1 Samuel 16:1-13

Jimmy Jo1 & 2 Samuel, SermonsLeave a Comment

Read the passage here.

Continuing on in our look at the book of Samuel, in today’s passage we’re introduced to the person of David.  It should be obvious that David looms large in the imaginations of the people of Israel – and consequently in the Christian story.  In scripture, he is well-known for being described as one “after God’s own heart.” 

And this is in stark contrast to what we’ve seen so far in King Saul.  As we’ve described it, Saul is someone who fit the expectations of the people as to what a king should look like, but he seems most deficient in his ability to hear and pay attention to the voice of God.  In contrast, David is a man after God’s own heart.  But as we said about Saul, we have to remember that we are dealing not with literary types, symbols, or caricatures – we are dealing with actual historical people. 

So what I simply mean is that we want to avoid the temptation to paint everything that Saul does as bad, and everything that David does as good.  As we likely already know, the bible simply doesn’t present David this way.  There is obviously more to say about this, but suffice it to say that the bible shows us both the good and the bad in David. 

So what will be important for our purposes (among other things, of course) is how God chooses to work in and through David – How God chooses to work out his kingdom purposes through David’s kingship. 

There are usually a couple of stories that most people are familiar with regarding David’s life – the story of David and Goliath, and today’s story of David’s selection as king (perhaps three if we include the story of David and Bathsheba).  At any rate, we’re looking at the story of David’s selection, our introduction to David, today. 

Again, most of us are probably pretty familiar with this story and it does seem to be a pretty straightforward narrative, so I don’t have too much to say about the text.  However, I would like to point out a couple of things. 

Firstly – and this is perhaps a minor thing, but it caught my eye – but notice the verses spent on Samuel’s role in the beginning of this passage.  Whereas the NIV begins a new section (so to speak) at 16:1, we shouldn’t overlook the connection with the previous passage – the rejection of Saul.  So in regards to vv. 1-5, I just want to make note of a few things.  Therefore…

16:1 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”

1 Samuel 16:1

Note how God says to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul…”  Now is this mourning because Samuel had a close personal relationship with Saul?  Is he mourning because of what he perceives as  failure or loss for Israel?  Is he mourning because of his own failure as prophet to the king?  It’s not readily apparent.  However, what does seem evident is that what has happened to/with Saul is a big deal. 

But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”

1 Samuel 16:2

So verse 2 seems to confirm that it is no small thing to anoint a new king.  Saul, who has been rejected by God but still sits on the throne (so to speak) of Israel, will not give up his kingship easily.  Samuel knows that what he is called to do is “a big deal.” 

Jumping ahead to verse 4, we read: 

Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”

1 Samuel 16:4

It’s this question by the elders in Bethlehem that catches my eye:  “Do you come in peace?”  The elders recognize that Samuel coming to their town is no trivial matter.  The text doesn’t tell us specifically why the elders were worried or afraid (they “trembled…”).  But remember how frequently scripture tells us about the importance of having a fear of the Lord.  Or how frequently the first words uttered, when someone encounters God or an angel of God, are “fear not.”  We take it for granted that God loves us, that God is a God of grace and mercy (which is all true).  But we shouldn’t interpret that to mean that God is a benign God, that He is a toothless God, or that He is some sort of cosmic Santa Claus or doddering grandfather.  Fear of the Lord is an appropriate (the only appropriate?) response from sinners when they encounter a holy God.  And so, we read that God has come to town and “the elders of the town trembled…” 

I want to touch on this part more a little later, but all of that says to me (and again, this is my personal reflection – not an indication of how we’re supposed to read the text) that what we are reading here, in this initial encounter with David, is significant.  What is happening here, in David’s selection and anointing, matters.  God has come to town and we should pay attention. 

Now the story of Samuel’s encounter with Jesse and his sons, ultimately resulting in the choosing of David, is the part of the story that many of us are likely familiar with.  In short,

Samuel goes to the home of Jesse, as he was instructed to in verse 1. 

Samuel meets Eliab, and thinks, “this must be the one.” 

When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”

1 Samuel 16:6

But God tells him: 

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7

Now at this point, it’s hard to miss the comparison between this story and the story of Saul’s anointing.  We remember, of course, that Saul’s anointing is precipitated by the Israelite’s demanding: 

  • 8:5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to leadus, such as all the other nations have.”
  • 8:19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

And when Samuel meets Saul, the main characteristic of Saul that we keep hearing about is his height: 

  • 9:1 There was a Benjamite, a man of standing, whose name was Kish son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Bekorath, the son of Aphiah of Benjamin. Kish had a son named Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.
  • 10:23 They ran and brought him out, and as he stood among the people he was a head taller than any of the others.

So our story today demonstrates a similar motif, but stands in stark contrast, especially highlighted by God’s instructions:

16:7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7

If we continue reading the passage today, Samuel continues to meet the rest of Jesse’s sons but finds that none of them are the one he is looking for.  Jesse reveals he has one more son, the youngest, who is out tending sheep. 

Now I might be reaching here, but it seems to me that there’s another similarity with the Saul story.  Again in chapter 9, we read that Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin.  And when Samuel informs Saul of his calling to kingship, Saul responds: 

9:21 Saul answered, “But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?”

1 Samuel 9:21

Saul’s response is that he is from the least clan of the smallest tribe of Israel, Benjamin.  And what we learn about David is that he is the youngest of all of the sons of Jesse (it might be worthwhile to remember that Benjamin was the youngest of Joseph’s brothers).  Again, this might be a stretch but both stories emphasize that God’s economy doesn’t follow the world’s.  Whereas one might expect the king to come from the greatest tribe, the eldest son, both Saul and David’s choosing represent different priorities (even though, as we know, Saul is a fallen king). 

There’s one final similarity to note between the Saul and David stories.  At the very end of our passage, after Samuel anoints David, we read: 

16:13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.

1 Samuel 16:13

Similarly, during Saul’s story, after leaving Samuel he receives confirmation of Samuel’s prophecies at the end of which, we read: 

10:9 As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul’s heart, and all these signs were fulfilled that day. 10 When he and his servant arrived at Gibeah, a procession of prophets met him; the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him, and he joined in their prophesying.

1 Samuel 10:9-10

And we also read of the Spirit of God coming upon Saul elsewhere.  When Saul faced the Ammonites at Jabesh Gilead, we read: 

11:6 When Saul heard their words, the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him, and he burned with anger.

1 Samuel 11:6

All that in simply to say that, in Saul’s life, the Spirit of God comes upon him occasionally – at specific moments.  But what we read here is that the Spirit of the Lord comes upon David, “from that day on…”  Unlike Saul, David’s ‘anointing in the Spirit,’ if we can get past the charismatic baggage that we tend to hang onto with a phrase like that, is described as continuous, or on-going.  God doesn’t just ‘come on’ David – God is with David. 

So, we’ve seen how the introduction to David shares a lot of similarities with our introduction to Saul – I’m not saying that Saul and David are identical, merely that we’re seeing similar themes or motifs.  And we should expect this if we recognize that they are (at least) literary foils.  Again, they are not identical (obviously) but the similarities, or at least the relationship, between the two choosing narratives are apparent.  Which begs the question, what made the selection of David more significant, or more correct(?), than Saul’s?  Or, to put it another way, why was David chosen, in spite of his many shortcomings that we will see in later chapters, and Saul rejected? 

Now at this point, it’s worth going back to the beginning of our passage.  We read in the first few verses that Samuel is afraid to go to Jesse’s household because Saul is still king.  And as we know, this fact – the fact that Saul is still king – is significant because he has just been rejected by God in the last chapter.  But, for now, Saul is still king. 

And, like many cultures throughout history, Saul is not only king for his lifetime, but his reign is supposed to continue through his sons.  So though he knows Saul has been rejected by God, maybe he’s at least waiting for Saul to die before he makes his move.  But God tells Samuel to go find David and to anoint him as king.  From Saul’s point of view, which is what Samuel likely understands, this is essentially treason. 

But what we know is that it’s not Saul’s point of view that matters – it’s not the world’s structures and mechanisms that matter.  In God’s kingdom – indeed in the whole of creation – it’s God’s will that wins out. 

Quite simply, David is anointed as king because it is the will of God.

The second thing to consider is what is probably the most well-known element of this story.  When Samuel first sees David’s brother, Eliab, he is duly impressed and thinks this must be the king.  But God says,

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7

Even though David’s story shares several elements with Saul’s story, at least superficially, the choice of David as king of Israel does not come down to those superficial elements, but rather his heart. 

So in short, if we’re going to boil down what we are told from this story (and, as you know, I dislike boiling down scripture), we might say two things: 

Firstly, God alone chooses.  It is up to God alone to decide how His kingdom will be built, and who He will work through. 

Secondly, though we can never fully understand the mind and intentions of God, what we know is that God chooses David not because of any skills, abilities, prestige, or potential he might possess, but purely because of his heart. 

And what we can say about David’s heart is how it is aligned towards God.   We know that David was not a perfect person.  He made many mistakes, was selfish, greedy, and murderous.  However, and we can know a lot about this when we read through his Psalms, is that he desperately desired to be in God.  So when we think about David’s heart, this seems to be the key thing. 

If we want to emulate anything from David’s life, isn’t it this?  That we might seek after God with all of our hearts.  That though we falter, though we fail, no matter whether we are called to lead or to serve (or whatever else), that God would be the center of our hearts. 

Now this is just the beginning of David’s story.  And as we read and listen, we’ll try to learn a little about what this means and how it speaks to us. 

But one of the things I wonder as I read this story is this.  Last week (and the week before) we read about how Saul was rejected as Israel’s king – that is, as God’s servant in Israel.  And we talked about some of the reasons for that.  And today, we read about how David was chosen in his stead.  And we posit that David was chosen because of his heart, presumably how it is aligned toward God. 

But my question – the thing I wonder – is this.  After today’s passage, with the anointing of David, we get many more chapters (the rest of 1 Samuel, in fact) where Saul is still king and David is not.  In fact, we get many chapters about how Saul is trying to kill David, and how David refuses to kill Saul, even though David is the rightful king before God.  Why doesn’t David become king right away?  Why isn’t Saul dethroned (through death, or whatever else) immediately?  If David is God’s choice for king, why isn’t he immediately made king. 

Now there are undoubtedly many reasons for this, most of which we won’t truly know.  But my suspicion (and this is just my personal reflection) is that it has something to do with formation.  We see this over and over in the story.  Abraham doesn’t immediately become the father of many nations;  Moses doesn’t immediately lead the people into the promised; Joshua doesn’t immediately conquer the land of Canaan (also, Jesus doesn’t immediately go from his birth to His ministry;  Paul doesn’t go immediately from Damascus to the mission field). 

Most of the time is spent in formation.  And I don’t think that formation is every completed on this side of eternity.  But formation isn’t something to merely be glossed over.  It’s not merely passing time between calling and victory.  It seems to me that (again, on this side of eternity) formation is the thing. 

Which isn’t to say that we do nothing while we are being formed.  It’s simply to say that we have to pay attention to how God is turning our hearts towards Him.  How is God changing us and molding us into people who desire Him, long for Him, and seek to do and submit to His will. 

I think that oftentimes we are patient.  We want everything now.  We always think that we’re ready – that we’re fully formed – now.  But God is continuing to do His work in us.  God is continuing to shape us, mold us, to draw us closer to Him.  Do we need to have it now?  Or are we willing to walk the steps that He puts before us?  Like David, how can we become a people after God’s own heart?

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