“Anointing of David” (10th Century Manuscript Illumination)
Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron, and said, “Look, we are your bone and flesh. 2For some time, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led out Israel and brought it in. The Lord said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel.” 3So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel. 4David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years. 5At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months; and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years. (2 Samuel 5.1-5 NRSV)
When you hear King David’s name what stories come to mind?
There are all these great, and some not-so-great stories, about King David. Like Abraham, and Moses, David left his fingerprints all over Israel’s history. He is the ultimate underdog – “a genuine nobody” (as Walter Brueggemann says) who winds up the most powerful and dearly loved ruler in Israel’s history.
As beloved as David is, scripture is brutally honest in memory of David. David is surprisingly, maybe even disturbingly, three-dimensional. If we thought scripture was open and honest about Abraham and Moses’ failings, we hear even more about David’s failures.
David is remembered as, the shepherd-king called by God to lead Israel, warrior and poet, man of action and of deep and honest prayer … someone after God’s own heart … someone who does some incredibly selfish and destructive things, and a person who owns up to his failings, who repents and pleads with God to change his heart.
Dan just shared the climactic moment of David’s story with us.
So much had been leading up to this. It wasn’t just important for David. It was significant for all of Israel. It marked the end of a civil war … the end of political chaos (at least for a while). Like most of the stories we have looked at this fall, there are a number of stories coming together in this scene.
For a long time, the Israelites had been an informal association of tribes. When Israel, found itself in danger or wound up getting itself in trouble, God would raise up a judge to lead Israel. The judges, were political and military leaders, but they weren’t kings.
As a child, God called Samuel to serve as one of Israel’s judges.
Like a circuit judge, Samuel made his way through the towns of Israel year after year, administering justice. Like a prophet, when the Israelites wandered away from God, Samuel called them to “return to God with all their hearts and to serve only God.” Samuel was faithful, prayerful, and just.
As Samuel grew older, he made his sons judges over Israel … but his sons used their positions for personal gain. They took bribes and corrupted justice.
They were bad news.
The people decided a king would be better!
They approached Samuel, “You are old, and you son’s do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, a king to govern us … a king like all the other nations have…” (1 Samuel 8.5). Samuel didn’t like this idea. It felt like he was being rejected. Samuel prayed to God about people’s request … God answered his prayer, saying, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” (1 Samuel 8.7).
Before this, the idea was that God alone was Israel’s king.
God called this people together–making a covenant with Abraham. God rescued them when they were slaves in Egypt – raising up Moses to lead them. God led them and took care of them as they made their way through the wilderness to a land that would be their own. God fought battles for them.
They were God’s people, set apart to be blessed and to be a blessing to all the nations…and now they were rejecting God.
God had Samuel warn Israel that life with a human king would be different from life with God as their king. God gave to them. If there is anything human kings are good at doing it is taking. Taking the best of everything for themselves – a king would take their sons to fight in his wars, to farm his land, to build his weapons. The king would take their daughters to serve in his palace as cooks and bakers. The king would take their best fields and vineyards as his own. A king would take taxes. A king would use their servants and livestock for his work. A king would take and take until they would cry out for help.
The warning didn’t turn public opinion.
Their minds were set. “No, we want a king. We are determined to have a king over us, so that we also can be like other nations, so that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Sm. 8.19-20).
They were set on a king.
Israel’s first king was just what they asked for. He was a king like other nations’ kings.
Saul looked like a king. He was tall and handsome (traits people today, intentionally or not, still look for in leaders). Saul acted like a king. He was a courageous warrior, but he had his share of faults: he was jealous, impatient, stubborn, he didn’t listen, and he blamed other people for his failings (… actually those might be kingly attributes too).
Ultimately, Saul was rejected as king because he wasn’t obedient to God. Samuel grieved over Saul’s failure … the Bible even says, “God was sorry he made Saul king over Israel”–ouch!
It was time for a new king.
God had a different criteria for choosing the next king.
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.” 2Samuel 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.’ 3Invite 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.” 4Samuel did what the Lordcommanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” 5He 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.
6When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” 7But 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.” 8Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 9Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 10Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 11Samuel 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.” 12He 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.” 13Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lordcame mightily upon David from that day forward… (1 Samuel 16.1-13 NRSV).
David was a guy who would never have had a chance to do anything big or important if he was only judged by what was on the surface. He was a nobody in his culture. Even in his family he was a nobody. Back then, birth order meant everything. David was the youngest son … the lowest rung on his family ladder … He was ignored … overlooked … left out …
God saw something in David’s heart.
People can put so much weight in how things look. So often we form our first impressions of people just by their appearances. God isn’t as concerned with surface appearances. God looks beyond the surface … God looks at a person’s heart. In ancient Israelite thinking the “heart” symbolized a person’s will or motivations – we might say it symbolized a person’s character … the part of us that runs deeper than our appearance.
David made some terrible mistakes. The Bible goes to great pains to tell us David wasn’t perfect, and still God saw something in his heart.
God has this habit of choosing to work through people no one else would. God chooses unlikely people in unlikely places to do big things, Abraham, Moses, David, any one of Jesus’ 12 disciples. God chooses to include people in his work. God chooses to work through people no one else would.
This is good news for us!
God looks deeper than the surface! God is not distracted by the things that catch our attention. God looks at our hearts! God chose an overlooked little brother to be Israel’s greatest and most beloved king!
I am curious if this could be part of why Jesus had such intense disagreements with the religious people of his time.
They were so concerned with appearances … with looking like they had their acts together … with keeping rituals … with doing the right things in public … but Jesus said they were like plates and bowls that on the outside looked nice and clean, but on the inside were a sickening mess. On the outside they looked like they were devoted to God. On the surface they looked like they had their act together, but really, on the inside, in their hearts they were far away from God … inside they were full of greed and self-indulgence (Matthew 23).
Jesus taught that what was on the inside mattered … it didn’t just matter, it was the most important thing.
Humans look at appearance…we can get so caught up with the way things look … God cares about what is inside … God cares about our character.
There is good news here – God isn’t distracted by surface things … God looks deeper! God looks at the heart! And God is in the business of changing and reforming hearts.
This passage speaks to us as individuals and it speaks to us as a community … as a church … one way I have been struck by this is how people relate to our building … how people see our chapel.
We have this beautiful building that winds up in a lot a pictures, but the beauty of our building is only scratching the surface. There is deeper beauty to our church.
I think about it when I open the church up for people who have pulled off the highway to take pictures of it. I always wish you all were here with me so people could really see what’s inside the church … I want them to see the heart of this church. The inside of the church, you all, are the best part of the church. Your hearts are the church’s heart.
I want people to know that our building, as beautiful as it is, is the surface of the church … it is the skin that keeps us warm and dry (and from blowing away)!
The church is people.
The photographers and architecture buffs probably get tired of me – they just wanted a quick picture but here is this pastor going on and on about all these great people … and all the ways God is including them in God’s kingdom work.
There is so much to us beyond the surface … people loving God and neighbors. People seeking God with all their hearts and caring for each other … people reaching beyond themselves to care for their community … welcoming strangers … feeding the hungry …
This church is people sharing time and resources to live into our mission of humbly sharing the good news of Jesus’ love with our neighbors near and far … that is what makes us beautiful!
“The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
This is good news!