David’s life story is one of the most detailed in the Old Testament Scriptures, spanning chapter 16 of 1 Samuel through all of 2 Samuel and into chapter 2 of 1 Kings. His existence is instructive to believers as God took a faithful boy from the rural hills of Bethlehem through the levels and life experiences to become the sovereign of a mighty empire. Few people’s biographies span so great a divide from the beginning of life to the end as David’s. He was most famously “a man after God’s own heart,” but in his lifetime, he took on the roles of shepherd, son, Psalmist, warrior, husband, general, father, mercenary, king, adulterer, murderer, and founder of an empire. His story is one of anonymity to fame, pauper to royalty, servant to sinner, and villain to redemption. This series will explore some of the key aspects of the life of David so we, too, can be ‘people after God’s own heart.’
The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” And Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me.” And the LORD said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’ And invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do. And you shall anoint for me him whom I declare to you.” Samuel did what the LORD commanded and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling and said, “Do you come peaceably?” And he said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD. Consecrate yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is before him.” But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.” And Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, “The LORD has not chosen these.” Then Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and get him, for we will not sit down till he comes here.” And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the LORD said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah” (1 Samuel 16:1-13 ESV).
To set the scene, Israel had two venerated leaders at the beginning of chapter 16. Samuel was the prophet of God and last judge of Israel. Politically, he represented a system put in place by God but rejected by the people who wanted a king, like the nations around them. By God’s permission, Samuel had anointed the other leader. Saul was the king, a man who was athletic, tall, strong, impulsive, and disobedient. God had used Samuel in chapter 15 to declare and prophesy that the kingdom was going to be ripped away from Saul and given to a ‘neighbor.’ Saul feared Samuel as God’s prophet as well as his popularity with the elders and people. Samuel feared Saul’s wrath if and when he was to go anoint a new king. The men had an uneasy relationship, and into this situation, Samuel goes to Bethlehem by the command of the Lord.
Bethlehem was a little, out-of-the-way place in the time of Samuel. Presently, the town is not far from Jerusalem; the reader must remember Bethlehem would have been on the frontier in Samuel’s day. Jerusalem was much smaller then and held by a tribe called the Jebusites that had been defeated but not driven out by Joshua. David would actually later conquer Jerusalem and begin the city’s expansion.
It is to this seemingly unimportant town that Samuel comes to offer a sacrifice and meet with Jesse and his sons. His very presence brought fear to the town elders as they are described as ‘trembling’ when he approaches. In his position as prophet, Samuel represented the Lord to the people of Israel, and in his capacity as Judge, he wielded both theocratic and political power. At the end of chapter 15, Samuel had executed the Amekelite King Agag with his own hand after Saul had spared him from death. Samuel did this in obedience to the Lord, and Saul did not dare to oppose him. Samuel as a prophet could declare either the blessing or judgment from the Lord, so the elders wanted to know his purpose for the visit.
When Samuel came to represent the Lord, it was a significant, prominent event. The nation looked to him for wisdom and kings waited on him. Nobody in an insignificant place like Bethlehem would have dared or wanted to turn down an invitation by so important a man. He was the celebrity and leader showing up unexpectedly in a small town to host a celebration. On top of the novelty of the event, the town elders were summoned to attend, but Jesse and his sons were specifically invited as the guests of honor.
Sometimes, we can learn a great deal from what the Bible tells us as side details of the greater narrative. Most Bible scholars would tell you the first significant event recorded in David’s life was his anointing as king, but they are wrong. We learn that Jesse and David’s relationship was strained and dysfunctional. This may seem like a minor, unimportant detail in a man’s life so mightily used by God, but I believe this is some of the hidden manna that God allows us to understand if we ask Him. God teaches us something of family dynamics and male psychology, as not only David himself but the brokenness of the relationship sets the stage for the first three members of the Davidic dynasty (David, Solomon, and Rehoboam). More on that subject in a future post.
Imagine a venerated pastor or leader, nationally known and beloved, coming to your town and inviting your entire family, specifically mentioning to bring the children of which you are a part to a dinner. Now imagine your father tells all your siblings to get on their best attire and accompany him to the event, but you do not get to go. In fact, you are going to be sent back to work in the fields on behalf of the family.
After the sacrifice begins, Samuel calls Jesse’s sons forward to inspect them for a special purpose unbeknownst to them. Jesse does not know what Samuel is looking for when presenting his sons, but in the scene, the prophet is studying them. The Lord gives an important principle in picking His servants, the state of the heart, and he even tells Samuel to ignore outside appearance completely. The Lord had a different, internal metric for measuring a person.
Samuel already said he was there ‘in peace’ or for a positive reason, but he kept the specific intent hidden as he saw the sons of Jesse. One by one, he rejects the seven brothers, sending them back to their seats, and even after the last is dismissed—when it is apparent Samuel is looking for a specific person—Jesse has to be asked if he has another son. He does not volunteer the information! Samuel had the power to anoint kings, call down the blessing of the Lord, even name another prophet, and commandany positive outcome imaginable. Jesse did not think of David when this powerful and influential man was going to do this for one of his children.
David’s reaction to being left out of the sacrifice is not recorded in the Scriptures. But we do know that being a faithful son, he went back out to keep the sheep. The fields were unforgiving—hot in the summer, cold in night and winter, exposed to the elements. Plus, he had to care for a herd of animals without much ability to defend themselves; it was not a glamorous life. Americans typically think of the vocation of shepherd incorrectly because of the portrayal in paintings, which implies the vocation is feminine and easy. A shepherd was probably closer to our collective imagination of an Old-West cowboy. In chapter 17, David reveals he had killed both a lion and bear who threatened his father’s sheep. In the Psalms, David’s songs tell us that the young man had a deep love of the Lord as evidenced by his many praise compositions. Young David was tough, used to hard work, loved the Lord deeply, and faithful to his father’s command.
We don’t know why Jesse was so apathetic toward David, but the man had a king in his house and missed it. Not only does their relationship suffer, but David’s overcorrection to permissiveness in his own children proves to be disastrous (more in a future post). In chapter 17, David’s oldest brother rubs being a shepherd in his face in comparison to his position as a soldier. They missed it, too. David’s family thought of him as a shepherd for life, but what they thought of as a vocation turned out to be just training in the Lord’s timeline. The lesson parents must learn from this biography is that children are sometimes called and anointed for a far different purpose from what they can imagine. I think of the old movie The Karate Kid where the master taught Daniel to block blows by painting his house and waxing his cars. The Lord used the fields to teach David to care for a flock, bravery in the face of enormous obstacles, the enduring of hardships, a deep prayer and praise life, and many other lessons of Godly leadership.
Samuel ends the chapter by anointing David. The Spirit of the Lord ‘rushed’ upon him. God uses his specific gift and the Spirit’s power to start arranging the experiences and lessons of David’s life to transform the shepherd to a king.
Parents (or anyone), does God have His hand on training someone around you? Have you lived in close proximity to a king and missed it? Are you Jesse? Are you David? Look for who you can build up and encourage in the Lord. Look for the call on those around you. Even if they are to achieve a great level and rank in the Kingdom much higher than you, God placed them near you, for at least a time, to achieve a purpose.
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