Old Testament 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13
New Testament 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17
God was finished with Saul! While his reign continued into its 42nd year (give or take), it was at this point that God rejected him as King of Israel and secretly chose his successor, the eighth son of a man from Bethlehem. For the rest of Saul’s life he would have to go back to relying on and taking pride in his chariots and horses. Chariots break and horses go lame…
How do we choose a leader?
Every couple of years in Canada we have an election of one level of government or the other, and through those elections we seek to choose the best people to make the decisions on behalf of and for the best interests of the country, province, or city. What do we really know about these people? We know what they tell us, bragging of their chariots or horses, and we know what their opponents tell us. Sometimes we also get the scoop from some investigative reporters who uncover interesting and almost always negative or scandalous information which they can reveal in prime time. This is all a show! There is nobody involved in the process without a personal stake or a chance for personal gain of one kind or another. With all the information and media attention the voters are most often just as much in the dark as they were at the start of the campaign. In the end, not even the candidates really know what kind of leader they will be.
My students were writing their exams this past week. For some this was no big deal as they were well prepared and had a firm understanding of the material. Some had big gaps in their preparation and were rightly worried coming in to their exams. Strangely, or not so strangely perhaps, there were those who were well prepared who were panicked and those who were unprepared who were calm and cool. If you looked in on my classes as they wrote, you would not have been able to identify which students were which. You might have been able to tell little bit about preferred activities or social class, but not how much they knew nor whether or not they would be able to express that knowledge on the exam.
One thing no one can know when they look at someone, even their own reflection in the mirror, is their potential to make a positive difference in the world.
As humans we have a natural tendency upon meeting someone new to size-them-up. Possibly some residual effect from our days as both hunter and prey, we look to see how they measure up in comparison to us. How likely are they to be a physical threat, a rival in love, competition at work, or even useful to us in some way? When we do this we make huge assumptions; smaller is craftier, bigger is dumber, stronger is better, small eyes means sneaky, overweight means lack of self-control, slim means obsessed with appearances etc.
Samuel was at home in Ramah, having dealt with Saul for the last time. Given that he had just told Saul that he was finished as King of Israel, that God was no longer on his side, it seems reasonable that Samuel would now avoid any contact with the man who could so easily have him killed. God, however, sent him on a trip to Bethlehem which would take Samuel right past Saul’s home in Gibeah. Even more frightening would be the fact that the purpose of his trip was to anoint a new king. But shouldn’t the new king be the eldest son of the king? And, why anoint the new king before the current one is dead or at least on his death bed? God told him to take a heifer with him and to say he was going to make a sacrifice to the Lord. So, nobody in Gibeah or Bethlehem knew the true purpose of Samuel’s journey and would only come to understand its significance in hindsight after David became king.
In Bethlehem, after assuring the local elders that he was not bringing any judgement down on the town, nor its people, Samuel invited Jesse to the sacrifice. The arrival in town of one of God’s great prophets, the one who anointed the King of Israel and was in regular conversation both with the King and God, would have been exciting and a little disturbing. Certainly this was going to be a day that would go down in Bethlehem lore for generations. “Where were you the day when, out of the blue, Samuel came to perform a sacrifice to God?” Jesse had eight sons, although the Bible only records names for 7, but he brings only seven to the sacrifice, one son would have had to answer, “I missed it all! I was out tending our sheep and didn’t even know about it until after Samuel was gone!”
In order of birth and priority for inheritance Jesse’s sons were; Eliab, Abinadab, Shammah, Nethaneel, Raddai, Ozem, number 7 and David. In our reading from 1 Samuel names are only provided for the first three young men, we only have the names of the others from the lists in the book of Chronicles and it is assumed by that time brother 7 had either died, was childless, or had done nothing of distinction to warrant mention. Given his lack of invitation to the event and his very low social standing as an eighth son, it is quite amazing that David was the one God chose for Samuel to anoint that day in Bethlehem. In human terms David was the least appropriate choice. He was not the eldest son of the king, he wasn’t even related to the king. Even if one were going to a different family for your candidate, there were seven men in that family more entitled to honour and rank than David. He was the youngest, the smallest, he was the shepherd. He was a mustard seed.
It is interesting to note that, while this passage is a narrative; people say things, do things, time passes etc., in another respect it is an ongoing conversation between God and Samuel. Samuel is not sent out on an errand and then left to it. There is never any indication that Samuel should look for the most suitable candidate for king. “I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” Basically he sent him out and said, “we’ll talk later.” If God was going to tell him whom to anoint, why didn’t he tell him up front…”go anoint the 8th son of Jesse of Bethlehem named David.”? Instead he remains in conversation with Samuel and allows for each of Jesse’s sons to be presented, and considered in Samuel’s own mind before ultimately being rejected by God. One by one they pass by, being noted for their appearance, their height, their physical attributes which, of course, were all that Samuel could see. After Eliab, God tells Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
As the last of Jesse’s sons passed by Samuel he would have been confused. God had clearly said that he was to anoint one of these men, the sons of Jesse. So he asked if these were all the sons and found that there was one left, out looking after the sheep. This unnamed eighth son was sent for even despite the delay it would cause in proceedings; Samuel made it clear that they would not continue without him. When David arrives the writer once again goes to the natural human reflex and comments on his appearance. “he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome.” When I read this, coming as it does on the heels of God saying to stop looking at outward appearances, I did a double take. If we aren’t supposed to be looking at appearances, then why do it again? First, as I said, it is a reflex. There are a couple things about this that are worth noting. First, if this is the son who wasn’t even going to be presented one might have been assuming there was something wrong with him. The terms ruddy and handsome may be more of an expression of surprise than the earlier judgement of the more obvious choices. Still, are we to think that he was chosen because he was good looking? No! It may be a stretch, but the mention of his eyes as beautiful seems significant to me. The eyes are often referred to as the window on the heart and it is by looking on the heart that God judges people.
Once David is on the scene God tells Samuel to anoint him, not privately but in front of all his brothers. And the story is basically over then. Samuel anoints David, the spirit of the Lord “came mightily upon David from that day forwards.” It is in this line from the very end of the story when we first hear the name of this newly selected king, David. And then what? We never hear how the brothers reacted to their sibling’s anointing. There is no talk of celebrations, singing or dancing. Samuel sets out for home and undoubtedly David heads back out to the sheep wondering what all that had been about.
If only we could see people, not for their appearance, but for their hearts! In 2nd Corinthians this is what Paul is urging. He says that since we are convinced of Christ’s death that all may have life and live that life for Christ, who died and was raised for us we should change our point of view…our paradigm. “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer I that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” How much better would we be able to choose our social and political leaders? How much more often would people be able to avoid trusting people who would later hurt them? How many bullies would be helped because we were able to see that they needed help? How many of us who get left in the fields with the sheep would get to come to our potential in helping in the world?
In his convocation address to the students at York University, newly honoured Dr. Michael Enright gave some great pieces of advice. For me the one which stood out was, “The next time you give a dollar to a homeless person on the street, take a moment and talk to him and find out his story.” It takes time, not a glance, to know a person and every person deserves a little time! Amen.
Posted in Bible Study, Lectionary, Reflections
Tagged Bible, choosing leaders, faith, God, heart, Holy Spirit, King David, King Saul, leadership, looks, Prophet Samuel