God rejected Saul as king over Israel (1 Sam. 15), but that does not mean He gave up on having a human king reigning over His people. Israel was supposed to have a king (Gen. 49:8–12; Deut. 17:14–20) even if the king Israel initially wanted turned out to be deficient in the things of the Lord. So, God did not reject Saul without also providing a new ruler, whom we meet in today’s passage.
In 1 Samuel 16:1, we see that Samuel did not relish Saul’s rejection. In fact, he grieved over the loss of Saul as God’s appointed leader, probably because he was sorry for the state of Saul’s soul and because he knew an unfaithful king such as Saul was not good for the faithfulness of Israel. But the Lord told Samuel that the time for grieving was over, for He would raise up a new king from the sons of Jesse the Bethlehemite. Immediately we are filled with hope. After all, Bethlehem was located in Judah’s territory, and Judah was the tribe from which the king was supposed to come (Gen. 49:8–12; Ruth 1:1). While Saul’s failure to endure was hinted at in his Benjaminite origin (as Benjamin was not the ruling tribe of Israel), there is nothing in the background of this yet-to-be-revealed son of Jesse that looks disqualifying.
The elders of Bethlehem were afraid when Samuel arrived, probably because a prophet’s message was never guaranteed to be one of blessing. But when Samuel said he came in peace, he was welcomed, and preparations were made for a sacrifice to the Lord, with Jesse and his sons invited to attend (1 Sam. 16:2–5). And when Jesse’s sons started coming to Samuel for his evaluation, God revealed an important lesson. Samuel believed that Eliab was the Lord’s chosen king when he “looked on” him (v. 6). Eliab, in other words, looked the part. Probably he was tall and handsome just like Saul (9:1–2). But God is not impressed by good looks—though physical unattractiveness is not in itself prized by Him either (16:12). The Lord looks on the heart when He evaluates a person (v. 7). Matthew Henry comments, “The good disposition of the heart, the holiness or goodness of that, recommends us to God, and is in his sight of great price (1 Peter 3:4), not the majesty of the look, or the strength and stature of the body.”
God wants servants who love Him and who rest in Him alone (Isa. 66:1–2). The right king of His people will model these qualities. So, the Lord chose David, who from a worldly perspective was the least likely of Jesse’s sons to be king (1 Sam. 16:8–13). He was qualified to be king because he was a man after God’s own heart (13:14).