A sermon by Randy Hyde, Pastor, Pulaski Heights Baptist Church, Little Rock, Ar.
October 13, 2013
1 Samuel 16:6-13; Acts 13:26-34
The telephone rang early one morning and woke me from the last vestiges of what, as I recall, was a fairly restful sleep. Immediately, I recognized the feminine voice on the other end of the line say, “Dad? Dad? Did I wake you up?”
“Wha… what’s wrong, Honey? Are you okay?” And yes, she did wake me, to the point that I bolted straight up out of bed. And while I’m used to getting phone calls at some pretty strange times – it comes with the business – not from my daughter. Usually, our phone calls occurred at night, not early in the morning. After all, Emily was in college when all this took place, and have you ever met a college student who waked up early in the morning? So needless to say, she definitely had my attention.
“Are you okay?”
“Oh, I’m fine. Nothing’s wrong, Dad, but I do have a question.”
“When you met Mom, how did you know she was the one for you? I’m so confused, I don’t know what to do. How did you know? When the time comes, how do you know for sure?”
Emily had fairly recently broken up with her boyfriend of a few months. Now, after a sufficient period of “mourning,” she was thinking that maybe, just maybe, she had finally found the “right one” for her. But she wasn’t sure, so she wanted to know what the criterion was, the tell-tale signs that come with true love. What did she need to look for, how would she know? These kinds of questions had kept her up pretty much all night; hence the early morning call. I knew she was serious about this, because Emily was not one to ask for a lot of advice. She usually figures things out on her own (she has a pretty good head on her shoulders… takes after her mother!), but this time she needed to talk to someone with a bit of experience.
Of course, I was gratified that she would ask me… until I realized that, if her mother had answered the phone, it would have been Janet dealing with this and not me. Whoever Emily could get to first, that is the one she wanted to talk to. This was urgent, important, life-altering business. How would she know? When the time came, not to mention the right person, how indeed would she know?
Well, what goes for finding one’s true love is good also for choosing a new king. When it came time for Saul to give up his kingship of Israel, how would a new king be selected and who would he be? There were no rules for royal succession. This king-thing is still new to Israel, there is no precedent for it. That left the decision in the hands of Samuel.
Samuel, the prophet-priest-judge of Israel, was faced with making a tough, tough decision. He did not have to make a hasty phone call to someone who could offer him some sage guidance, nor did he have to figure it all out on his own. Evidently, Samuel had a direct pipeline to God. In fact, God had been filling his ear full of advice for quite some time now, and this is what God was telling Samuel: it was time for a change of the one who would sit on the throne of Israel. Saul, who had held such promise when God chose him, has turned out not to be able to deliver on the goods. So God had decided a change of leadership was called for. It would not be an easy transition to accomplish, nor would it happen immediately. But it was necessary.
If you’re looking for a modern-day equivalent, an example we can draw on, consider the hapless Chicago Cubs. The Cubs have fired – yet again – their manager. It won’t be long before they will name a new leader, and when they do, this is no doubt how it will take place… They’ll call a press conference and introduce him. They’ll give him a royal blue hat with the unmistakable C on the front. They’ll provide him with a jersey with his chosen number on the back, just below his name, meticulously stitched into the fabric of the shirt. They’ll talk about how this person is just the one they need, who will bring the ball club back from the throes of mediocrity and make them winners again. All the sportswriters in Chicago will speak glowingly of the new skipper, and once again get the hopes up of the beleaguered Cubs fans (that’s redundant, by the way, “beleaguered” Cubs fans, because, when you think about it, there’s really no other kind of Cubs fan). And then, the ownership will refuse to pay for the level of players that are needed to win in today’s Major League Baseball market, the club will lose 90 or more games again next season, and guess who will be blamed for all this? That’s right, the manager. You can’t fire the whole team, so you let the manager go.
Sports teams, you see, operate under biblical principles. Did you know that? The Bible says, “…It is better to have one man die… than to have the whole nation destroyed.” And pretty soon the process will start all over again with their firing the manager and hiring another one… and on and on and on.
Samuel, God’s appointed priest – the one in charge of finding a new king – as you can imagine, is a bit gun-shy about all this. Saul didn’t work out so well, to be sure. But – and this is the sticky part – Saul is still alive and well (well, he’s alive anyway) and like it or not is still on the throne of Israel and plans to remain there for a long, long time. Yet, God is telling Samuel to go out and anoint another king, and to do it without Saul’s knowledge… which means that, when Saul finds out about all this, he is going to come after… who, God? No, of course not. He’s going to take his wrath out on Samuel, Israel’s general manager. It is not going to be pretty, let me tell you.
But Samuel, being the man of God that he is, does what he is told. At least it won’t require a lot of searching or discernment on his part. He won’t have to call someone for advice. All he has to do is go where God tells him to go, pick out the person God has already chosen, get out his oil and anoint the one God points to, and then go home to wait for an angry and vindictive Saul to come knocking on his door.
“Fill your horn with oil and set out,” God tells Samuel (I told you there was a direct pipeline between the two). Samuel is instructed to go to Bethlehem, a small village about five miles out of Jerusalem. “I will send you to Jesse,” God tells his priest, “for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.”
You see? Samuel doesn’t have to make any phone calls seeking advice. It’s all been laid out for him. But Samuel does not go without first questioning God’s intentions. “If Saul hears of it, he will kill me,” he says defensively. But God has a plan, a plan that involves – not an outright lie – but something pretty close to it. When the people of Bethlehem nervously wonder why Samuel has come to them – people of Samuel’s notoriety don’t just come sauntering into a small village like this every day, you know – he is to tell them that he’s just come to make a sacrifice to the Lord. That’s all… he’s just here to offer a sacrifice.
In other words, let’s just keep this on the QT for awhile and nobody will be able to figure out what’s going on. It’ll just be their little secret, God’s and Samuel’s. Samuel, just tell the townsfolk that you’ve come to lead them in worship and offer a sacrifice. That’s all you have to do.
It’s not… well, it’s not entirely the truth. There’s something else up God’s sleeve, a bit of subterfuge, if you will. God tells Samuel to make sure Jesse gets an invite to the cookout, Jesse and all his sons. There’s a new king to anoint.
One by one, Samuel eyes Jesse’s sons. Starting with Eliab, the oldest and tallest and best-looking of the bunch, Samuel judges their merits. Surely, God has chosen Eliab. No, he’s not the one. Samuel goes down the line of all the sons of Jesse, all seven of them, and judges them like a trader looks at horses. He checks their teeth and their flanks to make sure they’re made of strong stuff, but he finds that none of them are the one God has in mind. Finally, Samuel asks Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” Well, no, the youngest isn’t here. He’s down on the south forty keeping the sheep. “Send for him.”
There is no doubt that Jesse is wondering what Samuel is up to, but he doesn’t say a word. And do you want to know why? Because you don’t argue, nor do you question, a man like Samuel. He has a direct pipeline to God. The God of Israel, the God who brought their people up out of the bondage of Egypt, the God who led his people through the wilderness and still holds in his hands the fortunes of his people… this very God is whispering in Samuel’s ear. And to take issue with Samuel is like arguing with God, and who wants to do that? Yea, who expects to do that and live to talk about it?
David was ruddy, we are told. Just in case you didn’t know it, that means he was a redhead. He had beautiful eyes, we are told, and was handsome. “Rise and anoint him,” God tells Samuel, “for this is the one.”
What do you think it was that God saw in David? Was it his good looks? Perhaps, but remember that Eliab was handsome too. Was it his courage? After all, as a shepherd he had already tangled with the wild animals that just loved to make feasts of those tender, young sheep, and so far had always come out the winner. Was it his leadership ability? What was it?
We are told that David was a man after God’s own heart, but what exactly does that mean? It is when Samuel anoints David that the spirit of the Lord, as the Bible says, “came mightily upon David from that day forward.” Could it be that God made certain, on that momentous day, that his heart was entwined with the heart of this young shepherd boy?
We can’t really say for sure. The only thing that is of certainty here is that David is God’s chosen… for whatever reason. God is determined to have David be the next king of Israel. “This is the one,” God tells Samuel. David wasn’t chosen as king because he happened to be in the right place at the right time. This is no coincidence. With God, there is no such thing. Before Samuel ever set foot in Bethlehem – maybe even before God set the foundation of the world – God knew in his heart what he wanted his servant to do, and here’s why…
The Lord, speaking of himself in the third person, says to Samuel, “… the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” What, in David’s heart, did God see?
Well, after three thousand years it’s still hard for us to figure out, if for no other reason than David did not often behave as we would think a godly person ought to be. Look at David’s biography and you’ll find a lot of bloodshed and dead bodies in his wake. “Saul has slain his thousands, but David his tens of thousands.” You’ll find adultery there too. His own son and other family members turned against him. In fact, if you look at the record you’ll find that he wasn’t much of a father. Maybe he spent too much time trying to be the father of a nation to have the time and energy to be the same at home.
Maybe what we need to realize is that this was indeed three thousand years ago. Israel is still a relatively new, raw, and bloody nation, trying to bring its coalitions of tribes together in the middle of a dangerous and politically-hungry part of the world. Mercy and tenderness have yet to find their way into the vocabulary, much less the hearts, of the people. Maybe – even though this is hard for us to understand – in David, under the circumstances, God is doing the very best God can do.
Two passages from the book of Samuel tell us a great deal. After the wars with the Philistines had been accomplished and David had united the torn nations of Judah in the south and Israel in the north, we are told that he “reigned over all Israel, and David administered justice and equity to all his people” (2 Samuel 8:15). “Justice and equity.” We could use a bit of that today, couldn’t we?
Now, listen to David’s last words…
The spirit of the Lord speaks through me,
his word is upon my tongue.
The God of Israel has spoken,
The Rock of Israel has said to me:
One who rules over people justly,
ruling in the fear of God,
is like the light of morning,
like the sun rising on a cloudless morning,
gleaming from the rain on the grassy land
– 2 Samuel 23:2-4.
And finally, think of this… It is from the lineage of David that a young carpenter came, One who would change the world – our world – yours and mine. “Son of David” he was called, yes. But even more, he was David’s Lord, the One who has truly shown us, as no other, the very heart of God. And if the story of David does nothing else but enable us to share our hearts with God, as we give them to the One called the “Son of David,” then indeed, he is the one.
May our hearts be entwined with yours, O Lord, and may the story of David, as well as the sacrifice of Christ, show us the way to your kingdom. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.