The chapter starts off with God telling the prophet Samuel to stop mourning over Saul and to look to the future – the LORD has chosen a new king for Israel: one of the sons of Jesse the Bethlehemite. Samuel gets a little scared when he hears this – how is he supposed to go to Bethlehem and anoint a new king without King Saul hearing about it and coming after him? But God gives Samuel a good alibi – the prophet is going to Bethlehem to perform a sacrifice, and he will invite Jesse and his sons to come along.
When Samuel shows up in Bethlehem, the elders of the town are visibly nervous. Why they are frightened, I don’t know. Maybe they hadn’t seen or heard from Samuel since he announced that Saul had been rejected as king, and they were afraid he was going to pronounce judgment on them, too. Whatever the case, Samuel assures them that he has come peaceably, and invites them to the sacrifice. It’s possible that Jesse was one of these elders.
At some point during the event, Samuel has Jesse introduce each of his sons.
As soon as Samuel sees the oldest son, Eliab, Samuel thinks to himself, “This must be the new king!”
We all know what happened next. God told 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” (vs. 7).
But it occurred to me as I read the passage this time, that it shouldn’t surprise us that Samuel was looking for a kingly persona. After all, when Saul was crowned king, we learned that he was taller than any of the people, choice, and handsome. Samuel had stood Saul up in front of the crowd and said, “See – there is no one else like him in Israel!” So it seemed a matter of course that God would pick another royal-looking person for the job.
But what we see from God’s response is that, even with Saul, it wasn’t a matter of outward appearance. It was a matter of the heart. At the time Saul was anointed, he had a humble heart. It wasn’t his good looks that got him the job; it was his humble heart. But his heart had changed, and while he may still have been the tallest, most handsome guy in Israel, he was not fit to be the king any longer.
So Jesse introduces Son #2. And then Son #3. All the way down to Son #7. And each one, God rejects. Samuel scratches his head and asks, “Are these all of your sons? Are there any more?”
Almost as an after-thought, Jesse replies, “Well, yes – there’s David. He’s just the youngest. He’s out in the field taking care of the sheep.”
“Well, bring him here,” Samuel says, “We won’t sit down and eat till he comes.”
And when David comes bounding up, God tells Samuel, “He’s the one.” So Samuel goes up to the lad and anoints him king in the presence of all his older brothers (imagine how the older brothers felt about that!)
There are actually a bunch of similarities between Saul’s anointing and David’s anointing. Both occurred around a sacrificial event. Both were minding their own business, not seeking glory for themselves – Saul was looking for his father’s donkeys, and David was taking care of his father’s sheep. Both were “the least” – Saul considered himself to belong to the least family in the least tribe, and David was the youngest of eight brothers, almost overlooked even by his own father. While God was focused on the heart, both were handsome (David is described as “ruddy, with bright eyes, and good-looking”). Both, once anointed, were filled with the Holy Spirit. And neither became king the day were they were anointed – they were simply marked – called – set aside – for the purpose they would fulfill at the proper time.
As the Spirit of the LORD came upon the young David, He also left King Saul. And in His place came a distressing spirit that buffeted the king, making him struggle with violent mood-swings and depression.
Just recently I talked about this with some other people at a Bible Study. Someone had asked how Saul could have free will when God was allowing an evil spirit to enter him. Now, in hind-sight, you could argue that the spirit didn’t actually enter Saul; it merely distressed him. But either way, it was causing Saul to deal with stuff that he didn’t want to deal with of his own free will – and there are plenty of other cases in the Bible where someone certainly was possessed by a demon, so the question could apply to them as well. One of the things I had noted in our conversation was that Saul had continually chosen, of his own free will, to disobey God. And it was because of those choices that God finally left him, thus opening the door for this other spirit to come and trouble him. It was Saul’s free will that got him into the mess. My brother also pointed to Romans 1, where Paul talks about those who reject God and suppress their conscience, until God stops pursuing them and turns them over to their own desires.
Nevertheless, God was still in control. He was still orchestrating history.
When David was anointed, he could have tried to orchestrate things so that he could fulfill his destiny. But he didn’t. He left it to God’s ways and timing. And God began to work things out.
It was because of Saul’s depression that David got introduced to the court, because he was asked to come and play his harp to soothe the king. At the time he was introduced to Saul as a harp-player, he was already known as a man of valor and mighty man of war. Saul came to love the young man greatly, even making David his armorbearer. As armorbearer, he probably would have been a close companion to the king.
The path to the throne was starting to appear.