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First Impressions: 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

June 8, 2009

This week, the lectionary returns to Ordinary time and its series of semi-contiguous readings.  Normally, I choose to preach on the gospel texts since they usually provide narrative material.  Besides, how could you go wrong preaching about Jesus?  But not this summer.

Every once in a while we get a series from the Old Testament that seems preachable, such as the Israelites in the wilderness or, as is the case here, the saga of David.  The lectionary jumps into the story just as Saul is rejected and Samuel goes off in search of a new king.  I intend to follow the sordid tale to the bitter end in late August with the emergence of Solomon, the completion of the Temple, and the ark of the covenant coming home to roost in God’s own house, made with human hands, not in the heavens, but here on earth (1 Kings 8:1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43).

15:34-35 If we read this week’s text as presented in the lectionary, we will be dropping into the middle of the action, Samuel and Saul already going their separate ways.  I will need to bring the congregation up to speed quickly.  Who exactly are Samuel and Saul?  I will try to tell just enough of the story of the prophet and king to orient the listeners.  Otherwise, they will be flipping through their Bibles to catch up with the story instead of paying attention to my brilliant message.

16:1-12 Early in the text, Samuel meets the sons of Jesse.  At first, David is simply an afterthought.  He isn’t present.  No one even thought to include him.  What does that tell us about the ways God is working in the world?  God’s resourcefulness outpaces mine to an extraordinary degree.  That is not only useful news for the Church, but also for the preacher who imagines her sermon is more like a dry crust of bread than a tasty morsel.

Then, as Samuel begins to search for the son to be anointed, God explains that the prophet’s problem is that he is looking at the “outward appearance” instead of the “heart” (16:7).  Eliab is apparently tall and strong, but he is not the one.  This is all well and good, but your congregation may then notice that the narrator takes great pains to tell us that David was “ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome” (16:12).  Now who’s looking on the outward appearance?  I’m not sure what to make of that, but you can be certain that someone in the pews will notice.

Other Thoughts One issue that may have been just as critical to ancient audiences as outward appearances was the concern about birth order.  This story strongly echoes in my mind the tale of favorite son Joseph and his older brothers.  Though there is no indication David is a favorite of Jesse, there are similarities, particularly if you look ahead to the story of Goliath (17:28-30).

Scripture gives us several images of the younger usurping the elder, of course, including Abel over Cain, Isaac over Ishmael, and Jacob over Esau.  (Commentary on “The Samuel Bias,” Homiletics Online.)  For those of us who are eldest children, the Bible does tell about one eldest son who remains the Number One guy, namely, the first son of a woman named Mary.

Finally (though jumping back to the beginning of the pericope), there is the issue of God’s sorrow at having chosen Saul in the first place.  This is a potentially juicy theological issue to tackle.  It could provide a starting point for examining God’s persistence in the world despite our human inability to follow through, or even a sermon examining the redemption of our own failures and bad decisions.  This latter idea, though, may stray a little far from the text.

At this moment, I am leaning toward preaching about the unexpected nature of God’s providence.  Be careful not to reject the unusual resources God sends your way.  Or, to put it positively, freely welcome the odd, astonishing gifts God gives you.

What images jump out at you?  What is the direction you are inclined to follow?  Is there a single theme to be found in the text?  If so, what is it?

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 12, 2009 12:22 pm

    I’m glad you’re digging into Samuel as well. I look forward to checking in and getting/sharing ideas. I hope your David kickoff goes well this Sunday! We’ll be doing a confirmation for one young guy who missed our Confirmation Sunday on Pentecost. I think this text makes a good confirmation sermon too though.

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