The arrogance and cavalier attitude of King Saul had at first angered the prophet Samuel, but the anger quickly turned to grief. As the old man sat grieving, God called him out of his depression and into action. God promised to reveal a new king to Samuel, and he would be found in the little town of Bethlehem. God directed Samuel to the family of Jesse, who was the grandson of Ruth and Boaz (see Ruth 4:21-22), who were possibly still living at that time. God had chosen to reward the faith of Ruth and the grace of Boaz by choosing one of their great-grandsons to rule the nation.
With a flask of holy oil in his hand, Samuel went to Bethlehem to anoint one of the eight sons of Jesse as king. As Jesse introduced each of his sons to the prophet, from oldest to youngest, Samuel noticed their physical appearance and saw what he thought would be “king material”. As he envisioned tall Eliab as the new king, God spoke to Samuel’s heart and uttered one of the most important statements in Scripture about what He values in people: “The Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (v.7). While we tend to value what we can see, God values the invisible qualities of faith and character.
When God had said “no” to the seven sons of Jesse who were present, Samuel asked if there were any others. No one had thought to call young David, who was out tending the sheep. He was called and quickly brought before Samuel. David was a good-looking young man, but that was irrelevant. What mattered was that he had a heart for God. Samuel anointed him with the oil, and even as the ceremonial fluid covered his head and ran down his face, the Holy Spirit was covering David’s life with divine favor and spiritual empowerment (v.13).
As David received his anointing, Saul’s anointing was revoked and replaced with persistent depression. The text makes it clear that Saul’s torment came from God (v.14). It was both an act of holy judgment and a way to highlight the spiritual difference between Saul and David. In order to cheer up the depressed king, his servants found a musician to play soothing and uplifting songs for him — it was none other than the multi-talented David of Bethlehem. It turns out that David was a very skillful harpist. When he would play for the king, the depression would be temporarily relieved. Like David’s good looks, his musical talents were irrelevant — it was the presence of God in his life that had a healing effect on Saul.
Saul called David into his service so that he would always be available to “play his blues away”. Verse 21 points out that Saul “loved” David. I am sure he loved what David did for him, but he did not truly love the young man. Saul’s true character would shortly be revealed, and he would become David’s sworn enemy. David’s character would be revealed as well, and he would become the greatest king in Israel’s history.