Sermon Commentary for Sunday, March 19, 2023

1 Samuel 16:1-13 Commentary

“Then the Lord regretted he had made Saul king.”  That’s the last line in 1 Samuel 15.  Apparently, however, God got over his regret sooner than did Samuel.  Because as chapter 16 opens, Samuel appears to still be moping around in grief whereas God comes to him and says, “Chin up!  Let’s get past this whole Saul thing and go get the next king I have chosen.”

Who knows what to make of those instances in the Old Testament that express divine regret over something.  You have the sense that at least some of the writers of the Old Testament did not have any problems with this.  But those of us from traditions—like my own Reformed tradition—that have very large doctrines of and ideas about divine sovereignty stumble a bit over any reported divine remorse.  Surely at any given moment God can see all ends, can’t he?  God is not overtaken by sudden turns of events like we are, is he?  God doesn’t ever give it his best shot to make the best decision he can with the facts he has before him only to later discover he goofed, does he?

However we end up parsing all that, the historical fact is that the rugged and strong and tall man named Saul whom God had chosen as Israel’s first king after caving into the national hankering to have a human king turned out to be the wrong choice.  Saul was riddled with problems both spiritual and psychological.  Eventually God and Samuel looked at the situation and concluded, “This is never going to work.”

So God goes to Plan B apparently.  Samuel gets dispatched to Bethlehem to the home of a certain Jesse from whose lineup of each-more-impressive-than-the-last sons God had elected Israel’s next sovereign.  And impressive these lads were!  One look at the first and oldest young man and Samuel concluded it was one and done.  But no, God said.  “Stop looking at the GQ stuff, Samuel” God essentially said.  “I am looking at the heart of each not their pecs and abs and wavy locks of thick hair.”

You wonder if Samuel thought to himself, “How am I supposed to look into their hearts?  All I got is these two eyeballs in my head!”  Even so, with one strapping lad after the next God keeps the line moving until Jesse appears to be fresh out of offspring.  Then, in a nicely dramatic moment worthy of a Hollywood movie, Jesse says, “There is the one kid left, actually.  Didn’t even bother with him.  In fact, he is solo tending the flocks so as to free up all of his older brothers since I was just sure you’d like one of them.”

“Get him over here,” Samuel replies.  And of course this is the one after all.  Apparently he was plenty handsome too as verse 12 all but trips over itself to say what a good looking dude David was.  Again, however, those physical features were, according to God anyway, gravy.  It was the heart of this young man God liked the best and so even if it had it turned out that David was the runt of Jesse’s litter in more ways than one and had been plain looking, it would not have mattered.  So Samuel anoints the young man on the spot and the spirit of God roared in right behind the oil as it dripped down David’s brow.  From that day forward, David was the man after God’s own heart.

The path ahead for David would not be easy.  King Saul would come to have the ultimate love-hate relationship with David.  On the one hand he saw David almost like another son even as David befriended Saul’s actual son Jonathan.  On the other hand Saul saw David as a threat and so in manic fits of envy and rage and jealousy he would on more than one occasion try to run David through with a spear.  And farther on in David’s life would be a series of calamitously bad choices of his own, resulting in a tawdry affair, a cover-up murder, and then all hell breaking loose in David’s own household as a result of the grave sins of the pater familias.

Still and for now in 1 Samuel 16, David is the Messiah, the Christ, in the sense of being the Anointed One.  And soon enough God will covenant with David that when one fine day the true Son of God came to this planet as the ultimate Anointed One to save Israel and the whole world from its sin, that final figure would be able to claim David as a great-great-great . . . . grandfather.  People would even come to hail the one known as Jesus as “the son of David.”

And it all begins in this dramatic story in 1 Samuel 16 when God shows that what is important to him may not always be what we regard as vital matters that we can see on just the surfaces of life.  God’s ways are mysterious.  Who knows why God chose the “wrong” fellow the first time.  And who knows why even this far better choice would in the long run eventually fail and disappoint as much as anyone.  And if David’s failures by no means eclipsed or displaced his successes and all the times when he was faithful to God and to God’s ways, those other things still stand as testament to the fact that the ultimate Anointed One we need to save us from such failings was not going to be merely human as David was.

David was great, the man after God’s own heart.  But at the end of the day he could not save himself much less the whole lot of the rest of us.  Another Son of David would tend to that by and by.  Even this lovely story on the emergence of David as God’s chosen one merely whets our appetites for that Coming One.

[Note: We have a special page dedicated to further sermon ideas and resources for the 2023 Year A Season of Lent and on into Easter.  Visit this page here.]

Illustration Idea

I have noted this before in connection to David here on the CEP website but I like the two portraits of David that Barry Moser did for the Pennyroyal Caxton Bible some years ago.  First there is the young David at the time of his encounter with Goliath.  His eyes are bold and brash, his face evinces courage, maybe a little swagger and definitely more than a hint of confidence.

The second portrait is of David after Bathsheba and the rebellion of Absalom. Now the eyes are downcast, there is a somberness and most definitely a lack of the cocky swagger of youth.  He’s older now, maybe a bit wiser too.  But he definitely bears the marks of one who has learned that when God anoints you for a sacred task, that calling will not always be easy and is definitely not a fast track to a comfortable life.



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