His Crowning Act
(1 Sam. 16)
THE anointing of David was the last important and crowning act of Samuel's life; and it was this that God had in mind, since the deposition of the house of Eli (chap. 2:35).
David is twice alluded to in Samuel's addresses to Saul when declaring to him his sin and consequent rejection by the Lord. He says to him, on the first occasion, "Thy kingdom shall not continue: the Lord hath sought Him a man after his own heart, and the Lord hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the Lord commanded thee" (chap. 13:14).
The expression, "A man after mine own heart," to which the ungodly have ever taken such exception, and which to them appears so obnoxious - even as Nathan prophesied they would, saying to the guilty though penitent king, "By this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme" (2 Sam. 12: 14); it was nevertheless God's own pronouncement as to David. He is twice so described by Him in the sacred Word. See Acts 13: 22.
This is what he was to God, as measured up by Him alone, without reference or allusion to others. In the mention of him the second time by Samuel he is described as in contrast with Saul: "The Lord hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbour of thine, that is better than thou" (chap. 15: 28).
"And the Lord said to 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" (16: 1.)
Samuel was loth to give up Saul as lost to the nation, and dead to all good and blessing to himself. In this, his grief over the fallen monarch, Samuel was something like the apostle Paul, who said, "I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart... for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh" (Rom. 9: 2, 3). God's choicest servants have been men of tenderest feelings, especially in anything that touched the welfare of His people. We do not read of Samuel mourning for his sons' retirement from office, or grieving over his own setting aside by the ungrateful people he had so long and so faithfully served. No; but he mourns for Saul as for one on whom the nation's fondest hopes were set, and whose downfall meant, as would seem, the diminution or downfall of Israel. For Saul's rejection by Jehovah would mean for the nation both shame and sorrow and loss of prestige with the nations about them.
Samuel mourned for Saul, but we do not read that Saul ever mourned for the loss of Samuel's presence and counsel - perhaps he was glad to be rid of the presence of so faithful a reprover of his wrongdoings. Given over by God to hardness of heart, he would be satisfied with the perfunctory ministrations of the priests of the rejected house of Eli. "Ichabod" was written on both by the finger of God.
Noble as it may have been for the prophet to mourn over the fall of this the first of Israel's kings, he nevertheless receives this mild rebuke of Jehovah: "How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? Fill thy horn with oil, and go, I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehemite: for I have provided Me a king among his sons " (chap. 16: 1). This is the first inkling Samuel has as to the identity of Saul's successor. He now knows both the tribe and the family of which he was to come. The tribe of Judah seems never to have been very enthusiastic over the elevation of Saul to the throne; for in the expedition against the Ammonites for the relief of Jabesh-gilead, they furnished but 30,000 troops, while the forces sent from the other tribes numbered 300,000 - a very marked disproportion when it is remembered how numerous Judah was compared with the other tribes of Israel. (See Num 1.) They, perhaps, remembered the dying prophecy of their father Jacob, how he spoke of the sceptre not departing from Judah, and so would not have much confidence in the permanency of the power of this Saul of Benjamin. A knowledge of Scripture, and especially of prophetic Scripture (man's thoughts to the contrary), is often of very great service even in things pertaining to this life, as many since Samuel's day have abundantly proved.
The tribe of Judah, the family of Jesse, and the town of Bethlehem are designated to Samuel as whence this man chosen of God, by God alone, was to come, who was to rule His people Israel and accomplish all His will. So to Bethlehem he is sent. But he fears the wrath of Saul, and says, "How can I go? If Saul hear it, he will kill me." And Jehovah, in His tenderness and consideration for His servant's but too well-founded fears, says to him:
"Take an heifer with thee, and say, I am come to sacrifice to the Lord. And call Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show thee what thou shalt do; and thou shalt anoint unto Me him whom I name unto thee" (16: 2, 3).
The prophet knew the murderous heart of Saul, and reposed no confidence in him, especially in anything that touched his tenure of the kingdom. Smarting from the rebuke passed upon him in the matter of the Amalekites, he probably would neither forget nor forgive the pronouncement of the prophet concerning God's rejection of him as king and captain of His people. Yet such was Samuel that he could mourn, even to excess, for the man whom he knew would not hesitate to kill him if the occasion offered. God instructs His servant therefore how to go about the business without exciting the suspicion either of Saul or his officers. This is not deception, as some have imagined, for Jehovah is a God of truth, and would never resort to deceit in any form or for any purpose whatsoever; and though for man, who would so quickly sit in judgment on God's acts, it is easy and natural enough to lie, with God this is "impossible." "God orders him to protect himself with a sacrifice; Say, I am come to sacrifice,' which was true, and proper that he should when he came to anoint a king (chap. 11: 15). As a prophet, he might sacrifice when and where God appointed. In truth he came to sacrifice, though having also a further end, which he saw fit to conceal." *
* Matthew Henry.
Samuel obediently does as the Lord directs, and on his approach to Bethlehem the elders of the town ask anxiously, "Comest thou peaceably?" "They trembled at his coming," we read. There was little security for either life or property under the rule of Saul, and the fearsome elders know not what this coming of the prophet to their town might bode or signify. But while it is true that " there is no peace to the wicked," Samuel has no controversy either of his own or for the king, and in answer to their anxious inquiry returns them an answer of peace. "Peaceably," he says: "I am come to sacrifice unto the Lord: sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice. And he sanctified Jesse and his sons, and called them to the sacrifice." After this, in the privacy of Jesse's home, as it seems, or in the presence of the elders only (for it surely would not be publicly), he has all the sons of Jesse to pass in review before him.
Eliab, the eldest, comes first; and Samuel, off his guard for the moment, or forgetting his former disappointment in the splendid appearance of Saul, says, "Surely the Lord's anointed is before Him." How quickly we forget the lessons of former experiences; and how prone we are to look "on the outward appearance," and so be repeatedly deceived. Paul "in presence" was "base" among his children in the faith at Corinth, and for this they were foolishly inclined to discount his power and worth, and be carried away with men who gloried in appearance. It was these very men who wickedly sought to undermine Paul's influence with the saints, insinuating that his "bodily presence" was "weak and his speech contemptible" (2 Cor. 10).
Thus it has ever been and will be till the coming of the Antichrist, who "shall come in his own name," and of whom the handsome Absalom was a fitting type. Of that meek and lowly One who came in His Father's name, it was written, "He hath no form nor comeliness, and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him." So Jehovah says to the mistaken prophet,
"Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature... for the Lord seeth not as man seeth ; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord look eth on the heart " (chap. 16: 7).
When all the sons of Jesse have been made to pass before him, Samuel says to Jesse, " The Lord hath not chosen these." And then he asks,
"Are here all thy children? And he said, There remaineth yet the youngest, and, behold, he keepeth the sheep. And Samuel said unto Jesse, Send and fetch him: for we will not sit down till he come hither. And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to. And the Lord said, Arise, anoint him, for this is he " (chap. 16:11, 12).
Here, for the first time, we behold the "man after God's own heart," this "neighbour" of Saul's who was "better than he." And the introduction occurs at a most fitting time, at a family sacrificial feast.
These feasts were evidently popularised, if not introduced, by Samuel, and their establishment was not the least of the blessings this good man's influence brought to Israel.
So little thought of was David by other members of the family, that he was not called to the banquet at which such a distinguished personage as Samuel was to preside - a rare opportunity indeed to hear his wisdom and profit by his holy conversation. But, "a prophet is not without honor save in his own country, and in his own house." it was thus with David's Antitype, "great David's Greater Son" for neither did His brethren believe in Him" ( John 7 : 5 ). David seems to have been discounted in his family not only for his younger years, but for his appearance, for he did not appear as suitable material for warriors (chap. 17: 28), who were at a premium in those troublous times of frequent Philistine invasions. Jesse himself seems to have been somewhat of a militarist, as witness his present of "ten cheeses" to the colonel under whom his sons were serving (chap. 17:18); so minding the sheep was considered fit service for the youngest of the family. Nor was it a large flock, but being "faithful in that which is least," God would entrust him with greater matters. "He chose David also his servant, and took him from the sheepfolds: from following the ewes great with young, He brought him to feed Jacob his people, and Israel, his inheritance" (Ps. 78:70,71). Behold this tender youth following his father's flock with watchful, gentle eye on them. This marked him out as a man specially suited to be the "shepherd of Israel," a fitting type of Him who was to be "the Shepherd of the sheep."
What high honor God put upon Samuel in sending him to anoint the man "after God's own heart," of whom God spake, saying, "I have laid help upon one who is mighty; I have exalted one chosen out of the people.
I have found David my servant; with my holy oil I have anointed him"(Ps. 89:19, 20). God had in vision spoken to His holy prophet Samuel, and it was indeed the crowning event of his life to be permitted to pour the holy anointing oil upon the head of David the beloved.
Then "Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah." Our chapter leaves him retiring to the home of his childhood, in the seclusion of his house in Ramah, whence he might wait patiently and in faith for the better days to be ushered in through David.
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