An introduction to the up-and-coming replacement to Saul: the shepherd boy David.
This morning we’ll be returning to the Old Testament narrative, where we left off back in December. We stepped away from the narrative a little to look at the overarching concept of the kingdom and how that tied into the coming of the Messiah, Jesus. Just before that we had been making our way through 1 Samuel, so I want to give a quick recap of that before moving on.
1 Samuel picks up in the wake of the chaos described in the book of Judges, when everyone did what was right in their own eyes instead of following God. We were introduced to this family who actually did worship Yahweh the way they were supposed to, and this woman, Hannah, who was barren. In her distress she cried out to God and he gave her a son, Samuel, who then was given back to God for service in the temple.
Side note: we talked a little about Hannah’s poem, and heard it read as part of the service, and that poem had a few key themes that we’ll find throughout the rest of the book:
Keep those themes in mind as we continue through the story.
Samuel grew up and became a great prophet and leader for Israel, but eventually Israel demanded a king, so they could be like their neighbors, the other countries around them. Samuel told them that was a bad idea, but they didn’t care, and God told Samuel to give them what they want.
So God, through Samuel anointed Saul as the very first king over Israel, and he was a popular choice. He was tall and strong, and he led Israel through some major victories.But, ultimately he disobeyed God, and was rejected by God because of it. Instead of wiping out their enemy completely like he was supposed to, he kept some of the livestock for sacrifices, and in doing so demonstrated that he cared more about what his people thought of him than what God wanted him to do.
That really began the fall and eventual demise of Saul, and you can read that whole story in chapter 15 of 1st Samuel. It’s pretty gnarly.
We’re going to pick up the story in chapter 16, where we get introduced to David for the first time.
Mike and I talked a little about David during our tag-team series on the kingdom, but I want us to actually read through and talk about the major plot points in his story. And it’s not just because I like saying my own name out loud, it’s because David (son of Jesse) is such a major character of the old testament, and his story one of the most detailed and epic. It’s full of practical, easy take-aways but also some weird and challenging stuff.
David’s story has a similar arc to Saul’s, where we can track his rise and fall, but it’s an arc that lasts considerably longer than Saul’s, and has a lot more pages dedicated to it. We’ll see how their two story arcs overlap: as Saul is descending into madness, God is working behind the scenes to raise up David.
Alright, let’s dive in! 1 Samuel chapter 16 if you’re going to follow along:
Now the Lord said to Samuel, “You have mourned long enough for Saul. I have rejected him as king of Israel, so fill your flask with olive oil and go to Bethlehem. Find a man named Jesse who lives there, for I have selected one of his sons to be my king.”
2 But Samuel asked, “How can I do that? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”
“Take a heifer with you,” the Lord replied, “and say that you have come to make a sacrifice to the Lord. 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you which of his sons to anoint for me.”
4 So Samuel did as the Lord instructed. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town came trembling to meet him. “What’s wrong?” they asked. “Do you come in peace?”
5 “Yes,” Samuel replied. “I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Purify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” Then Samuel performed the purification rite for Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice, too.
So God is going to have Samuel anoint someone else as king. This idea of “anointing” is somewhat foreign to us, but all it really means to anoint someone is to choose them in an official, divinely appointed way, symbolized by the ritual of pouring oil on their head. It might sound strange to us, but it was just the way they did it, and the significance of the ritual was well known by everyone at that time.
But Samuel is understandably hesitant here. He’s supposed to go anoint somebody as king, but they already have a king! God rejected Saul, the spirit of God was no longer on Saul, but he was still, for political purposes, the king of Israel! And he’s proud. He likes his power, and Samuel knows that if word gets out, he’s going to be faced with an angry king!
So God gives him this sort of workaround, of having the excuse that he’s just going to make a sacrifice and just so happens to invite Jesse to the sacrifice. Let’s see how it then plays out, picking up in verse 6:
6 When they arrived, Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, “Surely this is the Lord’s anointed!”
7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
8 Then Jesse told his son Abinadab to step forward and walk in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “This is not the one the Lord has chosen.” 9 Next Jesse summoned Shimea, but Samuel said, “Neither is this the one the Lord has chosen.” 10 In the same way all seven of Jesse’s sons were presented to Samuel. But Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.”
God’s obviously teaching Samuel, and subsequently us, a lesson here. He says it very clearly in verse 7. And this lesson goes back to our discussion from the book of Judges! People doing what is right in their own eyes, instead of relying on God’s direction. I feel like I’ve brought this up over and over, but I think it’s just because the Bible brings it up over and over!
In fact, just in this one example, God didn’t settle for making an example by just not choosing the first guy, he goes through all seven brothers without choosing any of them! That seems like a pretty intentional move to me. By the seventh one Samuel might have been feeling like “ok, I get it, it’s not going to be who I expect, but can you at least choose someone!?!?
And of course we finally get to David in verse 11:
11 Then Samuel asked, “Are these all the sons you have?”
“There is still the youngest,” Jesse replied. “But he’s out in the fields watching the sheep and goats.”
“Send for him at once,” Samuel said. “We will not sit down to eat until he arrives.”
12 So Jesse sent for him. He was dark and handsome, with beautiful eyes.
And the Lord said, “This is the one; anoint him.”
13 So as David stood there among his brothers, Samuel took the flask of olive oil he had brought and anointed David with the oil. And the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David from that day on. Then Samuel returned to Ramah.
So God finally chose the last person anyone expected, the lowliest of the brothers. He was the one left behind, the one Jesse must have figured had no chance of being chosen! It does still mention he was young and handsome, which I think is funny, because that’s so clearly not what God was looking at.
I imagine that if his brothers knew what was going on, and they had to eventually, they must have felt a little jealous, maybe cheated a bit. This was so backwards to the way things worked: in ancient Jewish society, favor was supposed to go from oldest to youngest, with the oldest son getting inheriting the most wealth and having the most honor among his brothers.
This is just one of many glimpses we see in the Old Testament of that upside-down kingdom mentality that Jesus came to preach about, and that we talked about a few weeks ago. Here it’s a demonstration of how God’s kingdom works, even as he is establishing a human king on earth.
So David has been chosen, he’s now known by his family and Samuel as “The Lord’s Anointed” but nobody else knows that yet! How is that going to work? You can’t really have a king, or a new king, if nobody knows about it! Well, it turns out God had somewhat of a process in store for this transition. It’s not something that was going to happen overnight.
At this point we zoom out, pan away from David and cut back to Saul. Let’s keep reading, starting in verse 14:
14 Now the Spirit of the Lord had left Saul, and the Lord sent a tormenting spirit that filled him with depression and fear.
15 Some of Saul’s servants said to him, “A tormenting spirit from God is troubling you. 16 Let us find a good musician to play the harp whenever the tormenting spirit troubles you. He will play soothing music, and you will soon be well again.”
17 “All right,” Saul said. “Find me someone who plays well, and bring him here.”
18 One of the servants said to Saul, “One of Jesse’s sons from Bethlehem is a talented harp player. Not only that—he is a brave warrior, a man of war, and has good judgment. He is also a fine-looking young man, and the Lord is with him.”
19 So Saul sent messengers to Jesse to say, “Send me your son David, the shepherd.” 20 Jesse responded by sending David to Saul, along with a young goat, a donkey loaded with bread, and a wineskin full of wine.
21 So David went to Saul and began serving him. Saul loved David very much, and David became his armor bearer.
22 Then Saul sent word to Jesse asking, “Please let David remain in my service, for I am very pleased with him.”
23 And whenever the tormenting spirit from God troubled Saul, David would play the harp. Then Saul would feel better, and the tormenting spirit would go away.
Ok, there are a couple of things to talk about here. First of all, I’m sure I’m not the only one that gets somewhat taken aback by this phrase “A tormenting spirit from God?!?!?” Many of you probably even have the translation “Evil spirit from God” and that just sounds totally blasphemous doesn’t it?
(Speaking of heresy, I thought about using these weeks while Mike is gone to preach about some topics like how the Bible teaches that you don’t have a soul, there are many gods, and you don’t go to heaven when you die. But then I figured I should wait until he’s actually around to back me up).
Anyway, what do we do with this phrase? To be honest, I’m not 100% sure myself, so if anybody has some insight, please tell me about it, I’d love to hear your thoughts! That said, there are a couple of different ways to interpret this, and no matter your conclusion, God is completely righteous, hates evil, and never does anything unjust.
First of all, let’s look at that word “Evil” for a minute. The Hebrew word there is “Ra.” It can be translated to English in a variety of ways, and in my opinion the word “Evil” is often not the most helpful choice. In English, “Evil” refers pretty specifically to the concept of morality and sin. “Ra” certainly includes that, but it is not that specific. It’s actually quite an ambiguous word on its own, so you really have to look to the context of it to figure out the nuances of its meaning in any particular case. In that way, it is much closer to our English word “bad” because that can refer to a morally bad thing to do, but you can also have a bad day, or a bad lunch, or a bad knee. In those cases, you wouldn’t say you had an “evil day” or “evil lunch” or “evil knee” right? So that word “Ra” is a general adjective of negativity, so depending on the context it can mean evil, or troubling, or even just annoying.
Sidenote: the opposite of “Ra” is “Tov.” so “Tov” is “good” and “Ra” is “Bad.” and it’s exactly those two words that are used to describe the forbidden tree in the garden of Eden! The tree of the knowledge of Tov and Ra! Good and Bad! We usually translate that as “good and evil” but it really isn’t limited to that moral implication in the word “evil.” On top of that, the word “knowledge” is really an experiential knowledge, the same way that Adam “knew” his wife, in the biblical sense. It’s not a purely intellectual knowledge, it’s actually having good and bad experiences as a human, that God wanted to take them through on HIS terms, but that they took for themselves. The experience of good and bad.
So, we’re looking at this “bad” spirit. I was reading through all my commentaries on this, and there are two different ways to read this. It’s entirely possible that God sent a literal spiritual being to interact with Saul, or we could read this as God simply influencing Saul’s own spirit to be negatively affected in this way.
Either way though, we still have to reckon with the fact that it’s God causing this very unpleasant situation for Saul, and that can be seen either as punitive judgement for Saul’s actions, or as a potential pathway to redemption, or even a combination of both.
Neither of these purposes, judgement nor redemption, should really come as a surprise to us, because we see God enacting both of those things all throughout scripture. We see both judgement and redemption in both Old and New testaments, though the Old is certainly much heavier on the judgement, to highlight our need for redemption which was ultimately provided through Christ, who took our judgement for us.
So, ultimately, we may not ever fully comprehend God’s reasoning or rationale in a case like this, but after wrestling with it a bit I know I can at least say with confidence that this passage does NOT imply any kind of conflict with God’s holy and righteous nature.
Moving on from that, we CAN clearly see how this played into God’s plan for David. And this is just me, but it almost seems like a glimpse into God’s sense of humor. It really seems like God loves irony, doesn’t it!? Read the story of Esther if you don’t agree with me, and see if that changes your mind.
Here’s David, the one who is supposedly going to usurp the throne, if not from Saul himself then certainly from his bloodline. But Saul doesn’t know that yet, he has no idea! And he calls David in to work in the king’s court as a musician! I gotta say, that would be a pretty high pressure job! “Hey David, the king is really really upset, depressed, angry, go in there and play music until he calms down!”
We’ll see a lot more as we continue on in the story how God’s sovereignty is really on display the way everything works out. This is actually the point in the story where it starts to ramp up and get exciting! The drama, the action, the suspense, everything gets dialed way up! But for now we’ll have to pause here and wait for next week.
To wrap it up for today, I want to first go back and remind you of those 3 themes we pulled out from Hannah’s poem:
We can already see all three of those themes in David’s story:
I think those 3 themes are a really helpful framework for understanding the whole rest of the story.
As for a practical takeaway, the first and I think most obvious one is that which is stated in verse 7. That’s a great verse to memorize. Again, I know I’ve reiterated this point a lot lately, but it truly is so foundational to these historical sections of scripture. And if the Bible repeats it, then I’m probably going to repeat it, and I’m not sorry! So once again for good measure I'll read verse 7, this time using the personal name of God:
But Yahweh said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or his stature because I have rejected him. Humans do not see what Yahweh sees, for humans see what is visible, but Yahweh sees the heart.”
It doesn’t get much more straightforward than that! I think we all need to challenge ourselves daily to truly live like we believe that. In how we see and present ourselves, realizing that it’s what’s going on inside that really matters, and also in how we see and interact with others, not judging or evaluating people based on how they look, how they talk, how they dress, or what they’ve accomplished or how popular they are! Be interested in what’s going on inside people’s lives, their thoughts and fears and hopes and dreams and struggles, because that’s what God is interested in.
The second and last takeaway is that when we spend time reading and studying Old Testament stories, it’s so often a reminder of how much we have to be thankful for in Christ. And this is also sounding like a repeat of a lot of what we talked about in December, but again something that can’t be repeated too much. Let us live daily in gratitude to our savior and in service to the one true and perfect king.