1 Samuel 16
Pulpit Commentary
And the LORD said unto Samuel, How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? fill thine horn with oil, and go, I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehemite: for I have provided me a king among his sons.
Verse 1. - How long writ thou mourn? The grief of Samuel was prolonged almost to a sinful extent, nor can we wonder at it. We who see Saul's whole career, and know how deeply he fell, are in danger of discrediting his high qualities; but those who were witnesses of his military skill and prowess, and saw him and his heroic son raising the nation from its feebleness and thraldom to might and empire, must have given him an ungrudging admiration. Both David's dirge (2 Samuel 1:19-27) and Samuel's long mourning, and the unqualified obedience which he was able so quickly to extort from a high-spirited people unused to being governed, bear decisive testimony to his powers as a ruler and commander in war. But God now warns Samuel to mourn no longer. Saul's rejection has become final, and God's prophet must sacrifice his personal feelings, and prepare to carry out the purpose indicated in 1 Samuel 13:14; 1 Samuel 15:28. We must not, however, conclude that Samuel's sorrow had only been for Saul personally; there was danger for the whole nation in his conduct. If wilfulness and passion gained in him the upper hand, the band of authority would be loosed, and the old feebleness and anarchy would return, and Israel become even more hopelessly a prey to its former troubles. Samuel, therefore, is to go to Bethlehem and anoint there a son of Jesse. As this place lay at some distance from Ramah, and out of the circuit habitually traversed by Samuel as judge, he probably had but a general knowledge of the family. Evidently he had no acquaintance with David (vers. 11, 12); but as Jesse was a man of wealth and importance, his reputation had probably reached the prophet's ears.
And Samuel said, How can I go? if Saul hear it, he will kill me. And the LORD said, Take an heifer with thee, and say, I am come to sacrifice to the LORD.
Verse 2. - And Samuel said, How can I go? if Saul hear it, he will kill me. Saul was actually king, and the anointing of another in his stead would be regarded as an act of open treason, and the stirring up of civil war. This was not indeed intended. The anointing of David was a prophetic indication of the man whom God, in his own way and at his own time,would place upon Saul's throne, without either scheming or action thereto on the part either of Samuel or of David. Its value would chiefly lie in the careful training he would receive from Samuel; but when David was king, it would also greatly strengthen his position; for it would be known that from his boyhood he had been marked out for his high office. Never did man mount a throne with purer hands than David; and if Saul would have permitted it, he would have been a faithful and loyal servant to the last. It was Saul really who thrust the kingdom upon David. As regards Samuel's fears, headstrong as Saul was, he owed too much to the prophet to have put]aim to death; but he would have visited the act upon Jesse and his family with revengeful violence, and Samuel would henceforward have lost all freedom of action, even if he were not cast into prison, or banished from the land. God therefore commands him to take an heifer with him, and say, I am come to sacrifice to Jehovah. The question has been asked, Was there in this any duplicity? In answer we may ask another question: Is it always necessary, or even right, to tell in all cases the whole truth? If so, quarrels and ill-feeling would be multiplied to such an extent that social life would be unendurable. All charitable, well disposed persons suppress much, and keep a guard over their lips, lest they should stir up strife and hatred. Now here there was to be no treason, no inciting to civil war. David, still a child, was to be set apart for a high destiny, possibly without at the time fully knowing what the anointing meant, and certainly with the obligation to take no step whatsoever towards winning the crown that was to descend upon his head. This was his probation, and he bore the trial nobly. And what right would Samuel have had, not merely to compel David to be a traitor, but to place Jesse and his family in a position of danger and difficulty? To have anointed David publicly would have forced Jesse to an open rupture with the king, and he must have sought safety either by fighting for his life, or by breaking up his home, and fleeing into a foreign land. David in course of time had thus to seek an asylum for his parents (1 Samuel 22:3, 4), but it was through no fault of his own, for he always remained true to his allegiance. Even when David was being hunted for his life, he made no appeal to Samuel's anointing, but it remained, what it was ever intended to be, a secret sign and declaration to him of God's preordained purpose, but of one as to which he was to take no step to bring about its fulfilment. It was a pledge to David, and nothing but misery would have resulted from its being prematurely made known to those who had no right to know it. God wraps up the flower, which is in due time to open and bear fruit, within many a covering; and to rend these open prematurely is to destroy the flower and the fruit that is to spring from it. And so to have anointed David openly, and to have made him understand the meaning of the act, would have been to destroy David and frustrate the Divine purpose.
And call Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will shew thee what thou shalt do: and thou shalt anoint unto me him whom I name unto thee.
Verses 3-5. - Call Jesse to the sacrifice. The word used is zebach, and means a sacrifice followed by a feast, at which all the elders of the town, and with them Jesse and his elder sons, would be present by the prophet's invitation. It is plain that such sacrifices were not unusual, or Saul would have demanded a reason for Samuel's conduct. As the ark remained so long in obscurity at Kirjath-jearim, and the solemn services of the tabernacle were not restored until Saul at some period of his reign removed it to Nob, possibly Samuel may have instituted this practice of occasionally holding sacrifices, now at one place and now at another, to keep alive a sense of religion in the hearts of the people; and probably on such occasions he taught them the great truths of the law, thus combining in his person the offices of prophet and priest. Nevertheless, the elders of the town trembled at his coming. More literally, "went with trembling to meet him." Very probably such visitations often took place because some crime had been committed into which Samuel wished to inquire, or because the people had been negligent in some duty. And though conscious of no such fault, yet at the coming of one of such high rank their minds foreboded evil. He quiets, however, their fears and bids them sanctify themselves; i.e. they were to wash and purify themselves, and abstain from everything unclean, and put on their festal garments (Exodus 19:10; and comp. 1 Samuel 21:5). It is added, He sanctified Jesse and his sons, i.e. he took especial care that no legal impurity on their part should stand in the way of the execution of his errand.
And Samuel did that which the LORD spake, and came to Bethlehem. And the elders of the town trembled at his coming, and said, Comest thou peaceably?
And he said, Peaceably: I am come to sacrifice unto the LORD: sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice. And he sanctified Jesse and his sons, and called them to the sacrifice.
And it came to pass, when they were come, that he looked on Eliab, and said, Surely the LORD'S anointed is before him.
Verses 6-10. - When they were come. I.e. to the house of Jesse, apparently in the interval between the sacrifice and the feast. The latter we learn in ver. 11 did not take place until after David had been sent for. But many hours would elapse between the sacrifice and the feast, as the victim had to be skinned and prepared for roasting, and finally cooked. This interval was spent in Jesse's house; and when he saw there Eliab, the first born, and observed his tall stature and handsome face, qualities which Samuel had admired in Saul, he said, i.e. in himself, felt sure, that the goodly youth was Jehovah's anointed (see on 1 Samuel 2:10, 35; 10:1, etc.), but is warned that these external advantages do not necessarily imply real worth of heart; and as Jehovah looketh on the heart, his judgment depends, not on appearances, but on reality. As Eliab is thus rejected, Jesse makes his other sons pass before the prophet. Next Abinadab, who has the same name as a son of Saul (1 Samuel 31:2); then Shammah, so called again in ch. 17:13, but Shimeah in 2 Samuel 13:3, and Shimma in 1 Chronicles 2:13, where, however, the Hebrew is exactly the same as in 2 Samuel 13:3. After these four other sons follow, of whom one apparently died young, as only seven are recorded in 1 Chronicles 2:13-15, whereas these with David make eight. To all these seven the Divine voice within Samuel gave no response, and he said unto Jesse, Jehovah hath not chosen these.
But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.
Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, Neither hath the LORD chosen this.
Then Jesse made Shammah to pass by. And he said, Neither hath the LORD chosen this.
Again, Jesse made seven of his sons to pass before Samuel. And Samuel said unto Jesse, The LORD hath not chosen these.
And Samuel said unto Jesse, Are here all thy children? And he said, There remaineth yet the youngest, and, behold, he keepeth the sheep. And Samuel said unto Jesse, Send and fetch him: for we will not sit down till he come hither.
Verses 11, 12. - Are here all thy children? The word literally is lads, na'arim. The elder sons must have been nearly or quite grown up, but David was probably a mere boy, and as such had not been thought worthy of an invitation, but had been left with the servants keeping the sheep. The prophet now orders him to be summoned, and marks his value in God's sight by saying, We will not sit down till he come hither. The verb literally means, we will not surround, i.e. the table, though at this time the Jews did sit at meals, instead of reclining on couches, as in the days of Amos and our Lord. We gather, moreover, from Samuel's words that the selection of the son that was to be anointed took place while the preparations were being made for the feast. At the prophet's command David is fetched from the flock, which was probably near the house, and on his arrival the prophet sees a ruddy boy, i.e. red-haired, correctly rendered in the Vulgate rufus, the colour loved by all painters of manly beauty, and, from the delicacy of complexion which accompanies it, especially admired in the East, where men are generally dark-haired and sallow-faced. Moreover, he was of a beautiful countenance. The Hebrew says, "with beautiful eyes," and so the Syriac and Septuagint rightly. He was also goodly to look to, i.e. to look at. These last words give the general idea of the beauty of his face and person, while his bright hair and delicate complexion and the beauty of his eyes are specially noticed in the Hebrew.
And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to. 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 brethren: and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward. So Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah.
Verse 13. - Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren. Did he or they understand the meaning of the act? We think not. Certainly Eliab (1 Samuel 17:28) had no idea of any special greatness being in store for his brother. Most probably both Jesse and his sons regarded David as simply selected to be trained in Samuel's schools; and there can be little doubt that he was so trained. Samuel gave unto David that which Saul had not received - long and careful training; and David profited by it, and at Naioth in Ramah perfected his skill, not only in reading and writing, but in poetry and music. Saul and David were both men of extraordinary natural ability; but the one is always shy, awkward, and with all the defects of an uneducated man; while David is altogether the contrary. But Samuel gave his youthful pupil something better than accomplishments - he carefully educated him in the law of God, and led his mind onward to all that was good. It was Samuel's last and crowning work. Prophecy and monarchy were both of his institution, as orderly elements of the Jewish state; he also trained the man who more nearly than any other approached unto the ideal of the theocratic king, and was to Israel the type of their coming Messiah. It was Samuel's wisdom in teaching his young men music which gave David the skill to be the sweet singer of the sanctuary; and we may feel sure also that when David arranged the service of the house of God, and gave priests and Levites their appointed duties (1 Chronicles 23-26.), the model which he set before him was that in which he had so often taken part with Samuel at Ramah. As Eliah, Abinadab, and Shammah were but lads (ver. 11), David must have been very young, and many years have elapsed between his anointing and his summons to Saul's presence and combat with Goliath; and they were thus well spent in the prophet's company, whence at, proper intervals he would return to his father's house and resume his ordinary duties. The Spirit of Jehovah came upon David from that day forward (comp. 1 Samuel 10:6, 9). In modern language we should say that David's character grew and developed nobly, both intellectually and morally. With far more ethical truth the Israelites saw in the high qualities which displayed themselves in David's acts and words the presence and working of a Divine Spirit. It was a "breathing of Jehovah" which moved David onward, and fostered in him all that was morally great and good, just as it was "the breath of God" which at the creation moved upon the face of the waters to call this earth into being (Genesis 1:2). Samuel rose up and went to Ramah. His mission was over, and he returned to his ordinary duties; but, doubtless, first he made arrangements that David should in due time follow him thither, that he might be trained for his high office under Samuel's direct influence and control. DAVID'S INTRODUCTION TO KING SAUL (vers. 14-23).
But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him.
Verses 14, 15. - From this time forward David is the central figure of the history. Saul has been rejected, and though, as being the actual king, he must still play his part, more especially as his decline goes on side by side with David s growth in every kingly quality, yet the record of it is no longer given on Saul's account. Interesting, then, as may be the information concerning the mental malady with which Saul was visited, yet the object of this section is to acquaint us with the manner in which David was first brought into connection with him. From the description given of David in ver. 1 Samuel 16:18 it is evident that there has been a considerable interval of time between this and the previous section. David is no longer a child, but a "mighty valiant man." The connection is ethical, and lies in the contrasted moral state of the two men, as shown in the two parallel statements: "the Spirit of Jehovah came upon David;" "the Spirit of Jehovah departed from Saul." There was a gradual decline and debasement of his character; and as David grew from a child into a hero in war and a scholar in peace, so Saul, from being a hero, degenerated into a moody and resentful tyrant. An evil spirit from Jehovah troubled him. Really, as in the margin, terrified him; that is, Saul became subject to fits of intense mental agony, under which his reason gave way, and temporary insanity, accompanied by outbreaks of violence, came on. It is very difficult for us with our richer language to give the exact force of the Hebrew; for the word rendered spirit is literally wind, air, breath. A student of Hebrew can trace the word ruach through all its modifications, from its physical signification as the material wind, to its metaphysical meaning as an influence from God; and then still onward up to the beings who minister before God, and of whom the Psalmist says, "He maketh his angels to be winds" (Psalm 104:4); till finally we reach up unto the third person of the blessed Trinity: and then, as with this full knowledge of the Divine nature we read backward, we find the presence of the Holy Ghost indicated, where to the Israelite probably there was mention only of a material agency. Jost, in his 'History of the Jews since the time of the Maccabees,' vol. 1. p. 12, says that Saul suffered under that form of madness called hypochondria, and that the Jews gave this the name of bad air, the words translated here "evil spirit;" for they held, he says, that "the devil inhabited the air." So St. Paul speaks of the "wicked spiritual beings that are in high places," i.e. in the loftier regions of the atmosphere (Ephesians 6:12). A study of Saul's character makes it probable that, as is often the case with men of brilliant genius, there was always a touch of insanity in his mental constitution. His joining in the exercises of the prophets (1 Samuel 10:10-12) was an outburst of eccentric enthusiasm; and the excitement of his behaviour in the occurrences narrated in ch. 14. indicate a mind that might easily be thrown off its balance. And now he seems to have brooded over his deposition by Samuel, and instead of repenting to have regarded himself as an ill-used man, and given himself up to despondency, until he became a prey to melancholy, and his mind was overclouded. His servants rightly regarded this as a Divine punishment, but their words are remarkable. Behold, an evil spirit from God terrifieth thee. And so again, in ver. 16, the evil spirit from God, as if they were unwilling to ascribe to Jehovah, their covenant Deity, the sending of this evil "influence," while rightly they saw that evil as well as good must come from the Almighty, inasmuch as all things are in his hand, and whatever is must be by his permission. The writer of the book has no such scruples; he calls it "an evil spirit from Jehovah," because it was Jehovah, their own theocratic King, who had dethroned Saul, and withdrawn from him his blessing and protection.
And Saul's servants said unto him, Behold now, an evil spirit from God troubleth thee.
Let our lord now command thy servants, which are before thee, to seek out a man, who is a cunning player on an harp: and it shall come to pass, when the evil spirit from God is upon thee, that he shall play with his hand, and thou shalt be well.
Verses 16-18. - A cunning player on an harp. Literally, one skilful in striking the chords on the harp. In Saul's case music would have a soothing influence, and turn the current of his thoughts. His officers suggest, therefore, that search should be made for an expert musician, and Saul consents; whereupon one of the servants recommended the son of Jesse. The word used here is not the same as that found in vers. 15, 16, 17. There we have Saul's officers; here it is na'arim, "young men." Thus it was a youth of David's own age, who had probably been with him at Naioth in Ramah, that described him to Saul. The description is full and interesting, but it has its difficulties. David is not only skilful in music, of which art he would have had ample scope to manifest his powers in the service of the sanctuary at Ramah, but he is also a mighty valiant man, and a man of war, and prudent in matters, or, rather, intelligent in speech (see margin), as well as handsome and successful. Nevertheless, in 1 Samuel 17:33-36 David appears as a youth about to make his first essay in fighting; and though the two exploits mentioned there, of killing the lion and the bear, might justify his friend in calling him a mighty valiant man, literally, "a hero of valour," they do not justify the words a man of war. It is strange, moreover, that Saul should be so entirely ignorant of David's person and lineage as he is represented in the narrative in ch. 17, if thus David was court musician, though reference is made there to this visit of David to Saul in ver. 15. Possibly, however, David and this youth may have served together in repelling some marauding expedition of the Philistines, and though David may not have actually done much, - nothing, at all events, so well worth repeating to Saul as the combats with the wild beasts, - yet he may have achieved enough to convince his friend that he had in him the qualities of a man of war, i.e. of a good soldier. For the rest, we must conclude that this first visit of David was a very short one, and that after playing before Saul and being approved of, he then returned home, ready to come again whenever summoned, but that Saul's malady did not immediately return, and so a sufficient interval elapsed for Saul not to recognise him when he saw him under altered circumstances. Saul's question, "Whose son is this stripling?" (1 Samuel 17:56) seems to imply that he had a sort of confused idea about him, without being able exactly to recall who he was. The ultimate consequences of this introduction to Saul, as well as its immediate effect, are all narrated here after the usual manner of Old Testament history (see 1 Samuel 7:13).
And Saul said unto his servants, Provide me now a man that can play well, and bring him to me.
Then answered one of the servants, and said, Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, that is cunning in playing, and a mighty valiant man, and a man of war, and prudent in matters, and a comely person, and the LORD is with him.
Wherefore Saul sent messengers unto Jesse, and said, Send me David thy son, which is with the sheep.
Verses 19, 20. - Saul sent messengers to fetch David, the description of him as a brave soldier being even more to the king's liking (see 1 Samuel 14:52) than his skill in music. As a great man might not be approached without a present (1 Samuel 9:7; 1 Samuel 10:4), Jesse sends one consisting of produce from his farm. It consisted of an ass of bread - a strange expression; but there is little doubt that a word has been omitted, and that we should read, with the Syriac, "And Jesse took an ass, and laded it with bread, and a skin of wine, and a kid." It was not an ass laden with bread, as in the A.V., but all three things were placed upon the animal.
And Jesse took an ass laden with bread, and a bottle of wine, and a kid, and sent them by David his son unto Saul.
And David came to Saul, and stood before him: and he loved him greatly; and he became his armourbearer.
Verses 21-23. - David came to Saul, and stood before him. The latter phrase means, "became one of his regular attendants." This, and his being appointed one of Saul's armour bearers, happened only after the lapse of some time. The armour bearer, like the esquire in the middle ages, had to carry his lord's lance, and sword, and shield, and was always a tried soldier, and one whom the king trusted. It was apparently after the combat with Goliath that Saul sent to Jesse, and asked that David might be always with him; and until his jealousy burst forth David was very dear to him, and his music exercised a soothing influence upon his melancholy. At first, probably, these fits of insanity came upon Saul only at distant intervals, but afterwards more frequently, and with such loss of self-control that he more than once tried to murder David, and even Jonathan, his own son. We have, then, here a summary of the relations of Saul to David until the unfortunate day when the king heard the women ascribe to the youthful soldier the higher honor (1 Samuel 18:7); and thenceforward these friendly feelings gave way to a growing dislike which deprived Saul of a faithful servant, and finally cost him his crown and life on Mount Gilboa.

And Saul sent to Jesse, saying, Let David, I pray thee, stand before me; for he hath found favour in my sight.
And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.
The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by BibleSoft, inc., Used by permission

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