Saturday, July 30, 2005

1 Samuel 16

Once Saul has been rejected as king, all eyes are on Samuel to see who he will anoint as a replacement. So Samuel is forced to sneak out from Ramah under cover of a religious mission to Bethlehem. This being a ridiculously transparent pretext, the elders of Bethlehem are afraid that Samuel is bringing disaster onto their town. Instead, Samuel anoints David and we are told that the Spirit of the Lord "came upon David in power," suggesting an intimacy even Samuel had not received.

The Lord having set upon Saul by means of an "injurious spirit," Saul listens to the counsel of his servants to seek out a harpist for relief. What closes the sale in favor of David is the assertion that the Lord is with him. This confirms that Saul sincerely wants the Lord's favor. Indeed, Saul likes David so much he makes him a personal attendant. One point of interest to Christians is that David arrives in Saul's service riding a donkey, and carrying bread and wine, as well as a young goat, just as Jesus arrived in Jerusalem on a donkey and bringing the Holy Communion.

David was the youngest son, but of the tribe of Judah, who was Isaac's eldest son, while Saul was evidently the only son.

Matthew Henry notes that Saul was anointed with a vial of oil but David with a horn of oil, suggesting that the Lord's favor for David was far greater than for Saul. Henry thinks that the sons of Jesse had been notified that one would become a king, so they were on their best behavior. Henry also notes that David means "beloved."

Matthew Henry points out that Saul had in effect driven away the Spirit of God through his own hypocrisy and deviousness. What filled the emptiness was an evil spirit. God, however, sent David to dispel the evil spirit (and presumably attract the Spirit of God), giving Saul a second chance. So Saul drove David away.

And yet clearly Saul was seeking to establish some sort of relationship with God. But what were his motives? Just as Saul later schemed to control David by marrying David to one of the royal daughters, perhaps he hoped to bring God under control by bringing David into his household.

It seems that there is a very important lesson in this chapter on establishing a right relationship with God, but it is obscure. We are given no clue why God loved David but selected Saul as Israel's first king. We also see in Saul a successful general, who did kill or drive away Israel's enemies. Saul's acts of disobedience seem minor and yet he has one of the worst possible endings a human being can have: defeated, about to fall into the hands of his enemies, rejected by God and even the spirit of Samuel, and forced to commit suicide to avoid even worse. On the other hand, David has accomplished nothing at the time of his anointing. Later on, he will send an innocent man to his death so he can steal his wife. And if God loved him so much, why did he visit so much sorrow on David? David endured years of fleeing from Saul, and as he approached old age, he suffered a rebellion by his son, Absalom, leading to Absalom's death and great demoralization throughout Israel.

These are questions to ask as we proceed to other chapters.


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