Bible Study | October 12, 2021

David, the shepherd boy

Man in robe anointing one out of seven dark-haired men.
Dura Europos Synagogue, panel WC3 : David anointed king by Samuel. 3rd century AD. Yale Gilman collection, reworked by Marsyas. Public domain.

1 Samuel 16:1–13

After God’s rejection of Saul as king, God tells Samuel to anoint one of the sons of Jesse as Saul’s replacement. Samuel has been grieving over Saul, but God will not allow him to remain in this state. God instructs Samuel to journey to the small village of Bethlehem, to the house of Jesse, so that God can reveal to Samuel which of the sons will become the new king.

When Samuel sees Jesse’s firstborn, he feels certain that Eliab is God’s choice. God, however, rebukes Samuel, warning him not to consider appearance or height. These are the attributes that made Saul seem like a good choice for king (1 Samuel 9:2 and 10:23). God tells Samuel that “the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (16:7).

Finally, after Samuel has seen and rejected seven of Jesse’s sons, David is brought before him. David is the youngest and the one ignored in the original call to come before the prophet.

Shepherding was commonly used as a metaphor for kingship throughout the ancient world. The shepherd/king must lead the sheep/people, care for them—especially for the weak and powerless—and put himself in danger to protect them. So, it is not surprising that a king should be compared to a shepherd. What may be surprising is that a shepherd would actually become a king. From this humble beginning will come one of the most influential figures in the entire Old Testament.

The condition of the heart is a recurring theme in the book of Samuel, as in many other biblical texts. David becomes known as one after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). He will be the standard by which the book of Kings evaluates all subsequent kings of Israel and Judah. Even though David, like Saul, will commit some grievous sins and make terrible mistakes, God does not abandon David. Why the two are treated so differently is never stated.

In this passage, David is selected by God; we are not given any indication why. The reasons for God choosing certain individuals are often not revealed in the Bible: see, for example, the calls to Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Jeremiah, and the apostle Paul.

We often have mistakenly thought that inner spirituality is a concern of only the New Testament and that the Old Testament emphasizes only physical manifestations of spirituality and devotion. This view, as with many of our ideas about differences between the Old and New Testaments, does not reflect what the texts actually say. Many of the Hebrew scriptures, including most of the prophets, Psalms, Chronicles, and Deuteronomy, celebrate the condition of the heart and the one who seeks God. Jesus clearly builds on this part of the tradition and makes it a priority in his understanding of what it means to follow after God.

Take time to reflect on each of your children or youth and their potential part in God’s plans for the world. What might God see in each child’s heart that you also need to see and nurture?

God, you see deep into our hearts, and you love us completely. Help me attend to the hearts of those I teach so that I may nurture and encourage them to grow into the likeness of Christ. Amen.

This Bible study comes from Shine: Living in God’s Light, the Sunday school curriculum published by Brethren Press and MennoMedia.