1 Samuel 16:17, How Did King Saul Meet David?

And Saul said unto his servants, Provide me now a man that can play well, and bring him to me.

//There are two contradictory stories in the Bible about how Saul came to know David. The first story of how Saul and David meet is recorded in 1 Samuel 16:17. Today’s verse tells how Saul requested a musician to sooth him. David, son of Jesse, is recommended for his skill in playing the lyre. So Saul sends for him, and David plays for Saul.

And David came to Saul, and stood before him: and he loved him greatly; and he became his armourbearer. –Samuel 16:21

In the very next chapter, however, Saul’s “great love” for David seems to have waned, and David’s responsibility as armor bearer forgotten. As David prepares to fight Goliath, Saul seems to have no idea who he is.

And when Saul saw David go forth against the Philistine, he said unto Abner, the captain of the host, Abner, whose son is this youth? And Abner said, As thy soul liveth, O king, I cannot tell. –1 Samuel 17:55

So after the battle, Saul asks David who he is, and David tells Saul that he is the son of Jesse. Two verses later we read:

And Saul took him that day, and would let him go no more home to his father’s house. –1 Samuel 18:2

These stories cannot both be true, of course. The story you prefer of how David rises to prominence in the court of Saul probably depends on whether you prefer the image of David, the musician, or David, the warrior.

Indeed, it is because David fills both roles to mythical proportions that he has become such a beloved enigma … known as the writer of the Psalms and the slayer of Goliath. Small wonder that we need two stories to introduce him.


  1. I was also perplexed by this passage, but I think the article has some good plausible explanations.


    • Thanks so much; the commentary explained it well. I encourage you to keep leaving truthful and helpful comments in websites that do not promote understanding the Word of God but rather aims to sow confusion and distrust such as this one.


      You should try to answer questions on the Bible as taught by Thai Nuns many of whom have either no or a rudimentary understanding of English and the teachers in the school who are not Nuns give 4 options for this question but only one can be correct although 2 of the options are as stated above. How does one answer correctly.

    • Thanks! This helps

  2. john a

    we also read that Moses was abandoned on a river by his mother and sister and when a princess found the baby it was this same sister the baby was given to.

    you can really play a lyre in Buckingham and the queen can swear she cannot remember you.

    • Because the sister followed the baby and when he was picked up by the princess, she was the one that suggested she knew a hebrew woman who would nurse and bring up the child. Being a hebrew herself, the princess believed her.God has his own way of making his plan come true through men whether it seems logical or not
      As of saul and David, saul was a very sick man because he was troubled by an evil spirit. David left to go back home and saul forgot all about their meeting because he was sick.

  3. john a

    David was also said to have had brothers in the army which he was going to give food to.

  4. Chibuzor Okoye

    There is no one single contradiction in the bible, not one.In their first meeting David was introduced to saul because he was according to the sciptures “troubled by an evil spirit from the lord”. David’s job was to play the harp when the evil spirit troubled saul and he would be “refreshed and well”. Let’s be clear saul was very sick. Now the extent of this sickness was not really described in the bible but what happened next shows it was very serious. Their next meeting was right before the battle and saul asked Abner “whose son is this youth”. Saul completely forgot he had met with David before then, because David left saul to return home to his father’s sheep. Abner’s reply was “I cannot tell”. How dare you remind the king “oh how could you forget David remember he used to play the harp for you?” That will mean death, knowing how sick he was. Then saul asked David who he was after the battle. I am sure David and the rest of them were not suprised that saul forgot who he was, the man was very sick.the blble never recorded that when David left yo go home the sickness stopped or the evil spirit stopped troubling saul. How could anyone think that a man that is troubled by an evil spirit is well?,in today’s translation, we would say saul was occasionally insane or mad.Again there is no one contradiction in the bible. There’s an adage from where I come from ” a mad man does not recognize even the members of his own family”.

    • N clement paul

      king saul was tormented with the spirit of madness. often a time this spirit will make him to lost his memory and the people he had met before. but it was kept secret within the royal household. nobody in the land of isreal knew about it except samuel the prophet.

    • Larry Holmes

      Another inexplicable contradiction right there in the bible. Period!

    • Wonderful explanation. I too agree.

    • Hmmmmmm…… “mad man cannot recignize even his fily members” ! But how on earth did Saul recognize Abner and not recognize David? How could a sane nation have allowed a mad man lead them to war?

    • Emmanuel

      Mad man???!

      But how come the same mad man recognize Abner without mistaking him for one of the enemy’s soldiers?

    • This was such a good explanation.

    • Thanks

  5. Anonymous

    Following the account of Samuel’s visit to Bethlehem to anoint David as the future king of Israel, the book of 1 Samuel indicates that David became the harp player and armor bearer for King Saul (16:14-23). Subsequent to this information, the reader is told of David’s magnificent triumph over Goliath (1 Samuel 17), which then is followed by an “interrogation” by King Saul, who asked David, “Whose son are you, young man?” (17:58). A general reading through the text of 1 Samuel 16-17 has led some Bible believers to question why Saul (it seems) knew David, then did not know David, and then got to know him again. Skeptics, likewise, have inquired about the consistency of this story (see Morgan, 2003; Wells, 2001; “Inerrancy,” n.d.). Paul Tobin, in an article titled “Internal Contradictions in the Bible,” summed up the skeptic’s argument by stating that 1 Samuel 16 “clearly shows that David…was known to Saul. Yet a little later, after David’s fight with Goliath, Saul is made to enquire from his chief captain as to the identity of the giant slayer (I Samuel 17:56). And he is again made to inquire from David who he is, when he should have known this all along” (2000). Allegedly, the Bible’s portrayal of Saul’s ignorance of David after Goliath’s death is proof of the Bible writers’ imperfection when penning the Scriptures.

    First of all, it is imperative for one to recognize that, as with other Bible passages, nowhere in 1 Samuel 16-17 are we told that all of these events occurred in chronological order. Although throughout 1 Samuel, there is a general, sequential progression, such does not demand that every event recorded in the book must be laid out chronologically. In fact, within chapter 17 there is evidence that this is not the case. For example, the events recorded in 17:54 (i.e., David putting his armor in his tent, and taking the head of Goliath to Jerusalem) postdate the conversations mentioned in verses 55-58 (as verse 57 makes clear). More precisely, verses 55-56 synchronize with verse 40, while verses 57-58 could be placed immediately following verse 51 (Youngblood, 1992, 3:703). And, regarding chapter 16, who can say for certain that David was not already playing the harp for Saul before Samuel anointed him? First Samuel 17:15 indicates that “David occasionally went and returned from Saul to feed his father’s sheep at Bethlehem.” Perhaps it was during one of these furloughs that he was anointed as the future king of Israel (16:1-13). Unless the text clearly distinguishes one event as occurring before or after another, a person cannot conclude for certain the exact chronology of those events. Just because one historical event recorded in the Bible precedes another, does not mean that it could not have occurred at a later time (or vice versa). Truly, the ancients were not as concerned about chronology as is the average person in twenty-first-century America.

    Aside from the fact that one cannot be certain about the exact sequence of events recorded in 1 Samuel 16-17, several possible explanations exist as to why Saul appeared not to recognize David after his triumphal victory over Goliath. First, enough time could have lapsed so that David’s appearance changed significantly since the last time he appeared before king Saul. William M. Thomson, a missionary in Syria and Palestine for nearly half of the nineteenth century, once described the sudden changes in the physical development of Eastern youths in his book titled The Land and the Book.

    They not only spring into full-grown manhood as if by magic, but all their former beauty disappears; their complexion becomes dark; their features hard and angular, and the whole expression of countenance stern and even disagreeable. I have often been accosted by such persons, formerly intimate acquaintances, but who had suddenly grown entirely out of my knowledge, nor could I without difficulty recognize them (1859, 2:366).

    Few would deny that young men can change quickly over a relatively short period of time. Facial hair, increased height and weight, larger, more defined muscles, darker skin, a deeper voice, as well as the wearing of different apparel, may all factor into why a person may say to someone that he or she knows, but has not seen for some time, “I hardly recognized you. You’ve changed.” Surely, it is more than possible that between the time David served Saul as a harpist, and the time he slew Goliath, he could have experienced many physical changes that prevented a “distressed” king from recognizing his former harpist.

    A second reason Saul might have failed to recognize David is because he may have lapsed into another unreliable mental state. Saul’s intermittent deviation from normalcy is seen throughout the book of 1 Samuel (cf. 16:14-23; 18:9-12; 19:22-24; 22:6-19), and it is possible 17:54-58 is another illusion to his defective rationale. In his discussion of 1 Samuel 17, biblical commentator Robert Jamieson mentioned this possibility saying, “The king’s moody temper, not to say frequent fits of insanity, would alone be sufficient to explain the circumstance of his not recognizing a youth who, during the time of his mental aberration, had been much near him, trying to soothe his distempered soul” (Jamieson, 1997).

    Third, it could be that Saul did, in fact, remember David, but because of jealousy over David’s momentous victory (cf. 1 Samuel 18:8-11), and perhaps of hearing that Samuel had been to Bethlehem to anoint him as the next king (1 Samuel 16:1-13), Saul simply wanted to act like he did not know David. Such a scenario is not difficult to envision. Today, a teacher or coach might inquire about a student whom he or she already knows, yet in hopes of instilling more submission into the arrogant teen, the faculty member acts somewhat aloof. One textual indication that such may be the explanation of 1 Samuel 17:54-58 is that Saul still referred to David, the bear-killing, lion-slaying, Goliath-demolisher, as a “stripling” (Hebrew `elem—17:56, ASV) and “young man” (Hebrew na`ar—17:55,58). Although these two words do not necessarily carry a belittling connotation, neither designation seems very appropriate for a man who had just tried on the armor of King Saul—a man once described as “shoulders upward…taller than any of the people” (1 Samuel 9:2)—and had just killed one of the fiercest enemies of Israel. Truly, Saul’s supposed ignorance of David and his family may well have been a “performance” instigated by, what physician Herman van Praag once called, “haughtiness fed by envy” (1986, 35:421).

    Finally, one must realize that the text does not even actually say that Saul did not know David. It only records that Saul asked, “Whose son is this youth?” (1 Samuel 17:55; cf. vss. 56,58). It is an assumption to conclude that Saul did not recognize David. The king simply could have been inquiring about David’s family. Since Saul had promised to reward the man who killed Goliath by giving “his father’s house exemption from taxes in Israel” (17:25), Saul might have been questioning David in order to ensure the identity of David’s family. Furthermore, 18:1 seems to presuppose an extended conversation between the two, which would imply that Saul wanted even more information than just the name of David’s father.

    Truly, any of these possibilities could account for Saul’s examination of David. The burden of proof is on the skeptic to show otherwise. As respected law professor Simon Greenleaf concluded regarding the rule of municipal law in relation to ancient writings:

    Every document, apparently ancient, coming from the proper repository or custody, and bearing on its face no evident marks of forgery, the law presumes to be genuine, and devolves on the opposing party the burden of proving it to be otherwise (1995, p. 16, emp. added).

    Until skeptics logically negate the above possible solutions to the questions surrounding 1 Samuel 16-17, and are able to prove beyond doubt that the Bible writer made a genuine mistake, one does not have to doubt the integrity of the biblical text.


  6. Michael

    Saul was not inquiring of the identity of David per se in chapter 17; rather, he was asking who David’s father was (verses 55, 56, and 58). We assume he knew David’s name. David’s answer, in verse 58, is, “I am the son of your servant Jesse of Bethlehem.”

    One explanation for why King Saul asked the identity of David’s father is simply that he had forgotten whose son David was. Saul had been told about Jesse (1 Samuel 16:18), and he had even had correspondence with him (verses 19–22), but it’s not unreasonable to think that the name had slipped Saul’s mind. We assume that kings have a lot of information to keep track of, and we understand if Saul did not regularly review the names of all the people in his realm.

    Saul needed to know the name of David’s father to deliver the prize promised to the one who defeated Goliath. In 1 Samuel 17:25, Saul had promised great wealth and the king’s daughter in marriage to the man who killed the giant. Saul had also promised the family of the victor tax exemption. In order for Jesse to receive this benefit, Saul had to confirm that’s who David was.

  7. David דויד

    You guys are looking at it from a Christian perspective, look at it from a Jewish perspective
    Saul knew who david was. He kept on asking from what family Lily line of Judah, is king David’s family was he from the line of Pérez which he knew eventually would take over Israel.

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