Emmanuel Baptist Church

275 State St.  Albany, NY 12210
(518) 465-5161

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A Welcoming and Affirming Congregation

Minister:  Rev. Kathy J. Donley

The Heart for the Job

Rev. Kathy Donley



Scripture Lesson:  1 Samuel 15:34 - 16:13


June seems a long time ago now.  Some of you might remember that back in June, we read from I Samuel 8 that the people of Israel demanded a king because they wanted to be like the other nations.  God, who had always been their king, granted that request.  We have picked up the story when Saul has been reigning for a while.  Saul has not pleased God. The text says, ďGod was sorry he had made Saul king over Israel 

For the rest of the summer, we are going to be remembering some of the stories of David.  But before the prophet Samuel leaves the scene, I want us to notice him.  You might remember that Samuelís mother was Hannah.  She was child-less and earnestly prayed for a son.  When her prayer was answered, she dedicated Samuel to God.  As a young boy, Samuel went to serve the priest Eli.  At the beginning of this book, it was Eli the priest, who could no longer see, Eliís sons who were corrupt priests.  The Bible says that, at that time, visions were rare and the lamp of God was dim.  But it was the young Samuel who heard the voice of God calling in the night.  Now, Samuel is an old man and his sons are the ones who take bribes and pervert justice.  Samuel was the one who anointed Saul king, at Godís instruction, even though he didnít really want to.  But now, like God, he grieves for Saul.  Does he think itís his fault that the first king didnít turn out so well?  Whatever the reason, Samuel seems reluctant to let go of the past and anoint David.  He has to be led by the hand, pushed and prodded.  But still, I note, God coaxes him and enables him to do the prophetic task to which he has been called. There is a certain grace for Samuel in that.

. . .

And then thereís David.  Letís think about all the reasons why David is an unlikely choice to be the second king of Israel:

First, There is a already a king and he has a son.  The king is Saul.  Jonathan is his son.   Jonathan should be the next king.   

Second, David is not the first-born in his family.  He is the last of 8 sons.   The first-born son got all the prizes in ancient Israel.  And not just there.  In Medieval Europe, among the upper classes, the first born son usually got the title and the land.  The second born son might become a knight or warrior and fight to defend his brotherís land. The third-born son might become a priest.   The further down you were in birth order, if you were male, the slimmer the pickings.  David is on the lowest rung. 

Third, David is not part of a royal family.  His family was not distinguished.  In fact, some of his ancestors are infamous.  You remember that his grandmother was Ruth, a foreigner who emigrated from the enemy territory of Moab.  And his great-great grandmother was the Canaanite prostitute Rehab, and way back before that, was Tamar who was almost executed for adultery. 


David would not have been most peopleís first choice for king.  Certainly not at this point in his life, when he is just the kid brother to 7 good-looking guys, when he is the one out in the fields with the sheep when the important company comes to call.  And yet, God chooses him. 


Just like God chose Jacob instead of Esau, and Joseph instead of his much older brother Reuben.  Just like God chose the childless senior citizens Abraham and Sarah to give birth to a nation.  Just like God chose an unmarried peasant girl from Galilee to give birth to Jesus.  Just like God chose women to be the first witnesses to the resurrection, when everyone knew that a womanís testimony was not admissible in court.  God doesnít work according to conventional wisdom.


So why did God choose David?  Samuel looks at Jesseís oldest son, Elias, sees how good-looking and tall he is and thinks ďsurely this is the one.Ē  But he is told ďdo not look on his appearance, for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.Ē  There is an extended play on the idea of ďseeingĒ.  Verbs for seeing or looking appear 6 times in six verses.  Something important is being said about the way that God sees. 


Something important is being said about the way that God sees, but. . . it turns out that David is also good-looking.  Vs. 12 says, ďHe was ruddy-cheeked, bright-eyed and handsomeĒ  or ďNow he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsomeĒ depending on which translation you read.  The Hebrew is unclear.  It might be that he had pink or red cheeks from working outdoors.  It might be that he was a red-head.  But the point is that even after saying not to look on outward appearances, because God looks on the heart, the narrator makes sure to tell us that David is easy on the eyes.  I think this just underscores how difficult it is for us to perceive things as God does. 

. . .

Iím trying to remember a tag line about David.  Can you help me?  If I say David was . . . how would you fill in the blank?  David was . . .  a shepherd, the one who killed Goliath, a musician, composer/collector of psalms. . .  the man after Godís own heart. 


ďThe man after Godís own heart.Ē  Thatís how David was described by Samuel before Samuel even knew his name (I Sam. 13:14). Thatís how Paul described him when interpreting Jewish history in the synagogue in Antioch (Acts 13:22).  But what does God see in him?  What makes David the man after Godís own heart?


One Bible scholar describes him this way:  ďDavid is not only handsome but is also clever and wily and decisive, a consummate liar and conniver, a wretched parent, a killer and adulterer.[1] 


What does God see in him?

David is the one who has either an intense friendship or a romance with the kingís son Jonathan, and somehow persuades Jonathan to feel more loyalty to him than to his own father.  David is the one who becomes a mercenary warlord for Israelís enemy the Philistines.  He is a shrewd politician and strategist.  He could have easily killed Saul on more than one occasion, knowing that Saul would have killed him if their situations were reversed, and yet he spared him.  He was the one who deeply grieved when Saul was killed in battle, and the one who had a member of his special Forces set up to be killed;  the one who committed rape or adultery, and then recognized his sin when confronted by a lowly prophet, the one who wished he could have died instead of his son Absalom who had attempted a coup against him.


Which part of that man was the person after Godís own heart? 


The Rev. John Buchanan, Presbyterian minister and editor of The Christian Century says, ďThis is first of all about a God who knows better than anyone, better than we ourselves, what is inside us; knows the unrealized potential, the untapped possibilities in our hearts. I have come to the conclusion that among the most important people in our lives were those who made us uncomfortable by expecting more of us than we were producing. I have come to the conclusion that our saints are those who saw more in us than we ever saw in ourselves, the ones who forced the issue of who we are and who we can be: the teacher, the coach, the parent, the mentor who called us out, who called out of us something we didnít even know was in there. Old Samuel missed it, but God didnít and God doesnít. God saw the heart of a king in a little boy. God sees your heart and mine. God wants us to become and to be all that we can."[2]


So if I understand Buchanan correctly, he thinks that God saw the potential in David, potential for great good and great evil and God summoned out the best in him. 


As instructed, Samuel anointed David and the text says, ďThe spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.Ē    David did not choose this life.   For all we know, he would have been happy being a shepherd for the rest of his days.  His life become complicated and lonely and adventurous and terrifying from this point, the time where Godís Spirit gripped him.


As hard as it might be for us to understand why God chose David, perhaps what is even more perplexing is that David believed it. There were many times when he might have thought that Samuel had been wrong, times when it seemed impossible that he would ever be king, and yet, at his core, he seems to have kept trusting in God.


It might make us think of other unlikely folks, folks in whom God saw something that others did not.  We might think of Martin Luther, who followed Godís call into the priesthood even though his father furiously thought it a waste of his education.  He kept following that call, even when it put him at odds with his beloved church.  Even when he was excommunicated and declared an outlaw and it was made a crime for anyone in Germany to give him food or shelter and it was legal for anyone to kill him without legal consequences.  Those kinds of thing might make some people think that they were mistaken about Godís call, but not Luther. 


Or we might think of Florence Nightingale, a young woman from the British upper class during the Victorian era.  When she was 16, she believed God was calling her to be a nurse.  But God didnít call women to be nurses, at least not women with parents like hers.  God called women to marry, but she turned down proposals from at least two suitable gentleman, one of whom had courted her for 7 years.  Against her parentís objections, she became a nurse and was in a position to make a difference during the Crimean War.  Her work there so depleted her that she was mostly bedridden and homebound from age 38, although she continued to advise others on improving conditions in field hospitals, like those in the U.S. Civil War.  She might have believed that her parents were right and that she had misunderstood Godís call, but thank God she did not.   She is credited with reducing the British base hospitalís death rate by two-thirds and changing the perception of nursing into a holy vocation. 

. . .

God heard the prayers of Hannah.  God moved in the life of Eli.  God used Samuel to respond to the needs of Godís people.  The spirit of God will be with David for all of his days, and we will see that it is a complicated, broken, messy, life.  God called Martin Luther and Florence Nightingale and a long long list of people whose names we will never know.  They were gripped by the Spirit of God and their lives were never the same.  May it be so for you and for me. 

[1] John C. Holbert http://www.patheos.com/Progressive-Christian/The-Right-to-Interpret-the-Will-of-God-John-C-Holbert-06-08-2015?offset=1&max=1

[2] http://www.fourthchurch.org/sermons/2006/062506.html