The Church Year and the Lectionary Commentary – 11th Ordinary (Day 1)

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.
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.”
“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.’ 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.”
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.
“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.
When they arrived, Samuel looked at Eliab and thought, That must be the Lord’s anointed right in front.
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Have no regard for his appearance or stature, because I haven’t selected him. God doesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the Lord sees into the heart.”
Next Jesse called for Abinadab, who presented himself to Samuel, but he said, “The Lord hasn’t chosen this one either.” 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.

What interests me in this text today is God’s direction of Samuel in the selection of Saul’s successor from Jesse’s family.  Jesse had eight sons; seven were at home, the eighth, the “runt,” was exiled to the pasture to shepherd the family’s flock. Samuel comes to identify and anoint Israel’s new king, under the guise of offering a sacrifice so as not to make Saul angry at them (YHWH can be a bit sneaky when he has to be!).  

Jessie parades his seven sons before Samuel, assuming that surely one of them will the chosen one.  Apparently they were a tall, good looking group of guys.  Samuel seems to be taken with looks and physique since YHWH has to warn him that such things don’t count with him.  It’s inner character and the set of a person’s heart that gets his attention. 

Now both Jessie and Samuel must guess that David, the youngest son sent out to herd the sheep, is the one - there aren’t any other sons!  Yet Jesse seems to discount him because of his age.  Samuel would have liked him because he too is a great physical specimen (v.12).  YHWH confounds both, however.

Jesse learns that the younger or youngest son is often the child of promise in God’s economy - think Jacob, or Joseph.  Samuel learns to look beyond appearances and learn to discern the set or state of one’s heart (or at least let YHWH show him his choices rather than assuming YHWH works by Samuel’s criteria).  I think Samuel must have smiled a bit when he saw David approaching.  He was just as good looking as his brothers!  It’s not that YHWH favors the slightly built and average or below in the looks department.  He does not count any of that.  The pretty boy may well be his choice, as he is here.  But Samuel had to learn that such things played no role in God’s decision.  David apparently had the set and state of heart that made him acceptable more than his brothers.

Isn’t this just like YHWH?  The youngest child, whose only inheritance from his father was his good looks, with no claim on his father’s estate or real standing in the family hierarchy, is YHWH’s choice to be king!  The least likely candidate with the fewest resources at his command is the one!  More often than not persons from the margins, the last and the least, are those YHWH chooses to lead his people.

The obvious lesson here is nevertheless necessary to repeat.  We are even more likely than the great prophet Samuel to be swayed by a person’s looks and prospects when choosing our leaders.  Youth ministries used to (and maybe still do) seek to recruit the BMOC – the “big man on campus” – to lead their groups.  Will any one deny that a good-looking well coifed candidate for pastor with a beautiful and vibrant wife or beautiful candidate with a good-looking husband will sway a search committee by that alone?  And, again, the point is not that such folks cannot be or are not YHWH’s choice for that call.  It’s that we not be swayed by criteria that don’t matter and be intent on discerning the heart for YHWH of those we consider.

It is all-too human to be swayed by appearances.  In this age when image and perception are “the” criteria used in evaluation, the story is a timely warning for all of us.  We desperately need the leaders YHWH has chosen for us.  And we need to continually be reminded of the criteria he uses in selecting them.  May we learn this lesson today!      


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