1 SAMUEL 16:1-13
1The 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.” 2Samuel 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.’ 3Invite 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.” 4Samuel 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?” 5He 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.
6When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is now before the LORD.”7But 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.” 8Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.” 9Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.” 10Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The LORD has not chosen any of these.” 11Samuel 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.” 12He 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.” 13Then 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.
Being short of stature, I am always heartened by passages that minimize the relevance of one's height. Now, being not-tall doesn't mean all that much. Being short is not a virtue in itself either, just like being tall isn't necessarily a virtue, except for reaching things on the top shelf.
The stature thing is actually a minor element in this passage. The major element is the anointing of David as the future king of Israel. And this anointing of David follows the sad conclusion of Saul's days as king. The one who seems most dispirited by the news that Saul's days as king are numbered is Samuel. Why this is so is probably due to Samuel's friendship with Saul. Samuel -- the last of the Hebrew Judges and the first of the great prophets of Israel -- was a human being like the rest of us. You grow fond of someone whom you've known a long time and someone whose ascension you've witnessed and cheered on. Such was the case of Samuel's relationship with Saul.
But the hard truth for Samuel is that YHWH has rejected Saul. YHWH [the LORD] has picked out another man to become King of Israel. This time around mere good looks won't do (though David is described as handsome). Something more is needed. That something is connected to verse 7, "... the LORD looks on the heart." Earlier in 1 Samuel 13:14, YHWH tells Samuel, "I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do." What Saul lacked, David had in spades.
But mere passion for God does not cover everything either as we discover what happens in David's life. David's lack of self-control will bring ruin. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
For the time being, the anointing of David is a good and happy story. The ritual act of anointing with oil symbolizes that David is being marked as the new king. Samuel consecrates David as Israel's future king in the eyes of those gathered, the most important eyes belonging to Samuel. The oil also represents the Holy Spirit. Hence we read that the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David from that day. (This anointing of the Spirit will be prophetic as well, as the Messiah comes as the Davidic King.) This preposition -- "upon" -- captures how the Old Testament anointed ones experienced the Spirit. Never "within," but always "upon."
(The "within" will only happen after the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, the "within" or "in" indicating that people will become temples of the Holy Spirit.)
What are we to make of this episode? Knowing too much of David's life-story makes it hard to celebrate this event in a naive, unadulterated way. David, with his weaknesses, will make some grave errors in judgment. At the same time, the greatest king of Israel is David. And YHWH will make a promise to David that his kingly line will last forever, a promise made true through Jesus, the Davidic King. The big takeaway is the reminder that the LORD "looks on the heart." The Sovereign God works with us! He partners with those whose hearts are right with Him. To be persons "after God's own heart" is a terrific place to start. It won't solve all of life's challenges, but it is the best start we can think of.
Let's pray: O God, give us the heart that was like David's, a heart that was passionate for you. May we know you and love you with a burning passion. We know other qualities will be needed to flourish in life. Nevertheless, let us establish our flourishing in you with this one great love. To love you with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind is our prayer today. In Jesus' name, amen.