By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
March 19, 2023
1 Samuel 16:1–13 (ESV)
1 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” 2 And Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3 And invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do. And you shall anoint for me him whom I declare to you.” 4 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?” 5 And he said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. 6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him.” 7 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 sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 8 Then Jesse called Abinadab and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 And Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen these.” 11 Then Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and get him, for we will not sit down till he comes here.” 12 And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.” 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah.
The past few years have been rough. I do not know if this is true for most of you but for me they have been rough. In 2020 as a member of the Yearly Meeting Elders board, I with the other elders had to come to some sort of decision as to how we would approach the pandemic. This might not seem like it would be something that would be weighty, and for some you might think that it was not a big decision, but it was. It was huge. It was one of the most stressful meetings I had ever attended. We had to make a decision with incomplete knowledge, knowing full well that half of everyone would believe the decision was wrong. We made this decision. We made it not knowing if our Meeting would survive.
The Friends church, when compared to other religious societies, is not large. The largest meeting within our Yearly Meeting would be considered a small church in most other denominations. We are small, yet we have a strength that goes beyond our size. We are small, mainly due to our structure. We do not vote. We develop within our various meetings as sense of the meeting. Some might describe this as seeking unanimous support, but this is not exactly true. Some describe it as seeking unity, this is true but it is not always the outcome. To gain a sense of the meeting, requires that we have discernment. We need to understand those we are working with, and in the case of our Monthly Meeting, God. In 2020, we had a sense of the Meeting, and yet we were uncomfortable with our decision. Did we close the book of history upon our Yearly Meeting? Did we succumb to fear? Did we move forward in faith, or did we publicly expose faithlessness? These are questions that have strong opinions and these discussions then trickled down to our local meetings.
We all made decisions, and we must live with those decisions. When our doors closed, and we joined for worship online we had no idea with how it would end up. I thought I had been here working for ten years, only to have the church close because of a disagreement of opinions. The first Saturday night I stared into a camera getting ready to record a message three years ago, I thought I killed our meeting. I thought I had, as an elder and pastor, failed the very people I claimed to love and serve. And I was afraid.
Then July came, the restrictions were lifted and we as a religious society of Friends decided that it would be ok to reopen our doors. We decided together, but even then, we had struggles. Would we follow the recommendations of our local governments or not? The entire cycle began again. Differences of opinion reared and again we had to make an attempt to discern a path forward. No matter what decision we made it did not change the way I felt. I stood by our decisions, but I questioned myself every step of the way. I wondered if I had failed. I wondered if I had missed some opportunity to reflect the light of Christ into the darkness of the chaotic world. I still question. I question because I am human. I know my weaknesses, and I care about those around me. I look out and I say prayers of thanksgiving when I see people that I know have health concerns, sitting among us. When I do not see someone, I say prayers of protection and hope. And there are times I feel lead to say words that I know will hurt, and I stand here looking at the words I have written, and I question everything. And yet I speak the words. I speak the words because I do not write messages on a whim, I write only after hours of prayer and study. And I only write when I sense a clearness to proceed.
We do not know the future. We make decisions based on incomplete data at best, and we move forward with hope. We move forward even when it does not make complete sense because we have faith. When we closed the doors for Covid three years ago, I was afraid that we might never open them again. I was afraid that many would find a more entertaining YouTube worship leader and would migrate away. I was afraid I would find a more entertaining YouTube worship leader and would decide to just stop. We just did not know.
Samuel was in a place like this. He did not know. He was a prophet of God. He was the man that was supposed to have all the answers. When the people demanded a king. He went to God in tears thinking he was a failure. Samuel thought Israel was rejecting his own leadership, but God informed him that Israel was rejecting God. In Judges there is a common phase saying, “In those days there was no king in Israel: Every man did what was right in his own eyes.” Many believe that this was a phrase of condemnation, I think it is positive. God was their king. They were supposed to live with each other in community reflecting the law of God. I do agree that they failed at living up to this ideal. They wanted to be like everyone else, they wanted a king. So, Samuel found them a king. He looked over the tribes of Israel and he saw Saul. Saul was tall, strong, wealthy, he was the ideal candidate for a king. Samuel anointed Saul, and God allowed it.
For a while Saul was a good king. But like most humans, personal ambition began to cloud his judgement. He began to rely on his own knowledge instead of seeking advice from others. And suddenly he is caught with a bunch of looted cattle God commanded him to kill, but Saul justified his actions because he was going to give some of them as a sacrifice.
Turn after turn, Saul made decision based on his own gain and with each step he lead Israel to reflect the kingdoms of men instead of the Kingdom of God. And as he did this paranoia began to set in. When you live your life seeking only personal gain, the fear of losing what you have becomes greater. Saul, like most dictators, could not trust people. He believed that everyone was out to get him and demanded loyalty oaths. He did this because Samuel had told him that God rejected him as king. Saul knew his time was short.
Samuel did what was right, but he did not like it. He grieved over Saul. Saul was his king. He was the leader of his nation. He trusted this man, and this man failed him. I have been betrayed, I have watched as people I respect have been ill-treated, and I have felt that myself. I understand how and why Samuel felt the way he felt. He was instrumental in putting this man in this position. He anointed this man; he advised this man. Samuel invested his life and his reputation in this man. Saul failed, Saul was rejected by God, where does this leave Samuel?
God says to him, “How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go…for I have provided for myself a king.”
God understands our emotional states of mind. He should because he created them, and through the incarnation Jesus experienced them. God understands Samuel’s feelings. I do not want you to misread this passage and come away thinking that God does not care. God is with Samuel during this time of lament. And he is with us as we struggle through our own bouts of disappointment. God understands, but God is not bound by time and space like we are. Samuel believed that Saul’s rejection by God was God rejecting all of Israel. God is not being uncaring, but he is telling Samuel, this is just one man. Sure, he was king, but one man will not stop God. How long will you grieve this one set back? How long will you focus on this one bump in the road? How long will you live focused on failure when tomorrow is a new day?
“For I have provided for myself a king.” God says. When I began reflecting on this passage, I found that there is a reoccurring theme to this chapter. That theme is around the verb “to see”. Samuel sees only failure and rejection, that is why he grieves, but God says how long are you going to sit here blinded from reality. And he tells Samuel, I have Seen for myself a king. The word translated as provided is raah or the verb “to see’, God sees, and God will provide. He does not leave the people he loves and calls by His name completely alone. Samuel sees rejection and loses heart, and God tells him not to grieve because He sees the king.
We can get caught in a whirlpool of despair, at least I can. I bring up the trials of Covid, because it was the most difficult aspect of ministry I have faced. Everything had to change. The things I once relied on were not available anymore, and I along with everyone else had to figure it out. I was afraid. And yet, I had hope. I had hope because God had already begun to reveal a direction to us. We already had a YouTube channel set up. And we were already participating in digital space. At the time it was just luxury, but had we not listened and allowed one guy to set up a camera on the front row of our meeting for worship, we might have been in trouble. God saw our way through, before we even needed it. And God sees a king where Samuel only sees rejection.
God urges Samuel to go to Bethlehem to speak to Jesse and his sons. Samuel tenses up. He knows that Saul is already irritated, and If Samuel goes out to Bethlehem it can only lead to questioning. Saul has spies, he has these spies because Saul is a paranoid dictator that sees the people he rules as potential enemies. And Samuel asks God, “How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me.” Samuel is caught in grief and despair over the rejection of Saul by God, but Samuel also fears Saul. Samuel, like us, is caught between worlds. He wants to serve and follow God, but he is also aware that he lives in a world that often opposes God. At times following God may require paying a price.
“Saul will kill me,” Samuel pleas. I sat with this phrase as I prayed this week. I reflected on the various moments in my life where I felt led to speak or act, knowing that there might be a consequence. I have spent the past three years in this place. Will we speak, will we act, will we stand for what is right even if those with power may threaten us? I sat with this passage and I thought about the early Friends. Those people who so strongly believed that all people were equal and sought to honor that of God in all people. Those early Friends that were thrown in prison because they refused to use pronouns. Yes, I say this because it is a hot topic. The early Friends were imprisoned because they would not refer to the nobility with plural titles. Friends did not believe that those among the nobility were better than anyone else, so why should they use a plural pronoun for a singular person. They were imprisoned because they supported equality. All people have dignity because they bear the image of God. And a king or peasant equally bears that image. I wonder what those early Friends might say in today’s situation. Would they respect the pronouns or not? I think the answer is they would respect the person.
Saul will kill me. Samuel is stuck. If I do what I believe God is leading me to do, the people of the world might reject me. And if I do what the world accepts, I might in turn reject God. We might look at Samuel as being a coward in this moment but put yourself in the story. Each of us has been in this position in one way or another. We have had to make a decision, we have had to make a stand knowing that someone somewhere, someone we might respect or want respect from, might reject us. I have faced this dilemma at work. I have been in this place in meetings I have participated in. I have been in that place right here in this very meetinghouse. Will I say what I believe I should, and face rejection? Or will I say what I know people want to hear and get praised? Samuel is not a coward but a realist. And God again meets him in that situation.
“Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ And invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do.” Some say that God is being a bit deceitful in this moment. But it was Samuel’s job to offer sacrifices. This is a time and place before the establishment of the temple, so sacrifices were not centrally located. When the king was going into battle Samuel would go to the king and offer sacrifices. When the prophet went to a town it was perfectly acceptable for them to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving with the people, and for them to share a meal with the community. God is not being deceitful, God is telling Samuel to do what he is called to do. God is telling him to continue to serve him no matter what the world might think. His job was to offer sacrifices because he was a priest and a prophet. His job was to go to the communities of Israel because he remained the last of the Judges. Samuel’s job, his ministry is not determined by humankind, but God. God in this moment was affirming Samuel and showing him his love and provision. Do not worry about Saul, just do your job Samuel. Do what God has called you to do, be who God has made you to be.
Samuel goes to Bethlehem. He meets with the town elders, who were a bit upset to see him at first. He invites Jesse and asks him to present all his sons to him. Eliab, the eldest comes in and Samuel thinks that this is the anointed one. And God rebukes him. “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
This is one of my favorite passages. It is something that I remind myself of nearly every day. It goes back to the common theme of this chapter, “To See”. Samuel is looking but he is not truly seeing. This is the lesson of this whole section of scripture. Often I am asked about what I think about the status of the church today. People ask me if I am worried about the current trends. I will admit that I am concerned, but I am not worried. I am not worried because I think the emerging culture around us is in a lot of ways more honest than we have been in previous generations. This is important. The emerging generation is more concerned with meaningful life and lifestyle than being right or wrong. This scares some, but for me it is a breath of fresh air. When we seek meaningful life, that means there is searching. And when there is searching there is activity. “To See, To know, to hear, to be” are all involved in this quest. This is right where God and Samuel are in this passage. Do not look on his appearance, God says, look deeper. Look at the heart.
The concept of the heart is important. It is symbolic, God is not looking at our literal heart to make sure our arteries are free of cholesterol blockage, but He is looking at the core of who we are, our character. The heart is what makes you, you. God is telling Samuel that the world looks at a façade built to give an impression. We use these masks to hide and deceive. We build up these images of what we want and put people in the box. Since the invention of Television, people in America care more about the image of their leaders than what the leaders say. Are we looking or seeing? Are we concerned with the image we exude or are we focused on the heart?
Three years ago, I stood here alone in a cold empty meetinghouse. I stood staring at cameras and computer screens wondering what the future might hold. We faced one of the greatest struggles of the church in generations, and we came through it stronger than we were before we faced the trial. We discerned together that it is best to preserve life than to meet, and we encouraged our meetings to use creative means to continue the work we were called to do. And I can say today, the Friends church is stronger today than we were three years ago because of it. But that does not mean we do not face more struggles as a church, as a community, or as individuals. Much has happened since the covid lock downs. Each of these struggles also carries with them the potential for great harm or can propel us into greater strength. I want us to consider how we approach our future. Are we grieving rejection? Are we fearful of conflict? Or do we have hope in Christ? Jesus faced struggles. He faced rejection. He faced betrayal, loss, and injustice. He faced every manner of temptation that we face in life, yet without sin. He came down from heaven taking on human life so that he through his life, death, and resurrection, he can lift us up to glory. Can you see? Can you see past the postures of humanity to the heart? Will we, like Samuel, look past ourselves and see the king? And will we walk forward into the mists of unknowing with the faith that God will provide? Will we shine light into the chaotic darkness and see ourselves and the person next to us for who they are, an individual bearing the image of God, so loved by their creature that while they were still sinners rejecting him, Christ saw them.
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