Lent IV--March 2, 2008
Bill Long 2/22/08
I Samuel 16:1-13 (First Essay); Poor Samuel...
Here is our text for the morning, from the NRSV:
"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."
Poor Samuel. It must really have been quite trying for him. What he was asked to do here was really a sort of painful culmination to a difficult life. It had all begun in such a promising way. He was dedicated to the Lord from his birth, and he grew up in the holy precincts, ministering to Eli the priest. Granted, he had to tell Eli some difficult truths about his own (i.e., Eli's) family (I Sam. 3:16-18), but he was just being a spokesman for the Lord. So valuable were his words that the Lord "let none of his words fall to the ground" (I Sam. 3:19). In former days he would have been called a seer; but now he was a prophet (I Sam. 9:9). Thus, Samuel would bequeath to an entire profession a name. And, then, he was called upon to be the agent of God to anoint the first king of Israel, Saul (I Sam. 9-10). He was more than Billy Graham, who just acted as "counselor to Presidents," as his publicists call him. Samuel not only counseled them, he anointed them. He could have expected to die in good old age, of hoary hair and full beard, and be gathered to his fathers.
Yet, all was not well with Sameul. He really did not have a very happy family life. The text tells us that "his sons did not follow in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice" (I Sam. 8:3). This problem with his children was the same problem that Eli his mentor faced with his own sons. Perhaps "pks," as they are now known, were inclined to devilish behavior even 3000 years ago...
Anointing Saul and then David
Well, even those who may not have a very happy family life can bury it in work and hope to get ahead in their profession. Certainly Samuel had an illustrious career, being chosen to be the unguent-bearer, as it were, to anoint the new kings. He took his trusty vial of oil with him when he anointed Saul as king in I Sam. 10:1. So, he poured it on Saul and said:
"The Lord has anointed you ruler over his people Israel. You shall reign over the people of the Lord and you will save them from the hand of their enemies all around..." (I Sam. 10:1).
Heady stuff. Right there at the foundation, so to speak, at the beginning of the movement. Not only had he redefined the "seer" profession by making them "prophets," but he initiated the office of "king." If Abraham was the father of nations, Samuel was the father of professions or offices.
But the text for the morning, presenting the anointing of David as future king, describes what must have been a very trying and confusing experience for Samuel. This is the case for two reasons. On the one hand, he had just, a few years previously, anointed Saul as king; what is he doing now anointing the unknown David as king? Samuel is aware of the precarious nature of his position:
"How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me" (I Sam 16:2).
What indeed can God have in mind? And what is the role of the prophet here? Is he just supposed to be a "yes man," doing the bidding of God without question? God's answer to the question that Samuel raises in v. 2 is anything but reassuring. Rather than giving him a straight response, God says:
"Take a heifer with you, and say, 'I have come to sacrifice to the Lord,'" (I Sam. 16:3).
Ok, I would really be concerned now if I were Samuel. Here is what I would be thinking. 'First, God is asking me to put my life on the line and second, God isn't really answering my question. God is saying, as it were, that I should act in a rather deceptive way, or a way that isn't going to rouse suspicion, and then do his dirty work. My life is on the line, I am supposed to act in a questionable manner and all will be well. That is pretty sketchy to me. Second, what kind of God is God, in fact? God put me to a lot of trouble to identify the first king of Israel; now is God changing the divine mind so quickly? What is this, the Israelite equivalent of the flood story, where God has 'repented' that he created man and now will, figuratively speaking, decide to "start again?"'
The next essay concludes my thoughts.