1 Samuel 16:1–23 . . . Bible Study Summary with Videos and Questions
“Samuel Anoints David”
During hard times, it's essential that we see God’s hand of provision and protection for us: his big plan. We experience his grace and care when we become most aware of the often unexpected answers to our prayers. David would probably say the same thing of his early years, before he came to power as Israel’s king. He had difficult times; he was the youngest of eight sons; as a sheepherder, he likely was given the dirty work. His brothers didn't look up to him; they treated him with a measure of disrespect (1 Sam. 17:28); he wasn’t even present for his selection as Israel’s king (vv. 10–11). After he was anointed as Israel’s next king and had defeated Goliath, he had to flee from Saul, who sought to perpetuate his own reign by attempting to kill David, his replacement.
While there were difficult days for David, he also had his “best of days.” He learned how to to deal with danger and to fight (v. 18). He came to rely upon God and love his Word. He became proficient in his obedience and submission to the Lord, even when his life was in danger. To his credit, he also developed close, enduring friendships and alliances. We'll discover many twists and crisis-points in David's story of his progression towards the throne; yet we'll learn that God can put his men where he wants them to be, whether the route is direct or ever so roundabout, as we'll begin to see in today's study and discussion.
For Bible readers, a very large amount of Scriptures reflects David's great importance. According to Chuck Swindoll, more was written in the Bible about David than any other character: 66 chapters in the Old Testament; 59 references to his life in the New Testament. Chapter 16 is divided into two David-specific sections: In the first section, vv. 1-13, God chooses David; in the second, vv. 14–23, Saul chooses David.
David’s Anointing by Samuel (16:1–13)
Understandably, Samuel mourned over Saul's behavior (v. 1). But he wasn't to be pitied. God had dealt with him justly. In his grief, Samuel must have felt like a dismal spiritual leader and mentor to the new king. This time, God didn't choose a king for the people according to their desires, but a king for himself (v. 1), a king who'd put Yahweh first (13:14). Saul likely perceived Samuel's act of anointing another man king as treason (v. 2); he continued to show more concern for his own interests than for God's will. In contrast, Samuel faithfully carried out the Lord's command to go to Bethlehem, despite the possible risk to his life, having executed Agag, King of the Amalekites (v. 4; cf. 15:33).
4Samuel 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?”
5Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice (1 Sam. 16:4–5).
The Lord commanded Samuel to go to a man named Jesse, in Bethlehem, and anoint one of his sons as Israel’s next king. We need to remember that up to this point in time, David hadn't been designated as the next king; neither had Goliath been slain by David, an unknown shepherd boy. In other words, Saul wasn't threatened by David; he was threatened by anyone who might play a role in the designation of his replacement. Note: Even Samuel feared that he'd be killed by Saul, since he was the logical one to anoint the next king. Saul was a very dangerous man. Samuel judged Jesse's sons by their external qualities, just as the Israelites judged Saul acceptable because of those characteristics (v. 6). Verse 7 clarifies how God evaluates people, namely on the basis of their hearts (or affections), not their appearances or abilities. And, the fact that Jesse didn't have David present for Samuel's visit, as his other sons were, may suggest that Jesse didn't think as highly of David as he did of his other sons. Nevertheless, God didn't choose David for his appearance. God's sovereign election chose David because of his heart attitude.
One thing that stands out in these thirteen verses is the person whom God chose to be king. As we ourselves might have done, Samuel looked at the oldest son, Eliab, assuming he was the one God had chosen; he was wrong. Because Saul was the kind of man whom Israel wanted for its king, Jesse's oldest son was probably similar to Saul in terms of age, height, and strength. But Saul's heart wasn't inclined toward the Lord. This time, God would appoint a man whose heart was rightly inclined toward him. David was also a good-looking young man (v. 12) and was regarded as a “brave warrior,” even before he killed Goliath (v. 18). We know that Saul’s armor was too large and cumbersome for him to carry. David must have been a smaller man than Saul; and, it would be safe to say, he was youthful (17:33).
Samuel's anointing of David revealed him as God’s choice to become Israel’s next king. It may well be that David’s brothers then breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that Saul would try to kill anyone who appeared to threaten his kingly reign. But beyond designating David as God’s choice for king, David’s anointing was accompanied by the powerful anointing by the Holy Spirit (v. 13). That verse also records Samuel's departure for his home in Ramah. At this point in the book, he becomes a minor figure who no longer plays an active role in the progress of events. His anointing of David was, therefore, the climax and capstone of his career.
David in Saul’s Service (vv. 14–23)
Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him (1 Sam. 16:14).
The second half of chapter 16 is a perplexing text. It shouldn't surprise us to read that the Spirit of God “departed from Saul.” But why might “an evil spirit from the Lord torment him” (v. 14). If God was taking the kingdom away from Saul and giving it to David, we can understand why the Spirit would "depart" from Saul at the same time that it would be given to David (v. 13). But why would God send a harmful “evil spirit” to torment Saul?
The evil spirit that Yahweh permitted to trouble Saul might have been: (1) a spirit of discontent (cf. Judges 9:23); (2) an angel from the LORD who afflicted him periodically (cf. 1 Kings 22:20–23); or (3) a demon who indwelt or influenced him from then on. In any case it was a discipline for Saul's having departed from God. When we depart from God, our troubles begin. The writer mentioned Saul's fits of terror, in addition to his deteriorating mental state, to explain why Saul called for a musician (v. 17) and how David gained access to the royal court. Saul evidently first met David in about the twenty-fifth year of his forty-year reign. Perhaps some people already regarded David as "a mighty man of valor" and "a warrior" (v. 18) because he'd single-handedly defeated lions and bears (17:34–35).
19Then Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me your son David, who is with the sheep.” 20So Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them with his son David to Saul (1 Sam. 16:19–20).
The fact that Jesse could provide a donkey suggests that he was fairly prosperous, since that was how the more wealthy classes traveled (v. 20). Yet David's family wasn't outstanding in Israel. Yet, Saul sent for David through Jesse. Initially Saul loved David greatly (as we'll soon see that Jonathan did also [cf. 18:1, 3; 20:17]). However, Saul's love and care for David was about to change.
King Saul appointed his armor-bearers because of their courage and ability to handle weapons and to get along with the king. David was probably a teenager at this time, since he was 30 when he began to reign (2 Samuel 5:4). He wasn't Saul's bodyguard; he only helped the king handle his armor (v. 21). Whatever kind of spirit afflicted Saul, it was found that David's sweet music reduced its ill effects (v. 23). Interestingly, Saul became dependent on the one who'd replace him.
We shouldn't fail to see the providential hand of God in all of this. Saul was now subject to fits of demonic tormenting. His servants recognized this as being demonic in nature, and they seemed to know that music sometimes soothed a tormented soul such as Saul’s. So they recruited David, a skilled musician, to play his lyre and thus calm Saul’s troubled spirit. The end result of this: David would become introduced to the protocol of royalty, with on-the-job training for the days when he'd become king.
We see in this chapter that God was elevating David from the ranks of a shepherd of sheep (v. 11) to the shepherd of his people; David's musical ability (v. 18) would later enable him to lead the Israelites in the worship of Yahweh.
It's important to realize that Saul’s jealousy and uncontrolled rage didn't suddenly surface when Saul realized that David was his replacement. Saul was demonized and subject to fits of rage before he knew David was to replace him. David didn't make Saul what he was; Saul was that way, even before the time the Spirit of God left him. Before David was anointed, both Samuel and the elders of Bethlehem greatly feared Saul (16:2, 4). Seemingly, Saul’s sin opened the door to satanic involvement, allowing the “evil spirit” to enhance Saul’s sinfulness.
Hearty Review — God's Big Plan for You
What do you live for each day? Pain-free days? Full retirement? One or two nice surprises? Then perhaps you've discovered the reality of basing aspirations on getting ahead in this world typically ends in disappointment. People with a misguided sense of direction often wonder why they feel unfulfilled.
Very few of us hearty souls will live 100 or more years. So whatever we'll become in this life, we're in the process of becoming that right now. Consider David: He was anointed king of Israel long before he actually assumed that role. He spent many years serving the purpose of God in insignificant places while developing into a great man. As his story shows, discovering God's purpose for your life is the surest path to success.
Our Father's purpose for us comes from his heart of love — which is perfect. None of us can know the things that he has in store for us, but we can trust his long-term plan for us. Surrender to him and say, "Not my will, Lord, but Yours be done."
Intro Video: “The First Book of Samuel”
† Watch this introductory video clip created by The Bible Project on bibleproject.com.
- Q. 1 What did God ask Samuel to do? What excuse did Samuel give God?
- Q. 2 Did God tell Samuel everything he needed to know to anoint the next king?
- Q. 3 Have you ever feared that the Spirit of God might leave you?