Both Saul and David were unexpectedly anointed king by the same prophet, Samuel. Saul was looking for his father’s donkeys (1 Samuel 9.3) and David was tending his father’s sheep (1 Samuel 16.11).
Saul’s family somehow lost their donkeys. Donkeys are highly intelligent animals that are very affectionate. In ancient times they were symbolic of wealth (especially by the Jews) and were used by the rich for transportation. The fact that Saul had several donkeys suggests affluence. The carelessness of caring for the donkeys indicates a great lack of concern as their guardian. Donkeys are pretty laid-back animals that are easy to care for. They can last long periods of time without food or water. Usually only a predator can make donkeys run, and Saul did not take adequate measures to ensure their protection. Saul looked through many territories to find them, but his inattentiveness caused him to wander.
David obviously cared for his father’s sheep. Even when a famed prophet arrived at his home, he didn’t leave them until his father summoned him. Shepherding was considered a lowly job. Servants did the shepherding or many times the last born son, like David. Sheep are extremely helpless animals. Some people have said that without human intervention, they would already be extinct. They have trouble finding food and water, and they lack any ability to protect themselves from predators. In ancient times sheep were allowed to roam pasture land, so the shepherd had to stay alert and attentive. The shepherd needed to gain the trust of the sheep, so they would closely follow him. Shepherding was also a solitary job that garnered no prestige or acclaim from society.
They were anointed with the same oil, which comes from the Hebrew word shemen. Oil is symbolic for God’s Spirit or Holy Spirit. Saul (1 Samuel 11.6) and David (1 Samuel 16.13) each received God’s Spirit. Although they received the same oil, the container that held their oil was vastly different.
Samuel put Saul’s anointing oil into a flask, which comes from the Hebrew word pak. This flask was man-made, and many times created from a fine mineral called alabaster. Samuel was prepared to anoint a king because God told him the day before.Not only did he have a flask of oil ready, he had a dinner with thirty prestigious guest arranged, a seat of honor prepared and the choicest slice of meat waiting! Samuel made a grand show of anointing Saul.
On the other hand, God told Samuel to put David’s anointing oil into a horn, which comes from the Hebrew word qeren. Samuel was scared to anoint David because King Saul was still ruling, so God told Samuel to say that he was offering a sacrifice to God and anoint the new king in secret (1 Samuel 16.2). I think God chose the horn for two reasons: First, the horn would hide Samuel’s intention of anointing David. Second, the horn is not man-made and represents power and strength.
I believe the container of the oil signifies the main difference between Saul’s and David’s kingship. Saul was the human desire for a king. He was a tall man born in prestige. Shortly after Saul was anointed, he was made king before the nation. There was barely any lag time between events. Saul would not submit to the Holy Spirit to become a king after God’s own heart. He lived out most of his kingship in the flesh and not in the Spirit. All throughout his life, he lived to please man, not God. Saul was a flask.
David was God’s desire of a king. He was forgotten, anointed in secret. He was in his teens when he was anointed, yet he didn’t become king until he was thirty (2 Samuel 5.4). During the many years David hid in caves and commanded his growing army, God was able to transform David into a man after His own heart. David’s sole desire was to be with God (Psalm 27.4). He lived out most of his kingship in the Spirit. All throughout his life, he lived to please God, not man. David was a horn.
God needs our willingness if He is to transform us into people after His own heart. We need to put His desires above the desires of ourselves and others. He also needs time to change us from the inside out. He wants us to victoriously lead in our designated territories, but we need to be willing to submit to the process. God wants to make our “prestigious” man-made flasks into Horns of Salvation — the likeness of Christ.
“I love you, LORD, my strength.
The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”