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Clarke's Commentary on the Bible
Samuel is sent from Ramah to Bethlehem, to anoint David, 1 Samuel 16:1-13. The Spirit of the Lord departs from Saul, and an evil spirit comes upon him, 1 Samuel 16:14. His servants exhort him to get a skillful harper to play before him, 1 Samuel 16:15, 1 Samuel 16:16. He is pleased with the counsel, and desires them to find such a person, 1 Samuel 16:17. They recommend David, 1 Samuel 16:18. He is sent for, comes, plays before Saul, and finds favor in his sight, 1 Samuel 16:19-23.
1And the LORD said unto Samuel, How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? fill thine horn with oil, and go, I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehemite: for I have provided me a king among his sons.
Fill thine horn with oil - Horns appear to have been the ancient drinking vessels of all nations; and we may suppose that most persons who had to travel much, always carried one with them, for the purpose of taking up water from the fountains to quench their thirst. Such a horn had Samuel; and on this occasion he was commanded to fill it with oil, for the purpose of consecrating a king over Israel from among the sons of Jesse.
2And Samuel said, How can I go? if Saul hear it, he will kill me. And the LORD said, Take an heifer with thee, and say, I am come to sacrifice to the LORD.
Take a heifer with thee, and say, I am come to sacrifice - This was strictly true; Samuel did offer a sacrifice; and it does not appear that he could have done the work which God designed, unless he had offered this sacrifice, and called the elders of the people together, and thus collected Jesse's sons. But he did not tell the principal design of his coming; had he done so, it would have produced evil and no good: and though no man, in any circumstances, should ever tell a lie, yet in all circumstances he is not obliged to tell the whole truth, though in every circumstance he must tell nothing but the truth, and in every case so tell the truth that the hearer shall not believe a lie by it.
3And call Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will shew thee what thou shalt do: and thou shalt anoint unto me him whom I name unto thee.
Call Jesse to the sacrifice - The common custom was, after the blood of the victim had been poured out to God, and the fat burnt, to feast on the flesh of the sacrifice. This appears to have been the case in all, except in the whole burnt-offering; this was entirely consumed.
4And 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?
The elders of the town trembled at his coming - They knew he was a prophet of the Lord, and they were afraid that he was now come to denounce some judgments of the Most High against their city.
5And 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.
Sanctify yourselves - Change your clothes, and wash your bodies in pure water, and prepare your minds by meditation, reflection, and prayer; that, being in the spirit of sacrifice, ye may offer acceptably to the Lord.
6And it came to pass, when they were come, that he looked on Eliab, and said, Surely the LORD'S anointed is before him.
7But 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.
Man looketh on the outward appearance - And it is well he should, and confine his looks to that; for when he pretends to sound the heart, he usurps the prerogative of God.
In what way were these communications made from God to Samuel? It must have been by direct inspirations into his heart. But what a state of holy familiarity does this argue between God and the prophet! I believe Moses himself was not more highly favored than Samuel.
8Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, Neither hath the LORD chosen this.
9Then Jesse made Shammah to pass by. And he said, Neither hath the LORD chosen this.
10Again, Jesse made seven of his sons to pass before Samuel. And Samuel said unto Jesse, The LORD hath not chosen these.
Seven of his sons - This certainly was not done publicly; Samuel, Jesse, and his children, must have been in a private apartment, previously to the public feast on the sacrifice; for Samuel says, 1 Samuel 16:11, We will not sit down till he (David) come.
11And 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.
12And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to. And the LORD said, Arise, anoint him: for this is he.
He was ruddy - I believe the word here means red-haired, he had golden locks. Hair of this kind is ever associated with a delicate skin and florid complexion.
13Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward. So Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah.
The Spirit of the Lord came upon David - God qualified him to be governor of his people, by infusing such graces as wisdom, prudence, counsel, courage, liberality, and magnanimity.
14But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him.
The Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul - He was thrown into such a state of mind by the judgments of God, as to be deprived of any regal qualities which he before possessed. God seems to have taken what gifts he had, and given them to David; and then the evil spirit came upon Saul; for what God fills not, the devil will.
An evil spirit from the Lord - The evil spirit was either immediately sent from the Lord, or permitted to come. Whether this was a diabolic possession, or a mere mental malady, the learned are not agreed; it seems to have partaken of both. That Saul had fallen into a deep melancholy, there is little doubt; that the devil might work more effectually on such a state of mind, there can be but little question. There is an old proverb, Satan delights to fish in troubled waters; and Saul's situation of mind gave him many advantages.
The theory of Dr. Scheuchzer, in his Physica Sacra, on the malady of Saul, is allowed to be very ingenious. It is in substance as follows: Health consists in a moderate tension of the fibres, which permits all the fluids to have an entire freedom of circulation, and to the spirits, that of diffusing themselves through all the limbs; on the contrary, disease consists in tensions of the fibres morbidly weak or morbidly strong. This latter seems to have been the case of Saul; and as the undulations of the air which convey sound communicate themselves to and through the most solid bodies, it is easy to suppose that by the modulations of music all the fibres of his body, which were under the influence of the morbidly increased tension, might be so relaxed as to be brought back into their natural state, and thus permit the re-establishment of a free and gentle circulation of the fluids, and consequently of the animal spirits, and thus induce calmness and tranquillity of mind. I believe this theory to be correct, and I should find no difficulty to amplify and to illustrate the subject. Even a skillful playing upon the harp was one means to bring a disordered state of the nervous and fibrous system into a capacity of affording such uninterrupted tranquillity to the mind as to render it capable of receiving the prophetic influence; see the case of Elisha, 2 Kings 3:14, 2 Kings 3:15. It has been said: -
"Music hath charms to sooth the savage breast."
This has been literally proved: a musician was brought to play on his instrument while they were feeding a savage lion in the tower of London; the beast immediately left his food, came towards the grating of his den, and began to move in such a way as to show himself affected by the music. The musician ceased, and the lion returned to his food; he recommenced, and the lion left off his prey, and was so affected as to seem by his motions to dance with delight. This was repeatedly tried, and the effects were still the same.
15And Saul's servants said unto him, Behold now, an evil spirit from God troubleth thee.
16Let our lord now command thy servants, which are before thee, to seek out a man, who is a cunning player on an harp: and it shall come to pass, when the evil spirit from God is upon thee, that he shall play with his hand, and thou shalt be well.
17And Saul said unto his servants, Provide me now a man that can play well, and bring him to me.
18Then answered one of the servants, and said, Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, that is cunning in playing, and a mighty valiant man, and a man of war, and prudent in matters, and a comely person, and the LORD is with him.
I have seen a son of Jesse - Dr. Warburton supposes the story is anticipated from 1 Samuel 16:14-23, and that the true chronology of this part of David's life is the following: -
1. David is anointed by Samuel;
2. Carries provisions to his brethren in the army;
3. Fights with and kills Goliath;
4. Is received into the king's court,
5. Contracts a friendship with Jonathan;
6. Incurs Saul's jealousy;
7. Retires to his father's house;
8. Is after some time sent for by Saul to sooth his melancholy with his harp;
9. Again excites Saul's jealousy, who endeavors to smite him with his javelin.
This anticipation between the 14th and 23d verse comes in, in the order of time, between 1 Samuel 16:9 and 1 Samuel 16:10, 1 Samuel 18:9, 1 Samuel 18:10, where the breach is apparent.
19Wherefore Saul sent messengers unto Jesse, and said, Send me David thy son, which is with the sheep.
20And Jesse took an ass laden with bread, and a bottle of wine, and a kid, and sent them by David his son unto Saul.
Took an ass laden with bread - He must send a present to Saul to introduce his son, and this was probably the best he had. Dr. Warburton pleads still farther on the propriety of his rectification of the chronology in this place. David had at this time vanquished the Philistine, was become a favourite with the people, had excited Saul's jealousy, and retired to shun its effects. In the interim Saul was seized with the disorder in question, and is recommended by his servants to try the effects of music. They were acquainted with David's skill on the harp, and likewise with Saul's bad disposition towards him; the point was delicate, it required to be managed with address, and therefore they recommend David in this artful manner: "As you must have one constantly in attendance, both in court and on your military expeditions; to be always at hand on occasion, the son of Jesse will become both stations well; he will strengthen your camp and adorn your court, for he is a tried soldier and of a graceful presence. You have nothing to fear from his ambition, for you saw with what prudence he went into voluntary banishment when his popularity had incurred your displeasure." Accordingly Saul is prevailed on, David is sent for, and succeeds with his music; this dissipates all former umbrage, and, as one who is ever to be in attendance, he is made Saul's armor-bearer. This sunshine still continued till his great successes awakened Saul's jealousy afresh, and then the lifted javelin was to strike off all obligations. Thus we see what light is thrown upon the whole history by the supposition of an anticipation in the latter part of this chapter; an anticipation the most natural, proper, and necessary, for the purpose of the historian. Thus reasons Bishop Warburton, and with very considerable plausibility, though the intelligent reader may still have his doubts.
21And David came to Saul, and stood before him: and he loved him greatly; and he became his armourbearer.
22And Saul sent to Jesse, saying, Let David, I pray thee, stand before me; for he hath found favour in my sight.
23And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.
The evil spirit from God - The word evil is not in the common Hebrew text, but it is in the Vulgate, Septuagint, Targum, Syriac, and Arabic, and in eight of Kennicott's and De Rossi's MSS., which present the text thus: רוח אלהים רעה ruach Elohim raah, spiritus Domini malus, the evil spirit of God. The Septuagint leave out Θεου, of God, and have πνευμα πονηρον, the evil spirit. The Targum says, The evil spirit from before the Lord; and the Arabic has it. The evil spirit by the permission of God; this is at least the sense.
And the evil spirit departed from him - The Targum says, And the evil spirit descended up from off him. This considers the malady of Saul to be more than a natural disease.
There are several difficulties in this chapter; those of the chronology are pretty well cleared, in the opinion of some, by the observations of Bishop Warburton; but there is still something more to be done to make this point entirely satisfactory. Saul's evil spirit, and the influence of music upon it, are not easily accounted for. I have considered his malady to be of a mixed kind, natural and diabolical; there is too much of apparent nature in it to permit us to believe it was all spiritual, and there is too much of apparent supernatural influence to suffer us to believe that it was all natural.