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Comets, Kings, and Certainty, Pt. 2

Samuel left immediately for Ramah, and Saul went home to (Giv’a) Gibeah. Samuel had nothing to do with Saul from then on, though he grieved long and deeply over him.

But God regretted making Saul king over Israel.

God addressed Samuel: “So, how long are you going to mope over Saul? You know I’ve rejected him as king over Israel. Fill your flask with anointing oil and get going. I’m sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I’ve spotted the very king I want among his sons.”

“I can’t do that,” said Samuel. “Saul will hear about it and kill me.”

God said, “Take a heifer with you and tell them, you’ve come to lead them in worship with the heifer as a sacrifice. Make sure Jesse gets invited, and I’ll let you know what to do next. I’ll point out the one you are to anoint.”

Samuel did what God told him. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the town fathers greeted him apprehensively. “Is there something wrong?” they asked. “Nothing’s wrong,” said Samuel. “I’ve come to sacrifice this heifer and lead you in the worship of God. Prepare yourselves, be consecrated, and join me in worship.” He made sure Jesse and his sons were also consecrated and called to worship. When they arrived, Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought,“Surely this is the one the God will anoint.” But God told Samuel, “Looks aren’t everything. Don’t be impressed with his looks and stature. I’ve already eliminated him. God does not see as humans see. You look on the outward appearance, but the I look into the heart.” Jesse then called up Abinadab and presented him to Samuel. Samuel said, “This man isn’t God’s choice either.” Next Jesse presented Shammah. Samuel said, “No, this man isn’t either.” Jesse presented his seven sons to Samuel. Samuel was blunt with Jesse, “God hasn’t chosen any of these.”Samuel then asked Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” Jesse said, “All but the youngest. He’s off keeping the sheep.” “Send for him and bring him here. We will not sit down until he arrives,” said Samuel. Jesse sent for the youngest son, David, and he walked in front of Samuel. He was the very picture of health—bright-eyed and handsome. God said, “Rise and anoint him! This is the one!” Samuel took his flask of oil and anointed him, with his brothers standing around watching. The Spirit of God entered David like a rush of wind—vitally empowering him for the rest of his life. Samuel left and went home to Ramah.

1 Samuel 15:34 — 16:13

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13


Samuel tells an epic story. In fact, it was too big to fit on a single scroll when it was originally transcribed, so they wrote it on two scrolls. Those two scrolls became known as 1 and 2 Samuel. We may not realize it, but the books of Samuel are filled with stories that seem to expose certainty as an illusion. These recognizable stories about Israel’s search for significance include:

  • The story of the Israelites who were certain that if they carried the Ark of the Covenant into battle, they could never lose to the Philistines—until they did lose to the Philistines and even lost the Ark of the Covenant in the process.

  • Or another story about those same Israelites who, despite warnings from God and the prophet Samuel, became certain that what they really needed was a king—and wound up with a tortured and tragic series of monarchs.

  • Or another story about those same Israelites being certain that the giant and arrogant Philistine warrior Goliath could never be defeated in battle—until he was slain by a young shepherd boy with a slingshot.

From the birth and calling of Samuel as prophet, to the rise and fall of King Saul, to the rise and fall of King David, certainty is repeatedly exposed and humbled in the epic story Samuel is telling. One could say it’s a pattern. Even the story of anointing David—that young shepherd boy who would eventually slay Goliath and become King—seems to be, on some level, exposing the illusion of certainty. As this particular piece of the epic story opens up, Saul is king. To be extremely clear, Saul is the king God told Samuel to anoint as the first king of the Israelites. Don’t miss that. Both God and Samuel had been certain about Saul’s kingship…until they weren’t. As king, Saul consistently demonstrated his dishonesty, arrogance, and an amazing ability to sidestep responsibility for his mistakes. His tenure as king had gone so wrong that the last verse of chapter 15 actually says these words:

“God regretted making Saul king over Israel.”

Now, I’m not certain, but, friends, I want to suggest to you the possibility that this sentence is a big deal. In fact, this might be the most important sentence of the whole story. “God regretted making Saul king over Israel.”

That’s not a throw-away line. That’s a comet blazing across the sky. It’s not like all the other stars. It demands our attention and consideration.

“God regretted making Saul king over Israel.”

The Creator is no longer certain about the previous choice of Saul as King. The Source of all things is experiencing regret. God is sorry. This epic of Samuel—that exposes the illusion of certainty in story after story—even says that God backs away from certainty. That is a cosmos-reorienting idea—one that confronts me with the notion that maybe I don’t have it all figured out either. Before going any further, let’s take a brief moment to acknowledge our discomfort. Depending on our background or exposure to the church, it’s very possible that the doctrine and dogma we’ve been taught don’t have room for a God that experiences regret or uncertainty. The thought that God could ever want a do-over—that the Creator would take a mulligan—that the Source of all things could be less than certain, may tempt us to perform all sorts of mental gymnastics and theological contortions. It may make us extremely uncomfortable. But rather than performing those gymnastics and contortions, please allow me to suggest the possibility that our discomfort may be precisely the point. If reading or hearing “God regretted making Saul king over Israel” makes me uncomfortable, perhaps that’s what it’s there to do. Perhaps that sentence is there to grab my attention and ask me if I am certain about my certainty. After all, if God is pushing back from certainty, why would I be moving toward it?

Do I really understand all that I think I understand? Or am I “finding patterns that aren’t really there—all too eager to deceive myself and others?”

Do I truly see well enough to be certain?


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