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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 16

Gray's Concise Bible CommentaryGray's Concise Commentary

Verses 1-13



How long a time elapsed since the last chapter is indeterminable. Saul’s victory seems to have driven the Philistines out of Israel’s territory, and to have been followed by successful sallies against other enemies.

He had been warned of God that because of his presumption at Gilgal (chap. 13), the kingdom would be taken from him and given to another; but God seems willing to allow him another chance, or at least another test of his quality to be His vice-regent in Israel before God executes His purpose (1 Samuel 15:1 ).

For an explanation of 1 Samuel 15:2 , look up Exodus 17:8-14 ; Numbers 24:20 ; and Deuteronomy 25:17-19 . We have seen the reason for God’s anger against such nations as Amalek in that they represented the powers of darkness, and sought as the instruments of Satan to frustrate His purpose of redemption of the world through Israel.


This part of the chapter requires little comment. Notice Saul’s falsehood (1 Samuel 15:13 ), and his self-justifying spirit (1 Samuel 15:15 ; 1 Samuel 15:21 ). Notice the principle in verse 22, and the final rejection of him in 1 Samuel 15:23 . Nor is his repentance sincere, inasmuch as he is still trying to excuse himself (1 Samuel 15:24 ), and desires to make a good showing before the people (1 Samuel 15:30 ).

God’s Repenting and Not Repenting

Here is a seeming contradiction which needs a word of explanation. Twice is it said that it repented the Lord that He made Saul king (1 Samuel 15:11 ; 1 Samuel 15:35 ), and in another place that “He is not a man that He should repent” (1 Samuel 15:20 ). In the last case, “repent” is to be taken in the positive sense that God’s decrees are unchangeable, which is necessary to be believed of the divine nature.

But in the former case it is to be taken in the figurative sense, as explaining in terms capable of human understanding why He was about to act as He did.

He intends to alter His purpose with Saul because of the latter’s wickedness. It would not have been altered but for this, and yet He foreknew in choosing Saul that this would take place. In the larger sense, He did not repent or change His mind at all, while in the narrower sense He did. But since the narrower was included in the larger, it is to be regarded as part of His original decree, from which point of view God did not repent, but carried out His purpose as from the beginning.

THE CHOICE OF DAVID (1 Samuel 16:1-13 )

When in chapter 13 it was said that the Lord sought Him a man after His own heart, the reference was to David. But it is not to be supposed that David was a perfect man in the natural and moral sense, for we know to the contrary. It will be found, however, that while he was a sinner like Saul, he was a regenerated sinner while Saul was not, so far as man can judge. With all his sin, David loved God supremely, and his underlying motive was to do His will. His history, checkered as it is, establishes this fact, and the sense in which he was a man after God’s own heart is seen by a comparison of his history with that of Saul.

There is nothing of difficulty in this section of Scripture.


1. How extensive does the conquest of the Philistines seem to have been?

2. What further opportunity does God afford Saul?

3. Have you refreshed your memory concerning the history of the Amalekites?

4. Have you located them on the map?

5. Can you quote the principle in verse 22?

6. What indicates the insincerity of Saul?

7. How would you explain the apparent contradiction about God’s repenting?

8. In what sense could David be said to be a man after God’s heart?

Verses 14-23


AS A MINSTREL (1 Samuel 16:14-23 )

When it is said that “the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul” (1 Samuel 16:14 ), we have a further illustration of the distinction between the Spirit coming on a man and the Spirit dwelling within him. In the latter case we do not think of His departing from him (John 14:16 ; Romans 11:29 ), but in the former He may do so for more than one reason, but especially when the man through disobedience has placed himself outside the pale where God cares to use him. As to “an evil Spirit from the Lord” troubling him, we are to regard it as a judgment upon him (see Judges 9:23 ; 1 Kings 22:15-23 ; Job 1:2 ; 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 ), in consequence of which he became “jealous, irritable, vindictive and subject to morbid melancholy.” The ancients believed music had an influence in healing such disorders (1 Samuel 16:23 ).

It is easy to see why this providence came David’s way (1 Samuel 16:18-22 ), when we consider how it may have prepared him for his future position by acquainting him with the ways of the court and the business of government.

We are interested in the description of the young man David, by one who knew him well (1 Samuel 16:18 ). The word “servants” is “young men” in the Revised Version, indicating that it may have been one of his former chums. But how could David have been a “man of war?” If not on the battlefield as yet, nevertheless in his conflicts with wild beasts (1 Samuel 17:34 , ff.), which demonstrated that he had the soldier in him when the time came.

AS A CHAMPION (1 Samuel 17:1-54 )

This story is so familiar as to require little comment. The event occurred, according to the chronology in the margin of our Bibles, almost a quarter of a century after the victory over the Philistines at Michmash (chap. 14), and when that old time enemy of Israel had again become bold. The place (Shocoh) seems to have been a town in the western section of the territory of Judah.

There is no explanation of David’s prowess in the presence of this strong enemy (1 Samuel 17:26 ; 1 Samuel 17:32 ), save the supernatural enduement of God. It was not the temporal reward that moved him, but the desire that God be magnified. This is discovered in the faith evidenced in verse 37. His success had been God’s success rather than his own and would continue so to be (1 Samuel 17:45 ).

And yet works wrought with his faith, since he took not only his staff but five stones, not one alone. If one failed he had others (1 Samuel 17:40 ). Surely the description of him was true, he was “prudent in matters.’

But why should David have brought the giant’s head to Jerusalem (1 Samuel 17:54 )? Probably because it was the nearest city, and hence the appropriate place of deposit for such a trophy. We learned (Joshua 15:63 and Judges 1:21 ) that the Jebusites possessed this city, but probably that means only the fortress on Mount Zion, while the rest was in Israel’s hands.

AS A COURTIER (1 Samuel 17:53 to 1 Samuel 18:4 )

We are not surprised to find David a favorite at Saul’s court after this, but we are surprised that he does not identify him (1 Samuel 17:55-58 ). In explanation, remember Saul’s mental condition at times, as well as the fact that time had elapsed since David’s minstrel days, and the ruddy youth may have changed into the bearded man. And as to Abner, he may have been absent from court when David had been there.

In chapter 18, we have the beginning of a friendship that has gone into history as one of the most beautiful among men.

Jonathan and David were doubtless nearly of an age and, although the former had taken no notice of the minstrel, the heroic though modest warrior had commanded his admiration and affection at once, and “he loved him as his own soul” (1 Samuel 18:3 ). To receive any part of the dress worn by a sovereign or his eldest son and heir, is deemed in the east the highest honor which can be conferred on a subject. (Compare 1 Samuel 18:4 with Esther 6:8 ).


1. How are we to regard the saying that “an evil Spirit from the Lord” troubled Saul?

2. Have you read 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 ?

3. How is David described in verse 18?

4. Where was Shocoh?

5. What was David’s motive in the conflict with Goliath?

6. What do you know about the Jebusites and Jerusalem?

7. How would you explain Saul’s failure to identify David the second time?

Bibliographical Information
Gray, James. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 16". Gray's Concise Bible Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jgc/1-samuel-16.html. 1897-1910.
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