Text: 1 Samuel 16:1-13
No job is perfect. Some of you might argue that some jobs are less perfect than others, and that is undoubtedly true, but the fact is, every job has its down side.
Fred Hoiberg was and is a beloved figure here in Ames, the hometown star who returned to coach the Cyclones and lead ISU back to glory. He was loved by the fans, but college coaching is not easy. For a lot of coaches, the worst part is recruiting. Traveling all over the country, trying to convince high school kids to come to Iowa to play basketball, knowing that your future depends on decisions of 17 year olds, all while dealing with the shenanigans that goes on with unsavory characters in the recruiting world, as evidenced by recent arrests for bribery and illegal payments at several universities. It’s not for the faint of heart.
But Fred escaped the world of recruiting. He went to coach the Chicago Bulls in the NBA – a dream job. In Chicago he can go out in public, go out to dinner and not necessarily be recognized. But there is a down side to that job as well: NBA players don’t always defer to the coach, the press can be brutal, and there is a lot less job security.
I have talked to people who love teaching but don’t like all the bureaucracy. Or they really enjoy working construction but don’t like that it is so dependent on the weather. Or they enjoy scientific research but hate the iffiness of funding and constant pressure of chasing grants. Or they like real estate but don’t like the long hours and weekends.
Every occupation has its ups and downs. I once heard somebody talk about it as “paying the rent.” He was talking about those aspects of the job that you might not especially care for. You have to perform those duties, kind of as “rent,” so that you get to do the parts of the job that you enjoy.
Now I realize that for some people, the part they really enjoy is getting a paycheck. Fair enough.
Last week, we looked at the call of Samuel. As a boy, God called him in the night, and with the help of the priest Eli, Samuel answered “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
Now, Samuel is a grown man. He was the last of the judges and the first of the major prophets of Israel. The people of Israel had pleaded for a king. They wanted to be like the other nations. Samuel had warned that they should be careful what they ask for, that the king would take their lands and livestock and tax them heavily, and that God did not necessarily want them to be like the other nations. But in the end, the people got what they wanted. Assured and led by God, Samuel anointed Saul as King over Israel.
But as foreshadowed by Samuel’s concerns, Saul’s reign was a little bumpy. He did not prove to be a good ruler and in the end, God asked Samuel to go and anoint a new king over Israel.
This is where we get to the part of the job that you don’t particularly enjoy. God asks Samuel to anoint a new king, but Samuel did not relish this assignment. This was worse than recruiting or grant writing, worse than working weekends.
The fact was, this should not have been necessary. The whole point of monarchies is to have a hereditary ruler. The oldest son was supposed to succeed his father as king. But God had other plans.
The biggest problem with Samuel anointing a new king was that Saul, who was now king, would not exactly be thrilled with the idea. Samuel was not feeling real good about his relationship with Saul anyway. There had been some conflict, and while Samuel as prophet had not hesitated to confront Saul with his sin, to go as far as anointing a new king would certainly put his life in jeopardy. Samuel rightfully feared for his life.
But he does it, because God had asked him. He does it, because he is committed to serving God and because he knows it needs to be done. Some of you can relate to that. In our occupations, as parents, in our family life, with friends, we can face those difficult tasks that we don’t enjoy, but know need to be done.
And so Samuel heads to Bethlehem, where Jesse and his family lived. God told Samuel to go to Jesse’s house, and that he was to anoint one of his as the new king. Samuel doesn’t make a big commotion about it; he is trying not to attract attention. But word gets around. And he approaches the city, the city elders head out to meet him. They are shaking in their shoes. They don’t fear Samuel himself so much as the possibility that Samuel is bringing his controversy with Saul into their city. What was to follow? Would there be bloodshed? Would the king draft their young men into military service, or commandeer their fields and flocks?
Samuel assures them that he comes peaceably, that there is no cause for alarm: he is there to offer a sacrifice to God. Which was the truth - but not quite the whole truth. Samuel was on a dangerous mission, and what he was doing would be considered treason. The sacrifice is his cover story, so to speak, although a sacrifice and communal meal would certainly be a part of anointing a leader. God told Samuel to say, “I have come to offer a sacrifice” – basically telling Samuel, “You don’t have to tell them everything, just share what you can safely share.” Samuel tells the elders that they are welcome to come, although the rest of the story makes it sound as though none of the elders took Samuel up on his invitation.
Samuel and Jesse and Jesse’s sons purify themselves for the sacrifice—they go through ritual washings to be prepared for the worship of God.
The first son that Samuel sees is Eliab. He was big and strong and good-looking--he looked like a king. He is right out of central casting. “Surely, this is the one,” thought Samuel. But it wasn’t Eliab. The Lord said to Samuel, “Mortals see only appearances but God sees the heart.” Then Abinadab walked before Samuel, but it was not him either. Jesse presented all seven of his sons to Samuel, but Samuel said, “Sorry, the Lord has not chosen any of these.”
Now while we can understand the focus on appearance – we understand it because we live in a culture that cares a great deal about appearance – there is another factor to consider. Serving as king meant being the political leader, the head of state, but it meant more than that. This was a time when the king would lead the army into battle. Being big and tall and strong wasn’t just about looking the part, it was also about doing the job.
Samuel had now met Jesse’s seven sons. At this point, Samuel may have wondered if he got the message right. Here he had been all nervous about it and as it turned out, he wasn’t going to anoint a new king anyway. Maybe he had the wrong family, maybe it was supposed to be Jesse in Jericho. He asked Jesse, “I don’t suppose you have any other sons, do you?”
As luck would have it, there was one more son, David, the youngest, who was watching the sheep. David was just a kid, certainly not what you would think of as king material. But Samuel said, “Nobody sits down till David gets here.” David arrived, and the Lord said to Samuel, “Rise and anoint him; this is the man.” Samuel took the oil and anointed him, and the scripture says, “The spirit of the Lord was with him from that day onwards.”
Of all the sons, David was the least expected. Just a shepherd boy. The leading prophet of the nation had come to visit – it would be hard to overstate how important an occasion this was - and David wasn’t even part of the gathering. Seven is the Bible’s number of fullness and completion. But David is the eighth son. Eight connotes extra, leftovers, not as important, not really needed, an afterthought. And when Samuel comes to visit, David does seem to be an afterthought.
What kind of choice was this? David was young. He had no experience. He was untried. He had never led an army, never even served in an army. He had never been on a diplomatic trip, had no experience in negotiation, didn’t know what was involved in running a kingdom.
The key is found for us in verse 7: “the Lord does not see as a mortal sees; mortals see only appearances but the Lord sees into the heart.”
The Lord sees the heart. Now, the really ironic thing about this story is the description of David. The text says he was “handsome, with ruddy cheeks and bright eyes.” Apparently, he was not as good-looking as Eliab or some of his other brothers, but it is interesting that this description is included. It almost illustrates the point. While “the Lord sees the heart,” you get the feeling that in telling the story, years later, the writer couldn’t help but mention that King David was a good-looking guy even as a youngster. Even though focusing on appearance is implicitly criticized in this story, the writer just couldn’t help himself.
When we look at another, what do we see? Do we see appearances, or do we see the heart?
We live in a culture that is in many ways obsessed with appearance. It’s all about optics. And it is very easy to make judgments about others and judgments about what is of value based solely on appearance.
You may have watched American Idol of the Voice or one of those shows where they have what would appear to be an unlikely person, someone who is very young or who doesn’t really give off that “star” kind of vibe, who absolutely belts out a song with a powerful and beautiful voice. Mandy Harvey delivered a stunning performance on America’s Got Talent, performing a song that she had written as she played guitar and sang. She has a beautiful voice and perfect pitch. And she is deaf. She sings barefoot so she can feel the percussion and stay on beat. It was an unlikely story.
It is easy to make determinations about other people based on what we see and what we think we know. And it is very easy to be wrong. We can fall into stereotypes and typecasting, and that can be dangerous. Stereotypes lead to pre-judging – to prejudice.
Bryan Stevenson, a noted civil rights attorney who happens to be black, arrived for court early in order to prepare for an upcoming case. This was the first appearance in this particular court for Stevenson. He sat down at the defense counsel table as he had hundreds of times in his career, and waited for his client to arrive. The presiding judge walked in and saw Stevenson sitting there. He admonished Stevenson, “Hey! Hey! Hey! I don’t let my defendants sit there without their attorney – you go out in the hallway and wait for your attorney to arrive.”
Stevenson said, “I’m sorry, your honor, I haven’t had a chance to introduce myself.” He told the judge his name and that he was the defense attorney.
And the judge laughed at him. The prosecutor laughed at him. He chuckled a bit himself, not wanting to disadvantage his client. But somehow, it seemed absurd to the judge and prosecuting attorney that a middle aged African-American man could be an attorney.
Stevenson, a Harvard educated lawyer, dressed professionally in a suit and tie, wanted to know why the judge would simply assume he was the defendant. And he wondered if that judge valued the testimony of black witnesses and claims and petitions of black defendants the same as others.
We are called to look beyond appearance, beyond race and age and outer signs of beauty. It’s not that we do not see those things, it’s not that we don’t appreciate all of God’s children in all of their diversity. But we are all far more than what others may see on the outside. The Lord does not look at outer appearance, but the Lord sees the heart.
Simply by looking at another, we cannot measure heart. We cannot measure love and kindness and commitment and empathy. We cannot know intelligence or skill, or ability to learn, or willingness to serve. None of these things have to do with appearance.
There is a new show on TV this fall called The Good Doctor. It is about Shaun Murphy, a young man with autism and savant syndrome. He has difficulty with social engagement and communication, but he is a brilliant doctor. But nobody sees him and thinks that this is a brilliant surgeon.
There is far more to all of us than what might be gathered based on our outward appearance. Now, this is not to say that when choosing a leader, criteria don’t matter. Iowa State is in the middle of a presidential search, as many of you well know. Well, I guess we are closer to the end of a presidential search. And the fact is, criteria can be very helpful. Resumes are useful. Of course you look at track record. But at some point, the criteria are not really the main thing. The resume is not the main thing. Appearances are not the main thing. How much more so is that true in God’s kingdom.
God does not always choose the tall, strong person who looks like a model. God had called Samuel as a child. And now, God used Samuel to call another unlikely leader.
Sometimes it’s the unqualified, the inexperienced, the unlikely, the one nobody would expect. Sometimes that is the person God calls.
Sometimes God calls the youngest son of a small-town shepherd.
And sometimes, the unlikely person that God is calling is you. Amen.