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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 16

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-13

David’s anointing 16:1-13

This time God’s choice was not a king for the people according to their desires, but a king for Himself (1 Samuel 16:1) who would put Yahweh first (1 Samuel 13:14; cf. Galatians 4:4-5). Saul would have perceived Samuel’s act of anointing another man king as treason (1 Samuel 16:2). He continued to show more concern for his own interests than for the will of God. Evidently Samuel had gained a reputation as an executioner since he had killed Agag (1 Samuel 16:4; cf. 1 Samuel 15:33).

Samuel judged Jesse’s sons by their external qualities, just as the Israelites judged Saul acceptable because of those characteristics (1 Samuel 16:6). 1 Samuel 16:7 clarifies how God evaluates people, namely, on the basis of their hearts (affections), not their appearances or abilities (cf. Matthew 3:17; Mark 10:31; 1 Corinthians 1:27). As He had done earlier in Scriptural history, God chose the son that was not the natural choice, showing that He does not bind Himself to what is traditional. It is unusual that Jesse did not have David present for Samuel’s inspection since he, too, was one of his sons. Jesse had eight sons (1 Samuel 17:12; cf. 1 Chronicles 2:13-15; 1 Chronicles 27:18). This may suggest that Jesse did not think as highly of David as he did of his other sons (cf. Psalms 27:10, where David wrote of his parents forsaking him). Was David a neglected or even an abused child whom his father viewed more as hired help than as a son?

"It’s remarkable, isn’t it, how Jesse reveals two very common mistakes parents make. Number one, he didn’t have an equal appreciation for all of his children. And number two, he failed to cultivate a mutual self-respect among them. Jesse saw his youngest as nothing more than the one who tended the sheep." [Note: Swindoll, p. 20.]

"The shepherd/flock image is a kind of Leitmotif for David from this point on. . . . The book’s last story shows David deeply concerned for the flock [2 Samuel 24:17]." [Note: S. D. Walters, "The Light and the Dark," in Ascribe to the Lord: Biblical and Other Studies in Memory of Peter C. Craigie, p. 574, n. 17.]

A leitmotif, literally a leading or guiding theme, is a phrase or image that recurs with and represents a given character, situation, or emotion in a piece of literature or music. David (probably meaning "beloved of the Lord") was physically attractive (1 Samuel 16:12; cf. Isaiah 53:2). Nevertheless, God did not choose him for that reason, but because of God’s sovereign election and because of David’s heart attitude. God’s sovereign election to salvation does not depend on human initiative (Romans 9:16), but His sovereign election to service does (1 Timothy 1:12).

"What does it mean to be a person after God’s own heart? Seems to me, it means that you are a person whose life is in harmony with the Lord. What is important to Him is important to you. What burdens Him burdens you. When He says, ’Go to the right,’ you go to the right. When He says, ’Stop that in your life,’ you stop it. When He says, ’This is wrong and I want you to change,’ you come to terms with it because you have a heart for God." [Note: Swindoll, p. 6.]

David and his family were the first after Samuel to learn that he would be the next king, or perhaps that he would become Samuel’s successor, like Elisha became to Elijah. [Note: Young, p. 286.] In time, all Israel would learn that David would become the next king as he became the instrument through whom God blessed the nation. David became successful because God’s Spirit came on him, remained with him from then on, and empowered him for service (cf. Matthew 3:16-17). [Note: On the significance of anointing, see my comments on 10:1.]

1 Samuel 16:13 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, therefore, was the climax and capstone of his career.

Verses 1-17

A. David’s Rise as the New Anointed 16:1-19:17

According to Chuck Swindoll, more was written in the Bible about David than about any other character-66 chapters in the Old Testament plus 59 references to his life in the New Testament. [Note: Charles R. Swindoll, David: A Man of Passion and Destiny, p. 4.] This large amount of material reflects his great importance for Bible readers.

Verses 1-23

1. God’s selection of David for kingship ch. 16

"One of the many indications that the two halves (1 Samuel 16:1-23) of chapter 16 are closely related is that each section is framed by an inclusio: ’Horn with/of oil’ is found in 1 Samuel 16:1; 1 Samuel 16:13, and the phrase ’Spirit . . . departed from’ constitutes the first words of 1 Samuel 16:14 and the last words of 1 Samuel 16:23 . . ." [Note: Youngblood, p. 682.]

Verses 14-23

David’s introduction to the royal court 16:14-23

"In addition to being the middle chapter of 1 Samuel, chapter 16 is pivotal in another way as well: Its first half (1 Samuel 16:1-13), ending with a statement concerning David’s reception of the Spirit of God, describes David’s anointing as ruler of Israel to replace Saul; its second half (1 Samuel 16:14-23), beginning with a statement concerning Saul’s loss of the Spirit and its replacement with an ’evil spirit’ sent by God, describes David’s arrival in the court of Saul. Thus the juxtaposition of 1 Samuel 16:13-14 delineates not only the transfer of the divine blessing and empowerment from Saul to David but also the beginning of the effective displacement of Saul by David as king of Israel. The transition at 1 Samuel 16:13-14 can thus be arguably defined as the literary, historical, and theological crux of 1 Samuel as a whole." [Note: Youngblood, p. 682.]

1 Samuel 16:14 describes God’s relationship to Saul following the Lord’s rejection of him. Yahweh had less and less contact with His faithless representative. His empowering Spirit left him without the divine enablement that he had once enjoyed (cf. Judges 9:23; Judges 16:20; 1 Kings 22:21-23; Psalms 51:11).

"When YHWH’s Spirit came upon David his anointer [Samuel] left, leaving him in good hands. When YHWH’s Spirit left Saul an evil spirit came upon him, leaving him in dire straits." [Note: David M. Howard Jr., "The Transfer of Power From Saul to David in 1 Samuel 16:13-14," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 32:4 (1989):481.]

The evil spirit that Yahweh permitted to trouble Saul has been the subject of considerable interest among Bible students. It may have been a spirit of discontent (cf. Judges 9:23), a demon who afflicted him periodically (cf. 1 Kings 22:20-23), or a demon who indwelt him from then on. [Note: See John Davis and John Whitcomb, A History of Israel, p. 224; and Wood, Israel’s United . . ., p. 149.] In any case it was a discipline for departing from God. When people depart from God, their troubles really begin.

"Saul’s evil bent was by the permission and plan of God. We must realize that in the last analysis all penal consequences come from God, as the Author of the moral law and the one who always does what is right." [Note: Gleason L. Archer Jr., Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, p. 180.]

The writer mentioned Saul’s fits of terror, in addition to his deteriorating mental state, to explain why Saul called for a musician 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. [Note: Merrill, "1 Samuel," p. 216.] It is tempting to suggest that Saul’s mental problems may have resulted from his spiritual rebellion, which is common, but the text does not state that connection outright. Apparently some people already regarded David as a mighty man of valor and a warrior (1 Samuel 16:18) because he had single-handedly defeated lions and bears (1 Samuel 17:34-35). Most important, the Lord was with David. [Note: Walters, pp. 570-71, and Gordon, p. 160, identified the Lord being with David as another leitmotif for David (cf. 17:37; 18:12, 14, 28; 2 Samuel 5:10).] The fact that Jesse could provide a donkey suggests that he was fairly prosperous, since this is how the more wealthy classes traveled (1 Samuel 16:20). Yet David’s family was not outstanding in Israel (cf. 1 Samuel 18:18).

Initially Saul loved David greatly, as Jonathan did (cf. 1 Samuel 18:1; 1 Samuel 18:3; 1 Samuel 20:17). However, Saul’s attitude would change. The king appointed an armor-bearer to that position because of his courage, his ability to handle weapons, and his ability 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 was not Saul’s bodyguard. He just helped the king handle his armor. Whatever kind of spirit afflicted Saul, David’s sweet music reduced its ill effects. Saul was becoming dependent on the one who would replace him.

God was elevating David from the ranks of a shepherd of sheep (1 Samuel 16:11) to become the shepherd of His people, and David’s musical ability (1 Samuel 16:18) enabled him to lead the Israelites in the worship of Yahweh later.

"This story of how David first met Saul and how he came to the royal court makes two points. The first is that David did not engineer it. David was no ruthlessly ambitious man, determined to rise up the social ladder-any more than Saul himself had been (cp. chapter 9). David’s hands were clean. The second point is that God overruled to bring David to court, through the sheer chance (as it seemed) that one of Saul’s courtiers knew something about him and brought him to Saul’s attention [cf. Joseph]. So it was God, not David, who was responsible for the young man’s first steps towards the throne." [Note: David Payne, p. 85.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 16". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/1-samuel-16.html. 2012.
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