And the Lord said unto Samuel, How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? fill thine horn with oil, and go, I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehemite: for I have provided me a king among his sons.
As unwavering as Samuel had been in announcing God’s rejection of Saul as king over Israel, it had hurt him immensely to do it. Through the years he had come to feel a strong attachment to that man. From the first, of course, he had realized that Saul was not essentially a religious man. He knew very little about the service of Jehovah and possessed little religious discernment. Nevertheless, there had been something about Saul, a certain innocence, a certain eagerness to receive advice, a willingness to learn, which had led Samuel to hope and pray that Saul might develop into a real king for Israel in every sense of the word. But it had not worked out that way. He had had every opportunity. God had aided him with many great victories over all of his enemies. Some of them were very evidently miraculous, so that he might know beyond question the importance of God to his kingdom and office. He had the opportunity to call upon Samuel for all of the instruction and advice he might want. But somehow it never got through to him. He did develop from a certain point of view. He gradually took on a regal bearing, and his original innocence gave way to an attitude of authority and even a certain haughtiness. And as far as religion was concerned, Saul had always been quite willing to abide by the proper formalities too. He had even proved willing to impose certain good and proper restrictions upon the people, such as his refusal to allow anyone to engage in witchcraft or sorcery. But increasingly through it all one thing became ever more evident: Saul’s first concern was with himself and his own glory. He was never able to grasp the fact that as king he was still and in a very special way a servant to Jehovah, Israel’s God. It was for this reason, Saul’s refusal to put the command of God first before his own glory, that Saul was finally rejected by God as king over His people Israel; and because of it Samuel grieved.
Perhaps it was not so much for Saul personally that Samuel felt so badly although he had so hoped for better things from him. It was for the people, and in a very special way for Saul’s son Jonathan. He could see now that Israel did need a king, a single governmental head to rule over all the nation and hold all its diverse elements together. This was good for the people. And, if Saul with his lack of spiritual discernment did not fill this place as completely as he might have, Samuel had long recognized that fact that Jonathan was due to follow in his place; and in Jonathan there was a young man of immaculate reputation. Here was a man of faith, a young man of courage and conviction such as was seldom found. And there was Samuel’s problem. Even if Saul did fall rather short of what was to be desired in a king, why could not Jehovah bear with it until such a time as Jonathan was ready to take his place? This Samuel could not understand. Dutifully he had gone to Saul and pronounced the rejection of God upon him and his house; but it had not been his choosing, and when he returned home to think about it, it became even more displeasing still. Days passed by as moodily he brooded in his home. He thought that he only grieved for Israel; but in fact, he was displeased with the way of the Lord too.
When finally, therefore, the Lord returned again to speak to Samuel, there was a sharp note of reprimand in what He said. “How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? fill thine horn with oil, and go, I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehemite: for I have provided me a king among his sons.”
But this was not what Samuel wanted to hear. He had thought about it long and hard and had become thoroughly convinced that there was only one who was fit to be Israel’s king, and that was Jonathan. He didn’t want to hear about any other man from any other household so that, when he heard this command of the Lord, he immediately reacted against it. Impulsively he blurted out an excuse why he could not do what God commanded. It was this, “How can I go? if Saul hear it, he will kill me.”
The reasoning was poor and fallacious, and normally Samuel would have known far better than so to argue with his God. There was in actuality no reason at all why anyone should know the reason for Samuel’s going to Bethlehem. And the very argument of Samuel brought out how completely unworthy Saul was of ruling over Israel one moment longer than the Lord would allow him, for it acknowledged that the whole life of Israel had come to be dominated by the uncompromised pride of king Saul.
Accordingly the answer of the Lord was curt, and he spelled out for Samuel in simple detail what with a few minutes of quiet thought he could have figured out by himself. God said, “Take a heifer with thee, and say, I am come to sacrifice to the LORD. And call Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will shew thee what thou shalt do: and thou shalt anoint unto me him whom I name unto thee.”
Being a faithful prophet, Samuel proceeded immediately to do what the Lord said even though it took some time and a good part of his journey to reconcile himself to the fact that the Lord’s will concerning Saul and his house was not to be changed. But as he traveled he thought, and prayed, and repented from his past discontentment with the will of the Lord so that by time he arrived at Bethlehem his heart was much lighter and he even felt a certain eagerness to meet the one to whom the Lord was leading him.
When at last Samuel arrived at the gate of Bethlehem, he was met with a greeting of shocked surprise. This in itself was not so strange. Through the years Samuel had very frequently traveled to various cities and towns which had become deeply enmeshed in some sin so as to admonish them and, if possible, lead them in a. sacrifice of repentance. Thus it was not at all uncommon for him to be met almost everywhere in much the same way that today many a parishioner will greet the unexpected visit of his pastor. The words spoken were cordial, but every uneasy gesture and expression cried out with the question, “And now what did we do wrong?” Only in Bethlehem the people were common and crude and spiritually very much concerned so that soon the question itself came out, “Comest thou peaceably?”
But Samuel was by now an old man of extended experience. This was his life and he knew exactly how to calm the fears of such troubled people. Quietly and with kindness he said, “Peaceably: I am come to sacrifice unto the LORD: sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice.” It was enough. In fact, once the simple folk of Bethlehem were assured that it was not to blame them but to bless them that the prophet was come, they were elated. Bethlehem was a community of spiritual people, and for them to discover that Samuel, the great prophet of Jehovah, had come especially to their village to hold a feast of sacrifice with them was an event of greatest importance. Quickly the word was spread through the town that everyone might prepare himself for the feast.
Neither was it surprising to anyone that while these preparations were taking place Samuel should search out the house of Jesse to visit there. For Jesse was the grandson of Boaz, and Boaz had long ago already become a legend in that community and beyond. In a day when sincere, spiritual life was hard to find, he had stood as a rock in obedience and dedication to the worship of Jehovah. As a result, he had been blessed and had prospered at the hand of the Lord. And so had his children after him, for they had shared with their father the same spiritual love. And with Jesse his grandchild, and with his children too, it was the same. They together as a family stood as a monument of dedication to the Lord. It was almost to be expected that in coming to Bethlehem a special note of recognition should be given to that household above all the rest.
Once Samuel had given to Jesse his greetings, however, and bestowed upon him and his household the blessing of the Lord, he made known to him in private that there was also a further reason for his presence there which had to do particularly with Jesse’s household. Careful to say no more than was strictly necessary, he explained to Jesse that one of his sons had been chosen unto a special duty and responsibility by the Lord, and his purpose there was to anoint that son unto that task. Moreover, being a faithful child of God with no reservations, Jesse was careful to inquire no further into the matter than Samuel chose to lead him; and when Samuel requested of him to make a feast after the sacrifice which was about to be offered and there to introduce him in turn to each one of his children, Jesse immediately consented.
Thus it was that a great sacrifice was held in Bethlehem, and thus it was that the feast after the sacrifice was held in Jesse’s home. It was all just as might have been expected under the circumstances even when Jesse made a point of introducing his sons one by one to the old prophet, an act of common courtesy. Little could anyone but Samuel that day have realized the tremendous importance of that which was taking place. Eagerly, tensely, the old prophet waited for the children of Jesse to appear before him; and as soon as the first did, his heart jumped for here before him was a man of exceptionally fine appearance. Surely, he thought, that already his search was ended; and he waited for the approving word of the Lord to come to him. But instead there was only a rebuke. Samuel was old and experienced; but still he needed to be reminded as God said, “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.”
Justly rebuked and more careful, Samuel watched as the second came while the word of God spoke to his heart and said, “Neither hath the LORD chosen this.” And so it was with the third and the fourth on until seven sons had passed before Samuel, and still the Lord did not approve. With Jesse Samuel could see no more children, and in perplexity he turned to Jesse and asked, “Are here all thy children?”
To Jesse it had seemed perfectly logical that if one of his children was to be called for special service before God, it would have to be one old enough to perform the duties of a man. Thus his youngest child, as yet hardly more than a child, he thought to be naturally exempted. Thus when Samuel asked, he explained, “There remaineth yet the younger, and, behold, he keepeth the sheep.”
At the command of Samuel this child was also called, He was to the amazement of Samuel the most beautiful of all Jesse’s handsome children, reddish of hair with the healthy look of the field. But what was more, when he appeared the voice of God also spoke, “Arise,” it said, “Anoint him: for this is he.”
Perhaps there was an element of jealousy among the older brothers as they saw this special attention given to David. But when they thought of it, it was natural too. Farthest from their minds was the thought that this anointing could have anything to do with the office of king. As far as they knew, Saul and his family were firmly established on the throne and always would be. All they could conclude was that David was being appointed to take up the office of prophet, and that seemed natural, for David was surely the one more concerned with the things of God than were any of his brothers. Neither were they entirely wrong, for a prophet David proved to be, but also much more.