Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
Bible Reading: 1 Samuel 16:1-13
In our Old Testament journey we have reached the age of the Kings! Although God had promised the Hebrew people that God would be their king, the people really wanted a person king … but King Saul wasn’t quite working out as they had hoped. But God is a faithful God and through the process of discernment and anointing sets aside David to become a great leader for the Hebrew people. In this video Phil ponders what Anointing means for us – and is this idea of being “set apart for a purpose” just for great people like King David or is it for all people? And how does the idea of fear and faithfulness bring another insight into this passage.
How are we going with our Narrative Lectionary Old Testament journey? Are we enjoying it so far? Are we learning anything new? Is God speaking to us through these familiar passages?
So far, we have started at the story of creation, moved through Abraham and Jacob to Moses and the Exodus narrative and the giving of the 10 Commandments. Last week we explored Ruth and Naomi. In all these 6 stories, we had an overall theme of family – or God’s family – and each story affirmed the idea that God generously offers to be our God and we are accepted as God’s children, as part of God’s family.
This week we continue in our Old Testament narrative, but we are changing the overall theme for the six weeks leading up to Advent. Instead of looking at the passages through the glasses or perspective of “family”, we are taking them off and putting on instead the glasses or perspective of “faithfulness’ – especially God’s faithfulness but also how we show faithfulness as well.
Today’s reading comes from the book of 1 Samuel – but a fair bit has happened in the narrative from Moses and Ruth before we get to David … so shall I catch you up?
When we left Moses two weeks ago, they were still in the desert after the amazing Exodus through the red sea, they wanted around until Joshua helped them enter the promised land in spectacular fashion. The Hebrew people settled across the land and things went ok until Joshua died … then they had this sort of leadership vacuum.
I say “sort of” because God was supposed to be their leader. Just as God promised to guide Moses and Joshua, God wanted to continue that personal, interactive dialogue with the people themselves to help and guide them forward.
But in Judges 2:10 we read that the next generation grew up not knowing what the Lord had done for them, not about this offer of a close personal relationship with God – the offer that God will be their God and they will be God’s family. And so they drifted and got lost in other things.
But God is faithful and did not give up on the Hebrew people. So in Judges 2:16 we read that God chose leaders called judges to help the Hebrew people. To save them from trouble and to point them back to God. People like Deborah and Samson and Gideon and others. The story of Ruth and Naomi that we had last week happened around this time.
The system of Judges was ok – but wasn’t really working for the Hebrew people. And now in our narrative, we get to the book of 1 Samuel – which is dominated by 3 main characters:
Firstly we have Samuel (whom the book is named after). His mother Hannah could not have children but was blessed with a miracle baby and was so thankful that she dedicated Samuel to the work of God, and Samuel became the key prophet of this era.
Next we have Saul. You see, the Hebrew people had grown tired of the judges and they wanted a king like the other nations around them. God said, “you don’t need a king – I am your king”.
Yes, they understood that conceptually … but the people wanted a physical king that could be physical before them, someone who would lead them and fight for them. So, in 1 Samuel 8, God says to Samuel, “Give them what they want” and Saul is chosen to be king.
Saul is a tragic figure because he begins full of promise. He was tall and strong and good looking. A perfect candidate for king but he has deep character flaws. He is dishonest and insecure and ultimately it is his pride that causes his downfall. While we could agree that his early years as King were good, he ends up blatantly disobeying God and bringing disaster on the people.
But remember that we are looking at this story through the lens of faithfulness. Saul did not remain faithful to God, but God remained faithful to the people and Samuel comes back into the story and tells Saul that God will raise up a new king to replace him. And we get to our bible reading today from 1 Samuel 16 where we are introduced to the third and the most significant of three main characters from 1 Samuel – David.
The Bible reading today is another one of those classic Sunday School lessons … that God can use all people, not just the big strong older brothers but little David as well. It’s a nice story isn’t it? But I think that there is more in this narrative if we dig a little deeper.
Let’s start at verse 1 … Samuel is struggling because the King Saul experiment had not worked out as planned. What had been good was now no longer working and Samuel was struggling to let it go. But God was already doing a new thing and inviting Samuel to be part of it.
“How long will you mourn for Saul…?” God says to Samuel.
“Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”
Have you experienced this or can relate with what Samuel is feeling? Sometimes it is hard when things come to an end of an era to move on – especially when the era was good and we don’t necessarily want things to change. But God is always on the move, God is a God who is always adapting or renewing or creating something new. The old has gone, the new has come.
Is God encouraging us this morning to maybe graciously and with thanksgiving close the chapter on something and embrace the new thing that God might be calling us into?
But let me be clear – this is not easy. The very next verse we see that Samuel is fearful. “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”
And two verses later, when Samuel arrives at Bethlehem, the town elders also are fearful – they are trembling when they ask Samuel, “Do you come in peace?”
Why is it that when God is calling someone or a people into a new thing, there is often this feeling of fear? I spoke about this the other day when I preached on Moses and the burning bush. God calls us into something new and often our first response is “I don’t think so”.
I had a wise person share with me this week that Fear and Calling are often found together – and that this is not necessarily a bad thing.
If God is calling us into a new thing, and that comes with excitement but also complications … so it is ok to be fearful. But I remind you our theme for the next six weeks … FAITHFUL. Is it ok to feel the fear that comes with challenge or change but we also need to remember that God is faithful and will be with us always.
So Samuel goes to Jesse’s place and we get this beautiful dialogue where Jesse’s eldest Eliab steps forward and Samuel thinks that if God is replacing the strong, handsome Saul then Eliab is a great replacement. But God says to Samuel – it is not about the outward appearance … it is about the heart.
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Sam 16:7
And when you rank Jesse’s sons by what is in their heart, the one that rises to the top and the one whom is to be anointed … is not even there. David is outstanding in his field … tending the sheep.
So what was it about David that God called him to be the anointed one? What is it about David’s heart that would make him the right one for the task of leadership?
He was brave, he was practical, he was decisive … but sometimes impulsive. David stood up in challenging situations and had a passionate and strong love for God. But I think that if we kept reading through 1 Samuel (which I would encourage you to do), we see two powerful characters of David’s character emerge which I think is what God saw and loved when God looked at David’s heart and said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”
Firstly – David was (for the most) humble – and after they had watched King Saul’s pride cause his and the nations downfall, there was a real need for humble leadership. David, even in the highpoints of his success, recognised his weaknesses and his reliance on God on the people around him. 1 Samuel 30:6 tells us that “David found his strength in the Lord his God”. And in his low points when he had failed God and the people, David was quick to recognise his fault and mistakes, was genuinely sorry and actively worked to change and be better.
As you would know, David wrote about a 1/3 of the Psalms. Listen to some of these verses from Psalm 51, written by David in his sorrow and guilt after the whole Bathsheba affair.
1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.
David certainly was not perfect, but can you see that humble spirit shine through. And I think this is why God particularly called David for this anointing.
But I also think it was to do with David’s trust, particularly his trust in God. In the very next chapter – 1 Samuel 17 – we have the story of David and Goliath … where David is astounded that none of the Hebrew army was willing to fight. In total trust in the faithfulness of God, David declares … “The God who rescued me from the lion and bear will rescue me for the hand of this philistine.” 1 Sam 17:37
God looked at the heart of the young David and saw a heart that was humble, a heart that trusted in God … and as such declared, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”
There is more to David’s story which we will get to explore next week in our Thanksgiving Sunday’s sermon … particularly the idea that God might have given the promise to David and the people with this anointing … but there was a period of waiting before that promise became a reality.
But to finish I wish to affirm that God is with us here this morning, and I believe that God is looking at our hearts right now. For some of us this idea fills us with fear – but that’s ok because fear and calling are often found together.
And if God is looking at our heart, God knows who we are, God knows were we fit best in God’s mission to show love to a broken world, to bring peace to troubled people and to bring hope to the unjustly treated and marginalised. God knows your heart … and looking at you God declares, “Rise and anoint them, they are the one to help with this”.
We are going to sing a song and take up our offering – but I wish to offer you … either during this song … or after the service if you would like some anointing as a way of opening yourself to the calling of God in your life – or maybe to receive the blessings of a faithful God.
As David declared about God in Psalm 57 –
Great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies.