Following a week in California, part of which was spent speaking at the Western Region fall retreat, I am now able to get back to 1 Samuel. In the last essay we studied 1 Samuel 15, in which we saw Samuel’s final confrontation with Saul. In this essay we study chapter 16.
After the rejection of Saul as king, the Lord handled the matter in an interesting fashion. He did not turn Saul out immediately. Certainly he could have done that. He could have struck him dead. He could have had Samuel orchestrate a revolution. Perhaps the Lord had other options. But he chose to permit things to play out naturally, which seems to be his preferred way of dealing with human situations. Saul reigned until his death. In the meantime, the Lord commanded Samuel to go to Bethlehem and anoint one of Jesse’s sons as the new king.
Now Jesse was from a prominent family. He was a grandson of Boaz and Ruth, a fact that that was revealed at the end of the book of Ruth (Ruth 4:17, 22).
In verses 1-5 notice that Samuel continued to mourn over Saul. Some of that may have been due to personal affection Samuel had for the man. But it is likely that the main reason was Samuel’s concern for the welfare of Israel. But the Lord commanded him to set aside his grief and go to Bethlehem to anoint a new king.
Notice also that Samuel expressed some fear of Saul. That was justified, because as the king, Saul had the power of life and death in his hands. We see no protest from the Lord in respect to Samuel’s fear. Rather, he provided Samuel with a way to overcome the problem. He instructed Samuel to take a heifer to Bethlehem for use as a public sacrifice. He was to invite Jesse to the sacrifice, which would enable them to have contact without arousing any suspicion.
Some have raised the issue of deception here. Was the Lord being deceptive? No. It was not unusual for Samuel go to various cities and make sacrifices, just as it was not unusual for him to go to those places as Israel’s judge. Indeed we see the elders of Bethlehem asking Samuel what the purpose of his visit was (v. 4). Was he coming in peace, or was he coming to bring judgment on someone? And of course the answer was that he was coming in peace to offer a sacrifice. Samuel offered sacrifices in various places, because the tabernacle no longer was an exclusive place of sacrifice following the removal of the Ark of the Covenant from, it.
Therefore Samuel invited the elders, and also Jesse and Jesse’s sons, to sanctify themselves and take part in the sacrifice. I assume that he invited others as well, so that his invitation to Jesse would not stand out, though the others are not mentioned.
Moving to verses 6-13, it is unclear from the text whether Samuel’s meeting with Jesse and his sons was public or private. However it seems reasonable to believe that it was private, perhaps taking place in Jesse’s home. Samuel was impressed with the eldest son, Eliab (v. 6), who evidently was tall and good looking; but he was not the Lord’s choice. The Lord looks on the heart, Samuel was told (v. 7). Nor was Abinadab, Shammah or any of the other of Jesse’s seven sons the chosen one (vv. 8-10).
So Samuel asked Jesse if he had any other sons. And Jesse admitted that he had one more, the youngest, who was tending the family’s sheep. Samuel directed Jesse to have him brought in. Indeed they would not sit down, meaning not sit down to eat, until the boy was brought (v. 11). Of course that boy was David. When he arrived he proved to be ruddy of complexion, with beautiful eyes and handsome features. He also obviously had the kind of heart the Lord was looking for. The Lord informed Samuel that David was the one (v. 12).
And so Samuel anointed David as the next king of Israel. But more important, “the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward” (v.13). Nothing is recorded regarding what Samuel said to David that day. It is possible that he told him nothing, but that is unlikely. Samuel probably told David what the anointing and the presence of the Spirit meant. But he also probably told him to bide his time, to await the timing of the lord for his ascension to the throne. After all, the one sitting on the throne was anointed of the Lord; and that had to be respected.
In the remainder of the chapter we see how the now-anointed David gets called to be a part of Saul’s court. This was an interesting and important development. For one thing, it provided David with a huge learning experience. Being at Saul’s court taught him how things at court operated. And all of that was good preparation for his own eventual reign.
Verse 14 offers an exceedingly important piece of information. Not only did the Spirit of the Lord come upon David, but the Spirit of the Lord also departed from Saul. And in addition to that, the Lord sent an evil spirit on Saul.
Many people have a hard time understanding this. It doesn’t seem consistent with the character of God as love. But the problem has to do with the Hebrew’s doctrine of God’s sovereignty, rather than with their doctrine of God’s character. Under the Old Covenant the Hebrews didn’t distinguish between God’s intentional and permissive will. So if they had no specific understanding of what was happening; or if human choice was involved, they still interpreted it as from the Lord.
In this case, one could interpret what the author said about Saul’s problem literally. That is, that the Lord literally sent an evil spirit on Saul. On the other hand, it seems legitimate also to interpret Saul’s problem as a mental illness that came and went, which Saul’s attendants at court interpreted to be an evil spirit sent from the Lord (v. 15).
At any rate, when Saul’s courtiers noticed the mental problems of the king, they advised that he get someone to play the lyre during his spells so that the music would soothe him and make him feel better. Ironically, though I believe by God’s intention, someone recommended David. David came for an interview, and Saul liked him. So David became Saul’s armor-bearer, and thus a member of Saul’s court (vv. 15-22).
Of course Saul had no idea that David had been anointed as king. And as I suggested earlier, that position of armor-bearer became a school for David in respect to his future calling. It brought him into contact with men of high rank; it enabled him to observe the affairs of government; and it gave him a platform to develop his gifts and talents.
Turning now to application, I believe we must focus on the Lord’s selection of David as the new king. First, David was not chosen according to human judgment. In human terms the tallest, best-looking person gets prior consideration. Indeed physical attributes are seen as important, as was true in the case of Saul.
And in that culture the eldest normally was preferred. So when Samuel saw Jesse’s eldest son, Aliab, who was a big man, he immediately thought, this is the one (v. 6). But the Lord told Samuel that physical attributes and age are not the crucial elements (v. 7).
Therefore second, David was chosen according to the judgment of God. The history of Israel clearly shows that God isn’t interested in a person’s age. Although he used elderly persons like Abraham and Moses, he also turned to young men. Indeed it is interesting to see how often the Lord chose the youngest in a family. Joseph was the baby in his family. Moses had an older brother, Aaron. Gideon was the youngest in his father’s house. And now we see the youngest of Jesse’s sons chosen.
Moreover the Lord had a more important characteristic in mind than looks and size. He told Samuel in verse seven, “mortals . . . look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” And as you know, the Lord later pronounced David to be a man after his own heart. That was the key reason for God’s choice of David as king.
Third, the Lord slowly prepared David for his coming role as king. He was prepared, first of all, by his years as a shepherd. As a shepherd, David formed habits of vigilance. He proved his courage. And he also had time to learn his music and poetry.
Furthermore David was prepared by his anointing with the Spirit of God. It is not enough just to have the job. One needs the anointing of the Spirit for wisdom and empowerment. And this is just as true for us as it was for David.
Finally, fourth, David was prepared, as we saw earlier, by his time at Saul’s court.
It seems to me that we can see a model here for God’s calling on our lives. God calls us according to his judgment. He looks on the heart as he decides how to call and gift us for service. And he prepares us for every ministry by life experiences and by anointing us with his Holy Spirit.