When we last left Samuel and Saul, they had a falling out as the result of Saul’s disobedience to God and God regretted that He had made Saul King over Israel.
Starting in this chapter, God is working with Samuel to identify the next King of Israel, who will be much more suited to the task. Samuel, fearing retribution from Saul, is a bit weary of traveling to Bethlehem to find a king among the sons of Jesse. But God provides Samuel with a pretense that will shield his intention: Samuel is to go to Bethlehem with a heifer to sacrifice to the Lord. Samuel will invite Jesse to come to the sacrifice as well so that the kingly identification can be facilitated.
When Samuel arrives, the elders of the city were scared of him, thinking he had come to execute the judgment of God. But Samuel allayed their fears by inviting them to sanctify themselves and sacrifice with him. Samuel also makes sure to include Jesse and his family.
In the course of the sacrifices and in viewing Jesse’s sons, Samuel sees Eliab, Abinadab, Shammah, seven sons in total. When seeing Eliab, Samuel remarks that this one must be the king-to-be because his stature and physical appearance are great. However, God says 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.” (I Samuel 16:7) There is more to learn here than just the common phrase to not judge a book by its cover. God searches our hearts and Davis knew it as well. From Psalm 139:23-24, a Psalm written by David: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Emulating David’s attitude here will afford us greater humility and will increase our stature before God. Admitting fallibility and committing to do whatever is necessary to eradicating the sources of our faults will lead us along godly paths. In this way we can discover our true character, the character that God desires we fulfill.
When Samuel has viewed all of Jesse’s sons that were present, he comes to know that the youngest son is out tending sheep. So Samuel sends for him, and this is our first appearance of David. David of course will come to be known as a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), and will be the great King of Israel, father of Solomon and first of the root of Jesse, the bloodline of our Savior Jesus Christ. David is a great example of Christians everywhere to behold because although he held great esteem an was favored by God, he was also very human in making his own mistakes, and the example he gives of godly sorrow in the wake of his sin.
When Samuel sees David, God identifies him as the one to Samuel. Samuel anoints David with oil and the Spirit of the Lord comes down upon David. God’s spirit of the Lord being upon David denotes the favor and blessing that God is showing to David because of David’s character and the plans that God has for him.
At the same time God’s Spirit comes to David, it departs from Saul. Verse 14 tells us that now a distressing spirit comes upon Saul. Saul’s servants notice the resulting emotional downturn and offer to find a skillful harp player to refresh his spirit. No doubt through providence, David is ultimately sent to Saul and early on in their relationship, there is mutual respect and admiration for one another, even love. David becomes Saul’s armorbearer and his harp-playing eases Saul’s spirit.
David is called upon twice in this chapter, once due to God’s providence and foreknowledge (vs.12) and once due to his reputation as a skillful player, mighty man of valor, man of war, prudent in speech, and handsome (vs. 18). David’s character was one of attraction to God and man alike. It should inspire us – what would be the assessment of my character by God and by my fellow man? Would I be spoken of in such glowing ways? And the answer of course will vary depending on who you are, but there is one constant to be found: we cannot deny David’s humility in these early stages. He is humbly shepherding, working, serving, willing to give of his gifts and talents however and whenever he is asked. He has a godly and a willing spirit, and this much any of us can have. David was a renaissance man, a man of war and the arts. He could do menial labor well and also impress a king. At this stage of David’s life, perhaps what we can best learn from him are the examples of his willingness to serve and his humility.