat and lifted his lyre to his lap and plucked a few strings to wake it up. Then he played a melody he composed one hot afternoon after the discovery of a pond he had not known about. The kids were particularly playful that day. All was right with the world. David hoped to convey the joy of that moment through the sounds of his lyre, to his ailing king.
The sound of the lyre struck David as rounder and deeper and so much louder than it ever sounded in the fields, as if it had matured as an instrument. The music transported him back to the fields where he started the day and then boomeranged him back to the luxurious room and the presence of the powerful king. The tones high and low wafted through the air saturating it with its healing power.
David had been playing for a little over an hour when King Saul stood up, flashed the boy a grateful smile and departed the room. David stopped playing immediately and an attendant promptly ushered David to a room with many beds. David set his satchel and lyre on his new bed and took his first good look around at the unusual surroundings.
When another servant entered the room with a full armor for David, he didn’t know what to think. He had only come to play his lyre, now he is given a bed and an armor. David said out loud for anyone to hear, “Will I stay here? My sheep are waiting for me. Who will tend them?”
“Sire, your sheep are not your concern. The king needs you. He has enrolled you in his service. When you aren’t playing for him, you will be an armor bearer. The food is good here; you will not be uncomfortable.”
David wondered how this person could tell him how he would feel.
For the next seven days David was on stand-by. Whenever the evil spirit from God came upon Saul, David was sent for. He would then fetch his lyre and played it with his hand, and Saul would be relieved and felt better, and the evil spirit would depart from him. This ability to relieve him from the evil spirit gave David power over the king. Saul both needed and resented David for this power. David felt like a prisoner. He both admired and feared the king.
One day, a full moon after David left Bethlehem for the king’s palace, his father Jesse arrived looking for him.
David happened to be outside but within the compound. When he saw his father approaching, he ran up to greet him.
“Oh father, I have never been so glad to see anyone. How are you? How is mother?”
“We are well. Why are you still here?”
“The king needs me often. I must stay and play the lyre, and when I am not playing I have become an armor bearer. I have no say in the matter. I am in the king’s service. How are my sheep? How I long to return to my fields, and to ...” David wanted to say “mother” but he held back to keep this longing in his heart.
Father and son walked into the palace together, David showed his father around the massive building. Jesse too had never been in such a grand edifice before.
Saul had heard of the arrival of Jesse and went out to greet him. Jesse bowed before the king who said, “Let David remain in my service, for he has found favor in my sight.”
“We need him too, my lord. I pray thee to allow this young man to go back and forth to feed his sheep and so his mother can savor his youth.”
Saul who had a beloved a son of his own, and was feeling better, acquiesced to Jesse’s request. “He may leave with you for a few days provided he return.”
David was the first to say, “Thank you my lord!” Saul turned around without acknowledging the father’s or the son’s gratitude and left the room.
“Let’s go now!” David said to his father.
Father and son quickly departed, lest the king have a change of heart. God withdrew the evil spirit from Saul to allow David to return to his mother.
David was so glad to be home again. When he spotted his mother rushing towards him with wide and longing arms David’s heart skipped a beat. In their embrace each soul felt the heartbeat of the other so that neither mother nor son knew which beat was their own. Warm moments later they released each other for a good long look. Never had they been apart for so long.
Then David took leave from his mother to see his flock and allow her to prepare the family meal.
The feast was ready. All the brothers came into the home in ones and twos to greet their baby brother and to eat supper. The oldest, Eliab, embraced his youngest brother for the first time. David was caught off guard and didn’t know whether it was because he was missed or because of some change in status that his time at the palace had given him. Nevertheless, David relished his brother’s love and returned it.
The next morning David awoke at first light and dressed quickly. He could not wait another minute to take his sheep out to pasture. His soul thirsted for the solitude, the conditions in which he communed best with God. David needed this time to digest his experience at the palace.
For the first few hours David’s mind was a whirl of memories and new thoughts. Thoughts of all the people in the palace and their roles and the hierarchy and rules of behavior. It had all been so foreign and so uncomfortable for him.
David was straddling a new frightening life and an old comfortable one, and he was glad to be back in his old home, if only for a little while. The kids surrounding him sensed his emotional tumult and hovered closer to him than usual smelling the earth and munching the grass. Days passed in his beloved old routine. He was all the more content and grateful for the shepherd’s life than ever before.