1. Now the LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go; I am sending you to Jesse the Bethlehemite. For I have provided Myself a king among his sons.”
Now the LORD scolds Samuel for mourning too long for Saul. The problem was not the mourning, which was fine and proper, and no doubt the LORD himself mourned for this sad event. Yet if the mourning carried on too long and got in the way of doing something to move on and fix the situation, then the mourning was no longer appropriate. The time for mourning is past, since the LORD has rejected Saul from governing over Israel. He no longer deserves the job. Samuel is now to go and anoint his replacement with a horn of oil.
Now the “horn” of oil was probably quite literal. It seems they would carry their oil at that time in the horn of a domestic animal. After the animal was butchered they would save the horn, making a cap for it, and this horn would be used to hold the oil. Since they did not have an overabundance of water for bathing, nor did they have deodorants or things like that which we have, they would often use this oil as a crucial part of their toilet to make themselves presentable. No doubt Samuel would have had this horn of oil for his own, daily use. Yet now he is to use it to do something significant for God.
In this case, pouring oil over the head symbolized marking a person out for special service to God. Samuel is now to do this for the man whom God has chosen to be the next king. The LORD does not reveal to him which man this is just yet, but he does tell him which household he is from. Samuel is to go to the home of Jesse of Bethlehem. Jesse means “I Possess,” and his house is indeed about to possess something very important: the right to bear the son to rule over the nation of Israel. Bethlehem means “House of Bread.” There were two “Bethlehem”s in Israel, and this was the one in Judah. Samuel is to go to Jesse, but Jesse is not the LORD’s choice. Rather, Samuel is to choose a king from among his sons.
2. And Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me.”
But the LORD said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’
Samuel has no delusions about the character of Saul at this point. Saul might once have been humble and tried to get out of becoming king, but now that he is king, he has become quite used to the idea, and is not about to let anyone take this privilege away from him without a fight. He has even rejected the LORD Who made him king in order to go his own way. If he finds out that Samuel has gone about anointing a new king, Samuel fears Saul will execute him. Saul no doubt would have, too!
The LORD is not troubled by this. Rather, He tells Samuel to take a heifer with him to sacrifice. This will not be a ruse, for he will actually do this, and so this statement is an absolute truth. Yet this sacrifice will be an excuse to hide his real mission. There is nothing wrong with hiding facts from those who have no right to know them. In this case, Saul had lost the throne by his own stubborn disobedience, and he had no right to know when God chose his replacement.
3. Then invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; you shall anoint for Me the one I name to you.”
Jesse is to be invited to the sacrifice Samuel will make. Then, Jehovah will give Samuel further instructions at the time as to what he should do. Samuel will not know in advance whom he is there to anoint. The word “name” here means to mark out or designate. When he gets there, the one Jehovah designates to him he is to anoint as the next king.
4. So Samuel did what the LORD said, and went to Bethlehem. And the elders of the town trembled at his coming, and said, “Do you come peaceably?”
Samuel obeys. He knew how to obey, unlike the stubborn and rebellious King Saul! He goes to Bethlehem, as ordered.
The elders of Bethlehem tremble at Samuel’s coming. It is good to tremble at the word of the LORD! Samuel represented this as His prophet. It could be that they thought that any time a priest came to a city to offer a sacrifice, it indicated that the LORD was somehow angry at that city for some act they had committed. Indeed, there were rules about a sin through ignorance and providing a sacrifice once the sin was known. There was a sacrifice for the whole congregation of Israel if they sinned, and this rule could easily be applied to the whole representative body of a city. It could well be that the elders of Bethlehem think that Samuel is coming to them because of some sin they have committed before the LORD.
Remember, Bethlehem was the city of Boaz and Ruth, that Godly couple we studied in the book of Ruth, and Jesse is, in fact, their descendant. Boaz was a Godly man, and it would appear that Bethlehem is still a Godly town, considering the submissive attitude of their elders.
5. And he said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD. Sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons, and invited them to the sacrifice.
Samuel assures the elders that he has not come to them in wrath. Rather, he has merely come to sacrifice to the LORD. They are to sanctify themselves, which means to set themselves apart, so that they will be clean and able to come to a sacrifice. Whether or not Jesse was among the elders of Bethlehem we do not know. Certainly his ancestor Boaz was. But whatever the case, Samuel sees to it that Jesse and his sons are set apart with the elders and invited to the sacrifice.
6. So it was, when they came, that he looked at Eliab and said, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is before Him!”
So when Jesse calls his sons one at a time and Samuel is to survey them, Samuel looks at Eliab. His name means “God is Father.” This shows us Jesse’s attitude when he was naming his children. Eliab was Jesse’s oldest son, as we learn from 1 Samuel 17:13, I Samuel 17:28, and 1 Chronicles 2:13.
I Samuel 17:13. The three oldest sons of Jesse had gone to follow Saul to the battle. The names of his three sons who went to the battle were Eliab the firstborn, next to him Abinadab, and the third Shammah.
I Samuel 17:28. Now Eliab his oldest brother heard when he spoke to the men; and Eliab’s anger was aroused against David, and he said, “Why did you come down here? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your pride and the insolence of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.”
I Chronicles 2:13. Jesse begot Eliab his firstborn, Abinadab the second, Shimea the third,
When Samuel sees Eliab, he thinks he must be the one whom the LORD has chosen to anoint. There were several reasons why he might have thought this. The relative importance of a man’s sons in that day went by order of birth. The first son was the most important, the second was second-most important, and so forth. Also, it seems that Eliab was tall and handsome, much as Saul was when God first chose him to be king. Thus, Samuel thinks that this man must be the one.
7. But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
Yahweh teaches Samuel better. He was looking at how tall and handsome Eliab was. This is what men look at, and indeed the physical appearance is all men can look at, at least, at first. We take a while to get to know a person through his actions before we can make a determination based on anything else. Yet Yahweh does not need to look at outward appearance, or even at deeds done. Yahweh can look within a person to see what he is like. Yahweh had looked at Eliab’s heart, and had rejected him. He was not the man to be king that Yahweh was looking for.
8. So Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.”
Next Jesse calls his second-born son Abinadab, which means “My Father is Noble.” This was not such a God-focused name as the first. Perhaps Jesse’s focus drifted from God to himself. Whatever the case, that is in the past now. Now the issue is whether or not Abinadab is to be king. The answer is no. This is not Yahweh’s chosen either.
9. Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.”
The third son, Shammah, meaning “Astonishment,” is made to pass before Samuel next. Shammah is also not the one the LORD chose.
10. Thus Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, “The LORD has not chosen these.”
In this manner they go through seven of Jesse’s sons, and not one of them is the one chosen. Apparently Samuel has revealed something of his mission to Jesse, so Jesse knows they are searching for the LORD’s chosen among his sons. Samuel informs him that none of these seven is the one he is looking for.
11. And Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all the young men here?” Then he said, “There remains yet the youngest, and there he is, keeping the sheep.”
And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him. For we will not sit down till he comes here.”
Samuel asks if these are all the sons he has? Jesse admits that no, the youngest is not there. The word Jesse uses, the Hebrew qatan, actually could also mean literally the “least significant”! As we said, this was the way it was in their families, with one’s importance directly correlating to one’s birth order. This youngest and least important son of his was not even thought important enough to invite to the feast. Since no matter what the sheep must be taken care of and someone has to do it, this youngest son of his has been excluded from the company and assigned the task of keeping the sheep. At any time this was a necessary job for sheep owners, but it was considered a dishonorable job, and as such was usually given to the youngest and least important son. The job would have been that much more difficult when one’s father and all one’s brothers are invited to meet the LORD’s prophet at an important sacrifice, and yet you are not allowed to come because you have to keep the sheep! Yet this youngest boy was obedient, and was not there.
It is interesting that in spite of Samuel’s specific invitation to Jesse and his sons and his desire that they all come to this sacrifice, still Jesse did not follow the prophet’s instructions and see to it that all his sons came. The word in verse 5 for “invite” is qara’, and indicates that he called or summoned them to the sacrifice, and they all should have come. It seems doubtful that Jesse meant to disobey the prophet’s command, but it is quite possible that at the time he did not know Samuel’s intention, and surely the youngest boy could be excluded so that someone would be left to oversee the flock. Yet this shows us again how from the human standpoint this young man would have been totally overlooked. He was the youngest, the least important or significant, the last one anyone would expect to be the next king. Yet as Samuel learned the LORD does not see as man sees, and this one whom his own father overlooked was the one the LORD had chosen to represent Him.
Samuel commands to send and bring this youngest boy at once. His instructions from the LORD were to review all of Jesse’s sons, and they will not sit down to the sacrifice until these orders are followed and the youngest boy comes.
12. So he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, with bright eyes, and good-looking. And the LORD said, “Arise, anoint him; for this is the one!”
So the youngest boy is sent for and is brought in before Samuel. It is interesting that, after chiding Samuel for looking on Eliab’s outward appearance, the first thing the LORD now describes is his outward appearance! It is not that good looks are bad or even not to be considered, but they are not what is most important. What is most important is the heart, and it is because of the heart that he is the one the LORD wants anointed. Yet his looks are significant, and so are mentioned here.
He is described as being ruddy, which means “red.” This is the same word used to describe Esau in Genesis 25:25, “And the first came out red. He was like a hairy garment all over; so they called his name Esau.” This could be talking about his skin, but it seems more likely that it is referring to his hair color. This would not be the usual color in that part of the world in our day, but the fact is that we do not really know what was possible or not possible among the Hebrews three thousand years ago.
David also has handsome or beautiful eyes, apparently a striking feature of his. Overall he was agreeable to look at or good-looking. Yet he was young! But this is the LORD’s choice, and He commands Samuel to anoint him. He chose the youngest and least important boy in Jesse’s family to be the greatest man in Israel, and His Own representative. The LORD indeed does not choose like we do.
13. Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward. So Samuel arose and went to Ramah.
Then Samuel takes the horn of oil he had been told to bring and anoints him in the midst of his brothers. Surely these brothers, who had probably always looked on him as the youngest and least important among them, as their father obviously did, must have been quite astonished by him being given this honor! Jehovah had taken this family and turned its order of importance completely on its head.
Then we read that the Spirit of Jehovah comes upon him from that day and forward. Now at last we learn this young man’s name: David, which means “Beloved.” He was indeed beloved by Jehovah, and He had chosen him to pour out His love and privilege upon him.
Now once the sacrifice is over and his task is completed, Samuel goes back home to Ramah. The choice of the next king has been made. Now it is Jehovah’s task to bring his government about, not Samuel’s.
14. But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and a distressing spirit from the LORD troubled him.
But at the same time that the Spirit has come upon David, the Spirit of Yahweh has left Saul. This is something that could happen in Old Testament times, when the Spirit was only given at times to His people to enable them to do various tasks He gave them to perform. The Spirit was not given permanently to men in Israel in those days. Now, those who are in Christ are sealed by the Spirit, and once thus sealed, that Spirit cannot be lost. We read this truth in Ephesians 1:13 and 4:30.
Ephesians 1:13 The Resultant Version. In Whom you also have hoped in advance, upon hearing this word of the truth, the good message of your salvation, in Whom even upon believing, you were sealed with the Spirit of the promise, the Holy One.
Ephesians 4:30 The Resultant Version. And do not be grieving the Holy Spirit of God in which you are sealed for the day of redemption.
So Saul has lost the Spirit of Yahweh, and this distressing (or calamitous) spirit is sent upon him. The word used throughout here for “distressing” is the Hebrew ra’a’, which is often translated as “evil,” but which basically has to do with calamity or disaster. We can see here that this was a bad spirit, not necessarily a wicked one, though Saul did do some wicked things when troubled by it, as we will see in future verses.
This calamitous spirit is a mysterious thing, and many people struggle to know just what is meant here. It could be the only Old Testament reference to something like demon possession, though Saul was not possessed, just troubled. It seems clear that he was still in control of his actions, so this could not be the demon possession of the New Testament. That seems to have been a very specific attack of Satan that took place only at that time, and did not take place before then in Old Testament times, nor has taken place since then once the dispensation of grace began. Of course, fallen spirits are out there and might greatly influence the minds and thoughts of wicked men, and yet they are not possessing people as they did during that climatic time in history when the Lord Jesus Christ walked the earth, and then when His chosen apostles were working along with His Spirit to bring in His kingdom. Only their influence is on men, but they no longer have the power to take over their bodies.
Yet it would seem in some ways that even the influence of a spirit is not likely what this is speaking of here. Since your “spirit” has to do with your mind, this may simply mean that Saul had a troubled mind. This would seem to fit well with the context here. Saul had done many things to anger and disappoint Yahweh, and it would make sense if Yahweh would send a guilty conscience and a troubled heart upon him for his rebellious actions. This could very well be exactly what is being described here.
15. And Saul’s servants said to him, “Surely, a distressing spirit from God is troubling you.
Saul’s servants recognize that this spirit that is upon their king is not natural, but that this spirit is from God.
16. Let our master now command your servants, who are before you, to seek out a man who is a skillful player on the harp. And it shall be that he will play it with his hand when the distressing spirit from God is upon you, and you shall be well.”
The servants now suggest a plan. They thought the soothing music from a harp would help ease Saul’s troubled mind. Music can indeed have a significant effect on a person’s emotions, as our entertainment industry and advertising industry have learned so well. Therefore, they suggest that Saul allow them to seek out a man who is a skillful harp player to play for him when the troublesome spirit is on him. They believe that such skillful harp playing will ease his mind and bring him back to tranquility.
17. So Saul said to his servants, “Provide me now a man who can play well, and bring him to me.”
This plan sounds good to Saul, so he commands them to provide such a man for him.
18. Then one of the servants answered and said, “Look, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a mighty man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a handsome person; and the LORD is with him.”
One of the servants mentions David, though he does not call him by name. He probably already had him in mind when he suggested this. Notice how Jehovah is moving to bring David into court and before Israel. This will be the first step toward him taking over as king in the future.
The servant praises Jesse’s son not only as being skillful at playing the harp, but also as being a mighty man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a handsome person. Certainly we can see that all of these were true as we examine the life of David from this time forward. Most importantly of all, the servant mentions that the LORD is with him. Plainly this was such an obvious thing in David’s life that it had become well-known to all who had heard of him. The LORD’s hand of blessing was an obvious thing at the time. Now, however, we who enjoy life in Jesus Christ know that our life is not so obvious to others, but it is hid with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3) The only way people know that we are believers in Christ is if we speak the words and tell them so.
19. Therefore Saul sent messengers to Jesse, and said, “Send me your son David, who is with the sheep.”
So Saul sends messengers to Jesse to demand that he send him his son David. Notice that this is just as the LORD warned Israel in I Samuel 8:11, “This will be the behavior of the king who will reign over you: He will take your sons and appoint them for his own chariots and to be his horsemen, and some will run before his chariots.” Saul is using that very power here to draft David into his service. Jesse is left with no choice but to comply.
Notice that, though David has been anointed king by Samuel in verse 13, yet here he is still tending sheep. This reminds us of Saul, who after he was anointed king by Samuel in I Samuel 10:1 and then announced as king before all Israel in I Samuel 10:24, was yet found tending his father’s herd in I Samuel 11:5. He had to wait for God’s time to set him up as king, as He had promised, and David now has to wait for the same thing. The difference here, of course, is that David’s future kingship has not been announced before all Israel, since Saul is already on the throne. David’s choice as the next king will have to spread by word of mouth as more people become aware of him and learn that the LORD has chosen him.
20. And Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine, and a young goat, and sent them by his son David to Saul.
Jesse sends a gift to King Saul along with David. This was the custom in that part of the world. It does seem rather burdensome, however, in finding out you just lost one of your sons and employees to the draft, to have to send gifts to the one who drafted him at the same time!
21. So David came to Saul and stood before him. And he loved him greatly, and he became his armorbearer.
David comes and stands before Saul. It seems that he appeals to Saul, and they immediately hit it off quite well. In fact, the text tells us that Saul loved David greatly. Could it be that Saul sees some of his own former noble characteristics in David, before he fell into selfishness and disobedience to God? At any rate, the relationship between these two starts out very well. We do not read that David loved Saul as Saul loved him, but we can see in David’s later actions that David did indeed like this man Saul, and even after Saul hounded and persecuted him, David mourned at his death. There was a potential for greatness in Saul, and he seems to have been a man who inspired love and loyalty in his servants. David is no exception, and it seems clear that he would have been happy remaining as one of Saul’s servants, if God had not chosen him to be king instead, and if Saul’s jealousy had not come between them.
So because of Saul’s approval of David, he ends up not only being his harpist, but also becoming Saul’s armor-bearer, which was a most honorable position. We already saw the closeness of Jonathan and his armor-bearer in the great victory they won together in chapter 14. Now, David holds that position with Saul. It is likely that David’s loyalty to Saul was as great as Jonathan’s armor-bearer’s was to him, though Saul later could never see that.
22. Then Saul sent to Jesse, saying, “Please let David stand before me, for he has found favor in my sight.”
It seems that the arrangement for David to come to Saul was originally to be a temporary one. Yet now, Saul wants David to remain with him, and asks Jesse to allow this, since he has come to favor him. It is unlikely that Jesse had much choice about this, but Saul still asks.
23. And so it was, whenever the spirit from God was upon Saul, that David would take a harp and play it with his hand. Then Saul would become refreshed and well, and the distressing spirit would depart from him.
So they carry out the servants’ plan. Whenever the troublesome spirit from God is upon Saul, David is sent for to play his harp to attempt to soothe him. The plan works, and David’s playing eases Saul’s troubled mind. When he hears David’s skillful playing, his mind is refreshed, he becomes well, and the distressing spirit leaves him. At least for now, further trouble is averted. Yet Saul’s new-found peace of mind will not last long, as we will see.