There aren’t any explicit references as to why David, son of Jesse, was chosen to lead the people of Israel after King Saul’s unceremonious fall and succumbing to what seems like paranoia and manic depression. There are, however, certain literary and textual clues. The relationship between Saul and David closely parallels that between Jacob and Esau, except the line between Jacob and Esau is drawn horizontally across the two insofar as David and Saul are concerned. That may seem a confusing statement, but here is what it means.
In the relationship between Jacob and Esau, Jacob has positive and negative qualities, and Esau has positive and negative qualities. Jacob’s positive qualities are that he is emotionally under control, he is a planner, and he is a G-d-fearing man. His negative qualities are that he is manipulative and scheming. Jacob ultimately succeeds in life because he takes his negative qualities and transforms them into positive qualities, which enables him to successfully plan to keep his family together through all the troubles it encountered, and also enables him to plan for the future of the children of Israel as a nation.
On the other hand, Esau’s positive qualities were that he was energetic, strong, determined, and charismatic. His negative qualities were that he was impetuous, lacked forethought, and had trouble when it came to self control and his emotions. He ultimately failed in life because he used his positive qualities to serve his negative ones.
King David had both the positive and negative qualities of Esau and Jacob, and so did King Saul. The former ultimately succeeded because he subdued his negative Jacobian and Esau-like qualities in favor of the positive, and the latter failed for the opposite reason. So we can see why both were chosen to be kings. Both had what was needed – Esau like charisma, and Jacob like self control and modesty. Saul ultimately lost both and became the worst of Jacob and Esau together, whereas David ultimately hung on to both and maintained the best of both personalities. Hence, a horizontal line crossing both Jacob and Esau instead of a vertical line dividing them.
The Esau in Saul is apparent from the Bible’s first description of him. The description is physical – Saul is the tallest man in the crowd. The first description of Esau is also physical – he is red and hairy. Saul is also Jacob-like in that he carefully planned his conquests and sought the approval of Samuel the Prophet, a very planned Jacob-like and G-d-fearing behavior pattern. However, later in life he lost control of himself and let out screams of paranoia, just like Esau did when Jacob stole the blessing from him. He also carefully plotted to kill David, a Jacob like attribute gone horribly wrong.
Saul’s ultimate downfall took place when he could not admit that he was wrong, that he made a mistake. The mistake that cost him the throne was when he took the Amalekite cattle as booty, something that G-d expressly forbade, and refused to take responsibility for it. Samuel had asked him what the “sound of the sheep is in my ears” referring to the Amalekite cattle, and Saul said that it was the people’s fault and that he was afraid of his soldiers and had no choice. Only after he lost the throne did Saul admit his mistake, but too late. From there he deteriorated quickly.
David took over soon after, though it took a few years of revolution to secure the rule. David is described as “reddish” as well, the same word used to describe Esau, a word only appearing in those two places in the Bible. David also has an episode when an army of 400 people are following his lead, just as Esau had in Genesis when approaching Jacob after Jacob’s return from Aram, present day Iraq. The parallels are striking.
David had a similar moment during his reign when he almost fell as well. It was when the prophet Nathan accused him of stealing Batsheva and killing her husband by sending him to the front lines.
Nathan was right, of course. David had sinned grievously. Yest, unlike saul, David’s immediate response was, “I have sinned!” This is what saved his rule, though the sin still caused him serious family trouble ahead. David had the charisma of Esau and the humility of Jacob, the strength and leadership skills of Esau and the planning and strategy of Jacob. And when it came to the critical point, he was able to control himself and admit to his mistakes immediately. He was able to take the best of both Jacob and Esau and combine them, which is why he, and not Saul, ultimately established the eternal Davidic dynasty.