A Troubling Spirit

The Lord judged and rejected Saul, and then withdrew His Spirit from him. Then the Lord sent His Spirit to comfort Saul – in David.

Neither David nor Jesus was immediately given the throne promised to him by God. Like David, Jesus’ commission at His baptism did not immediately remove the old king. The next stage of His ministry would be a time of testing, of perseverance by faith. Both David and Jesus were perfected for rule through suffering at the hand of a tyrant.

This is because true kingdom on earth (Covenant Sanctions) comes only after priestly submission before heaven (Covenant Oath). But like Adam, the kings of the world seize equality with God rather than receive it as a gift following faithful obedience. The “firstfruits” that God truly desires is the fruit of righteousness.

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel?” (1 Samuel 16:1)

We saw in David the Tabernacle that the anointing of David prefigured the anointing of Christ. Both involved a sifting, a threshing, a “cutting away” of flesh, or to change the metaphor, the choice of a “son” from among the “herd.” Jacob selected Joseph from among his brothers in a similar way. From the examples of all these men, we learn that a godly ruler begins his ministry at – and metaphorically on – the altar.

In that regard, Saul was much like Cain, the failed firstborn, whose offering the Lord rejected. (Blood was to be offered first, as a substitute the firstborn of the womb, before the firstfruits of the land). This explains Saul’s affinity with Agag, king of Amalek, the “chief” or “first” among nations (Numbers 24:20). Agag was a descendant of Esau, another firstborn whom God rejected in favour of his brother. So David, a keeper of sheep, a son who humbled himself as a servant, was chosen to shepherd Israel. Physical descent, and physical birth order, like physical strength, become irrelevant once God tries the hearts (1 Samuel 16:7; Jeremiah 17:10; Galatians 3:23). Once the “blameless-by-faith” are selected, the Lord mortifies his sons that they might rule as the “firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:18). Those who are meek, that is, those who submit to God, always inherit the land (Matthew 5:5). In this way, the last become the first (Matthew 20:16).

Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah. Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him. (1 Samuel 16:13-14)

God always establishes a new house before He destroys the old one. The new house, like the ark of Noah, serves as a sanctuary for those who wait for God’s judgment upon the tyrants of the day. For a period of time, the people of God have one foot in the old world and one foot in the new. They have believed the word of the prophets and look forward to the day of vindication (2 Timothy 1:12). But until that day comes, they must testify to the truth and suffer at the hands of those who do not believe their message (Isaiah 53:1).

This period of suffering has two purposes: it not only teaches the saints to depend upon God, preparing them for rule in the new world (Matthew 19:28; Revelation 20:4), it also invites the old world to fill up its sins, to make it ripe for judgment for high-handed sin and thus hasten the day of vindication. This is why David’s commission preceded Saul’s decommission. In a very real sense, David became the agent, the means of God’s judgment upon Saul by persecution.

David’s submission to God and his unwillingness to do what was right in his own eyes provoked Saul to jealousy. Jonah, Jesus and Paul had a similar ministry of provocation. But behind this jealousy was an unclean spirit. It was sent not to corrupt Saul (or Israel, or the Jews), but to expose – to magnify – the thoughts and intents of their hearts. In terms of sacred architecture, the fire of the Spirit reveals the true nature of the offering by transforming it into smoke, either a savour of death (sulfur) or a savour of life (incense). Likewise, the Spirit of the Lord upon Jesus is precisely what brought the spirits that were troubling Israel out of the woodwork. The many instances of explicit demon possession in the Gospels and Acts were not the norm in Israel, and neither are they in our day, at least until the light shines upon those who love darkness.

Ultimately, it is the Holy Spirit who truly troubles the unholy. After the Spirit descended upon the faithful on the Day of Pentecost, God sent a strong delusion upon the unbelieving Jews to hasten their destruction. The faith of the persecuted Firstfruits Church only enraged the Jewish rulers all the more. A David’s faith is forever a sword that cuts a Saul to pieces long before any Philistine lays a hand on him.


Identifying the author’s use of the Bible Matrix in 1 Samuel 16:14-23 allows us to tune into some wonderful allusions that are textually implicit but structurally explicit. Here are some initial observations concerning the whole passage before we get into a line-by-line analysis.

The Spirit departs from Saul and the Lord sends a troubling spirit instead (Initiation)
 His servants suggest that they seek out a musician (Delegation)
Ascension: A promise of wellness, and a command to bring such a man (Presentation)
Testing: A mighty and wise man has been seen (Purification)
Maturity: Jesse sends David with a tribute to Saul (Transformation)
Conquest: David is vindicated by Saul (Vindication)
Glorification: His harp playing temporarily exorcises the troubling spirit from Saul. (Representation)

  • Because this passage recapitulates the Creation week, we can see that only David (as Jesus) is able to bring peace to the cursed “Covenant world” that Saul has created for himself (as Adam).
  • The first half of this Covenant pattern concerns Saul as the old, silent tent of Moses (forming). The second half concerns David as the “resurrection body,” the Tabernacle of David, a house of music and praise (filling).
  • As with Adam, the promise is given at Ascension and fulfilled (or intended to be) at Glorification.
  • David is the “bridal body” at Trumpets, carrying a sacrificial tribute before the throne.
  • David is blessed by Saul at Oath/Sanctions that Saul might be blessed by David at Succession. But the exorcism of the spirit troubling Saul makes David the mediator, the legal representative of heaven. This will eventually lead to the end of Saul and the establishing of the dynasty of David.



But the Spirit of the Lord (Transcendence)
departed from Saul, (Hierarchy)
and troubled him (Ethics)
an adverse spirit (Oath/Sanctions)
from the Lord. (Succession)

  • This “Genesis” stanza is the beginning of Saul’s “de-Creation.” The spirit that is hovering will not bring life but death. Saul is formless and empty, with darkness upon his face.
  • The spirit from God is a Covenant curse, ultimately doing God’s work despite its local intentions, just like Satan himself, who still serves as a minister of the will of God despite his rebellion. The trouble appears at Ethics, because those who will not tremble before God will be troubled by Him.

HIERARCHY (Division)

And said Saul’s servants to him, (Ark of the Testimony)
“Behold now, (Veil)
an adverse spirit from God (Bronze Altar)
is troubling you. (Golden Table)
Let our master now command (Lampstand)
your servants before you, (Incense Altar)
to seek out a man, (Laver and Mediators)
a cunning player on the harp. (Shekinah)

  • The “Exodus” stanza is sevenfold, since the will of God is now “opened.” Fittingly, the matrix thread which shines here is the order of the Tabernacle elements as they correspond to the Creation Week. Saul will find peace dwelling in the microcosmic Tabernacle that is David.
  • The stanza ironically puts troubled Saul as the sacrifice on the altar, an offering rejected by God. Yet Saul is still king, and his voice is central, at least according to his wise advisors who are the “body” in the sequence.
  • The “man” in line 6 (Day 6) is David, and his musical “cunning” alludes to the skill of Aholiab and Bezalel, the Spirit-filled artisans who built the Tabernacle for Moses.

ETHICS: Priesthood (Ascension)

And it shall come to pass (Transcendence)
that when upon you (Hierarchy)
is the adverse spirit from God (Ethics)
that he shall play with his hand (Oath/Sanctions)
and you shall be well.” (Succession)
And said Saul (Initiation)
unto his servants, (Delegation)
“Provide me now (Presentation)
a man (Purification)
who can play well (Transformation)
and bring him (Vindication)
to me.” (Representation)

  • The “Leviticus” stanza presents us with a hint of the nature of Davidic worship, a sacrifice of praise in heaven once the offering of blood is made on the earth.
  • Just as Day 3 brought forth dry land and fruit bearers, the Ascension stanza is two fold: the fivefold “Mosaic Covenant” as the Bronze Altar, and the sevenfold “New Covenant” scroll as the Golden Table.
  • As the king, Saul is one who “breaks the seals” by sending out the decree to find the “bridal,” Spirit-filled man filled with the wisdom of God. These allusions point backwards to Joseph and forwards to the ascension of Christ (Revelation 4-5).
  • In the first stanza, David’s playing is positioned as a Covenant blessing. In the second, his playing is an acceptable offering and David himself is the “nearbringing” sacrifice through whom Saul enjoys restored sanctuary and access to God at some level.

ETHICS: Kingdom (Testing)

DAY 1: Light and Darkness
Then answered one of the young, and said, (Ark of the Testimony)
DAY 2: Waters Above and Below
“Behold, I have seen (Veil)
DAY 3: Dry Land and Primary Fruit Bearers
a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, (Bronze Altar)
who is cunning in playing, (Golden Table)
DAY 4: Governing Lights
and a mighty, valiant man, (Lampstand)
DAY 5: Swarms, Clouds, Hosts Above and Below
and a man of war, (Incense Altar)
and prudent in speech, (Fragrant Smoke)
DAY 6: Land Animals and Man upon the Edenic Spring
and a handsome person, (Laver and Mediators)
DAY 7: Rest and Rule
and the Lord is with him.” (Shekinah)

  • The central stanza more obviously combines the Creation and its Tabernacle miniature in the description of the discovery of David. Now not only is the “priestly” stage (Ascension/Firstfruits) twofold, but the corresponding heavenly altar (Maturity/Trumpets) is also given as a twofold legal witness, speaking of his prowess with both the sword in his hand and the prophetic sword in his mouth. But this “bridal” altar (inside the house) presents not flesh but fragrant smoke, the works of righteousness.
  • The name “Jesse” means wealthy or gift, and his position here makes him the faithful worshiper. “Bethlehem” means house of bread, which also corresponds to the Golden Table. Yet the Table is still the kingly table of “Cainite” Saul, and David as the musician offers a sacrifice of praise.
  • The mighty man at the centre is David, who is God’s choice for king, positioned at the center of the central stanza and thus of the entire cycle. Saul was mighty and valiant, but not submissive to God. David is the sevenfold lampstand. He has taken the position held by his seven brothers in the previous cycle (1 Samuel 16:1-13), and he has already become a light to Saul’s path.
  • Comparing this stanza with the same pattern in the history of Adam to Noah reveals further insights. As a Bethlehemite, David is a better “firstborn” than Cain. Being skillful in playing, David is a better Jubal (of the line of Cain). As a mighty man, he overshadows the “great ones” in Genesis 6 who sought to be gods. As a man of war, he sheds blood only righteously. He proclaims the Lord of Hosts like Noah, and as an Adamic household he is a new ark, a new Tabernacle, a new mediatory covering for the people of God.

ETHICS: Prophecy (Maturity)

And sent Saul (Sabbath – Initiation)
messengers to Jesse, and said, (Passover – Delegation)
ETHICS: Priesthood
“Send me David your son, (Firstfruits – Presentation)
who is with the sheep.”
ETHICS: Kingdom
And took Jesse (Initiation)
a donkey (Delegation)
loaded with bread, (Priesthood: Adamic Head)
a skin of wine, (Kingdom: Spirit)
and a young goat, (Prophecy: Bridal Body)
and sent them by David his son (Vindication)
to Saul. (Representation)
(Pentecost – Purification)
ETHICS: Prophecy
And came David to Saul (Trumpets – Transformation)
and stood before him.
And he loved him greatly, (Atonement – Vindication)
and he became his armorbearer. (Booths – Representation)

  • Stanza 5, the “bridal/music” step, is aptly cunning. Saul is still the “Transcendent” authority who sends his “angels” to find a worthy Lamb. The same pattern is found in the early chapters of the Revelation.
  • In the biblical pattern of worship, step 5 concerns the offertory, an image of the nations (as converted “Body”) responding to the faithful worship of Israel (as legal-sacrificial “Head”). But here the account of the offering itself “blooms” into a matrix sequence of its own, highlighting the picture it paints of the Father sending His Son with bread and wine in peace as a testimony to the kings of the land. In the Gospels, this is the last supper and the death of Christ. In Revelation 14, this is the subsequent harvest of the first century martyrs.
  • At Maturity, this offering also reminds us of the tribute required by God for every fighting man of Israel at the Feast of Trumpets, reminding them that they were not the armies of Pharaoh who relied upon horses and chariots, but holy warriors for the Lord of Hosts. When mustered to appear before God, their own lives were quite literally “bought with a price.”


And sent Saul (Creation)
to Jesse, saying, (Division)
“Let stand, I pray, (Ascension – Priesthood)
David (Testing – Kingdom)
before me, (Maturity – Prophecy)
for he has found favour (Conquest)
in my sight.” (Glorification)

  • Oath/Sanctions concerns blessing or cursing, and Saul sends a message of blessing to Jesse. This stanza corresponds to Day 6 in the Creation Week, so David is an Adam who has been assessed and found to qualify for service. This stanza also corresponds to the position of baptism in the accounts early in the book of Acts. The Tabernacle Laver was a form of investiture for priests and the sacrificial animals who represented them. David is invested for service in the royal court as a representative of the king.

SUCCESSION: (Glorification)

And it came to pass, (Sabbath)
when the spirit from God was upon Saul, (Passover)
that took David (Firstfruits)
a harp (Pentecost)
and played with his hand, (Trumpets)
so Saul would be refreshed and well, (Atonement)
and the distressing spirit departed. (Booths)

  • Finally, Saul enters into his rest. But as with Israel’s sin with the golden calf, God would visit him again (Exodus 32:33-34). David’s service was only a temporary covering for Saul, a window of mercy for the sake of the people of God. Typologically, Saul and David were Esau and Jacob struggling in the womb to be the first one out. As mentioned, the entire process was replayed in the rivalry between the Herods (Edomites) and the Christ (a son of Jacob). The battle between Joshua and Amalek at Mount Sinai is alluded to in Revelation 16:16 to describe the spiritual war between the Apostles and the rulers of Jerusalem, a struggle for Covenant Succession whose “birth pangs” heralded the end of the age (See Michael Bull, Moses and the Revelation, 157-158).
  • The end of the cycle leaves Saul as a house “swept and decorated,” but as with first century Jerusalem, the spirit would return with seven of its brothers, and the end of Saul’s house would be far worse than a mere troubling spirit (See Seven Spirits More Wicked). His remaining reign would turn the City of Peace into “a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast.” (Revelation 18:2)

If you are new to this method of interpretation, please visit the Welcome page for some help to get you up to speed.

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