In 1 Samuel 16:1-13 David was anointed king of Israel. As far as I know when you're anointed king back in those days, you could already set up your kingdom after.

I'm curious as to why - instead of David standing up to Saul AND establishing himself as king of Israel - he thought of running away in 1 Samuel 20.

I know that he purposed not to harm Saul and saw him as the rightful king, but in reality David was already the king in God's eyes and had favor with men. Saul was stripped of his leadership by 1 Samuel 15:10-35.

Are/is there any other reason(s) why David did not do this? Technically speaking he had every right to.

  • Because he had the common sense to know that if you usurp a king to steal his throne, someone else might, in turn, usurp you, etc. Basically, he went out of his way to avoid a direct confrontation with Saul, which would have probably ended with David taking Saul's life; see 1 Samuel 26:7-12 and 2 Samuel 1:2-17.
    – Lucian
    Dec 22, 2018 at 5:19

5 Answers 5


First of all, Saul was anointed in public in 1 Samuel 11:14-15. God later regrets having anointed Saul, but after having already anointed him in public as king. When Samuel is told to go anoint David, he has to do so in private: since Saul is officially the king, Samuel isn't even able to go anoint David without fear of being killed by Saul:

Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” (1 Samuel 16:2, NRSV)

So David was only anointed in private, among his brothers (16:13)

Clearly, Saul had more popular support than David: Nearly every place David would be able to go was still loyal to Saul and so Saul was able to find out where he was hiding (1 Samuel 23:12, 19, 25, 24:1, 26:1).

Finally, David was with six hundred men (1 Samuel 23:13). Compare the size of Saul's army at the beginning of his reign: 300,000 men of Israel and 30,000 men of Judah (1 Samuel 11:8). David stood no chance against Saul if Saul would ever decide to wage war against him, without a major change in loyalty of his people, and the situation was the same even after Saul's death (2 Samuel 3:1).

  • Very precise answer. Excellent stuff. +1.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 5, 2018 at 16:40
  • I've already edited the question to reflect the correct passage: 1 Samuel 16, not chapter 12. Good insights. I had thought David was soooo over with the people after killing Goliath I didn't realize that Saul still had supporters. It's insights and an eye for Scripture details like that (even if it isn't overtly stated in-text) that I hope to develop. As a follow-up, even with the love of the entire Israel and Judah (1 Samuel 16), couldn't have David made a case for his ascent? Or would the greater military forces of Saul come into play here?
    – Philip
    Dec 6, 2018 at 2:40
  • @Philip Possibly. In 2 Samuel 5:2, "all of Israel" pretty much say so explicitly. But what could have happened is a different matter than what did happen; the fact is that that verse wasn't said earlier
    – b a
    Dec 6, 2018 at 10:24
  • Oh I was pertaining to 1 Samuel 18:16. That's when it was first stated all Israel & Judah loved David.
    – Philip
    Dec 7, 2018 at 4:25
  • @Philip The verse I quoted was also relevant, though: "Even yesterday and before while Saul was our king..."
    – b a
    Dec 7, 2018 at 8:51

We are not told the reason for this in Scripture. However, we can deduce some clear reasons.

First, whatever the reason, it was NOT the relative size of Davis forces (600 men) vs Saul's army of 300,000 or so. David understood the principle utter by Jonathon that the Lord can save by many or by few (1 Sam 14:6). Further, David had at least three opportunities to kill Saul without any risk of loosing any of his men in a battle. So it was not for want of opportunity that David did not take the throne.

Second, Whenever David had such opportunities, his response was simple - "who can raise his hand against the Lord's anointed and remain guiltless?" (1 Sam 26:9, 24:6). He clearly did not want the throne while Saul still lived.

Third, David was extremely popular - on numerous occasions Saul's jealously David and his popularity boiled over. There were obviously people loyal to David and others loyal to Saul. What their relative numbers were we are not told.

I suspect the real reasons for David's reluctance to take the throne earlier than he did (even after Saul's death) was very simple:

  • He wanted a united kingdom - not one foisted upon the people. A forced rulership is a very difficult rulership and often short-lived as later kings ably portray.
  • David also understood the Bible principle of "A man reaps what he sows." (Gal 6:7 NIV). If he took the kingdom by force, it might just as easily be taken from David by force.
  • While David made some mistakes, at least in battle and political affairs he sought the guidance of the Lord. Before engaging in a battle, he most often asked the priest to "bring the ephod" containing the Urim and Thummim. Therefore another reason he possibly hesitated was that he had not received any divine instruction to take the kingdom. (A great lesson for moderns as well!)
  • I'm really curious as to why David didn't realize that he was anointed as king and that Saul was no longer anointed. Maybe the private inauguration had a factor in that as well. Your third point makes a LOT of sense. However, in the text, when Saul's manhunt for him began David instinctively went for "flight" mode instead of "fight". This bold man who killed a giant didn't even pray or seek God on what to do. Hence my initial quandary. Sure, everyone's answers above make sense. It just bugs me that, at that moment, David perhaps suffered from a sudden case of cowardice.
    – Philip
    Dec 7, 2018 at 4:22
  • First, David knew he was anointed king BUT he would not lay a hand on the Lord's anointed, Saul. Saul said in several places (quite correctly) that David would be the next king and everyone knew it. David was gracious but brave and respectful. David was never a coward - he fought battles even when hounded by Saul!!!
    – user25930
    Dec 7, 2018 at 5:37
  • But at that point wasn't David the rightful king, because Saul had turned from God and God had turned from Saul already? On the context of David being a coward, I meant that in the face of Saul's manhunt. His fighting battles was a means of survival for him and his merry men.
    – Philip
    Dec 7, 2018 at 6:04
  • Saul was King until removed and David refused (correctly) to be the one to remove him because God had placed Saul on the throne and only God should remove him. God did finally remove him and David's patience shown him to be a very noble ruler for being patient and respecting those in office.
    – user25930
    Dec 7, 2018 at 8:38

Because the Messiah's mission was multi-faceted he is represented by many different "types". For example, when David proposed to build a "house" for the LORD God told him that he couldn't because he was a warrior so it must be his son Solomon who builds the house. This was not criticizing David for killing Goliath or anything but rather because Solomon was the proper "type" of Christ, the Temple-builder:

.... But the word of the LORD came to me, saying, Thou hast shed blood abundantly, and hast made great wars: thou shalt not build an house unto my name, because thou hast shed much blood upon the earth in my sight. In very much of that fighting David had been faultless; for he fought the battles of the people of God. Still, there are some things that men are called to do, for which they are not to be condemned; but they disqualify them for higher work. It was so in David's case; he had been a soldier, and he might help to build the temple by collecting the materials for it, but he must not build it. 9. Behold, a son shall be born to thee, who shall be a man of rest; God's Church is to be a place of rest. God's temple was built by "a man of rest." 9. And I will give him rest from all his enemies round about: for his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quietness unto Israel in his days. Then the house of the Lord would be built; no stain of blood would be upon it. The only blood therein should be that of holy sacrifices, symbolical of the great Sacrifice of Christ...

David was in many, many ways a type of Messiah as a rejected king.

Jesus did not come to be the king of Israel. He came to be rejected as king! God had hardened the leadership as predicted in the prophets.

There used to be a TV show similar to "The Twilight Zone" called "The Outer Limits". Like all "ancient" TV shows the special effects were minimal, and to modern viewers, laughable but at the time the show was "credible". Anyhoo, there was an episode in which a spaceship lands and broadcasts "We come in peace, do not harm us". However, the Army gets all freaked out and kills them all even though they didn't do anything. Spoiler Alert: Then they reveal that they didn't have capital punishment on Zanti but these were dangerous criminals that had to be killed and they were sent to earth because they knew they were killers.

[Mat 17:23 KJV] 23 And they shall kill him, and the third day he shall be raised again. And they were exceeding sorry. [Mat 20:19 KJV] 19 And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify [him]: and the third day he shall rise again. [Mar 10:34 KJV] 34 And they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him: and the third day he shall rise again. [Luk 13:32 KJV] 32 And he said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to day and to morrow, and the third [day] I shall be perfected. [Luk 18:33 KJV] 33 And they shall scourge [him], and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again. [Luk 24:7 KJV] 7 Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.

Also, the Messiah is typified by his not even considering coming to the throne by violence but rather by resolute obedience to God:

[1Sa 24:6, 10 KJV] 6 And he said unto his men, The LORD forbid that I should do this thing unto my master, the LORD'S anointed, to stretch forth mine hand against him, seeing he [is] the anointed of the LORD. ... 10 Behold, this day thine eyes have seen how that the LORD had delivered thee to day into mine hand in the cave: and [some] bade [me] kill thee: but [mine eye] spared thee; and I said, I will not put forth mine hand against my lord; for he [is] the LORD'S anointed.

[Psa 75:6-7, 10 CSB] 6 Exaltation does not come from the east, the west, or the desert, 7 for God is the Judge: He brings down one and exalts another. ... 10 "I will cut off all the horns of the wicked, but the horns of the righteous will be lifted up."

So too the Messiah could have (and was expected to) overthrow Rome and Herod and set himself up as king. But instead we see the Messiah refusing kingship by force:

[Jhn 6:15 KJV] 15 When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force [ἁρπάζω], to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone.

Common Taters often think that the crowd was going to force Jesus to be king but as I see it they wanted to use physical violence to make him king, which he refused to be a part of.

The word used in John 6:15 to say "by force" (ἁρπάζω) is the same word used in Philippians 2 when Paul says that Jesus did not contemplate or even consider seizing (ἁρπάζω) his reign by God's right hand:

[Phl 2:5-11 KJV] 5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery [IE: did not consider seizing the throne by force, ἁρπάζω] to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. 9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of [things] in heaven, and [things] in earth, and [things] under the earth; 11 And [that] every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ [is] Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

But finally, and this may be the most straightforward matter for the current question, just being anointed does not actually make you king. That is, Jesus was anointed (with the actual, not symbolic, anointing with the Spirit and yet never became Israel's king because they refused him. He was "anointed" but never reached Israel's throne. Instead, he was refused, killed, exalted, received the Spirit and anointed a whole generation of the last days Jews:

[Isa 10:27 KJV] 27 And it shall come to pass in that day [IE: in the age of the Messiah], [that] his burden shall be taken away from off thy shoulder, and his yoke from off thy neck, **and the yoke shall be destroyed because of the anointing.

[1Jo 2:27 KJV] 27 But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.

So to recap, David was a type of Christ, particularly in the aspects of his kingship and in particular, several chapters of his being "on the run" as he waited for God to act to establish him on the throne without him getting his hands dirty.

  • 1
    An interesting parallel since David was the ancestor of Jesus. Thanks, Ruminator!
    – Philip
    Dec 7, 2018 at 4:16

NWT 1 Samuel 24:6, 7 "He said to his men: “It is unthinkable from Jehovah’s standpoint that I should do such a thing to my lord, the anointed of Jehovah, by lifting my hand against him, for he is the anointed of Jehovah.” 7 So David restrained his men with these words, and he did not allow them to attack Saul. As for Saul, he rose up from the cave and went on his way."

King David waited upon Jehovah to Remove Saul as he felt it was not his place to do so!


David followed proper protocol in the sense he honored Saul as an anointed one of God. As long as Saul was King, he received full respect from David. Even when Saul was killed, David was offended by the report of the death of his king. He had them executed.

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