Songs that Soothe

“Whenever the [tormenting] spirit from God came upon Saul, David would take his harp and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.” ~1 Samuel 16:23

I’m particularly curious about what kinds of songs David played and sang for King Saul that brought him so much comfort and peace. As the writer of so many corporate psalms and congregational hymns, I’m convinced that David sang familiar temple songs for the king, songs both he and Saul would have recognized and known. Those old familiar hymns seem to be the ones that bring us the most comfort. Personally, a song like Be With Me, Lord has powers to calm me down, to re-orient my hectic life, to re-order my confused priorities:

Be with me, Lord — I cannot live without Thee, I dare not try to take one step alone,
I cannot bear the loads of life unaided, I need thy strength to lean myself upon.
Be with me, Lord, and then if dangers threaten, if storms of trial burst above my head,
If lashing seas leap everywhere about me, they cannot harm, or make my heart afraid.

Every phrase of this old song is intended to comfort, to soothe, to calm the troubled soul. Every stanza is meant by the writer and sung by the singer to restore belief, to strengthen faith, to increase confidence in the face of distress. It reminds me that I’m not alone, that even when God is not visible or not easily recognized as present, he has never abandoned me. He will never leave me. “A constant sense of thy abiding presence.” What a song.

In our Bible class this past Sunday we browsed through the song books together and remembered the songs that speak so powerfully to us in times of stress and despair. We shared our favorites with one another and told the personal stories that go along with each song and each specific set of circumstances. “Sweet Hour of Prayer.” “As the Deer.” “A Wonderful Savior.” “It is Well.” “Because He Lives.” “As the Mountains Surround Jerusalem.”

I wonder generally about the power of music and its deep connection with our God’s Holy Spirit. By playing and singing these soothing songs, David brought great peace and comfort to Saul. Most English translations of the above verse from 1 Samuel say the king was “refreshed” or “relieved” by the music. But the meaning of the original Hebrew wording is that God’s Spirit actually returned to Saul while David was singing. The tormenting spirit would leave and the Spirit of God would return. Through his music, David becomes a mediator of God’s Spirit; David brings life to Saul — Holy Spirit life — in his songs. In our Scriptures, spiritual music and the Holy Spirit are deeply connected:

“Be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord.” ~Ephesians 5:18-19

It was good to flip through the song books together on Sunday and to be reminded of all those hymns that have brought us so much comfort through the years. These songs mediate the presence of God, they have the power to give life.

What’s the one song that has brought you the most comfort, the song that has soothed you during times of trial? I think my two are “Be With Me, Lord” and “It Is Well.” How about you?




  1. Rob's Dad

    You are a much greater scholar than I however I would venture that David was capable of embracing the old and the new quite easily. I could see him going classic when he was down but could just as easily see him pushing it out and going freestyle when he wasn’t.

  2. Allan

    Every song he wrote was a new song, right?

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