Saul’s disobedience prompts YHWH to reject him as Israel’s king. Despite the fact that he “looks the part,” Saul’s ineptitude as Israel’s spiritual, political, and military leader is demonstrated through a series of tactical blunders and moral failures. Tasked with anointing Israel’s next king, the prophet Samuel travels to the home of Jesse in Bethlehem. One of Jesse’s sons is the Anointed of God.
You can imagine the buzz in Bethlehem at the news of this visitation. Samuel, a prophet in the manner of Moses, coming to make sacrifice! But such news also prompted fear. What have we done that requires such attention from YHWH’s servant? The text says The elders of hte city came to meet him trembling and said, “Do you come peaceably? (1 Sam. 16:4)” Saul’s great failure was defying the order of YHWH to exterminate Agag, king of the Amalekties. After censuring the king for his disobedience, Samuel hacked Agag to pieces before the LORD in Gilgal (1 Sam. 15:33). Easy to see why the elders of Bethlehem were nervous.
No doubt the sacrifice was a major event in Bethlehem. During the ceremony, seven of Jesse’s sons are presented and with each strapping young boy, Samuel awaits confirmation from YHWH. Yet YHWH selects according to His own criteria. Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). After seven sons of Jesse are presented and summarily rejected, Samuel asks, Are all of your sons here? And he said, “There remains the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep,” (1 Sam. 16:11).
As the youngest son, David is nothing more than an afterthought in this episode. In fact, he’s not even present as the scene unfolds. This sacrificial feast is a BIG DEAL, the most significant thing to happen in Bethlehem in years…and David isn’t even invited to the party. The runt of the clan, he is relegated to watching the herd. David represents the marginalized, the uncredentialed, those without claim or clout. While everyone else gets dressed up for the ball, David is busy tending to his father’s flocks, a task that uniquely qualifies him to rule in the eyes of YHWH.
In the story of his anointing, David plays a passive role. In fact, he is not named until AFTER his anointing, at the end of the narrative. His selection at the feast confounds the social norms of the day. In the ancient world, eldest sons were favored; younger sons overlooked. But if we’ve been paying attention, the God of Israel has a surprisingly robust track record when it comes to disregarding such practices. Abel to Cain; Isaac to Ishmael; Jacob to Esau; Joseph to Rueben; Moses to Aaron…it seems YHWH prefers to use disenfranchised members of society to do his most significant work.
At his anointing, the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward (1 Sam. 16:13). The anointing is more than mere symbolism. In David’s life, the anointing with oil merely announced an even greater anointing, an outpouring of the Spirit of God that powerfully animates David. In the episodes that follow, David moves with the grace and fluidity of one propelled and prompted by the power of God’s own Spirit.
And David’s anointing provides a compelling type, a foreshadowing of the Anointed One from God who would be empowered with the same Spirit, filled with grace and truth.