There’s a peculiar grief, for me, when a couple I married gets a divorce. I feel a small pang of sadness when a member of a past congregation dies, and I’m not the one to officiate at the funeral that will celebrate their life. These things are part of the past, but they reach into the present with a small dose of sorrow. Knowing that, I can imagine Samuel’s grief when Saul fails to honor God as the king, and Samuel has to give him the news that God is withdrawing God’s favor…and then Samuel has to go and anoint the new king.
Read the scripture here.
Read the Working Preacher commentary here.
Just before this, God has sent Samuel to Saul, to remind Saul that he didn’t follow God’s instructions. Saul tries to persuade Samuel that he can work his way back into God’s heart, but God is all done with Saul as king. Both God and Samuel grieve for Saul, in different ways. Samuel laments who Saul has become, and God is sorry that God made Saul king in the first place. Samuel’s grief goes on long enough that God chides him for not seeing with God’s own vision.
Now God is ready for Samuel to anoint a new king.
We’re watching the nation shift from a system of judges to a hereditary monarchy. The Hebrew scriptures tell the story of Samuel, Saul and David in great detail, giving the three of them 55 chapters of text, while all the remaining kings are covered together in 47 chapters.
Even within this new system, God is still doing things in unusual ways. The older, accomplished sons of Jesse are all rejected, one by one, as not God’s choice. David, the youngest son, is so unlikely a candidate that his father doesn’t even call him in from the field as a possibility. The mention that he’s herding sheep evokes the ancient image of the king as the shepherd of the people. We also get another instance where the younger son supersedes the older.
Once, Samuel was the young voice who spoke for God, telling Eli that God was unhappy. Now Samuel is the old man, choosing another young person for God’s work. There a sense of reversals in this passage, as God’s plans move forward. Things established are set aside, and God keeps moving forward.
There’s also an interesting layer of fear in the story. Samuel fears that Saul will kill him for participating in anointing a new king. The elders of Bethlehem are so worried about Samuel popping into town that they greet him “trembling.” We can only wonder about the reaction of David’s older brothers when they see him anointed as the next king in their presence. Fear for his safety? Fear of him, and how he’ll treat them now?
God’s conversation with Samuel is a poignant reminder that it’s hard for us to learn to see as God sees. We see the outside appearance and accomplishments, and are impressed, and God sees inside. The “heart” of a person, the essence of who they are, is visible to God.
The sermon might look at:
- When are we rightly afraid when we participate in God’s plans, or follow God’s leading? What do we do with our fear?
- David doesn’t take up the role of king immediately. God’s spirit settles on him, but he next goes to serve Saul, as an armor-bearer and the musician whose playing soothes Saul’s tormenting headaches. How have you seen God prepare you, or your faith community, for something before it happens? How do you experience God in these long seasons of preparation?
- Where do you see the difference between God’s way of seeing and our way of seeing?
- What unexpected people carry God’s spirit, in your life? In your congregation? In our culture?
Where are your thoughts taking you this week? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. We would love to continue the conversation with you.
Rev. Mary Austin is the pastor of Westminster Church of Detroit, a diverse Presbyterian church. She blogs from time to time at Stained Glass in the City. The image above is He Qi’s “David and Saul” and is from the Vanderbilt Library of Art in the Christian Tradition.
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