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1 Samuel 16

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

Autumn 2023 sees the start of a new theme at Headingley Methodist young person’s Bible study. Over the coming months we’ll be reading the story of David. Despite the need for more narrative and historical context to help us understand the passages our main focus is on how the Bible speaks to us. We continue with a contemplative approach in which we each take a word that stands out to us and then listen to our explanations after a second reading. Our attention is therefore balanced between the meaning of the text and our emotional response to it.


Israel opened by explaining why ‘anointed’ (v.3, v.13) spoke to him. The transference of the Spirit onto David gave him the ability to play the lyre and achieve great things. In a similar way, we have each had our own anointing at baptism which prepares us to live a better life and share in the same power of David. Anointing was also connected to the idea of consecration. Samuel instructs Jesse and his family to ‘consecrate yourselves’ before celebrating a sacrifice. Notably, David was absent from this initial consecration. Samuel, however, stays standing (a sign of honour for Israel) and acknowledges that David already has a level of holiness that sets him apart. Israel expanded on how this could be taken to apply to our own lives when trying to live in a certain way that challenges accepted practices, or moments of vulgarity, that should be resisted.

Bronwen’s word was ‘appearance’ (v.7). She noted how God instructed Samuel to take no note of this when judging Jesse’s sons: “people look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” The emphasis on people’s non-physical attributes contrasted with the calling of Saul who is explicitly described as being ‘a head taller than everybody else’. This shift suggests that David is going to be a different king and that we need to be reminded of how appearance is not important when judging someone’s character.

My own word, ‘glowing’ (v.12), sat in contradiction to this. ‘Glowing’ made me think of the way people’s spirituality can have an embodied aspect that does get communicated through their physical appearance. ‘Appearance’ seems to be simultaneously critiqued and confirmed in 1 Samuel 16. Our discussion led us to consider how David’s glowing health and handsome appearance may have some purpose as an inversion of the readers’ expectation; the youngest son, a shepherd, handsome? Could this be seen as less to do with David’s looks and more to do with the fact that God is choosing someone unexpectedly as the next king?

Finally, we laughed at the comedic element in Samuel’s exiting of the stage in verse 13 before, unbeknownst to him, David is sent to the one place which would be dangerous for a secretly anointed successor: the king’s court. Samuel exclaims at the start how Saul will “kill him” if he hears about his task to find the next leader of Israel while he is still in position. This is why he goes to Ramah from Bethlehem, to get out the way with his work tied up and left behind him. The irony of David being the son of Jesse plucked to help the tormented Saul felt like a great subversion of that neat ending. The 'best laid plans' and all that.

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