Do you have a heart condition?
Do you want one?
This week, the Narrative Lectionary serves up the story of God calling David to be king of Israel. It is an important story because David looms so large in Scripture –one the Bible’s best developed characters and Israel’s most-revered monarch.
But how did David become David?
It has a lot to do with the heart.
I Samuel 16:1-3
The 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.
Last week we heard how God called Samuel into prophetic ministry, summoning him to speak truth to power. And I mentioned that Samuel serves as a sort of transitional figure in the Hebrew Bible.
Up to the time of Samuel, Israel’s life had been arranged less like the United States under the Constitution and more like the United States under the Articles of Confederation. Instead of a strong central government, Israel was organized as a loose confederation of 12 independent tribes. From time to time, charismatic leaders called judges would take power and wield it for a season. But judges were relatively weak, their authority rooted in persuasion rather than domination.
By the time Samuel is serving as judge, Israel has grown weary with this arrangement. And their weariness serves to underscore one of the more curious characteristics of Israel’s history: the person telling this story is deeply ambivalent about the monarchy.
Consider God’s reaction when Samuel tells the LORD that Israel wants a king:
“…for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me being king over them.” (I Samuel 8:7).
The monarchy is in some sense a rejection of God. But! David will be portrayed as all that and a bag of chips, celebrated as a national hero.
So which is it?
Instead of resolving this ambivalence, the story of Samuel leans into it. Two characters come to stand for these two aspects of the monarchy. Saul, the first choice, is a terrible king. He is faithless, unjust and cruel in exactly all the ways that a skeptic of monarchy might have predicted.
GOD’S OWN HEART
But does that mean that the monarchy, as an institution, is fatally flawed? Apparently not. After Saul comes David, remembered as “a man after God’s own heart” (I Samuel 13:14).
And the heart proves to be decisive.
Saul was shiny: tall, handsome, commanding. He had a homecoming king/quarterback quality to him. But he has failed the only test that truly matters: he has been faithless to God. So God sends Samuel to anoint a replacement king. (Note that this is dangerous business: an act of treason against King Saul). And when it comes time to find the new guy, superficial matters are placed on the back burner. Substance beats style. God’s concern is with the heart.
The story itself is easily told: God sends Samuel to a particular family, knowing that one of the sons is Israel’s next king. Many of the boys are promising prospects, but God tells Samuel that this time it’s not about the sizzle; it is about the steak.
David, the youngest, isn’t even invited to these proceedings. He is out in the pasture with the sheep. (Shepherding is a favorite metaphor for the work of a king). But they summon him anyway. He is not an obvious choice, but he is God’s choice. Samuel has his man.
Why is David different?
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.”
It’s all about the condition of the heart.
So what condition is yours in?
It is tempting, in a time when everything seems to be politicized, to talk about the importance of valuing substance over style in our political leaders. But I will resist that particular temptation. I want to talk about something more difficult than that.
I want to talk about you. I want to talk about me.
We spend so much of this life working at external things, polishing up our façade: the home, the family, the career, etc. But God does not care what I look like or what my life looks like; God cares about who I am, who I most deeply and actually am.
God cares about the condition of my heart.
And that poses a problem. We know how to polish the façade. We have techniques and technology to lose weight, make money, dress better, decorate our homes. But how do you improve the person you actually are?
What can we do with our hearts?
I have some ideas. See you in church?