When we compare how Saul and David became king, what are we to think? The anointing of Saul (who would later reject God’s word) was accompanied by signs, songs of worship, a group of prophets, and a mighty move of God’s spirit which enabled Saul himself to prophesy (1 Sam. 10:1-11, 15:24). So pronounced was this incident that, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” became a household expression in Israel (1 Sam. 10:12). Saul’s reign began when Samuel publicly presented him to Israel. He was received with shouts of “Long live the king!” even as Samuel reminded them they had rejected God (1 Sam. 10:19, 24).
Scripture calls David a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). Yet when it came time for his anointing, he was off tending sheep. His family thought so little of him they didn’t even seek him when Samuel came to them, and even the Lord’s prophet didn’t perceive that David was the Lord’s chosen (1 Sam. 16:5-13). After David’s anointing, there was no public fanfare. He returned to tending sheep. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him but in secret (1 Sam. 16:13). Eventually, he rose in the ranks of Saul’s kingdom, but when his popularity made him a threat, Saul chased him out of Israel and hunted him like an animal. David was forced to live in caves and even among the Philistines he loathed, whose champion, Goliath, he had slain as an early evidence of God’s favor (1 Sam. 17:50, 27:1). Even after Saul died, David’s ascension to the throne was slow. Israel didn’t accept him all at once but only by degrees (2 Sam. 2:4, 5:1-3).
What are we to think of these things? God directed His prophet to anoint Saul, and He accompanied this act with all the hallmarks of His favor: signs, worship, prophecy, and public acclaim. Why does God do this for the king he has rejected? Why such a move of His Spirit to install a king who has supplanted Him at the request of His own people? And why allow David, the king after His own likeness, to be dismissed, to suffer ignominy, to live as a fugitive, and to be accepted with little that would indicate God’s favor? Since Israel rejected God as king, could we expect that His king would be received? Should we expect that the Lord’s servant be above his Master? No indeed, we should not (John 15:20). Likewise, Saul would’ve done well to beware that all spoke well of him (Luke 6:26).These things clearly underscore the fact that “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). We cannot trust in the appearance of God’s favor in our lives. We would do well not to seek or cultivate those blessings God gives to the unrighteous as well as the righteous (Matt. 5:45). It is better that we seek and cultivate those blessings that come because He finds truth in the inward parts (Psalm 51:6). “Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matt. 6:6). God help us to live from the inside out, and to care more about what He sees than what others only think they see.