After the fallout with Saul, Samuel had shut himself in his hometown of Ramah and spent his days mourning for the king of Israel. Though their relationship was going through a rocky patch, Samuel had played an important part in Saul’s life and in the transformation of his heart. Saul even started prophesying soon after his first meeting with Samuel. It was Samuel who anointed Saul to be the first king of Israel and somewhere deep in his heart he might be even blaming himself for Saul’s pivot away from the path of God.
We too feel the same when someone, whom we have nurtured and helped grow in the Word, ends up rejecting Christ. Parents feel that way about their kids, Pastors about their parishioners or a local home group leader about folks under their care. In all these scenarios, everyone (including Samuel) is assuming that they have a hand in bringing the Light into someone’s life. While we are just out-of-tune instruments in the hands of God, it is He who uses us to have an impact on someone’s life. If we start acknowledging this fact, then we will not be like Samuel, wasting our days, mourning for someone who God himself has rejected but rather will be ready to move on to the next soul that God has planned for us.
“How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”1 Samuel 16:1 (NIV)
Samuel Goes To Bethlehem
While Samuel was mourning for Saul, God had plans to anoint a new King. He wanted Samuel to head south, to the city of Bethlehem. Samuel was told to go to the house of Jesse and God would show him which of his sons was he to anoint as the next king. Now Samuel would have to pass through Gibeah to reach Bethlehem, and Gibeah was Saul’s hometown. He would not be able to take one step in Gibeah, without Saul knowing about it. Samuel feared that once Saul would catch wind of Samuel’s trip to Bethlehem, he would surely kill him or put a bounty on his head. Thus the man of God, who led Israel through many battles is now afraid of Saul, a man he himself brought to power.
We too are more afraid of offending humans than accomplishing God’s will. But God works through even the meekest of us. He did not reject Moses when he was afraid to go alone before Pharaoh but provided him with Aaron to be his orator. Gideon was a worshipper of a pagan God and when God came to him, he needed a lot of affirmation to follow God’s instructions. He will do the same for us too if we acknowledge our fears and doubts and ask Him to intervene on our behalf. Since Samuel was afraid of Saul, God told him to take a heifer with him and announce to everyone that he had come to sacrifice to the Lord. This was to ward off any suspicion that Saul or his followers might have when they saw Samuel suddenly reemerge.
Samuel did what the LORD said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?1 Samuel 16:4 (NIV)
The killing of a foreign king while he had surrendered, would have surely been seen as an act of aggression by the people in Saul’s camp. Especially after Saul had pardoned Agag for his acts of atrocity by sparing his life. The narrative would have been controlled by the king and his followers as they were not in hiding, mourning for what Saul had done. The news would have spread throughout Israel of how the Man of God has gone mad and killed a defenceless person. Bethlehem would have a lot of their young men enrolled in Saul’s army. Jesse’s sons were themselves part of the royal army. Perhaps this is why the elders trembled when Samuel came to their town.
There could be another reason as well, whenever Samuel went to a city there was always a purpose and perhaps the track record did not bode well in their favour. Maybe that’s why they are afraid at the rare citing of a prophet in their town. Samuel assured them that he had come in peace and consecrated the men. He also invited Jesse and his sons to the sacrifice where he would anoint one of his sons. When they arrived, Samuel asked the Lord based on his understanding of who would be the next king, but one by one each of Jesse’s sons were rejected by God.
So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”1 Samuel 16:11 (NIV)
“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”
Jesse is following his family hierarchy as he presents his son in the order of their birth with the least of them being the shepherd boy who was somehow forgotten in the shuffle of the day. While from the point of view of Samuel, he is looking for someone who can replace Saul. So he is looking for someone with a similar stature as the present king of Israel. Eliab the first son of Jesse, fit the bill of what Samuel had in his mind, as he was also enrolled in the army. While Samuel was looking at the outer appearance to find a suitable candidate, God is only looking at the heart. We judge people by their appearances and treat them differently based on their wealth or social status. But God is only interested in the heart of man and not the outward sound and light show that we put on for the world. So when David was brought before Samuel, God spoke to him.
Then the LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”1 Samuel 16:12-13 (NIV)
So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.
The Hand of God
The Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul and an evil spirit from the Lord started tormenting him. Seeing the misery of their master, Saul’s attendants thought that they could get someone to play the Lyre and would calm the beast that was in Saul. They believed that the skilled musician could even calm the spirits within a person. Such crude methods are recommended even today based on our culture and beliefs but remember that God can work even through the crudest of means. God had a plan to torment Saul and have David be the one who was able to play the Lyre and give Saul relief from the evil spirit.
We try to understand God’s actions from our perspective and there are many who are not able to fathom that God is a creator of everything in the world, both good and evil (Isaiah 45:7). He accomplishes His will through both the good and the evil people. He used pagan nations to destroy His people, he used his people to destroy the pagan worshippers. He used the destroyer to kill all the firstborns in Egypt and brought Israel out of the slavery of Pharaoh. It is our understanding and logical thinking that has been taught to us by the religions of this world that makes us limit the power of God.
We must understand that God is in complete control. He has the foresight to see miles ahead while we still mull over the past. He can accomplish His will through anyone, be it Peter or Judas, the evil spirits or the angels, His followers and His haters. One way or the other we will be accomplishing His will, but from which side. When we have crossed over to the other side, He does not simply leave us. He provides a way out of our sins if we simply leave our pride and ego and come back to Him. That is why He sent His own Son to die for a world that was still hung up on its past mistakes. We must move to the next thing that God wants to do in our life rather than sitting on our laurels like Saul or agonising ourselves over our past mistakes like Samuel.
- V2: Why is Samuel afraid of Saul?
- V4: Why did the elders at Bethlehem tremble upon seeing Samuel?
- V11: Why did Jesse not think of calling David as well? How are God’s standards different from that of Samuel and Jesse?
- V14: How can an evil spirit come from God?
- V23: What does this chapter reveal about God?