Sam was old and tired. The great kingly experiment was a failure. He was originally opposed to it, but after Saul was chosen, he had developed a relationship with the King. Perhaps he even liked the man. But Saul was no longer the humble servant of God. He had become arrogant and proud—always trying to find excuses for his behavior. Sam was in mourning.
But now God calls him on one more quest. It’s time to find another king—someone to replace Saul. Sam, take a horn and fill it with oil and head out to Bethlehem to the home of Jesse. I want you to anoint the son I have chosen.
And for the first time, Sam balks. What?! Haven’t we had enough? If Saul finds out, he’ll have my head!
God doesn’t listen to his excuses. After all, he’s God, right? Fill your horn with oil Sam! If he gives Samuel a mission he can protect him long enough to carry it out. God then gives Samuel some more instructions. I don’t think God is offering subterfuge to protect Samuel, although the text could be read this way. He’s merely telling him how he wants the process to be carried out: Take a heifer with you for a sacrifice. You’re going to stage a festival in Bethlehem. Invite Jesse to the feast and you will anoint for me the one I indicate.
When the elders of Bethlehem see Sam coming, they are frightened out of their wits! Is it going to be trouble? Do you come in peace? Samuel assures them: Yes, in peace. We’re going to have a party! We’re going to sacrifice to the LORD.
The festival is ready. Sacrifices are made and the sons of Jesse come before Samuel. Well, here goes! I have filled my horn with oil and—well, look at this. That boy Eliab is a right strapping young fellow! He’s a regular Saul: head and shoulders above everyone else!
But God says: Looks are not everything, Samuel! I have rejected him. I do not see the way man sees. People judge the book by its cover. I read the book! I examine the heart.
And so all of the sons of Jesse pass by Samuel—seven of them—and God rejects every one.
Sam is frustrated now. His horn is filled with oil—but there is no one to anoint as king! Jesse, are you certain these are all of your sons?
Jesse, in an almost nonchalant way—almost an afterthought—says, Well there is one—but he’s haqqaton—that word can mean the youngest, the smallest, or even insignificant. Why we’ve got him out in the field watching after the sheep.
Samuel gives the instructions: Send for him—we’re not doing anything else until he’s here!
And so this youngest, this smallest, this most insignificant of Jesse’s sons shows up. But there is something about him. Compared to the others, he’s insignificant. But he looks to be healthy, handsome—and there is something about his eyes that grabbed your attention. The Hebrew word translated “fine appearance” literally means "beautiful eyes".
God taps Sam on the shoulder and says: This is the one! Ah! It’s about time. The horn is filled with oil—now it’s time to pour it all out on this young man named David. He will be God’s warrior-king!
And we want the story to end here. It makes sense—why the structure of the story indicates it can stand by itself. It begins and ends with a horn filled with oil. It follows a neat linguistic structure called a chiasm where themes parallel each other in mirror image. The center of which is God’s statement: Men look on the outside—I look at the heart.
But the story doesn’t end here at all. In fact, it is the first of two similar structures which are hinged together by verses 13 & 14:
The next story focuses upon Saul. While he horn has been filled with oil and poured out on David and the Spirit of LORD has also been poured out on David; the Spirit of the LORD has left Saul and an injurious spirit from the LORD is now tormenting him. I don’t know in what way Saul is tormented. It could be depression, it could be lunacy, it could be a dark rage—whatever it was, it was obvious.
The Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power
Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul.
His servants approach him—presumably when he’s in a better mood—and say: Look, we all know you’re suffering. What you really need is some therapy: music therapy. When this injurious spirit comes upon you the music will perhaps drive it away and calm your spirits.
One man volunteers: Hey, I know a son of Jesse in Bethlehem who knows how to play a lyre. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine looking young man. And the LORD is with him.
So Saul sends for David and Saul was impressed. In fact, he really liked David. Saul sends word to Jesse: Let him serve me! I’m pleased with him!
And so David enters the service of King Saul. And this little episode ends like it began: an injurious spirit would come upon Saul—but there is one exception: David would play and Saul would have relief.
This entire chapter has an interesting structure. The story of David’s anointing focuses on how God looks below the surface and sees the heart. And in David he sees a heart open to God. The hinge of the final story describes the heart of David: He is a brave man and a warrior, he speaks well, and the LORD is with him. Even more important: both stories in chapter 16 focus on David receiving the outpouring of God’s Spirit. The horn filled with oil has been poured out on David; an appropriate metaphor of the Spirit being poured out on him. The LORD is with him! This is the hinge of the entire chapter. David has an open heart and God fills it up—empowering him to serve.
A question: is it possible to miss something God sees? Look around your church. What do you see: a small church in a small-mid sized town? An old and tired church? Perhaps even a huge church swelled from transfer growth, but not really a church accomplishing God’s ultimate mission?
Look at the people, at yourself; what do you see: a weak group of people who do not have much in terms of power or obvious potential? Do you see people who might be easily lost in a crowd? Maybe you look at your church and even yourself as “OK” but not really much to write home about. But do you know what God sees? Davids. A place filled with Davids. In fact collectively your church, your small group, your family has David written all over it.
I don’t mean you have arrived or are some amazing group of people. Why, if you honestly look at yourself you’d probably think you were the smallest—the insignificant. You’ve been stuck out in the sheep pen! But here is the truth: in most every place (with rare exceptions), the people of God are a people with heart and character. In most places, the people of God desperately want to be the kind of people God envisions.
There are so many opportunities to fulfill your quest to take your community and the world for God! There are so many people who have heart—God’s kind of heart! He has even given you his Holy Spirit. He is empowering you for the quest of a lifetime! The question is: are you going to keep on believing what Jesse and the rest of Bethlehem sees: someone small and insignificant? Or are you going to see yourself with God’s eyes and begin acting like the brave warrior God knows you are?
The horn has been filled with oil—in fact, it has already been poured out on God’s people. Can’t you feel the oil running down your face? Can’t you see the prophet standing before you calling you to service? Can’t you feel the jolt of fear and excitement from the knowledge God has called you on a quest of epic proportions—as warrior kings and queens to take on injustice, prejudice, and fear?
Find your place of service—find where God is calling you in your community. Find where he has uniquely gifted you with skill and opportunity and rise to the task knowing he has poured out his Spirit on you; knowing he has equipped you.
May you see yourself as God sees you. May you recognize your own heart. May you accept the quest he has given you and may you never look back, but take hold of the challenge he has called you to.