Written by Linda Tu’ulakitau
This article discusses this Old Testament bible passage of 1 Samuel 16:1-13 – the story of God’s choosing and anointing of David to become King of Israel.
Historical and Cultural Context
1 and 2 Samuel marked a crucial historical time of transition in Israel. 1 Samuel begins when Israel is a loosely organized tribal league living under poor spiritual leadership. Even though Israel was living under poor spiritual leadership, however, God was still guiding Israel by providing them with wise and spiritual prophets like Samuel to direct and guide His people especially in their transition from a theocracy to a monarchy. The rest of 1 Samuel comprised of the kingship of Saul, while 2 Samuel mainly concentrated on the kingship of David.
After the Israelites had entered and conquered the Promised Land as depicted in the Book of Joshua, the people of Israel fell into apostasy. Many of the Israelites forgot their covenant with God since they were Abraham’s national progeny. The religion of the Canaanites were rich and ancient in their ritual and liturgy. And therefore, the Israelites were attracted to the Canaanites religion, so that the rival claims of pagan deities over against the worship of Israel’s own God constituted a disturbing and to some extent a creative stress in religious thought for many centuries…until the triumph of normative Judaism subsequent to Ezra’s reform.
The Book of Judges vividly expounded the recurrent cycle of what happened to the Israelites. They sinned against God, and their hearts turned away from their God (Yahweh) to the gods of the surrounding nations. God punished them and when they repented and returned to Yahweh, He forgave them and started blessing them and their land. The Lord raised up a judge to deliver His people from their enemies. The famous verse exhibited in the Book of Judges appears in Judges 21:25 – “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes”. This specific verse explicitly described what took place in Israel during this period. The Book of 1 Samuel takes up the historical record of what happened towards the end of those turbulent periods in the history of Israel.
Critical and Literary Issues
There are some critical and literary issues regarding the Book of 1 Samuel. Early tradition claimed that the Books of 1 and 2 Samuel were one book in origin. Furthermore, some scholars speculated that Samuel was probably the author of 1 Samuel up to the chapter 25 of 1 Samuel. Moreover, they claimed that based on 1 Chronicles 29:29, Nathan and Gad were responsible for the rest of the Book. However, these claims remained speculative since 1 and 2 Samuel are not mentioning any author. According to the account of 1 Samuel 27:6, the book was not completed until perhaps a few generations after the division of the kingdom around 930 B.C.
It is apparent from the Books of Samuel that the writer had made use of the authorities, documents and sources he gathered together to comprise the narratives that he intended to put on record. He wrote the accounts as he found them, however there are discrepancies and duplication in the two Books and the same characteristics can be found in other Books of the Old Testament such as the Pentateuch, the Books of Joshua and Judges. For instance, in the Book of 1 Samuel, there are duplication of the account of Saul being elected as king, and an act of disobedience is twice followed, apparently quite independently, by the sentence of rejection. There are independent inconsistencies in the narratives regarding David’s introduction to Saul in 1 Samuel 16:14-23; 17:31. Moreover, the two accounts of the manner of the king’s death can be imperfectly reconciled only on the hypothesis that the young Amalekite told a false tale to David in order to magnify his own part in the matter. These instances where discrepancies and duplication occurred in the texts revealed that the writer recorded the accounts exactly as he found them, and there was little or no attempt on the part of the writer to harmonize conflicting accounts, or to reconcile apparent discrepancies. The writer made extracts or quotations from his authorities on the several events as they occurred, and thus building up his own history on the basis of the freest possible use of the materials and language of those who had preceded him.
Interpretation and Meaning of the Selected Passage
In 1 Samuel 16:1 NIV – “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.” When God said to Samuel: “Fill your horn with oil and be on your way”, it means that God had decided to appoint a new king for Israel. God already had the new king in mind, and He intended to appoint one of Jesse’s sons to be the new king of Israel. In the Old Testament, it was not only the priests that were anointed with oil to become priests, but kings were also anointed with oil for the kingly tasks or position. In fact, when the Old Testament referred to someone as “God anointed”, usually it is referred to the king of Israel. David was likely to be appointed king shortly after the rejection of Saul (vv.22, 26, 28), thus c. 1025 B.C. Jesse’s connection to Bethlehem is contained in the Book of Ruth (Ruth 4:18-22). It is also worthwhile to note that Ruth was married to Boaz, the father of Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of King David, and David was the descendant of Joseph, the husband of Mary, who gave birth to Jesus – the Lord and Saviour of the world.
In verses 2 -5 of 1 Samuel 16 – “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.’ 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.” 4 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?” 5 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.”
These verses meant that Samuel was afraid for his life because he knew that Saul had gradually known that he would be replaced as king. Samuel was afraid that Saul might consider it treason if he would anoint another man to become king to replace him. God was not prepared to appoint a king over Israel; however, the people asked the Lord to appoint them a king. Samuel had warned the people about the character of the king that they would appoint. Samuel anointed Saul to be king. Even though Saul was of good physical stature, and he was mighty in battle, however, his heart and attitude were not right in the sight of God. His disobedience cost him his title and his life.
The Israelites bring a heifer to be sacrificed to the Lord usually in a region where an unsolved murder takes place. It seems that the Lord asked Samuel to go and sacrifice a heifer to Him just to deceive Saul. It hides the true purpose of Samuel’s visit to Jesse’s household. It seems ironic of God to ask Samuel to go and offer a sacrifice for Him, and yet the motive behind such a move is deception. But on the other hand, it portrays the wisdom of God. As Matthew 10:16 said: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (NIV).
Sacrifices and consecration are mentioned in these above verses. The core of the sacrificial system of ancient Israel consists of five major types of sacrifices and offerings. Leviticus 1-7 describe the basic regulations of sacrifices and offerings and the foundational applications of sacrifices and offerings can be found in Leviticus 8-16. The purpose of sacrifices was to provide a means of approaching God in His manifested place of residence in Israel – in the tabernacle sanctuary (and later the temple). Moreover, another purpose of the sacrifices and offerings was to maintain that presence by preserving the purity and holiness of the sanctuary (e.g. Lev 15:31). It is apparent that the sin and guilt offerings in Israel were added to the sacrificial system because of the purity and moral codes of Israel. There was a specific need to maintain the purity and holiness of the tabernacle, its furniture, its vessels, its gifts and offerings, and to promote purity and holiness in the community at large. Israel’s code of purity and holiness originate from the fact that God is holy and anyone who approaches the manifest Presence of God must be holy as well. Often people of certain cultures create a system that defines what is proper and improper to specific places, times, and people.
Consecrated or sanctify in 1 Samuel 16:5 involves setting themselves apart to the Lord. It means preparing themselves spiritually and ceremonially clean by bathing, putting on clean garments, avoiding contact with a dead body, and refraining from engaging in sexual relations as depicted in various contexts. Samuel might have consecrated Jesse and his sons at their home.
In verses 6-11, Samuel was about to anoint Eliab – the eldest son of Jesse. It is conspicuous from these verses that Samuel was based his choice on outward appearances, however, God told him not to look at the outward appearances but to look inside the heart. This verse highlights one of the main differences between God and man. God always looks at the heart of man and based His judgement and appointment on the inner condition of the heart. However, man on the other hand, based his judgement and appointment on the outward appearances – on favourable physical stature and countenance. God refused to allow Samuel to commit the same mistake they did on Saul. Saul had favourable countenance and stature, but he had proved unworthy. Even though David was just a shepherd boy and the youngest of Jesse’s son, God had chosen and anointed him as king of Israel. According to 1 Corinthians 1:27 – “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong”. (NIV). God’s chosen was a shepherd boy and the youngest son. The youngest in the family was usually allocated the task of tending the sheep.
In verses 13-16 – Samuel told Jesse to fetch his youngest son David. And when David appeared in the doorway, glowing with health and vitality, God told Samuel to anoint him because “he is the one”. He is the chosen one – a shepherd boy. Being a shepherd boy was one of God’s preparations for David because he would one day become the king of Israel – who will lead and protect His people.
Reflection on any Christological Significance of the Passage
There are some Christological significances of the passage. Samuel was a judge and deliverer of Israel (Chapter 7). During a time when Israel fell into apostasy, God chose Samuel to become some kind of a saviour and deliverer for Israel. Years later, Jesus, a descendant of David, but the only begotten Son of God became the Saviour and the Deliverer of not only Israel but the whole world. His Name was called Jesus. The name Jesus is the same as Saviour. It is derived from the verb signifying to save. The cross of Christ “deals not only with the penalty for our sins, the cross also overcomes the whole reality of our nature of sin…if the cross dealt radically with sin then the cross will also deal radically with sin”. The most revolutionary thing to ever manifest amongst human is the cross of Christ. The Cross of Christ should always remind us that forgiveness is not cheap.
God’s chosen was a shepherd boy David. Decades later, Jesus, the Son of David, became the True Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep. Life is in the Blood of the True Shepherd who washed away the sins of the world.
This passage was also talking about the sacrificial system and the purity and moral codes of Israel. However, the sacrificial system of Israel pointed to a future event that was completely fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Today, there is no need to sacrifice a lamb to take away people’s sins. Jesus Christ, Himself, the Son of the Living God, came to this world, and became the sacrificial Lamb who took away the sins of the world. It is Christ alone who is the heart and central theme of the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation, the message revolves around the person and work of Jesus Christ. All things reveal Him and point to Him.
Contemporary Application of the Passage
There are a few contemporary applications of the passage that this article will cover. In today’s church, we appointed our pastors and leaders based on their social, educational and economic standards. Many times, we tend to appoint those who are highly educated and wealthy to hold the top positions or leadership positions in church because men often look at the outward appearance. However, this passage highlights the fact that God looks inward – to the heart of men. He chooses or appoints His men and women for ministry based on the inner conditions of their hearts.
Some of the churches still discriminate people based on their gender or race. Most women for instance, often hold positions that are regarded as women’s sphere. However, this passage confirms and demonstrates to us that God does not look upon the race or gender of a person, but He looks at the heart. We must give people equal opportunity in church and appoint people based on their spirituality rather than their outward appearance.
In conclusion, we should emulate the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ by choosing and appointing people according to the conditions of their hearts and not on their outward appearances.
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Blackaby, Henry. Experiencing the Cross. Oregon: Multnomah, 2005.
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“The First Book of Samuel”. In Zondervan KJV Study Bible, ed. Kenneth Barker, 353-400. Michigan: Zondervan, 2002.
“The First Book of Samuel Otherwise Called the First Book of the Kings”. In Holman KJV Study Bible, ed. J.R. Howard, 467-524. Tennessee: Holman Bible, 2012.
Tozer, A.W. “The Cross is a Radical Thing”. In The Best of A.W. Tozer, ed. Warren W. Wiersbe. Michigan: Baker Book House, 1990.
W.A. Irwin. “The Literature of the Old Testament”. In The Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, Vol. I, ed. G.A. Buttrick, 175-184. Nashville: Abingdon, 1978.
Maxwell Whyte H.A. The Power of the Blood. PA: Whitaker
 “The First Book of Samuel Otherwise Called the First Book of the Kings”, in Holman KJV Study Bible, ed. Jeremy Royal Howard (Tennessee: Holman Bible, 2012), 467.
 Ibid., 468.
 W.A. Irwin, “The Literature of the Old Testament,” in The Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, vol. I, ed. G.A. Buttrick (Nashville: Abingdon, 1978), 177.
 “Books of Samuel” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia Volume IV, ed. James Orr (Michigan: WM. B. Eerdmans, 1980), 2680.
 “The First Book of Samuel Otherwise Called the First Book of the Kings”, 496.
 Ibid., 378.
 “Sacrifices and Offerings”, 706.
 “The First Book of Samuel Otherwise Called the First Book of the Kings”, 496.
 T.F Tenney and Tommy Tenney, Secret Sources of Power (PA: Destiny Image, 2000), 35.