Psalm 133; I Samuel 15:34-16:13
June 27, 2021
- A new king for Israel
It should be common sense that everyone wants to feel important, everyone wants to matter, everyone wants to mean something in this world. We cultivate relationships that give us this value. Some of us have gotten to enjoy those relationships for a long time, like the Farmers with their celebration of 72 years of marriage yesterday. If they followed through with their plans, they enjoyed a picnic lunch at a spot from David’s years of work and history in the area – spending time cherishing shared life and love. There is a certain sentimental quality in the human psyche that appreciates acts of kindness, faithfulness, and endearment. Obviously, everyone is not the same, though. There are certainly some who are more sentimental than others, and I suspect we might get more sentimental as we get older. Maybe this is a gift of life lived and the progression of time.
If that is true, however, God seems to be different here. The one being in the entire universe who IS love seems to be much less than sentimental in this passage from 1 Samuel. In fact, it is striking just how unsentimental God seems to be.
The same King Saul that God handpicked to be king for the Israelites started out strong enough as king. He had zeal and the ardent desire to follow God’s instructions. He may have been too eager, however, and short on patience. He started making mistakes when he began second guessing or making assumptions about what God might want. As 1 Samuel shows, that is a bad idea. If you are going to be the king, you had better do exactly what God wants you to do when God wants you to do it and nothing else. At least, that is the impression I get from reading these chapters. While there was certainly more to King Saul’s rule over the years of his reign, the snapshot we get in these chapters goes fairly quickly from good to some trouble to disaster.
Saul was commissioned by God to go to war against the Amalekites. The same Amalekites who had given the Israelites trouble when they first came into the region generations before. This was back when they were leaving the wilderness after the Exodus to enter the Promised Land, but God did not want to let those people off the hook for that hostility maybe a few hundred years before. This is where it gets ugly. Saul was supposed to lead the Israelite army to wipe the people, even the animals, completely off the face of the earth. Any of us today would probably register a complaint or two about that instruction. We are talking women and children, too, but that does not seem to be Saul’s reservation. He refrains from killing the animals, at least the good ones. He also does not execute the king who seems to be some kind of trophy for God. When confronted by his disobedience, Saul justifies not killing the animals by saying that they can be used for sacrifice to God, but the way it reads, that seems like a cover. It seems more likely that Saul got caught trying to keep the animals for himself. That was real wealth back then, anyway. If this is true, then his excuse of dedicating them to God was just that – an excuse.
That’s it. God is done with Saul – washes his hands of the king and immediately finds a new one. Even though Saul was the God-ordained king, there is no interest here in helping him or working with him or understanding him as a human being. You could not pay me to be president; being king in Israel is even worse. That is an impossible job that seems to push people to the very edge of human faithfulness to God. No one ever got out of being king in one piece. We will consider the next king, the greatest and most successful from a faith perspective – David, but he does not do a very good job, either, if we are honest. First, however, we need to find David.
That is what this passage is about. Saul makes a bad decision that convinces God in effect to toss him to the curb. You saw how Samuel never speaks to him, again. Then, Samuel is tasked with finding the next king. God appears to be in a hurry about this. There is no waiting. Even though David will not become the actual king for maybe 15-20 years, God wants him anointed as quickly as possible. David was not even born when Saul became king, but now he was in line for the throne himself.
In reality, there is more time at work here. There are years represented in the spaces of the text, so what sounds like immediate actions was probably done over the course of years. That makes more sense, but that is certainly NOT the way the passage reads. The plot races with the moment that God became disenchanted with Saul, that’s when Samuel had to hit the road. What’s going on here? If that is not the way that it really happened, why is the author framing the story in this way that looks like God is trying to get a new king as a replacement before Saul’s warranty expires? That’s how the passage sounds to me – that God needs a new king before the paint dries on the first.
The author of Samuel needs us to see that God is very invested in the leadership of the people. It matters to God how the leadership represents God and God’s values. Even though we do not have kings, anymore (thank goodness!), ruling for God’s people as God’s anointed rulers, it makes a lot of sense to me that this responsibility trickles down to us today into church leadership and for whomever is responsible for the welfare of God’s children. The New Testament has some strong standards for church officers, and they will be judged with greater scrutiny because of the role they have for the care of the people. Any of us who take the opportunity to care for the children of God should honor the significance of that charge. That’s something I will be holding in the service this afternoon at my installation.
We also need to see God’s desire for David to be king. David is the focus of the entire rest of the story, 1 and 2 Samuel. It is all about his life and his rule, ending with the coronation of his son Solomon. David is special from the very beginning of his call to be king, something the author here surely seems to think. Maybe the books were written during David’s reign by someone in his court, but David is really the focus for the entire monarchy of Israel. He is the greatest of the kings pre-Jesus, so it is no surprise that Jesus comes from his line 900 years later to reestablish the throne of David. Again, we will come back to David next week, but the author of Samuel really wants us to see God’s selection of David from the youngest years of his life. David was in a way groomed for this responsibility – born for this job. He would rise above the failure and incompetence of Saul, that is until he fell, himself. That’s another sermon but he will always be highly regarded.
Probably most significantly for us today is how this is a picture of God at work in human history, directly involved in the events of life as they unfold. At different times in history, people have thought of God as being more involved or less involved in human affairs. The range is wide: everything from not a hair falling from your head without God’s preordaining it to God making the world and then letting it go like a giant clock. I know it is tricky sometimes to feel like God is with us, actively working good in our midst in our everyday lives. It is hard to know that God is there all the time. While I am not sure God has to ordain every hair that falls from my head (if that were true, God has been very busy on my scalp), I do believe God is more invested, more involved, more integral to the workings of this life than is obvious, maybe more active than we can even imagine. There is a definite purpose to which God is working us. I am not sure if every step is set since there is also this little idea called free will, but God is guiding our feet with our help and giving us new paths to help us get there.
Every week there seems to be a new disaster or new crisis demanding greater attention than I could ever give, than all of us together could ever give. We have been living with COVID. Just the American death toll is greater than 600,000. The Virginian life expectancy dropped more than two years for the white population and more than that for the black and Hispanic population, thanks to the pandemic. Now, there is the heat wave and drought out west, ongoing civil wars in the middle east, world hunger is on the rise, and there’s the significant fact that Russia continues to actually attack us through the internet. And if that’s not enough, democracy itself is hanging in the balance here.
So it is probably a pretty important thing to see God working for good and demanding godly leadership from those tending to the children of God. We have sisters and brothers all over the world who are crying out for something better. Thankfully, our warranty is not expired either. God’s enduring faithfulness endures and persists. Leadership is as leadership does. This may be the wrong sermon to preach the day I am going to be installed as the pastor here because it sounds like I am charging myself with an impossible task, but in a way, I am. It is that important to our Lord to take care of the people, all of them. It is that important to our Lord to care for God’s flock, all of them. This responsibility is not just for me, but it is something that we can work toward with the grace of Jesus. While our ability to make a different by ourselves is very limited, with God’s help and especially the willingness to love more than we have ever loved in our lives, we will honor God and our neighbor. And as Jesus said, that comes first. To God be the glory. Amen.