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Comets, Kings, and Certainty, Pt. 3

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


Seeing is at the heart of this story.

The Hebraic word ra’ah means “to see” or “to understand,” and ra’ah gets used in some form ten times in this story. That’s ten times in thirteen verses. As the sons of Jesse are brought before Samuel for consideration of kingship, Samuel ra’ah’s each one. He sees them—trying to size them up, to understand which one should be king. We might even say Samuel looks for a recognizable pattern. As Eliab, the first son to enter the picture passes by, Samuel says, “Surely this is the one.” Surely—as in, I’ve got it. I’ve spotted the pattern. I can see it now. I understand. I’m certain. Yet, rather than anointing Eliab in certainty, God stops Samuel. Eliab is rejected, and Samuel is told, “The Eternal does not see as humans see.” To Samuel’s credit, there was a pattern there to be recognized. The story indicates that Eliab was impressive. He was big and strong just like King Saul. Samuel recognizes that pattern, seems to forget God’s regret about Saul, and is ready to anoint Eliab. In fact, he's sure about it. But God, the Eternal One—the One who begins this story by moving away from being sure—by regretting certainty—does not ra’ah as humans ra’ah. God “does not see as humans see.” And just in case we miss that lesson the first time, it is repeated as seven sons of Jesse pass before Samuel. Seven sons—seven opportunities for Samuel’s certainty to arise—seven opportunities for him to recognize the kingly pattern—and seven rejections. Seeing as God sees is apparently not what Samuel is there to do. God “does not see as humans see.” You know, if we zoom out a bit, this story of Samuel’s doesn’t seem to be an isolated incident. The theme of humans wanting to see as God sees—to know what God knows—to grab a hold of some divine certainty—is a repeated and recognizable pattern that blazes across the skies of numerous biblical stories. In the Chapter 33 of the Exodus, Moses asks God, “Show me your ways…If I have found favor in your sight, Show me your glory, I pray.” Moses asks to see as God sees. But God replies,

“I will make all my goodness pass before you…but you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” The Eternal continued, “There is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I’ll take my hand away and you’ll see my back, but you won’t see my face”

The word ra’ah is repeated four times in this passage from the Exodus. Moses wanted to see as God sees—to ra’ah God’s glory—to understand as God understands. Which is a pretty interesting connection given the repeated usage of ra’ah in Samuel’s story. Once more, there’s another word that connects the two stories—the Hebraic verb abar. Abar means to “pass by” or to “pass before.” Three times, the word abar is used to describe the presence of God passing by Moses. And three times, the word abar is used to describe the sons of Jesse passing by Samuel. Moses wanted to ra’ah—to see and understand the Glory of God. But as it passes before him—as it abar’s—he cannot see as God sees. Samuel wanted to ra’ah—to see and understand as God does. But as Jesse’s sons pass before him—as they abar—he cannot see as God sees. I submit to you that the writer of Samuel did not choose these words by accident. There is a pattern—a recurring theme—a returning apparition that repeatedly reminds hearers and readers of these stories that humans do not see as God sees. Incidentally, when Samuel is told, “God does not see as humans see.” The Hebraic word translated as “humans” is adam. Adam—as in Adam and Eve—Adam is the Hebraic word for humanity. God does not ra’ah as adam ra’ah’s. God does not see as humans see. One could argue that this pattern goes all the way back to the beginning—to the garden—to Adam and Eve wanting to see as God sees—to know and understand what God knows.

“We hunger for significance—for signs that our personal existence is of special meaning to the universe. To that end, we are all too eager to deceive ourselves and others.”


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