This week we begin a new series of messages from the Old Testament on the life of King David. There are several reasons for this. The first and most important reason is that David is one of the most important figures in the history of redemption. That’s because he, more clearly than any other Old Testament figure, (arguably) points to Jesus Christ. Jesus is called “the Son of David.” The first words in the New Testament in Matthew’s opening verse says, “1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”
In the Old Testament, God had stipulated that the Messiah had to be born of the Jews — a “son of Abraham” and God promised king David in Second Samuel chapter seven that God would establish, through his family line, a kingdom that would last forever. That promise was fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, born of the family line of David –the Jewish Messiah whose kingdom will last forever. That means that David’s life and ministry gives us unique insights into the life of Jesus as a King, a Warrior, and a Worshipper.
Related to that is– as we’ve said before, when you study a significant biblical character, you don’t do that to learn moral lessons from his life or study his life to “become a better leader” or better manager or even, how to avoid his mistakes. The Bible is not a self-help book. It’s not a manual for spiritual growth. The bible is a book that reveals God to us–who he is, what he has done and what he is like. So, when we’re studying the life of king David, we should always be looking for truth about the King of Heaven.
A second reason to study the life of David is that he is the primary author of the longest book in the bible, the book that uniquely reveals how believers can and should worship and relate to God, the Psalms. David wrote about half of the 150 Psalms. Many of the Psalms of David were written in response to his own experiences we’ll be looking at in First and Second Samuel. Having a better grasp of those stories will help us better understand and appreciate the Psalms.
A third and final reason to study the story of David is that it helps us understand better how to interpret the Bible. Old Testament literary scholar Robert Alter says about the story of David, “…nowhere is the Bible’s …narrative economy, its ability to define characters and etch revelatory dialogue in a few telling strokes, more brilliantly deployed.” That means that the story of David is perhaps the best example of Hebrew story-telling in the Bible.
And because about 40% of the Bible is written in narrative or story form, every believer should want to know better how to understand what those stories are communicating. So, hopefully, as we study these stories about David, we can sharpen our skills in understanding the message of the Bible.
If we’re to rightly understand and appreciate the story of David, we must see how he fits into the bible’s history of redemption. You can’t separate the story of king David from the story of his predecessor, king Saul. Their accounts are mingled together, and the story of Saul helps us better understand who David is and God’s main purposes for him. After about 300 years of being ruled by judges like Gideon and Samson, the Israelites want a king like all the pagan nations surrounding them.
So, the Jews tell their spiritual leader, Samuel the prophet, (and the last judge) that they want a king like their neighboring countries. When the people demand a king, God reveals to Samuel what is really motivating them in First Samuel 8:7. “7 And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.” In requesting a human king, the Jews were communicating that they did not want God to be their King. Samuel warns the people of all the hassles and heartaches a king will bring to Israel, but they stubbornly persist in their demand for a king.
God has Samuel anoint king Saul from the tribe of Benjamin who is exactly the kind of person the Jews wanted for their king. He was tall, good looking and ended up being a successful military leader. But Saul was hopelessly flawed and early in his reign, it becomes clear that he was unwilling to perform the most important part of his job–to serve and obey God, (as much as he testified otherwise). So, God rejects him from being king.
Strangely, even though God had rejected him, Saul remained king over Israel for several years after God anoints David to be king. In fact, a good portion of David’s story reveals the bizarre relationship Saul had with David. Initially, Saul loves David, but his increasing envy and paranoia of David leads him to eventually hate him and he repeatedly tries to kill him. God, however, uses Saul’s prolonged opposition to David to build into David those qualities he needed to be a great king.
David reigned in Israel about 1000 BC and his reign and the reign of his son Solomon, though far from perfect, has been called “the golden age of Israel.” It marks the high point of Jewish spiritual life and it’s when they reached their peak military and economic power. The section of Scripture that Scott read introduces us to David and occurs not long after God has rejected Saul as king for his repeated disobedience.
This chapter divides almost evenly into two parts. The first half, through verse 13 is where God chooses a king for himself. The second section, beginning with verse 14, is where God begins the transition from King Saul to King David. First, God chooses a king for himself. One of the main themes of the rest of the book of First Samuel is the stark contrast the author draws between king Saul and king David. And that contrast begins right here in chapter 16 with the choosing of King David which is profoundly different than the selection of Saul as king.
Though its clear from the story of Saul’s anointing as the first king of Israel that God is overseeing that selection, its also clear that the standards God uses for Saul as king are very different than those for king David. God chooses Saul in response to the people’s cries for a king “like all the nations” [8:5]. So, God chooses for them a king that fit those specifications. We see this in a couple of verses about the choosing of Saul that are in marked contrast with the choosing of David that Scott read earlier.
Back in chapter eight, God responds to the people’s request for a king. Verse 22 says, “22 And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey their voice [for a king like all the nations] and make them a king…” This king was going to be for THEM—that is, according to their specifications. Later in chapter 11, when Saul was presented to the people, verse 15 says, “15 So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the LORD in Gilgal...” God chose Saul for the people according to their specifications and it was the people who made Saul their king. Saul’s qualifications for the job were that he was tall and handsome. That’s what the people valued and in Saul, they got the king they wanted.
Contrast that with what we read here about David’s anointing as king. Verse one says, “1 The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” With Saul, the emphasis is on what the people wanted. With David, God has “provided for myself a king.” Later on, we’ll see GOD’S criteria for his king and its radically different than the Jews who wanted a king “like all the nations” [8:5].
Samuel’s response to God’s request to find this new king is in verse two. 2 And Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me.” And the LORD said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’” If you remember the context, we can understand at least some reasons why Samuel was afraid of Saul’s wrath. Think about it. God, through Samuel, had just rejected king Saul in chapter 15 and Saul is doubtless smarting over it. As God’s prophet and a judge, Samuel was THE ONLY person in Israel who could anoint a successor to Saul now that God had rejected him. So, because Saul knows that God had rejected him as king, it would make sense that Saul would be paranoid about Samuel—the king-maker’s schedule and a sudden trip to Bethlehem would have aroused his suspicion.
Verse four tells us that the elders of Bethlehem—the civic leaders are afraid of Samuel as they “…came to meet him trembling and saying, “Do you come peaceably?” No reason is given for their fear, but Samuel was God’s prophet and a judge and practically no one in Israel at this time was carefully following God. These elders probably felt a bit like you and I do when we’re breaking the speed limit and a police squad car suddenly appears in our rear-view mirror.
Samuel told the elders in verse five, 5 … Consecrate yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.” To consecrate someone means to set them apart for God. This could have included things like ceremonial washing and changing into a new set of clothes—something to outwardly indicate that you have made special preparation to stand before God.
The next few verses are very important because they reveal the vast gulf that separates a holy God and sinful humanity and God does something to make this contrast even more powerful. He does this by contrasting himself, NOT with some average, paganized Jew on the street. No, he contrasts himself with Samuel—the man of God, the judge and prophet of Israel. This is the one and only place where Samuel is placed in an uncomfortable and clearly inferior position. In all other contexts, Samuel is the authority—he’s the expert, the one “in the know.” Here, he is used as an example of how superior a holy God is to sinful humanity.
After Samuel invites each of Jesse’s sons to come before him we read beginning in verse six, “6 When they came, he [Samuel] looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is before him.” 7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: [“MAN”—that’s YOU Samuel. I’m not like YOU] man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” The Lord places Samuel on the same level as all people. He highlights that Samuel judges the same way as those who chose king Saul –based purely on his height. And the point is to reveal how grossly inferior even the most godly person is to the LORD.
Literally, God is saying that you judge other people by your eyes, the Lord judges people by his heart. To judge by the heart is to see into a person’s heart. This is one of many places where God reveals how vastly different he is from sinful humanity. Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
God is not simply a bigger, more perfect version of humans. That’s not what it means for humanity to be created in his image. As people in his image, we uniquely reveal part of who God is, but we are NOT simply smaller versions of him. He is NOT just different by degree from us—he’s different in kind. He’s not just bigger than us, he is qualitatively different than we are.
God is infinite—there is no end to his wisdom and understanding. There is nothing beyond his scope or ability. He is the Creator. He created the universe out of nothing. We can’t create anything from nothing. And we are finite creatures and always will be! There is a very definite limit to what we are able to know and understand. His ways and thoughts are not just bigger and better than ours. They are in an infinitely different class.
When God judges the fitness of someone to be king over his people, he is not limited to looking only at his outward height and appearance. He is able to look into the heart of a person. Is he humble? Will he serve me with his whole heart? Does he trust in me above all else? Does he have a passionate love for me? NONE of that is observable with our eyes alone and ALL of those traits can be faked and have been many times.
After God rejects seven of Jesse’s sons, Samuel asks a logical question in verse 11. “11Then Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and get him, for we will not sit down till he comes here.” 12 And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the LORD said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.” Some observations here. First, it’s clear that, even though David was a son of Jesse, he was considered so unlikely to be the one Samuel is looking for that no one bothered to call him in from the sheep. We see an example here of what God does so many times in the Bible by choosing this highly unlikely character.
God sovereignly shapes Ancient Near Eastern culture so that the first-born son gets all the benefits—birthright, double portion of the inheritance and all the privileges the other siblings can’t have. But then, God regularly goes against that cultural convention by choosing men to lead who are NOT first-born sons. The list of these men includes not only David, but Seth, Noah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Ephraim, Moses and maybe even Abraham. Jesus highlights God’s upside-down value system in Mark 10:31. “But many who are first will be last and the last first.” David was the last son of Jesse …who became first in importance.
Paul says it this way in First Corinthians 1:27, “27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;” Later, God himself affirms that this is what he’s done with David. Speaking through Nathan the prophet, God says to David in Second Samuel 7:8, 8 … ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel.” No one would have thought that a shepherd–someone who follows sheep in a pasture—would be a good choice to lead God’s people.
Verse 12 says that David was “…ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome.” “Ruddy” literally means red and that probably means, bronze, physically striking. David was not unusually tall, but he’s a striking man. David’s appearance is relevant because in a fallen world—people DO judge by the outer appearance and his appearance would have given him favor with the people. But its clear that his appearance was not important to God. It was his heart that was set to follow after and trust in God.
The horn of oil used to anoint David was the horn of an animal that had been filled with oil. In the Bible, oil symbolizes the Holy Spirit and verse 13 says that after Samuel poured the oil on David’s head in front of his brothers, “…the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah.” This tells us that, just as he did with Saul at his anointing to be king, the Spirit of God supernaturally equipped David to be king. But the contrast with Saul is very important because here the account also adds, “…from that day forward.” The author reveals that with David, this equipping with the Spirit of God was lasting, not temporary, as in Saul’s case.
This verse also indicates that as soon as Samuel anointed David, he promptly leaves the scene. This was a secret, clandestine meeting and Samuel takes no chance of being discovered. It’s also important that the scholars point out that the text nowhere indicates that anyone watching this event knew that Samuel’s anointing David made him the future king of Israel. Though it’s easy to assume that was the case, that piece of information is not disclosed—even to David. Samuel had told the elders of the city ONLY that he had come for a sacrifice and he invited Jesse and his sons to a sacrifice, NOT to anoint the new king of Israel.
The only one God had revealed this to was Samuel. The others in attendance would have had many questions about why Samuel anointed David (of all people), but there is no evidence Samuel revealed this. The people don’t know that God had rejected Saul as king. They wouldn’t have expected David or anyone else to be anointed as king because they already had a king! The book of Second Samuel records two other times when David was publicly anointed the king in chapter two and chapter five. In both cases, it’s explicitly stated that he was being anointed the king of God’s people. But that is noticeably absent in this first anointing.
The second half of the chapter is where God begins the transition from King Saul to King David. It was years before Saul was killed and David was officially recognized as king and God had much to teach David before he was ready to take the throne of his people, but that process begins here.
The author shifts to Saul in verse 14. “14 Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the LORD tormented him. 15 And Saul’s servants said to him, “Behold now, a harmful spirit from God is tormenting you.” The contrast with David here is specifically intended to be a dramatic one. The Spirit of God, who was needed to equip someone to be king over Israel, had come upon David while Saul, who God had rejected as king, has the Spirit depart from him. And in his place “a harmful spirit from God” torments [literally, terrorizes] Saul. The impact is that God places his seal of approval on David while removing it from Saul.
Some people struggle over the fact that “a harmful spirit from God” torments Saul. That hesitation is probably reflected in the translation “a harmful spirit from God.” The word in the original is literally “a spirit of evil.” People question whether this is a really an evil spirit/demon and if so, how can God send an evil spirit to terrorize someone? As we were reminded in our series from Revelation, God is sovereign over evil as well as good and there are dozens of Scriptures where we see this tension.
In Judges 9:23 we’re told, “23 And God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem, and the leaders of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech.” Even more powerful is the incident, late in David’s reign of David, where he sinfully ordered a census of Israel. Its revealing how the bible communicates this. In Second Samuel 24:1 we read, “1 Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he [God] incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” God is explicitly mentioned as the one who incites David to number the troops and in so doing, brings his wrath on Israel.
The Chronicler records the same incident in First Chronicles 21:1 but he reveals it this way, “1 Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel.” The Chronicler says its SATAN who incited David to number the Jews. That’s not a contradiction with Second Samuel. When you put both accounts together, they reveal that God ultimately is the cause of all things, including this census that brought his wrath, (and the Samuel version reflects that truth). But God can use Satan (as what theologians call a secondary cause) to bring about his will (and the Chronicler’s version reveals that truth).
Or, how about Paul’s example in Second Corinthians chapter 12? He writes, “7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger [literally, “angelos”] of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.” God sends a demon to harass Paul and to teach him that in his weakness, he is strong in God.
The point for us in all this is that it doesn’t matter whether this was a demon, or some other kind of tormenting spirit God sends to Saul. The truth is—King Saul had repeatedly rebelled against God and deserved his judgment. God justly began that judgment by sending a tormenting spirit and the presence of this spirit surely explains much of the bizarre behavior Saul manifests in his ongoing conflict with David later in the book of First Samuel.
In this story, we also have an interesting dynamic as to how God works in the affairs of humanity. Up to this point, God has explicitly planned and executed everything. He explicitly chose David and spoke directly to Samuel, giving him very specific instructions about how he is to anoint him. God is VERY “hands on” up to this point in the story.
Here however, he changes his method and he begins to work NOT explicitly, but by what theologians call his providence. From this point on in the chapter, God providentially arranges the circumstances in a way so that his will is accomplished. After Saul is told that he needs some music therapy to relieve his torment from the evil spirit, he orders his men to find a musician. We read in verse 18, “18 One of the young men answered, “Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and the LORD is with him.” 19 Therefore Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me David your son, who is with the sheep.” 20 And Jesse took a donkey laden with bread and a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them by David his son to Saul.”
This is a great example of the providence of God at work. Saul needs a man skillful at playing the lyre and it just so happens that one of his young men had seen this David fellow from Bethlehem playing skillfully on his lyre and who is also an otherwise wonderful, valiant, and gifted fellow. The author doesn’t reveal how he knows all this about David but that’s not the point. The point is that—God is just as able to accomplish his will implicitly through his providence as he is through explicitly commanding one of his prophets.
So, David enters the service of Saul—(which is just what a future king of Israel would need to prepare him to be king) and God uses David to give Saul relief from the evil spirit. From what we see elsewhere in Scripture, this is not just a psychological remedy—its spiritual warfare. When Jehoshaphat defeated the pagan Ammonites and Moabites, God called them to sing praises to God and God used their singing to repel the enemies. Musical praise to God is an important element in spiritual warfare. Satan knows this and that’s why he attacks music in the church by tempting churches to sing songs that are shallow and often, not even true in what they affirm. This is also why music is so often a point of division in the church. The old saying, “When Satan fell, he fell into the choir loft” has more truth to it than we would imagine.
So, what are we to take from all of this? How does this apply to us? Because we’re celebrating communion today, let’s spend a moment thinking about how David points to Jesus here. We this in many ways in this chapter. Both David and Jesus are kings, both are shepherds—Jesus calls himself “the good shepherd” in John chapter ten. Both are anointed by the Spirit—David here, and Jesus at his baptism when the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove. And both David and Jesus were unlikely choices to be king. A shepherd boy and a carpenter’s son are not self-evident choices for future kings.
But let’s close by pointing to two ways these two are very different. First, Jesus is God and is qualitatively different than David. Jesus is infinitely higher than even the great king David. And that reveals even more clearly how astonishing were the suffering and wrath he endured on the cross. The Romans and Jews crucified One who is infinitely greater than the greatest king of Israel.
And that leads us to a second way Jesus is different than king David. The author here reveals that David was a handsome man but in Isaiah 53:2, we read this about Jesus. 2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.”
Why would God make King David handsome and King Jesus plain, maybe even a bit homely? Well, God chose David to be a king who would be admired and exalted. In a fallen world, good looks are an important part of that. But God chose Jesus to be a king …to be rejected and mocked and spat upon and crucified. There’s NO need to make physically attractive someone like THAT and intended for THAT.
God equipped David to be loved and cherished by the masses and he was. But he equipped Jesus to be loved and cherished ONLY by those who, by the grace of God, would look beyond the physical and see into Jesus’ royal heart.
As we come to the table, we must never forget that, unlike king David, God called his Son, Jesus to suffer and die for us. He called his Son to cleanse us from our sins as we trust in him by faith. He called his Son to fit us to be NOT sons of David, but sons of GOD! May God give us the grace to see and treasure King Jesus for his glory and our joy.
 Alter, Robert, “The David Story, A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel, Norton and Company, New York, 1999, p. 1x
 Tsumura, D. (2007) NICOT, The Book of First Samuel (pp. 414-433) Eerdmans.
 This observation is from: Tsumura, D. (2007) NICOT, The Book of First Samuel (pp. 414-433) Eerdmans.