Shemuel Alef Chapter 16

The Reading

The Summary

Shemuel Alef Chapter 16

This chapter introduces us to David, son of Yishai, the future king of Israel. Hashem tells Shemuel to quit mourning over the failure of Shaul and to anoint a new monarch in Bethlehem. Shemuel, fearing reprisals from King Shaul, is hesitant to do so; Hashem instructs him to travel to Bethlehem under the pretext that he will be performing a sacrifice and religious service there, and to conduct the anointment in secret.

At the house of Yishai, Shemuel immediately perceives Eliav, the eldest son of his host, as the best candidate for the monarchy. He must have had a decidedly regal appearance and must have projected an air of confidence and strength. Hashem informs Shemuel that he cannot judge this matter on superficial appearances; only Hashem is capable of identifying the person who has the character necessary to lead His people.

Yishai presents all of his sons to Shemuel but none of them are endorsed by Hashem. Shemuel asks if Yishai has any other children; it turns out that David, not considered by his family to be a viable choice for the monarchy, had been left out in the field with the sheep. Despite his ruddy appearance and lack of the external traits normally associated with royalty, David is indeed chosen and anointed as the next king of Israel.

The chapter proceeds to recount that Shaul had been suffering from melancholy and depression and that his advisers had suggested he hire a musician to cheer him up and assuage his emotional turmoil. David, the son of Yishai, was known to be a very capable musician, warrior, and scholar and to be amply blessed by Hashem in all of his endeavors. He is sent for and hired to stand before Shaul and play music for him whenever necessary.

As we will discuss in the next chapter, there is some ambiguity in the text as to whether Shaul was already acquainted with David at this point or whether this is the first time they are being introduced to one another.

There are two interesting points to be highlighted about Shemuel in this chapter. The first is his fear of Shaul’s revenge and the command Hashem gives him to misrepresent his plans in order to protect himself. The commentaries observe that this is a prime example of the principle that we do not rely on miracles. Even Shemuel, a distinguished prophet of Hashem who was implementing a commandment of Hashem, had to disguise his agenda to remain safe from Shaul. Although Shemuel was certainly worthy of having a miracle performed on his behalf, Hashem does not intervene in ways that would overturn the laws of nature unless it is absolutely necessary for Him to do so; here, it was far easier for Shemuel to keep his intentions hidden from Shaul and thereby avoid becoming the object of his wrath.

The second noteworthy point about Shemuel is his mistaken inclination to anoint Eliav as king. Why does the text have to inform us that Shemuel made an error in judgment here? Why not simply tell us that he considered each of the sons before finally identifying David as the chosen monarch? The Rabbis tell us that this experience was designed to humble Shemuel and teach him a lesson about overestimating the reliability of human reason and analysis.

When he first encountered Shaul, Shemuel described himself as “the seer”, suggesting that he possessed special, almost infallible powers of perception inaccessible to ordinary human beings. By emphasizing that Shemuel’s capacity to “see” the truth about others is indeed limited, He provides an implicit rebuke to the prophet for having a slightly exaggerated sense of his own abilities.

Shemuel’s confidence in his own judgment was probably what prevented him from abandoning the “lost cause” of Shaul when he should have moved on more quickly. Shemuel simply couldn’t see past his own conclusion that Shaul MUST be the one for the job, and the discovery that Hashem had rejected Shaul was devastating for Shemuel, a spiritual mentor who had such lofty hopes and expectations for his student. He shed many tears and lost much sleep over this inevitable disillusionment.

As human beings, whether prophets or otherwise, we can never lose sight of the limits of our own sense perception and reasoning; only the Almighty knows the true character of a person, can weigh the needs of His people and can therefore determine who is best suited to lead the nation of Israel.