The Spirit of the Lord Comes Upon David in Power (1 Samuel 16)
David Anointed as King
We pick up the story where Samuel is reviewing Jesse’s sons. One by one the Lord rejects them. When, apparently, the supply of sons is exhausted, Samuel asks the obvious question.
Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” “There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.” Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.” So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.” 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. (1 Samuel 16:10-13a)
Imagine David’s life up to this point in time. He was the youngest of eight sons, living in a small village. Thus, to him fell the lonely and dangerous task of tending the family’s sheep. David could not have had any worldly expectation of great responsibility or glory in his future.
And yet, this lonely and dangerous responsibility for the family’s flock of sheep had prepared David for this unexpected moment. For, as David says in the very next chapter:
“Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear” (1 Samuel 17:34b-36a).
Consider the responsibility that David, alone with his flock, bore when a dangerous predator attacked. There was no-one else there to take responsibility or to later use as a scape goat for failure. No, either he stepped into the breech, placing his own life at deadly risk, or the defenseless sheep would be lost and his family’s source of sustenance depleted. These decisions had to be made and acted upon in time spans measured in minutes if not seconds.
Is this not practical training for a highly effective and savage warrior? I use the word “savage” after careful deliberation. Consider, particularly given the available weapons at that time, what it would take for a boy to slay a lion or bear all by himself. What but the application of highly effective savage violence could possibly win the battle?
And yet, this violence was the exception. Certainly for long periods young David observed the beauty of God’s creation. He also watched the quiet lives of the sheep, as they were born, grazed peacefully and then died. Could these experiences but have fueled the passionate poet in David’s soul?
In all of this, David must have found tokens that led him towards a great and abiding love for God. In his victory over predators ten times his size, a trust in God’s purposes. And, in the beauty of creation’s vastness and complexity an understanding of his own limitations. It was in this state of unknowing preparation that David lived. This Bouguereau painting compellingly captures this dichotomy between David’s savagery and gentleness.
And then, literally out of the blue, the prophet Samuel shows up asking to meet David. The Scripture does not make it clear that David understood what was the significance of this anointing. However, he could not but have noticed the Spirit of the Lord coming powerfully upon him.
David’s anointing can be seen as a metaphor for our salvation. For, just as David was being prepared as the founder of an eternal Kingdom well before he had any inkling of this life-purpose, infinitely more so, through Jesus Christ:
he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. (Ephesians 1:4-6).