1 Samuel 16 begins with God instructing Samuel the prophet to anoint a son of Jesse as the next king of Israel in place of Saul the Benjamite. This is done in response to Saul’s disobedience to the voice of the Lord in 1 Samuel 15. Saul’s kingship was granted in response to the Israelites rejecting God as their king and asking for a human king to rule over them, like their Gentile neighbors (1 Samuel 8). God tells Samuel to fulfill the Israelites request for a human king.
God demonstrated to Israel over the course of several centuries after they left Egypt that He would protect and bless them if they would submit to His ways, which they entered into covenant with Him to do (Exodus 19:8). However, they ultimately rejected God as their king, and asked for a human king (1 Samuel 8:7).
God’s wrath is often displayed by giving His people what they want, with the intent that they will learn through experience that His ways are in their best interest. God says through the prophet Hosea, “Where now is your king that he may save you in all your cities, and your judges of whom you requested, “Give me a king and princes”? I gave you a king in My anger and took him away in My wrath” (Hosea 13:10-11).
God tells Samuel that He has selected this king from Bethlehem “for Myself.” Israel rejected God from ruling over them, being self-governing, under the covenant of the Law. But God did not reject Israel. The new king would be a king that would follow God, because Israel is still His people. This is true even today, as Paul says in the book of Romans: “God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew” (Romans 11:2).
God works all things together for the good of His people who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). Even in their rejection of Him as king, He intends to work for their good by creating the Davidic dynasty that will eventually see the birth of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of David who will redeem the world and sit on the throne of David forever (1 Chronicles 22:10).
Israel’s first king, Saul, appealed to the Israelites based on his outward appearance; to them, he looked like what a king should look like. However, God uses Saul to show Israel that it is better to judge a person by what is in their heart rather than the outward appearance, something Jesus reiterates in the New Testament (Matthew 15:17-19). This point is driven home when Samuel calls the family of Jesse to a feast in order to anoint one of Jesse’s sons king over Israel. Samuel and Jesse’s eyes are drawn to the oldest and the tallest, but God has someone different in mind. It was David, whom Jesse had written off as not being worth bringing to Samuel.
Once anointed, David is given the gift of a special manifestation of God’s Spirit as an asset of favor and strength. Gideon is also said to have received this gift (Judges 6:34). Saul also had the gift of a special manifestation of God’s Spirit, but this would eventually depart from Saul, due to his disobedience (1 Samuel 11:6-7, 1 Samuel 16:14).
Once God’s Spirit of favor and strength departs from Saul it is replaced by a tormenting spirit from God. Rather than looking to God to alleviate this tormenting spirit, Saul heeds the voice of his servants and calls for David to soothe his soul with music, by playing the lyre (also translated as “harp”). God allows David’s music to drive away the tormenting spirit. But later when Saul sees the Spirit of favor and strength which the Lord has bestowed on David, Saul becomes even more tormented and miserable, and seeks to destroy David.