I Samuel 16 – Anointing David
The Adult Bible Class of Home Moravian Church, originally broadcast June 1, 2008
Craig D. Atwood
Introduction Good morning and welcome to the Adult Bible Class of Home Moravian Church. Today is Home Church day at Laurel Ridge, so much of the congregation is up on the mountain, but this broadcast is coming live from the chapel. You are welcome to join us next week and discover what doesn’t get broadcast. I hope it was a good week for you. It was fairly quiet around here. It appears that most of the children in public schools survived the ordeal of the End of Grade tests. Perhaps the age of over-testing children is passing. I just learned that Wake Forest University will no longer require the SAT examination for admission.
I received some nice emails and phone calls about last week’s lesson. It is nice to know that people are listening out there and finding this ministry helpful. We had a very good discussion off the air last week. There was a general consensus that even if God had really commanded Saul to wipe out the Amalekites like Darth Vader wiping out the Tuscan raider, that does not mean that God wants his people today to do the same thing.
There are a couple of points that I did not have time to mention last week. You may have noticed the readiness of Saul to shift the blame from himself to his soldiers. We have seen too much of that in our time, haven’t we? Just think of how quickly the blame for what happened at Abu Ghraib was shifted away from commanders to the soldiers. The second point is that the earliest Christian theologians and preachers interpreted passages like I Samuel 15 symbolically rather than literally. The read God’s commandment to get rid of the Amaleks as a call to get rid of everything in our own lives that is opposed to God’s kingdom on earth, especially hatred. It is perhaps ironic that we can use this passage as a call to remove from our lives the kind of violence displayed in this passage.
Overview This week we begin the long story of the rise of David as king. Many biblical scholars are convinced that the second half of I Samuel was originally written as an apology by a supporter of King David to prove that David and his descendents were the legitimate kings of Israel. As such, it is one of the oldest pieces of historical literature in the Western world, but it is not objective history. This is history with a political purpose, much like official biographies of ex-Presidents. Even so, it provides a much more revealing portrait of David than we have of most ancient kings.
David is only slightly less important than Moses or Jacob in Israelite history and religion. As with other great figures, his legend grew over time, and it was easy for later generations to overlook his flaws and mistakes. Even though much of the material in the books of Samuel was written to support David’s claim to the throne, it shows David’s failures as well as his successes. It is interesting to compare the picture of David in I Chronicles with that given in I & II Samuel. By the time the books of Chronicles were written, David had become such a revered figure that all his faults were erased.
The author of the books of Samuel gives us David in all of his complexity, warts and all, so to speak. This in itself makes an important theological point. God works through real people not cardboard saints. We will see David serving in the court of Saul, his close friendship with Jonathan, and his life as an exile and outlaw. Though the author believes strongly that David is God’s chosen one, he does not hide the fact that David was cunning and could be ruthless. Our lesson for this week tells the story of Samuel being led by God to anoint a shepherd boy as the next king of Israel. It is a story that is familiar, but is worth reading in its entirety.
Read I Samuel 16:1-13
Grieving over Saul It is clear that our lesson for this week was originally connected to the story of the rejection of Saul. It begins with God rebuking Samuel for continuing to grieve over Saul. We are not told why Samuel was grieving. Samuel and Saul had a difficult relationship, as we have seen, but it appears that Samuel truly loved Saul and may have seen him as a surrogate son. Samuel’s grief could have been the grief of a parent who sees his or her children failing in life. That is a grief many of us can relate to.
On the other hand, it might be that Samuel was grieving because he knew that the people would suffer if the king failed. As a good priest, Samuel cared about the people and knew what chaos could bring.
It is also likely that Samuel was upset because the man he had anointed king with such fanfare had not turned out the way he expected. We know from many passages in the Bible that the number one mark of being a good prophet was that the things you said would happen did happen. It might look bad for Samuel if Saul failed as the king. It is kind of like what happens in political campaigns when a candidate fails.
Lastly, we should not overlook the possibility that Samuel’s grief included a religious aspect. The rejection of Saul may have raised questions of faith for Samuel, as it does for many of us. If God’s word is always true, how could God change his mind about Saul? If the Lord’s anointed could be rejected by God, what hope do the rest of us have? Is God faithful to his covenants and promises or not?
We are left to ponder these questions on our own. The biblical text merely tells us that God told Samuel to stop grieving and get back to work. Perhaps there is a lesson in this for us today. In our therapeutic society, we may focus too much on processing our feelings and seeking answers for questions that cannot be answered. Perhaps we would be better off if we just tried to be obedient to the will of God and got busy doing what God has commanded us to do. Perhaps the best cure for depression and grief is to get out there and do what you know God would have you to do. Rather than dwelling on the past, Samuel roused himself to do something about the future.
Take a Heifer God instructed Samuel to go to Bethlehem to anoint a new king, but he also told him to take a heifer in order to make a sacrifice. The sacrifice is merely a cover story for Samuel because he will have to travel through Saul’s own lands to get to Bethlehem. Samuel is afraid of the king because of what had transpired in the previous chapter. Saul would remember that Samuel had anointed him king when he just a young man searching for his father’s donkeys. He probably knew that Samuel might go in search of a successor, and Samuel was right to fear for his life. Kings hate rivals to the throne.
Even though he does offer a sacrifice as he claimed, it is clear that the whole affair of the heifer is merely a ruse. Through the centuries overly moralistic preachers and biblical scholars have been bothered by the fact that the priest uses a cover story here to hide his true intentions, but the Bible does not fault Samuel for being careful. In fact, it was God who suggested the plan. This reminds me of an Italian movie I once saw in which a priest is protecting a member of the resistance movement. He went to warn the man that the Fascists were coming, but in order to hide what he was doing, he pretended he was called to give last rites to an old man. When the old man started protesting loudly that he was not dying, the priest silenced him with a frying pan. God does not condemn a small deception in order to save life.
Jesse Samuel is instructed to go to the home of Jesse, who is famous only because he was David’s father. We can assume that Jesse was a prominent man in Bethlehem since no one was shocked that the priest personally consecrated him and his sons for the feast. The elders deferred to Samuel and Jesse, and we hear nothing more from them in the story. Why are the elders so afraid of Samuel? Perhaps news of his dismembering of Agag had preceded him. Perhaps they feared he would pronounce a holy war against them.
For two thousand years, people have read significance into the fact that David was from Bethlehem, a small village in Judah near the city of Jerusalem. Bethlehem means “house of bread,” and there have been many sermons on the Word of God as the bread of life that was given in Bethlehem. I Samuel says nothing about the name being symbolic of anything. Clearly it was simply the farm village that David was from, just as Saul was from Gibeah. We know that Ruth was associated with Bethlehem, but no mention is made of Ruth or Naomi or Boaz in this story. Their stories are remembered in Scripture primarily because David became a great king. Samuel did not seek out the grandson of Boaz; he simply went to the home of Jesse.
The Line-up Once all of the preliminaries have been taken care, Samuel asks Jesse to send in his sons one by one to be consecrated for the feast. This is the dramatic heart of the story. We, like the original listeners, know who will be chosen, but that is part of the fun. This is one of those “twice-told tales” that we repeat to each generation.
The eldest son is Eliab. He is tall, strong, and manly. Had the decision been left to Samuel, he would have chosen Eliab as the next king just because he looked like a king. He is another version of Saul whom Samuel first anointed. We do not know any of his other qualities, whether he was wise, brave, or just. All we know is that he looked like he could lead men to their deaths against the enemies of Israel. If this were all that a king needed to be, Samuel would have been right to say that this was surely the Lord’s anointed.
But God told him “no.” Pause for a moment on that word, “no”. Too often churches tell people that God says “yes” to every prayer, every request, every desire. Too often churches portray God as the cosmic Santa Claus and forget that God sometimes says “no”. Sometimes there is a higher wisdom at work than our wisdom, and this was such a time. Had Samuel been free to follow his own wisdom, he would have anointed Eliab as king even though Eliab was such a drab figure that the only reason he is remembered is because of his brother.
The same was true of Abinadab and Shamah and the other sons of Jesse who were so insignificant they are not even named. All were rejected. Does this mean they were sinners or were hated by God? Of course not. It meant only that God had not chosen them to be king. They were not rejected; they were simply not chosen, just as many of us have not been chosen for great deeds that will be told after we are gone.
David God told Samuel that it was important to look beyond appearances and to investigate the heart of a person before making him leader of the people. We know all too well in our country that a pleasant demeanor on television is no indication of wisdom in office. We know all too well that rhetoric can mask a hole in the heart of a ruler. God told Samuel that he examines the heart, which means that he looks at the inward character of a man. The heart was the seat of intelligence and the will for the ancient Hebrews. To have a good heart was to have a correct disposition and the will to act on your convictions. God told Samuel that a good heart is more important than a good resume. It would be nice if we could “look into the soul” of a world leader and know what is there, but we generally just see our reflection in the eyes of another. It takes time for us to discover what is inside another person.
None of the seven sons of Jesse measured up to the high demands of God. Samuel had a moment of confusion because it seemed that the will of God had been thwarted. He had been sent to Jesse’s house and the lot had rejected seven sons. “Is there not another son,” he asked hopefully. There was an eighth son, the least of the children of Jesse. This son was so unimportant he was not even called in from the fields for the sacrifice. This was the youngest son, who was considered by the family to be fit only for caring for sheep.
Samuel insisted that the feast could not continued until every son of Jesse was included in the circle. Just think of how much talent and energy this country has wasted through the centuries because we excluded people from the circle of leadership because they seemed insignificant. They were the wrong color, spoke with a funny accent, were not rich, did not go to an Ivy League school, were the wrong gender, were fat, or were simply unattractive. Thank God we have had Supreme Court justices and lawmakers wise enough to speak like Samuel and insist that the circle be widened to include all Americans as David was included. God does not judge by skin color or by who your parents were. He looks at the heart, at the quality of your character.
David entered the house, and Samuel recognized him as the Chosen One even though he was younger and smaller than his brothers. He was nothing like King Saul, but there was something special in his eyes. He was attractive at a deeper level than physical attraction. Throughout his life, David had the gift of attracting others to him. Samuel was not surprised when God said, ‘arise and anoint this one.”
Anointing We discussed the significance of anointing earlier when we looked at the anointing of Saul. By the time I Samuel was written, the anointing of kings was such an accepted practice that the new heir to the throne is simply called “the Lord’s Anointed.” The problem with the story of the anointing of David is that it was a private affair between the priest and the future king. One would assume that an anointing should be a public ceremony marking a man as God’s chosen, but the only people who knew about this anointing were Samuel and David.
A cynical person might think that David made this story up after Samuel was dead. A less cynical person might reply that Samuel had to do this in secret because Saul would have killed both the priest and the anointed one as soon as possible. In the context of the books of Samuel, the purpose of this anointing was not to reveal the future king to the people; it was to convince a young shepherd that the LORD of Hosts had chosen him to be the next king of his people. You cannot lead if you do not believe in your own authority.
Another reason that this story appears in I Samuel is to convince later generations, including us, that David’s assumption of the throne was ordained by God. This is not merely secular history. There will be an invisible hand working through the events to come even though they are very messy.
Conclusion As our time runs out, let me highlight the key lessons in this chapter of I Samuel. The most important is that God looks at the heart rather than outward appearance. The motto of North Carolina is Esse Quam Videre: To Be Rather than to Seem, which sums this point up nicely. The second lesson is similar. Even in the messy world of politics, God’s invisible hand is at work. Keep that in mind as you cast your votes this fall.