Why did Saul not recognize David after he defeated Goliath?

1 Samuel 16:19-23
When we read the above scripture we learn that Saul sent for David to serve him as a musician when he was afflicted by an evil spirit. Further, this passage states that Saul liked David very much. It sounds like Saul knew David quite well.

However, later in 1 Samuel 17: 55, after David defeated Goliath, we see Saul asking Abner who David was. Why would Saul ask who David was if he must have known him well?

1 Samuel 16:19 - 23

NLT - 19 So Saul sent messengers to Jesse to say, “Send me your son David, the shepherd.” 20 Jesse responded by sending David to Saul, along with a young goat, a donkey loaded with bread, and a wineskin full of wine.

Clarify Share Report Asked July 30 2019 Mkg and son Mogobo Kgomo

Community answers are sorted based on votes. The higher the vote, the further up an answer is.

Mini Tim Maas Retired Quality Assurance Specialist with the U.S. Army
Perhaps the apparently inexplicable forgetfulness on the part of Saul was a residual effect of the evil spirit that had previously afflicted him, for which David had been called to soothe him by playing on his lyre (1 Samuel 16:14-23).

Alternatively, perhaps the inquiry was meant to have a broader application (beyond just David's identity) in regard to David's background with respect to being a suitable candidate for marriage to one of Saul's daughters, as was more explicitly subsequently discussed in 1 Samuel 18:17-29 (even though Saul also planned to use that possibility of marriage as an excuse for requiring David to engage in military campaigns during which Saul hoped that David would be killed).

July 30 2019 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

Mini Finley Philipose
A reader should not separate it so much into chapters but rather a singular storyline when reading first Samuel. Chapters should be used as only reference points. 

It is evident from first Samuel 16 that Saul knew who David was. The fact is he was brought into King Saul's service the Bible says. King Saul knew him first as a harpist and a shepherd because that is how he was introduced to Saul in chapter 16. In Chapter 17. He is now seen in a different light in the eyes of Saul. He is now seen as a champion and slayer of lions and bears. It is only natural for a person who sees an individual in one light to be perplexed to see in him in another light, especially for a person who brought peace to Saul to now being a Man of War. 

Notice how he introduces himself to Saul: "your servant". Saul had faith in this person without any inquiry of who he was, which leads you to the natural conclusion that he is already known to Saul. In verse 56, His question to Abner was one of confusion and wonder of the person he thought he knew (as a shepherd and harpist). "Whose son is this boy?" By asking this, it is evident He already knew his name. 

His question to David later in vs. 58 is one of deeper inquiry and investigation. It has already been revealed to him by Samuel that he will no longer be king. There was already a question in his heart who could be the next king. Later we read in Chapter 18:2 that Saul did not let him return to his father's house. This is possible because he wanted to keep a watch on him. In vs. 5 it says both the people of Israel and Saul's servants were pleased and approved with David being promoted. It DOES NOT mention anywhere that Saul was pleased with him or with his promotion. This explanation ties to the rest of Chapter 18 to the whole storyline.

April 19 2020 1 response Vote Up Share Report

Mini Michael Orekyeh
Saul was a careless and undiscerning fellow. He looked down on David as an unimportant servant when he played the harp. He did not remember his face at this all important time where 1 man (a youth) defeated their long running enemies in a major battle. 

Saul's behavior is seen also as careless in how he treated Samuel's instructions on waiting for him before offering the sacrifice at Gilgal (1 Sam 13: 7- 14) and also on obeying instructions on totally destroying Amalek (1Sam 15: 8-20); he was showing consistent behaviour. 

He did not show commitment to people or situations and was self centered. He even attempted killing his first son Johnathan (1 Sam 14: 43- 46). 

We should also learn from his unstable and undiscerning behaviour, how to follow God's instructions and that not doing so can have deep implications.

December 23 2022 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

Mini Darren Weaver
Is it possible that the events are not presented chronologically? Perhaps David killed Goliath before he became Saul's court musician. See in 1 Samuel 16:18 that David is recognized by one of Saul's servants. Why would he be recognized if he did not have prior fame, since he was but a shepherd? Also it mentions that he was a man of war, which would have only been after he had killed Goliath.

January 23 2024 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

Mini Juvon Carmichael
In my understanding of this, it's not that David was unrecognizable, or that they were seeking clarification about his father. In 1 Samuel 16:19-22 we see that Saul sent his messengers to Jesse to request David. So, Saul knew who David was, and who his father was.

Neither do I believe that an evil spirit caused Saul to lose his memory or knowledge of who David was. Abner was not possessed with an evil spirit and even he didn't know how to respond when Saul asked who David was after slaying Goliath.

I also do not believe that this story was out of chronological order, as we see that David was asked to stay with Saul in 1 Samuel 16:22 because he was pleased with him, but then we see that David was promoted in 1 Samuel 18:5 and was given assignments.

It seems to me that they were astonished. They were first introduced to David as a little shepherd boy who knew how to play the harp. They are now standing face-to-face with a guy who is holding the slain giant's head in his hand; a giant that Saul's army had been trying to slay for weeks!

Both Saul and Abner were taken aback and astonished. They were both pretty much doing a double-take, like "Wait...who did you say he was?" And Abner pretty much responded like "I have no idea!"

To them, this couldn't be the same little boy we just kept around to play the harp. Surely, we must have been mistaken about his identity. 

It seems to me that it was merely an inquiry of astonishment.

June 13 2024 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

Add your Answer

All answers are REVIEWED and MODERATED.
Please ensure your answer MEETS all our guidelines.

What makes a good answer? ▼

A good answer provides new insight and perspective. Here are guidelines to help facilitate a meaningful learning experience for everyone.

  1. Adhere to the eBible Statement of Faith.
  2. Your answer should be complete and stand-alone.
  3. Include supporting arguments, and scripture references if possible. Seek to answer the "why".
  4. Adhere to a proper tone and spirit of love and understanding.
  5. For more info see The Complete Guide to eBible
  1. 4000 characters remaining