Samuel had retired to his own house in Ramah, with a resolution not to appear any more in public business, but to addict himself wholly to the instructing and training up of the sons of the prophets, over whom he presided, as we find, 1 Sam. 19:20. He promised himself more satisfaction in young prophets than in young princes; and we do not find that, to his dying day, God called him out to any public action relating to the state, but only here to anoint David.
I. God reproves him for continuing so long to mourn for the rejection of Saul. He does not blame him for mourning on that occasion, but for exceeding in his sorrow: How long wilt thou mourn for Saul? 1 Sam. 16:1. We do not find here that he mourned at all for the setting aside of his own family and the deposing of his own sons; but for the rejecting of Saul and his seed he mourns without measure, for the former was done by the people’s foolish discontent, this by the righteous wrath of God. Yet he must find time to recover himself, and not go mourning to his grave, 1. Because God has rejected him, and he ought to acquiesce in the divine justice, and forget his affection to Saul; if God will be glorified in his ruin, Samuel ought to be satisfied. Besides, to what purpose should he weep? The decree has gone forth, and all his prayers and tears cannot prevail for the reversing of it, 2 Sam. 12:22, 23. 2. Because Israel shall be no loser by it, and Samuel must prefer the public welfare before his own private affection to his friend. “Mourn not for Saul, for I have provided me a king. The people provided themselves a king and he proved bad, now I will provide myself one, a man after my own heart.” See Ps. 89:20; Acts 13:22. “If Saul be rejected, yet Israel shall not be as sheep having no shepherd. I have another in store for them; let thy joy of him swallow up thy grief for the rejected prince.”
II. He sends him to Bethlehem, to anoint one of the sons of Jesse, a person probably not unknown to Samuel. Fill thy horn with oil. Saul was anointed with a glass vial of oil, scanty and brittle, David with a horn of oil, which was more plentiful and durable; hence we read of a horn of salvation in the house of his servant David, Luke 1:69.
III. Samuel objects the peril of going on this errand (1 Sam. 16:2): If Saul hear it, he will kill me. By this it appears. 1. That Saul had grown very wicked and outrageous since his rejection, else Samuel would not have mentioned this. What impiety would he not be guilty of who durst kill Samuel? 2. That Samuel’s faith was not so strong as one would have expected, else he would not have thus feared the rage of Saul. Would not he that sent him protect him and bear him out? But the best men are not perfect in their faith, nor will fear be wholly cast out any where on this side heaven. But this may be understood as Samuel’s desire of direction from heaven how to manage this matter prudently, so as not to expose himself, or any other, more than needed.
IV. God orders him to cover his design with a sacrifice: Say, I have come to sacrifice; and it was true he did, and it was proper that he should, when he came to anoint a king, 1 Sam. 11:15. As a prophet, he might sacrifice when and where God appointed him; and it was not all inconsistent with the laws of truth to say he came to sacrifice when really he did so, thought he had also a further end, which he thought fit to conceal. Let him give notice of a sacrifice, and invite Jesse (who, it is probable, was the principal man of the city) and his family to come to the feast upon the sacrifice; and, says God, I will show thee what thou shalt do. Those that go about God’s work in God’s way shall be directed step by step, wherever they are at a loss, to do it in the best manner.
V. Samuel went accordingly to Bethlehem, not in pomp, or with any retinue, only a servant to lead the heifer which he was to sacrifice; yet the elders of Bethlehem trembled at his coming, fearing it was an indication of God’s displeasure against them and that he came to denounce some judgment for the iniquities of the place. Guilt causes fear. Yet indeed it becomes us to stand in awe of God’s messengers, and to tremble at his word. Or they feared it might be an occasion of Saul’s displeasure against them, for probably they knew how much he was exasperated at Samuel, and feared he would pick a quarrel with them for entertaining him. They asked him, “Comest thou peaceably? Art thou in peace thyself, and not flying from Saul? Art thou at peace with us, and not come with any message of wrath?” We should all covet earnestly to stand upon good terms with God’s prophets, and dread having the word of God, or their prayers, against us. When the Son of David was born king of the Jews all Jerusalem was troubled, Matt. 2:3. Samuel kept at home, and it was a strange thing to see him so far from his own house: they therefore concluded it must needs be some extraordinary occasion that brought him, and feared the worst till he satisfied them (1 Sam. 16:5): “I come peaceably, for I come to sacrifice, not with a message of wrath against you, but with the methods of peace and reconciliation; and therefore you may bid me welcome and need not fear my coming; therefore sanctify yourselves, and prepare to join with me in the sacrifice, that you may have the benefit of it.” Note, Before solemn ordinances there must be a solemn protestation. When we are to offer spiritual sacrifices it concerns us, by sequestering ourselves from the world and renewing the dedication of ourselves to God, to sanctify ourselves. When our Lord Jesus came into the world, though men had reason enough to tremble, fearing that his errand was to condemn the world, yet he gave full assurance that he came peaceably, for he came to sacrifice, and he brought his offering along with him: A body hast thou prepared me. Let us sanctify ourselves, that we may have an interest in his sacrifice. Note, Those that come to sacrifice should come peaceably; religious exercises must not be performed tumultuously.
VI. He had a particular regard to Jesse and his sons, for with them his private business lay, with which, it is likely, he acquainted Jesse at his first coming, and took up his lodging at his house. He spoke to all the elders to sanctify themselves, but he sanctified Jesse and his sons by praying with them and instructing them. Perhaps he had acquaintance with them before, and it appears (1 Sam. 20:29; where we read of the sacrifices that family had) that it was a devout religious family. Samuel assisted them in their family preparations for the public sacrifice, and, it is probable, chose out David, and anointed him, at the family-solemnities, before the sacrifice was offered or the holy feast solemnized. Perhaps he offered private sacrifices, like Job, according to the number of them all (Job 1:5), and, under colour of that, called for them all to appear before him. When signal blessings are coming into a family they ought to sanctify themselves.