Poole on 1 Samuel 16:14-17: Of Music and Demons

Verse 14:[1] (1 Sam. 11:6; 18:12; 28:15; Judg. 16:20; Ps. 51:11) But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and (Judg. 9:23; 1 Sam. 18:10; 19:9) an evil spirit from the LORD troubled (or, terrified[2]) him.


[The Spirit of the Lord withdrew from Saul] A good spirit (Vatablus), that Royal spirit (Grotius). Whence he who was previously vigorous and triumphant in battle, thereafter was not ready for war and inactive, and did not manage anything with distinction (Lapide, similarly Sanchez). That Spirit of fortitude and prudence (Lapide, Sanchez, Martyr).


The Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul: God took away that prudence, and courage, and alacrity, and other gifts and assistances of God’s Spirit, wherewith he had qualified him for the management of his public employment.



[And it was stirring him up, וּבִעֲתַתּוּ] And it terrified (agitated [Munster, Tigurinus, Junius and Tremellius, Vatablus], was suffocating [Septuagint], was vexing [Syriac]) him (Jonathan, Pagnine, Montanus); it began to stir him up, namely, to jealousy, hatred, cruelty (Malvenda). It began to dissolve his body (Arabic). The root of the Hebrew word is בָּעַת, to terrify, and not בָּעָה, to cause to swell, so that it should not have been translated here by a certain one, it blew into him (Munster).


[A wicked (or malignant [Septuagint]) spirit from the Lord (thus nearly all interpreters)] Outwardly showing what was lurking within (Grotius). that is, with the Lord thus permitting, or sending (Vatablus); by permission of the Lord (Arabic). What was this spirit? Responses: 1. Not the substance of a spirit, but the effect, is understood. Now, that was a certain vehement impulse, stirred up by a spirit either good or bad. Such motions of souls are called spirits. Thus a spirit of fear, of courage,[3] of wisdom,[4] of stupor,[5] of infirmity[6] (Martyr). 2. Some think that it was an illness arising from black bile, or melancholy, and mania (Lapide, Sanchez, thus the Hebrews and Josephus[7] and Cajetan and Genebrard[8] and Delrio[9] in Lapide). The disease was demonic, so that he was appearing to be suffocated (Josephus in Sanchez). Now, this disease was readily lifted through music (Lapide). 3. It is the common opinion of the Fathers and Doctors, that Saul was verily possessed, and harassed internally by a Demon (Tirinus, thus Lyra, Tostatus, Serarius, Lapide, Menochius, Sanchez). That the disease of Saul was sudden terrors and perturbations sent by a Demon, the signification of the Hebrew verb indicates clearly enough. See 1 Samuel 16:23 (Malvenda). Evil spirits, or demons, were seizing him (Josephus in Grotius).


An evil spirit; properly so called; for what need is there of forsaking the proper signification of the word? It is evident, both from Scripture and experience, that God hath permitted some men to be really acted and disquieted by the devil; and why not Saul as well as others? From the Lord, that is, by God’s permission or judgment, delivering him up to Satan. Troubled him; stirred up in him unruly and tormenting passions; as envy, rage, fear, despair, and the like.


Verse 15:[10] And Saul’s servants said unto him, Behold now, an evil spirit from God troubleth thee.


[A spirit of God] It is thus called, either, 1. Because it was created by God (Vatablus). Its nature is good, and from God (Tirinus). 2. Because it was doing the will of God (Vatablus on verse 14).


Verse 16:[11] Let our lord now command thy servants, which are (Gen. 41:46; 1 Sam. 16:21, 22; 1 Kings 10:8) before thee, to seek out a man, who is a cunning player on an harp: and it shall come to pass, when the evil spirit from God is upon thee, that he shall (1 Sam. 16:23; 2 Kings 3:15) play with his hand, and thou shalt be well.


[Let our lord command, etc., יֺאמַר־נָ֤א אֲדֹנֵ֙נוּ֙ עֲבָדֶ֣יךָ לְפָנֶ֔יךָ יְבַקְשׁ֕וּ אִ֕ישׁ וגו״] Let our lord say now, or please (Montanus, Jonathan). Let thy servants to thy faces seek, etc.[12] (Montanus). Thy servants, or, and thy servants, before thee, or who are before thee, shall seek a man (Jonathan, Pagnine). Behold, thy servants are at thy service; let them seek a man (Syriac, similarly the Arabic). Let our lord appoint, we pray, to thy servants attending thee, that they search for a man (Junius and Tremellius, similarly Munster, Tigurinus). Thus a ל/to is understood; but it is more satisfying to the more learned, that these things be read by way of parenthesis: (for thy servants are before thee), that is, they are ready to hand to perform thy commands (Vatablus in Tigurinus Notes).


[Knowing how to play the lyre (similarly all interpreters), יֹדֵ֖עַ מְנַגֵּ֣ן בַּכִּנּ֑וֹר] Knowing, striking (I prefer, skillful in striking [Piscator]) the lyre (Junius and Tremellius), who may know how ludere, to play (canere, to play [Tigurinus, Strigelius]) on the lyre (Munster). מְנַגֵּן/playing has the form of a Piel participle, but, which may be used in the place of an Infinitive: as also מְנַצֵּחַ, with ל prefixed, especially in the titles of the Psalms[13] (Malvenda).



[And thou mayest bear it more easily] Hebrew: and good to thee[14] (Malvenda). And thee it may raise (Syriac), or, relieve (Arabic). Question: But what was Music and the lyre of David able to do to the Demon agitating Saul? Responses: 1. That there is great power in musical rhythms to calm and compose souls, ancient testimonies and daily experiences more than sufficiently prove (Sanchez). Asclepiades[15] was wont to settle τὰ πάθη, the passions, or disease of the soul, by music; Celsus’ Concerning Medicine[16] 12. Timotheus the lyre-player, while he was playing τὸν ὄρθιον νόμον (which was performed with greater passion), moved Alexander the Great so powerfully that he rushed to arms.[17] The cities of the Greeks enacted that diseases of souls and bodies be treated by the modulations of the lyre, with Martianus Capella[18] testifying. Xenocrates[19] freed the frenzied from madness with the modulations of songs.[20] Moreover, music is read, both to restrain anger, Ælian’s[21]Various History[22] 14, and to heal hip pain, as Gellius[23] and Paracelsus[24] testify; and also bites from venomous spiders, etc. See Alexander ab Alexandro’s Festival Days[25] 2:17. Plutarch,[26] near the end of his book On Music, says that the commotion stirred at Lacedæmon was calmed with music by Terpander.[27] Pythagoras[28] was composing the perturbations of the soul with the lyre, says Seneca,[29] On Anger 3:9 (Sanchez). See what things were said above on 1 Samuel 10:5. Marinus, Of Proclus:[30] παρεκέλευε οὖν ἑκάστοτε ὕμνους λέγειν; καὶ λεγομένων τῶν ὕμνων, πᾶσα εἰρήνη τῶν πάθων ἐγίγνετο καὶ ἀταραξία, he was appointing to sing hymn upon each occasion; and, with they hymns performed, omnimodal peace and tranquility welled up. Apollonius, Of Wonders:[31] ἰᾶται ἡ καταύλησις τῆς διανοίας ἐκστάσεις (music also heals the displacement of the mind): where also other things concerning this matter. It was customary for the Pythagoreans, says Quintilianus,[32] Institutes of Eloquence[33] 9:4, when they were seeking sleep, previously to calm their minds with the lyre, so that, if there were any agitated thoughts, they might compose them (Grotius). 2. Music naturally drives away melancholy, of which the Demon makes use to torment Saul. For no humor is more advantageous than this to the Devil, that He might vex, tempt, and incite to sorrow, envy, anger, and desperation. Hence the Demon makes use of this (who acts by natural causes) to drive men to anxieties, misgivings, hatreds, and murders (Lapide). For the melancholic humor depresses, burdens, saddens, and darkens the heart with soot, so that through it all things appear dark, gloomy, hurtful, and frightful (Valesius[34] in Lapide). Therefore, the natural force of music and the lyre was consisting in two things: 1. That it was diverting his imagination from the contemplation of sorrowful things. 2. That the very pleasure of singing was cheering him, and thus was driving away, or diminishing, melancholy (Lapide, similarly Serarius). Therefore, as the Demon rejoices in this melancholic disposition; so, with it lifted, circumstantially and indirectly he is driven away, or impeded (Serarius). The Demon steals into the body, so that it might more grievously affect the soul: This is demonstrated by the Lunatic in Matthew 17, who had it the worst, when something more grievous was suffered from the moon.[35] Wherefore, he that would remove or lessen κακοπάθειαν/affliction would take from the devil some of his power over the man (Sanchez). Indeed, Music is able to do nothing to a Demon directly, since it is a spirit; but it can circumstantially; because, with the affections softened, through which the Devil insinuates himself into our souls, he is also driven out. Hence that saying in Ephesians 4:26, 27, let not the sun go down upon your wrath, neither give place to the Devil. And, just as the rays of the sun, which are not able to be cut with a sword, nor to be quenched by blowing, not to be averted by any effort; with the window closed, we exclude from the upper room: So we exclude the Devil, with the entrance obstructed, whereby he invades the stronghold of the soul. Finally, Music drives away an evil spirit in the same manner in which it imports the good; which it does, when it pacifies an agitated soul, so that there might not be anything in our mind that repels the Holy Spirit. See 2 Kings 3:15, and Matthew 17:15, 18, in which the distemper is intensified by the waxing moon. And so, if a physician had healed that disease, by that same work he would have freed the diseased from the Demon. But it is also to be acknowledged that God granted to David an extraordinary skill in Music, so that thus little-by-little He might build a road for him to greater things (Bochart’s A Sacred Catalogue of Animals[36] 1:2:44:461, etc.). 3. They maintain that something was done supernaturally here (thus Serarius out of Lyra). Perhaps the songs of David were having greater impact from their subject matter; for he was rehearsing divine praises, whereby the Demon was put to flight (Menochius, similarly Sanchez). By the striking of the lyre David was stirring up his own mind, just like Elisha, etc., so that he might pray more fervently for Saul (Lapide out of Josephus and Tostatus). [To others this response does not satisfy:] It is certain that the servants of Saul, that is, his Physicians, little concerned with the matter of the song, only sought this, that skilled κιθαριστὴς/cithara-player be called. Hence they do not require a Priest, or a Prophet, but a musician (Bochart’s A Sacred Catalogue of Animals[37] 1:2:44:461, etc., similarly Martyr).


He shall play with his hand, and thou shalt be well: And the success confirms their opinion. For although music cannot directly have any influence upon an evil spirit to drive him away; yet because the devil, as it seems, had not possession of him, but only made use of the passions of his mind and ill humours of his body to molest him; and because it is manifest that music hath a mighty power to qualify and sweeten these, and to make a man sedate and cheerful, as is evident by the unanimous consent of learned writers, and by common experience; it is not strange if the devil had not that power over him when his mind was more composed, which he had when it was disordered; as the devil had less power over lunatics in the decrease than in the increase of the moon, Matthew 17:15, 18. And seeing music prepared the Lord’s prophets for the entertainment of the good Spirit, as 2 Kings 3:15, why might it not dispose Saul to the resistance of the evil spirit? and why might not the cheering of his heart, in some measure, strengthen him against those temptations of the devil which were fed by his melancholic humour?


Verse 17:[38] And Saul said unto his servants, Provide me now a man that can play well, and bring him to me.


[Psalming well (similarly the Septuagint, Jonathan, Munster, Pagnine), מֵיטִ֣יב לְנַגֵּ֔ן] Verbatim: one doing good to psalm; that is, who skillfully plucks the cithara. Well knowing how to play (Montanus, similarly Tigurinus).

[1] Hebrew: וְר֧וּחַ יְהוָ֛ה סָ֖רָה מֵעִ֣ם שָׁא֑וּל וּבִֽעֲתַ֥תּוּ רֽוּחַ־רָעָ֖ה מֵאֵ֥ת יְהוָֽה׃ [2] Hebrew: וּבִעֲתַתּוּ. [3] 2 Timothy 1:7. [4] Exodus 28:3; Deuteronomy 34:9; Isaiah 11:2; Ephesians 1:17. [5] Isaiah 61:3. [6] Luke 13:11. [7] Flavius Josephus (37-93) was a priest in the Temple of Jerusalem, a Jewish general, and an eyewitness to the final siege of Jerusalem. Josephus’ works are invaluable to the student of Jewish antiquities and of the history of the fall of Jerusalem. [8] Gilbert Genebrard (1535-1597) was a French Benedictine scholar, specializing in Oriental studies. He served the Roman Church as a professor of Hebrew at the Collège Royal, and later as Archbishop of Aix. He is especially noteworthy for his commentary on the Psalms and his translation of rabbinic works into Latin. [9] Martin Delrio (1551-1608) was a Spanish Jesuit theologian. [10] Hebrew: וַיֹּאמְר֥וּ עַבְדֵֽי־שָׁא֖וּל אֵלָ֑יו הִנֵּה־נָ֧א רֽוּחַ־אֱלֹהִ֛ים רָעָ֖ה מְבַעִתֶּֽךָ׃ [11] Hebrew: יֹאמַר־נָ֤א אֲדֹנֵ֙נוּ֙ עֲבָדֶ֣יךָ לְפָנֶ֔יךָ יְבַקְשׁ֕וּ אִ֕ישׁ יֹדֵ֖עַ מְנַגֵּ֣ן בַּכִּנּ֑וֹר וְהָיָ֗ה בִּֽהְי֙וֹת עָלֶ֤יךָ רֽוּחַ־אֱלֹהִים֙ רָעָ֔ה וְנִגֵּ֥ן בְּיָד֖וֹ וְט֥וֹב לָֽךְ׃ [12] A woodenly literalistic rendering. [13] For example, Psalm 4 title: “To the chief Musician (לַמְנַצֵּחַ, to supervise) on Neginoth, A Psalm of David.” [14] Hebrew: וְט֥וֹב לָֽךְ׃. [15] Asclepiades (c. 129-c. 40 BC) was Greek physician of Bithynia. His theory of disease was a break from the past, asserting that disease is caused by an irregularity of the flow of atoms through the pores of the body. He also used music to treat mental illness and other ailments. [16] Aulus Cornelius Celsus (c. 25 BC-c. 50 AD) was a Roman encyclopædist; only his De Medicina survives. [17] Dio Chrysostom’s First Discourse on Kingship 1. [18] Martianus Minneus Felix Capella (fifth century AD) was a pagan author from Madaura in the Roman province of Africa. He wrote Satyricon and De Nuptiis Philologiæ et Mercurii et de Septem Artibus Liberalibus Libri Novem (Concerning the Wedding of Philology and Mercury, and concerning the Seven Liberal Arts, in Nine Books). He formulated the trivium and quadrivium (which would include Music) categories used in early Medieval classical education. [19] Xenocrates (396-314 BC) was a pupil of Plato and the eventual head of the Academy. [20]De Nuptiis Philologiæ et Mercurii 9. [21] Claudius Ælianus (c. 175-c. 235) was a Roman rhetorician and teacher. [22]Varia Historia. [23] Aulus Gellius (c. 125-c. 180) was a Roman grammarian, rhetorician, and collector of curiosities, which he set down in the twenty books of his Noctes Atticæ. [24] Paracelsus (c. 1493-1531) was a Swiss Renaissance philosopher, physician, and alchemist. [25] Alexander ab Alexandro (1461-1523) studied law at Naples and Rome, but, being dissatisfied with the practice of law, devoted himself to literary pursuits. His Dies Geniales is a miscellany of curious observations on philology and antiquities. [26] Mestrius Plutarchus (c. 46-127) was a Greek historian. [27] Terpander of Antiss in Lesbos (seventh century BC) was a Greek poet and musician. He is regarded as the founder of Greek music. [28] Pythagoras (582-507 BC) was a Greek philosopher and mathematician. [29] Lucius Annæus Seneca, or Seneca the Younger (c. 4 BC-65 AD), was a Roman philosopher and dramatist. [30] Marinus (born c. 440) was a Neoplatonist philosopher and mathematician of Flavia Neapolis, Palestine. He wrote a biography of Proclus, his teacher, the greatest of the Neoplatonists. [31] Nothing is known about the life of Apollonius Paradoxographus, but his Mirabilia is a second century BC compilation of the works of earlier writers. [32] Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (42-c. 122) was a Roman rhetorician. [33]Institutionum Oratoriarum Libri Duodecim. [34] Franciscus Valesius (1524-1592) was a Spanish Renaissance physician. [35] Matthew 17:15: “Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatic (σεληνιάζεται, is moon-struck), and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water.” [36] Samuel Bochart (1599-1667) was a French Protestant pastor and scholar with a wide variety of interests, including philology, theology, geography, and zoology. Indeed his works on Biblical geography (Geographia Sacra) and zoology (Hierozoicon, sive Bipertitum Opus de Animalibus Scripturæ) became standard reference works for generations. He was on familiar terms with many of the greatest men of his age. [37] Samuel Bochart (1599-1667) was a French Protestant pastor and scholar with a wide variety of interests, including philology, theology, geography, and zoology. Indeed his works on Biblical geography (Geographia Sacra) and zoology (Hierozoicon, sive Bipertitum Opus de Animalibus Scripturæ) became standard reference works for generations. He was on familiar terms with many of the greatest men of his age. [38] Hebrew: וַיֹּ֥אמֶר שָׁא֖וּל אֶל־עֲבָדָ֑יו רְאוּ־נָ֣א לִ֗י אִ֚ישׁ מֵיטִ֣יב לְנַגֵּ֔ן וַהֲבִיאוֹתֶ֖ם אֵלָֽי׃

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