Updated: Feb 4
This reading begins with 1 Samuel 15:34-35:
Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.
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.” 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.’ 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.” 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?” 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.
When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” 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.” Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 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.” 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.” 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.
This is an optional selection from the Old Testament that is offered by the Episcopal Lectionary for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B 2018. In the numbering system that lists each Sunday in an ordinal fashion, this Sunday is referred to as Proper 6. If chosen, it will next be read aloud in church by a reader on Sunday, June 17, 2018. It is important as it reflects how a true leader is anointed from within, due to one having been chosen by God to serve Him, because without that inner strength one will be influenced by the people to go against God’s will.
The fifteenth chapter of First Samuel tells the story of Saul as king of Israel, from his being the one anointed by Samuel to his failure to follow the instructions of the LORD, given to him by Samuel. Saul spared Agag, the King of the Amalekites, against the will of God. Saul also allowed his soldiers to keep the livestock of the Amalekites, against the will of God. Every living being was ordered to be destroyed.
When confronted by Samuel, Saul said, “The people took the spoils of livestock.” Wrong answer, as a king rules over the people, not vice versa. Saul had taken Agag as his spoil, rather than kill him as commanded. This failure by Saul caused Samuel to bring the captive Agag before him, to be slaughtered by Samuel’s hand and sword. Thus, when we read here, “Samuel grieved over Saul,” it was due to Samuel knowing that Saul would have to pay for his sins; and that is why Samuel would “not see Saul again until the day of his death.” Saul was the proverbial “dead man walking.”
In the sixteenth chapter we read, “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.” This ability to communicate with God IS the true inner strength that a leader of people must have, otherwise one is no better a failure than was Saul. Samuel was able to hear God’s voice from a young apprentice priest, thus the elders of the Twelve Tribes called upon Samuel for guidance. Still, Samuel was then old and had no sons (literal or symbolic) who could fill his shoes and lead Israel as a judge. This absence of an adult replacement made it necessary for God to provide for himself a king to serve His will over the Israelites.
When we read Samuel’s reaction to God telling him to go anoint a new king, his saying, “If Saul hears of it, he will kill me” was a reflection of how human beings in positions of power will react to threats against their power by striking first and asking questions later. Samuel would not be the only prophet-priest afraid of crazed rulers, as Elijah would likewise run from Ahab. Later in Samuel’s story we will see David hiding from Saul’s wrath.
Certainly, God was not asking Samuel to perform a second anointing of a King of Israel, when one was already serving in that capacity. Instead, Samuel would anoint the rightful heir to that throne, in a private ceremony, one between God and Samuel in Bethlehem.
Jesse (whose name means, “Yah[weh] Exists”) the Bethlehemite, was invited to a sacrificial rite that called for called for all attendees to be sanctified (through ritual washing). Jesse was an elder in the tribe of Judah. Other leaders of that town were also invited, along with their sons. In line with the ancient practice of the eldest son being given into priesthood, which had since been restricted to only those firstborn of the Levites, Samuel might have said he came to anoint a son known as special to God. Samuel might then have had several Israelite males of several fathers entering into a large tent, where he walked in front of them all. Having gone by all, Samuel would then stop in front of Jesse, saying, “God chooses this father’s son.”
Whatever the truth that was told, when we read that the LORD told Samuel, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord,’” the heifer would have been one of those Saul took from the Amalekites. As can be seen in this map below, the path Samuel would have taken from Ramah to Bethlehem would have gone through Gibeah, where King Saul lived. Saul would have been advised that Samuel was going south, through town, to anoint someone.
I imagine Samuel did not travel as a judge alone, instead traveling with an entourage of sorts, with priests and wagons that carried cloths and cups, et al, for a sacrifice and anointing. Probably, there was a wagon for the heifer, to keep it ceremonially clean. As a procession of vehicles moving through Gilbeah, he would have been stopped and questioned. Taking a heifer would be key to unopposed passage.
By taking a sacrificial animal that Saul knew guilt over (Amalekite livestock that Saul was ordered to kill, not take as a spoil), and by also knowing how Saul had said that sin was a problem easily solved by sacrificing the forbidden livestock in holy ritual to the LORD, Saul had no reason to halt that caravan. All Samuel had to say (if asked) would have been, “Just getting rid of some of the king’s falsely obtained animals.”
The truth would have been told in that way. We do know that Samuel would not see Saul “again until the day of his death.” Still, their paths crossed, without them meeting, in each carrying out their respective duties. That would include currier communications, as needed.
When we read, “The elders of [Bethlehem] came to meet [Samuel] trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” one has to recall how we discussed the elders going to Samuel asking him to “appoint” them a “king, to be like other nations.” Besides the fact that over a long “career” as a truly holy man of God, even as an old judge of Israel he was to be taken seriously. The Israelites knew that when Samuel came to town, they probably had done something wrong and God had sent Samuel to punish them.
In this specific instance, all of Israel would have known that Saul was in big trouble with the LORD (over the Amalekites thing). Soldiers from every tribe had taken part in that war, and one or two (at least) Bethlehemites had brought back a stolen goat or cow. The elders were shaking with fear for having told Samuel to anoint Saul, who then disobeyed the LORD and allowed his soldiers to do likewise. The elders felt that guilt, plus anything else their guilt caused them to tremble over.
When Samuel looked upon Jesse’s eldest son, Eliab, his reaction can be explained by the birth rank and the name. The name Eliab means, “God Is Father,” where the Hebrew word for God is “El.” For Jesse to give that name to his firstborn son, it makes sense to conjecture that Jesse did not claim to be the father of a son given to the LORD. Thus, Eliab might have come wearing a priestly tallit, which could have prompted Samuel to say, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.”
Eliab was rejected, as God told 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.” The Hebrew words translated as “height of his stature” (rooted in “gaboah qomah”) can equally state, “lofty height,” where this is not simply seeing the physical attributes of someone, but seeing the physical dress applied to one’s body. It becomes the basis for the idiom, “clothes make the man.” This outward appearance will bring personal benefit to those who project special presence (either true or contrived); but God sees the heart of the individual and knows if appearance is pretense or a reflection of the true core being.
Eliab was rejected, as was his brothers Abinadab (whose name means “My Father Is Nobel” – a reflection of Jesse’s elevation to a position of respect in Bethlehem) and Shammah (whose name means “Waste” or “Astonishing Desolation” – a reflection of times of trial in Jesse’s life). Samuel saw seven of Jesse’s sons and all were rejected by God. As Samuel had been told the one to be anointed was a son of Jesse, Samuel asked Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” That deduction found Jesse had not followed orders.
Jesse had not bothered to bring his youngest son, which means he was still a boy, not yet aged into manhood. The Hebrew word translated as “the youngest” (rooted in “qatan“) actually says “the least.” That becomes a value statement, based on Israelite culture.
Children were not considered to hold any level of importance in the Israelite social structure, as they were like apprentices to adults. Thus the phrase, “Children should be seen and not heard.” In ancient writings, children were mentioned generally (seen), but not named (heard). Jesse did not follow Samuel’s instruction, because he assumed only adult males were invited. However, that assumption proved the lack of an anointed one; and that omission was another example of how simple instructions (such as what Samuel told Saul about killing ALL of the Amalekites, not just most of them) went into the heads of the elders of Israel, coming out with convoluted changes due to ignorance.
When Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here,” one has to imagine how at least an hour of time had to have passed after that. Everyone remained standing, as punishment for not having paid attention to the simple instruction, “Bring with you all of your sons.”
A shepherd takes his flock to different pastures, day by day, and one could assume Jesse owned a few good pasture lands. One would presume the second to the youngest of Jesse’s son was sent to run and find David, having been the shepherd before him, and then bring David back. Keep in mind that both the son sent and David would have to be sanctified by water and priestly blessing, before being allowed into the tent when the ceremony was taking place. All that time the honored guests of Samuel stood and did not sit, all because Jesse did the thinking, but did it wrong.
When David finally arrived and was inspected by Samuel, we read, “Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome.” This is an outward appearance that was totally physical, which says the “least” of Jesse’s sons was good stock, as was the eldest, Eliab. Still, this was the appearance of a youth, of one who worked in the sunshine tending sheep. David most likely exercised as most young boys would, alone with his thoughts and imaginations, having no restrictions on how little to wear on a hot day. So, he was red from sun, as well as fit and trim.
His “beautiful eyes” can be symbolic of his pure view of life, which had yet to become clouded with the pessimism and dissatisfaction of adulthood. As such, the LORD knew the heart of David was pure and devoted to his religious upbringing. That made David be the chosen one of God.
When we read, “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,” this says that the pure innocence of David, as a youth who delighted in knowing the stories of the Israelites and their Patriarchs, made him be chosen to serve the LORD. God knew the heart of Jesse’s youngest son before God came upon him. Likewise, Samuel, as a youth given to Eli to be a priest, was pure innocence first, before being filled with the Holy Spirit and allowed to hear the voice of God.
The oil poured on the forehead of David was symbolic of his being likewise filled with the Holy Spirit. This is the meaning of “the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David.” When one has this pure state of devotion first, then the next step is to be anointed with the Holy Spirit. It is not exclusive to Samuel and David.
It should be noted that David’s name was not mentioned until after he had been anointed by Samuel. As a youth, in ancient writing etiquette, women and children were not named directly, because they were not deemed as self-sufficient, thus irrelevant. The naming here, as David, should be seen as a God-given name, more than the name given by Jesse to his last-born son. The name “David” is said to mean “Beloved,” but there are many who see the Hebrew root (dwd) as having other potential meanings. Some historians have struggled finding proof of a King David, despite his prominence in Hebrew texts. This might be a statement that “David” is a symbolic name, rather than a literal name, because “Beloved” was the state of being that told of a relationship (a marriage) between God and His wife (a human being), because one’s heart was pure and completely devoted to obedience and servitude to the LORD.
As a potential selection for the fourth Sunday after Pentecost when one’s personal ministry to God should be underway, it should be recognized how those chosen to serve God are pure of heart. An Apostle – Saint is called to be the “Beloved” of the LORD, and one serves God because of love, connecting one to the divine. For as obvious as that might be seen, the reality is how rarly such an anointing takes place.
The symbolism of King Saul is today found in the political-philosophical leaders of the world. In the words of the Billy Crystal character Fernando, on SNL skits, “You look marvelous.”
Many people around the world get down on their knees and pray to demigods whose outward appearance says to them, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” The word “Lord” is then whatever power they serve, be it a philosophy like Communism, Socialism, or Capitalism, or a religion like Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, or Islam. The “elders” are those who command large groups that direct their followers to choose flawed leaders.
Since Samuel could not see the hearts of others, depending on the inner voice of God to correct his poor vision, anyone who follows his or her sensory organs in a quest to find a king who serves some principle one holds dear will fail. We have become societies of lambs being led to the slaughter of negligence, simply by being seen as the spoils of war between evil rulers. Few of us still have the purity and innocence of a youthful spirit that yearns to please God. Few act as good shepherds these days.
Each Apostle knows the kingdom one serves is one’s own physical body. That body becomes the temple of the LORD when one’s heart is devoted to God, and made pure and innocent by the Holy Spirit anointing one in marriage to God’s love. Anything short of that will result in the ultimate failure – the recycling of or the loss of one’s soul. Those who fall short will hear the simple instruction to sacrifice their egos and seek marriage to God, only to turn that into convoluted changes due to ignorance. They will keep the spoils as they see fit; and then they will tremble in fear when their judgment time has come.
Ministry to the Lord means never having to ask God, “Do you come peaceably?”