top of page

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

Leader GuideDownload

Participant GuideDownload

Lesson Focus Good looks and a good heart aren’t always enough to help us be as faithful as we should be.

Lesson Outcomes Through this lesson, students should:

  1. Become familiar with the beginning of the narrative concerning King David.

  2. Understand that receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit does not always mean we will be faithful.

  3. Learn that we must participate with the Spirit’s work in our lives if we are to be the people God has called us to be and do the work God has called us to do.

Catch Up on the Story Saul is currently king over Israel. Back in 1 Samuel chapter 8, the people begged Samuel to anoint a king so that they could be just like everyone else.  For some time, Samuel has functioned as Israel’s de facto leader. Indeed, he’s the primary religious leader in Israel, even though he’s not a priest.  His connection and communication with God grant him the authority to play kingmaker as well.

Though Saul is tall and good-looking, everything a king should be for some, he has not been the faithful kind of leader God desired he be. On more than one occasion, he has not followed the directions he has been given. The most recent occasion will be the last.

God told Samuel to direct Saul to settle an old score with the Amalekites. Everything and everyone is to be destroyed. Rather than following his instructions, Saul takes King Agag of the Amalekite prisoner. Saul’s men capture the best of the livestock with the intention that those animals would be offered up to God as a sacrifice.

At this point, we don’t know if they would have actually carried through with the sacrifices or just kept the animals for themselves. Either way, it does not matter because Saul has once again been disobedient.

Samuel learns about Saul’s disobedience and is directed to inform Saul that his kingship will be taken away, though no word is given on how that will occur or who the new king will be. We only know that “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this very day, and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you” (1 Samuel 15:28).[1]

The David Story Begins To this point in the narrative, Samuel and Saul have been the main characters. Now the attention shifts from Saul to David, and Samuel will only play a minimal role.

Samuel is sad that God has torn the kingdom away from Saul. God confronts Samuel, asking him how long he will mourn the loss of Saul as king. God then directs Samuel to fill a horn with oil and go to Jesse the Bethlehemite to anoint one of Jesse’s sons as the new king of Israel, though God doesn’t mention which son. God only tells Samuel that he will show Samuel which one will be the new king.

Now, as you can imagine, this might be dangerous work for Samuel. It’s always dangerous to proclaim that a new king has arrived when the old king is still around! It spells trouble!

Rightly so, Samuel reminds God that this is a dangerous mission on which he has been sent. To provide a cover, God tells Samuel to take with him a heifer on the pretense of offering it as an offering to God for the people of Bethlehem. The invitation to sacrifice will calm the town folk’s fears while providing an excellent cover if Saul finds out about what Samuel is doing.

Samuel is obedient and makes his way to the town. Upon entry, the town’s people great Samuel with great fear, asking him if he’s come in peace or not. Whenever an important and influential person like Samuel comes to town, they usually come to take, not give.

Samuel admits that he has come in peace and invites them to join him in offering up a sacrifice. Samuel instructs the town’s people, along with Jesse and his sons, to sanctify themselves for a holy sacrifice. Once that’s accomplished, Samuel gathers with Jesse and his sons.

We’re not sure how much Jesse might know about what’s going on. He likely has suspicion when Samuel asks to see his sons, though I doubt he understands that Samuel means to name one of his children the new King of Israel. After all, Israel already has a king.

The Outward Appearance Before the group sits down to eat, Jesse’s sons are paraded in front of Samuel. Jesse’s first son is brought forth, and Samuel immediately thinks that the Lord’s anointed is now before him. The first son was like Saul, tall, well-built, and handsome, everything a king should be.  But as we know, that did not exactly work out the best for Saul.

The narrator tells us that Samuel immediately thinks this is Israel’s new king, “When they came, he saw Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord’ But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not see his appearance or the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they see the outward appearance, but the Lord sees the heart.’ (1 Samuel 16:7, author’s paraphrase).

There’s something here that’s important. Maybe you see it, and perhaps you don’t. It’s hard to catch in the English translation, but there is a repeated emphasis on seeing. This emphasis on seeing starts way back in verse one when God tells Samuel, “I myself see a king among his sons.”

God’s sight catches things that we don’t. Be it human pride, cultural conditioning, or whatever, more often than not, we use our filters and lenses to understand the world around us.

The point is, Samuel goes in looking for someone who will look similar to Saul. Only, what God has seen from Saul’s kingship is that the outward appearance doesn’t necessarily mean success or faithfulness.

At the end of chapter 15, God notes that he was “sorry” that he had made Saul king in the first place. Remember, God, grants Israel a King because they rejected him as their rightful ruler. Human kingship in Israel was not part of the plan. God gave Israel what they wanted, not what they needed, and it ended, as it always does, poorly for Israel.

So, if God has to work with the frailty and faultiness of human will, then he’s going to change the qualities needed to lead these very stubborn and obstinate people. While Samuel is looking at the outside, God is looking at the inside, at the heart.

Seven of Jesse’s sons pass by Samuel, and each time they are rejected. Finally, after the seventh son has passed by, Samuel asks if there are any remaining sons. Jesse remembers that he has one more son, David! But he’s of no account; he’s the youngest and is out tending the flocks. Samuel insists that they will not sit down to eat until he has personally inspected the last son.

When David finally arrives, Samuel notes that he is “ruddy, had beautiful eyes, and was handsome” (1 Samuel 16:12). Despite all those things, Samuel is told to rise and anoint David, the next King of Israel. Samuel does as he is told and anoints David king in the presence of his father and his brothers. We’re told that from that time onward, David had the Spirit of the Lord mightily upon him.

So What…? The contrast that God makes here, between seeing as we do, often focusing on the outside appearance, and seeing as God does, what’s on the inside, seems simple enough.

How many times have we looked at someone and thought to ourselves, “That person has it all together!” I’ll admit, I think pastors are the worst at this, and pastor gatherings are often where this type of judgment occurs. Sometimes, you can just tell the “successful” pastors when they walk into the room.

Though I don’t think this distinction between who is “successful” and who is not is as simple as we might think it is. After all, we’re told that David isn’t hard to lock at. He may not be from a powerful and wealthy family, but he’s not ugly. And, as you’ll learn if you keep reading, David possesses some bravery and talent as well.

I think this week’s passage is a cautionary tale on two levels. First, we are warned that looking too much at a person’s outward appearance is a poor indicator of how successful or obedient they might be.

There is no shortage of voices calling us to make our decisions on a whole range of things based on outside appearance. We’re tempted to do this for everything from politics to pizza to car insurance. Would you be more or less likely to buy insurance from State Farm if Jake from State Farm was ugly?

The second part of this cautionary tale isn’t so obvious. God chooses David as the new king because God has looked deep into David’s heart and saw that it was good. Sown into the fabric of David’s being is a propensity toward obedience and faithfulness. While David is of no account in his own family, God chooses him, and through this choice, Samuel learns a valuable lesson.

Yet, just as good looks weren’t enough, a good heart full of potential obedience and faithfulness isn’t enough. We’ve got the benefit of knowing the rest of David’s story. While David is undoubtedly a more faithful and obedient king than Saul, his good heart wasn’t enough to always keep him on the straight and narrow. Bathsheba anyone? Poor Uriah.

I’m not even sure that the fact that “the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David…” (1 Samuel 16:13) was enough to help David always to be faithful and obedient. A good heart and the work of God’s Spirit in our lives aren’t enough for us to accomplish what God would have us accomplish if we aren’t willing to cooperate with the Spirit’s work in our lives.

I firmly believe that the Spirit doesn’t overpower our own ability to choose between the good and the bad. God is never going to force us into obedience. God only ever calls us and empowers us to do so.

It’s the same as the old saying, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.

In our time here and now, God’s Spirit has been given to all of us. We’re all called and empowered to be faithful and obedient servants like David, but we will not be so unless we cooperate with the Spirit’s work in our lives.

This is why Christianity is a communal endeavor. We need the help of our brothers and sisters in Christ if we are going to use the good gifts that God gives us.

Critical Discussion Questions:

  1. What does God look like in this text/Who is God in this text/What is God doing in this text?

  2. God is willing to work with imperfect people to accomplish God’s will for the world.  Through the narrative contained in 1 Samuel so far, we have seen God adapt to the whims of the fickle people of Israel. God knew of Israel’s stubborn unfaithfulness when giving them a king but does it anyway.  God probably knew that making Saul King was a significant risk as well. While God changes the metric on who will be a good king, David is still a risk.  Despite his excellent heart, David will ultimately fail in several respects.  Still, God is committed and faithful to Israel and the plans that God has to bless the whole world through them. 

  3.  What does holiness/salvation look like in this text?

  4. Regarding holiness, we often emphasize the Spirit’s work in our lives to cleanse us and empower us to become more like Christ.  We are not wrong to do so, but crucial to our growth in grace is our constant participation in the Spirit’s work in our lives.  While the Spirit came mightily upon David, David did not always allow the Spirit to guide him in the way of faithfulness.  We must strive to participate with the Spirit’s work in our lives so that we can live faithfully.  Yet, we must never forget that, like David, we are flawed and imperfect people who are continually growing and that we will, at times, reject the work the Spirit is doing in us. God is always faithful and continues to choose imperfect people prone to faithlessness to do God’s work in the world.

  5. How does an encounter with this story shape who we are and who we should become?

  6. I think there are few central questions that we need to ask ourselves.  First, have we come to believe that our sanctification is solely a work of the Spirit apart from our working and participating alongside the Spirit in our growth? Second, are we prepared to do the hard work of growth in grace that the Spirit reveals to us that we must do? Third, do we need to evaluate and possibly change how we define what faithfulness or success in the church looks like?

Specific Discussion Questions: Read the text aloud. Then, read the text to yourself quietly. Read it slowly, as if you were very unfamiliar with the story.

  1. Why might God ask Samuel how long he will grieve over Saul being removed from the kingship?

  2. In the second half of 1 Samuel 16:1God says, “for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” A more literal translation of this verse might go like this, “I myself see a king among his sons.” Does this translation change how you view the passage? If so, how?

  3. Why is Samuel scared to set out to anoint a new king in Israel?

  4. When Jesse’s first son is brought before Samuel, he immediately thinks that this first son is the new king. Why does Samuel think this? Upon first seeing someone, have you ever thought to yourself, “That person has it together! Surely, they’re successful!”

  5. God responds to Samuel that outward appearance isn’t what is essential.  What does God say is important for the new king to have?

  6. After stressing that God does not see as mortals see but sees into the heart, why does the narrator make a point of telling us that David was “ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome.” Does this introduce a contradiction in the story?  Why or why not?

  7. We have the advantage of knowing the rest of David’s story.  Is David always as faithful as he should be? Provide some specific examples.

  8. At the end of the passage, we are told that the Holy Spirit came upon David in a mighty way.  What does this mean?

  9. If David has the Holy Spirit, then why is he unfaithful in the ways that he is later in life? What might that mean for us who have also been given the Holy Spirit?

  10. What is our role in working alongside the Spirit for our personal growth and the mission God has called us?


[1] All Scripture references are from the New Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted.