1 Samuel 16


In the previous chapter we saw that God rejected Saul as king of Israel. In this chapter we find God’s appointing of David to be Israel’s new king and ruler. Following on from this chapter we begin to see the great tension which arose between Saul and David, which was motivated by Saul’s rejection.

Samuel Anoints David

‘The LORD said to Samuel, ‘How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.’ But Samuel said, ‘How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.’ The LORD said, ‘Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.’ Samuel did what the LORD said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, ‘Do you come in peace?’ Samuel replied, ‘Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.’ Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.’ 1 Samuel 16:1-5

The Lord doesn’t mix his words with Samuel, He tells him it’s time to stop mourning for Saul, 1 Samuel 15:35, and get on with the task God has given him to do. In other words, it was time to move on from the past and start to look to the future, God has chosen a new king for Israel from the household of Jesse, Ruth 4:17 / Matthew 1:5.

Bethlehem was a small insignificant village, but because of the event, which was about to happen, it was going to become very significant, Micah 5:2. As with most towns and cities, there were elders who met at the city gates, and when Samuel arrived the elders ‘trembled’ and asked if he came in peace.

On the surface this seems like a strange reaction, they obviously feared the Lord and His authority but more likely they ‘trembled’ because they thought that anyone who supported Samuel was against Saul as their king, by default this would mean that they would end up being killed because they supported Samuel, 1 Samuel 22:11-19.

Samuel then asks them to ‘consecrate themselves’, in other words, they were to be set apart for God’s work. They were to be ready for the sacrifice which Samuel was preparing to do.

‘When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD.’ But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’ Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, ‘The LORD has not chosen this one either.’ Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, ‘Nor has the LORD chosen this one.’ Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, ‘The LORD has not chosen these.’ So he asked Jesse, ‘Are these all the sons you have?’ ‘There is still the youngest,’ Jesse answered. ‘He is tending the sheep.’ Samuel said, ‘Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.’ So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the LORD said, ‘Rise and anoint him; this is the one.’ So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.’ 1 Samuel 16:6-13

Samuel meets some of Jesse’s sons, seven on total but only three are mentioned, Eliab, Abinadab and Shammah. Whilst Samuel was looking at the physical appearance of these men, the outward appearance, God was looking at the hearts of the men.

If we learn anything from this, it’s simply this, we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, Matthew 7:15-20 / Galatians 5:22-23.

After meeting Jesse’s seven sons, Samuel asks if he has any other sons, to which Jesse tells him about David, who was the youngest of his sons. Although we don’t know how old David was at this time, we do know that he was mature enough to look after his father’s sheep. He was the youngest but a very handsome young man.

The important point is that God knew him and knew his heart and knew what kind of a person he would become. And so, God tells Samuel to anoint David like he did with Saul and all the other kings which would come. No man chose David to be king but God, later as time goes by, this would change because man would then choose a king for themselves.

Because God anointed David to be king and ruler of Israel, He was sending a clear message to all of Israel that David was His choice, and he will become king in a few years from now. Although many wouldn’t understand God choosing of David, even his brothers, 1 Samuel 17:28, God’s plan were now underway.

Notice that the Spirit of the Lord came upon David powerfully and he was blessed with wisdom and power. In other words, the Holy Spirit would protect David for his role as king and would help him not to become arrogant and filled with himself as Saul was.

The Holy Spirit would help him to put his trust in God rather than trusting men as Saul did. He would help him to look for God’s approval rather than looking for the approval of men as Saul did.

David In Saul’s Service

‘Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him. Saul’s attendants said to him, ‘See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the lyre. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes on you, and you will feel better.’ So Saul said to his attendants, ‘Find someone who plays well and bring him to me.’ One of the servants answered, ‘I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the lyre. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the LORD is with him.’ 1 Samuel 16:14-18

Saul asks one of servants to find someone who can play the lyre and one of the servants suggest David, the son of Jesse and they inform Saul is he a brave man, a warrior, he speaks well, fine looking but more important the Lord is with him.

The Evil Spirit

After King Saul’s slaughter of the Amalekites, we are told that ‘an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him’. Does this mean that God sent an ‘evil spirit’ to possess Saul?

There is no doubt that this verse, is often taken to mean that God actually sent an evil spirit to take possession of King Saul and this is an idea which is both puzzling and disturbing.

But whenever we encounter difficult or strange statements in the Scriptures, we must bear in mind that, although God inspired the writers in the making of their historical records, they had to cope with the limitations of human language.

This means that often they were faced with the serious problem of trying to explain divine actions in human terms, and that could never be easy. We, also, sometimes experience a problem of a similar nature.

For example, how would you describe snow to people who have never seen snow? or how would you explain to an Eskimo, who has never seen a sheep, that the Lord Jesus is ‘the Lamb’ of God? Whatever explanation you offer, you will only succeed in presenting a partial picture of the truth.

Therefore, when we encounter a verse such as 1 Samuel 16:14, we should not ask, how does this statement look to me? but, what lies behind this statement? What is it meant to convey? What does God want us to understand? The only way of determining this is by looking at the circumstances in which the problem statement is found.

Notice that our problem verse is connected with this event recorded in 1 Samuel 15:1-35. King Saul had been given a plain command by God, a command which he had quite deliberately disobeyed. This wasn’t his first act of disobedience, 1 Samuel 13:8-14. He had already been warned!

The consequence of this later offence was that God rejected him as King of His people, and, as evidence of his rejection, ‘the Spirit of God left him’. It’s at this point that we are told that ‘an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him’.

There are two questions I think we should ask.

1. What is meant by ‘an evil spirit’? and

2. In what sense was it ‘from the Lord’?

But, first, think about the event which brought this matter to a head. Saul’s failure to obey God in the matter of the Amalekites, because this piece of Old Testament history has long discomforted Christians and delighted unbelievers, even though, it should be noted, this is the only time that such a command was ever issued. In other words, God meant it to be recognised as a singular, special and serious event.

For God to have commanded the destruction of both Amalekite life and property has embarrassed even those who probably appreciate that the wickedness of the Amalekites, constituted a danger to His people and also the to the purpose He planned to accomplish through them.

But, someone asks, would it not have been sufficient simply to destroy the Amalekites army? Must everything be declared, ‘herem’, placed under the ban and utterly destroyed? We must understand that this command meant that the Israelites were not ordered to engage in an ordinary conflict but were called by God to execute an act of divine judgment.

To make this absolutely clear, contrary to what would normally have happened in time of war, they were forbidden to retain as the spoil of battle anything that belonged to the Amalekites. In those days, a battle in which the victors did not plunder the defeated was remarkable and unusual indeed and would certainly be recognised as a significant event.

This unusual behaviour would prove to Israel’s neighbours that the purpose of the action really was punitive and not the seizure of property. However, when the rest of the Canaanite tribes learned what King Saul had done, in disobeying God by keeping the best of the spoil, a quite different message was sent out.

It appeared that Israel had committed a blatant act of aggression against the Amalekites, merely for the purpose of self-gain, and this reflected badly not only on the Israelites themselves but also on their God.

It was after this act of disobedience which misrepresented God, that Saul was judged unworthy to remain king and God rejected him. When Samuel was sent to anoint David to succeed to the kingship. ‘The Spirit of God came upon David’, and ‘an evil spirit’ came upon Saul.

What, then, was this ‘evil spirit’?

I think it is clear from the events which followed that, deprived of the help of the Spirit of God and abandoned by Samuel the prophet on whose support he had relied, 1 Samuel 15:31 / 1 Samuel 15:35, something terrible happened to Saul. That expression, ‘an evil spirit’, refers to physical or mental illness and it is such an illness, which afflicted Saul.

He became mentally ill and began to suffer from a mental depression, which rendered him unstable and caused him to suspect and distrust everyone around him. His ailment also brought attacks of panic, in which no one was safe. This was not ‘demon-possession’, as some have supposed, because the passage doesn’t say that he was ‘possessed by an evil spirit’.

1. We are told that an evil spirit ‘troubled him’.

The word ‘baath’ means ‘to terrify’. In other words, Saul began to suffer from mental depression that brought on terrible panic attacks which caused him to ‘rave’, 1 Samuel 18:10.

2. At first, these attacks were spasmodic and his condition could be soothed by David’s music.

Saul’s attendants who suggested the music cure recognized this. Consequently, when David played, the King was ‘refreshed’ and ‘made well again’, 1 Samuel 16:16 / 1 Samuel 16:23. This hardy suggests demon-possession!

3. But gradually, and no doubt influenced by his deepening sense of isolation, Saul’s condition deteriorated to the point where the music of David failed to calm his troubled mind and he became increasingly unreasonable and violent, 1 Samuel 18:10-11.

Saul lost all affection for David and began to see him as an enemy, 1 Samuel 18:29. Matters came to a head when it became obvious to David that, by attending the King, his own life was in grave danger, 1 Samuel 19:8-10, and he decided it was unsafe for him to take his usual place at the king’s dinner-table, 1 Samuel 20:24-27.

The psychological nature of Saul’s illness is proved by the fact that, although he had three times tried to kill David, he was genuinely surprised and puzzled by the young man’s absence! yet, when Jonathan tried to offer an explanation, Saul became so angry that he tried to kill his own son.

But in what sense was Saul’s condition ‘from the Lord’?

It wasn’t ‘from the Lord’ in the sense that God deliberately afflicted Saul with insanity, but only in the sense that, when God so emphatically withdrew His endorsement and support of him, Saul became more and more depressed.

The medical word which describes his condition exactly is ‘melancholia’, which is defined as ‘emotional mental disease marked by depression and ill-grounded fears’. This is what the Scriptures reveal in the case of Saul.

Saul began showing such great promise He had so much ability and was blessed with so many advantages, having the help of the Spirit of God and the fatherly guidance of Samuel the prophet. The highest possibilities were within his reach.

But his life ended in depression and despair, because he failed to appreciate that God looks for obedience in His people. That is the tragedy of King Saul. Even today, ‘To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.’ 1 Samuel 15:22.

‘Then Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, ‘Send me your son David, who is with the sheep.’ So Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them with his son David to Saul. David came to Saul and entered his service. Saul liked him very much, and David became one of his armour-bearers. Then Saul sent word to Jesse, saying, ‘Allow David to remain in my service, for I am pleased with him.’ Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.’ 1 Samuel 16:19-21

Saul sends for David and he instantly liked him. he also requests that David stay in his service because when David plays the lyre, he gets relief from the tormenting spirit.

The lyre interestingly enough is the oldest instrument mentioned in the Scriptures, Genesis 4:21, and it appears that when David played it, Saul’s mind was soothed and helped him in his emotional state.

Go To 1 Samuel 17


"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

John 3:16