1 Samuel 16 – God Chooses David
A. Samuel anoints David as king.
Psalms that may go with this period: 8, 19, 23, and 29.
1. (1-3) God tells Samuel to go and anoint a new king over Israel.
Now the LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go; I am sending you to Jesse the Bethlehemite. For I have provided Myself a king among his sons.” And Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me.” But the LORD said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’ Then invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; you shall anoint for Me the one I name to you.”
a. How long will you mourn for Saul: There is a time to mourn, but there is also a time to move on. Fill your horn with oil must have excited Samuel because he knew that God wanted him to anoint someone else as king over Israel.
i. God will never allow His work to die with the death or failure of a man. If it is God’s work, it goes beyond any man. Perhaps Samuel was paralyzed with mourning because of Saul’s tragic rebellion, but God was not paralyzed.
b. I am sending you to Jesse the Bethlehemite: Israel’s next king would be found among his sons, the sons of Jesse. Jesse was the grandson of Ruth and Boaz (Ruth 4:17, 22).
c. How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me: We can certainly understand Samuel’s fear. There isn’t any doubt that Saul would consider this treason. At the same time, it shows a note of fear in Samuel we are almost surprised to see. Perhaps Samuel’s excessive mourning over Saul introduced an element of fear and unbelief in his heart. Samuel didn’t have anything to worry about, because God promised I will show you what you shall do.
i. Was God telling Samuel to lie? Not at all. “This was strictly true; Samuel did offer a sacrifice; and it does not appear that he could have done the work which God designed, unless he had offered this sacrifice, and called the elders of the people together, and this collected Jesse’s sons. But he did not tell the principal design of his coming; had he done so, it would have produced evil and no good.” (Clarke)
d. For I have provided Myself a king among his sons: Years before this, Israel rejected the LORD as their king and they wanted a human king instead. God gave them a human king after their own desire (Saul) but God was still on the throne, crowning who He pleased as He pleased.
i. The simple fact was that God did rule Israel. They could recognize His rule, submit to it, and enjoy the benefits. Or they could resist His reign over Israel and suffer because of it. It does not matter what my attitude towards God is as far as it affects His ultimate victory. The LORD is God and King and will always triumph. But my attitude matters a great deal as it affects my ultimate destiny.
ii. We don’t have to fear for the future when we know God has provided for Himself leaders. In some unlikely places God is raising up leaders for His people. He will keep them obscure and hidden until the right time then He will raise them up.
e. You shall anoint for Me the one I name to you: The first king of Israel was anointed for the people. He was the “king from central casting,” the kind of king the people wanted. Now the “people’s choice” failed and disqualified himself. “Now,” the LORD said, “It’s time for a king for Me.” God was going to show Israel His king.
2. (4-5) Samuel comes to sacrifice at Bethlehem.
So Samuel did what the LORD said, and went to Bethlehem. And the elders of the town trembled at his coming, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” And he said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD. Sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons, and invited them to the sacrifice.
a. So Samuel did what the LORD said, and went to Bethlehem: Bethlehem was a small town not very far from Jerusalem. It was the home of Ruth and Boaz, from whom the family of Jesse descended. It was a hilly grain-growing region with many small grain fields carved into the hillsides.
b. And the elders of the town trembled at his coming, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” Considering what Samuel had just done with the Amalekite king, Agag (1 Samuel 15:33), it is no wonder the elders of Bethlehem were afraid.
c. Come with me to the sacrifice: The idea was not that Jesse and his sons were to just watch Samuel sacrifice this heifer. They would watch the sacrifice and then share in a large ceremonial meal, eating the meat that came from the sacrificed animal.
i. When an animal was sacrificed to atone for sin none of it was eaten and it was all burned before the LORD. But when an animal was sacrificed as a peace offering, a fellowship offering, or a consecration offering, then part of the animal was burnt before the LORD, and part of it was eaten in a special ceremonial meal.
3. (6-10) God doesn’t choose any of Jesse’s older sons.
So it was, when they came, that he looked at Eliab and said, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is before Him.” But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” So Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.” Thus Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, “The LORD has not chosen these.”
a. Surely the LORD’s anointed is before Him: As Samuel looked at the oldest son Eliab he thought, “This man sure looks like a king. This must be the one God will tell me to anoint. That’s a good choice, God!” Samuel saw a tall, good-looking young man who looked like he would be a great king and leader.
b. Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him: Samuel made the mistake of judging Eliab based on his appearance. This was the same mistake Israel made about their first king. Saul looked the part, but he didn’t have the heart a king of God’s people should have. It didn’t matter how good Eliab looked because God said, “I have refused him.”
c. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart: This was both a statement of fact and an exhortation to godly thinking.
i. First, it was a statement of fact. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart. Even the best of men will look at the outward appearance. At that moment, Samuel was guilty of it. We must understand that we can’t read the secrets of another’s heart and we often do only judge on outward appearance. “The world is full of idolatries, but I question if any idolatry has been more extensively practiced than the idolatry of the outward appearance.” (Blaikie)
ii. It was also an exhortation to godly thinking. God told Samuel, “Your natural inclination is to only judge on outward appearance. But I can judge the heart that you can’t see. So, look to Me and don’t be so quick to judge a person only on their outward appearance.” Samuel needed to know his natural inclination to judge only on outward appearance, but he didn’t have to give in to it. He could seek the LORD and seek God’s heart and mind when looking at people.
d. The LORD has not chosen these: God told Samuel that He had not chosen any of the seven sons of Jesse attending the feast. It wasn’t that these sons of Jesse were bad men, but they were not God’s choice. God had a man in mind different from Samuel’s or Jesse’s expectation.
i. Eliab and the seven oldest sons of Jesse were perfect potential kings as far as the flesh is concerned. But God didn’t want a king after the flesh. Israel already had a king like that.
4. (11) Samuel asks about an absent son.
And Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all the young men here?” Then he said, “There remains yet the youngest, and there he is, keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him. For we will not sit down till he comes here.”
a. Are all the young men here? Samuel had a problem. God told him of Jesse, I have provided Myself a king among his sons (1 Samuel 16:1). Yet here were the seven sons of Jesse and God did not choose any of them. Since Samuel knew God’s word was true he knew there must be another son of Jesse who was not at the sacrificial feast.
b. There remains yet the youngest: This shows the low regard David had among his own family. First, his father didn’t even mention him by name. Second, he wasn’t even invited to the sacrificial feast. Third, he was only called to come because Samuel insisted on it.
i. “So small was David in his father’s esteem that it wasn’t considered necessary to include him in the family when the prophet of God called them to sacrifice.” (Redpath)
ii. When we consider that David was the youngest of eight sons, we aren’t surprised at the low regard he had in his own family. It wasn’t because David’s character or conduct was unworthy; it was simply because he was the youngest of eight sons.
iii. God often chooses unlikely people to do His work, so that everyone knows the work is God’s work, not man’s work. He wants to work in a way so that people regard His servants as they regarded Samson: they wondered at the secret of his strength (Judges 16:5).
iv. “You may not be intellectual or well thought of in your family circle; you may be despised by others for your faith in Christ. Perhaps you had only a little share in the love of your parents, as David did. But remember that those who are rejected of men often become beloved of the Lord.” (Redpath)
c. And there he is, keeping the sheep: David was called for this great anointing when he was out keeping the sheep. David simply did his job and was faithful in small things and what his father told him to do.
i. Keeping the sheep was a servant’s job. The fact that David was out keeping the sheep showed that the family of Jesse was not especially wealthy, because if they were wealthy a servant would be keeping the sheep. But they were not affluent enough to have servants.
ii. Keeping the sheep meant you had time to think. David spent a lot of time looking over the sheep and looking at the glory of God’s creation. God built in him a heart to sing about His glory in all creation (Psalm 19:1-4 and Psalm 8 are good examples).
iii. Keeping the sheep took a special heart, a special care. It meant you knew that sheep needed the care and help of a good shepherd. You learned that you were a sheep and God was your shepherd. During these years, God built in David the heart that would sing about the LORD as his shepherd (as in Psalm 23).
iv. Keeping the sheep meant you had to trust God in the midst of danger. David had lions and bears and wolves to contend with and the sheep had to be protected. “The country round Bethlehem was not a peaceful paradise, and the career of a shepherd was not the easy life of lovesick swains which poets dream.” (Blaikie)
v. David’s years keeping the sheep were not waiting time; they were training time. David was a great man and a great king over Israel because he never lost his shepherd’s heart. Psalm 78:70-72 speaks of the connection between David the king and David the shepherd: He also chose David His servant, and took him from the sheepfolds; from following the ewes that had young He brought him, to shepherd Jacob His people, and Israel His inheritance. So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them by the skillfulness of his hands.
5. (12-13) David is chosen and anointed.
So he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, with bright eyes, and good-looking. And the LORD said, “Arise, anoint him; for this is the one!” Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward. So Samuel arose and went to Ramah.
a. Now he was ruddy, with bright eyes, and good-looking: The physical description of David tells us he had a fair complexion (this is probably the meaning of ruddy, and a light complexion was considered attractive in that culture). He had bright eyes, which speak of vitality and intelligence. David was also good-looking.
i. David had a pleasant appearance, but he did not look like Saul, who looked like a leader and a king (1 Samuel 9:2). David looked nice, but you didn’t look at him and say, “There’s a born leader. There is a king.” That is what people said when they looked at Saul. When they looked at David they said, “That’s a nice-looking boy.”
ii. We don’t know how old David was at this time. The ancient Jewish historian Josephus says that David was ten years old. Others guess he was about fifteen years old. It’s safe to say he was in that range.
b. And the LORD said, “Arise, anoint him; for this is the one!” By all outward appearances David’s seven brothers seemed to be better material for royalty. As unlikely as he was, David was the one.
i. David was a shepherd, but there were a lot of shepherds. David was good-looking, but so were a lot of young men. David was young, but there were plenty of young men God could have chosen. God described what made David special in 1 Samuel 13:14: The LORD has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be commander over His people. What made David the one was that he was a man after God’s own heart.
ii. God’s choice of David shows that we don’t have to quit our jobs and enter into full-time ministry to be people after God’s own heart. We don’t need to be famous or prominent to be people after God’s own heart. We don’t need to be respected or even liked by others to be people after God’s own heart. We don’t need status, influence, power, the respect or approval of men, or great responsibilities to be people after God’s own heart.
iii. Where did David get this heart? Obviously, from time spent with the LORD. But someone started him on that path. David says nothing of his father, but twice in the Psalms he refers to his mother as a maidservant of the LORD (Psalm 86:16 and 116:16). Probably, it was David’s godly mother who poured her heart and love and devotion of the LORD into him, and gave him a foundation to build on in his own walk with the LORD. Like Timothy, God used a mother to pour into him a godly faith (2 Timothy 1:5).
c. Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers: From the actions of David, Jesse, and David’s brothers, after this we can assume that only God and Samuel knew exactly what happened here.
i. Everyone else probably thought that Samuel just honored David for an unknown reason. Probably no one even dared to think this was a divine royal anointing. But God knew because He had worked in David’s heart for a long time. “The public anointing was the outcome of what had taken place in private between David and God long before.” (Redpath)
d. And the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward: The real anointing happened when the Holy Spirit came upon David. The oil on the head was just a sign of this inward reality.
e. So Samuel arose and went to Ramah: Samuel did not begin a “Let’s Enthrone David” political party and he did not begin to undermine Saul’s throne, looking for a way to establish David as king. Samuel took one look at David and reacted exactly the way God wanted him to: “LORD, I don’t know why You chose this kid. But You will have to put him on the throne. I can’t do it.”
i. God did do it. 1 Samuel 16:13 is the first mention of the name “David” in the book of 1 Samuel. He has been referred to prophetically before (as in 1 Samuel 13:14 and 15:28). But this is the first mention of his name, which means “Beloved” or “Loved One.”
ii. David will become one of the greatest men of the Bible, mentioned more than 1,000 times in the pages of Scripture – more than Abraham, more than Moses, more than any mere man in the New Testament. It’s no accident that Jesus wasn’t known as the “Son of Abraham” or the “Follower of Moses,” but as the Son of David (Matthew 9:27 and at least a dozen other places).
iii. “From whatever side we view the life of David, it is remarkable. It may be that Abraham excelled him in faith, and Moses in the power of concentrated fellowship with God, and Elijah in the fiery force of his enthusiasm. But none of these was so many-sided as the richly gifted son of Jesse.” (Meyer)
B. Saul’s distressing spirit.
1. (14) Saul’s distressing spirit troubles him.
But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and a distressing spirit from the LORD troubled him.
a. The Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul: In 1 Samuel 16:13, the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward. As the Holy Spirit came upon David, a distressing spirit came to Saul and troubled him.
b. A distressing spirit from the LORD troubled him: If God is all-good, why did He send a distressing spirit upon Saul? There are two senses in which God may send something. He may send something in the active sense or He may send something in a passive sense. Actively, God never initiates or performs evil; He is the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning (James 1:17). Passively, God may withdraw the hand of His protection and therefore allow evil to come, without being the source of the evil itself.
i. This is indicated by what happened with Saul. First, the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul. This meant Saul lost his spiritual “protection” and covering. So, Satan was more than ready to send a distressing spirit to fill the void in Saul.
ii. This is why the continual presence of the Holy Spirit for all Christians is such a comfort. We don’t have to fear that God will take the Holy Spirit from us (Romans 8:9-11, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
c. From the LORD: Perhaps this was to judge Saul’s past wickedness and rebellion against the Holy Spirit’s guidance. This may be an example of God giving Saul over to his sin.
i. Saul clearly had the Spirit of the LORD upon him at one time (1 Samuel 10:10). As he was proud and rebellious against God, Saul resisted the Holy Spirit. He told the Holy Spirit “No” and “Go away” so many times that God finally gave Saul what he wanted. But Saul never realized the price to pay when the Spirit of the LORD departed from him. Saul thought he would be freer to do his thing without the Spirit of the LORD “bugging” him. He didn’t realize he would be in even more bondage to a distressing spirit that troubled him.
ii. Even in this state Saul could repent. He was not past the place of repentance and restoration. It was up to him to receive God’s correction and respond with a tender, repentant heart before the LORD.
d. A distressing spirit from the LORD troubled him: Today, Saul would probably be diagnosed as mentally ill. Yet his problem was spiritual in nature, not mental or psychological.
i. There are many people in mental hospitals today that are really suffering from spiritual problems. It is certainly wrong to assume that every case of mental distress is spiritual because chemical imbalances and physiological problems are also real in this fallen world. Even so, there are certainly some that need liberation from a distressing spirit and may never find it in our modern mental health system.
2. (15-17) A solution suggested.
And Saul’s servants said to him, “Surely, a distressing spirit from God is troubling you. Let our master now command your servants, who are before you, to seek out a man who is a skillful player on the harp; and it shall be that he will play it with his hand when the distressing spirit from God is upon you, and you shall be well.” So Saul said to his servants, “Provide me now a man who can play well, and bring him to me.”
a. Saul’s servants said to him, “Surely a distressing spirit from God is troubling you”: This was obvious to Saul’s servants, but it does not seem to be obvious to Saul. Often our spiritual condition is far more apparent to others than it is to ourselves.
b. Seek out a man who is a skillful player: Essentially, Saul’s servants advise him to find what we would call a “worship leader.” They will seek out a man who can, using music, bring the love, peace, and power of God to Saul. King Saul needed to be led into worship, so it was important to seek out a man to do the job.
i. God created music and gave it the capability to touch people with great power. Music can be used for great good or for great evil, because it so powerfully communicates to our inner being.
c. You shall be well: In the past, Saul received the Spirit of the LORD in the presence of music (1 Samuel 10:10). Perhaps this is an effort to create that experience again.
3. (18) A man is nominated.
Then one of the servants answered and said, “Look, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a mighty man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a handsome person; and the LORD is with him.”
a. Look, I have seen a son of Jesse: Saul’s servants suggested a search; Saul commanded the search, and then one of Saul’s servants found this son of Jesse named David.
b. Skillful in playing: David needed skill to lead Saul in worship and to minister to him in music. The technical quality of his music was important. The heart matters, but so does technical ability.
i. This doesn’t mean that a person must be a virtuoso before God can use them. But it does mean that they cannot tolerate a too casual, unconcerned, lazy, “we don’t really need to practice” attitude. Skillful in playing reflects an attitude as much as it reflects an ability.
c. A mighty man of valor, a man of war: David needed the character of a warrior to effectively lead Saul in worship and to minister to him in music. Worship ministry is a constant battleground. There are often conflicts and contentions surrounding worship ministry and if someone isn’t equipped and ready for spiritual warfare they will probably be spiritually and emotionally “injured” in worship ministry, and probably “wound” others.
i. So much of what makes a person a good musician or a good artist goes against true worship ministry. The need for ego satisfaction and the desires for the spotlight, prominence, and attention each work against effective worship.
d. Prudent in speech: David needed to speak wisely to effectively lead Saul in worship or to minister to him in music. Good worship ministry needs a lot of diplomacy. Everyone has an opinion on music and a suggestion. Effective worship ministers know when to speak and when to be quiet on the platform, among the team, and in the congregation.
e. A handsome person: David was a good-looking young man (1 Samuel 16:12). An effective worship minister doesn’t need to be a fashion model, but their appearance is important. They need to present themselves so as to be invisible. If they are so dressed up or so dressed down that their appearance calls attention to themselves, it needs to change.
f. The LORD is with him: This is the most important attribute. The other measures will grow and develop, but it must be said of any worship minister, the LORD is with him. This means that they are called by God, submitting to God, and submitting to whatever leadership the LORD has placed over them.
4. (19-23) David enters Saul’s court.
Therefore Saul sent messengers to Jesse, and said, “Send me your son David, who is with the sheep.” And Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine, and a young goat, and sent them by his son David to Saul. So David came to Saul and stood before him. And he loved him greatly, and he became his armor bearer. Then Saul sent to Jesse, saying, “Please let David stand before me, for he has found favor in my sight.” And so it was, whenever the spirit from God was upon Saul, that David would take a harp and play it with his hand. Then Saul would become refreshed and well, and the distressing spirit would depart from him.
a. Send me your son David, who is with the sheep: Since this happened after Samuel anointed David, this means he simply returned to the sheep after his anointing. Perhaps David didn’t yet understand the significance of what Samuel did. Or if he did, he understood that it was God’s job to bring him to the throne. In the meantime, David would simply go back to the sheep.
b. Then Saul sent to Jesse, saying, “Please let David stand before me, for he has found favor in my sight”: David did not have to manipulate his way into the palace or into Saul’s favor. He allowed the LORD to open the doors for him. David didn’t have to wonder, “Is this of the LORD or is this of me?” because he let the LORD open the doors for him.
i. “Wonder not that David was so suddenly advanced, from a poor contemptible shepherd, to so great a reputation; for these were the effects of that Spirit of the Lord, which he received when he was anointed.” (Poole)
c. And he loved him greatly, and he became his armor bearer: David was an outstanding young man who was worthy of his name (“Beloved” or “Loved One”). Saul took to him immediately and gave him the important and trusted position of armor bearer, his chief assistant in battle. A soldier’s life often depended on the courage and faithfulness of his armor bearer, and Saul knew David was worthy of this position.
i. This was an important time in David’s life, and training for God’s destiny for him. For the first time he lived in a royal court and began to learn the customs and manners he needed to know to be a good king later in life.
d. David would take a harp and play it: A harp is a lyre, the ancient version of the guitar. This isn’t one of the big harps you might find in an orchestra.
e. Then Saul would become refreshed and well: God used David to minister to Saul. David was happy to be used. What seemed like a great arrangement would not stay great for very long.
i. God was at work in ways no one could see. It seems plain to us from our distant perspective, but at the time perhaps only Samuel knew what was going on. “Unwittingly, Saul was becoming dependent on the one designated to succeed him.” (Baldwin)