1 Samuel 16:1-13 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.
Reflection The first mention of David comes in the last verse of this passage. He’s the youngest son of Jesse and not considered worthy to join his father and brothers at the sacrifice to which Samuel has invited them. David’s been left to do the menial work of looking after the family’s sheep, while the others attend the feast.
Samuel, though, is on God’s mission, seeking the person whom God has chosen to be anointed as king. God isn’t impressed by any of the seven brothers. Superficially they have qualities that the world values, they present as being suitable for high office; but God is more interested in their inner qualities. So David is summoned and in obedience to God, Samuel anoints him, while the others watch.
The text states that God’s spirit came upon David from that moment. In other words the power of God was bestowed on David to equip him for the role that lay ahead of him, divine power mediated through a ritual conducted by a prophet. In our tradition the laying on of hands when someone is ordained to ministry or eldership, mirrors this idea; it is a way of making visible in public what we believe God is enacting deep within the individual.
The text is silent about how David responded to being designated as king – remember Israel already had a King, Saul. Nothing is said about how the brothers, or Jesse, reacted to David’s elevation over them either; but imagine how the dynamics would have changed. The scene is set for power struggles at a political level and for complexities in human relationships as the story of David unfolds.
Let’s also note the location is Bethlehem; the Hebrew verb ‘anointed’ transliterates into ‘Messiah’ (and the Greek into Christ); David was introduced as a humble shepherd; and the story demonstrates a saying Jesus will utter more than once ‘the last shall be first’.
Prayer Holy God, we are amazed that you choose to fulfil your purposes through the lives of ordinary people like us. We thank you that you see the potential each has and equip us to achieve it. Forgive us when we’re blinded by the world’s values and fail to recognize those whom you identify for leadership roles in church and society. Open our eyes to see where your Spirit is at work in others and then to encourage them. Amen.
The Rev’d Dr Janet E Tollington A retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge