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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | 1 Samuel 15:34—16:13

Then Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.

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.” Samuel 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.’ Invite 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.” 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?” He 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.

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” 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 does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” Samuel 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.” He 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.” Then 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. (NRSV)

The story of David’s anointing to be the next king of Israel provides the faithful with one of the most rock solid assertions about God in all the Bible: “The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

You can take that to the bank.

Then read further up the story, to the last two verses of chapter 15, Samuel grieving over Saul. A reading of all of chapter 15 will help for context here, but a CliffsNotes version is essentially that Saul has failed as king, so God is replacing him. Samuel lets Saul have it. He delivers a scathing impeachment speech right in his face. Saul’s penitence is not enough to save his job. He’s done.

Samuel is torn up over it. So is God. I think it’s instructive to meditate on Samuel’s grief here because it is so tempting to delight in the failure of leaders we know have misbehaved or underperformed. When a leader who is not on our team gets their comeuppance, it feels vindicating, and we can get lost in spasms of moral superiority.

But Samuel grieves over Saul’s failure.* He recognizes that the leaders’ failure is the peoples’ failure—everyone will suffer.

Corrupt leadership should be replaced, and when it is, grief is at least as faithful a posture as celebration.

*Let’s not fail to puzzle at how Saul “failed,” though: commanded to completely wipe out a rival tribe and all their livestock, he averred and allowed the people to take plunder for themselves.

God who calls and anoints leaders, help us to support and encourage them when they strive for the just and the right and to oppose them when they don’t. May our hearts break with yours when our leaders fail. Amen.

Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

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