We now begin a new section of the Samuel history. Saul is still the king and we will hear of him, but David steps to the fore as the hero of the account. Saul enters the picture only as he bears on the history of David’s progress, against all odds, to the throne of Israel.
v.1 There is a time for mourning, but it is over. The Lord has work for Samuel to do. In David’s case the Lord does the choosing entirely. There is no public clamor for a king.
v.2 Anointing a rival to a reigning monarch has always been a risky proposition! Subsequent events, of course, would prove that Samuel had every right to be worried about what Saul might do if he found out that Samuel had anointed his successor.
Obviously, once again, in this period, sanctuaries could be found in many Israelite towns and sacrifices were offered all over the country. (cf. 6:14)
We have here another case of what has been called “the dutiful lie.” There is, as you may know, a debate of longstanding as to whether it is ever right to tell a lie (The Egyptian midwives; Rahab; etc. There are a surprising number of such cases in the Bible.). John Murray, in his great work, Principles of Conduct, argues that Rahab should not have lied, the Lord would have protected the spies in some other way. Here, of course, it is the Lord’s idea for Samuel to say what he does. Murray, however, argues that this is not a lie. It may be evasion, but, so long as Samuel really offers the sacrifice, which he does, it is not a lie. I have problems with Murray’s view, not least because if Rahab was wrong to lie, Joshua was wrong to send the spies in the first place. Spies are in the very nature of the case people who lie and deceive. I don’t think the Bible can so easily be read to condemn what Rahab did or the Hebrew midwives or the lying spirit who comes from heaven to deceive Ahab’s prophets so as to send that wicked king to his death. It seems to me that it is clear from those texts and a number of others that there are times when it is right and proper to deceive, even with statements that are not true. This was such a time. Here, of course, what is interesting is that Saul had told several lies regarding the reasons for sacrifices in the previous chapter, so what Samuel does in deceiving him is a case of tit for tat.
The kind of sacrifice envisioned here involved not only the ritual act of the death of the animal and the sprinkling of its blood on the altar, but as well a feast in which the parts of the animal not burned on the altar would be eaten.
v.4 We may wonder why they would have greeted Samuel’s arrival with alarm. It is some indication of the prophetic office. Samuel often had to deliver condemnation and warnings of divine judgment and the folk may well have been thinking that his arrival meant that he had some bad news for them. Or, it may be that it was no secret that a breach had opened between Samuel and Saul and Samuel’s appearance, they feared, would somehow drag them into this dangerous quarrel.
Note, the presence of the “elders” of the town. The office of elder in the Christian church had its origin in the OT eldership, an office of rule and government. The implication will be that these men at least witnessed David’s anointing. So it was not an entirely private action on Samuel’s part. Saul could have, probably would have learned of it.
v.5 “Consecrate yourselves” means that they must perform whatever acts of ritual purification they needed to perform in order to be able to participate in the sacrifice.
v.7 Eliab apparently had a physical appearance that was reminiscent of Saul’s – as appears from the reference to his height in v. 7. Remember Saul was taller than most Israelites and so conformed to the conventional idea of what a king should look like. But the Lord told Samuel he had rejected Eliab, the same term used in v. 1 in regard to Saul! The suggestion seems then to be not simply that Eliab was not the one God wanted but that there was something in Eliab’s heart that disqualified him for the post.
v.11 Jesse is here said to have had eight sons – the seven plus David. In 1 Chronicles 2:13-15 seven are listed including David. Perhaps the most likely explanation is that one of the sons died while still relatively young.
Samuel makes a point of waiting: they won’t eat the sacrificial meal until David arrives!
Now, remember how often in our studies in Genesis we found the law of primogeniture being overturned in the history of salvation, the younger being raised over the older (Isaac over Ishmael; Jacob over Esau; Joseph over his ten brothers; etc.). It was an enacted demonstration of grace in contrast to works, of God’s way over against the world’s way. Well so once more, the youngest son chosen over the eldest, something otherwise never done in the ANE.
At any rate, David is not present because, being so young he was left out of consideration for the important feast – like the younger kids who have to eat in the kitchen on Sunday afternoon because the dining room table will hold only so many guests! One commentator [Alter, Com, 97] speaks of David here as “a kind of male Cinderella left to his domestic chores instead of being invited to the party.” But the fact that David was shepherd will take on great significance as the story of his reign and of his descendants unfolds in the Bible.
v.13 It is not said here that Samuel indicated to those present precisely what position David was being anointed for. Others than kings were anointed in the OT. But perhaps it was clear to everyone. It was Samuel after all! Following the anointing the Holy Spirit came upon David with a special power – as he had upon Saul after his anointing (10:1,9).
Interestingly, the son of Jesse is the only one in the Bible to bear this name, David. Still today there is an argument among biblical scholars as to what the name means. “Commander,” “Beloved,” and “Uncle” are all contenders.
Now we have been introduced, if only barely, to David, the most significant figure in the preparation we will receive in the OT for the appearance of Jesus Christ. The Lord also, you will remember, was not noted for his outward appearance, even less so than David who was handsome and had a fine appearance, as we learned in v. 12. David made a much less magnificent impression than his oldest brother, but he was still a fine looking youngster. Of the Lord, however, we read in Isa. 53:2: “He had not beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” We would all of us probably be disappointed by the physical appearance of the Lord during his humiliation. And that was an obstacle for people. They wanted someone who was “kingly” in his appearance and the Lord was not. He did not look at all like the greatest man who ever lived and the King of Kings. From what little information we have been given, it may have been the same for the Apostle Paul. If the description is accurate, he was a small man, balding, not impressive at all. Were the men of the Greco-Roman world to believe that this man, this unimpressive individual was the one appointed to bring the news of the salvation of the world, was the one appointed to convey to mankind the oracles of the living God? You know very well how one’s appearance can affect our impression of a person, especially before we know him or her well. Well, David was not the most impressive in appearance, he wasn’t tall like his elder brother, but neither would Jesus be. The true evaluation of such men must proceed according to other principles, deeper things, things that more accurately reveal the true stature of a man.
In chapter 15, we found that the theme of the chapter, Saul’s disobedience, was conveyed in part by the use of a key word, in this case “listen.” We found it in verse 1, where Samuel said to Saul, “now listen to the message of the Lord”, and then repeatedly thereafter in the chapter as Saul listens to everyone else but the Lord.
Well the key word (leitwort) in this next section is not “listen” but “see.” And, again, we have it in the very first verse. Where the NIV reads, “I have chosen one of his sons to be a king,” the Hebrew reads literally “I have seen me among his sons a king.” Then, in v. 6 we have Samuel “seeing” Eliab for his external and superficial impressiveness, and in v. 7, the Lord correcting him. Man “sees” the outside, God “sees” the inside. If we add a noun built from this verb “to see”, we have the idea of seeing twice more in this paragraph, the word “appearance” in v. 7 and then again in v. 12.
In other words, there is a right kind of “seeing” and a wrong kind. The Lord’s seeing is the right kind of seeing, man’s often is not. Man thinks he sees but he is deceived, because he cannot see the heart.
Now, in the Bible the heart is just the inner man, the genuine person, the man or woman, boy or girl, as he or she really is. It is all that produces the life: the thoughts and attitudes, the motives and desires, the feelings, the convictions, the persuasions, the loves and the hatreds. It is the true personality and character of an individual. And in many places in the Bible we are taught that it is the heart that really matters to God because the heart is the true person.
“Our of the heart flow the issues of life…”
“Above all else guard the heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”
“As a man thinks in his heart, so he is.”
“As water reflects a man’s face, so a man’s heart reflects the man.”
“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”
“The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and
the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.
For out of the overflow of the heart his mouth speaks.”
“All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart.”
“You will seek me and you will find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”
And on and on in that same way. The heart, what a man is inside, is the essence of that man. If a man is to become a follower of Christ and of God it is his heart that must be changed, recreated, reborn by the power of the Holy Spirit. Once a Christian, it is the heart that must be offered to the Lord if that person is to come into the full exercise of his rights as a son or daughter of God. “My heart I offer to you, promptly and sincerely,” was the motto of John Calvin. If you offer the Lord your heart, you will offer him your entire self, because the heart carries with it the outward action. As someone has said, “the hand and the tongue always begin where the heart ends.”
God sees the heart, we read here, and so it is understandable and inevitable that it should be the heart that he wants from his people, their hearts in love with him and committed to him. How long would you love a husband or wife whose heart you could see, and, though his outward actions were loving, you could see the indifference, the ill-will, the positive dislike of you in his heart? Contrarily, how differently would you feel toward a spouse who often stumbled in his behavior but whose affection for you and respect for you and regard for you and desire for you you could see plainly in his heart?
“My son,” the father in Proverbs says with all of his fatherly interest and devotion, “give me your heart.” If you give me your heart, you will have given me everything. The Lord chose David not because of his outward appearance, not because of his reputation – for he had none by that time – and not because of anything he had said or done. He chose him because he could see his heart and he realized that a young man with a heart like his was going to be the king he needed for Israel.
Well, we cannot see one another’s hearts as God can. But we can see our own hearts! To be sure, we cannot see them as well as God sees them, but we can see them, we can know them, we can even shape them and control them. We must be able to if we are able to give our hearts to God. And that work in and on our hearts, must be the most important work we do, given that the heart is the wellspring of our lives, out of it flow the issues of life, and that we are, in the judgment of God, what we are before him in our hearts. Bishop Ryle said it simply: attending to the heart “is the main thing in religion.” John Flavel, the Puritan, wrote a famous work entitled A Saint Indeed: Or, The Great Work of a Christian Opened and Pressed. In that work he argued that “the keeping and right managing of the heart in every condition, is the great business of a Christian’s life.” [Works, v, 425]
But, if it is the most important thing in religion, it is also the hardest. Even wicked men can govern their outward behavior so as to win the applause and admiration of others. As Flavel put it in his great work,
“To repress the outward acts of sin and compose the external part of thy life in a laudable and comely manner, is no great matter; even carnal persons by the force of common principles can do this; but to kill the root of corruption within, to set and keep up an holy government over thy thoughts, to have all things lie straight and orderly in the heart, this is not easy.” 
Hypocrisy is a problem precisely because it is possible to honor the Lord with one’s lips while one’s heart remains far from him. But keeping the heart is another matter. Bringing one’s thoughts, one’s attitudes, one’s feelings under control is another matter entirely.
There may be a few people who will still agree with the self-congratulatory 16th century verse:
My minde to me a kingdom is,
Such perfect joy therein I find
As farre exceeds all earthly bliss
That God or nature hath assignde.
But most men and women know that only deeply superficial or genuinely disturbed people would think that way about their hearts. We don’t find perfect joy there, we find a great deal that is ugly and we are determined to keep from the sight of anyone else. But, of course, we cannot keep it from God, for he sees our hearts. Live long enough with your heart, if you will be honest, and try hard to bring it under control of your higher self, and you will feel as multitudes have before you that the heart of man is “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” See how easily your heart runs to what is impure, or unkind, or trivial, or distracting. Would you like anyone in this room to be able to play back your daydreams of the last few weeks? See how quickly it deserts you when you go to pray or to meditate on the Word of God or to set your heart on things above where Christ is seated at the Right Hand of God. See how stubbornly it resists you in your desire to do what is pleasing to God and to keep his commandments, every one of them.
This is what makes us so admire David. We wonder what did the Lord see when he looked into David’s heart. We fear his looking into ours. We cannot imagine that he would choose us out of eight brothers if he looked into our hearts! But, of course, the Lord did not see a sinless heart, he saw a believing heart, a heart that hungered and thirsted for the righteousness that it did not yet possess.
And he can see the same thing in us, in our hearts, if you and I are committed to giving him our hearts and not simply our outward selves. There is the summons for all of us in 1 Samuel 16:7. God chooses a man because of what he sees in his heart. And surely that is a summons to all of us to be sure that we are giving our hearts to the Lord, that we are keeping our hearts for him, and that we are not making the mistake of judging our Christianity primarily by our outward conformity to a set of standards of public behavior. Indeed, I would go further and say that we hardly need to worry about our public behavior as Christians. For if we are keeping our hearts, the public behavior will follow as it should, for out of the heart flow the issues of life and as a man thinks in his heart, so he is.
Here is where the true issue is to be joined by you and me. What are we doing, what are we thinking, what are we saying in our hearts? If we are the Lord’s faithful disciples there, if we are fighting the good fight there, if we are denying ourselves and taking up our crosses there, if we are believing the Lord and his Word and repenting of our sins there, then we will be the Lord’s faithful followers indeed.
One of Samuel Rutherford’s famous correspondents was a Scottish nobleman by the name of Alexander Gordon of Earlston. Gordon came from sturdy and holy stock. His great grandfather, whose nickname was Strong Sandy Gordon, had proved himself a loyal servant of the Lord a century before in a time of controversy about Christmas. Sandy Gordon had fallen under the spell of the Lollard preachers who were spreading the teaching of John Wyclif, the reformer before the reformation. Gordon had obtained a copy of Wyclif’s English translation of the New Testament and had taken it home and mastered it. And, he came as a result into conflict with the church authorities in Scotland, in particular in their insistence on the observance of a host of holy days, Christmas among them. There are good reasons to celebrate Christmas but the reasons given Sandy Gordon were all bad and he determined to refuse to celebrate it. But the government threatened anyone who refused to observe the holiday with the loss of his team of oxen if he were found plowing in the field. Well, Gordon hitched up his ten sons to the plow, plowed all Christmas day, honored the Lord, gave witness for the reformation of the church, and saved his oxen to boot. Well, his great grandson, Alexander, was a man of the same stripe.
He was a strong and sturdy Christian who provided greatly needed leadership for the reforming party in Scotland as they resisted the efforts of the crown to impose on the country a worship these folk believed was contrary to the Word of God. Gordon, on one occasion, made a very brave speech before the King and the Parliament on behalf of the rights of the church to practice her faith solely according to the rule of Scripture. When he returned home and to the meeting of his presbytery, his fellow elders and ministers had in mind to pass a motion of thanks to him for his brave speech. But Gordon would have nothing of it.
“Fathers and brothers,” he said, “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, and you do not know it. For I had a deep, malicious, revengeful motive in my heart behind all my find and patriotic speeches in Parliament. I hated [the King’s agent] Montrose more than I loved the freedom of the Kirk. Spare me, therefore, the sentence of putting that act of shame on your books.” [Whyte, Samuel Rutherford, 92-93]
There is the attitude that you and I are to have regarding ourselves. Whether or not we need to speak so to others, we ought to be speaking all the time to ourselves in that severe, unrelenting, demanding way; judging ourselves, our lives, our actions, by what we know of the heart from which they sprang, the motives, the desires, the convictions. Were we loving God or ourselves? Were we hungering and thirsting after righteousness or after the applause and approval of others? Were we truly seeking the good of our neighbor, seeking to love him or her as ourselves so as to fulfil the law of Christ, or were we, in truth, filling the box and checking the square?
Let us be hard, demanding on ourselves. We won’t consider that we have loved unless we have done so in our secret heart. We will not consider that we have repented unless we have turned from the sin in our heart. We will not believe that we have obeyed and served the Lord unless we know that our attitudes and desires conform to his will. We will not think we have prayed if we did not pray in our hearts and with our true selves. It is so easy to live one’s life, as a Christian, rarely asking oneself the hard questions, rarely applying this sterner but so much truer test to ourselves, our faith, our love, our obedience.
Oh, don’t mistake me. It is hard work to keep the heart. The hardest work in all the world, which is why so few people do it. But surely we must be among that few. For our God and Savior sees our hearts and tells us that what he sees there he takes for the true measure of ourselves. If we truly want to be a pleasure to him and an honor to him we must be that pleasure and honor where it counts for him, in the heart. And, happily, we needn’t worry about neglecting our behavior, our outward life, for if we keep the heart, we will sanctify our outward life as a matter of course. You cannot have a good heart without having a good life, but you can have an outwardly seeming goodness and a bad heart. Put your money, you energy, where it counts – put it to your heart.
Make it your business every day to be sure that the Lord has your heart and nothing less than your heart. That you are the Lord’s chiefly in your heart where it counts, that you love him and serve him there, where no one knows but you and God, that you will not permit your heart to sin while conforming your outward behavior in a sham righteousness. And remember this:
“If our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God…” (1 John 3:21)
“Make the tree good and the fruit will be good.” (Matt. 12:33)
And if you believe that, you will guard your heart and you will work to sanctify your heart. And that work, hard as it will prove, will cause you to cry out to God more than you ever have, to trust him and depend upon him more than you ever have, and to love him for his grace and mercy to you more than you ever have.
Brothers and sisters, hear the Lord tell us all that he looked into the hearts of these sons of Jesse and measured them accordingly and then hear him tell us all:
“Above all else guard your hearts, for they are the will spring of life.”