1 Samuel 15:34-16:13
34 Then Samuel went to Ramah, but Saul went up to his home in Gibeah. 35 Samuel never saw Saul again before he died, but he grieved over Saul. However, the Lord regretted making Saul king over Israel.
Samuel anoints David
16 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long are you going to grieve over Saul? I have rejected him as king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and get going. I’m sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem because I have found my next king among his sons.”
2 “How can I do that?” Samuel asked. “When Saul hears of it he’ll kill me!”
“Take a heifer with you,” the Lord replied, “and say, ‘I have come to make a sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will make clear to you what you should do. You will anoint for me the person I point out to you.”
4 Samuel did what the Lord instructed. When he came to Bethlehem, the city elders came to meet him. They were shaking with fear. “Do you come in peace?” they asked.
5 “Yes,” Samuel answered. “I’ve come to make a sacrifice to the Lord. Now make yourselves holy, then come with me to the sacrifice.” Samuel made Jesse and his sons holy and invited them to the sacrifice as well.
6 When they arrived, Samuel looked at Eliab and thought, That must be the Lord’s anointed right in front.
7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Have no regard for his appearance or stature, because I haven’t selected him. Goddoesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the Lord sees into the heart.”
8 Next Jesse called for Abinadab, who presented himself to Samuel, but he said, “The Lord hasn’t chosen this one either.” 9 So Jesse presented Shammah, but Samuel said, “No, the Lord hasn’t chosen this one.” 10 Jesse presented seven of his sons to Samuel, but Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord hasn’t picked any of these.” 11 Then Samuel asked Jesse, “Is that all of your boys?”
“There is still the youngest one,” Jesse answered, “but he’s out keeping the sheep.”
“Send for him,” Samuel told Jesse, “because we can’t proceed until he gets here.”
12 So Jesse sent and brought him in. He was reddish brown, had beautiful eyes, and was good-looking. The Lord said, “That’s the one. Go anoint him.” 13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him right there in front of his brothers. The Lord’s spirit came over David from that point forward.
Then Samuel left and went to Ramah.
Thoughts on the passage:
In 1789, the Constitution of the United States was ratified by the final two original states, and George Washington was sworn in as our first president. Given the importance of that document and the precedent set by Washington during his time in office, it is easy to forget that something came before all of this. Our nation was not born in 1789 but came into being with the creation of the Articles of Confederation years early. Unfortunately, the Articles failed to provide the necessary structure for our new nation to function and a new set of rules was required.
There are some parallels between that and the story of the early nation of Israel. Last week, the people were clamoring for a king to lead them. After much reluctance and prayer, Samuel, with God’s blessing, gave them what they wanted. He set out and found Saul, a heroic young man, to be the first king of Israel. Like our Articles of Confederation, his rulership did not go well, and his own reign was diminished by the reign of David, who came after him.
What happened? What went wrong so that mere chapters after we celebrated Saul’s anointing as the first king of Israel we learn that the Lord is already regretting making him king? During his time as king, Saul struggled to be faithful and follow God. When he was told to wait and trust in God, he fretted and rushed ahead. When given commands about what to do with their enemies, he acted on his own wishes instead of God’s. When Saul rejected God, God in turn rejected Saul as the king of Israel.
So it is that Samuel in turn finds himself going to Jesse to find out which of his sons God will anoint to be the new ruler of Israel. Jesse is not a new character in the story, but instead is a part of an earlier book in the Bible, Ruth. Jesse is the grandson of Ruth and Boaz. David’s lineage therefore comes from a family noted for its faithfulness to God and Israel, a faithfulness, that on Ruth’s side comes not by birth, but by choice. In going to the line of Jesse to find a new king, God is looking for someone who can be faithful in a way that Saul was unable to be.
When Samuel meets with Jesse, his sons are assembled so that Samuel might see who God wants to anoint. Samuel’s first instinct is to anoint the eldest, Eliab. Eliab has the all the characteristics we might think are important in a ruler, the firstborn, good looks, and an impressive stature. Instead, God reminds Samuel that what God desires cannot be seen on the outside but instead is reflected in the heart. God wants a king who will have the heart to follow and stay faithful to God.
As the youngest son, not even brought in from the sheep pen, David would seem the least likely choice for a future king. He does not have the height and stature to look the part of a great warrior (a requirement for a king in those days). Nor does he have the age to garner the respect of those around him. Still, God sees in him, the makings of a ruler. As a shepherd, David has been trained to care and watch for others, just as a king must watch after his people. Here is the one who God will anoint to lead and so it is that the Spirit of the Lord falls upon David.
From a historical perspective, this is an important story. Like the transition from the Articles of Confederation to the Constitution, the switch from Saul to David establishes a new legacy for the nation of Israel. The line of David after all is important not only to the kingship of Israel, but extends all the way down to Christ, through Joseph. While he is not without his failings (as we will see), David seeks to be a faithful follower of God in his rulership.
What can we learn from this story? I would like to think that the switch from Saul to David as a ruler is a reminder that the qualities we should seek are not always the ones we can see with our eyes. Strength, height, and beauty are often taken as outward signs of authority, but real authority comes from the heart. What makes us good followers of God is not what we can do, but instead our willingness to trust in what God can do. Saul struggles to follow God because he struggles to trust in God and instead relies on himself, his own strength, cunning, and abilities. Following God requires us to be humbler and less self-reliant.
One of the dangers when it comes to kings and rulers is how set apart they are from the rest of us. I have been enjoying the Netflix show called “The Crown” which chronicles the reign of Elizabeth II. It does a good job of capturing the efforts made by the monarchy, but also by British subjects, to elevate the Queen and to keep her from seeming like just another person. While this has benefits when it comes to rulership, it can make it harder to see ourselves as being like royalty.
As we read the story of David, I think it is important that we do see ourselves like David. Yes, we have not been anointed as the next ruler of Israel, or the United States, or even of Willmar. We have however, all been called and claimed by God. We all, in our baptismal covenants, have been anointed and taken on a new task. How we accomplish that task will vary based on our gifts and our positions, but the task is the same.
When we are baptized and confirmed we make several promises. We renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world and repent of our sins. We accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. We confess Jesus Christ as our savior, put our whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as our Lord. After we make these promises, we are bathed in water, blessed by the Holy Spirit, and enter a new life in Christ.
With that blessing comes a responsibility to honor those promises we make. I cannot speak for all of you, but as I think about those vows today, my heart is heavy. My heart is heavy because here, in a nation filled with Christians and primarily run by Christians, I do not see us living into those promises. When I hear stories about children being torn from their mothers’ breasts, I see evil and I want to resist it. When I hear stories about how Puerto Rico is still struggling to recover from the hurricanes that devasted it almost a year ago despite being a part of the wealthiest nation in the world, I see injustice. When I hear stories about how people have the police called on them for cooking their backyard, waiting for friends at a coffee shop, or staying at an Airbnb because of the color of their skin, I see oppression. Here in the United States, one nation under God, we still have evil, injustice, and oppression.
The problem is I do not have easy answers. I do not know what we need to do to solve these problems. I do not know what we can to make our children safer when they go to school. I do not know how to protect them when someone fleeing the police runs them over while driving through a playground. I do not have easy answers or concrete solutions. I wish I did. What I do know is this. I took these promises when I accepted Christ in my life. God’s grace is at work before we know it, but when we claim, we accept responsibilities. We promise to follow Christ. We promise to serve God.
I believe that God sees things in us that are not apparent from the outside. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” This is something that Margaret Mead said. I would make a change, I would change the word the citizen to Christian. We should never underestimate what we can do as Christians, not because of who we are, but because of the God we follow. What made David great was not his height, his strength, or his age. What made him great was his faithfulness to God.
If you do not believe that Christians can make a difference in this country, go home and look up the 18th amendment. Whether or not you agree with prohibition, this was a law that passed because of the hard work Christians who believe that alcohol was a sin that was ruining our nation. They stood up to combat the evil, injustice, and oppression that they saw all around them.
We are called today to remember our own baptisms, our own anointing of the Holy Spirit, when God claimed us. We have been chosen for such a time as this. We are being called to be faithful disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world. Let us remember our baptisms and remember that God sees greatness in each of us so let us follow God. Amen
Questions to Ponder:
Where do you see evil, injustice, and oppression in the world?
What gifts does God see in you that others might not see?
What do you do to try and humbly follow God and trust in God rather than yourself?
God, we give you thanks for your grace that we have come to know through our baptisms. We give you thanks for the ways that you see greatness in us that often we do not see in ourselves. Give us the courage to accept the call you have for our lives. Grant us the strength to stand up to the evil, injustice, and oppression we see around ourselves in the world. Bless us as we seek to be faithful followers of you. Amen