1 Samuel 16:1-13
Samuel made his farewell address (chapter 12) after renewing Saul’s kingship (11:14-15). But Saul made an unlawful sacrifice, and Samuel told him, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of Yahweh your God, which he commanded you; for now Yahweh would have established your kingdom on Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. Yahweh has sought for himself a man after his own heart, and Yahweh has appointed him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept that which Yahweh commanded you” (13:13-14).
Then Saul made a rash oath, battling the Philistines, made a rash oath (14:24) that put his son, Jonathan, at risk of death — but the people ransomed Jonathan so that he might live (14:27:30, 36-46).
Then Samuel told Saul, “Now go and strike Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and don’t spare them; but kill both man and woman, infant and nursing baby, ox and sheep, camel and donkey” (15:3). Saul defeated Amalek, but “spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the cattle, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and wouldn’t utterly destroy them: but everything that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly” (15:9).
The Lord responded by telling Samuel, “It grieves me that I have set up Saul to be king” (15:11), but Saul defended his actions by saying that he intended to make sacrifices to the Lord of the animals that he had saved (15:20-21). Samuel responded with a statement that is reminiscent of the message of the prophets (Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:6-8), “Has Yahweh as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of Yahweh?” (15:22). Saul pled for pardon, but Samuel said, “Yahweh has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day, and has given it to a neighbor of yours who is better than you” (15:28). Then Samuel “cut Agag in pieces before Yahweh in Gilgal” (15:33), and “Yahweh grieved that he had made Saul king over Israel” (15:35).
1 SAMUEL 16:1-3: I HAVE PROVIDED A KING FOR MYSELF
1Yahweh said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for 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 a king for myself among his sons.” 2Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me.”
Yahweh said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, I have come to sacrifice to Yahweh. 3Call Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do. You shall anoint to me him whom I name to you.”
“Yahweh said to Samuel, ‘How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel?‘” (v. 1a). Samuel is the Lord’s prophet — the one through whom the Lord carries out the Lord’s agenda — and the Lord has work for Samuel to do. The overriding concern here is not Saul’s future, but Israel’s. There is no time for grieving. Saul has proven himself unworthy, and it is time to anoint another king.
We must ask why the Lord rejects Saul so decisively for his sins (improper sacrifice and failure to obey the Lord’s order to kill all the Amalekites and all of their livestock) — but later allows David to continue as king after committing adultery with Bathsheba and arranging for the death of his faithful soldier, Uriah. To our minds, David’s sins were far more grievous than Saul’s sins—although the Lord might see that differently. Saul’s sins had to do with improper sacrifice and failure to obey the Lord’s commands — direct affronts to the Lord.
But there is another possibility as well. When the Lord appointed Saul as king, the appointment was conditional — dependent on Saul’s obedience (12:14-15, 25). But the Lord will make an unconditional covenant with David (2 Samuel 7:13-15). Why the change? We don’t know for sure. Perhaps, after his experience with Saul, the Lord decides that the only way to establish continuity is to make a commitment that does not require such a high standard of obedience from the other side.
“Fill your horn with oil, and go“ (v. 1b). The oil is for the purpose of anointing David. Samuel is to use his horn — possibly a flask made from a ram’s horn — as a vessel to carry the oil.
“I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite; for I have provided a king for myself among his sons“(v. 1c). This is the first mention of Jesse, indicative of the fact that the Lord has not chosen the son of a famous man but rather the son of an unknown man.
“Samuel said, ‘How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me‘” (v. 2a). Samuel is the most prominent personage in Israel other than Saul, so Saul will almost certainly hear that Samuel is traveling to Bethlehem. If he suspects that Samuel is going to Bethlehem to anoint the new king, it would be natural for him to be distressed — possibly even murderous. Samuel has reason to be concerned.
On the other hand, if the Lord is sending Samuel on this journey to carry out the Lord’s purposes, it stands to reason that the Lord will protect Samuel. Where is Samuel’s faith? But very often when the Lord asks us to do something risky, we are more likely to see the risk than the possibility of the Lord’s protection. That is what happens here.
“Yahweh said, ‘Take a heifer with you, and say, I have come to sacrifice to Yahweh'” (v. 2b). The Lord gives Samuel in advance words to deflect suspicion. This is, in part, a subterfuge to dispel Samuel’s fear, but it is also true. Samuel does go to make a sacrifice. This account doesn’t describe the sacrifice itself (16:5-6).
“Call Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do. You shall anoint to me him whom I name to you“ (v. 3). Samuel, as the Lord’s prophet, has a powerful ministry, but it isn’t Samuel who is making the decisions here, but the Lord. The Lord has told him what to say if challenged. The Lord will tell him what to do. The Lord will tell him whom to anoint.
1 SAMUEL 16:4-5: SAMUEL DID THAT WHICH YAHWEH SPOKE
4Samuel did that which Yahweh spoke, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” 5He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to Yahweh. Sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice.” He sanctified Jesse and his sons, and called them to the sacrifice.
“Samuel did that which Yahweh spoke, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, ‘Do you come peaceably?‘” (v. 4). Samuel obeys the Lord and goes to Bethlehem, a journey of about 10 miles (16 km).
Age is venerated. These elders would be among the oldest and wisest men from each community. They are responsible for administering justice (Deuteronomy 19:1; 22:18-19). It was “all the elders of Israel” who first challenged Samuel, saying, “Behold, you are old, and your sons don’t walk in your ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:4-5). The king that the Lord anointed to satisfy that request was Saul.
Samuel has a fearsome reputation, enhanced by his recent execution of King Agag (15:33). The elders, not knowing the purpose of Samuel’s visit, are understandably nervous — even trembling. They must wonder if a local citizen has incurred God’s wrath. If so, will Samuel inflict God’s wrath on that person or on their entire community. They ask Samuel directly, “Do you come peaceably?”
“He said, ‘Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to Yahweh. Sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice‘” (v. 5a). Samuel first assures the elders of his peaceful intentions, and then invites them to attend the sacrifice. He tells them to sanctify themselves — to cleanse themselves ritually — to make themselves holy so that they might participate in a holy sacrifice.
We will hear nothing more of these elders.
“He sanctified Jesse and his sons, and called them to the sacrifice“ (v. 5b). Samuel cleanses Jesse and his sons (but one of Jesse’s sons is missing, as we will soon learn). Samuel invites them to the sacrifice as well. Given that there is no further mention of the elders, we don’t know whether they accepted the invitation and are present — although it is difficult to imagine that they declined. It would appear that the congregation for the sacrifice includes the elders, Jesse, and Jesse’s sons.
1 SAMUEL 16:6-10: DO NOT LOOK ON HIS FACE OR ON HIS HEIGHT
6It happened, when they had come, that he looked at Eliab, and said, “Surely Yahweh’s anointed is before him.” 7But Yahweh said to Samuel, “Don’t look on his face, or on the height of his stature; because I have rejected him: for I see not as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but Yahweh looks at the heart.” 8Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has Yahweh chosen this one.” 9Then Jesse made Shammah to pass by. He said, “Neither has Yahweh chosen this one.” 10Jesse made seven of his sons to pass before Samuel. Samuel said to Jesse, “Yahweh has not chosen these.”
“It happened, when they had come, that he looked at Eliab“ (v. 6a). Eliab is Jesse’s firstborn son (1 Chronicles 2:13). The firstborn son has priority according to Torah law (Exodus 13:2, 12; 34:19; Leviticus 27:26; Numbers 3:12-13; Deuteronomy 21:15-17).
“Surely Yahweh’s anointed is before him“ (v. 6b). The physical act of anointing involves the application of anointing oil, but the sense is somewhat different here. “The Lord’s anointed” refers to a person set apart by the Lord for a special role. The implication is that the Lord has not only chosen this person, but has given him the power needed to perform the required duties.
“But Yahweh said to Samuel, ‘Don’t look on his face, or on the height of his stature; because I have rejected him: for I see not as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but Yahweh looks at the heart‘” (v. 7). There is an emphasis on proper seeing in these verses. Samuel “looked on Eliab,” but failed to see him as the Lord sees him.
The Lord tells Samuel not to look on Eliab’s appearance or his height. Saul was an “impressive young man” who “from his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people” (9:2; see also 10:23)— but these characteristics have not made him a good king. The Lord is looking for something else — something more.
People tend to see superficially. We put too much stock in physical appearances. We are too easily deceived by people who appear to have good character but who do not. Jesus will say, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitened tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but inwardly are full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27).
But there is nothing superficial in the way that the Lord sees us. The Lord sees our hearts — knows our intimate secrets — assesses accurately our character and faith.
“Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, ‘Neither has Yahweh chosen this one‘” (v. 8). Abinadab is Jesse’s second-born (1 Chronicles 2:13). Jesse is sending the most likely candidates before Samuel one by one — rank-ordering his sons by age. But the Lord tells Samuel that Abinadab is not the chosen one.
“Then Jesse made Shammah to pass by. He said, ‘Neither has Yahweh chosen this one‘” (v. 9). Shammah is Jesse’s third-born son— called Shimea in 1 Chronicles (1 Chronicles 2:13). But the Lord tells Samuel that Shammah is not the chosen one.
“Jesse made seven of his sons to pass before Samuel“ (v. 10a). Jesse has seven sons in addition to David, so the total number is eight. However 1 Chronicles 2:13-15 says, “Jesse became the father of his firstborn Eliab, and Abinadab the second, and Shimea the third, Nethanel the fourth, Raddai the fifth, Ozem the sixth, David the seventh.”
In the Bible, the number seven has symbolic value, representing completeness or fulfillment. “God blessed the seventh day, and made it holy, because he rested in it from all his work which he had created and made” (Genesis 2:3). Jacob served seven years — and then another seven years — for Rachel (Genesis 29:20). In Joseph’s time, the world would experience seven fat and seven lean years (Genesis 41). God commanded Israel to allow the land to lay fallow each seventh year (Leviticus 25:2-6).
“Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Yahweh has not chosen these‘” (v. 10b). Jesse has sent all of the likely candidates before Samuel, but the Lord chooses none of them.
1 SAMUEL 16:11-12: ARISE, ANOINT HIM; FOR THIS IS HE
11Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your children here?”
He said, “There remains yet the youngest (Hebrew: haq·qa·tan), and behold, he is keeping the sheep.”
Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and get him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” 12He sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful face, and goodly to look on. Yahweh said, “Arise, anoint him; for this is he.”
“Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Are all your children here?’He said, “There remains yet the youngest (haq·qa·tan), and behold, he is keeping the sheep'” (v. 11a). David is such an unlikely candidate for king, in the mind of his father, that Jesse hasn’t even considered bringing him in from the field to pass before Samuel. David is Jesse’s youngest son (haq·qa·tan)— the Hebrew word can also mean the smallest (Klein).
The fact that David has been serving as a shepherd points to his future role as a king. In the Bible, kings and other leaders — even God and Jesus — are often compared to shepherds (Numbers 27:17; 2 Samuel 5:2; 1 Kings 22;17; Psalm 23; Jeremiah 12:10; 23:1-4; Ezekiel 34:2; John 10:1-10).
“Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Send and get him; for we will not sit down until he comes here'” (v. 11b). Samuel has to prompt Jesse to bring David in from the fields so that he might look at him.
Samuel’s decision not to sit down until David arrives emphasizes the significance of the occasion. Samuel is an old man. For him to stand for hours while waiting for David is no small matter.
“He sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful face, and goodly to look on“ (v. 12a). Given the Lord’s earlier instruction, “Don’t look on his face, or on the height of his stature,” we are surprised to learn that David has beautiful eyes and is handsome. Ruddy could refer to a reddish hue in his hair or complexion — perhaps sun-bleached hair and suntanned skin because of his work in the fields. But Cartledge says that the Israelites would be dark-complected, and ruddy would most likely refer to a person of lighter complexion (Cartledge, 202; see also Baldwin, 122).
“Yahweh said, ‘Arise, anoint him; for this is he‘” (v. 12). Throughout this passage, it is clear that the Lord does the choosing — not Samuel. The Lord chooses the unlikely candidate — the youngest rather than the eldest — perhaps the smallest — the one deemed most unlikely to succeed by his father. God likes working with seemingly inferior candidates, because people are more likely to understand their success as the result or the Lord’s power rather than the individual’s power (1 Corinthians 1:27-29).
1 SAMUEL 16:13: THEN SAMUEL ANOINTED DAVID
13Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brothers: and the Spirit of Yahweh came mightily on David from that day forward. So Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah.
“Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brothers“ (v. 13a). At the beginning of this chapter, the Lord instructed David to fill his horn with oil for this occasion (16:1). Finally, Samuel has occasion to use it.
Anointing with oil was used for various purposes (healing, burial, expressing grief or joy). Most especially, it was used to designate a person for a significant role. In the Old Testament, prophets were anointed (1 Kings 19:16). Priests were anointed (Exodus 40:13-15). Kings were anointed (1 Samuel 10:1; 16:3, 12-13; 2 Samuel 23:1; 1 Kings 1:39). The New Testament speaks of Jesus as anointed (John 20:31; Acts 5:42; Hebrews 1:9, etc.). His anointing set him apart for his unique role as prophet, priest, and king.
It must have been a significant moment for David’s brothers to see the revered prophet anoint their brother. They could not understand the full import of this choice, because David would become a great king like nobody before or since in the history of Israel. Nevertheless, it would be a sobering moment for the brothers — and everyone present.
“and the Spirit of Yahweh came mightily on David from that day forward“ (v. 13b). This is the first mention of David’s name. The spirit of the Lord not only comes upon him, but will remain on him “from that day forward” — permanently. The next verse says, “now the Spirit of Yahweh departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from Yahweh troubled him” (16:14).
The anointing leads to the spirit of the Lord empowering David. Soon, we will see the dramatic effects of that power, when little David— too small to wear a warrior’s armor — slays the giant, Goliath (chapter 17). The Lord’s spirit will also make David a great king.
We should note, however, that this is a private anointing. David will become king later. Saul is still king now — and will be for some time to come.
“So Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah“ (v. 13b). Having accomplished his mission, the old man, Samuel, returns home. At this point, the story transitions from Samuel to David. We will hear of Samuel only once more (19:18-24) before his death (25:1).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Bergin, Robert D., The New American Commentary: 1, 2 Samuel, Vol. 7 (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996)
Birch, Bruce C., The New Interpreter’s Bible: Numbers- Samuel, Vol. II (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998)
Brueggemann, Walter, Interpretation Commentary: I and II Samuel (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1973)
Cartledge, Tony W., Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: 1 & 2 Samuel (Macon, Georgia: Smyth & Helwys, 2001)
Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holladay, Carl R.; Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, B (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1993)
Evans, Mary J., New International Biblical Commentary: 1 and 2 Samuel (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2000)
Gehrke, Ralph David, Concordia Commentary: 1 and 2 Samuel (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1968)
Holbert, John C., in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Text. The First Readings: The Old Testament and Acts (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001)
Klein, Ralph W., Word Biblical Commentary: 1 Samuel, Vol. 10 (Dallas: Word Books, 1983)
Newsome, James D., in Brueggemann, Walter; Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV — Year B (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993)
Peterson, Eugene H., Westminster Bible Companion: First and Second Samuel (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999)
Tsumura, David Toshio, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The First Book of Samuel (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007)
Copyright 2010, Richard Niell Donovan