According to 1.Sam.16:18 Saul heard that the boy -David- who came to play for him was a son of Jesse in Bethlehem. We also read that Saul sent messagers to Jesse with the request to sent him his son (verse 19), and in verse 22 we read that Saul told Jesse that he was very pleased with his son, and that Saul asked if the boy could stay with him.

“I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the harp."

Why then did Saul ask whose son David was when he saw him defeat Goliath in 1 Sam.17:55.

"Abner, whose son is this young man?"

How is it that Saul didn't know?


4 Answers 4


The OP's problem is best resolved with recourse to source criticism: an editor has combined two or more narratives. In one, Saul has already met David and knows his parentage; in another he has never met David previously.

The introduction of David in 1 Sam. 17 is explained in a Yale University study guide:

Our introduction to David comes in three forms. First are the allusions at the end of Saul’s reign to the king that will succeed him: the one to whom God will give the kingdom that he has torn from Saul; as God puts it to Samuel, “a man after my own heart.” ...The second introduction to David comes in 1 Samuel 16, the story of Samuel going to the house of Jesse in Bethlehem to find and anoint the new king of Israel... Our third introduction to David comes in the story of Goliath in 1 Samuel 17, undoubtedly the most famous narrative about David’s life in the entire Bible. It is evident that this narrative is of a separate origin from that of the anointing and lyre-playing in the previous chapter. The Goliath story reintroduces us to David and his family, as if we had not met them all before.

A more general explanation is given in an introduction to the Books of Samuel written by the Catholic editors of the online version of the NASB says:

Although the events described in 1 and 2 Samuel move from the last of the judges to the decline of David’s reign and the beginning of a legendary “Golden Age” under Solomon’s rule, this material does not present either a continuous history or a systematic account of this period. The author/editor developed a narrative timeline around freely composed speeches, delivered by prophets like Samuel (e.g., 1 Sm 15:10–31; 28:15–19) and Nathan (2 Sm 12:1–12), who endorse Deuteronomistic perspectives regarding the establishment of the monarchy, the relationship between worship and obedience, and the divine covenant established with the house of David.

An even more striking example of the editor combining sources is found at the end of 2 Sam., where we find a narrative in which Goliath is not killed by David but by one of his lieutenants.

Then there was another battle with the Philistines at Gob; and Elhanan son of Jaare-oregim, the Bethlehemite, killed Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam. There was again war at Gath, where there was a man of great size, who had six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each foot, twenty-four in number; he too was descended from the giants. When he taunted Israel, Jonathan son of David’s brother Shimei, killed him. These four were descended from the giants in Gath; they fell by the hands of David and his servants. (2 Sam 21 19-22)

To conclude: the seeming contradiction mentioned in the OP results from an editor combining two narratives into one. In the first, David is already known to Saul; in the second Saul has never heard of him previously.


How come Saul did not remember the name of David's father? Saul first learned of David, son of Jess when he was looking for a musician in 1 Samuel 16:

18 One of the young men answered, “Behold, I have seen a son of Jess the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and the LORD is with him.” 19 Therefore Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me David your son, who is with the sheep.”

In the next chapter, David killed Goliath. Saul could not remember the name of David's father, 1 Samuel 17:

55 Now when Saul saw David going out against the Philistine, he said to Abner the commander of the army, “Abner, whose son is this young man?”

And Abner said, “By your life, O king, I do not know.”

Abner did not know either. Before this day, David wasn't important enough for Abner to know his father's name.

56 The king said, “You inquire whose son the youth is.”

The king insisted to find out.

57 So when David returned from killing the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul with the Philistine’s head in his hand. 58 Saul said to him, “Whose son are you, young man?”

Saul had forgotten.

And David answered, “I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.”

How come Saul did not remember the name of David's father?

He just forgot. When he first hired David, Jesse was the father of a musician. Saul didn't think it important to remember the name. Neither did Abner. Now that David had killed Goliath, Saul was impressed. Jesse was the father of a mighty warrior. Saul wanted to know whom David was from. Now, Saul made it a point to remember the name "Jesse".


There were two issues why Saul did not know Jesse, the father of David.

The Primary issue - Saul had a mental illness. 1 Samuel 16:14 read

Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him. (NIV)

It did not mean the Lord sent an evil spirit to torment him. It just because Saul lost the Lord's protection not to be afflicted by evil spirits.

The second issue - Saul never met Jesse. Saul sent messengers two times to Jesse. 1 Samuel 16:19 & 22

19 Then Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me your son David, who is with the sheep.”

22 Then Saul sent word to Jesse, saying, “Allow David to remain in my service, for I am pleased with him.” (NIV)

Though his servant did tell Saul the name of Jesse, he was certainly indifferent to whoever name spoken due to his mental condition. He dearly need a cure. He was likely not capable to recall the name of David as well, as seen he asked Abner in 1 Samuel 17:55

55 As Saul watched David going out to meet the Philistine, he said to Abner, commander of the army, “Abner, whose son is that young man?” (NIV)

It is also interesting that in 1 Samuel 17:32-38, David and Saul had a dialogue. David self-recommended to fight Goliath and Saul despised the young David and his fighting experience. David insisted, then Saul dressed David in his own tunic (vv17:38). But note, Saul never asked this young man's name! It was not he knew his name, if he did, he should ask Abner "whose son is David"

So his mental illness caused him a poor memory. It concurs to Tony's answer.


Maybe David is not a biological son of Jesse? By David’s own words Ps 51:5

Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

So what Saul is actually asking is, “Who’s son is he really?!”

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