“And Samuel did that which the LORD spake, and came to Bethlehem. And the elders of the town trembled at his coming, and said, Comest thou peaceably? And he said, Peaceably: I am come to sacrifice unto the LORD: sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice. And he sanctified Jesse and his sons, and called them to the sacrifice. And it came to pass, when they were come, that he looked on Eliab, and said, Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him. But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart. Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, Neither hath the LORD chosen this. Then Jesse made Shammah to pass by. And he said, Neither hath the LORD chosen this. Again, Jesse made seven of his sons to pass before Samuel. And Samuel said unto Jesse, The LORD hath not chosen these. And Samuel said unto Jesse, Are here all thy children? And he said, There remaineth yet the youngest, and, behold, he keepeth the sheep. And Samuel said unto Jesse, Send and fetch him: for we will not sit down till he come hither” (1 Samuel 16:4-11).
The prophet Samuel set out to Bethlehem as the Lord commanded. He went in faith, no longer fearful of what Saul might do if he found out about his mission, because he had the assurance that God was with him. His years of training in the temple at Shiloh were in preparation for this great ministerial event, the anointing of David, from whom the Messiah would come.
The worried elders
The elders of Bethlehem were immediately concerned about this renown prophet visiting their town. They may have thought that he had come to pass judgement and that they would see God’s wrath poured out upon them. “Because it was strange and unexpected to them, this being but an obscure town, and remote from Samuel, and therefore they justly thought there was some extraordinary reason for it” (John Wesley). The word “trembled” [Hebrew = charad] literally means “shuddered with fear.”
Their question, “Comest thou peaceably?” reveals just how anxious they were with what may have been their first encounter with the man of God, but it also gave Samuel the opportunity to say exactly what the Lord had directed him too. He allayed their fears when he pointed to the heifer and declared that he had come to offer a sacrifice to the Lord. Their first assumption about Samuel’s visit was wrong. They had jumped to a wrong conclusion, which goes to prove that appearances can be deceptive.
Jesse’s family sanctified
The members of Jesse’s family were separated for special attention. The word “sanctify” means that they changed their clothes, washed their bodies in pure water, and repented of their sin before they were allowed to participate in the feast. “Go unto the people, and sanctify them to day and to morrow, and let them wash their clothes” (Exodus 19:10). Samuel “sanctified” Jesse’s family himself, which may not mean that he literally washed them, but simply that he separated them from everyone else for special duties or that he publicly pronounced them ceremonially clean after their purification rite.
Who is it?
Before the feast took place Samuel brought the sons of Jesse before him. He asked the eldest, Eliab, to step forward. Judging by appearances, and since he was strong and tall, he looked like the most obvious candidate for kingship. No doubt Samuel remembered the moment he first saw Saul who was “from his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people” (1 Samuel 9:2). God prohibited the prophet from choosing Eliab, because there was more about him than his physical appearance. He was not the man God had chosen to be king. “For thou, even thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men” (1 Kings 8:39) … “He delighteth not in the strength of the horse: he taketh not pleasure in the legs of a man. The LORD taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy” (Psalm 147:10-11).
The seven sons of Jesse were rejected by God. The prophet must have been bemused once he had reached the end of the line and found that none of them were acceptable to the Lord. Maybe, once again, he remembered how Saul “hid himself among the stuff” (1 Samuel 10:22), and so realised there might be another son of Jesse somewhere.
King in waiting
Jesse had not bothered to call his youngest son to the sacrifice. He had judged that David’s appearance at the feast would probably not be acceptable to Samuel and the townsfolk. It looks like he was not even deemed worthy of sanctification. The king in waiting was looking after the sheep in the field. The youngest son of Jesse was used to hard work, and was skilful as he was brave.
With wisdom Samuel knew that the shepherd boy just might be the one God would choose, so sent for him. Here was another young boy whom the Lord was grooming to play an extremely important role in history. David was a good shepherd whose great descendant was known as the “Good Shepherd” who gave “His life for the sheep” (John 10:11).
Everyone was judging by appearance, but God had His eyes upon the one who was “a man after his own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). We may see ourselves as insignificant and weak, or others might view us that way, but it is what God thinks about us what counts. “Do ye look on things after the outward appearance? If any man trust to himself that he is Christ’s, let him of himself think this again, that, as he is Christ’s, even so are we Christ’s” (2 Corinthians 10:7) … “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).