I Samuel 16

The Word Made Fresh

1The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you worry over Saul? I have rejected him as Israel’s king. Take your horn filled with oil and go to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen a king from among his sons.”

2Samuel answered, “How should I go? If Saul finds out, he’ll kill me.”

The LORD answered, “Take a young cow with you. Tell them you’ve come to present a sacrifice to the LORD. 3Make sure Jesse is invited to the ritual and I will show you then who to anoint for me; it will be the one I point out to you.”

4Samuel went to Bethlehem as the LORD told him. The city elders were shocked to see him. “Have you come in peace?” they asked. 5He said, “Yes. I have come to offer a sacrifice to the LORD. Consecrate yourselves and come with me.” And he also spoke to Jesse and his sons and bade them to come.

6When they were all gathered he studied Jesse’s oldest son, Eliab, and thought, “Surely this must be the LORD’s anointed one.”

7But the LORD said, “Don’t judge based on appearance, or on how tall he is. I have not chosen him. You see the outward appearance, but I see into the heart.”

8Then Jesse introduced his son Abinadab to Samuel, and Samuel said, “The LORD hasn’t chosen this one, either.”

9Then Jesse introduced Shammah, and Samuel said, “The LORD hasn’t chosen this one, either.”

10Jesse presented in turn seven of his sons, each time Samuel told him, “The LORD hasn’t chosen this one.” 11Then he asked Jesse, “Are all your sons here?”

Jesse said, “The youngest is watching the sheep.”

Samuel said “Send for him. We can’t proceed until he is here.”

12Jesse sent for him. He was well tanned. His eyes were sharp, and he was quite a handsome young man. The LORD said to Samuel, “Stand up now, and anoint him. This is the one I have chosen.” 13Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in his brothers’ presence, and the LORD’s spirit entered David that day and stayed with him all his life. Then Samuel returned to Ramah.

14The spirit of the LORD had left Saul and he was filled with a sour spirit. 15Saul’s servants told him, “Look, God is tormenting you with a sour outlook. 16Let us look for someone who can play the lyre, and when you’re overcome with that spirit, he will play for you and it will calm you down.”

17Saul said, “Find someone who can play it well and bring him to me.”

18One of his servants said, “I’ve heard of a young man in Bethlehem, one of Jesse’s sons, who is a talented musician. He’s a fighter, too, but well-spoken and good-looking. And the LORD is with him.”

19Saul sent word to Jesse: “Send me your son David, the shepherd.”

20So, Jesse sent David to him, leading a donkey loaded with gifts — bread, a skin of wine, and a young goat. 21David became one of Saul’s servants and Saul was very fond of him. He made David his armor-bearer as well.

22Then Saul sent word to Jesse: “David has impressed me greatly. Let him remain in my service.” 23Whenever Saul was in a foul mood, David would pick up his lyre and play it and Saul would be calmed.


1-5: But God is prepared to try again, this time with a candidate from the tribe of Judah (Saul is from the tribe of Benjamin). Samuel is sent to Bethlehem to find him.

6-13: Jesse’s sons are paraded before the old prophet. He is impressed with the first, Eliab, because he is so tall, like Saul. But God rejects him (specifically pointing out that being tall is not a qualification) and all the sons of Jesse who are present. The remaining son is sent for, the youngest, David. So, this time the choice is made differently. This time the choice is from the tribe of Judah, which has been separated from the rest of the tribes for some time now (remember Saul’s army was counted in two groups; Judah was one, the rest of the tribes comprised the other — see 15:4); this time the eldest son is passed over in favor of the younger; this time the anointing is not done secretly, but with witnesses; and this time the name of the chosen one is withheld until after he is anointed.

14-23: But David can hardly become king while Saul still lives, and somehow we have to get David into the public eye. The opportunity comes soon enough. Saul is plagued by an “evil spirit,” which is Bible speak for a bad attitude. His behavior sounds like what we might call manic depressive syndrome, or perhaps bi-polar disorder. He is by turns melancholy and raging, but all that will unfold later. At the moment he is in a depressive state, and someone suggests soothing music. Saul agrees, and, lo and behold, David is fingered. We met David in Bethlehem, a ruddy and handsome lad herding sheep, but now he is described as a valiant warrior, courageous and wise, who also happens to be a skilled musician. We have to suspect that this chapter is misplaced and should come later in the narrative, after David’s conquest of Goliath, since in that story Saul seems not to have ever met David.

When Saul sends to Jesse for him, he refers to him as “your son David who is with the sheep.” Saul loves him because his music brings relief, and appoints him as armor bearer to the king, although that seems to be a strange job for a harpist to have added to his duties, but it sets the stage for an upcoming event.

This chapter actually represents only the first introduction we have of David. There is another tradition of how David came to be in Saul’s service, which we’ll get to in the next chapter.


Don’t think for a moment that God chose Saul thinking that Saul would be a wonderful king. God chose him as a way of teaching Israel a lesson about leadership. Saul’s primary qualification was his physical stature. David is a keeper of sheep, a valuable experience that would help him shepherd God’s people Israel. Israel was not a democracy, but this is a helpful lesson in choosing our own leaders.