Samuel Anoints David as King, 1-13
Commentators note the skillful storytelling, with David’s name not being mentioned until the last verse, even though he is the main focus of the story.
The main point is to show that David did not seize power, but was chosen by God and anointed by Samuel. Even Samuel would have chosen someone else!
It is important that there were witnesses to the anointing, even though they were few.
But it was not to be forgotten that Saul was still king (vv2, 4, 5) and constituted a threat. Indeed, ‘from a purely political point of view, Samuel’s action in anointing David amounted to treason, and he was forced to use secrecy and even a measure of deceit.’ (D.F. Payne, NBC)
Bergen remarks the the author’s intention was to convey more than bare historical fact or biographical detail:
‘This chapter is not so much about Samuel and David as it is about God. It portrays the Lord’s infinite and effortless superiority to all things human. The ways of the Lord confound even the greatest spiritual intellects and frustrate all earthly forces that would stand in his way. This chapter provides one of the most fascinating examples of the Lord’s inclination to choose “the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are” (1 Cor 1:28).’
Davis draws attention to the wider context, and to the contrast that it demonstrates between Saul and David:
Rejection of Saul, 15
Choice of David, 16:1–13
Deterioration of Saul, 16:14–23
Rise of David, 17
16:1 The LORD said to Samuel, “How long do you intend to mourn for Saul? I have rejected him as king over Israel. Fill your horn with olive oil and go! I am sending you to Jesse in Bethlehem, for I have selected a king for myself from among his sons.”
The elderly Samuel had, no doubt thought himself to be finished with public life, and had retired to his home in Ramah, where he presided over the ‘company of prophets’, 1 Sam 19:20. But he has one more public task to perform.
“How long do you intend to mourn for Saul?” – Samuel is fed up that the most important thing he had done in his life has gone sour.
God had rejected Saul, and God’s servant should accept that decision. Affection for the man should not override submission to God’s will. Besides, the nation will be the better for it: ‘The people provided themselves a king and he proved bad, now I will provide myself one, a man after my own heart.” See Ps. 89:20; Acts 13:22.’ (MHC)
There were elements of greatness about Saul. And yet he found himself rejected by the Lord, who ‘interference’ he had so roundly resented. Sadly, there are many – in the church as well as outside it – whose potential to do good has been ruined by some inconsistency or character, failure of judgement or unrepented lapse of moral behaviour.
‘Godly ministry is often painful and beset with disappointments. But sooner or later the time for mourning is over. It is time to begin again.’ (Chester)
‘In [this mourning] he was not unlike Jeremiah who, because of the word of the Lord, could not sit in the company of revelers or rejoice but felt unceasing pain (Jeremiah 15:17, 18). Something like Samuel’s agony would be experienced both by Jesus (“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem …,” Matthew 23:37) and the Apostle Paul (“I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart,” Romans 9:2; see also Acts 20:31). All of these men of God grieved because of the consequences of sin, particularly on the people of God.’ (Woodhouse)
“I am sending you to Jesse in Bethlehem” – Fed up as he may be, Samuel is instructed to pick himself up and start all over again.
Jesse in Bethlehem – or, ‘Jesse of Bethlehem’.
Jesse was, of course, the grandson of Ruth and Boaz (Ruth 4:17, 22). Interestingly, no information is given relating to his genealogy. We might infer that Ruth and Boaz became celebrated later (when their great-grandson became famous), and that the writer wishes here to underline the ordinariness of David’s background.
Since Boaz was evidently a well-to-do figure in Bethlehem, we may assume that Jesse was of some standing in that community also.
There is no genealogy for David in either the books of Samuel or of Kings. It is supplied in 1 Chron 2.
‘Jesse of the tribe of Judah (cf. Ruth 4:12, 18–22) and his hometown, Bethlehem in Judah, will forever become associated with the Messiah (Isa 11:1–3, 10; Mic 5:2; Mt 1:1, 5–6, 16–17; 2:4–6).’ (Youngblood)
David’s mother is not named. But in the Psalms, he more than once refers to himself as ‘the son of God’s handmaid’. From this (together with the absence of any such reference to his father) we may infer that he learned to know and love the Lord chiefly at his mother’s knee.
Bethlehem – situated about 5 miles south of Jerusalem. A humble village it may have been, but it was in that area that Rachel had been buried, and that Ruth had gleaned in the fields of Boaz.
‘In spite of the fact that it was a small town in Judah, Bethlehem was a well-known place to the Jewish people. It was when Jacob and his family were on their way to Bethel that his favorite wife, Rachel, died near Bethlehem while giving birth to Benjamin (Gen. 35:16–20). It was in Bethlehem that Ruth, the widow from Moab, found her husband, Boaz, and gave birth to Obed, David’s grandfather (Ruth 4:13–22; Matt. 1:3–6). David himself would make Bethlehem a famous place, and so would Jesus, the Son of David, who would be born there as the Scriptures promised (Micah 5:2; Matt. 2:6).’ (Wiersbe)
Otherwise, it was a pretty insignificant place.
‘In the same way, it is reasonable to conclude that nothing good can come from Nazareth (John 1:45–46) or that a carpenter cannot be the Messiah (Mark 6:3). “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2). The point is made explicitly in Matthew 2:1–8, where Matthew quotes from Micah 5:2–4:
“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.” (Matthew 2:6)
In the first century, the Jews assumed their king (or “Messiah”) would come from Jerusalem; and the Romans assumed their Caesar (or “Lord”) would come from Rome. But once again God does not see the world as people see it. Once again an unlikely king would come from insignificant Bethlehem.’ (Chester)
“Fill your horn with olive oil” – The anointing of a king had taken place only once before, and then in secret (1 Sam 10:1). Although the anointing of David was witnessed by his brothers, there is no indication that anyone, apart from Samuel himself, realised the significance of the ritual at the time.
Boda (After God’s Own Heart: The Gospel according to David) summarised the significance of anointing with oil in the OT:
‘Anointing with oil is attested throughout the Old Testament as a sign of God’s consecration. Objects (altars, vessels) as well as buildings (tabernacle, temple) were set apart for divine use through ceremonial rituals that included anointing with oil (Gen. 28:18; Ex. 30:26; 40:9–15; Lev. 8:10–11; Num. 7:1). So also people were consecrated for divine service through an anointing ceremony, the most common recipients of oil being royal (e.g., 1 Sam. 10:1; 1 Kings 1:34, 39, 45) and priestly figures (e.g., Ex. 28:41; 29:7, 29; 30:30; 40:13, 15), but at least on one occasion also a prophetic figure (1 Kings 19:16; cf. Ps. 105:15// 1 Chron. 16:22; Isa. 61:1).’
We conclude that it would not have been clear at the time that Samuel’s anointing of David was for kingship.
“I have selected a king for myself” – Lit. ‘I have seen’.
It may have been Samuel who was to anoint David, but it was the Lord who had already appointed him (1 Sam 13:14).
This is in contrast to the selection of Saul:
‘In 1 Sam 8:5, the people asked Samuel to anoint a king “for us” (ESV). Samuel refers to him as “your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves” (1 Sam 8:18, ESV). Now God says: “I have provided for myself a king” (1 Sam 16:1, ESV).’ (Chester)
Davis underlines the divine choice in this chapter:
‘The verb is rā’āh, which in this case carries the sense of “provide” (as in Gen. 22:8, 14). This root occurs nine times in this chapter, not readily visible in English translation. It appears as a verb meaning “provide” (vv. 1, 17) or “see, look at” (vv. 6, 7 [three times], 18) and as nouns meaning “appearance” (vv. 7, 12). The ideas of looking and providing in this root contrast with the “not chosen” (negative +bāḥar) in verses 8, 9, and 10. Hence the one Yahweh looks to and provides will be his chosen one. That is the theme of chapter 16—Yahweh’s choice. Let us now develop the main lines of the teaching of this text.’ (Davis)
16:2 Samuel replied, “How can I go? Saul will hear about it and kill me!” But the LORD said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’ 16:3 Then invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you should do. You will anoint for me the one I point out to you.”
“How can I go?” – These words recollect those of Moses, Ex 3-4.
‘God’s response to Samuel, as that to Moses, takes his fear seriously, provides a way around the problem, and restates the calling. God reminds Samuel that the future for Israel is in God’s hands, not in Saul’s. The power is God’s. The solution to the problem was for Samuel to carry out the anointing in the context of a normal sacrifice that Saul would have no reason to question.’ (Evans, UBCS)
“Saul will hear about it and kill me!” – We may assume that Saul’s behaviour had already become dangerously unpredictable if even Samuel feared for his life.
‘As Israel’s kingmaker and most esteemed servant of the Lord, Samuel’s actions were of great interest to Saul. If Samuel were to make an unexpected journey, especially one to a location outside of his normal judicial circuit, it would likely be reported to the king. Saul would then certainly view Samuel’s actions for what they were—a threat to Saul’s own claim to the throne.’ (Bergen)
‘It was the purpose of God that David should he anointed at this time as Saul’s successor, and as the ancestor and the type of His Christ. It was not the purpose of God that Samuel should stir up a civil war, by setting up David as Saul’s rival. Secrecy, therefore, was a necessary part of the transaction. But secrecy and concealment are not the same as duplicity and falsehood. Concealment of a good purpose, for a good purpose, is clearly justifiable.’
“Sacrifice” – ‘If any surprise be felt at the offering of sacrifice, in a place other than that appointed in the Mosaic law, the explanation is to be found in the fact that the ark of the covenant of the Lord was not at this time in the Tabernacle, but in the city of Kirjathjearim, and so the Tabernacle had ceased for the present to be the only place of the nation’s worship.’ (Taylor)
Youngblood presumes that this was a fellowship offering (cf. Lev 3:1).
16:4 Samuel did what the LORD told him. When he arrived in Bethlehem, the elders of the city were afraid to meet him. They said, “Do you come in peace?” 16:5 He replied, “Yes, in peace. I have come to sacrifice to the LORD. Consecrate yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” So he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
The elders of the city were afraid to meet him – not wishing to become embroiled, perhaps, in the conflict between Samuel and Saul. Alternatively, because the sacrifice he was to offer was prescribed as atonement for an unsolved murder (Deut 21:1-9), or because he had recently had Agag executed.
Evans (BST) observes that ‘there is a touch of rather bleak humour in the story as the fearful Samuel is met by even more fearful town elders—perhaps aware of the split between Samuel and Saul and unwilling themselves to risk Saul’s wrath.’
There reaction is a bit like ours would probably be if a police officer appeared at the door.
“Consecrate yourselves” – They were to make themselves ritually clean.
16:6 When they arrived, Samuel noticed Eliab and said to himself, “Surely, here before the LORD stands his chosen king!” 16:7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Don’t be impressed by his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. God does not view things the way men do. People look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
Eliab was Jesse’s firstborn son, and notable for his impressive stature (v7; cf. 1 Sam 10:23).
“Surely, here before the Lord stands his chosen king!” – Eliab was Samuel’s choice, but not the Lord’s.
Cohn (Harper’s Bible Commentary) sees here evidence that Samuel’s power was continuing to wane.
“God does not view things the way men do. People look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” – lit. ‘Man sees according to the eyes, but the Lord sees according to the heart.’
The cowboy was very impressed. He said, “It’s amazing how you can tell all that just by listening to the earth.”
The Indian said, “No. They ran over me thirty minutes ago. Go after them!”‘
‘The Lord sees not as man sees becomes an important maxim (cf. 1 Chr. 28:9), which illuminated the prophetic vision of the servant of the Lord, ‘marred beyond human semblance’, ‘despised and rejected by men’ but declared to be supremely great (Isa 52:14; 53:3).’ (Baldwin)
Saul was noted for his stature and appearance, 1 Sam 9:2; 10:23. ‘It was strange that Samuel, who had been so wretchedly disappointed in Saul, whose countenance and stature recommended him as much as any mans could, should be so forward to judge of a man by that rule. When God would please the people with a king he chose a comely man; but, when he would have one after his own heart, he should not be chosen by the outside. Men judge by the sight of the eyes, but God does not, Isa. 11:3.’ (MHC)
‘It makes little difference, therefore, what the outward appearance is, while, if the heart be wrong, nothing can be right…Muscularity is not Christianity, and bodily beauty is not holiness. The character, therefore, ought to be the principal object of your attention. Not how you look, but what you are, ought to be the first care of your lives; for if you have a selfish disposition, a sordid soul, or a sinful life, your outward beauty will be like “a jewel in a swine’s snout,” and your bodily vigour will only be like the strength of a safe in which nothing worth preserving is locked up. Let your aim be to be holy; and if you will only turn in faith to Jesus, and follow in the footsteps of his example, your soul will become beautiful in Jehovah’s eyes, and your life will become, even in the view of your fellow-men, bright with a glory which is not of earth.’ (Taylor, emphasis added)
‘Remember that God looks beyond appearance. Saul was tall and handsome; he was an impressive looking man. Samuel may have been trying to find someone who looked like Saul to be Israel’s next king, but God warned him against judging by appearance alone. When people judge by outward appearance, they may overlook individuals who lack the particular physical qualities society currently admires. But appearance doesn’t reveal what people are really like or their true value.
Fortunately, God judges by faith and character, not appearances. And because only God can see on the inside, only he can accurately judge people. Most people spend hours each week maintaining their outward appearance; they should do even more to develop their inner character. While everyone can see your face, only you and God know what your heart really looks like. Which is the more attractive part of you?’ (HBA)
‘God’s is omniscient, and looks chiefly on the heart. Therefore, study sincerity, be what you seem. 1 Sam 16:7. ‘The Lord looketh upon the heart.’ Men judge the heart by the actions, God judges the actions by the heart; if the heart be sincere, God will see the faith and bear with the failing. Asa had his blemishes, but his heart was right with God. 2 Chron 15:17. God saw his sincerity, and pardoned his infirmity. Sincerity in a Christian is like chastity in a wife, which excuses many failings. Sincerity makes our duties acceptable, like musk among linen, that perfumes it. As Jehu said to Jehonadab, 2 Kings 10:15. ‘Is thy heart right with me? And he said, It is. If it be, said he, give me thy hand; and he took him up into the chariot:’ so, if God sees our heart is right, that we love him, and design his glory, now, says he, give me your prayers and tears; now you shall come up with me into the chariot of glory. Sincerity makes our services to be golden, and God will not cast away the gold though it may want some weight. Is God omniscient, and his eye chiefly upon the heart? Wear the girdle of truth about you, and never leave it off.’ (Thomas Watson)
See 1 Sam 2:3; 1 Chron 28:9; Psa 139:23; Isa. 1:11-18; Jer. 7:21-23; 17:10; 20:12; Hos. 6:6; Mic. 6:6-8; Jn 7:24; 1 Cor 1:28; Rev 2:23.
16:8 Then Jesse called Abinadab and presented him to Samuel. But Samuel said, “The LORD has not chosen this one, either.” 16:9 Then Jesse presented Shammah. But Samuel said, “The LORD has not chosen this one either.” 16:10 Jesse presented seven of his sons to Samuel. But Samuel said to Jesse, “The LORD has not chosen any of these.” 16:11 Then Samuel said to Jesse, “Is that all of the young men?” Jesse replied, “There is still the youngest one, but he’s taking care of the flock.” Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and get him, for we cannot turn our attention to other things until he comes here.”
Jesse presented seven of his sons to Samuel – The father and his sons must have wondered about the purpose of the proposed anointing, since it is nowhere stated that neither they nor David were told at the time.
Simple mathematics tell us that David was the eighth son. So also 1 Sam 17:12-14. 1 Chron 2:13-15, however, lists Jesse’s sons and refers to David as the seventh. It is uncertain how we should resolve this issue. Youngblood suggests that ‘it may be best to assume that one of David’s seven older brothers died without offspring and is therefore omitted from the genealogy in 1 Chronicles 2:13–15.’ But, obviously, this is conjectural.
“There is still the youngest one” – lit. ‘the smallest one’.
God chooses the low, and the lowly. Mt 11:28f; 1 Cor 1,2.
“But…” – This, according to Youngblood, could just as well be translated, ‘and (in fact)’.
“He’s taking care of the flock” – It is often assumed that, since someone had to stay behind and tend the flock, this task was left to David. But, as Evans thinks, it is likely that he had not yet reached the age of majority: he may have been (she suggests) only 11 or 12 at the time.
‘Had it been left to Samuel, or Jesse, to make the choice, one of these would certainly have been chosen; but God will magnify his sovereignty in passing by some that were most promising as well as in fastening on others that were less so.’ (MHC)
‘We should think a military life, but God saw a pastoral life (which gives advantage for contemplation and communion with heaven), the best preparative for kingly power, at least for those graces of the Spirit which are necessary to the due discharge of that trust which attends it.’ (MHC)
And so the shepherd of the sheep became the shepherd of God’s people:
Psa 78:70f –
He chose David, his servant,
and took him from the sheepfolds.
He took him away from following the mother sheep.
16:12 So Jesse had him brought in. Now he was ruddy, with attractive eyes and a handsome appearance. The LORD said, “Go and anoint him. This is the one!” 16:13 So Samuel took the horn full of olive oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers. The Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day onward. Then Samuel got up and went to Ramah.
This circumstance may throw light on Eliab’s expression of anger and resentment in 1 Sam 17:28.
He was ruddy, with attractive eyes and a handsome appearance – ‘Attractive eyes’ = lit. ‘beauty of eyes’, perhaps a metonymy for a more general handsomeness.
God does not despise natural beauty or ability. David was a gifted poet and musician, a brave soldier, a charismatic leader, a faithful friend, and a godly believer.
This is not to say, then, that David was lacking in suitable abilities or in attractive personal qualities. It is to say that we can easily be misled by these, or fail to discern inward traits of character and attitude.
‘God chastises Samuel for relying solely on outward appearance, yet when David is chosen, it is precisely his good looks that the narrator describes.’ (Harper’s Bible Commentary)
There is no mention of David’s height, but, as Evans (BST) suggests, this may be due to David’s youth.
“This is the one!” –
Samuel…anointed him in the presence of his brothers – There is no suggestion that either he or they were aware, at the time, of the significance of the anointing. Note: God may reveal his proximate will for our lives, while hiding (for the time being) his more distant purpose.
Youngblood observes that ‘although [Samuel] makes additional appearances later on, he no longer plays an active role in the books that bear his name. The anointing of David was the capstone to Samuel’s career.’
MHC, similarly: ‘Samuel, having done this, went to Ramah in safety, and we never read of him again but once (ch. 19:18), till we read of his death; now he retired to die in peace, since his eyes had seen the salvation, even the sceptre brought into the tribe of Judah.’
From that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power – This contrasts with Saul’s empowerment by the Spirit, which was only sporadic (cf. 1 Sam 16:14).
We do not know exactly how this power manifested itself, or how apparent it was to anyone apart from David himself.
Baldwin reflects: 'as time went on David came to see that he had been kept safe from his birth onwards (Ps. 22:9–10), to fulfill a special purpose.'
David Appears before Saul, 14-23
Although David's suitability to be king might easily have been overlooked, he was clearly a talented young man. This section focuses on his musical skills, whereas the next chapter illustrates his military potential.
Evans notes that this section is less vivid than the preceding one, and suggests that it may have derived from a different source.
16:14 Now the Spirit of the LORD had turned away from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him. 16:15 Then Saul’s servants said to him, “Look, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you!” 16:16 Let our lord instruct his servants who are here before you to look for a man who knows how to play the lyre. Then whenever the evil spirit from God comes upon you, he can play the lyre and you will feel better.” 16:17 So Saul said to his servants, “Find me a man who plays well and bring him to me.” 16:18 One of his attendants replied, “I have seen a son of Jesse in Bethlehem who knows how to play the lyre. He is a brave warrior and is articulate and handsome, for the LORD is with him.”
Youngblood (EBC) suggests that 'the juxtaposition of vv. 13 and 14 delineates not only the transfer of the divine blessing and empowerment from Saul to David, but also the beginning of the effective displacement of Saul by David as king of Israel. The transition at vv. 13–14 can thus be arguably defined as the literary, historical, and theological crux of 1 Samuel as a whole.'
The Spirit of the Lord had turned away from Saul - At the same time that the Spirit 'rushed upon David' (v13), it turned away from Saul. There is a clear transfer of (divine) power from Saul to David.
Cf. 1 Sam 18:12 - 'the LORD was with him but had departed from Saul.'
The presence of the Lord's Spirit upon Saul appears to have been for very short periods of time (1 Sam 10:6, 10, and 11:6). Now, with the exception of the episode recorded in 1 Sam 19:13, it departs for ever. When the Spirit 'rushed' upon David, however, it did not depart (v13).
It is apparent that 'Saul, although still known as king, can no longer be regarded as the agent of God' (Evans, BST). How many people are there - inside the church, as well as outside - who occupy positions for which they are no longer qualified?
'Dumbrell has perceptively suggested that “take not your Holy Spirit from me” in Psalm 51:11 “may be an eloquent plea by David for the retention of the office of King, the Bathsheba incident being presupposed.”' (Woodhouse)
'He having forsaken God and his duty, God, in a way of righteous judgment, withdrew from him those assistances of the good Spirit with which he was directed, animated, and encouraged in his government and wars. He lost all his good qualities. This was the effect of his rejecting God, and an evidence of his being rejected by him.' (MHC)
An evil spirit from the Lord tormented him - Or, possibly, a 'harmful' spirit.
Woodhouse comments, in a footnote: 'We should be careful not to read too much into the reference here to “a … spirit.” The word translated “spirit” can refer to a person’s disposition or mood (examples include Genesis 26:35; 41:8; Exodus 6:9; Numbers 5:14; 1 Samuel 1:15; 1 Kings 21:5; Job 7:11; 21:4; Psalm 34:18; Proverbs 11:13; 14:29; 16:18, 19; Ecclesiastes 7:8; Isaiah 19:3, 14; 54:6; 66:2; Ezekiel 3:14; Hosea 4:12; 5:4). The “evil spirit from the LORD” that tormented Saul probably refers to Saul’s distressed mood caused by the Lord. Cf. Deuteronomy 2:30. It is therefore not necessarily the case here that “evil spirits” are “beings sent by God to accomplish God’s plan in the lives of individuals and the nation of Israel.” Archie T. Wright. Wright cites, as examples of this meaning, Numbers 5:14, 15; 1 Kings 19:7; Isaiah 37:7; Hosea 5:4; Judges 9:23; Job 4:12–16; 1 Samuel 16:14–23; 18:10–12; 19:9, 10.'
As Chester remarks, this is the first indication of the troubles that would torment Saul from now on. In fact, this marks the beginning of the unravelling of the whole institution of kingship. David's reign would be the high point, but thereafter it would be a series of minor triumphs and major disasters. Four centuries later, Isaiah would promise a new king from the line of Jesse (Isa 11:1-5).
As Baldwin observes, this difficult text illustrates an important biblical theme:
'The writer of the book of Job made the point, ‘Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?’ (Job. 2:10, NIV), while at the same time indicating in the remainder of his book how costly such acceptance can become. On a national level, invasion and defeat by a ruthless enemy had also to be accepted from the Lord, whose sovereign direction of history involved the discipline of his people: ‘I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things’ (Isa. 45:6–7, NIV). As a philosophical problem, the origin of suffering continues to be baffling, but the people of God are encouraged in Scripture to take adversity of all kinds direct from the Lord’s hand (cf. John 9:3; 11:4; 2 Cor. 12:7–10), and through such acceptance God is glorified.'
Baldwin adds that the signs of a troubled mind in Saul only appeared after he had been challenged by Samuel about his obedience to God's command. This suggests that his rebellion against God was a causative factor in his mental problems.
Saul's servants - Youngblood has an interesting comment on the terminology:
'As French maréchal (“blacksmith”) developed into marshal, and as chambellan (“bedchamber attendant”) developed into chamberlain, so also ʿebed (“servant”) came to mean “attendant, official” in royal circles in Israel, beginning during the days of Saul. The title was conferred on high officials and is found inscribed on their seals.'
The servants propose to look for a man who knows how to play the lyre - Their motives were sound, so far as they went. But it would have been better (as Matthew Henry suggests) if they had prompted Saul to seek the Lord in repentance. Then not only the symptoms, but the root cause of his dis-ease, would have been treated.
The lyre was evidently a portable instrument; and certainly more so than a harp.
We are here introduced to David as 'Israel's beloved singer of songs' (2 Sam 23:1).
The description of David as a brave warrior is not necessarily inconsistent with his role as shepherd. Men may have been called periodically from their 'day jobs' to help deal with the threats posed by the Philistines.
But it is possible that some time passed between the events records in v 13 and v14 of this chapter, and the what is now recorded took place after chapter 17. Alternatively we may ascribe a certain degree of exaggeration to Saul's servant at this point.
Bergen notes several qualities that would have suited David for his role as royal aide:
'Militarily, “he is a brave man and a warrior”; socially, “he speaks well”; physically, he “is a fine-looking man”; and spiritually, “the LORD is with him.” The mention of this last trait puts David in company with Isaac, Joseph, Joshua, and Samuel (cf. Gen 26:28; 39:2–3, 21, 23; Josh 6:27; 1 Sam 3:19).'
"He is handsome" - Youngblood notes the irony that
'although Saul’s servant agreed with the positive contemporary consensus that kings and courtiers should be “fine-looking” (v. 18), the same Hebrew word is preceded by a negative particle in its description of great David’s greater Son as one who had “no beauty” (Isa 53:2).'
"The Lord is with him" - This will be a central theme of the next few chapters (cf. 1 Sam 18:12, 14, 28).
'The key to David’s success in life is stated in 1 Sam. 16:18—“the Lord was with him.” (See 1 Sam 18:12, 14, 28.) This was also the secret of the success of Joseph (Gen. 39:2–3, 21, 23), Joshua (Josh. 6:27), and Samuel (1 Sam. 3:19), and it is the basis for success in the Christian life today.' (Wiersbe)
Klein suggests that this is the most 'outstanding qualification' of David:
'The most outstanding qualification of David is that Yahweh is with him. This is asserted about David in 18:12, 14, 28 and 2 Sam 5:10, and it is a boon promised to him in 17:37 and 20:13.'
16:19 So Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me your son David, who is out with the sheep. 16:20 So Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a container of wine, and a young goat and sent them to Saul with his son David. 16:21 David came to Saul and stood before him. Saul liked him a great deal, and he became his armor bearer. 16:22 Then Saul sent word to Jesse saying, “Let David be my servant, for I really like him.”
"Send me your son David" - As Baldwin notes, Saul expected instant obedience to his own command, whereas he had not been so obedient to the command of the Lord.
'The irony of this scene is palpable. Saul invited David (by name!) into his court! David came in obedience to Saul! Unwittingly Saul had summoned the very one who possessed the Spirit who, because of his departure from Saul, had caused Saul’s present distress. To help him, Saul had unsuspectingly summoned the neighbor who was “better” than him and to whom the kingdom of Israel had been given (1 Samuel 15:28).' (Woodhouse)
Youngblood asks: 'If Saul recognizes David as Jesse’s son in v. 19, why does he later ask him whose son he is (1 Sam 17:58)?' Answer:
'In the light of the differing contexts in the two chapters, a possible solution comes to mind. In ch. 16 Saul’s initial interest in David was as a harpist, while in ch. 17 he is interested in him primarily as a warrior (according to his customary policy [1 Sam 14:52]). Saul’s question in 1 Sam 17:58, in any event, is only a leadoff question; his conversation with David continued far beyond the mere request for his father’s name (11 Sam 8:1). He probably wanted to know, among other things, “whether there were any more at home like him” (Archer, 175). It is of course not beyond the realm of possibility that Saul simply forgot the name of David’s father during the indeterminate period between chs. 16 and 17.'
Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a container of wine, and a young goat - Bergen thinks that these would have been provisions for David's use. But it has also been suggested (perhaps more plausibly) that they were gifts for the king: for it is said that Jesse sent them to Saul. As Prov 18:16 says: 'A person’s gift makes room for him, and leads him before important people.'
[David] became [Saul's] armour bearer - David's bravery as a warrior has been mentioned in v18. We will learn more about this in the next chapter.
'The background was a period of occasional Philistine attacks, when Saul would be forced to call men from their farms to fight the enemy. Thus David was sometimes looking after his father’s sheep and at other times fighting the Philistines.' (NBC)
"I really like him" - There is irony in the new king winning the admiration and affection of the old king.
'There is an awesome revelation of divine purpose in the providence by which David, who is to replace Saul in the favour and plan of God, is selected to minister to the fallen king’s melancholy (1 Sam. 16:17–21). So the lives of these two men were brought together, the stricken giant and the rising stripling.' (T.H. Jones, NBD)
Saul's instability of character can be seen from his changing attitude towards David:
'In 1 Samuel, we find that Saul loved David first (1 Sam 16:22), then was angry at him, suspicious of him, and intent on killing him (1 Sam 18:8–11). Saul became afraid of David (1 Sam 18:12, 15) and finally openly declared his desire to kill his son-in-law (1 Sam 19:1).' (Wiersbe, Delights and Disciples of Bible Study, ch. 6)
16:23 So whenever the spirit from God would come upon Saul, David would take his lyre and play it. This would bring relief to Saul and make him feel better. Then the evil spirit would leave him alone.
This verse suggests that Saul was afflicted by the tormenting spirit on many occasions. Two specific instances are recorded in 1 Sam 18:10 and 1 Sam 19:9.
Music 'could not effect a permanent cure. It simply created a temporary alleviation.
William Taylor comments on Saul's relief:
'But it was only a temporary relief after all. A more wondrous triumph was yet destined to be wrought by that same harp when, tuned to words by God's own inspiration given, it should not only soothe the soul of the singer himself, but also give forth notes that would reach through all time, and lift the devout spirit above all evil influences. How often have these holy lyrics done for men a grander work than that wrought by this music on the mind of Saul! Luther felt their influence when, inspirited by their strains, he went forth to his great reforming work; and the souls of many anxious ones have been quieted by their trustful utterances when their hearts, like Eli's, "trembled for the ark of God." The lone widow has dried her tears as she has listened to the music of the words, "God lives! blessed be my rock, and let the God of my salvation be exalted." The helpless orphan has been directed to a friend above, as this soft strain has fallen on his ear, "When my father and my mother for-sake me, then the Lord will take me up." The desponding saint has seen the heavens grow bright above him while he heard these trustful notes: "Why art thou cast down, 0 my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God : for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God." The dying one has felt as if the glory-gate was already opening to him while the melody of these words has distilled like the dew over his spirit: "As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness." Yea, mightiest achievement of all, it was a strain from David's harp which upheld the Redeemer's soul when from the depths of his infinite agony he cried, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Truly, as well as eloquently, has one said, "The temporary calm which the soft notes of David's harp spread over the stormy soul of Saul was but a superficial emotion compared with the holy rest on the bosom of their God to which the Psalms have guided many an anxious and weary sinner. The one was like the passing emotion of an oratorio, the other is the deep peace of the Gospel."'
Taylor remarks on the wonder that God sovereignly works out his purposes through the freelly-chosen actions of men and women. David can scarcely have imagined, as he learned to play the lyre, that this skill would bring him into contact with the royal court of which, eventually, he would be the head. The servant who had mentioned David's name to Saul did not know that he had already been anointed as Saul's successor. Yet each, freely and without any thought of the outcome, fulfilled the purposes of God. So it is today: 'God's providence is working itself out through the free agency of men, even though at the moment they may not be thinking of him at all.' Truly, all things work together for good for those who love God.
Evans (BST) notes that David was being prepared for his future role. 'Saul, unknowingly, was being used to introduce his successor to the requirements of kingship. David was able to exercise his natural gifts and to take full advantage of the opportunities that life presented to train for the future that had been laid out for him. There is no evidence here of the false dichotomy sometimes made between natural and spiritual gifts, and there is no sign in David of that tendency, which can tempt those with a strong sense of calling, to avoid all tasks that seem unrelated to that ultimate calling.'