God's Providence — 1 Samuel 16

One of the most precious truths about God is His providence. In 1 Samuel 16, we see how God's providence can instill fear, comfort, and courage.

God's Providence — 1 Samuel 16
1 Samuel 16 in LSB Bible
Sermon given during the Sunday Equipping Hour for adults and children at Grace Bible Church of Pleasant Hill on October 22, 2023.
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  • If you search “John Piper’s magnum opus“ on Google today [2023-10-17], the top 12 entries unanimously affirm that John Piper’s most important written work is his 750 page book published in 2021 on God’s providence, aptly named Providence.
  • One of the most precious truths about God is His providence.
  • The central theme in today’s Bible passage is God’s providence, and we will learn how God's providence can instill fear, comfort, and courage.
  • We’ll organize 1 Samuel 16 as follows: Providence is introduced (v.1), revealed (v.2–5), transcendent (v.6–12), Spirit-powered (v.13–14), enabling (v.15–18), and disruptive (v.19–23)

1. Providence Is Introduced (v.1)

Some time has elapsed between chapters 15 and 16.

  • Samuel remained distraught, mourning and grieving over Saul’s disobedience and failure.
  • God reaffirmed his rejection of Saul.
  • God reassured Samuel that everything was under the control of His mighty hand.
  • So God commanded Samuel to get himself ready to anoint another man as king.
  • Notice what God said.

Fill your horn with oil and go; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite. (v.1b)

  • Jesse was the grandson of Boaz and Ruth (Ruth 4:18–22) and a descendant of Judah and Tamar. Recall that in Genesis 49:10, Israel’s king would come from the tribe of Judah.
  • Bethlehem, 8 km SW of Jerusalem, is an obscure little town that at this time was best known for being the burial site of Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel. (Gen 35:19)

Screenshot 2023-10-21 at 9.01.49 PM

  • The obvious route from Ramah (Samuel’s home) to Bethlehem is through Gibeah (Saul’s residence), and Saul will ask questions. - [ESVEC]
  • Let’s read carefully what God said next.

for I see among his sons a king for Me. (v.1c)

  • I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” (ESV)
  • I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” (NIV)
  • I have selected for myself a king from his sons.” (CSB)
  • The Hebrew verb translated “provided, chosen, selected” has the literal meaning “to see.”

Excursus: Providence

  • Background information here is required.
  • Like the word trinity, providence is a word that is difficult to find in our English Bible translations. The word providence does not appear in the ESV, CSB, or the KJV; it appears one in the NIV in Job 10:12.

Word Origin[1]

  • Providence is built from the word provide which has two parts: pro (Latin for “forward”) and vide (Latin “to see”).
  • But the English word provide does not mean “to see forward” or “to foresee.”
  • Rather, it means “to supply what is needed.”
  • The English noun providence has come to mean “the act of purposefully providing for, or sustaining and governing, the world.”
  • We have an English idiom, “I’ll see to it.”
    • When we say, “I’ll see to it,” it means, “I’ll take care of it,” or “I’ll provide for it.”
    • I’ll make sure that it happens.

Turn with me to Genesis 22:7–8.

Then Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” And Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And Abraham called the name of that place Yahweh Will Provide. (Gen 22:7–8a, 14a)

Whenever the word provide occurs in Genesis 22, it is the English translation for the same Hebrew word meaning “to see.”

  • “God will see for Himself the lamb.” The LORD will provide or ”Yahweh will see.” (Jehovah Jireh)
  • When man sees, he is a passive observer.
  • When Yahweh sees, He is an active player, an engaged participant.
  • When God sees something, He sees to it.
  • God’s perception implies His provision and His providence.


The doctrine of providence is a most comforting doctrine.

  • God's providence casts out all fear and doubt.
  • God is omnipotent (all-powerful). He can do anything. But God is more than that.
  • God is sovereign. God has all the authority to reign over His created universe.
  • But the greatest comfort is the assurance that God's sovereignty has a purpose.
  • When God uses His sovereign power to provide for us, this is what we mean by God’s providence.
  • And His providence has no bounds, to the point that God did not spare His own Son to provide for Abraham and Isaac, you and me.

2. Providence Is Revealed (v.2–5)

God does not promise comprehensive revelation, but He does reveal a part of His providential plan. There are at least three principles we can learn in these next few verses.

A. Revealed Through Prayer (v.2)

But Samuel said, “How can I go? Saul will hear of it and will kill me.” Then Yahweh said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to Yahweh.’ (v.2)

  • Samuel feared for his life, so Samuel prayed to God

    • And God answered Saul’s question.
  • The word translated “heifer” (12x in OT) references a young, female cow that had not yet had a calf. Heifers were not suitable for burnt and sin offerings (Lev 1:3; 4:3), but they were acceptable for a peace offering (Lev 3:1). [UBSH]

  • So when Samuel brings a heifer, it would indicate Samuel’s intention to prepare a peace offering.

  • Also called a "fellowship offering," it is offered to underline a solemn prayer (such as a vow), when such a prayer is answered, or out of simple gratitude (Lev 7:16).

  • When we pray in dependence upon God, we open ourselves to receive God's wisdom.

  • “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach.” (Jam 1:5a)

B. Revealed through Progression (v.3a)

And you shall invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will make you know what you shall do.(v.3a)

  • Notice the future tense, “I will make you know.”
  • God didn’t reveal his plan to Samuel immediately.
  • God’s revelation came in stages. It was progressive.
  • We often refer to the Bible from Genesis to Revelation as God’s progressive revelation.
  • We don't expect God to fully reveal His providential plan to us today.

C. Revealed through God’s Word (v.3b)

And you shall anoint for Me the one whom I say to you. (v.3b)

  • God’s providence is revealed by His words. “I say to you.”
  • God does not speak today to us in an audible voice.
  • But we have the sure deposit of God’s word.
  • Listen to what Peter says about the Bible.
  • “For when [Jesus] received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”—and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. And we have as more sure the prophetic word, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place” (2 Pet 1:19a)
  • Peter was an eyewitness to Christ's transfiguration
  • Peter tells us that Scripture is more solid proof than even the spectacular experience of witnessing the transfiguration.

3. Providence Is Transcendent (v.6–12)

The Providence of God is unlike the thoughts and plans of ordinary man.

Now it happened, when they entered he looked at Eliab and thought, “Surely the anointed of Yahweh is before Him. (v.6)

  • The word “looked” or “saw” (CSB, NIV) is the same Hebrew verb “to see” in verse 1. This verb is used four times in verses 6–7.
  • Samuel is a godly man. He was the greatest judge of Israel, God's faithful prophet and priest.
  • Samuel had gained much wisdom through experience. He had seen the shortcomings of Eli and Saul. If anyone would be a good judge of character, it would be Samuel.
  • When Samuel takes one look at Eliab, without hesitation, his first thought was, “This must be God’s anointed.”

But Yahweh said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but Yahweh looks at the heart.” (v.7)

  • “Man looks at the outward appearance” is literally “man looks with the eyes.”
  • Man looks at the externals. He sees physical appearance, financial wealth, and worldly accomplishments.
  • God sees not as man sees. God looks at the heart.
  • Remember in Hebrew thought, the heart designates “the most inward part of the person, the center of one’s will and thoughts.” [UBSH]
  • ”For the eyes of Yahweh move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is wholly devoted to Him. (2 Chr 16:9)
  • When God sees, he is not passive. He is active.
  • His providence, unlike man, involves looking at the heart of man.


  • We, like Samuel, often do the same thing. We see the externals. We make judgments based on what our eyes see.
  • H.B. Charles, a pastor, writes, “The people we lead should notice our godliness more than our gifts.”

4. Providence is Spirit-Enpowered (v.13–15)

More precisely, God’s providence proceeds through the Holy Spirit’s empowerment.

Excursus: The Holy Spirit in the OT

Jesus is given many names in the Bible.

  • Adam (last Adam—1 Cor 15:45)
  • Advocate (1Jn 2:1)
  • Almighty; Alpha and the Omega (Rev 1:8)
  • Amen (Rev 3:14)
  • Apostle of our confession (Heb 3:1)
  • Arm of Yahweh (Is 51:9)

The Holy Spirit, in the OT, is given only three names.

  1. Spirit of God (Ruach Elohim)
  2. Spirit of Yahweh (Ruach Yahweh)
  3. Holy Spirit

And the Spirit of Yahweh came mightily upon David from that day forward. (v.13b)

  • “The Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David.” (ESV)
  • “The Spirit of the LORD came powerfully on David.” (NIV, CSB)
  • In the Old Testament, the bestowal of the Spirit is God’s power dispensed to an individual for a particular task. [RBS 1 Sam 10:6]
  • This OT expression only occurs in the book Judges and 1 Samuel, and it was used to describe the Spirit’s power coming upon Samson, Saul, and now David.


And the Spirit of Yahweh came upon him mightily, so that [Samson] tore it as one tears a young goat…Then the Spirit of Yahweh came upon him mightily, and he went down to Ashkelon and struck down thirty of them…And the Spirit of Yahweh came upon him mightily so that the ropes that were on his arms were as flax that is burned with fire, and his bonds dropped from his hands. (Judg 14:6, 19; 15:14)


Then the Spirit of Yahweh will come upon you mightily, and you shall prophesy with them and be changed into another man…Now it happened that all who knew him previously saw, and behold, he was prophesying with the prophets, so the people said to one another, “What has happened to the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” (1 Sam 10:6, 11)


Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of Yahweh came mightily upon David from that day forward. (v.13)

  • But for David, this is a permanent enabling in order to fulfill his responsibilities as covenant king. [ESVEC]

Doctrine: Holy Spirit’s Power in the NT

The power of the Holy Spirit is not limited to just Samson, Saul, and David. The Holy Spirit is involved in the inspiration of all the OT writers.

  • "Know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes by one’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever made by the will of man, but men being moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." (2 Pet 1:20–21)

The Holy Spirit is involved in the regeneration of every sinful man.

  • “He saved us, not by works which we did in righteousness, but according to His mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.“ (Tit 3:5)

The Holy Spirit is involved in teaching and guiding all Christians.

  • "But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you." (Jn 14:26)
  • "But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth." (Jn 16:13)


  • God’s providence enjoyed by Christians is accomplished through the Holy Spirit’s power.
  • We should pray regularly, asking for the help and assistance of God’s spirit.
  • We should live life being led by God’s Spirit.
  • We should be united as one church and one body because we have the same Spirit of God.

5. Providence Is Enabling (v.16–18)

So Saul said to his servants, “Provide for me now a man who can play well and bring him to me.” (v.17)

  • “Provide for me” or “find me” (CSB, NIV) is the sixth occurrence of this Hebrew verb “to see.”
  • Saul is asking, “Make it happen. See to it for me.”
  • Plagued by this evil spirit, what Saul sought again was God’s provision, God's providence. But remember, God had left him.

Then one of the young men answered and said, “Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite who is a skillful musician, a mighty man of valor, a warrior, one who is understanding in speech, and man of fine form; and Yahweh is with him.” (v.18)

R.C. Sproul said that while the military Greek general Alexander was given the title Alexander the Great, the person more deserving of this title was David.

David is the person every mother wishes their son could be.

  1. Skilled musician (lit. knowing in playing) with the verb “to know” implying a deep and thorough familiarity. [UBSH]
  2. A Mighty man of valor (a valiant man, a brave man): translates a single Hebrew word meaning “power” or “strength”. [UBSH]
  3. A Warrior (a man of war, a good fighter): an expert in war. Someone who excels in fighting in the military.
  4. Understanding in speech (prudent in speech, “he speaks well”, “has good judgment”): the meaning is not that David was simply an eloquent public speaker; rather, David’s speech was perceptive, sensible, and wise.
  5. A man of fine form (good presence, handsome, “a fine-looking man”): He Is dignified, and he presents himself well. In modern vernacular, he looked sharp.
  6. Yahweh was with him.

What is the recipe for greatness? That “Yahweh is with you.”

  • “Thus Samuel grew, and Yahweh was with him.” (1 Sam 3:19)
  • “And Saul was afraid of David, for Yahweh was with him.” (1 Sam 18:12)
  • “And David was prospering in all his ways, and Yahweh was with him.” (1 Sam 18:14)

Every skill, talent, and ability to serve God and others comes from the Spirit of God.

  • ”And He has filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in discernment, and in knowledge, and in all craftsmanship; to devise designs for working in gold and in silver and in bronze, and in the cutting of stones for settings and in the carving of wood, so as to do well in every work of thoughtful design...He has filled them with wisdom in their heart to do every work of an engraver and of a designer and of an embroiderer.” (Exod 35:31–35)


  • Your skills in musicianship, your physical strength, your skills to win a debate or conflict, your wisdom in persuasive speech, and your appearance and good reputation before others. All is enabled by the Spirit of God in His providence.
  • Furthermore, your lack of certain skills, your weakness, your inability to win, your inability to speak to persuade, and your loss of reputation, physical beauty, and appearance before others, that too is a part of God’s providence.
  • "No good thing does [God] withhold from those who walk blamelessly." (Ps 84:11b)
  • God makes no mistakes. He is omnipotent and has full control.
  • And He works His sovereignty for His good and perfect purpose.
  • Meditate on this truth. Savor it. Take comfort in it.

6. Providence Is Disruptive (v.19–23)

So Saul sent messages to Jesse and said, “Send me your son David who is with the flock.” (v.19)

  • Saul summons David, and his father must comply.
  • Without advance warning, the youngest son of Jesse must leave his father and family.

And Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread and a wineskin of wine and a young goat and sent them to Saul by David his son. (v.20)

  • This may have been a tax, a required payment, or Jesse’s gift to Saul. [CSBSB]

“Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armor bearer.” (v.21b)

  • An armor-bearer was a close personal attendant. (1 Sam 14:1, 31:4–5)

So Saul sent to Jesse, saying, “Let David now stand before me, for he has found favor in my sight.” (v.22)

  • Saul's request for David was not a weekend event.
  • David’s commission to service became a permanent assignment.
  • We see that once the Spirit of Yahweh rushed mightily upon David (v.13), David’s life will never be the same again.

Our Lord Jesus Christ lived an ordinary life for many years. That life was quickly disrupted by the Holy Spirit.

  • “And after being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon Him.” (Matt 3:16)
  • “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (Matt 4:1)


  • Be prepared to be surprised.
  • Be prepared to be shaken.
  • God’s providence is disruptive.


I think we can take three applications from today's passage on God's providence.

1. If you are not a Christian, be afraid.

"The elders of the city came trembling to meet [Samuel] and said, Do you come in peace?" (v.4b)

  • If you have not placed your faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, you are not at peace with God. You are under God's judgment.
  • "How much worse punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has regarded as defiled the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, "VENGENCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY." And again, "THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE." It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Heb 10:29–31)
  • If you are this person, come to Christ.
  • "That if you confess with you mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." (Rom 10:9)

2. If you are a Christian, take comfort.

God's providence means that everything, past, present, and future, is under the sovereign control of God who works all things for His good purposes.

  • God has not revealed everything, but His providence is revealed enough for us to live by faith in His promises.
  • God's providence is transcendent. Even though you and I would not plan things this way, God's mysterious ways are higher than ours. God's providence is unlike anything humans can fathom or scheme.

3. If you are a Christian, take courage.

God's providence is Spirit-empowered and enabling.

  • As a Christian, the Spirit of Yahweh indwells mightily within you.

    • "Do you not know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God." (1 Cor 6:19a)
  • The Spirit of Yahweh, who made you born again, will continue to work in you.

    • "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." (Phil 1:6)

God's providence, like David, like our Lord Jesus Christ, like the Apostle Paul on the Damascus road, will disrupt you.

  • But take courage. Take heart. And rejoice.
  • This roller coaster has a final destination that brings personal salvation, final resurrection, and complete gratification in the presence of the Most Holy God.

  1. John Piper, Providence, (Crossway, 2020), chap 1. ↩︎