1 Samuel 16:1-13
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 man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance,
but the Lord looks at the heart." (1 Sam. 16:7)
We begin with Scripture's first mention of David; we will end with his last breath. From our first glimpses of David, you will begin to wonder how one person could be so utterly typical in some ways and so completely atypical in others. That question will bless and haunt us intermittently throughout our study of David. We look first to David's youth and the relationships that shaped his future.
I love to discover new truths through Scripture, but I also love wrapping the familiar passages around me like a security blanket and feeling their warmth. Perhaps we'll have the joy of experiencing the best of both worlds in these pages.
David appears first in 1 Samuel 16, in turbulent circumstances. The opening words of the chapter ring with change:
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." (1 Sam. 16:1)
The verse supplies interesting facts to file away. Saul had been rejected as king of Israel. Samuel the prophet had been grieving over Saul. Samuel, uncharacteristically, argued with God. He said "How can I go? Saul will hear about it and kill me" (v. 2).
The plot thickens.
Samuel the prophet took a heifer for a sacrifice (when engaging in matters of espionage, it always pays to have a good cover story) and set out for the Bethlehem home of a man named Jesse. Jesse had six of the finest sons in all Israel, and—did I mention?—those six had a kid brother.
Have you noticed how much you can learn about a person by the reaction others have in his or her presence? When Samuel arrived in Bethlehem, the town council trembled with fear. Nobody to trifle with, that Samuel. He announced his peaceful intentions and invited the village to attend the sacrifice. When Jesse arrived, Samuel's heart leaped at the sight. The eldest son, Eliab, was certainly king material, but God gave a clear no. Each of the sons of Jesse followed—each with the same result.
A slightly puzzled Samuel inquired, "Are these all the sons you have?"
Have you ever felt like the youngest son, the consummate "little brother?" You don't have to be male and you don't have to have siblings to feel that way. In fact, I don't think anyone escapes the feeling completely. Sometime, somewhere, you've probably been treated as if you didn't exist, weren't wanted, didn't matter.
For example, when a friend was about four years old, his two older brothers had company, and he wanted to tag along. Probably he annoyed his older siblings into a brilliant idea. They took him to an anthill, and with a couple of serving spoons and a coffee can, soon had his pants filled with very angry insects.
The few glimpses we see of David and his brothers suggest that he too knew the "sting" of being left out. I believe his wisdom and meditative nature got their start in the loneliness of a little brother accustomed to being put down and ostracized. Did he inherit the duties of keeping sheep, or were the woolly creatures preferable to the company of taunting brothers?
When Samuel asked Jesse if he had any other sons, Jesse answered, "There is still the youngest... but he is tending the sheep."
Samuel's stubbornness amuses me. Notice his response to Jesse once he learned that Jesse had one more son: "Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives." He certainly knew how to get them moving! Don't forget how everyone trembled when he arrived in Bethlehem.
David, a young teenager, arrived on the scene with no idea what awaited him. He was handsome, with a reddish complexion, and no doubt smelled like sheep. He obviously was not his own father's first choice, nor Samuel's. But God taught Samuel a very important lesson: "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." God reminded Samuel that the human mind has an overwhelming tendency to make assumptions based on appearances. God's choices don't always make sense to us, but they are never haphazard or random. A few considerations about David shed light on why God may have chosen him.
The genealogy David and Christ shared was of obvious importance. In Matthew 1:3, we see that both David and Christ were descendants of Judah, one of the sons of Jacob. In the prophecy Jacob spoke over Judah, he said, "The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet" (Gen. 49:10). You see, David was not a random choice. He was one of the most important figures in the genealogy of Christ, "the Lion of the tribe of Judah" (Rev. 5:5).
I never fail to be encouraged by Christ's heritage. How do you respond to the fact that the only perfect person in Christ's genealogy is Christ Himself?
To me, Christ's flawed family history serves as a continual reminder of the grace of God in my life. In my human desire for perfection, I want to be so good that I need no one and no thing. It may surprise you to know that that desire grows from a biblical base: the tower of Babel. The tower pictures graphically our human drive to take God's place. Whenever my perfectionism kicks in, I run back to Scripture—to the only source of perfection:
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Rom. 3:23-24)
God chose David. On the surface, the choice made no sense. But God doesn't work on sense; He works on grace. God called you, and God called me. He knew what He was doing.
In many ways David's life foreshadowed or pictured details of Christ's life. God illustrated the unknown about the Messiah through the known about David. David was not divine or perfect, as we will quickly discover, but God has used him to teach us truths about the One who is. I think you'll enjoy knowing that the name Jesse is a "personal name meaning, 'man.'" Christ referred to Himself as the "Son of Man" more than any other title. Isn't it interesting that the King of Israel who often prefigured Jesus was technically also the "son of man"?
David's occupation also made him a candidate for kingship. Do you find God's activity as fascinating as I do? He loves us, calls us, redeems us, and uses us totally because of who He is. We might be tempted to go overboard and believe only His grace matters—that we are the hole in the proverbial doughnut. Of David we might think, "God called him in spite of the fact that he was a common shepherd." The facts prove otherwise. God was working in David's life from the beginning.
David received invaluable experience keeping sheep. Psalm 78:70-72 states, "He chose David his servant / and took him from the sheep pens; / from tending the sheep he brought him / to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, / of Israel his inheritance. / And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; / with skillful hands he led them."
The God who prepared David has been preparing you throughout your life also. What are your skills? Your life experiences? I believe God usually takes the building blocks of our lives and uses them to His glory. Have you ever felt that your occupational skills were useless in areas of service to God? He may have great plans to use who you are in unique and powerful ways. Never assume that to follow Him means to throw away who He has made you to be. Few things seem less spiritual than keeping a bunch of smelly sheep, yet God used David's skills for eternal purposes.
When David arrived at home, Samuel saw that he was "ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features" (1 Sam. 16:12). Still, Samuel did not move. He had already made a mistake based on appearances. Then God said, "Rise and anoint him; he is the one" (v. 12). The next few words send chills up my spine.
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 upon David in power. (1 Sam. 16:13)
The Holy Spirit just can't seem to arrive without power, can He? As we study the life of a shepherd boy, we will no doubt see testimony of that power again and again. Samuel stood before a young lad and with awe and reverence poured the oil on his head. Although the oil surely blurred the vision of the one whose eyes it bathed, God's vision was crystal clear. He had said, "I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehemite: for I have provided me a king among his sons" (1 Sam. 16:1b, KJV). The Hebrew word for provided is raʾah. It means "to see, to look at, view, inspect, regard, to perceive;... to feel; to experience." Second Chronicles 16:9 says, "For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him" (NKJV).
That day so many years ago, the eyes of the Lord looked throughout the whole earth and fell upon an obscure little village called Bethlehem. There He found a heart—one like unto His own. He found a heart tender to little lost sheep, and He showed Himself strong on behalf of that heart, just as He promised.