June 14, 2014 - 1 Samuel 15.34-16.13


1 Samuel 15:34—16:13
(with reference to Mark 4:30-32)

June 14, 2015

34Then 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.

16The 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.

6When 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.


Why are you here? Not, why are you here at church, but why are you here, you of all people? You know you. Why, of all the people in the universe, did God choose you to be a disciple of Jesus, to witness, in word and deed, to the truth of the gospel? Sure, you do the best you can in life, but you know your weaknesses, all the ways you try but fail. Why you?

And yet, here you are.

Maybe that’s why we love this story of the prophet Samuel’s surprising designation of young David as the one chosen by God to be the king of Israel. Here is the story of the little guy who makes good, the story of the woman in the chorus line being chosen to fill in for the big star at the last minute and, surprise, a star is born!

All the great sons of Jesse parade before him, but Samuel says that for all their fine, outward appearances, none of them is the one whom God has in mind for the new king. After all of them have paraded past, there is no son left; at least no one but little David who is out keeping the sheep. Surprise! David is summoned and everyone gasps as Samuel pronounces, “This is the one.”

Today’s text from the Hebrew Scriptures begins in sadness. The saga of great Saul has ended. Although Saul has been his own worst enemy and although it is clear that the Lord has given up on Saul as a leader of Israel, we feel some kinship with Samuel as he “grieved over Saul” (1 Sam 15:35). Massive shifts of power are about to occur in the story, shifts that remind us of Mary’s song about how God “has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly” (Lk 1:52).

Something there is in this God that appears to delight in such surprising transfers of power, such unexpected lifting up of the lowly with its attendant casting down of the high and mighty. This portion of 1 Samuel is a story about that.

Two Sundays ago, we heard the people clamor for a king. The reign of that first king, Saul, has at last played its pitiful course. Now, once again, Yahweh steps in, takes matters in hand, and sends Samuel on an errand to anoint a new king. There is tension in 16: 1-5 because Samuel is on a risky errand of treason.

In 1 Samuel 8:4-20, the monarchy was clearly the people’s idea, not Yahweh’s. Now, Yahweh intrudes. There will be a king, but this time on Yahweh’s terms and not the people’s terms. Yahweh is busy looking beneath the externals to “the heart” (vs. 7). Saul was tall and handsome. So much for externals.

Finally, when all sons have paraded by, no sons are left to anoint – no sons except for the little shepherd boy out in the field, the eighth son (v. 11). While the whole household waits, that insignificant son is sought. Surprise. God’s prophet proclaims, “This is the one” (v. 12).

With Israel, we meet David for the first time, and for us, and Israel, it is love at first sight. We love this shepherd boy who is both of the right heart inside and handsome on the outside (v. 12). “And the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward” (v. 13).

God has intervened, made a choice. Just like on the first day of creation (Gen 1), the breath of Yahweh has breathed over what was and created something new – something that would not have been without the intrusion of Yahweh.

This beloved story is about the inscrutable and delightful incursions and intrusions of God – about the way God’s choice of people is often at variance with our choices. As the church, we are those who are called together on the basis of the gracious and inscrutable choice of God. We are disciples, those who are sent and anointed for the work of Christ’s ministry in the world. Our ears perk up at this ancient tale of grace, choice, and divine intrusion.

The way God does business can be a real pain for those at the top, like Saul. But for those on the bottom, those stuck out in the fields, here is gospel – good news.

Now why would God have chosen David? We are not told. Was it because David had great potential his family had not yet recognized? Was it because, as the youngest son, David had learned early to fend for himself, to take responsibility, to undertake difficult tasks (like shepherding!), which the older brothers dumped on him?

We are not told. God’s choices are often inscrutable, beyond our ability to figure out, surprising. God chooses whom God will chose and thereby was the greatest king of Israel anointed. From the least came the greatest.

Those words “from the least came greatest” sound familiar because even if you have never heard this story of David’s selection, you have watched God at work before, lifting up the lowly, choosing those who are on the bottom, making the “last the first.” Jesus talked about that. In a way, Jesus himself was a good example of the ways in which God often commissions those whom the world regards as lowly and of no account to do God’s work in the world.

To what can I compare the kingdom of God? asked Jesus one day before his disciples. The kingdom of God is like, well, it’s like a tiny mustard seed (Mk 4:30-32). That’s today’s Gospel. The kingdom of God is like that tiny, insignificant mustard seed, “the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.” Yet when that seed grows, says Jesus, it will germinate, grow, and grow until, until – it becomes a weed about two feet high.

A weed? The kingdom of God is a weed?

“Yes,” continued Jesus, “a plant so impressive that small birds can come perch in its branches – very small birds.”

“Well that’s impressive,” said the disappointed disciples, “but only moderately impressive. We don’t like being compared to a weed.”

Evidently, judging from this parable of the mustard seed, God looks at things differently from the way we look at things. Surprise! What we regard as common, small, of little account, God regards as miraculous, wonderful, the essence of the God’s reign.

I remember discussing this matter of vocation and call with a group of third graders one morning in Sunday school. In glowing terms I told them how Jesus reached out and chose disciples who were ordinary, very ordinary people – fishers, tax collectors, simple working people.

“What does that tell you about Jesus?” I asked the children, hoping that they would be impressed by the amazing wisdom of Jesus in calling ordinary folk for extraordinary tasks.

“It tells me that he was a lousy judge of character,” answered one of the boys.  Jesus’ wisdom in calling ordinary folk like us to be his disciples requires a certain amount of faith to see the wisdom of it.[1]

Why were you chosen by God to be a disciple? Why are you here? God’s choices, as we have said, are often inscrutable. God sees more than we see when God looks at people. Yet God knows who is able to do his work. Think about your life, the people with whom you come in contact each day, the things you do, the places you go. Perhaps God has chosen you, anointed you to be his representative in those places, among those people, so that they might see something of God in you.

The choice of young David, a nobody, is a metaphor for the choice of a ragtag bunch of nobodies called Israel. “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession. It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you … It was because the Lord loved you” (Deut 7:6-8).  Samuel anointed David, poured oil on little David’s head as a sign of divine choice, holy commissioning. David was God’s “messiah,” because that’s what messiah means – God’s anointed one.  Like David, Jesus was not what people expected, but was exactly what God had planned.

Sometimes it may seem to us that there is no purpose in our lives, that going day after day for years to this office or that school or factory is nothing else but waste and weariness. But it may be that God has sent us there because, but for us, Christ would not be there. If our being there means that Christ is there, that alone makes it worthwhile.[2]

Surprise! Tomorrow, at the garage, in the office, over the kitchen sink, on the playground, that’s you – God’s anointed one. Are you up to the challenge to be God’s anointed one?[3]


[1] Will Willimon, Pulpit Resource, June 14, 2015.

[2] Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God

[3] Portions taken from Will Willimon’s Pulpit Resource, June 14, 2015

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