Sermon Commentary for Sunday, June 16, 2024

1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13 Commentary

Comments, Observations and Questions:

God’s Regret?

This week’s reading begins in an uncomfortable place: with the failure of King Saul — a King appointed by God.  And so we are told that God regrets (in some translations, repents from) making Saul king.  What are we to make of a God who regrets and/or repents?  Folks who have grown up in church, under classic doctrines of God’s omniscience and omnipotence will find these descriptions of God uncomfortable to say the least. A conservative rendering of this text would highlight the anthropomorphism (the humanization) of God in the text.  The biblical authors are inspired to describe an arguably indescribable God to us and that will, at times, require explaining God in terms we can understand.  As one commentator explains it, “There is a deeply rooted paradox about God’s nature, but his integrity is emphasized: he responds to human actions but his purposes do not change. God’s openness expresses both his freedom and his compassion.”

Taking a Risk

At the beginning of last week’s text, we find Samuel in a precarious position — his sons have betrayed their role and are not deemed reliable heirs to Samuel’s leadership, thus the people advocate for a king.  Now, again, Samuel is in a tight spot.  King Saul has fallen out of God’s favor and Samuel is grieved by his king’s failure.  Nonetheless, when God asks him to anoint the next king, the act is tantamount to treason and Samuel — in addition to his grief — is nervous for his own life.  Despite the cover story of offering a sacrifice, the officials in Bethlehem aren’t glad to see a prophet in their hometown.  They, too, are looking over their shoulder for Saul’s wrath.  They don’t want to be innocent bystanders when he comes for his professed enemy, Samuel.

God’s Choosing

Samuel goes to Jesse’s house and sees his 7 oldest sons.  Surely, one within this biblical number of completion would be God’s chosen … unless God’s choosing intends to look to the margins, the outsider, the unremarkable.  This is, of course, one of the best lines in the whole story, when God tells Samuel, “The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” In a world obsessed with influences and instagram filters, work-out routines, fad diets and fashion — this word from the Lord seems just as fresh and relevant today as ever.

With remarkable flair, the author of 1 Samuel stops the action until the shepherd boy is brought in from the fields.  In beautiful foreshadowing, we are learning to look for the unexpected heir of David in our midst — not arriving in entourage or emerging on the balcony of some castle — but tucked away in a manger, worshipped by the shepherds.

Walter Brueggemann summarizes David’s anointing as king this way: “David is not a human accident but a divine intention.” This bears out over and over again in the text. He is an unlikely choice. Left to his own devices, Samuel could have easily deferred to Jesse’s oldest son. But then David comes and Samuel follows God’s prompting.  Notice, particularly, that when it comes time to make him king, David says nothing in the text. The elders of Bethlehem are similarly mute.  Jesse and his brothers stand as witness and even Samuel is not given any lines.  “The oil creates and identifies David.”

This is a particularly poignant turn of events from last week’s Lectionary reading in which the people demand a king.  God allows their request but here we have something quite different — a secret mission to anoint the one God has chosen.


Stories of unexpected heroes are a familiar theme in literature and film from Harry Potter to Captain America. It’s a common theme because it speaks to a common way we see ourselves, always attuned to what we lack rather than the gifts we’ve been given.  Always attentive to what we cannot do on our own rather that what God delights to do, according to 2 Corinthians 12:9 “My grace is sufficient for you and my power is made perfect in weakness.”

One recent example is the Disney film, Encanto, featuring the Madrigal family in Columbia.  Living in an enchanted home (the “Casita”), each member of the family has been gifted with special powers: strength, the power to control weather or talk with animals, etc.  However, young Mirabel has not yet discovered her gift.  In fact, she seems to be unwittingly tearing the family apart!  Although she is ordinary — or perhaps precisely because of her ordinary-ness — Mirabel is the one who can pull her family back together.


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