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Sunday, July 14th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 16

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-5


1 Samuel 16:1. “How long wilt thou mourn,” etc. “These words show that the prophet had not yet been able to reconcile himself to the hidden ways of the Lord; that he was still afraid that the people and kingdom of God would suffer from the rejection of Saul, and that he continued to mourn for Saul, not merely from his own personal attachment to the fallen king, but also, and perhaps still more, from anxiety for the welfare of Israel.” (Keil). “Thine horn.” “A different word from the vial spoken of at 1 Samuel 10:1(Biblical Commentary.) “Horns were anciently used for holding liquors, which were sometimes drunk out of them. They were hung up on the walls of rooms or the poles of tents” (Jamieson.) “Jesse the Bethlehemite.” “The genealogy of Jesse is traced to Boaz (Ruth 4:18-21). But the object was merely to prove that he was a link in the Messianic chain of descent, and it is left quite unknown whether Jesse was the eldest of Obed and Boaz’s family, or a younger son.” (Jamieson.) “I have provided.” “The language is remarkable and seems to imply a difference between this and the former king. Saul was the people’s choice, … the next was to be of God’s nomination.” (Jamieson.)

1 Samuel 16:2. “How can I go,” etc. “The sacred historian does not conceal the fact that Samuel was afraid … here is an evidence of veracity.” (Wordsworth.) “This fear on the part of the prophet, who did not generally show himself either hesitating or timid, can only be explained, as we may see from 1 Samuel 16:14, on the supposition that Saul was already given up to the power of the evil spirit, so that the very worst might be dreaded from his madness if he discovered that Samuel had anointed another king. That there was some foundation for Samuel’s anxiety, we may infer from the fact that the Lord did not blame him for his fear, but pointed out the way by which he might anoint David without attracting attention.” (Keil.) Say, I am come to sacrifice,” etc. “There is here an appearance of duplicity sanctioned by Divine authority which it is important for us to examine. It was the purpose of God that David should be anointed at this time as Saul’s successor, and as the ancestor and type of His Christ. It was not the purpose of God that Samuel should stir up a civil war by setting up David as Saul’s rival. Secrecy, therefore, was a necessary part of the transaction. But secrecy and concealment are not the same as duplicity and falsehood. Concealment of a good purpose for a good purpose is clearly justifiable, e.g. in war, in medical treatment, in State policy, and in the ordinary affairs of life. In the providential government of the world, and in God’s dealings with individuals, concealment of His purpose till the proper time for its development is the rule rather than the exception, and must be so.” (Biblical Commentary.)

1 Samuel 16:4. “The elders trembled,” etc. “The anxious inquiry of the elders presupposes that even in the time of Saul the prophet Samuel was frequently in the habit of coming unexpectedly to one place and another, for the purpose of reproving and punishing wrong-doing and sin.” (Keil.) “They might have been conscious of secret guilt, and supposed that Samuel coming among them as the judicial vicegerent of God, was about to investigate and punish the commission of some crime. The inhabitants of this place have long been proverbial for their refractory spirit; for even in modern times they have been often at variance with the reigning power.” (Hardy’s Notices of the Holy Land.)

1 Samuel 16:5. “I am come to sacrifice unto the Lord.” “It is evident from this that the prophet was accustomed to turn his visits to account by offering sacrifices, and so building up the people in fellowship with the Lord.” (Keil.) “Sanctify yourselves.” By the preparation prescribed in Exodus 19:14-15. “He sanctified Jesse,” etc., i.e., he took care that they were sanctified.



I. God helps man to a better condition by the instrumentality of man. Those parts of the earth that are by nature useless to man, may by cultivation be made to minister to his comfort. Weeds and unfruitful trees may be uprooted, and trees yielding fruit and herbs for the service of man may take their place. But man himself must work the change. If the desert is to rejoice and blossom as the rose, human instrumentality must exert itself. And so is it in matters relating to man’s spiritual and moral well-being. If a moral wilderness is to be transformed into a garden of the Lord, God uses men, or a man, to do the work. Israel was now suffering from the misrule of a king who would not be ruled by God, and God purposed to bring about a change, to inaugurate a new and brighter era for the people, both materially and spiritually. And He chose a man to indicate His rejection of the king who had brought no blessing to the nation, and to point out him who was to lift it to a higher condition of prosperity both morally and commercially. Samuel, in the hand of God, was the man who uprooted the fruitless tree and planted in its place one which was to bear fruit for Israel’s sustenance and growth. So the higher and more blessed rule of the gospel dispensation was proclaimed to humanity by man. The state of man by nature is a state of moral misrule—of spiritual unfruitfulness; and to man was entrusted the work of proclaiming to the world deliverance from the dominion of the powers of darkness and the advent of a new King of men, under whose beneficent rule first the wilderness of individual hearts, and then by degrees all the moral wastes upon the face of the earth shall break forth into spiritual fruitfulness and beauty. When Our Lord commissioned His Apostles to “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15), He commanded them to proclaim the accession of a new Sovereign, under whose government all the subjects of all the kingdoms of the world might, if they were willing, be lifted into the glorious liberty of the children of God. He has ordained that by human lips this new era shall be made known to man—that by human instrumentality men shall learn who it is that is God’s Anointed One.

II. Those who are instruments of good to man sometimes shrink from the work which God calls them to do. And Samuel said, “How can I go?” God’s methods of making His children instruments of good to others are often most perplexing and painful to them, and tasks are given them to perform from which they draw back in fear and trembling. Joseph was made an instrument of great blessing both to the nation of Egypt and to his own family, but the way in which he became such a benefactor was a very rough one, and if he could have seen it lying before him without seeing the goal to which it would bring him, he would probably have asked Samuel’s question, “How can I go?” When Moses was called by God to go and stand before Pharaoh, he drew back from the mission with which God charged him with such persistency that “the anger of the Lord was kindled against him” (Exodus 4:13), although in his case the reluctance apparently arose rather from a sense of his own inability than from fear of evil to his own person. Yet in his case as in that of Samuel the cause of the shrinking back was the same, viz., a momentary failure of that full confidence in God which was an eminent feature in the characters of both these good men. The hesitation in both was but a transient cloud which only dimmed for a very short season the almost perfect obedience which each of them rendered to their God. It sufficed to show that both were men of like passions and infirmities with ourselves, and links them with God’s honoured servants in all ages, all of whom have their hours of faithlessness and consequently of fear.

III. The true servants of God in such circumstances tell out their perplexity and fear to God Himself. This is a certain cure for attacks of cowardice arising from mistrust of God’s power and wisdom. When Jonah was entrusted with a distasteful and perilous task there is no record that he made known to God his weakness and fear. He took counsel with no one but himself, and the result was ignominious defeat. But neither Moses nor Samuel seek, like the son of Amittai, to “flee from the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:3), but to the Lord Himself they make known their fears and their reasons for wavering. And the result in both cases is the same—their faith rises to the emergency, and in the protection and help afforded to them in performing the duty enjoined upon them they have a fresh proof that God never sends His servants to “warfare at their own charges.”

IV. Those who are instruments of good to their fellow-creatures are often regarded by them with distrust and suspicion. No man in the land of Israel could have had any reason to regard Samuel in any other light than in that of a true friend, yet the elders of the town meet him with the question, “Comest thou peaceably?” A consciousness of guilt is often at the bottom of this distrust and dislike. The entrance of a faithful man of God into some circles or localities is unwelcome because his very presence arouses in the ungodly a sense of their guilt. The feeling may not be very clearly defined even to themselves, but it is the cause which makes them dislike the company of such a man. The officer of justice, whether he be clothed in a policeman’s uniform or a judge’s ermine, is regarded by an innocent man as a “minister of God for good” (Romans 13:4). But the guilty man does not feel at rest in his presence. Samuel was a man of God whose very presence was enough to arouse in guilty men a sense of their deserts, and he was also a judge in Israel whose visit to Bethlehem might have been regarded with fear by the villagers, because they knew that they had been guilty of outward acts of disobedience to the law of God. Or their distrustful reception of Samuel might have arisen from a suspicion that he was to be the instrument of a change of rule in Israel. Men are often so little alive to their true interests, and so averse to any change, that they resent any disturbance in the existing order of things, even although it would bring much blessing to themselves. The Bethlehemites might have been certain that any change which came to them from God through Samuel would be for good, and not for evil, and yet fear of Saul and an unwillingness to be disturbed might have made them prefer the rule of their present unworthy monarch to a new order of government. A fear of immediate unpleasant consequences and a cowardly and unworthy content with things as they are has often made men regard with suspicion and with positive hatred those who have desired to bring them under a better rule—those who have endeavoured to free them individually from the tyranny of Satan, or, nationally from bondage to Satan’s emissaries. The reformers of all ages, both in the Church and in the State, have been coldly welcomed by the majority of those to whom God has made them instruments of blessing. But this need not be a matter of either surprise or discouragement when we remember that those whom the Son of God came to make “free indeed” (John 8:36) cried, “Crucify Him! crucify Him!” and that His great apostle whose heart’s desire and prayer was for the salvation of his fellow-countrymen (Romans 10:1) received from them this sentence, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for it is not fit that He should live” (Acts 22:22).


1 Samuel 16:1. It is an unnatural senselessness not to be affected with the dangers, with the sins, of our governors. God did not blame this sorrow, but moderated it. It was not the affection He forbade but the measure. In this is the difference betwixt good men and evil; that evil men mourn not for their own sins, good men do so mourn for the sins of others that they will hardly be taken off. If Samuel mourn because Saul hath cast away God by his sin, he must cease to mourn because God hath cast away Saul from reigning over Israel in His just punishment. A good heart hath learned to rest itself upon the justice of God’s decree, and forgets all earthly respects when it looks up to heaven.—Bp. Hall.

The affairs of the kingdom of God go their way without break or halt according to God’s high thoughts and decrees, though human sin and its attendant judgment (as in Saul’s case), or human weakness (as in Samuel’s inordinate grief for Saul), may seem to hinder the plans of the Divine wisdom. But it is also precisely by human sin and foolishness that the history of God’s kingdom under the guidance of the Divine wisdom and providence receives new occasions and impulses to wider and higher development according to the aims which God sets before Himself.—Lange’s Commentary.

God demands in the souls He sets apart for Himself and for the guidance of others, such a dying to all things that He does not allow them to regard any other interest than His, whatever reason may be alleged.—Berlenberger Bible.

Remedies for improper mourning.

1. Submission to the will of God (“I have rejected him”).
2. Diligence in present work for God (“Fill thy horn and go”).
3. Hope that God will bring a better future (“I have provided me a king”)—Translator of Lange’s Commentary.

In the providence of God, there is a blessed arrangement by which the new duties and cares which are occasioned by bereavements, losses, or disappointments become the means of alleviating distress and improving the soul.… Persons in public positions are summoned from their humiliation and melancholy, induced by the defeat of favourite schemes, to endeavour to retrieve their influence, and do some good before they die. The sense of personal and relative responsibility is thus made by God to rebuke and cure a sorrow deemed inconsolable.…

1. There is a duty to the Lord.… It would not be reverent to quarrel with His providence: it would be disobedient and impious …

2. There is a duty to your own soul. “Fill thine horn with oil,” and go to the new duties to which you are called, that it may be well with yourself.

3. There is a duty to others. Samuel had something more to live for than his own interest. His grief was a public calamity. The sorrow into which he was plunged might do injury.… When there are others to care for, our grief must not be immoderate.—Steel.

1 Samuel 16:2. Perhaps desire of full direction drew from him this question, but not without a mixture of diffidence; for the manner of doing it doth not so much trouble him as the success. It is not to be expected that the most faithful hearts should be always in an equal height of resolution: God does not chide Samuel, but instruct him.—Bishop Hall.

1 Samuel 16:4. Hundreds of years after this, when the heavenly light was seen in the same place by the shepherds, they too were “sore afraid;” but there was as little to fear in the one case as in the other; for in both there was a provided sacrifice, and in both the mission was one of peace; yea, as Samuel came to anoint David to be a king, so the angel-heralded Jesus appeared “to make us kings and priests unto our Lord and His Father.”—Dr. W. M. Taylor.

Verses 6-12


1 Samuel 16:7. “The Lord said.” “In like manner the Lord in the days of His flesh read and answered men’s thoughts.” Compare Matthew 12:25; Luke 5:22, etc. (Biblical Commentary.)Outward appearance.” Literally the eyes. “The eyes, as contrasted with the heart, are figuratively employed to denote the outward form.” (Keil).

1 Samuel 16:9. “Shammah.” The name is written Shimeah, 2 Samuel 13:3; and Shimma, 1 Chronicles 2:13; 1 Chronicles 20:7. The proper orthography is probably that in 2 Samuel 13:3. He was the third son of Jesse, and father of Jonadab “a very subtil man, Ammon’s friend,” 2 Samuel 13:3, and of Jonathan who slew a giant of Gath, 1 Chronicles 20:6-7. (Biblical Commentary.)

1 Samuel 16:10. “Seven,” i.e. including the three who had already passed. It appears from this, and from 1 Samuel 17:12, that Jesse had eight sons; but in 1 Chronicles 2:13-15, only seven are ascribed to him.” (Bibical Commentary). “Samuel said to Jesse.” “It is not till this verse that the words ‘to Jesse’ are added, expressly indicating an address of Samuel to him. It does not, however, follow from these words, that Samuel made Jesse a sharer of the divine secret.… That address to Jesse is merely a negative declaration that the divine selection, with which Samuel was concerned, and which in the absence of express intimation of its nature might refer to the prophetic office, rested on none of these seven sons.” (Erdmann).

1 Samuel 16:11. “Sit down;” literally, turn round, or surround, i.e., not sit at the table. “The ancient Hebrews sat round a low table with their legs crossed, as the modern Orientals do, for the luxurious practice of reclining was not introduced into Judea until a late period of Old Testament history.” (Jamieson.)

1 Samuel 16:12. “Ruddy,” red, or auburn-haired. This was regarded as a mark of beauty in a country where the hair was generally black. Josephus refers the expression to his tawny complexion.



I. There is a tendency in even the best men to be carried away by appearances. Because Eliab’s countenance was comely and his stature imposing, Samuel said at once, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before me.” Yet he knew nothing of Eliab’s inner man, and he knew from the sad example of Saul that external beauty was no guarantee of internal worth. The estimate that men form of human character must always be grounded on outward manifestations, just as the physician forms his estimate of the state of a man’s health from the symptoms which present themselves to his observation. They cannot do as God can—penetrate into the hidden recesses of both soul and body, and read there as in a book the exact condition of the physical and moral nature. Man should therefore be very careful in pronouncing a judgment or forming an opinion concerning his fellow-man, remembering the “Lord seeth not as man seeth; he should not be hasty to decide, but should wait until the character has had time to develop itself—until long experience and observation have in some measure qualified him to be a judge in the matter. To argue that because a man possesses gifts of person or of intellect he is also the possessor of moral worth, is more foolish than to argue that a man is wealthy because he is dressed in gay clothing, and yet everyone of us is prone to be influenced more than we ought to be by outward appearance, and to form our judgments of those we meet upon very insufficient grounds. Even this prophet of God was not free from this weakness.

II. However men may err in their estimate of men, God’s estimate will decide who is to come uppermost. No member of Jesse’s household thought it worth while to call the shepherd-boy in to partake of the sacrificial feast, or to bring him under the notice of the man of God; but the feast notwithstanding had to be delayed until his arrival, and it was concerning him that Samuel heard the Divine voice, saying, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.” There is always a levelling force at work in the universe, which only needs time to place each man where he ought to be—lifting up this one and putting down the other—making the last first and the first last according to the moral worth of each. This levelling force is the hand of God, who will see to it that no true man of worth shall lack position and opportunity to let the light that is in him shine forth to the glory of God, and the good of his fellow-creatures. God’s election and approval is not always so perceptible to the eye of man as it was in the case of Jesse’s youngest son, but it is always as real and as certain. Some men do not reach their destined throne among their fellows until they have left the world; they must pass away from earth before men can realise that a king has been among them. It may be that many who have lived and died in obscurity are yet awaiting their coronation day, or they may have been elected to high and honourable service in another world. However this may be there is a deeply-rooted conviction in all who confide in the righteousness of the Judge of all the earth, that no moral king shall miss his throne. Appearances may be strongly against it, but appearances were likewise strongly against the fact that the despised and crucified Nazarene carpenter was He who at the right hand of God should judge the world and receive the homage of the universe. But time has made the one truth certain, and it will establish the other. It must be so—

1. Because God can never be ignorant of what His creatures are best fitted for.

2. Because no selfish motive or lack of power can ever interfere with the justice of His dealings.

3. Because the infinite goodness of God must make Him ever in favour of using any good that He finds in His creatures for the benefit of the race. The subject teaches us—

(1 Samuel 16:1.) That moral worth is the true beauty. All the beauty of material things is but a shadow of a higher beauty—of that beauty which makes God the most beautiful Being in the universe. As He is a Spirit, and cannot be apprehended by our senses, that which makes Him the object of admiration and worship to the best of His creatures is that beauty of goodness which appeals to their spiritual nature. And the truest and highest beauty of men or angels is that beauty which is of the same kind as God’s.

(II.) We should form our standard of excellence upon God’s standard. To honour and exalt a man for any superiority of physical beauty or birth, is to render him homage for that for which he is not responsible, and is consequently most foolish. Yet it is a mistake into which men often fall. But in this respect, as in many others, God’s thoughts are not as man’s thoughts, neither are His ways our ways. If we are wise we shall, so far as finite creatures can, make God’s standard of excellence ours, by looking not at the outward appearance nor regarding external circumstances, but by giving our honour and confidence to those who possess the “beauty of the Lord God.” (Psalms 90:17).


1 Samuel 16:6; 1 Samuel 16:12. Difficulty of selecting men for important positions.

1. Causes (a). Intrinsic difficulty of properly estimating character. (b). Management of partial friends.

2. Lessons (a). To avoid haste in deciding. (b.) To make diligent inquiries.—Translator of Lange’s Commentary.

1 Samuel 16:6-7. So when godly men see their neighbours lovely in their lives, civil in their practices, high in their profession, strict in performances, they, according to their duty, say, inwardly at least, Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him, these are the blessed of the Lord, anointed to the kingdom of heaven; but God may often answer them, Look not on their profession or their performances, for I see their hearts, that they serve not me, but themselves of me … Observe at what a high rate that which is nothing worth is valued in a time of famine. Truly so, there is such a scarcity of true godliness, that godly men, who exceedingly long for the advancement of Christ and Christianity in men’s hearts and houses, prize and encourage anything that cometh near it.—Swinnock.

1 Samuel 16:7. Muscularity is not Christianity, and bodily beauty is not holiness. Not how you look, but what you are, ought to be the first care of your lives; for if you have a selfish disposition, a sordid soul, or a sinful life, your outward beauty will be like “a jewel in a swine’s snout,” and your bodily vigour will only be like the strength of a safe in which nothing worth preserving is locked up.—Dr. W. M. Taylor.

Objectors to the history of the Old Testament have dwelt much upon the title, “the man after God’s own heart,” which is continually given to David. “Is he not,” they have said, “directly chargeable with adultery and murder.… Is this the man whom a righteous God would declare to be the object of His special complacency?” … Divines have met these questions with an answer of this kind: “The epithet which you complain of belongs not to David personally but officially … He did the work he was appointed to do. He fulfilled God’s counsel. So far he was a man after God’s own heart.” … A very little reflection upon the words themselves, still more a slight study of the history of David, should surely have prevented any man from employing this kind of apology. “God trieth the reins.” That general principle is here applied expressly to the case of David.—Maurice.

I. A solemn thought. He knows fully all that characterises the inward and spiritual nature of man.

II. How comforting! You may be misunderstood by men. Your purest motives may be misinterpreted … But there is an appeal to the Judge of all.—Steel.

1 Samuel 16:11. One of our greatest poets once remembered this question of Samuel’s after he had studied and mastered the writings of the most prominent philosophers and wise men of this world, and had found in none of them anything stable and satisfactory. Then with scorn he wrote these lines:

“Ach ich war auch in diesem Falle!

Ais ich die Weisen hört’und las;

Da jeder diese Welten alle

Mit seiner Menschenspaune masy

Da fragt ’ich! Aber sind sie das

Sind das die Knaben alle?”

This case was mine too when at leisure,

What all the sages wrote I read,

When with their small wits they would measure

The wealth of worlds around us spread:

I thought of Samuel then, when he

Made Jesse’s sons in row appear,

And when the seven were counted, said,

Are all thy children here?


O that this prince of poets had not after all omitted to count in One!Krummacher.

It was certainly not by accident that the son on whom the Divine choice fell was at the very moment keeping his father’s sheep.… His early employment had a direct and Divine bearing on the latter.…

1. As a shepherd, the sense of responsibility to another was powerfully called into exercise. The flock was not his own. In keeping it he was acting merely as his father’s servant.… The servant-feeling thus beautifully called into play was transferred, in full integrity, to the higher sphere of the kingdom.…

2. The shepherd-occupation of David led him, from its very nature, to seek the welfare of the flock. It demanded unceasing attention to its condition as a whole, and to the state of each several animal; frequent exposure to danger, and constant readiness to sacrifice his own ease or comfort.… These were the ideas of duty with which David became familiar as a shepherd. And when his charge was changed these ideas of duty remaining in his heart, and influencing his public conduct, made him the eminent ruler he became.…

3. In his office as a shepherd David had constantly to study the increase and improvement of the flock. It was not enough for the shepherd to keep the flock as he got it. The flock was not properly kept unless every season brought a great increase to its number. The same thought manifestly influenced David’s kingly administration. He constantly consulted for the progressive improvement and elevation of his people.…

4. The shepherd employment of David, by leading him to give special attention to the weak, helpless, and distressed of the flock, trained him for one of the most blessed and Christ-like functions of a godly ruler.—Blaikie.

When we look forward in the light of Divine revelation, the early part of David’s consecrated life contains many typical elements as factual prophecies or pre-figurations of the future. His shepherd life—continued after he was anointed, in which on the one hand, self-consecrated, he immerses himself in the contemplation of God’s revelation in nature and in His word, and on the other hand must be ready at any moment to meet the greatest dangers, and exhibit boldness and prowess (1 Samuel 17:34-37)—presents on these two sides types of his religious life as king, the Spirit of God developing on the basis of this double natural ground two sides of his character which not merely co-exist but are interwoven with each other:

(1) intensively the innermost concentration and immersion of his thoughtful meditative heart into the depths of God’s revelation of His power, grace, and wisdom in nature, word, history, and into the depths of the sinful human heart, whence sprang in his psalms partly the inspired praise of God, with furtherance and deepening of the knowledge of God, partly advance in the natural grace, lacking condition of the human heart;

(2) extensively his admirable energy and heroic courage in the life of conflict which he had evermore to lead. In the hiddenness of his royal calling from the people, the gradual ripening of his inner life for his office, and the lowliness of the sphere whence he was raised to the throne, he is a type of Christ, who sprang from him according to the flesh.… passes His holy youth in privacy, and then at the end of this Divine-human development steps forth from the lowliness of a natural human life as the King of Israel, who completes in his person and work God’s revelations for the establishment of His kingdom on earth, and therein enters on the war of subjugation against the ungodly world.—Lange’s Commentary.

Verses 13-18


1 Samuel 16:13. “Then Samuel took the horn of oil,” etc. “There is nothing recorded concerning any words of Samuel to David at the time of the anointing, and in explanation of its meaning, as in the case of Saul (1 Samuel 10:1). In all probability Samuel said nothing at the time, since, according to 1 Samuel 16:2, he had good reason for keeping the matter secret, not only on his own account, but also for David’s sake; so that even the brethren of David, who were present, knew nothing about the meaning and object of the anointing, but may have imagined that Samuel merely intended to consecrate David as a pupil of the prophet’s. At the same time we can hardly suppose that Samuel left Jesse, and even David, in uncertainty as to the object of his mission, and of the anointing which he had performed. He may have communicated all this to both of them without letting the other sons know.” (Keil.) “And the Spirit of the Lord came upon David.” “The youth entered upon a new stage in the development of his inner life which was wholly consecrated to God. The rich talents wherewith he was endowed from his birth received on all sides fresh unfolding. The law, the holy records of the books of Moses, in which he had been instructed from his earliest years, opened themselves to his enlightened eyes more and more. The peaceful stillness of nature amid which, tending his father’s flocks, he spent his days, and often, also, the mild, starry nights, favoured his penetration into the secrets of the Divine revelation. His heart, moved and directed from above, already poured itself out in sacred song and poem, which he sang to the accompaniment of his harp, to the praise of that God before whom, from his childhood, he had learned to bow the knee; and it may well be assumed that even then, amid that rural loneliness, psalms streamed forth from his heart, such as the eighth, which overflows with adoring wonder at the condescension and grace with which the glorious Creator of heaven and earth has concerned Himself with frail man.” (Krummacher.)

1 Samuel 16:14. “An evil spirit from the Lord.” “This spirit is, according to the narrative, not the condition itself of gloomy melancholy and torturing anguish, but an objective power which produced it. It is a wicked spiritual power, which came upon him as the opposite of the good holy spirit which he once possessed, and goaded him to rage and madness, finding its occasion in the conflict within his soul, and in the passionateness of his nature, which, after the spirit of the Lord left him, was unbridled. It came on Saul from the Lord; that is, the Lord gave him over to the power and might of this spirit as punishment for his disobedience and defiant self-will.” (Erdmann.)

1 Samuel 16:18. “A mighty valiant man,” etc. David’s reputation for courage, etc., was already very great. Doubtless since the Spirit of the Lord came upon him his natural qualities and powers had been greatly enhanced. His feat of killing the lion and the bear (1 Samuel 17:34; 1 Samuel 17:36) had been performed, like Sampson’s feats of strength, under the same supernatural influence, and was probably more or less known.” (Biblical Commentary.)



I. Both the Spirit of God and the agents of Satan seek congenial soil for their operations. When the Spirit of the Lord came upon David, He found a heart prepared to receive His influence and to profit by it. David had already yielded himself up to those ordinary influences of the Holy Spirit which come to men in general, and he was therefore capable of receiving and being blest by a special outpouring of that same gracious and sanctifying power, to fit him for a sacred office and a special work. Those who have received into their minds the elementary principles of a science, or the rudiments of a language, possess a basis upon which a teacher may lay other truths concerning the same science or language; and so the pupil who has diligently mastered the alphabet of any branch of knowledge is the one most likely to be rewarded with further instruction. So the man who has profited by the spiritual light which has been already afforded him is in the way to receive a further revelation—he who has opened his heart to receive the teachings of Christ which have been given him has a basis upon which the Spirit of God can operate to his further enlightenment. The ingenuous confession of Nathaniel (John 1:40) showed that he was fit to receive greater knowledge, and to be made acquainted with greater and more glorious truths concerning Christ and His Kingdom; and hence the Saviour’s promise: “Thou shalt see greater things than these” (John 1:50). The confession of Peter in Cæsarea Philippi (Matthew 16:16) showed that he had mastered the first lesson in connection with the Kingship of Christ; and because he thus gave proof of having made good use of the evidence concerning his Divine Master which had already been given him, he was permitted to receive more and more, and at last to be an “eyewitness of His Majesty when He received from His Father honour and glory in the holy mount” (2 Peter 1:16-17). If Peter and his brother Apostles had not already yielded themselves up to the teachings which flowed from the every-day manifestations of their Lord, we may be sure they would not have been permitted to receive the higher revelation of His transfiguration. So was it with David. The Spirit of God found in him a basis upon which to raise a superstructure of such a character as would fit him to be a worthy ruler of the chosen people, and a type of Him who should hereafter rule the whole Israel of God (Micah 5:2). Saul also had been wrought upon by the Spirit of God, but although he had thereby become intellectually stronger and more fit for the kingly office, the more blessed and sanctifying influences of that Holy Spirit had found no receptive soil upon which to operate. His heart was like the rocky ground of our Lord’s parable, where the few plants which sprung up soon withered away because they had no root (Matthew 13:6); and the powers of evil never leave such a heart untenanted. When a man resists the Holy Ghost as Saul did, He ceases at length to strive with him, and the Evil One, finding the house empty, sends his agents to take up their abode there, and so “the last state of that man is worse than the first” (Luke 11:26).

II. The powers of evil are under Divine rule. A monarch has under his sceptre not only those obedient subjects who find their truest freedom in observing the statutes of the realm, but also the lawless and disobedient who yield him no willing service. Yet this latter class do serve by compulsion—as criminals and prisoners they may be used to do work which the free citizen could not do so well, and so they also may unwillingly render service to the king. So the powers of evil are subjects of the King of kings as truly as the angels of light; and although they are rebels against His righteous rule, they can do nothing without His permission, and sometimes in following the dictates of their own evil natures they undesignedly fulfil God’s purposes. This was remarkably the case in the experience of Job. Satan could only distress and afflict Job by Divine permission, and while he seemed to be only working out his own evil intentions, he was really fulfilling a Divine purpose towards a godly man. And the spirits of darkness are also made instruments of God’s chastisement, especially in relation to men who are in rebellion against Him. We can conceive that this terrible but necessary work in a world of sinners could not be done by a good angel as it can be done by a fallen and malignant spirit; this we know from the teaching of Scripture in this passage, and in others, that God does so over-rule the malignity of evil spirits and evil men as to make them executioners of His judgments upon other sinners. The evil spirit which now troubled Saul was from the Lord in the sense that it was permitted to be an instrument of chastisement for his disobedience.

III. Even when God chastises for disobedience, He leaves some influences within reach of the offender to modify the punishment. Saul was not wholly forsaken of God while he was not wholly forsaken of men, for men “are that to us, and no more, than God permits them to be” (Henry). Saul, a prey to his own evil passions, and to the malice of his spiritual adversary, could hardly have been at this time a good master or a man calculated to attract friends, yet there were those still around him who were sorry for him in his affliction, and who were anxious to alleviate his suffering. And so it is generally. When men, by a course of wilful transgression of Divine laws have brought upon themselves the penalty of mental or physical suffering, some kindly heart and hand is permitted by God to be moved in their behalf, and human sympathy and help lessens in some measure the weight of the deserved chastisement.


1 Samuel 16:13. Here was the sign that all the inward discipline and preparation of David had an object, another object than merely to make him a faithful keeper of sheep, or even a wise and righteous man. But a Divine sign is not a mere ceremony. It would be deceitful and insincere if there were not a present blessing denoted by it, the communication of an actual power to fit the man for tasks to which he has not hitherto been appointed. From that day forward there was a power within David stirring him to thoughts and acts which connected him directly with Israelites, with human beings.… There is a time in men’s lives, before they enter upon some great work to which they have been consecrated, a time when they are permitted to look back upon the years which they have already past, to see them no longer as fragments, but as linked together, as having a Divine purpose running through them which makes even their incoherences and discords intelligible. In such a time of retrospection, when the future is seen mirrored in the past, David may have found his harp much more than the mere solace of lonely hours, the mere response to his inward sorrows and thanksgivings. He may have begun to know that he was speaking for other men as well as for himself; that there were close and intimate fibres uniting men utterly unlike and separated by tracts of time and space; that there is some mysterious source of these sympathies, some living centre who holds together the different portions of each man’s life, and in whom there is a general human life of which all may partake. The Spirit of God, which had taken possession of David, may have been teaching him these lessons and inspiring the song which was the utterance of them before he was prepared to come forth as the actual deliverer. And that Spirit will assuredly have been preparing him for his after conflicts, by making him feel that he had, even then, enemies most fierce to struggle with, subjects most turbulent to subdue. The invisible God does not make known to man that He is his shepherd, without making known to him also that there are invisible powers more fearful than bears and lions, which would tear his flock asunder, which would bring each separate sheep into the valley of the shadow of death.—Maurice.

1 Samuel 16:14. The Power of darkness, which is personal, and in souls in the condition of that in which Saul’s now was, finds all open for his operations, wrought in him with greater energy to deepen yet more and more that dreadful gulf which separated the king from Jehovah, eternally enthroned in the heavens; yea, to increase the estrangement of the miserable man from God yet more and more till it became a demoniacal hatred of God.—Krummacher.

In regard to the negative or privative declaration that “the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Samuel,” we may take it to mean that God withdrew from him all those special aids which, in connection with his anointing to the royal office, had been conferred upon him. Perhaps, also, we may include in it the taking from him of those gracious influences of the Holy Spirit, without which a man becomes, in the saddest and solemnest of all senses, “abandoned.” This is what Paul has described as a “being given over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient” (Romans 1:28), and what, in the simple Saxon of our common speech, we call, “a being left to one’s self.” The Saviour has said, “From him that hath not shall be taken away even that he hath.” Now, in Saul, we have a deeply suggestive instance of the execution of this sentence.—Dr. W. M. Taylor.

Man is governed by the Spirit from above, or by the spirit from beneath; there is no third course. For he is as little isolated in the invisible as in the visible world; he must be part of the organism of the one or the other of the invisible worlds; he belongs either to the kingdom of light or to the kingdom of darkness; he is guided either by the Spirit of the Lord or by the evil spirit, according as he decides for a permanent attitude of heart and direction of will to this side or that.—Lange’s Commentary.

Whether any more be meant by this than that God, for Saul’s hardened impenitence, withdrew His restraining and guiding grace, and left him a prey to his own passions, I cannot take upon me to say. This only I am sure of, that no man living needs a heavier chastisement from Almighty God than the letting his own passions loose upon him. The consequence to the mind, I apprehend, would in that case be much the same as it would be to the body, if the restraining power of the air were removed, and all the muscles, vessels, and humours left to the full freedom of their own powers and tendencies.—Delany.

1 Samuel 16:15; 1 Samuel 16:18. Does not the penetration of these people excite our surprise? Are we not astonished at the far-reaching enlightenment which they manifest of the existence of a world of fallen spirits, whom Jehovah is wont to make use of, not seldom, for putting to trial His own people, as well as for visiting with punishment the wicked? Must we not conclude that they were indeed already acquainted with the book of Job, and that it was a constituent part of their holy canonical books? An Israelite adhered to his Bible under all circumstances, even when he was destitute of spiritual life and his conduct was condemned by it … They recommend to him the power of music as a means for relieving his mind, but with a wise discriminating judgment regarding its character.… The servants knew well the power of music to produce, according to its kind and quality, not less the most depraved than the holiest impressions. Music can unfetter the most destructive passions; but it can also, at least for a time, tame and mitigate the wildest storms of the human heart.… The music which the servants of the king thought of was not that which pleases the world, and which only opens the door to unclean spirits, but such as, animated by a nobler inspiration, might insensibly elevate the soul by its harmonious melody, as on angel’s wings, towards heaven. They thought of the harp, then the most solemn instrument of music, and on the melodies which were wont to sound forth in the sanctuary at the time of the sacred festivals of Israel.—Krummacher.

If they had said, “Sir, you know that this evil comes from that God whom you have offended, there can be no hope but in reconcilement … labour your peace with Him by a serious humiliation, make means to Samuel to further the atonement,” they had been wise counsellors, divine physicians: whereas now, they do but skin over the sore, and leave it rankled at the bottom. The cure must ever proceed in the same steps with the disease, else in vain we shall seem to heal: there is no safety in the redress of evils but to strike at the root.—Bp. Hall.

We see here, distinctly marked, these two things, the plan of God and the liberty of man.… David, in his devotion to his harp, had no thought of thereby rising to the royal favour; the servant who mentioned his name to Saul had no idea of the fact that he was already anointed to be Saul’s successor; yet each, in his own way, and by working out the choice of his own free will, was helping on the fulfilment of the purposes of God. So it is still, the only difference being that, in ordinary history, we are not always thus permitted to see the different agencies at work.—Dr. W. M. Taylor.

Verses 19-23


1 Samuel 16:20. “An Ass,” etc. The Hebrew is an ass of bread. Reland adduces a great number of quotations from Greek writers, showing that the ancients used a bottle with two long handles, which, from their resemblance to asses’ ears, were called (όνοι) asses; and the Greek poet Sosibus says of one of his heroes, “He ate three times in the space of a single day three great asses of bread, which Casaubon understood to signify the lading of three asses, whereas the true meaning is the contents of three vases or jars called asses.” (Jamieson.) “These presents show how simple were the customs of Israel, and in the court of Saul at that time.” (Keil.)

1 Samuel 16:21. “His Armour-bearer.” “This choice, being an expression of the king’s partiality shows how honourable the office was held to be.” (Jamieson.)

1 Samuel 16:23. “Harp.” “The kuinor, not the large heavy instrument denoted by the word harp amongst us, but the lyre, a light, portable instrument resembling a bow in shape” (Jamieson). “Saul was refreshed,” etc. “Bochard has collected many passages from profane writers, which speak of the medicinal effects of music on the mind and body, especially as appeasing anger, and soothing and pacifying a troubled spirit,” (Biblical Dictionary.) “Did the music banish the demon! Not so, but the higher frame of mind into which the king was brought by it sufficed to limit at least the sphere of the operation of the evil spirit within him … Besides, the silent intercessions which David sent up to heaven on the wings of the music of his harp must have contributed not a little to the results with which his melodies were crowned” (Krummacher).



We here have—

I. Saul an instrument of good to David. David was one day to sit upon the throne of Israel, and although he already possessed many qualities of mind and heart which fitted him for such a position, the transition from the home at Bethlehem to the palace was a very great one, and the man who was to experience it needed some intervening training. It was expedient that he should have some experience of the life of the court before he became its head, and, in the providence of God, the man whom he was to succeed was the instrument by whom he gained that experience.

II. David a means of blessing to Saul. Saul, miserable and God-forsaken though he was, was not yet beyond the soothing power of sacred music, and it was ordained by God that David’s skill and piety should administer this passing comfort to his spirit. Music seems to have been left to us by God to remind us—

1. Of the moral harmony of the heavenly world. All the inhabitants of the city of God live in a state of concord as perfect and as morally beautiful as the most exquisite music. There creatures of various gifts and diverse dispositions so perfectly agree with each other that no note of discord is ever heard, and the diversity of each only heightens the harmony of the whole.

2. Of the harmony that once ruled in the human soul. The soul of man has not always been torn asunder by conflicting passions, or by the promptings of good on the one side and of evil on the other. Conscience did not always assume the position of a sentinel and stand with drawn sword to avenge the first transgression of the law written upon the human heart. There was a time when conscience had only one work to do—to approve of human deeds and so add to human happiness instead of being also compelled by human sinfulness to take the attitude of a reprover and a judge, and so increase the discord within the human soul. Music reminds us of what man’s inner life was when God first created him morally in His own image—when every faculty and feeling and desire was in perfect harmony with each other, and with all that is beautiful and good.

3. Of the harmony of the Divine nature. In proportion as the Christian’s heart and life approaches perfect conformity to the will of God, he finds a music within the soul which passeth all understanding. If he could look back upon all his past life and feel conscious that he had never wronged either himself, or his neighbour, or his God, and if he could feel confident that his whole future would be as perfect as his past, how blessed would be the harmony within! This is the experience of God—this makes Him ever and perfectly blessed—this makes His whole being perfectly free from any shadow of discord, and constitutes music a type of the harmonious blending of all the glorious attributes of His character.

III. Music, by shadowing forth these moral truths, is intended to comfort and to elevate mankind. If, when the soul is cast down by sorrow or degraded by sin, it will yield itself to the influence of this gift of God, rays of light will penetrate the darkness, and a dew of hope will fall upon the scorched soul. If even Saul became for a season delivered from the bondage of evil, when he listened to the sweet sounds of David’s harp, music must be one agency to lift the soul of man into communion with the unseen world and the unseen God, and so to do something towards restoring it to its original harmony. That it has such a tendency we have abundant evidence from the testimony of experience. “Music,” says Luther, “is one of the fairest and most glorious gifts of God, to which Satan is a bitter enemy, for it removes from the heart the weight of sorrow and the fascinations of evil thought. Music is a kind and gentle sort of discipline, it refines the passion and improves the understanding.” And in most of the revivals of spiritual life in the Church of God, music has been one of the agencies employed. It follows therefore that redeemed men ought to cultivate a knowledge of music, and render thanks unto God for having left us this reminder of heaven and of Himself.


This remarkable instance of the power of music over the mind is in conformity with the experiments of physicians, and with various intimations which may be found in ancient authors … In the Mèmoires of the French Academy of Sciences for 1707, are recorded many accounts of diseases which, having obstinately resisted the remedies prescribed by the most able of the faculty, at length yielded to the powerful impressions of harmony. One of these is the case of a person who was seized with fever, which soon threw him into a very violent delirium, almost without any interval, accompanied by bitter cries, by tears, by terrors, and by an almost constant wakefulness. On the third day, a hint that fell from himself suggested the idea of trying the effect of music. Gradually, as the strain proceeded, his troubled visage relaxed into a most serene expression, his restless eyes became tranquil, his convulsions ceased, and the fever absolutely left him. It is true that when the music was discontinued his symptoms returned; but by frequent repetitions of the experiment, during which the delirium always ceased, the power of the disease was broken, and the habits of a sound mind re-established. Six days sufficed to accomplish a cure … More remarkable, as well as more truly parallel, is the case of Philip the Fifth of Spain and the musician Farinelli, in the last century. The king was seized with a total dejection of spirits, which made him refuse to be shaved, and incapable of appearing in council or of attending to any affairs. The queen, after all other methods had been essayed, thought of trying what might be effected by the influence of music, to which the king was known to be highly susceptible. We have no doubt that this experiment was suggested to her by this case of Saul and David. The celebrated musician Farinelli was invited to Spain, and it was contrived that there should be a concert in a room adjoining the king’s apartment, in which the artist should perform one of his captivating songs. The king appeared surprised at first, then greatly moved, and at the end of the second air he summoned the musician to his apartment and, loading him with compliments, asked him how he could reward such talents. Farinelli, previously tutored, answered that he desired nothing but that his majesty would permit his attendant to shave and dress him, and that he would endeavour to make his appearance in the council as usual. The king yielded, and from this time his disease gave way, and Farinelli had the honour of the cure. Kitto.


1 Samuel 16:19. While David followed the sheep he had ample time at his disposal, but instead of letting it go by in idleness, or frittering it away in spasmodic study, now of this thing now of that, he specially concentrated his attention on the art of music, until he acquired rare skill and excellence in playing upon the harp, and it was through this self-taught attainment that he was first called forth into public life. It is of immense consequence that the young people of these days should see the necessity of acting in a similar manner.… It is a preparation for future eminence. It is interesting to observe how many have passed through this very gate to usefulness and honour.—Dr. W. M. Taylor.

1 Samuel 16:23. There is a mystery and a meaning in music we can never either expound or explore; and it is felt that those natures which are the greatest burden and mystery to themselves find most the solace of song in the combinations of all sweet sounds; we have known this, it is not always that in joyfulness of heart we sing.… I have known a woman, disappointed and forsaken, flying to her piano; her fingers rushing over the keys have given liberation to her spirit, and the chords opened the sealed well of tears, and the rains descended and the floods came. And something like this is a very general experience. Hence we have poetry for all cultured people and hymns for holy people; and do we not know what it is to become happy while we sing?—Hood.

It was a song without words whose soothing melody fell upon the ear of the king. Words corresponding to the music would have produced the contrary result to that which was aimed at, and might even have increased the ill temper of the king. There are even yet men enough of this sort—persons without faith, yea, at variance both with God and the world—whom solemn music is able most powerfully to delight, and in whom it awakens, at least for the time, dispositions which border on devotion and piety, while yet the words which correspond to the sacred melody would produce in them the very opposite effect. What is manifest from this, but that in the soul of such persons the last point at which they may be touched by that which is sacred has not yet wholly decayed away?—Krummacher.

It was a mere foreshadow, on a comparatively low and earthly ground, of the wondrous way in which David, as the Psalmist, was afterwards to provide the true “oil of joy for the mourner,” and to become a guide to the downcast soul “from the horrible pit,” up to the third heaven of joy and peace.—Blaikie.

The music was more than a mere palliative. It brought back for a time the sense of a true order, a secret, inward harmony, an assurance that it is near to every man, and that he may enter into it. A wonderful message, no doubt, to a king or a common man, better than a great multitude of words, a continual prophecy that there is a deliverer who can take the vulture from the heart, and unbind the sufferer from the rock; but not (as many, I suppose, must bitterly know) the deliverer itself.—Maurice.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 16". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/1-samuel-16.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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