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I Samuel 16:1-13, One; The Spirit "Jumps" on David

The story of David’s anointing is an endearing and powerful story. It stresses that God’s choice is not to be found in externals, because God looks at the heart.  Everyone can be encouraged by that.  But, ironically, the longest description of physical beauty in these verses is the beauty of the chosen one (David), on whose beauty the Lord supposedly doesn’t look (v 7). Ironies, indeed. Let’s briefly re-tell this story, focusing on some choice words and conversations, with my ultimate focus on the fascinating verb ἐφήλατο in verse 13 (describing the way the Spirit lands on David).


Samuel is depressed.  The first person he anointed as king, Saul, has now been rejected by God, and Samuel can be forgiven for taking it all a little personally.  So, in verse 1, God asks a bit insistently, “How long are you going to mope around over Saul’s fate?”  The verb I rendered “mope around” is πενθεῗς, from πενθέω, which means to “mourn/lament” or “bewail” one’s circumstances. Samuel is in grief, and grief can sometimes immobilize a person. The divine question is reminiscent of Jacob’s question to his sons in Genesis 42:1 when the food is running out in Canaan and the brothers need to go down to Egypt to buy some grain.  Jacob asks, them, using the rare word ῥᾳθυμεῗτε (literally, “to be of an easy spirit”), “How long are you going to sit lounging around? I have heard that there is food in Egypt” (Gen. 42:1-2).  So, inactivity plagues Samuel as he laments the “loss” of Saul’s special status.


But God has other ideas.  God has rejected Saul, and the verb for rejection is quite visual and powerful— ἐξουδενέω, literally “to make nothing out of.” God’s rejection of Saul is as if Saul is now “nothing” before God. So, God will send Samuel to Bethlehem to find another person to be king (v 1, βασιλεύειν).  But Samuel  is hesitant to comply with God’s request.  Why?  He says, “Well, Saul will hear about this and will kill me.”  Obviously Samuel carries power, the power of anointing, the power of the Spirit of God, and that power is closely watched by people of secular power.  The one thing that a royal figure can’t stand is an alternative source of great power in the kingdom.  Just too dangerous.  Samuel knows this, and thus is hesitant to comply with the Lord’s command. 


Interestingly enough, God is sympathetic to Samuel’s concern, and so will send him in a sort of disguise.  He will bring a kid (δάμαλιν βοῶν) so that he can say that he is just showing up in Bethlehem to perform a sacrifice to God.  That is what divine figures do.  They utter wise words; they perform sacrifices; they pray for the people.  Simple.  Take a kid with you and go perform a sacrifice.


The explanation has some plausibility to it, and it will get Samuel off the hook if one of Saul’s secret police reports back to the chief that Samuel is wandering around in the back roads of Bethlehem. But God gives even more detailed instructions.  Samuel is to call Jesse to the sacrifice, and in this process God will make known whom Samuel is supposed to anoint.  This is top-secret stuff, and can even be seen as subversive political activity.


Samuel arrives in Bethlehem.  Oops. The elders of the city don’t exactly roll out the red carpet for him.  It is like an official from the IRS showing up at your accountant’s office and just wanting to “talk” for a while.  The elders are scared.  Or, rather, the text uses the interesting verb ἐξέστησαν, from ἐξίστημι, which means in this context to be amazed or astonished or astounded, to describe their reaction to Samuel’s presence.  They, literally, “stand out” from themselves because of the presence of Samuel in their midst. ἐξίστημι, appears about 60 times in the LXX, and its four appearances in Genesis illustrate its potency. It appeared in 27:33 when Isaac realized he had been duped by his wife Rebekah and son Jacob.  In that verse the words are really over-the-top, as Isaac is “astounded with extremely great astonishment” when he learns the news.  The word also appears thrice in the Joseph narrative, once when the brothers are “amazed” (and frightened) when the realize that their money has been put back in their sacks (42:28), once when the brothers are seated and eating with Joseph and they see the unequal portions doled out to the other brothers and Benjamin (43:33), and once when father Jacob hears the enormously poignant news from his sons that Joseph is still alive in Egypt (45:26).  These occurrences provide the background to understand the amazement, and fear, of the elders of Bethlehem when Samuel nonchalantly just seemed to show up.

I Samuel 16:1-13, Two

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