Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon
1 Samuel 15:34 -
We are continuing our journey through 1 Samuel
that I began last week, as we seek to deepen our understanding of the
roots of our faith tradition, and the relevance of the ancient stories
recorded in scripture for our lives today.
Last week, we looked at the 8th chapter and the establishment of the
monarchy, in which God (in essence) gives in to the demands of the
clamoring of the people and grants them their wish for a King. But in
the process, through that prophet Samuel, gives a stunning critique of
the King, or the office of the King, and their power. Which I suggested
has not just implications for the use and abuse of political power
today, but also for how we understand Jesus as the Christ. For it calls
into question any image of Messiah as victorious warrior who defeats our
enemies as fundamentally flawed.
But that was last week, and in the text this week God now takes the
initiative to pick the next King on God's terms, rather than on human
terms. And so we pick up the story after God has become rather, shall we
say, disillusioned with the job that Saul is doing as King. So,
beginning at the end of chapter 15:
Then Samuel went to Ramah; and
Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. 35Samuel did not see
Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul.
And the Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.’
The Lord said to Samuel, ‘How
long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king
over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to
Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among
his sons.’ 2Samuel said, ‘How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will
kill me.’ And the Lord said, ‘Take a heifer with you, and say, “I
have come to sacrifice to the Lord.” 3Invite Jesse to the sacrifice,
and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me
the one whom I name to you.’ 4Samuel did what the Lord commanded,
and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him
trembling, and said, ‘Do you come peaceably?’ 5He said, ‘Peaceably;
I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come
with me to the sacrifice.’ And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and
invited them to the sacrifice.
6 When they came, he looked on
Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before
the Lord.’ 7But the Lord said to 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.’ 8Then Jesse
called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, ‘Neither
has the Lord chosen this one.’ 9Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And
he said, ‘Neither has the Lord chosen this one.’ 10Jesse made seven
of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, ‘The Lord has
not chosen any of these.’ 11Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Are all your sons
here?’ And he said, ‘There remains yet the youngest, but he is
keeping the sheep.’ And Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Send and bring him;
for we will not sit down until he comes here.’ 12He sent and brought
him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome.
The Lord said, ‘Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.’ 13Then
Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his
brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from
that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.
There's some fascinating details in this story
that I just want to point out before I get to the main point, hopefully
to stimulate our curiosity and interest.
Saul is picked as the first King, right? By Samuel, much the same way
here as in picking David, anointed with oil. And initially does very
well. But then something goes wrong, causing God to reject him. And so
the text says "God was sorry" that he made him King. Or in some
translations: "God repented". I mean, that alone should make you stop
and think! Does God make mistakes? Have you ever seen a duck-billed
So just what was Saul's great sin, that causes God to reject him? Well,
God instructed Saul, as the King, to utterly destroy their neighbor
enemy, the Amalekites. Men, Women, children, crops, and animals -- to
annihilate them. All of them. Nuclear destruction. Only some of the
troops don't obey, and decide to save some of the best of the flock for
sacrifice later. They're just going to kill them later. Now, granted,
when you sacrifice animals, you get to eat the meat, you have a big
feast (at a public sacrifice).
We're talking here about genocide, and God is upset over a few animals?
Does that make sense? I mean, what do we do with stories like this?
Mary Ronk, who is a member at the Springfield church, and a participant
in one of our Thursday-morning groups, reminded me this week of an image
from my childhood, which I very much remember, from a popular children's
Bible. Some of you may remember this. The story of David and Goliath,
right? We all know that story. Of course, in a children's Bible, you
have to have pictures, so you have David with his sling-shot, right? And
at the end of the story, what do you have? You have the triumphant David
carrying the severed head of Goliath. I mean, that's gruesome -- and in
a Children's Bible!
You know, you want to read a bedtime story to
your children, you pull out your children's Bible, you're reading along
-- oh, look, there's David carrying the head of Goliath. Isn't that
sweet? Sweet dreams!
How am I supposed to sleep?! What were they thinking, to put that in a
children's Bible?! We complain about graphic images and movies today. .
. . .
Well, the truth is, life can be harsh. But that doesn't mean we should
display it in all of its harshness for our children. It does mean that
there is little that we face in all the ugliness of the world that has
not been faced by our ancestors. And that is simply reflected in
scripture. And so we read these stories to learn from them, and how they
found God in the midst of all that ugliness.
And sometimes what we learn is how the name of God can be used --even in
scripture--to justify the unjustifiable. For to portray God as
sanctioning genocide as factual history, is one of the sins of the Bible
(to use a title of a book by John Shelby Spong) that we perpetuate if we
do not question its premise that God ever wills genocide, whether we're
talking about the destruction of ancient Amalekites, or Hiroshima, or
Dresden, or the like.
Now, I take time to point these out because I believe our understanding
of the character of God has changed, as we compare our experiences of
brutality and violence and war with that of ancient times, and conclude
that such is not now, was not then, never never will be the will of God.
And so we reject, at least I hope we do (for our sake as well as God's)
any notion that God has ever or will ever sanction genocide. That
includes, by the way, the book of Revelation.
It just does not ring true from our experience of God. Then, almost as
if to offset such as stark portrayal of God as a brutal warlord, we are
given another image in the story which does ring true. The God who
judges not by outward appearance, but judges by what is on the heart.
Now, to appreciate the power of this story, keep in mind that what
Samuel is doing here is no less than treason. There is a King on the
throne, right? And he's about to anoint another one? How is Saul going
to view this? And that's the whole reason for the subterfuge, creating
the ruse of going to Bethlehem for some sacrificial rite. Creates
another little quandary -- does God engage in deception? Hmmmm
This is a dangerous mission. And the Elders of Bethlehem recognize the
danger of the situation, not knowing Samuel's intent but knowing the
reputation of his power. And they figure it could cause them all kinds
of trouble with the King. For their peaceful little village ("Oh little
town of Bethlehem", right?). Samuel, who is directed by God, invites
Jesse and his sons to that sacrifice.
Now, we only know one thing about Jesse, that distinguishes him from all
the other fathers of that time. And it is told in the book that
immediately precedes this. So if you know your books of the Bible,
all in order, you'll have a clue -- so what is that one thing we know
about Jesse? Ruth. Jesse is the grandson of Ruth. Now why is that
Well, Ruth, of course, is a Moabite. She's a foreigner, she's an
immigrant. And if you know your Biblical history, you know that
immigrants then were about as welcome in Israel as undocumented
immigrants are welcome in places like Arizona and Alabama today. Indeed,
the story of how Ruth became accepted and welcomed, told in that book
that bears her name, is the ancient equivalent of a Presidential decree
giving undocumented youth permission to live and work in this country.
Her famous declaration: "Your people shall be my people, your God my
God" is the Biblical stamp of approval for all immigrants -- then and
today -- who seek to become citizens in their adopted home. It was, and
is, to quote a certain high official in the news this week "The right
thing to do".
Without that declaration, you see, the greatest King in Biblical history
would never have been. There's something to stop and think about.
So from the start, as the great-grandson of a foreigner, an immigrant,
you know, David is at a disadvantage. Add to that, he's the youngest of
the family. Eugene Peterson, in his paraphrase "The Message" calls him
"the runt". See, his own father thinks so lowly of him, he does not even
invite him to the feast. And to underscore this point, our storyteller
informs us there are seven brothers from which Samuel has to pick.
Seven, Biblically speaking, is the number of wholeness, completeness. 7
days in the week, right? To be number 8 is to be a left-over, an extra,
unneeded, the odd-ball of the family, the one man out.
The point of all this is that no one, not Samuel (who thinks the oldest
son looks pretty good to him), not Saul (who certainly doesn't think we
need to pick any other Kings beside him), not even Jesse (his own
father) could see what God sees. Here is the one who has the heart to be
King, a great leader for the people.
So here's the challenge that I think the story
presents for us: how do we learn to see differently? To see how God
sees? Judging not by outward appearance, but by character. By the heart.
To look past appearance, and to judge, as Martin Luther King Jr. so
famously said: "Not by the color of skin but by the content of
We all remember Susan Boyle, right? That middle-aged, past-her-prime
spinster who wowed Britain and the world with her bombastic voice. Well,
the American version of that show (Britain's got talent), America's got
talent, uncovered another Susan Boyle. This time not a quaint older
woman who lives alone with her cat, but an unconventional youth, like
David. The odd-ball. With, shall we say, a rather unusual appearance:
Not what you were expecting, was it?
What I love about that video is not that Andrew has such a beautiful
untrained voice, but that he chose not to sing a pop song, or rock, or
heavy-metal, but opera! And I'm not even an opera fan, but God bless
him. And then to see the support of his family, and most appropriately
on this Father's day, with the father embracing his son who had such
courage to follow his heart.
So think about all the people we see, who appear to us to be odd,
unusual, unconventional. Do we judge by that appearance? Or by
character? Can we see in each person, a David, or an Andrew, or a Susan
Boyle, can we see each child as their parents see them? Each person, as
God sees, looking on the heart.