We’re maybe used to the idea that Jesus turned the accepted values of his day around. This to a certain extent was what really upset the authorities, and particularly the religious leaders – because they had everything worked out, they controlled the everyday lives of the people through the rules and regulations that covered every aspect of their lives, and you still see that in the strict Jewish communities in parts of this country. But turning accepted practice upside down wasn’t something that Jesus started, as we see in this story from the Book of Samuel – God was doing just the same thing generations earlier.
It’s a great story, this choosing of a successor to Saul, and quite relevant in period of political confusion such as we have at the moment. Just a few days ago the Prime Minister was reshuffling his Cabinet and there was much speculation as to who should get which job. How would he choose? What was the criterion used in choosing one person over another? Was it a case of who has the greatest talent, or who was the most likely to remain loyal for the next twelve months?
Enough of British politics!
In our story tension builds as God (mysteriously) instructs the prophet not to anoint the obvious choices, the ones the political consultants or pundits would choose today (the ones with the best numbers in the polls or the best faces for television), the ones who somehow appear most qualified or capable because they are older or stronger or more impressive.
Samuel took one look at the eldest son Eliab and thought, "Here
he is! God's anointed!" But then something, an inner prompting from
God says ‘No, not that one!’ and in the modern Message translation
we get the reasoning behind this - "Looks aren't everything. Don't
be impressed with his looks and stature. I've already eliminated him.
God judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the
face; God looks into the heart."
In some mysterious way Samuel understands that God is concerned with the unseen, the heart, of the person, the very centre and core, and although he might have been a fine upstanding strong lad, and traditionally the one to whom such an honour would have been granted, in God’s eyes there was something not quite right in his heart.
And it goes on! Jesse brings out a succession of eligible young men who might be anointed by Samuel, and each time that inner prompting tells him that these are not the right ones, not God’s choice. And then maybe Samuel starts having second thoughts. ‘Hang on!’ he thinks, ‘I’m running out of options here – maybe I misheard God.’ But then he asks the vital question ‘Are there any more sons?’ and Jesse, rather apologetically mumbles that there is another, the runt of the litter (as the Message puts it) who just looks after the sheep.
So out they go and fetch David from the field where he’s shepherding the flock, and immediately God gives Samuel a big nudge, or maybe a kick up the backside which jolts him into action “Up on your feet! Anoint him! This is the one!”
Bring in the shepherd and make him a shepherd-king, anointed by God to lead the people and to live on throughout their history as the greatest of kings, the hope of the people, a vision for the future. And all this heaped upon this slight lad, the smallest and youngest member of the family.
Who but God knew what potential lay in the youngest, the smallest of
all? Who knew what power God would give to the power-less?
It wasn’t just that God was giving Samuel a lesson in values though – he wasn’t deliberately holding back on revealing who he wanted just to make Samuel sweat a little! The important message of this story, and indeed of the whole of our Bible is that it has a beginning, a middle and an end – God is in control, he will have his way despite all that humankind might throw at him, despite all the disappointment of seeing his people follow him one minute and then reject him another.
There were times when God had to punish the people for their disobedience, and there were times when he would bless them, but God’s promise to his people (and now by implication to all believers) is that at some point in time all people will worship the one true God and his will will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We might think that we know what’s best for the world and for God’s purpose but so often we’re following our own agenda and not Gods. We are looking at the world from our small corner, he sees it with the eyes of eternity and that makes a big difference!
David was a small boy when he was anointed, a small link in the chain, but he was part of God’s plan for God’s family and that was the important issue here.
Back in 1990 when the now famous Hubble telescope was first launched, there was not much hope for its success. Apparently its reflecting mirror had been manufactured improperly, causing the telescope’s pictures to be out of focus. In fact, Hubble needed a giant -- and expensive -- pair of eyeglasses or refractions to correct its vision, because the curvature of its mirror was off by a mere one-fiftieth the width of a human hair. It seems that if the curve or parabola is not just right, a telescope is useless. It cannot focus light and reflect reality as it is -- or in the case of Hubble, as it was billions of years ago. Small things can make a big difference.
Seeds are small, too, and often buried or overlooked, but what power lies within them! Jesus offers parables in Mark’s Gospel that compare the reign of God with the mysterious, hidden way of a seed's growth, a process that fascinates us even today, in spite of our technological progress and the "wonders" it produces.
When you sow a row of lettuce seeds, do you understand what’s going on in the seed as it lies there in the soil or compost? Can you comprehend how the influence of light levels, temperature, humidity and nutrients go together to determine whether the seed will germinate and grow – or do you just accept it as a wonderful part of the natural world? It's like that, Jesus says with the kingdom of God: hidden and mysterious, and yet a very real wonder all the same, which has an inevitability and purpose.
Martin Luther thought about this, and he said, “If you truly understood
a single grain of wheat, you would die of wonder.”