1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

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Old Testament: 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13,

Background to the Book of 1 Samuel: What is happening in Palestine at this time?

The story contained in the books of Samuel tells of the extraordinary change in the way Israel is governed. Up to this time, there had been various tribes who on occasions had come together to combat a threat from other nations. In each instance in the book of Judges, we are told how a person was raised by God to lead the tribes on this particular occasion. The Spirit of God settles on the person and even when this is not overtly mentioned in the story we are clear by the way the story progresses that we know God's hand is directly involved in the successful consequences.

1 and 11 Samuel tell us about the immense political and new government structures, which take place around the end of the 10th century BCE. The centre of government during the time of the judges was at Shiloh and by the time we get to the end of 11 Samuel, the centre of what is now an empire, has moved to Jerusalem.

The voices for setting up a monarchy became stronger and it fell to Samuel, the last of the judges, to be instrumental in the forthcoming tussle between those who wanted a monarch and those who believed that God would continue to raise up leaders as required.

The amount of material, which focuses on Samuel, Saul and David compared with the space given to the remainder of the Kings of Israel, is quite disproportionate. A total of fifty five chapters is given to these three people and forty seven chapters to all the remaining kings of both the northern and southern kingdoms.

We read in the books of Joshua and Judges about the gradual settlement of the Israelite tribes into Palestine, some encroaching from the south, others from the east and the north. It was clear there was fighting with other tribes and we become familiar with the names of the Edomites and the Moabites. However, the greatest threat became the Philistines who had settled in the west of Palestine along part of the coast. Because they had effected the art of iron casting, they were able to make wheels and other tools which gave them a superiority in war. The settlement process took at least two hundred years from the time the tribes started to enter into Palestine

One of the ancient traditions tells of the conquest of Canaan by slow stages, with each tribe fighting alone or, at best, in coalition with other tribes. Another tradition tells about the invasion, which attacked first the southern hill country, where Judah and Simeon defeated Adonibezek, took Hebron, Debir, and Hormah, but could not gain control of the coastal plain. The house of Joseph invaded the central highlands and captured Bethel. To the north, the tribes of Manasseh, Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, and Naphtali settled among the Canaanites, and, as they grew stronger, gradually forced them into slave labour. To the west, the tribe of Dan was hemmed in against the highlands and could not conquer the plains.

The books of Samuel tell us how first Saul became king and was commissioned to defeat the Philistines that were a very real threat to the survival of Israel. Next, we see the gradual disintegration of Saul's mental and physical health and the rise of David after his defeat of Goliath. David is portrayed positively as he saves Saul's life and negatively as he betrays his own people and fights for the enemy, although never against Israel itself. The Philistines thought he was doing this but David was fighting other tribes and killing everyone so there was no one alive to tell the Philistine commander what David was doing. Some of the negative qualities of David's actions and character are omitted in a later telling of his story (Books of Chronicles). It is well that we remember he was a person of mixed motives, great faith, courage, love, greed, need for power, who killed those in opposition to his desires, he was cruel and had fits of anger. His grief at the death of Saul and Jonathon is beautifully portrayed in the lament of 2 Sam 1:19ff.
In the second book of Samuel, we read of the rise and fall of David's reign.

Dates of the first 3 Kings of the United Kingdom


c.1020-1004 BC


1004 - 965



Context of 1 Sam 15:34-16:13:

This is one of those occasions when it needs to be recognised that the story is part of a much bigger complex. Our culture no longer spends time hearing long stories and people are used to visual presentation rather than sitting around a fire listening to sagas of their past ancestors. It is unreasonable to consider reciting the sixteen chapters (1 Sam 1-16), but you might find it helpful to let people know in a brief synopsis about the story and how it progresses. This chapter is the first in a much longer saga about the rise of David and the fall of Saul: the unit runs from 1 Sam 16 - 11 Sam 1:27. The previous section 1 Sam 8:1-15:35 is focussed on the rise and kingship of Saul. Saul, like David is anointed as King and is successful against the Philistines. However, he appears to anger Samuel by his actions and we see the start of his rejection as the future dynasty of Judah. We then move into the 1 Sam 16 which tells us about the rise of David and the final downfall of Saul. Reading the context shows up some ineresting points such as, the contradictory statements in 1 Sam 16:21-23 in which the close relationship between David and Saul is expressed and then in 1 Sam 17:55-58 Saul appears not to know David at all. Is Saul so mad that he does not recognise David after him being at court for some considerable period? Is it that we have different traditions, which the storyteller has not reconciled? 1 Sam 18:2 is almost a repetition of 1Sam 16:22, but now we have the addition of the relationship that is set up between Jonathon and David. It is described in terms that indicate a very close bonding, which may or may not have sexual overtones. We do not know and rather than argue one way or another all we can say is that it indicates a love that is very close. The actual phrasing in the Hebrew is rather lovely: "the life of Jonathon was bound to the life of David and Jonathon loved him as his own life". Why is Jonathon not the one to become king? His nature and behaviour is above reproach: his kindness to David and his lack of jealousy are all conveyed to us quite clearly. However, as David became increasingly successful at subduing the enemies of Saul and as the women showed great favour to him, Saul's jealousy was fuelled and he turned against David.

In the following chapters, the story of how the relationship develops between David and Saul's family and the ongoing campaigns against the Philistines are explicated. Saul's hatred grows and David's success against the Philistines grows in equal proportion. The unit finishes with the death of Saul and his family, David's sorrow and his order to kill the person who killed Jonathon and Saul. The final lament is meant to be said by all of Israel. 2 Sam 2 begins the story of David's reign.

Insights/Message of 1 Sam 15:34-16:13: Literary structure:

The account of the anointing of the boy David to be king of Israel (1 Sam16:1-13) is the first of two introductions to the history of King David , the second being in vv.14-23 in which Saul chooses David as his armor bearer. The link between the two appears to be in the reference to the spirit coming to David (v.13) and the spirit leaving Saul (v.14). The importance of this account is that it introduces David as the one chosen by God to be the next king after Saul and that he reigned as God’s anointed, even though no further mention is made of the event in the ongoing story of David’s reign.

The Lectionary reading relates how Samuel, in response to God’s command, went to anoint one of the sons of Jesse of Bethlehem and the process by which one of Jesse’s eight sons would be the new anointed king of Judah. It is a well told story which builds to a climax as the sons were paraded before Samuel, one at a time, but none was found acceptable to God until the last, youngest and, apparently least likely, was summoned from the fields where he was a shepherd of the sheep.

A key word in the narration is r’h (to see), which is used in vv. 1,6,7 and 12 so that the story becomes “an exercise in right ‘seeing’” (B C Birch: NIB). To see correctly is to be discerning and recognise the one God has chosen (NRSV, “provided” - v.1). This is emphasized in vv. 6 and 7 where Samuel “sees” what he believes are the right characteristics for the future king, but God tells him that he is “seeing” with human eyes, not the eyes of God who “sees” the heart. In v.12 the word is used in participial form to indicate that David was of good looks (handsome), which we must assume means both in outward appearance as well as in his heart. So he is anointed and the Spirit of the Lord came upon him with power.

Message: This is another story of the unexpected from God. But, when we have said that we have not given the story its due, nor been true to God. Yes, what God did was unexpected, but that is because we, and the people of the time, have not learned from God’s actions with people in the past. God looked at the heart, the inward not the outward appearance. Even Samuel the long time prophet/priest of Israel had to learn this again in the anointing of David. In our approach to life our judgments must be oriented toward God so that we discern what God discerns. As Birch notes, the irony of the text is that when David appears, he, like his brothers before him is handsome and attractive but, in the eyes of God, his “heart” was right and it was this that fitted him to be king of Israel.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament: Mark 4:32 - the imagery of trees and birds of the air are common in the Ancient Near East texts and in the Old Testament. In Ezek 17: 22-24 it is the promise of God's future salvation action after there has been judgement. The judgement is the exile in Babylon for the israelites but it will be God who plants the tree under which all the beasts of the field and birds of the air will dwell. All the trees will acknowledge the power of God who can bring the enemy of Israel low and raise up the scattered exiles of Israel. In the Old Testament nature has a voice which can either praise what the Lord has done or is called as witness to God's actions for or against Israel. The imagery of the mountain would recall for listeners that this is Jerusalem. As is the case most times the new Testament writers adapt the imagery to their own gospel message. In Mark it is a a mustard sees which grows to a shrub rather than a sprig from a tree which grows into a large cedar. Both signify new kingdoms and hope for the small and insignificant and in both cases it is god who will prevail.

Resources/Worship for 1 Sam 15:34-16:13

Worship: The story needs setting in context and this can be done quite briefly. If there are children in the congregation, this could easily be enacted out by them to remind people about it. Again, use could be made of the Dramatised Bible. You could invite the congregation to be the two armies and whom would they get to represent each of them. What qualities would they look for?  You could do a David Kossov and speak about the story as though you had been there and witnessed the event.


The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the books of Samuel, eg. if you want to know more about the Philistines there are details given of several articles/chapters in books which can help with this topic.

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the 1990's is more up to date than some earlier works.

Birch,.B. The First and second Samuel. NIB. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998.
Brueggemann,W. First and Second Samuel. Interpretation. Louisville: John Knox
Press, 1990
Gordon, R.P. 1 & 2 Samuel. OTG. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1984
Hertzberg, H.W. 1 & 11 Samuel. OTL. London: SCM Press, 1964.
Klein,R. 1 Samuel. WBC. Waco., Texas: Word Books, 1983.
Mauchline, J. 1 and 2 Samuel. NCB. London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1971.

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources: http://nat.uca.org.au/TD/worship/Orders_of_Service/index.html