Reading for the Fourth Sunday in Lent:
The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.”
2 Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the LORD said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’
3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.”
4 Samuel did what the LORD commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?”
5 He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the LORD.”
7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”
8 Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.”
9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.”
10 Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The LORD has not chosen any of these.”
11 Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.”
12 He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.”
13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.
(1 Samuel 16: 1-13)
In the first 13 verses of 1 Samuel 16 we have the story of David’s anointing. Imagine with me for a minute that this story appeared on the front page of a newspaper. Not a newspaper like the Tennessean. Not even a newspaper like the old Nashville Banner. Imagine that this story appeared on the front page of the National Enquirer. Why the National Enquirer? I don’t want to offend anybody that reads the National Enquirer, but let’s just say there’s no way some of those stories are real. They are preposterous, they are outrageous and some of them are outright lies. That’s what some of us might be inclined to think about David’s story.
God tells Samuel to go see Jesse in Bethlehem because he had chosen one of his sons to be the next king. Samuel goes and offers the sacrifice as God tells him. Samuel consecrates Jesse and his sons and they prepare for the sacrifice. As soon as Samuel sees Eliab, the oldest son, he thinks to himself surely this is the one. Eliab is gorgeous. He’s an older Leonardo Di Caprio. He’s a Will Smith. He’s a Brad Pitt. A young Sean Connery, if you will. Because he’s good looking and tall, Samuel assumes he’s the chosen one. But there are often blessings in unexpected places.
So, God warns Samuel not to be taken in by Eliab’s good looks and height because He has not chosen him. He tells Samuel that He does not look at the outside things that man looks at. He looks at the heart.
Now Jesse calls the other sons to pass by Samuel. None of them are chosen. Finally, the hour is getting late and Samuel is tired. He has looked over seven men and not found God’s chosen king. He asks Jesse, “do you have any other sons?” Jesse answers, “I have one more son, my youngest, but he’s tending the sheep.”
David was the last thing on anybody’s mind. He was not even brought in initially. He was totally ignored, utterly disregarded, and blatantly neglected. They send for David and he’s brought in. He comes in and the Lord says, “Rise and anoint him; he is the one!
This is the stuff National Enquirer stories are made of. A little shepherd boy slated to become the next king? A boy unknown to anybody except his family? A boy with no military experience would be the next king? A young lad from Bethlehem? The youngest in a family of eight sons? This was highly unlikely in that culture. Blessings and leadership positions were usually reserved for the eldest son. But God often has blessings in unexpected places.
We can see from the text that Samuel is just like us. God sent him to do something and he went with his own preconceived notions. He had his own ideas about what the next king would look like. He may have been looking for someone as handsome and as charismatic as Saul. Many of us do the same thing.
When it’s time to choose a leader for something, how many of us choose the seemingly obvious leader? The one always out front? The one who speaks well? The one who wears nice clothes? At school, when we elect officers for student government don’t we usually pick the football player, the cheerleader, the student who was most popular two years in a row? God cautions us against using the outward appearance as a judge for worthiness. He cautions us against mistaking our own prejudices for His will.
Samuel, like us, clearly has some prejudices and his choice probably would not have been God’s choice. But God has shown us that our choice may not be His choice. But His choice is the right choice.
David was supremely chosen. We don’t know exactly why David was chosen. We don’t know how he came to be called a man after God’s own heart. We know it wasn’t his looks because Saul was very attractive. We know it wasn’t his beautiful face because we know at least Eliab was attractive too. We ask, why David? And the answer is thundering silence. The only thing we know with certainty is that God clearly knew and had already chosen David before he and Samuel even left for Bethlehem. God wants us to know with certainty that we have been supremely chosen, too. We don’t know why God chooses us either. He chooses us and then our lives have meaning. Too often we forget that.
We go about our lives disregarding other people. We go about our business daily discounting ourselves. The book of Ephesians says that we are chosen before the creation of the world. It also says we are God’s workmanship. Workmanship is another word for work of art. God stands at His easel and creates masterpieces. He chooses his colors carefully. Every color in God’s painting is just as crucial as all the others. He ponders over each aspect of our being and each brushstroke is deliberate. He takes his time because he’s creating art. He is a master at his craft. We are God’s works of art. Because we are works of art, we can’t allow others to paint a different picture of us. We can’t paint a different picture of ourselves, nor can we paint a different picture of others around us.
How many of us look among the disenfranchised, the downtrodden, or the disinherited for pearls of wisdom? How many of us have thought of the potential that lie dormant in the people we see on the street? In our classrooms? In our pews? How many times have we overlooked that same potential in ourselves? How often do we let labels construct our images of ourselves? The world tells you that you can’t because you’re young, but GOD says you can. The world declares that you don’t because you’re female but GOD says you must. The world claims that you shouldn’t because you’re elderly but GOD says you should. The world commands that you won’t because you’re poor or uneducated but GOD says you will. There are blessings in unexpected places.
God has a habit of using the unexpected to bless us. God uses people like Moses, a man who stuttered. He uses people like Gideon, the doubting farmer. He uses people like a slave named Esther and he uses fishermen like Peter. He used a baby born in dark and dirty surroundings called the Christ. He uses people like David, the youngest who was a shepherd. And he uses people like you and me.
Many of us know David’s stories. We know the story of David’s sin with Bathsheba. We know about David’s plot to kill Uriah. We also know how God used David despite his sin and weaknesses. We know how he killed Goliath, how he was crowned king over Judah, how he later became king over all of Israel, and how he was a descendant of Jesus.
Verse 13 of our text tells us why David succeeded. It tells us that after Samuel anointed David, the Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power. David’s anointing set him apart for God’s service. As the oil poured over him, it was as if David was enclosed in a protective covering. God’s presence equipped him for life. In that moment, he got all he would ever need. We have all we ever need when we decide to let Jesus’ blood be poured over us. We have all we ever need in God’s presence. God’s presence is what sustains us. God’s presence empowers us. If you read through David’s story one theme is consistent- God is with him.
David’s story is our story. David’s story appears on the front pages of the National Enquirer and ours with it. It is the story of God’s blessings in unexpected places. It is the story of God using people that society deems unusable. It is the story of God’s powerful presence in the lives of those he chooses. Our stories appear because they seem outrageous to the world. They even seem outrageous to us sometimes. But God is the writer. He writes the pages of our lives. The more he writes, the more we fall in love with him.
Some of it may have seemed preposterous to David at times, but if you read through David’s psalms it’s clear that he loved God. God was with David and He’s with us. Because God is with us, we like David, can kill the Goliaths in our lives. Because God is with us, we are more than conquerors. Because God is with us, we are the blessings in unexpected places. We can do all things when God is with us. God bless you and keep you!