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Life of David

Look On The Heart

1 Samuel 16 

We begin a series of studies in the life of David, King of Israel. In this study of his early life, we shall see that God does not look upon someone as we do, but can see the very heart.


My father was born on the wrong side of the tracks - literally. He was born in the little town of Lima, Ohio. In such a town everyone knew who your father was, knew who you were - and your place in society. My grandfather had been a major league baseball player ("bum" in those days). Dad came from the wrong side of town, and that was that. His father taught the men's Bible class at the local Church of Christ (average attendance about 300) but it mattered not at all: you were what you were born.

Dad moved to California after retiring from the Army. I once asked him why; he gave me two answers:

  • You could buy a drink on Sunday
  • They didn't care where you were born.

That's how people look at it. Sometimes that hurts. In the story of King David we find someone who had the same kind of beginnings, and by God's grace and power he rose to greatness.


It takes a little digging through those lists of genealogies to find all this, but you have to think that David's family - and he was the youngest (read "least") son in this family - was not all that respectable:

  • The story of his grandmother is told in the Book of Ruth - for Ruth was his grandmother. Recall that she was broke, a foreigner (not good in Israel) and reduced to gleaning grain when she met Boaz. It's a great story of love and redemption, but it's keyed by the fact that Ruth was an out of town nobody.
  • You might wonder why Boaz could have paid any attention to her. His ancestor, Salmon, married Rahab the prostitute from Jericho.

We may have some generations missing in the genealogies here; but this is what was recorded. It's important to see that humility would best describe David's ancestry. He raised his family to the point that one of Jesus' favorite titles was "Son of David."


This was not an accident. God planned it this way. Even as early as the Exodus, we see that God told Israel that such a king would arise. Indeed, it is often hard to distinguish where the prophecies of David end and those of Christ begin.

  • On his deathbed Israel foretold the kingship to one in Judah. He prophesied that his nation would have one dynasty from the coming of this king until the coming of the Messiah - and it did.[1]
  • The hireling prophet Balaam prophesied the same, and his conquests over the local people.[2]

It is interesting that when the people selected a king, they selected Saul - of the tribe of Benjamin. God rejected that. Saul looked good; a head taller than anyone else around. David was a runt. But from David came both Joseph and Mary, and her son Jesus was Son of David indeed.

Early life

From David's own words we have a description of his early life - that of a shepherd in the wilderness, defending his flock from wild predators. There are three virtues we should see:

  • Courage - this is a man who has engaged both a lion and a bear in hand to hand combat.[3] Physical courage is perhaps the least of courage, but David displayed it from his youth.
  • We see also diligence - he cared for that flock. He could have said, "It's only a sheep." But he didn't.
  • Also, we see endurance. The life of a shepherd is a hard life. David's descriptions of being a shepherd in the deserts of Palestine do not include air conditioning. By this God trained him for hardships to come.

The Anointing

(1 Sam 16:1-13 NIV) The LORD said to Samuel, "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." {2} But Samuel said, "How can I go? Saul will hear about it and kill me." The LORD said, "Take a heifer with you and say, 'I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.' {3} Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate." {4} 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?" {5} Samuel replied, "Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me." Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. {6} When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, "Surely the Lord's anointed stands here before the LORD." {7} But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." {8} Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, "The LORD has not chosen this one either." {9} Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, "Nor has the LORD chosen this one." {10} Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, "The LORD has not chosen these." {11} So he asked Jesse, "Are these all the sons you have?" "There is still the youngest," Jesse answered, "but he is tending the sheep." Samuel said, "Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives." {12} So he sent and had him brought in. He was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the LORD said, "Rise and anoint him; he is the one." {13} 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 upon David in power. Samuel then went to Ramah.

Man's view

It's interesting to make the comparison between how mankind sees things and how God knows them. Saul was chosen by Israel; David by God. We see some reasons for the difference here.

  • The elders. The elders trembled as Samuel approached. We can hardly blame them. First, Samuel was a judge of Israel, and Bethlehem is a small town. What's the big man doing here? Next, all Israel knew that Samuel had told Saul that he was not going to remain king. Would you want to get into the middle of a battle like that?
  • Samuel. It does seem typical of the prophets that they like to explain to God all the good reasons they have for not doing what God commands them to do - after all, it's risky. What would Saul do to me? Even when Samuel arrives, he still looks on the outside, not recognizing the man as God did. His saving virtue is this: obedience. No matter how reluctantly, no matter with what little vision, he did what God commanded.
  • Jesse. You would think that David's own father would have the sense to have the boy in the group. He thought so little of David that he was sure this one could be left with the sheep.
God's Way

There are two things we can see here about the way God deals with such things:

  • First, he does not look at appearances as we do. Every young man looking at a young woman should learn this lesson. It wouldn't hurt some of us old geezers either.
  • When God moves, he gives the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament this was a sign of special favor, and often prophetic of Christ to come.[4] How much more, then, should we take this to heart in our day, when the Spirit comes into every believer's life?

Man still looks upon the appearance today - whether it be the physical appearance of people or the political appearance of the situation. God tells us that this is the wrong view.

  • Obedience brings God's results - no matter what the opposition or the situation looks like.
  • God examines the heart - so the hypocrite needs still beware.
  • Remember - it is "not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit" - says the Lord.[5]

Beginning: David and the Harp

(1 Sam 16:14-23 NIV) Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him. {15} Saul's attendants said to him, "See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. {16} Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the harp. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes upon you, and you will feel better." {17} So Saul said to his attendants, "Find someone who plays well and bring him to me." {18} One of the servants answered, "I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the harp. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the LORD is with him." {19} Then Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, "Send me your son David, who is with the sheep." {20} So Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them with his son David to Saul. {21} David came to Saul and entered his service. Saul liked him very much, and David became one of his armor-bearers. {22} Then Saul sent word to Jesse, saying, "Allow David to remain in my service, for I am pleased with him." {23} Whenever the spirit from God came upon Saul, David would take his harp and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.

Character as seen

Even before David comes to the camp, his reputation is known. One of Saul's servants evidently knew the boy, and he points out three virtues to recommend him (while recommending his musical skills):

  • He is brave. Courage is still the foundation of virtue, and in a military camp it is even more important.
  • He speaks well. We are told to have a ready defense of the Gospel, and yet so many of us are tongue tied about it. David was ready.
  • Why? Because - as all could see - the Lord was with him. You know people who don't have to tell you that they are Christians - they broadcast it in every action.
Character in action

In David's own action we can see essential elements of his character:

  • He is polite - and manners are the lubricants not only of civilization but also of human communication. He brings the customary gifts to one who is his acknowledged superior.
  • He does not presume upon God, but rather he waits upon him. David has already been anointed king. He could have flaunted that fact in front of Saul, and relied upon God to save him from the king's wrath. Instead, he waits for God to act. What does he do while waiting? The thing at hand! He is called to play; play he will. We might ask how someone could maintain such patience for the Lord. The answer remains as it always has been: God's grace is sufficient.
Character as revealed

In one of the most unusual moments in Scripture, we find that Saul likes David. Here's the man who will eventually take his place as king, and Saul can't help himself - he likes the kid. Indeed, he likes him so much as to make him one of his armor bearers - in other words, a man who is always around you. Saul himself pays tribute to David's character in this way.

When David plays that harp, however, we see character revealed indeed. The Holy Spirit is with David, and in the presence of the Holy Spirit the evil spirits must give way. It is a sign of God's favor that this happens. I cannot but wonder, however, if David did not experience some frustration at the fact that this evil spirit kept returning. Teachers often get that feeling.


Let's sum up what we can see in young David:

  • He who is faithful in a little will be faithful in a lot. David shows courage, diligence and endurance in the shepherd's wilderness, and he will show the same as king.
  • We need to see things God's way - not looking at appearances or taking account of today's political pressures, but seeing things as God would have us see them. We need to be obedient.
  • David lived in the Holy Spirit. He was ready to speak, giving honor to those to whom it was due, waiting upon the Lord. He did the little things at hand as God would have him do - and so become ready for great things to come.

[1] Genesis 49:10

[2] Numbers 24:17-19

[3] 1 Samuel 17:34-37

[4] Isaiah 11:1-3

[5] Zechariah 4:6

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