1 Samuel 16

Verses 1 to 13

We read in chapter 15 last week that Samuel announced to Saul that the Lord had rejected him as king over God’s people and he was going to give the kingdom to someone else. Today’s chapter begins with the Lord asking Samuel: ‘How long will you mourn for Saul?’ Now, we usually use the word ‘mourn’ in connection with a death. Someone dies and we mourn and grieve for them. However, Saul has not died; he still very much alive and active and it will be years before he does die. But it seems clear from the Lord’s words that Samuel has been distressed by what has happened in connection with Saul and his failures and God’s decision to reject him. But it’s also clear from the Lord’s words that Samuel must stop mourning for Saul, because there’s work to be done. The Lord is sending Samuel to Bethlehem to anoint a new king.

Now, the NIV obscures what the Lord really said, because what the Lord really said is this: ‘I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem, for I have provided among his sons a king for myself.‘ And the words ‘for myself’ are significant, because do you remember the words of the elders of Israel back in chapter 8 when they asked Samuel for a king? They said: ‘Appoint for us a king….’ And the king they wanted for themselves was a king like the nations had. And that’s what God gave them when he gave them Saul. He was their kind of king; the kind of king they wanted for themselves. But since it had become clear that their kind of king was unwilling to listen to the word of the Lord, the Lord was now ready to appoint his kind of king, the kind of king he wanted for himself. So, fill your horn with oil, Samuel, and be on your way.

Samuel objects, because it seems to him that if Saul finds out what he’s doing, Saul will only kill him. Now, the commentators discuss the Lord’s response in verse 2, because it seems to some that the Lord is giving Samuel a cover story when he tells him in verse 2 to bring an offering to sacrifice. It seems to some commentators that this is the Lord’s cunning plan so that Samuel can anoint the new king without alarming Saul. And the commentators are puzzled, because it seems the Lord is asking Samuel to tell a kind of white lie about the sacrifice in order to deceive Saul. However, I don’t think that’s the right interpretation of this verse. It seems to me that the Lord is ignoring Samuel’s objection. Samuel says: ‘Saul will kill me!’ And instead of answering his objection, the Lord disregards it and goes on to explain to Samuel what he’s to do whenever he arrives at Bethlehem. So, what should he do when he arrives at Bethlehem? Well, much the same as he did when he anointed Saul as king. He was first to offer a sacrifice to the Lord; and then he was to anoint the new king. So, the Lord is not asking Samuel to deceive anyone; he’s simply giving Samuel instructions about what he was to do before he could anoint the new king.

And so, we read in verse 4 how Samuel arrived in Bethlehem. The elders of the town trembled when they saw him. And we can understand why they might tremble at the sight of Samuel, because hadn’t Samuel hacked a man to death in the previous chapter? And so, with their knees knocking, they asked: ‘Have you come in peace?’ Well, he had come in peace and he called on them to consecrate themselves so that they could take part in the sacrifice. And Jesse and his sons were among the invited guests.

According to verse 6, Samuel looked at the first of Jesse’s sons and he thought to himself that surely this is the right man. We’re not told what he looked like, but presumably there was something about his appearance that impressed Samuel and made him think that this is the one. But the Lord said no. This is not the one. And he goes on to tell Samuel not to consider his appearance or his height, because the Lord has rejected this man. And the following words are well-known, aren’t they? The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

Those might be well-known words, but they’re words which have often puzzled me. Have they ever puzzled you? You see, what does the Bible say about the human heart? Let me remind you. Back in Genesis 6, at the beginning of the story of Noah’s ark, we read that the Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. That’s what God sees when he looks into the human heart. And then in Mark 7 the Lord Jesus spoke about all the evil things that come from out of our hearts and which make us unclean and which spoil the world around us. And you know that what he says is true, because you know your own heart, don’t you? You know the sinful thoughts and desires and inclinations which lurk in your heart, the sinful impulses which rise to the surface and you don’t know where they came from. That’s what God sees when he sees into the human heart.

And so, what are we to make of the Lord’s words to Samuel? Well, knowing a little Hebrew helps, because the Hebrew texts says this: ‘Man sees to the eye [or according to the eye], but the Lord sees to the heart [or according to the heart].’ The distinction is between our eye and God’s heart. It’s connected to what the Lord said earlier in chapter 13, where Samuel told Saul that the Lord had sought out ‘a man after his own heart‘ to replace Saul as king. When we were studying that chapter I explained that while we often think the phrase ‘a man after his own heart’ means a godly man, or a man with a heart like God’s heart, in fact all the phrase means is ‘a man chosen by God’. A man after God’s own heart is a man God has set his heart on. And so, here in chapter 16, the Lord is saying to Samuel that we look with the eye and we’re impressed by what we can see. Is someone tall? Is he strong? Does he look impressive? Then, he’ll make a good king. That’s the way we think, because we rely on what we can see with the eye. But the Lord determines things according to the plan and purpose in his heart. And he wants Samuel to anoint the man he has chosen and not the man who seems impressive to Samuel. He wants Samuel to anoint the man he has set his heart on.

And so, the Lord rejected the first of Jesse’s sons. And the second. And the third and fourth and fifth and sixth and seventh. The Lord rejected them all. ‘Are these all the sons you have?’ Samuel asked. ‘There’s still the youngest’, Jesse answered, ‘but he’s tending the sheep’. Now, it could be that Jesse thought his youngest son didn’t count; and with seven other sons to think about, perhaps he often overlooked his youngest son. Or perhaps the youngest son wasn’t there simply because he was out minding the sheep. And so, perhaps it wasn’t that he was forgotten; it was just that he was busy. In any case, Samuel asked Jesse to fetch him. And when the youngest son was brought in, we’re told he was ruddy — this is, he had a red complexion — and he had a fine appearance and handsome features. And the point here is that, while he may have been a good-looking boy, he didn’t look particularly regal. He wasn’t tall or strong or impressive looking. He was just fine. But this was the one God had set his heart on. This was the one God had chosen. And so, the Lord commanded Samuel to rise up and anoint him, because he is the one.

And so, Samuel took the horn of oil and he anointed Jesse’s youngest son in the presence of his brothers. And just as the Spirit of God came on Saul to enable him to serve the Lord as king, so the Spirit of God came on David to enable him to serve the Lord as king. This is the one the Lord had set his heart on and had chosen to be king over his people. And therefore the Lord equipped him with his Spirit to help him. And notice what it says in verse 13: ‘from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power.’ So, the Spirit came on him that day; and the Spirit remained on him from that day on.

Verses 14 to 23

According to verse 14, the Lord took his Spirit from Saul, because the Lord had rejected him as king. Now, we need to remember what I said one other Sunday. When someone is born again of the Spirit of God, that person is enabled by God’s Spirit to turn from his sins and to trust in Christ for salvation and to live a new kind of life, one of faith and obedience. And when we’re born again of the Spirit of God like that, the Holy Spirit comes and lives in us and he will never leave us, because God will never take away our salvation. But this chapter is referring to a different kind of experience. In Old Testament times, God sent his Spirit to enable certain people to serve him in special ways. In the book of Judges, he sent his Spirit on Samson to give him the strength he needed to fight the Philistines. And in 1 Samuel 10, he sent his Spirit on Saul to enable him to attack the Philistine outpost. But now that the Lord had rejected Saul as king, he took the Spirit from Saul. And since he had anointed David to be king, he sent his Spirit on David.

And so, the Lord’s Spirit has departed from Saul; and an evil spirit from the Lord began to torment him. Now, this evil spirit could be similar to one of the evil spirits or demons we read about in the gospels. And since the Lord rules over every power and authority, it’s possible that the Lord sent one of these evil spirits to attack Saul. However, the word translated ‘spirit’ can simply refer to a person’s mood or disposition. For instance, in Genesis 26 we read how Isaac’s son, Esau, married a foreign woman and Esau and his new wife made Isaac’s spirit bitter. In other words, their marriage troubled Issac. And so, it’s possible that verse 14 is not referring to a demon, but it’s merely making the point that God caused Saul to feel tormented and troubled. In any case, his servants noticed that Saul was often troubled and they suggested to Saul that having a musician play soothing music might help him. Saul agrees with them and lo and behold, one of his servants knows David and knows that, not only is he a shepherd, but he can play the harp. What’s more, even though he’s a young man, he’s a brave warrior. And he speaks well and looks good and the Lord is with him. And so, Saul sent messengers to fetch David; and David — who has been chosen by God to be king — enters the royal court for the very first time. Saul liked him and made him one of his armour-bearers and he asked Jesse to let him remain there. And whenever Saul was troubled and tormented, David would take his harp and play something to give Saul relief.


So, the Lord has rejected Saul as king of his people; and he’s anointed David in his place. David was anointed with oil. But more importantly, David was also anointed with the Holy Spirit, who came on him to empower him and to equip him for the work.

Now the word translated ‘anoint’ in verse 12 is ‘messiah’ in Hebrew. Every Old Testament king was anointed; and therefore every Old Testament king could be called messiah. But, as I’ve said before, all of those Old Testament kings, or messiahs, were to make do until the true messiah, the true king, came into the world, who is Jesus Christ the Lord. And when he began his work on earth, he was anointed with the Spirit of God, who descended on him at the time of his baptism. And when he later went into the synagogue in Nazareth, he read from the prophet Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

And having read from the prophet, he put the scroll down and announced that God’s word was fulfilled, because he is the Spirit-anointed king. And by means of the Spirit, he was able to perform all kinds of signs and wonders while he was on the earth and to proclaim the good news of salvation. And according to the book of Hebrews, it was through the Spirit of God that he offered himself up as a sacrifice to God to cleanse us from our sins. And having accomplished all that he was required to do on earth to deliver his people from their sin and to reconcile them to God, Jesus Christ our king was raised from the dead and was exalted to heaven where he was installed as king over all. And because of his obedience to his Father, he received the Spirit from his Father and poured the Spirit on his church. Isn’t that how Peter explained the Day of Pentecost, when the Spirit fell on the people in Jerusalem and enabled them to declare the mighty works of God?

So, whereas David received the Spirit for his own benefit, the Lord Jesus received the Spirit for our benefit too. And Jesus Christ our King sends his Spirit to gather his people throughout the world through the Spirit-empowered preaching of the gospel by which he enables his people to repent and to believe the good news. And through faith, his people are added to his worldwide kingdom.

And Christ our King gives the Spirit to his people to enable them to live a new life of obedience. Whereas once we were dominated and controlled by sin, so that sinning against God came naturally to us, now the Holy Spirit makes us more and more willing and able to do God’s will here on earth. He reminds us of God’s laws and commands and he enables us to do them.

And Christ our King gives the Spirit to his people as the deposit, guaranteeing that we will live forever with Christ our Saviour in the new and better world to come. The present world is fallen and broken; and the coronavirus crisis is one more sign that life in this world is full of sorrow and suffering and troubles and trials, because ever since Adam disobeyed God in the beginning, everything in this world has been spoiled and ruined. But this present world will not last, because it’s destined to perish; and all who belong to this present world will perish with it, because like the world around us we are fallen and corrupt and subject to death and to the coming judgment. But Jesus Christ the King was raised from the dead to live forever in the new and better world to come. And if you’re a believer, if you trust in Christ alone for salvation, then he’s given you his Spirit as the deposit, guaranteeing that when this fallen and broken world is destroyed, you will not be destroyed with it, because you now belong to Christ and to the new and better world to come.

As we’ll see, David was a great king. But he pales in comparison to the true king, Jesus Christ the Lord, who died for us and who raised for us and who gives us his Spirit and the hope of eternal life in his everlasting kingdom. And so, blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has caused us to born again by his Spirit to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.