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Samuel's mourning for Saul was deep and real; nevertheless it must not be too long protracted. The Lord stirs him up now to some positive action. God has chosen a king from among the sons of Jesse, a Bethlehemite, and Samuel is told to go to anoint him. The boldness of Samuel's faith wavers for the moment. He had been firm and decided in telling Saul that another would take his place as king yet now he is apprehensive that his anointing David will antagonize Saul to the point of killing Samuel. The Lord graciously answers this by the provision of the sacrifice of an heifer. This was not deception, but protection of Samuel. On this occasion the most important thing was the sacrifice, not the anointing. God's honor must first be recognized, and the anointing was therefore sanctified by His presence. Samuel was told to call Jesse to the sacrifice, and to depend on God as to what to do and whom to anoint.
His coming to Bethlehem awakens fear among the elders of the town. Israel's disobedience. has left an uneasy conscience: they knew of Samuel's strong censure of Saul, and wonder if he has come to Bethlehem to take severe measures. But he answers them that he has come peacefully with the intention of sacrificing to the Lord, inviting them all to come to the sacrifice. He personally sanctified Jesse and his sons (by what process we are not told) and called them to the sacrifice. This was not a matter, however, for Jesse's family alone, for the elders of Bethlehem at least were also present.
Eliab, apparently Jesse's eldest son, seems to Samuel to be God's choice for king. He was evidently tall and of a commanding appearance (as was Saul). But Samuel had not learned his lesson well enough as regards the impressive appearance of man in the flesh. As the Lord tells him, this does not decide anything, for the Lord looks on the heart, not at what appears on the surface.
Jesse then presents Abinabab, evidently the second son, then Shammah, then the rest of his seven sons, no doubt in order of age. But the Lord makes it clear to Samuel that He has chosen none of them. Do we not see here an analogy of the Lord passing by all those men who are seen in the Old Testament, not one of them being God's choice for king? Jesse had not even considered his youngest son for such an honor, just as the Lord Jesus is the last man people think of as being the One to rule over them. The youngest was keeping the sheep. He was not considered of such significance to even be present at the sacrifice.
However, the typical meaning of keeping sheep is precious to God. This is in contrast to Saul who was looking for his father's donkeys, which he never found. God's thought of a king is to have one with a shepherd's heart, who would genuinely care for the people. Samuel insists on the youngest being called, for he too must have part with them when they sat down to eat. When he comes he is seen to be "ruddy," accustomed to the outdoors, "and besides of a lovely countenance and beautiful appearance." Of course this is intended to remind us of the beauty of the Lord Jesus. David's outward beauty was not the deciding factor, for God looks on the heart; but when the heart is right it is only normal that there should be outward beauty. Of course there may be genuine beauty where the natural man sees none. (Cf. Isaiah 53:2).
God gives His direct word to Samuel that this is His choice. Then Samuel "anointed him in the midst of his brethren." It was not a private matter such as the anointing of Saul (ch.9:27-10:1), for David was a man after God's heart, clearly a type of Christ, who is God's conclusive choice for King. From that time we are told that the Spirit of the Lord came upon David. This was a special empowering that God gave him to enable him to act in a manner and with a wisdom suitable to kingly dignity. It was not long after that the people discerned that David was more qualified to reign than was Saul, and Saul become apprehensive because of this (ch.18:6-18).
On the other hand, the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him. God had graciously given Saul His Spirit to enable him to properly function as a king, but Saul had rebelled against God's word, thinking he could rightly act independently of God. Therefore God removed His Spirit from him, to allow him to go ahead and act in his independent way.
Not only did God allow Saul to take his own headstrong way, but since Saul had refused the Spirit of God, he was left open to the opposite of this, an evil spirit. God allowed the evil spirit to trouble Saul in order to awaken him to the folly of his own self-will. Disobedience to God does not leave us in a merely negative state, but in a state of positive evil. This sobering fact ought to have driven Saul to seek the grace of God and to willingly give up his kingdom to the man of God's choice; but he stubbornly persisted in his evil course until his tragic death.
His servants discerned that it was God who had allowed this evil spirit to trouble Saul. Their solution is not to go to the root of the matter, but to treat its symptoms. This is characteristic of men's governments everywhere. A capable minstrel could so play the harp as to calm the spirit of the troubled king. Today we are acquainted with the well-known adage, "Music has charms to soothe the savage breast." There is no doubt that music is a wonderful provision of God for mankind, often rightly used, though also often badly abused.
At Saul's request for such a musician, one of his servants suggests a son of Jesse, who was none other than David, whom Samuel had anointed without Saul's knowledge. His credentials were of a high order. First, he was a skillful musician, secondly, a valiant man, thirdly, a man of war, fourthly, skilled in speech, fifthly, presentable in his person, and last, but most important, the Lord was with him. How clearly he is a type of Christ.
It must have been to Jesse and to David a striking sign of God's leading that Saul should require his service. In his coming he brings a present to Saul of bread, wine and a kid, all typical of Christ and His sacrifice. The character of David was such that Saul loved him greatly and employed him as his armor bearer. We shall see later, however, that his love was turned to virtual hatred when he realized that David was better qualified to be king than he was, specially as was discerned in the estimation of the women in their songs (ch.18:6-8).
At this time Saul asks Jesse that David may remain in his service; and the harping of David provides a soothing remedy for Saul's distress occasioned by the evil spirit. This music is typical of the sweet music of the ministry of the Word of God, the harp of ten strings reminding us that scripture provides a lovely range of truth that is all necessary for the proper instruction and guidance of men. The lowest notes may tell us of the depths of sorrow and anguish to which the Lord Jesus descended in pure love for us: the highest notes, of the great glory to which He has been exalted, above all heavens, causing the highest, purest joy. Between these there is a range of other notes, all adding to the glorious harmony of the Word of God. We must learn it well, if we are to use it well.
That Word, when listened to, does have an effect upon people even unsaved people, just as Saul was refreshed and improved in his spirit when David played, so even men of the world will find themselves quieted and calmed when listening to the sweet strains of the Word of God from the lips of one who knows it well. If this does not lead them by faith to received the Lord Jesus, the effect is only temporary, as was told by God to Ezekiel, "And behold you are to them like a sensual song by one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not practice them" (Ezekiel 33:32 -- NASB).
In spite of this poor reception, the believer is to continue giving the ministry of the Word of God to all who will receive it. The Lord Jesus is the supreme example of this beautiful character. He continued speaking the Word to the people, even to Pharisees and scribes, as long as they would listen. David willingly played his harp for Saul when Saul desired it of him, though more than once Saul threw his javelin with the intention of killing David. Eventually he was driven from Saul's presence, however. His ministry of music did not accomplish such a work as to change the attitude of Saul. We may well be saddened that souls who often hear the Word of God and seem to be favorably affected by it may at last turn away from it. But God has been honored in the declaration of His Word: it will not return to Him void.
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 16". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany