Worship Music and Exorcism (Pt 4)

What about King David? Do you think he ever engaged the presence of God with his music? I would say so, seeing as how we find the supernatural at play in his prophetic lyrics. Though there’s another way he engaged the supernatural as well. There’s an intriguing story that happens after King Saul started walking away from God.

Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him. And Saul’s servants said to him, “Behold now, a harmful spirit from God is tormenting you. Let our lord now command your servants who are before you to seek out a man who is skillful in playing the lyre, and when the harmful spirit from God is upon you, he will play it, and you will be well.” So Saul said to his servants, “Provide for me a man who can play well and bring him to me.” One of the young men answered, “Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and the Lord is with him”…. And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him. (1 Sa 16:14-18, 23).

There are a few things worth noting in this story. Not only was David capable of engaging in spiritual warfare by playing music, but Saul’s servants came up with the idea as though such a thing was common knowledge at the time. If we see someone being tormented by a harmful spirit today, we load them up with medication, but the answer during Saul’s reign seemed obvious to his servants: “Well, we better get him a musician.”

And the deeper we go into research, the more we can see that spiritual warfare was an element of David’s music. While we have 150 Psalms in our Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls (ancient Bible manuscripts) of the Qumran community mention David having written a whole lot more. Furthermore, it divides his songs into 3 specific themes.

he wrote 3,600 psalms; and songs to sing before the altar over the whole-burnt perpetual offering. And all the songs that he spoke were 446, and songs for making music over the possessed, 4. And the total was 4,050. (11QPsa=11Q5)

Here we find that David intentionally wrote four songs to play for those who were afflicted by demons. And while we don’t have all 4,050 psalms to piece through, we seem to see the theme of spiritual warfare in Psalm 91. In fact, “In Jewish sources and liturgy the psalm is…. called ‘a song for evil encounters’ to be recited before sleep.” At first glance the Psalm does not appear that way, but once you look at at various aspects of it in context of the ancient world, you begin to see demonic characters emerge.

You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday…. You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot. (Ps 91:5-6, 13 emphasis mine)

The words above in bold are the demonic characters I am referring to. The Terror of the Night was a demon that attacked in the midnight hours and resembled the Mesopotamian demons Lilû and Lilītu which were known to 

have been attached particularly to pregnant women and new-borns whom they harmed…. In later texts, they are conceived as harmful to brides and grooms, whom they attack on their wedding night and prevent the consummation of the marriage…. Lilı̄tu survived a long time and occupies a central place in later Jewish demonology…. Here, she seems to have retained her ancient character as a baby-killer, though she also appears (in Jewish Qabbala) as a stealer of men’s semen…. As an attacker of brides and grooms she comes close to the incubus and succubus demons known all over the world.

We often think of demons attacking at night because demons, darkness and fear often all get lumped together in our heads. And as we just saw with Lilû and Lilîtu, much of their work has to do in some way with sex and the marriage bed, which we also often correlate with the night.

And according to this Psalm, it is also there in the night that pestilence stalks people. The connection between pestilence and the demonic is pretty easy to make, given that the New Testament cites demons as the cause of some sicknesses—not to mention that demons were often represented as different sicknesses in ancient Mesopotamia.

But not only is this song meant to ward off night demons, but it’s also meant to keep demons away during the day, which is seen in the Psalm’s reference to the “destruction that wastes at noonday.” This one is very easy to connect to the demonic. All we have to do is look at how later Jews interpreted it. Their Greek translation of this Psalm straightforwardly calls this destruction the “demon at midday.” It’s also there in the day that the Psalmist sees arrows being shot, which some speculate to be a reference to Resheph, an Old Testament demon, “whose powers are great and terrible: he is particularly conceived of as bringing epidemics and death.” In ancient ritual texts, he is known to spread battle and diseases via his bow and arrows.

We then have the lion (thematically repeated in the next line of the Psalm as a young lion) and a kind of snake called an adder (thematically repeated in the next line as a serpent). Let’s focus first on the lion. In Genesis 4:7, sin is pictured as crouching, causing many to naturally think of a lion. Some commentaries even go so far as to link this picture of “crouching sin” with a demon.

Some commentators have compared the Hebrew rōbēṣ (“crouch”) to the cognate Akkadian term rābiṣum, a mythological demon attending the doorways of buildings to guard its inhabitants or conversely to threaten them. The REB [Revised English Bible] thus reads, “Sin is a demon crouching at the door.” If there is an allusion to the door demon, then the narrative is personifying sin as a demonic spirit ready to pounce….

The New Testament also pictures Satan as a lion, saying, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pe 5:8). One scholar even speculates that the lions in Psalm 91 may be “denoting lion-headed demons.”

And it doesn’t take a lot of work to consider the adder and serpent as demonic references, given our natural inclination to associate snakes with the Garden of Eden and Satan. The associations begin to sound even more demonic when we look deeper into the Hebrew word for serpent, for this word can also represent dragons and sea monsters. While the word “serpent” seems to be the right translation in the context of Psalm 91, some still see “mythical overtones.”

All that being said, we begin to see how a deeper look into the culture of Psalm 91 gives space to see the supernatural warfare it was musically engaging in. It gave its readers strength. The Qumran community later practiced David’s art of deliverance worship and “believed they could be protected from the sons of darkness by singing psalms or poems of exorcism.” They even had a document that has come to be known as Sons of Maskil, in which “Maskil’s proclamation in praise of the splendor of God’s radiance is intended ‘to frighten and terrify’ malevolent powers who might strike without warning to lead people astray.”

With this we can see that worship music was once much more commonplace for deliverance ministry. Singing the praises of God along with a band is not just some neutral tradition—we are engaging in spiritual warfare as we beckon the presence of the Holy Spirit to come. Ignatius saw our gatherings to be spiritual warfare in and of themselves.

Do your diligence therefore to meet together more frequently for thanksgiving to God and for His glory. For when ye meet together frequently, the powers of Satan are cast down; and his mischief cometh to nought in the concord of your faith. There is nothing better than peace, in which all warfare of things in heaven and things on earth is abolished.

Malul, M. “Terror of the Night.” Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. p. 852.

Ibid. Lete, del Olmo G. “Deber.” p. 232.

Ibid. Xella, P. “Resheph.” p. 703.

Ibid. p. 701.

Mathews, K. A. Genesis 1-11:26. Vol. 1A. Nashville, Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996, p. 270. The New American Commentary

Malul, M. “Terror of the Night.” Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. p. 852.

Ibid. Heider, G. C. “Tannin.” p. 836.

Seal, David. “Demon.” The Lexham Bible Dictionary.

Stuckenbruck, Loren T. The Myth of Rebellious Angels: Studies in Second Temple Judaism and New Testament Texts. Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 2014, p. 176.

Lightfoot, Joseph Barber, and J. R. Harmer. “Translation of the Epistles of S. Ignatius to the Ephesians.” The Apostolic Fathers. London, Macmillan and Co., 1891, p.140.

This is an excerpt from my book, The Rush and the Rest.

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