I Samuel 16:1-13
1 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” 2 But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.” The Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.” 4 Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?” 5 Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. 6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.” 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 8 Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” 9 Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” 11 So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” “There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.” Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.” 12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.” 13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.
The choice of David was purely God’s. God chooses; we respond. We could call this story Samuel’s last public act, or David’s selection, but that puts a human character in the lead position. The history, which is our only source, tells another story, and makes God the actor, and the prophet only a tool in His hands. The stories of the Bible, and history itself are best understood when God is the Subject. The previous chapter’s last sentence says, “The Lord was grieved. . .” and this chapter begins with God still the subject of the sentence, “The Lord said, . . .” Let’s see ourselves, others, and circumstantial developments in their proper light. God is doing something. Important questions to us are: What is God doing? How can we do it with Him?
God has an eternal, general plan and He calls people to fulfill it. Some people become or want to become pastors, missionaries, evangelists, Christian teachers or Church leaders, but the desire came from their own thinking. Not all who aspire to these positions are called to them by God. This lesson, about God selecting, calling and anointing David, will help us remember that the ministry is a special career for which only God can select and prepare a person. On the other hand, those who are truly called need to rest assured and be confident in that call. The Christian ministry is difficult and workers in God’s vineyard often need to recognize that the God who called them for ministry will be with them and give them success in His eyes.
1. Samuel’s Errand 1-3
After their parting recorded in I Sam 15:35, though their homes were but a few miles apart and it would have been difficult to avoid each other, yet Samuel and Saul never met again in this life.
“How long will you mourn for Saul?” (1) Chapter fifteen ends with the Lord being grieved over Saul and this chapter begins with the Lord chiding Samuel for mourning too long. God also was saddened, but He got over it and moved on. We too have to get over changes in our circumstances and ready ourselves for the next phase of our service to God. Samuel did not move on. Are you still grieving over something in your past? Do you need to get over it and move forward? God did not blame him for mourning on that occasion—at the time of the rejection. But now God was chiding Samuel for continuing and exceeding in his sorrow unnecessarily, and for too long.
However natural his mourning, and however indicative of his sweet nature, it was wrong. This shows us that Samuel had not yet reconciled himself to God’s purpose, though in his conduct he obeyed. When you obey, do you do so outwardly only? Do you obey from your heart? Is your heart in your obedience? Is your attitude consistent with your action?
God demands in the souls He sets apart for Himself and for the guidance of others, such a dying to all things, that He does not allow them to regard any other interest than His, whatever good reason we may think of.
We do not find that Samuel mourned when his own family was set aside; when Samuel’s own sons were rejected as Samuel’s successors by Israel; but for the rejection of Saul and Saul’s family Samuel mourns without measure. Does this show how well Samuel had conformed his will to God’s?—that he was genuinely saddened more by Saul’s rejection than by the rejection of his own sons?
The Lord reproved Samuel, who had in grieving meant well, but did not think correctly; even a godly man like Samuel had to subject himself to God’s will, and with his whole mind and life seek God’s, not his own, ways. That is what makes a godly man a godly man.
To Samuel’s credit, we notice that he had retired from public service—showing more satisfaction in young prophets than in young princes. We do not find that, to his dying day, God called him out again to public action relating to state affairs, but only in this case to anoint David. Throughout his life Samuel had often been involved in state affairs, but always at God’s initiative; not his own.
“I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem” (1) God’s resources are not exhausted because one man has failed. Saul had been rejected but a king will be found. God’s command was to go to Jesse’s house in Bethlehem. That’s not much information. He received only light enough for the next step, but no more. Yet Samuel took that step. God often leads us just a step at a time.
If Saul hears it, he will kill me (2). By this it appears that Saul had grown very wicked and outrageous since his rejection and that Samuel’s faith was not so strong but that he feared Saul. And God, who will never ask us to do more than we can bear, tailored the assignment to the strength and faith of the instrument He was using.
“. . . say, ‘I have come to sacrifice . . .’” (3) To hide his true errand behind the cloak of the sacrifice may not have been the most ideal. It was, admittedly, only permitted in consideration of Samuel’s fear—a human weakness. Samuel was not, at the moment, up to treading the heroic plain path; and God opened an easier one for him. Saul proved himself to be a dangerous man and perhaps Samuel, Saul’s neighbor, knew this. So God said, “Say I have come to sacrifice.” It is sometimes allowable to use an avowed purpose to conceal the real one, but it raises a serious ethical question, “Is lying permitted?”
To save the life of another, lying is sometimes permitted. God directed spies how to do their work and that, by definition, required deception. God directed Joshua to attack Ai and David to attack the Philistines both from behind. There are times when a higher principle such as preservation of life is involved that lying is commended. God told Samuel to tell the Bethlehemites the part of the story they needed to know. They did not need to know that he was coming to anoint a replacement for King Saul. Had Samuel said that, Samuel, Jesse, and all Jesse’s sons could have been executed by Saul.
2. Samuel in Bethlehem 4–11a.
“Samuel did what the Lord said” (4). The story line moves on and God’s purposes are fulfilled, even when there is sin, opposition, difficulties, adversity, or danger. As long as it can be said, “. . . did what the Lord said,” God has a vessel through whom He can work.
“Do you come in peace? (4) Why should the elders have thought he came with a rod? Because they knew that they and their fellow-villages deserved it. Guilt causes fear. If men were not dimly conscious of sin, they would not be afraid of God’s messenger or of God. If you have guilt, don’t fight it, rather get it washed in God’s forgetfulness.
“Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord” (5) For reasons we just discussed, Samuel kept the deeper reason of his wish to see Jesse’s sons to himself. He spoke of the sacrifice only. I come peaceably, for I come to sacrifice, not with a message of wrath against you, but with the methods of peace and reconciliation; and therefore you may welcome me and not fear my arrival; prepare yourselves spiritually, and prepare to join with me in the sacrifice.
When our Lord Jesus came into the world, though men had reason enough to tremble, fearing that his errand was to condemn the world, yet he gave full assurance that he came peaceably, for He came to sacrifice, and He brought His offering with him.
Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord” (7). Surely this is the Lord’s anointed. The prophets were normal human beings. When they spoke outside divine direction, they were as liable to mistakes as any other men. Nathan also, at first, made a mistake in agreeing with David that he should build the temple. But God rectified the prophet’s mistake by a secret whisper to his mind.
“Do not consider his appearance” (7). Samuel had to learn two lessons, as he is told to forget Eliab’s fine stature; one, that he is not choosing, but only announcing God’s choice, the choice is clearly up to God, not Samuel; and second, that the qualifications of God’s king are inward, not physical.
It is strange that Samuel, who had so recently been so wretchedly disappointed in Saul, whose countenance and stature recommended him as much as any man’s could, should be so quick to judge another candidate for kingship by that rule again.
The good disposition and holiness of heart commends us to God, and is in his sight is of great price. “. . . instead it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” I Pet. 3:4
Samuel was staggered by the apparent failure of his errand. “Are these all the sons you have? (11a).
3. The Chosen of the Lord. 11b.–13
God seldom shows us His choice at first; and both in thought and practice finally helps us discover the precious and true choices of God for our lives by the process of elimination. As Samuel, we often have to reject ‘seven’ alternatives before we find in some all-but-forgotten ‘eighth’ possibility the one we have been looking for all along.
Possibly David had the usual experience of many a gifted person—to grow up among uncongenial, commonplace people, who understood him little, and liked him even less. Rejection or lack of appreciation is a hard school; but when it does not sour our good attitude, to the contrary it makes men strong. David’s solitary shepherd life taught him many precious lessons, and, among other benefits, gave him the priceless gift of being comfortable alone with God in solitude. Being alone and being lonely are different things. Solitude can produce good things such as poetry, heroism, and deep personal spirituality.
Psalm 8, Psalm 19:1-6, and Psalm 23 each show us something David may have learned while watching sheep. There were many worse and more difficult schools for the future king than a solitary shepherd’s life on the bare hills near Bethlehem.
David was in the fields keeping the sheep, and was left there, even though there was a sacrifice and feast at his father’s house. The youngest in families are often favored and spoiled, but it appears David was the least favored of all Jesse’s sons; either they did not discern or did not correctly value his excellent spirit. If we are to be overlooked, rather be overlooked by man than by God. David was not even on Jesse’s guest list, but at the very top of God’s list.
As Moses was taken from keeping the flock of Jethro, a God-pleasing example of humility and productivity in solitude in a former generation in Israel’s history, so David was now chosen by God and moved from one flock to another. “He chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens; from tending the sheep he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance. And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them” (Ps. 78:70-72).
“. . . anointed him in the presence of his brothers” (13). David was anointed in front of his family. We also know that later Eliab at the battle front expressed a low opinion of David. Was that jealously on Eliab’s part—partly occasioned by David’s selection in our story over Eliab? Had Eliab always thought so little of David? I Sam 17:28 shows us what Eliab thought of him later, “I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.”
Some scholars say David was about twenty years old. I have also heard David may have been about seventeen when he killed the giant which is recorded in the next chapter. So David’s troubles with Saul—his further training for leadership—lasted between ten and thirteen years since we know David was thirty when he began to reign.
Samuel did not object to David’s lack of education in the society of people, his young age, or the little respect his family had for him, but in obedience to the divine command, took his horn of oil and anointed him.
A divine power went along with that instituted sign, and he found himself inwardly advanced in wisdom, courage and concern for God’s flock—a change toward being a prince began that day though it took many years to fully develop. Perhaps his courage to kill the bear and lion or even his poetic and music abilities came from this anointing. Was it after Samuel’s word to him that David killed the bear and the Lion? If so, we may guess that the divine call on his life gave him new courage.
It was therefore the solemn final act of the prophet—transferring the monarchy; but it was for David the beginning of his training for the throne, in two ways. One, the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward. Two, the awareness of his call would make him mature fast, bring sober thoughts, a humbler sense of weakness, and clinging trust in the God who had called him. Also, he now had to add patience and self-control to his youthful ambitions as he returned to the flock.
The great lesson here is that God chooses the weak things of the world to confound things that are mighty. God thereby magnifies both the sovereign freedom of His choice and the power of His Spirit, which took the young shepherd from the sheepfold, made him the king-in-training under the rigorous mentoring of a rejected, angry, and dangerous Saul, and thereby qualified him to lead God’ people both politically and spiritually.
There is a lesson here for all young and eager persons confined for the present to lowly tasks, and feeling some call to something higher in the dim future. Patience, the faithful doing of today’s trivial tasks, the habit of self-repression, the quiet trust in God who opens the way in due time. These, and such like, were the signs that David was called to a throne, and that God’s Spirit was preparing him for it. They are the virtues which best prepare us for whatever God has in store for us in our futures.
Men who decide only according to appearance, are commonly deceived; but the Lord who sees to the depths of the heart, even in its most delicate movement, and our character too, which is all very clear to Him; knows us better than we know ourselves.
True, deep-grounded humility of heart is the only “appearance” in man that pleases God “For this is what the high and lofty One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite’” (Is. 57:15). God looks to humility of heart as the ground of all other virtues, for in it there is room for the fear of God. But the fear of God is easily neglected in the proud heart.
Physical appearance is not Christianity, and bodily beauty is not holiness. Character, is the principal object of our attention. A pleasing exterior is attractive and we seek that only to the degree it glorifies God, but we are more concerned about attitudes, actions, and heart issues.
If you are a Christian leader, pastor, evangelist, missionary or teacher, or aspire to become one, these are the types of lessons it is good for us to learn. We lead more by example and actions which flow from our hearts than we do by instructions, commands or directives we may give to others. Right here, from the beginning of this study of the life of David, with an eye toward developing ourselves to lead God’s people wisely and graciously as David did, is a good time to settle this major issue. Heart matters, character, humility and deep love for God are extremely important qualifications for leadership in the Kingdom of God. God looks for those kinds of qualities when He calls His servants to ministry.