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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

1 Samuel 16

Verse 2

1 Samuel 16:2. And Samuel said, How can I go, &c.— Though the principal design of Samuel's journey to Bethlehem was, to anoint the son of Jesse; yet was there no falsehood in saying, according to the instruction given him by the Lord, that he came to sacrifice. God, who is truth itself, can never enjoin a lie. As to Samuel's pretending a sacrifice, says Dr. Waterland, it was a just pretence, and a true one: for he did offer sacrifice, as God had commanded him (1 Samuel 16:5.). And what if he had a farther intention? was he bound to declare all he knew, or to disclose to every man the whole of his errand? Secresy is of great use in all important business; and the concealing one design by going upon another, to prevent giving offence, or other worse mischief, is as righteous and as laudable a practice, as the drawing a curtain to keep off spies. The making one good design the cover for a better is doing two good things at once, and both in a proper way; and though men have been blamed, and very justly, for using acts of religion as a cloak for iniquity, yet I have never heard, that there could be any thing amiss in performing one act of obedience towards God, in order to facilitate the performance of another, see Scrip. Vind. p. 95.

Verse 10

1 Samuel 16:10. Again, Jesse made seven of his sons Thus Jesse made, &c. Waterland.

Verse 12

1 Samuel 16:12. Now he was ruddy, and withal, &c.— His hair was yellow, his face beautiful, and his form elegant. Houb.

Verse 13

1 Samuel 16:13. In the midst of his brethren Secretly, from his brethren. Wat. This translation of Dr. Waterland's seems just; as Samuel was afraid to have the purpose of his commission known, and as it plainly appears from Eliab's treatment of David, ch. 1Sa 17:28 that he did not know him to be the king elect of God's people. Houbigant is for our reading. He thinks the anointing was made publicly, but that Samuel did not declare the purpose of his anointing.

REFLECTIONS.—The king being to be chosen out of the sons of Jesse, we have them here passing in review before Samuel.

1. The eldest came, and being a goodly personage, tall, and majestic, Samuel was ready to conclude that this was God's elect; so much does a noble presence prepossess us in a man's favour: but God let him know that he was mistaken. God judgeth not, as man, by outward qualifications, but by the heart, the dispositions of which he regards, and with the inmost thoughts of which he is acquainted. Six more of Jesse's sons appear, yet none of these does God choose. Hereupon,
2. Samuel asks Jesse if he has no other children, and receives for answer, that the youngest, the little one, was with the sheep. Instantly he is sent for; his presence was the most needful of any at the feast: he appears in his shepherd's dress; the bloom of youth was on his ruddy cheek; his countenance, or, as the word may signify, his eyes beautiful and sparkling; and his aspect and manner bespoke the more pleasing dispositions of his mind: this is he. God commands, and Samuel obeys; the horn of oil is poured upon him, in token of the divine designation; and in, or rather from, the midst of his brethren he is anointed, as chosen out of them, or in private from them, as it was a secret which required concealment. Note; (1.) Youth and beauty are pleasing recommendations; and when the mind is fraught with divine grace and natural sweetness, it spreads a new lustre on the external gifts of nature, and makes the possessor doubly amiable. (2.) Diligence in an inferior station is the way to rise to greater honour. (3.) This shepherd-king is the type of that anointed Jesus, his son and successor, who was to feed his flock like a shepherd.

3. He is no sooner anointed, than the Lord pours out upon him an extraordinary measure of his spirit, fitting him for the great designs he has in view; not only increasing his spiritual gifts and graces, but filling him with courage, and probably bestowing an extraordinary skill in music and poetry.
4. Samuel now retires, to Ramah, where he lives and dies in peace, and is but once more mentioned in this history. He had finished his work, and God brings him shortly to his reward.

Verse 14

1 Samuel 16:14. The Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul Or, as the word might have been rendered, had departed from Saul. But what spirit? Not the prophetic spirit which he received according to Samuel's prediction, which ceased instantly when his prophesying was ended: not the spirit to render him incapable of transgressing; for that he never had, and therefore could never lose it. No: God was no longer with him, to prosper and guide him; but left him, as the effect of his disobedience, to that evil, melancholy, jealous, envious, malicious, murderous spirit, which afterwards possessed him, and seems never wholly to have left him. And this evil spirit of jealousy, hatred, and cruelty, will in the nature of things banish the spirit of a sound mind, moderation, equity, and every princely virtue, introduce an almost perpetual gloom, and dispose those who are under the unhappy influence of it, to the most unwarrantable and criminal excesses.

Verse 15

1 Samuel 16:15. Saul's servants said, &c.— The remainder of this chapter is undoubtedly an anticipation, but introduced by the sacred historian very properly and very naturally; for, having related at large how God had rejected Saul, and anointed David, he goes on (as it was a matter of the utmost moment in a religious history,) to inform us of the effects both of one and the other; though we are not to suppose them the instantaneous effects. The effects of Saul's rejection were, he tells us, the departure of God's spirit from him, and his being troubled with an evil spirit. This leads him naturally to speak of the effects of David's election, namely, his being endowed with many divine graces. So that the true chronology of this part of David's life stands thus: He is anointed by Samuel; he carries provisions to his brethren; he fights and overcomes Goliath; is received in the king's court; contracts a friendship with Jonathan; incurs Saul's jealousy; retires home to his father; is after some time sent for to soothe Saul's melancholy with his harp; proves successful, and is made his armour-bearer, and again excites Saul's jealousy, who endeavours to smite him with his javelin. This anticipation between the 14th and 23rd verses of this chapter, comes in, in the order of time, between 1Sa 16:9-10 of chap. 18: Div. Leg. vol. 3: p. 356.

Verse 19

1 Samuel 16:19. Saul sent messengers unto Jesse, &c.— The explanation of the chronology of this book given in the foregoing note, renders every difficulty clear and easy. David had vanquished the Philistine, was become a favourite of the people, and on that account the object of Saul's jealousy; to avoid the ill effects of which, he prudently retired. During his recess, Saul was seized with his disorder. His servants supposed that it might be alleviated by music; Saul consents to the remedy, and orders an artist to be sought for. They were acquainted with David's skill on the harp, and likewise with Saul's ill disposition towards him. It was a delicate point, which required address; and therefore they recommend him in that artful manner, 1Sa 16:16 which signifies, "As you must have one constantly in attendance both at court and in your military expeditions, to be always at hand on occasion, the son of Jesse will become both stations well: he will strengthen your camp, and adorn your court; for he is a tried soldier, and of a graceful presence. You have nothing to fear from his ambition; for you saw with what prudence he went into voluntary banishment, when his popularity had incurred your displeasure." Accordingly Saul is prevailed on; David is sent for, and succeeds with his music. This dissipates all former umbrage; and as one that was to be ever in attendance, he is made his armour-bearer. This sunshine continued till David's great successes awakened Saul's jealousy, and then the lifted javelin was to strike off all obligations. Thus we see how these difficulties are cleared up, and what light is thrown upon the whole history by the supposition of an anticipation in the latter part of this chapter; an anticipation the most natural, proper, and necessary, for the purpose of the historian. Div. Leg. vol. 3: p. 359 in the notes.

Verse 21

1 Samuel 16:21. His armour-bearer The literal rendering of the original word כלים נשׂא nose kelim is, bearer of the instruments or weapons. Of these there were three different sorts; the shield, the spear, and the sword. Of these bearers of arms, princes and generals had many: Joab had ten, Saul seems to have had two thousand, chap. 1 Samuel 13:2. And David's being made armour-bearer to Saul, implies no more than that he was constituted one of his guards; to bear what instrument, is not particularly said. Chandler's Review, &c. p. 95.


1. Saul a miserable spectacle, forsaken of God, deprived of his wonted wisdom and courage, and haunted by an evil spirit; terrified with the gnawings of remorse; gloomy, timorous, cruel, raving; distracted with suspicion and envy, and mad with despair. Note; How like a devil may man become in this world, when the restraints of God's spirit are taken from him, and he is given up to an evil conscience and the power of Satan!

2. His servants, perhaps his physicians, beholding his strange disease, knew that medicine was vain; they tell him their apprehension of his case, and prescribe a palliative, to soothe the ruffled passions of his mind, and lull his troubled bosom to repose. Music has magic powers, and melody might harmonize the jarring discord of his soul; a cunning player on the harp would be his best physician. Saul resolves to try the prescription, and commands such an one to be procured: one of his servants, hearing his order, recommends the son of Jesse, a man eminent for every endowment of mind and person, handsome, wise, valiant, and, for musical skill and execution, peerless. Him, therefore, Saul instantly sends for to court. Note; (1.) It is to be lamented, that so divine a science as music should ever, by lewd sonnets, be prostituted to inflame those passions which it was designed to calm and suppress. (2.) It is fatally dangerous for the soul to seek ease in sensual delights, instead of carrying a troubled conscience to a pardoning God. (3.) When God is pleased to distinguish a soul by his gifts and graces, obscurity cannot hide the lustre.

3. No sooner is he sent for, than he comes. His father, according to the custom of the times, sends a present by him to testify his dutiful subjection, and Saul is charmed with his behaviour, makes him his armour-bearer, and desires his father's leave to keep him continually about his person; for soon he experienced the efficacy of David's music. The evil spirit seizing him as usual, his melancholy reflections returned; then David took the harp, and in sounds melodious soothed his sorrows, and, as Josephus says, joined to his melting lyre a voice seraphic as the song: at this the ravings of the king subside, the evil spirit leaves him, and he regains his usual serenity. Note; (1.) Music hath power over some souls, which only they who feel can describe. (2.) It once was found successful to drive the evil spirit from the soul: Satan perceived the good, and listed music in his cause; and how has it served since to convey to the enchanted mind, with deeper poison, the sentiments of lust, revelling, and creature-idolatry, and to drive from the soul, not the evil spirit, but the good.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 16". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.