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)

Do we ever mourn like this?

Davis asks:

‘Was there not something proper in Samuel’s grief? He was not upset over a lousy bowling score or because someone sideswiped his Chevy Beretta or because he had only a three-bedroom house. Rather he was distressed over the spiritual disaster of a promising instrument of God, over the welfare of God’s people, over their condition and security. Do we ever mourn over such matters? Do we mourn or gossip over the sins of others? Do we ever sorrow over the unbelief in the churches and among the professional ministry? Do we ever grieve over the biblical and ethical ignorance among professing believers? Does anything ever move us, aside from our own comfort and security? There is something commendable, instructive, in Samuel’s distress.’

“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)

A God of new beginnings


‘Yahweh is able to provide a new beginning; he will provide for his people when all is coming undone. The true King never loses control of his kingdom; he is never nonplussed by the latest emergency in his realm. Hence Yahweh’s choice spells hope.’

‘If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!’ (2 Cor 5:17)

‘He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.’ (1 Peter 1:3)

‘O sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done wonderful things’ (Psalm 98:1)

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)

Barnes comments:

‘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).

Does God sanction deception?

Are we to understand that God sanctions deception?  See also Jer 20:7; Eze 14:9; 2 Thess 2:9-12.

Calvin: ‘There was no dissimulation or falsehood in this, since God really wished his prophet to find safety under the pretext of the sacrifice. A sacrifice was therefore really offered, and the prophet was protected thereby, so that he was not exposed to any danger until the time of full revelation arrived.’

Keil: ‘There was no untruth in this; for Samuel was really about to conduct a sacrificial festival, and was to invite Jesse’s family to it, and then anoint the one whom Jehovah should point out to him as the chosen one. It was simply a concealment of the principal object of his mission from any who might make inquiry about it because they themselves had not been invited.’

Haley (from whose work the above quotations have been taken, also quotes Hervey:

‘Secrecy and concealment are not the same as duplicity and falsehood. Concealment of a good purpose, for a good purpose, is clearly justifiable; for example, in war, in medical treatment, in state policy, and in the ordinary affairs of life. In the providential government of the world, and in God’s dealings with individuals, concealment of his purpose, till the proper time for its development, is the rule, rather than the exception, and must be so.’

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.

Samuel: the Lord’s servant

‘Samuel, revered and honoured as he was, is seen clearly to be the messenger of the Lord, discerning what the Lord was saying and doing accordingly. His greatness lay, not in the originality of his ideas or in the initiatives he took, but in carrying out the instruction of the Lord: what mattered was simple obedience.’ (Baldwin)

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.’

Things are not always what they seem. I read somewhere: ‘I’ve always loved the story of the cowboy who was riding along and came upon an Indian lying flat on the ground with his ear pressed to the earth. The Indian said, “Wait. Wagon. Two miles off. Drawn by two horses. One black. The other gray. Four people on board: man in a red flannel shirt, his wife, and two kids.”

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.

‘Despised and rejected by man’

John 1:46 ‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ (He’s from the wrong place)

Mark 6:3  ‘Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.’ (He’s just like the rest of us)

Matthew 11:19 ‘The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ (He has too much fun)

Matthew 27:42 ‘He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself!’ (He’s the wrong kind of Messiah)

Does the Lord look with his heart, or on (man's) heart?
Woodhouse suggests an alternative way of understanding this text.

Does it mean that the Lord looks with his heart, or on [man’s] heart?  Woodhouse, while agreeing that the latter is true, prefers to read this verse as meaning the former.

Woodhouse further maintains that ‘a man after God’s own heart’ (1 Sam 13:14) means, ‘a man God has set his heart on.’ (See also 2 Sam 7:21).  ‘These vital statements in 1 Samuel 13:14 and 16:7 are about God’s gracious and sovereign purposes rather than some quality in a man.’

In other words, God has not chosen Eliab or any of the other sons (vv8-10); he had chosen David.

‘The idea that has been expressed in various ways here is sometimes called the doctrine of election. God’s good purposes arise out of his perfect and sovereign will. The Bible teaches that he chose Israel to be his people, David to be his king, and Jerusalem to be his city. His purposes in all this will be fulfilled in Jesus Christ, his “Chosen One” (Luke 9:35; cf. Matthew 12:18; Luke 23:35; 1 Peter 2:4, 6). Christian believers know themselves to have been “chosen” in him (see Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 17:14).’


To what extent, and in how many different ways, are we apt to judge by outward appearance, rather than inward attitude or aptitude?  Think about: colour of skin, ethnicity, physical attractiveness, local accent, dress, religion.

Something similar could be said about a range of other choices: of a life partner, of a church, of a pastor, of a job.

Jn 7:24 – “Do not judge according to external appearance, but judge with proper judgment.”

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!”

Who would have thought it?

Hence we have another of Yahweh’s who-would-have-thought episodes. There was no need, so Jesse imagined, to invite the youngest; he could stay with the sheep. In fact, the youngest son is so obscure that we aren’t told his name until verse 13. Yet Yahweh insisted, “This is the one.” Again we see God’s strange and refreshing way of trampling on human standards. Again we see how Yahweh chooses the most unlikely people to do his will and how he frequently stands human logic on its head. Our God is not a slave to our conventions.

Perhaps at no time did the living God disclose a more flabbergasting choice than in the case of David’s greater Descendant. The vote was in. The folks at home said, “He’s just one of us” (Mark 6:3). Others complained, “He has too much fun” (Matt. 11:18–19), and still others objected, “He’s not from the right place” (John 7:41–42). But the clincher for many was: “Messiahs don’t suffer” (Matt. 27:42–43). And what clout did this opinion pack? None. “The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner” (Ps. 118:22; see 1 Pet. 2:4). What should we deduce from that? We should realize Yahweh made his choice (Ps. 118:23a), and we should relish it (Ps. 118:23b). There is a delight we should have over Yahweh’s unusual, unguessable ways. It honors him when we revel in his surprises.


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.’

Looking forward to the Messiah

‘Israelite kings were not crowned with a crown, but anointed with oil. Oil was poured over their heads. So the king was “the anointed one”. The Hebrew word for this is messiah and the Greek word is christos. Saul had been the anointed one. Now David becomes the anointed one—the messiah or the christ.

‘After the death of David, as Israel’s kings proved to be false shepherds, the expectation grew that a new king would come, a new anointed one, a messiah. This was fuelled, as we shall see, by God’s covenant with David, promising that one of his sons would always reign over God’s people. A new David, a new messiah, would come to rescue God’s people.’ (Chester)

‘The terms associated with this anointing, mashah (to anoint) and mashiah (anointed one), would provide the vocabulary in future generations to denote the expectations of Israel for a future ideal figure, that is, a Messiah. It is this expectation that dominates the New Testament depiction of Jesus, displayed in the regular collocation “Jesus Christ” (Jesus the Messiah).

‘Jesus is not officially anointed with oil, but reminiscences of the ancient anointing ceremony can be discerned at his baptism when the Holy Spirit descends upon him as a dove and the voice of God declares the vocabulary of royal sonship (see ch. 5, “David and Rule”): “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:13–17; Mark 1:9–11; Luke 3:21–22; John 1:32–34). David’s anointing foreshadows the anointing of his descendant who will function as the perfect royal figure for Israel and bring God’s rule to the ends of the earth.’ (Boda)

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.

An external and an internal call

‘The Puritans of old often spoke of both an internal and an external calling to ministry. The internal calling was that deep sense at the core of our being of God’s calling in our lives, whether that is the quiet whisper of the Spirit or the unquenchable passion to pursue a life of leadership in the church. The external calling was the gifting for public ministry, affirmed through the practice of ministry among the people of God. Such principles I think are relevant for the discernment of all vocations, since all vocations pursued by Christians are to be sanctified by God. This internal/external calling of the Puritans echoes the private/public dimensions of the election of David to royal office in the books of Samuel. Some who are…seeking God’s wisdom for their future vocation should revisit the steps of David’s election and ask for confirmation from God of both internal/external, private/public dimensions of calling.’ (Boda)

The first shall be last

When we read that ‘the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul’ we are to understand that those gracious influences which he had known, but then spurned, had been withdrawn.  Having abandoned the Lord, he found himself abandoned by the Lord.  ‘God gave [him] over to a depraved mind, to do what should not be done’ (cf. Rom 1:28).  For, ‘whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him’ (Mt 13:12).

The last shall be first

'When David, the youngest of the sons in Jesse’s family (cf. 1 Chr 2:13–15), was selected as the Lord’s anointed, he joined a venerable crowd of Torah patriarchs selected by God in a way that confounded social norms. Other men who were not firstborn but who were selected by the Lord over their more socially powerful older brothers include Seth, Noah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Ephraim, Moses, and perhaps Abraham. It seems that the biblical record deliberately creates the impression that Yahweh prefers to use disenfranchised members of society—earlier in 1 Samuel the barren woman Hannah and the child Samuel—to do his most significant work (cf. Mark 10:31; 1 Cor 1:27).' (Bergen)

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.'

This was not David’s first encounter with the Lord

Picking up an idea from the oral ministry of David Turner (oral ministry):

  • As David gazed up at the night sky, he pondered, ‘what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?’ (Psa 8:4)
  • As he led his sheep to a place where they could find water and pasture, he reflected, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd.’ (Psa 23:1)
  • As he reflected on his hopes and fears, he can say, ‘Lord, you have searched me and you know me.’
  • As he contemplates his place in a vast, unfeeling universe, he can affirm, ‘Where can I flee from your presence?’
  • As he thinks about his plans for the future, he reasons, ‘Better one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere.’

Indeed, he can look back and see that God has had his hand upon him since the moment of birth:

You brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you even at my mother’s breast.
From birth I was cast upon you;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God. (Psa 22:9f)

When the Spirit comes, trouble begins

‘The gift of Yahweh’s Spirit is not merely gracious; it is severe. Yahweh equips David, but for conflict, one that will frequently make spine-tingling brawls with lions and bears (17:34–37) seem dull. No sooner does the Spirit touch David than he is catapulted into endless trouble—the envy, anger, and plots of Saul from chapter 18 on. David, the man with the Spirit, will be hunted and betrayed, trapped and escaping, hiding in caves, living in exile, driven to the edge—right to the end of 1 Samuel. We must see this larger view of verse 13 in the context of the whole: The Spirit comes, the trouble begins …

‘So it was for David’s Son and David’s Lord. What could be more encouraging than seeing the Spirit coming down as a dove to him? What could be more warming than that familiar voice: “You are my Son, the One I love; I am delighted with you” (see Mark 1:10–11)? And then what? The Spirit drives him out. The wilderness. Temptation. The enemy. Wild beasts (see Mark 1:12–13).’

‘And the servants of David’s Lord find the same pattern (Acts 14:22). No sooner are we brought into subjection to Jesus than we are swamped in trouble; there may seem no end to the pressures, no relief from the pounding we seem to be taking. But if we remember David and his Descendant we begin to understand that this conflict is not a sign of our sin but a mark of our sonship, that we are under not God’s displeasure but his discipline. The wilderness is not the sign of the Spirit’s absence but the scene of his presence. God treats us as sons, perhaps so we can later tell stories of angels who supported us (Mark 1:13) or of “Yahweh who redeemed my life from all distress” (2 Sam. 4:9).’


Another ‘shoot’ from Jesse

As Woodhouse reminds us, many years later, Isaiah would look forward to the time when:

Isa 11:1 A shoot will grow out of Jesse’s root stock,
a bud will sprout from his roots.
11:2 The LORD’s spirit will rest on him—
a spirit that gives extraordinary wisdom,
a spirit that provides the ability to execute plans,
a spirit that produces absolute loyalty to the LORD.
11:3 He will take delight in obeying the LORD.
He will not judge by mere appearances,
or make decisions on the basis of hearsay.
11:4 He will treat the poor fairly,
and make right decisions for the downtrodden of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and order the wicked to be executed.

And that promise was fulfilled when John the Baptist me Jesus:

Jn 1:32 Then John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending like a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. 1:33 And I did not recognize him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining—this is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 1:34 I have both seen and testified that this man is the Chosen One of God.”

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)

‘When the Spirit of the Lord departs from us, all good goes’

‘When men grieve and quench the Spirit, by wilful sin, he departs, and will not always strive. The consequence of this was that an evil spirit from God troubled him. Those that drive the good Spirit away from them do of course become prey to the evil spirit. If God and his grace do not rule us, sin and Satan will have possession of us.’ (MHC)

Losing salvation?

Grudem remarks that this passage has been used by some to demonstrate that a person may lose their salvation.  But, responds Grudem,

‘when the text says that “the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul” (1 Sam. 16:14), it reports this immediately after it says that Samuel anointed David king and “the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward” (1 Sam. 16:13). This close connection in the text (the immediately preceding verse) leads us to think that Scripture is not here talking about a total loss of all work of the Holy Spirit in Saul’s life but simply about the withdrawing of the Holy Spirit’s function of empowering Saul as king. But that does not mean that Saul was eternally condemned. It is simply very hard to tell from the pages of the Old Testament whether Saul, throughout his life, was (a) an unregenerate man who had leadership capabilities and was used by God as a demonstration of the fact that someone worthy to be king in the eyes of the world was not thereby suited to be king over the Lord’s people or (b) a regenerate man with poor understanding and a life that increasingly strayed from the Lord.’

(Systematic Theology, 2nd ed., p986)

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).

An evil spirit from the Lord

1 Sam 16:14 – ‘Now the Spirit of the LORD had turned away from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him.’

Bergen describes this as a very unusual form of expression: unique, indeed, in the OT.

It could equally be translated, ‘troublesome’ spirit.

It was a condition which (as Bergen notes) Saul himself was unable to deal with.  It was his attendants who ‘diagnosed’ it, and they who suggested an effective treatment.

1. Some think that the explanation of demon possession is at least plausible:

‘All circumstances, good and evil, pleasant or unpleasant, were seen as coming from the all-powerful Lord. The evil spirit in this instance is as likely to be a bad temper as some supernatural intervention. However, given Saul’s later uncontrollable or at least uncontrolled fits, the explanation of demon possession would be understandable.’ (Evans, UBCS)

In her BST commentary, Evans stresses that nowhere is the evil spirit held responsible for Saul’s behaviour.  He himself is responsible.

This interpretation goes back at least as far as Josephus:

‘But as for Saul, some strange and demonical disorders came upon him, and brought upon him such suffocations as were ready to choke him.’ (Cited by Kaiser, HSB)

Kaiser also quotes Keil and Delitzsch, who say that:

This ‘was not merely an inward feeling of depression at the rejection announced to him, … but a higher evil power, which took possession of him, and not only deprived him of his peace of mind, but stirred up the feelings, ideas, imagination, and thoughts of his soul to such an extent that at times it drove him even into madness. This demon is called “an evil spirit [coming] from Jehovah” because Jehovah sent it as a punishment.’

William Taylor (David: his Life and its Lessons) supports this view, adding: ‘He that will do evil of his own choice is ultimately given over to evil as his master.’

Klein (WBS) appears to assume, without much theological analysis, that this is what the author meant.

But this need not refer to a demonic spirit.  The word lit. means ‘a tormenting spirit’, and this may refer either to the character of the spirit, or to its effect on Saul.

2. For Bergen (NAC) this was, perhaps, an angel of judgement:

‘it is possible—and perhaps preferable—to interpret the text not to mean that the Lord sent a morally corrupt demon but rather another sort of supernatural being—an angel of judgment (cf. 2 Kgs 19:35)—against Saul that caused him to experience constant misery.’

3. Payne (NBC) insists that, while Saul, because of his disobedience, lost God’s Spirit, nevertheless his state of mind was still under God’s control:

‘The biblical writer is making the point that as David (the future king) gained the Spirit of Yahweh, so Saul (the rejected king) lost it; and God so controlled events that Saul’s loss led him to need music, and Saul’s own courtier led him to David. In that sense Saul’s evil spirit, his anxious state of mind, was under God’s control.’

Bergen adds:

‘The Torah was a path of life, and obedience to the Torah resulted in life and blessing. To disobey Torah requirements was to leave the path of life and enter into the realm of judgment and death. Through his repeated disobedience to the Torah requirements Saul had entered into a living, personal judgment that God brought against him. This punishment was carried out by a divinely created agent of judgment, “an evil [or “troubling”] spirit from the LORD.”’

Youngblood explains:

‘That God uses alien spirits to serve him is taken for granted in the OT (cf. esp. 2 Sa 24:1 with 1 Ch 21:1). On occasion God’s people “were not very concerned with determining secondary causes and properly attributing them to the exact cause. Under the divine providence everything ultimately was attributed to him; why not say he did it in the first place?” (Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Hard Sayings, 131; cf. also Archer, 180: “Saul’s evil bent was by the permission and plan of God. We must realize that in the last analysis all penal consequences come from God, as the Author of the moral law and the one who always does what is right [Gen 18:25]”’

Klein agrees that

the OT frequently ascribes evil or temptation to the hand of Yahweh (e.g. Deut 13:2–4; Amos 3:6; 2 Sam 24:1; 1 Chr 21:1). God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem (Judg 9:23) and a lying spirit in the mouth of the false prophets at the time of Micaiah (1 Kgs 22:19–22).

Kaiser, perhaps, attempts greater theological precision than the text allows:

‘All this happened by the permission of God rather than as a result of his directive will, for God cannot be the author of anything evil. But the exact source of Saul’s torment cannot be determined with any degree of certitude. The Lord may well have used a messenger, or even just an annoying sense of disquietude and discontent. Yet if Saul really was a believer—and I think there are enough evidences to affirm that he was—then it is difficult to see how he could have been possessed by a demon. Whether believers can be possessed by demons, however, is still being debated by theologians.’

D.A. Carson has a helpful discussion of the ‘ultimacy’ of God’s purposes in OT teaching:

The Old Testament writers do not shy away from making Yahweh himself in some mysterious way (the mysteriousness of which safeguards him from being himself charged with evil) the ‘ultimate’ cause of many evils.

The following are just a few instances of this:

    • Micaiah’s description of the heavenly courts and the selection of a lying spirit whose success is guaranteed (1 Kgs. 22:19–22; 2 Chr. 18:18–22),
    • the inciting of David to evil purpose (2 Sam. 24:1),
    • the selling of Joseph into slavery (Gen. 50:20),
    • the sending forth of evil spirits to their appointed tasks (e.g. Judg. 9:23ff.; 1 Sam. 16:14; 18:10),
    • the prologue of Job,

not to mention the specific remarks of the prophets (e.g. ‘Does evil (rā‘āh) befall a city, unless the LORD has done it?’ Amos 3:6; cf. Isa. 14:24–7; 45:7), all clamour for attention.

(Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, p28f, bulleting added)

Most (but not all) of these relate to divine judgement.  According to Calvin:

‘The spirit of the Lord that troubled Saul is called “evil” because the sins of the impious king were punished by it as by a lash [1 Sam. 16:14; 18:10].’ (Institutes, I, xiv, 17)

Calvin adds:

‘The impure spirit is called “spirit of God” because it responds to his will and power, and acts rather as God’s instrument than by itself as the author.’ (Institutes, II, iv, 5)

Matthew Henry comments:

‘The devil, by the divine permission, troubled and terrified Saul, by means of the corrupt humours of his body and passions of his mind. He grew fretful, and peevish, and discontented, timorous and suspicious, ever and anon starting and trembling…This made him unfit for business, precipitate in his counsels, the contempt of his enemies, and a burden to all about him.’

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.'

What are we to make of David?

Youngblood quotes Gros Louis as suggesting that a modern assessment of David would see him as

‘giant-slayer, shepherd, musician, manipulator of men, outlaw, disguised madman, loyal friend and subject, lover, warrior, dancer and merrymaker, father, brother, son, master, servant, religious enthusiast, and king.’

And, according to Bosworth (also quoted by Youngblood),

‘Biblical scholars in the twentieth century have characterized David in one of two seemingly contradictory ways. The traditional version characterizes David as a pious shepherd who rises to become the king of Israel. The critical version presents David as a cunning usurper who murders and schemes his way to a throne not rightfully his. The first characterization arises from a “naïve” or “straightforward” reading of the biblical text. The second arises from a “hermeneutic of suspicion” reading “against the grain of the text.” In fact, the biblical text allows both readings, and they are not as contradictory as may first appear.’

Differing parts of the Bible bring out different aspects of David’s complex character.  As Youngblood writes of

the David of the books of Kings, which portray him as the ideal king against whose virtues all the rest of the kings of Judah are measured; the books of Chronicles, which emphasize his positive qualities and ignore his negative ones; the book of Psalms, which celebrates his gifts of poetry and music; the books comprising the Latter Prophets, which speak of a Messiah who will spring from David’s royal line; and of course the books of Samuel, in which David appears in all of his delightful and deplorable complexity.

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.

On the use and abuse of music

‘It is a pity that music, which may be so serviceable to the good temper of the mind, should ever be abused by any to the support of vanity and luxury, and made an occasion of drawing the heart away from God and serious things: if this be to any the effect of it, it drives away the good Spirit, not the evil spirit.’ (MHC)

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.'