Living at Ramah, in the mountains of Ephraim, there was a man whose name was Elkanah. He had two wives, as did many men in that time. One of these wives had children, but the other wife, whose name was Hannah, had no child.
Every year Elkanah and his family went up to worship at the house of the Lord in Shiloh, which was about fifteen miles from his home. And at one of these visits Hannah prayed to the Lord, saying:
"O Lord, if thou wilt look upon me, and give me a son, he shall be given to the Lord as long as he lives."
The Lord heard Hannah's prayer, and gave her a little boy, and she called his name Samuel, which means "Asked of God"; because he had been given in answer to her prayer.
Samuel grew up to be a good man and a wise Judge, and he made his sons Judges in Israel, to help him in the care of the people. But Samuel's sons did not walk in his ways. They did not try always to do justly.
The elders of all the tribes of Israel came to Samuel at his home in Ramah; and they said to him: "You are growing old, and your sons do not rule as well as you ruled. All the lands around us have kings. Let us have a king also; and do you choose the king for us."
This was not pleasing to Samuel. He tried to make the people change their minds, and showed them what trouble a king would bring them.
But they would not follow his advice. They said: "No; we will have a king to reign over us."
So Samuel chose as their king a tall young man named Saul, who was a farmer's son of the tribe of Benjamin. When Saul was brought before the people he stood head and shoulders above them all. And Samuel said:
"Look at the man whom the Lord has chosen! There is not another like him among all the people!"
And all the people shouted, "God save the king! Long live the king!"
Then Samuel told the people what should be the laws for the king and for the people to obey. He wrote them down in a book, and placed the book before the Lord. Then Samuel sent the people home; and Saul went back to his own house at a place called Gibeah; and with Saul went a company of men to whose hearts God had given a love for the king.
So after three hundred years under the fifteen Judges, Israel now had a king. But among the people there were some who were not pleased with the new king, because he was an unknown man from the farm. They said:
"Can such a man as this save us?"
They showed no respect to the king, and in their hearts looked down upon him. But Saul said nothing, and showed his wisdom by appearing not to notice them. But in another thing he was not so wise. He forgot to heed the old prophet's advice and instructions about ruling wisely and doing as the Lord said. It was not long before Samuel told him that he had disobeyed God and would lose his kingdom.
When Samuel told Saul that the Lord would take away the kingdom from him, he did not mean that Saul should lose the kingdom at once. He was no longer God's king; and as soon as the right man in God's sight should be found, and should be trained for his duty as king, then God would take away Saul's power, and would give it to the man whom God had chosen. But it was years before this came to pass.
The Lord said to Samuel: "Do not weep and mourn any longer over Saul, for I have refused him as king. Fill the horn with oil, and go to Bethlehem in Judah. There find a man named Jesse, for I have chosen a king among his sons."
But Samuel knew that Saul would be very angry, if he should learn that Samuel had named any other man as king. He said to the Lord:
"How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me."
The Lord said to Samuel: "Take a young cow with you; and tell the people that you have come to make an offering to the Lord. And call Jesse and his sons to the sacrifice. I will tell you what to do, and you shall anoint the one whom I name to you."
Samuel went over the mountains southward from Ramah to Bethlehem, about ten miles, leading a cow. The rulers of the town were alarmed at his coming, for they feared that he had come to judge the people for some evil-doing. But Samuel said:
"I have come in peace to make an offering and to hold a feast to the Lord. Prepare yourselves and come to the sacrifice."
And he invited Jesse and his sons to the service. When they came, he looked at the sons of Jesse very closely. The oldest was named Eliab, and he was so tall and noble-looking that Samuel thought:
"Surely this young man must be the one whom God has chosen."
But the Lord said to Samuel:
"Do not look on his face, nor on the height of his body, for I have not chosen him. Man judges by the outward looks, but God looks at the heart."
Then Jesse's second son, named Abinadab, passed by. And the Lord said: "I have not chosen this one." Seven young men came and Samuel said:
"None of these is the man whom God has chosen. Are these all your children?"
"There is one more," said Jesse. "The youngest of all. He is a boy, in the field caring for the sheep."
And Samuel said:
"Send for him; for we will not sit down until he comes." So after a time the youngest son was brought in. His name was David, a word that means "darling," and he was a beautiful boy, perhaps fifteen years old, with fresh cheeks and bright eyes.
As soon as the young David came, the Lord said to Samuel:
"Arise, anoint him, for this is the one whom I have chosen."
Then Samuel poured oil on David's head, in the presence of all his brothers. But no one knew at that time the anointing to mean that David was to be the king. Perhaps they thought that David was chosen to be a prophet like Samuel.
From that time the Spirit of God came upon David, and he began to show signs of coming greatness. He went back to his sheep on the hillsides around Bethlehem, but God was with him.
David grew up strong and brave, not afraid of the wild beasts which prowled around and tried to carry away his sheep. More than once he fought with lions, and bears, and killed them, when they seized the lambs of his flock. And David, alone all day, practiced throwing stones in a sling, until he could strike exactly the place for which he aimed. When he swung his sling, he knew that the stone would go to the very spot at which he was throwing it.
And young as he was, David thought of God, and talked with God, and God talked with David, and showed to David His will.
After Saul had disobeyed the voice of the Lord, the Spirit of the Lord left Saul, and no longer spoke to him. And Saul became very sad of heart. At times a madness would come upon him, and at all times he was very unhappy. The servants of Saul noticed that when some one played on the harp and sang, Saul's spirit was made more cheerful; and the sadness of soul left him. At one time Saul said: "Find some one who can play well, and bring him to me. Let me listen to music; for it drives away my sadness."
One of the young men said: "I have seen a young man, a son of Jesse in Bethlehem, who can play well. He is handsome in his looks, and agreeable in talking. I have also heard that he is a brave young man, who can fight as well as he can play, and the Lord is with him."
Then Saul sent a message to Jesse, David's father. He said: "Send me your son David, who is with the sheep. Let him come and play before me."
Then David came to Saul, bringing with him a present for the king from Jesse. When Saul saw him, he loved him, as did everybody who saw the young David. And David played on the harp, and sang before Saul. And David's music cheered Saul's heart, and drove away his sad feelings.
Saul liked David so well that he made him his armorbearer; and David carried the shield and spear, and sword for Saul, when the king was before his army. But Saul did not know that David had been anointed by Samuel.
After a time, Saul seemed well; and David returned to Bethlehem and was once more among his sheep in the field. Perhaps it was at this time that David sang his shepherd song, or it may have been long afterward, when David looked back in thought to those days when he was leading his sheep. This is the song, which you have heard often:
"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters, He restoreth my soul; He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."