In Samuel 17, David kills Goliath. After briefly speaking with Saul, David confronts Goliath, and Saul asks Abner, the head of Israel’s army, a perplexing question.

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?” Abner replied, “As surely as you live, Your Majesty, I don’t know” (emphasis added).

1 Samuel 17:55 (NIV)

In 1 Samuel 16, we read about the Spirit of the Lord departing from Saul and his torment by an evil or harmful spirit. Saul’s attendants suggest they find someone to play the lyre to ease Saul’s torment when the evil spirit comes upon him. After directing his attendants to find someone, they find David, so Saul gives them this command.

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

1 Samuel 16:19 (NIV)

This raises the question of why Saul asked Abner about David’s father in 1 Samuel 17:55. In fact, in 1 Samuel 16, Saul sent this word to Jesse.

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

1 Samuel 16:22 (NIV)

There are several possibilities for why Saul didn’t appear to know who David’s father was. One such option might be that the events in 1 Samuel 16 and 1 Samuel are not in chronological order. However, the events of 1 Samuel 18:1-3 suggest that’s not the case. 

Another explanation for why Saul didn’t recognize David, if the events in 1 Samuel 16 and 17 are in chronological order, deals with the nature of a servant, the reward being handed out for defeating Goliath, David’s age, and Saul’s condition.

Kings don’t pay much attention to their servants. Indeed, people who meet many people and think of themselves as higher than others don’t really notice “inferior” people. Yet, 1 Samuel 16:21 tells us, “Saul liked him very much, and David became one of his armor-bearers” (NIV), so that might not be the reason. 

Saul asks who David’s father is because part of the reward was a tax exemption for the family. Still, Saul communicated with Jesse in 1 Samuel 16:22. 

The most compelling explanation is that David was a child when he first went to Saul’s court, and he’s grown into a young man. During adolescence, one’s appearance can significantly change. We can all attest to how different a person can look from childhood into adulthood. Almost unrecognizable. While we aren’t told how much time passed between the events of 1 Samuel 16 and those in 1 Samuel 17, we are told that David didn’t reside full-time at Saul’s court.

But David went back and forth from Saul to tend his father’s sheep at Bethlehem.

1 Samuel 17:15 (NIV)

We are also given insight into David’s life as a shepherd. While shepherding his father’s sheep, David killed both the lion and the bear (cf. 1 Samuel 17:36-37), which he couldn’t have done if he had never left Saul’s court. Thus, we might surmise that several years passed between the events of 1 Samuel 16 and 17, while David only briefly visited Saul’s court when he was in the midst of torment.

Finally, Saul’s torment was said to include great bouts of melancholy, and from his actions, we also see madness and signs that he didn’t remember what he had done. Later, Saul tries to kill David several times because of his madness. Therefore, Saul might have forgotten that David’s father was Jesse.

When I consider the possibilities of why Saul asked Abner about David in 1 Samuel, I’m reminded that we don’t always get the entire story when reading the Bible. Instead, we are given details about those things the Lord thought we should know. Thus, the highlight of 1 Samuel 17 isn’t Saul’s question about David’s parentage: It’s that a young man could defeat a hardened warrior through faith in God with only one stone. If God did it for David, he could do it for us. 

Do you know God? God knows you, and he loves you. He sees you as significant because you are. No one is insignificant to Him. He’s with you today, and he wants you to know him. Jesus died for your sins and mine so we could be free of guilt, freed from death, and live eternally with him. Eternal salvation is just a prayer away.

Pray this prayer with me to accept the gift of salvation:

Lord Jesus, forgive me for all my sins. I repent from my ways. Wash me in your blood and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. I believe you died on the cross and were buried, and God the Father raised you from the dead on the third day. Right now, Lord Jesus, I open the door to my heart and receive you into my heart as my Lord and personal Savior. Amen.

If you prayed that prayer, then congratulations! You are on the first step of a brand new life. Allow me to be the first to welcome you to my family, the family of God. There are abundant resources available online for new Christians. You can visit here for more information on what to do next. You can also leave me a comment, and I’ll do my best to help you on the next step of this incredible journey.