1 Samuel 16 Commentary: Anointing David and Saul’s Decline

1 Samuel 16 Commentary

1 Samuel 16 is a crucial chapter in Israel’s history, marking the transition from Saul’s reign to the rise of David.

In this chapter, the prophet Samuel, following God’s instructions, sets out to Bethlehem under a divine mission to anoint a new king. Amidst political tension and divine directives, Samuel encounters Jesse’s sons, leading to a surprising choice that defies societal expectations.

Concurrently, King Saul’s narrative takes a turn as he grapples with the loss of God’s favor, setting the stage for a young shepherd boy’s entrance into the royal court.

This chapter not only narrates the anointing of David but also subtly weaves the themes of divine choice and human character, contrasting Saul’s downfall against David’s humble beginnings.

1 Samuel 16:1-5, Samuel Sent to Anoint a New King at Bethlehem

The chapter begins with God instructing Samuel to anoint a new king over Israel, signifying a significant transition in Israel’s leadership. This command comes after Saul, the current king, has fallen out of favor with God. The Lord’s directive to Samuel to fill his horn with oil and go to Bethlehem indicates a sacred and solemn task – anointing a new king, chosen by God.

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.”

1 Samuel 16:1, ESV

Samuel’s fear of Saul’s reaction is indicative of the tense political climate. Saul, still the reigning king, would view the anointing of another king as a direct threat to his throne.

God’s response, instructing Samuel to take a heifer and say he has come to sacrifice, shows a careful approach to this sensitive task, balancing obedience to God with the practical realities of the situation.

And Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ And invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do. And you shall anoint for me him whom I declare to you.”

1 Samuel 16:2-3, ESV

Upon Samuel’s arrival in Bethlehem, the elders of the town meet him with trepidation. This reaction underscores Samuel’s stature as a prophet and the unusual nature of his visit. His reassurance and invitation to the sacrifice set the stage for the momentous event of anointing David, though the elders and Jesse’s family are unaware of his true purpose.

1 Samuel 16:6-13, David Anointed as King

Samuel meets Jesse’s sons, each of whom he initially assesses for their potential to be king. However, God’s criteria for selection differ from Samuel’s expectations, emphasizing the heart’s significance over outward appearance.

This theme of God valuing inner character over external qualities is a pivotal message in the biblical narrative.

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:6-7, ESV

After seven of Jesse’s sons are passed over, David, the youngest, is brought in from tending sheep. His anointing by Samuel, in the presence of his brothers, signifies his divine selection as the future king of Israel.

This moment marks a turning point in David’s life, from a shepherd boy to the anointed future king.

Then Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and get him, for we will not sit down till he comes here.” And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah.

1 Samuel 16:11-13, ESV

1 Samuel 16:14-18, Saul’s Distress and Servants’ Recommendation

Following David’s anointing, the narrative shifts back to Saul, whose disobedience has led to the departure of God’s Spirit and the torment of an evil spirit. This spiritual affliction is a direct consequence of Saul’s unfaithfulness and signifies his rejected status before God.

Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him.

1 Samuel 16:14, ESV

Saul’s servants suggest finding someone skilled in music to soothe the king’s troubled spirit. This introduces the idea that music, a gift from God, can have a powerful effect on the human spirit. Their description of David as not only a skilled musician but also a valiant man, prudent in speech, and handsome, speaks to David’s multifaceted character.

And Saul’s servants said to him, “Behold now, a harmful spirit from God is tormenting you. Let our lord now command your servants who are before you to seek out a man who is skillful in playing the lyre, and when the harmful spirit from God is upon you, he will play it, and you will be well.” So Saul said to his servants, “Provide for me a man who can play well and bring him to me.” One of the young men answered, “Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and the Lord is with him.”

1 Samuel 16:15-18, ESV

1 Samuel 16:19-23, David Enters Saul’s Service

David is brought into Saul’s service, marking the beginning of a significant relationship between them.

David’s role as a musician for Saul illustrates the humble beginnings of his rise to prominence in the kingdom. His ability to soothe Saul’s torment with music underscores the spiritual dimension of his talents.

Therefore Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me David your son, who is with the sheep.” And Jesse took a donkey laden with bread and a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them by David his son to Saul.

1 Samuel 16:19-20, ESV

As the chapter concludes, we see Saul grow fond of David and make him his armor-bearer. This position of trust and proximity to the king foreshadows David’s future leadership role.

The chapter ends on a note of harmony between David and Saul, though future events will dramatically change this dynamic.

And David came to Saul and entered his service. And Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armor-bearer. And Saul sent to Jesse, saying, “Let David remain in my service, for he has found favor in my sight.” And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him.

1 Samuel 16:21-23, ESV