Saul spoke to his son Jonathan and to all his servants about killing David. But Saul’s son Jonathan took great delight in David. Jonathan told David, ‘My father Saul is trying to kill you; therefore be on guard tomorrow morning; stay in a secret place and hide yourself. I will go out and stand beside my father in the field where you are, and I will speak to my father about you; if I learn anything I will tell you.’ Jonathan spoke well of David to his father Saul, saying to him, ‘The king should not sin against his servant David, because he has not sinned against you, and because his deeds have been of good service to you; for he took his life in his hand when he attacked the Philistine, and the Lord brought about a great victory for all Israel. You saw it, and rejoiced; why then will you sin against an innocent person by killing David without cause?’ Saul heeded the voice of Jonathan; Saul swore, ‘As the Lord lives, he shall not be put to death.’ So Jonathan called David and related all these things to him. Jonathan then brought David to Saul, and he was in his presence as before.
Again there was war, and David went out to fight the Philistines. He launched a heavy attack on them, so that they fled before him. Then an evil spirit from the Lord came upon Saul, as he sat in his house with his spear in his hand, while David was playing music. Saul sought to pin David to the wall with the spear; but he eluded Saul, so that he struck the spear into the wall. David fled and escaped that night.
Saul sent messengers to David’s house to keep watch over him, planning to kill him in the morning. David’s wife Michal told him, ‘If you do not save your life tonight, tomorrow you will be killed.’ So Michal let David down through the window; he fled away and escaped. Michal took an idol and laid it on the bed; she put a net of goats’ hair on its head, and covered it with the clothes. When Saul sent messengers to take David, she said, ‘He is sick.’ Then Saul sent the messengers to see David for themselves. He said, ‘Bring him up to me in the bed, that I may kill him.’ When the messengers came in, the idol was in the bed, with the covering of goats’ hair on its head. Saul said to Michal, ‘Why have you deceived me like this, and let my enemy go, so that he has escaped?’ Michal answered Saul, ‘He said to me, “Let me go; why should I kill you?”’
What tumultuous relationships and emotions we find in this story, characters about whom we should like to know more and so speculate, easily transferring to them our own experiences and even prejudices.
Today we read about four people, Saul, his son Jonathan, his successor David and David’s wife, Saul’s daughter Michal. We can learn from them all. In the fuller story we learn that Saul experienced florid, ecstatic episodes, readily flying into a rage, prompted it seems by jealousy of both his son Jonathan and, in today’s passage, of David whose musical talents had often soothed Saul but whose military prowess was perceived as a threat. How difficult it is to relate to and help people who are mentally unstable; how easy it is to turn to others who are easier to support.
Jonathan could expect to be his father’s successor but was eclipsed by David with whom he developed an intense bond – a bond so strong that Jonathan was ready to defy his father to protect his friend. What a blessing it is to have the support of good friends.
David had been plucked from obscurity and had by killing the Philistine champion, Goliath, become a hero, and was therefore perceived by Saul as a threat, with good reason. Did his success and the adulation of the people turn David’s head into thinking that he could do what he wanted and get whom he wanted?
Michal initially had no say in what happened to her: Saul had previously decided that David should marry her older sister but now it was Michal’s turn. But we read that Michal loved David and saved his life; did David love her? She was but one of his many women, regarded as little more than chattels. We can hope that attitudes have changed in 3,000 years – have they?
Most gracious God guide and strengthen us in all our relationships to treat others as we would wish to be treated. When we have been hurt, help us to forgive: when we have hurt others, show us how we have been in the wrong so that we can be honest with you, loving God, with others and with ourselves, trusting in our Saviour, Jesus Christ: Amen.
The Rev’d Julian Macro, Retired Minister, Member of Verwood URC
The next day an evil spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he raved within his house, while David was playing the lyre, as he did day by day. Saul had his spear in his hand; and Saul threw the spear, for he thought, ‘I will pin David to the wall.’ But David eluded him twice. Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with him but had departed from Saul. So Saul removed him from his presence, and made him a commander of a thousand; and David marched out and came in, leading the army. David had success in all his undertakings; for the Lord was with him. When Saul saw that he had great success, he stood in awe of him. But all Israel and Judah loved David; for it was he who marched out and came in leading them.
Then Saul said to David, ‘Here is my elder daughter Merab; I will give her to you as a wife; only be valiant for me and fight the Lord’s battles.’ For Saul thought, ‘I will not raise a hand against him; let the Philistines deal with him.’ David said to Saul, ‘Who am I and who are my kinsfolk, my father’s family in Israel, that I should be son-in-law to the king?’ But at the time when Saul’s daughter Merab should have been given to David, she was given to Adriel the Meholathite as a wife. Now Saul’s daughter Michal loved David. Saul was told, and the thing pleased him. Saul thought, ‘Let me give her to him that she may be a snare for him and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.’ Therefore Saul said to David a second time, ‘You shall now be my son-in-law.’ Saul commanded his servants, ‘Speak to David in private and say, “See, the king is delighted with you, and all his servants love you; now then, become the king’s son-in-law.”’ So Saul’s servants reported these words to David in private. And David said, ‘Does it seem to you a little thing to become the king’s son-in-law, seeing that I am a poor man and of no repute?’ The servants of Saul told him, ‘This is what David said.’ Then Saul said, ‘Thus shall you say to David, “The king desires no marriage present except a hundred foreskins of the Philistines, that he may be avenged on the king’s enemies.”’ Now Saul planned to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines. When his servants told David these words, David was well pleased to be the king’s son-in-law. Before the time had expired, David rose and went, along with his men, and killed one hundred of the Philistines; and David brought their foreskins, which were given in full number to the king, that he might become the king’s son-in-law. Saul gave him his daughter Michal as a wife. But when Saul realised that the Lord was with David, and that Saul’s daughter Michal loved him, Saul was still more afraid of David. So Saul was David’s enemy from that time forward. Then the commanders of the Philistines came out to battle; and as often as they came out, David had more success than all the servants of Saul, so that his fame became very great.
When I was 17 I had quite a crush on my father’s secretary and was saddened when she suffered a series of mental health problems and was admitted to what we school kids knew as the ‘loony bin’ (and yes I am ashamed of myself now). I heard that while I was away at university, she left employment. Later, in my first job, working in that same local psychiatric hospital, I encountered her again, this time as a long-term in-patient. I was dreadfully distressed to see the effect of her now chronic illness.
I am aware that not all mental ill-health is so catastrophic but it was the moment that convinced me that I was not suited to mental health nursing and led me instead to train as a general nurse.
But I see her in my mind’s eye as I read of Saul raving in his house. Reading on, we see further problems for Saul as his paranoia develops – another aspect of his mental health problems. Yes of course I am aware of the dangers of nurses (especially general nurses!) making diagnoses, but I’ve always thought of his having something like paranoid schizophrenia?
David plays the difficult hand he is dealt with skill, diplomacy and tact but his continuing military success and ensuing popularity do continue to feed poor Saul’s jealousy, undermining and destroying their relationship. What should’ve been a successful and triumphant partnership ultimately developed into a civil war that as well as destroying Saul, probably damaged David too.
Mental healthcare has come on in leaps and bounds since those days but tragically it is still desperately inadequate (not to mention desperately under-funded) and there are far too many lives damaged or destroyed, with family and friends as collateral damage.
God of sanity and order; we pray that you play your spiritual lyre of healing in those affected by the challenges of mental ill health; we pray too for those who are affected by pity, hurt and / or helplessness because of their loved ones’ conditions; and we pray for all working in the field of mental healthcare, giving them patience, wisdom and new and effective treatments. Amen
The Rev’d Peter Clark, Minister of the Bridport and Dorchester Joint Pastorate (Methodist & URC)
When David had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that he was wearing, and gave it to David, and his armour, and even his sword and his bow and his belt. David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him; as a result, Saul set him over the army. And all the people, even the servants of Saul, approved. As they were coming home, when David returned from killing the Philistine, the women came out of all the towns of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with songs of joy, and with musical instruments. And the women sang to one another as they made merry, ‘Saul has killed his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.’ Saul was very angry, for this saying displeased him. He said, ‘They have ascribed to David tens of thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands; what more can he have but the kingdom?’ So Saul eyed David from that day on.
It’s hard to really know what’s going on here. Jonathan seems to be in love with David – giving him his robes and weapons and making a covenant with him; David, of course, enjoys the attention from the king’s son; his success in battle made him more popular than the tempramental king, Saul. A jealous king looks on a popular warrior who seems to be inveigling his way into the royal family playing on the affections of his son – the heir presumptive. No wonder Saul “eyed David” from that day on. As we shall see in tomorrow’s reading, Saul arranges for David to marry one of his daughters, no doubt thinking he could keep a closer eye on him.
Jealousy is a powerfully dangerous emotion. It can embitter us, skew our perceptions and make us lose any sense of rationality. Coupled with jealousy Saul realised his hold on the throne was weak and that of his family becoming weaker due to David – the cuckoo in the nest. Saul, presumably, didn’t know that he’d lost the support of organised religion and that its favour now fell on David. So we have a heady mix of love and jealousy, a heroic warrior and an insecure king, youthful desire and middle aged resentment.
In our own dealings with others we need to be aware of the part our emotions play. Do we find it easier to be kind and caring to those we find attractive? Does jealousy play a part in our responses to others? Are we insecure on our petty thrones, always aware that we could be deposed or do we sit securely in the role and work that God has given us?
God of love, help me to understand my emotions, and the complex reactions I have to others. Help me to be aware when I am attracted to someone, to give thanks for beauty, but to be aware of my own responses.
Help me to be wise when I dislike someone, especially when I am jealous, that I may love even when I don’t like the other, that I may sit securely in the work you have given me to do. Amen.
The Rev’d Andy Braunston, Minister Barrhead, Shawlands and Stewarton URCs
The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. The Philistine said to David, ‘Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?’ And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, ‘Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.’ But David said to the Philistine, ‘You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.’ When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly towards the battle line to meet the Philistine. David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground. So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, striking down the Philistine and killing him; there was no sword in David’s hand. Then David ran and stood over the Philistine; he grasped his sword, drew it out of its sheath, and killed him; then he cut off his head with it. When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled.
Here we find David, untrained in weapons of war, much sheltered by being the youngest member of his family. However, in his own way, what a giant he was in his trust of the Almighty God!
So easily he could have been rather proud and haughty as, dare I say, many of us were as teenagers. Instead, remembering how God had helped him as a shepherd in the fields to wield the simple sling and stone, he stuck with these things with which he was familiar. To him they were all that were needed but there was more to his simple faith than what literally met Goliath’s eye. In this scene of conflict he did not forget that the battle was not his to win. He did not boast of his own prowess at defending his flock from wolf or bear attack, and how a mere giant would be a walkover. Instead his trust was totally in his God whom he knew would fight for him and therefore it was God’s battle and not David’s to win.
Goliath may well have thought that David’s words were empty and boastful but dare I say that his one fatal mistake, as it was to become, was that he had left God out of things?
God gave the victory to David who had wholeheartedly trusted only in Him, and Goliath got his just deserts, for taking the mickey out of this unworldly youngster.
What a tremendous example to us, that the only One on whom we can truly rely is the same Lord God Almighty. Let’s make sure that we make Him our first choice and not our last resort!
God our Almighty Father, the rock of faith in whom David trusted, humbly we come to you to acknowledge our need of you to help fight our battles. May we realise that to enlist your aid is not weakness, but like David may we forever seek your face when the going gets tough. As David did, may we give you the glory knowing that you alone are the only One who is the strength we need and the one true victor. Amen.
Verena Walder Lay Preacher and Elder. Tabernacle URC Mumbles.
Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle…Saul and the Israelites gathered and encamped in the valley of Elah, and formed ranks against the Philistines. …And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armoured with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron; and his shield-bearer went before him. He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, ‘Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.’ And the Philistine said, ‘Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together.’ When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.
Now David was the son of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah, named Jesse, who had eight sons… David was the youngest; the three eldest followed Saul, but David went back and forth from Saul to feed his father’s sheep at Bethlehem. For forty days the Philistine came forward and took his stand, morning and evening. Jesse said to his son David, ‘Take for your brothers an ephah of this parched grain and these ten loaves, and carry them quickly to the camp to your brothers; also take these ten cheeses to the commander of their thousand. See how your brothers fare, and bring some token from them.’ David rose early in the morning, left someone in charge of the sheep, took the provisions, and went as Jesse had commanded him. He came to the encampment as the army was going forth to the battle line, shouting the war cry. Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage, ran to the ranks, and went and greeted his brothers. As he talked with them, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines, and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him. All the Israelites, when they saw the man, fled from him and were very much afraid. The Israelites said, ‘Have you seen this man who has come up? Surely he has come up to defy Israel. The king will greatly enrich the man who kills him, and will give him his daughter and make his family free in Israel.’ David said to the men who stood by him, ‘What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine, and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?’ The people answered him in the same way, ‘So shall it be done for the man who kills him.’… When the words that David spoke were heard, they repeated them before Saul; and he sent for him. David said to Saul, ‘Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.’ Saul said to David, ‘You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.’ But David said to Saul, ‘Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.’ David said, ‘The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.’ So Saul said to David, ‘Go, and may the Lord be with you!’ Saul clothed David with his armour; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. David strapped Saul’s sword over the armour, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, ‘I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.’ So David removed them. Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.
The Israelites were terrified. Apart from physical size, Philistines were a sophisticated race who had settled on the coastal plain of Palestine around 1200 BC. They were politically astute, technologically advanced and fierce warriors, and for 150 years they had advanced across the Land.
Now there was a potential battle situation as armies faced each other, yet it was acceptable for ‘champions’ (selected individuals) to settle the conflict and prevent unnecessary waste of lives. That’s why the Philistines sent Goliath, a fearsome sight with his massive body armour and heavy weapons shining in the sun.
By contrast, David was a boy with a busy life serving as musician and armour-bearer in the palace, he also carried out duties at home, and tended his father’s sheep. Unlike Goliath, David wasn’t a trained warrior, so Saul didn’t want David to face Goliath.
The image of the boy trying to walk in borrowed armour is comical, but David was confident; he was going out in the name of God. As a shepherd David practiced using his sling. He knew he was a good shot. He was not afraid.
This happened a thousand years before Jesus, yet I see parallels for us as Jesus’ disciples today.
We’re called to share our faith in a largely secular society, like facing a sophisticated, politically astute, technologically advanced, fierce warrior giant. Maybe we try on some armour, but it doesn’t fit and stops us moving.
Like David, we have the equipment, but do we know how to use it? David had practiced long and hard, and so he had confidence.
These days we have prayer, caring for others, looking after creation, sharing resources, social justice, being radically inclusive… just some of the slingshot stones for sharing faith in 21st century life. Have we practiced enough? Are we – like David – prepared, confident and ready to go?
Lord, Help us be ready to share our faith, as we face the giants of today. All too often we don’t know what to say, or can’t think how to tell about the love of Jesus in a way that people outside of Church can understand. So, we keep quiet. Help us be prepared, honing our skills and practicing using all the slingshot stones available. Help us go confidently and remember that you are with us always. Amen
Linda Rayner, is an Elder at Bramhall URC and URC Coordinator for fresh expressions
Now the spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him. And Saul’s servants said to him, ‘See now, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. Let our lord now command the servants who attend you to look for someone who is skilful in playing the lyre; and when the evil spirit from God is upon you, he will play it, and you will feel better.’ So Saul said to his servants, ‘Provide for me someone who can play well, and bring him to me.’ One of the young men answered, ‘I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite who is skilful in playing, a man of valour, a warrior, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence; and the Lord is with him.’ So Saul sent messengers to Jesse, and said, ‘Send me your son David who is with the sheep.’ Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine, and a kid, and sent them by his son David to Saul. And David came to Saul, and entered his service. Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armour-bearer. Saul sent to Jesse, saying, ‘Let David remain in my service, for he has found favour in my sight.’ And whenever the evil spirit from God came upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand, and Saul would be relieved and feel better, and the evil spirit would depart from him.
“If music be the food of love, play on” opines Duke Orsino in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, attesting to the power of music: soothing; enraging; stirring; calming. It is difficult to suggest that, as humans, we can be indifferent to the power of music.
Some musical moments remain with us for a long time. I well remember a haunting a capella solo of the 23rd Psalm sung in Iona Abbey. A sublime moment on a peaceful summer evening.
On the other hand, musical instruments have been classified as weapons of war (specifically the Great Highland Bagpipe) because of their power to fire up men to fight.
Dame Evelyn Glennie, the Scottish virtuoso percussionist, has been profoundly deaf since the age of 11 but anyone who has heard her perform can attest that even deafness does not stand in the way of powerful music making.
So when one correspondent to a national newspaper recently suggested that the fundamental purpose of music was to entertain, the response came swiftly: “it is an attempt to communicate how it feels to be human, in a language beyond words”.
It is therefore no surprise to read that the wily boy David soon learned that by playing his lyre, Saul could be calmed down when an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him. Sweet music calms the savage breast.
When it comes to music in worship, it behoves us to remember that power. When those of us who lead worship choose hymns or worship songs, we usually pay great attention to the words, but perhaps less so to the music, leaving that to the organist, keyboard player, worship group or whoever drives the digital machine. Often, that works well, but if God is to be truly glorified, music, words and intent must cohere to communicate how it feels to be a child of God, in a language beyond words.
When in our music God is glorified, and adoration leaves no room for pride, it is as though the whole creation cried, Hallelujah!
How often, making music, we have found a new dimension in the world of sound, as worship moved us to a more profound Hallelujah!
(Fred Pratt Green, Rejoice & Sing 414)
So be it! Amen
The Rev’d Ron Reid is a retired minister in the Mersey Synod serving as Link Minister at Rock Chapel, Farndon. He is a member at Upton-by-Chester URC
May God arise, and may his foes Be scattered far and put to flight. As smoke is blown before the wind, So may your foes be blown from sight: As wax is melted by the fire May they before God’s wrath expire.
But may the righteous all be glad; May they rejoice and sing aloud. Sing praise to God, sing to his name; Extol the One who rides the cloud; For he alone is named the LORD— With joy all praise to him accord.
A father to the fatherless, Of widows’ rights the champion, Is God within his holy place; He gives a home to the forlorn. He leads the captives forth with song; To rebels barren wastes belong.
When you, O God, went out and led Your people through the desert plain— When through the wilderness you marched, Earth shook and heaven poured down rain Before the God of Sinai’s hill, Before the God of Israèl.
O God, with showers you refreshed Your heritage so dry and bare. And so your people settled down And made their habitation there. And from your overflowing store You made provision for the poor.
In a crowded train station, people watch the boards. “Delayed.” Over the tannoy a person explains there’s a signalling failure. Wandering amongst the would-be travellers is a homeless man, asking for help. A stranded traveller decides not to rush past as normal, but instead stops, offers the man a meal of his choice, friendly conversation, and a bottle of water for later.
Getting from Point A (Psalm 68) to point B (train station)
The tracks this Psalm lays out are:
A plea for God to restore God’s ways of doing stuff
A vision that the people are so chuffed that they thank God
God’s ways reach out to those without a place in the centre of the community.
The implication – God did it before, why wouldn’t God do it now?
As we walk the way and live the life of Jesus today, some days the trains run perfectly, sometimes we get delayed. At those times it’s easy to focus on the heartbreak or the complication. Rather than turn inward, the Psalm encourages us to look to God and to give thanks to God by helping the most vulnerable around us.
This Psalm is a journey from God acting to the poor being provided for, with stops of remembering God’s goodness along the way. As disciples of Christ, those who see what Jesus was doing and then learn to do it ourselves, I wonder if we should consider our part in this? Maybe our role is to pray that God put the world to right, leads us on, and then step out in obedience and expectation, following God wherever He leads and to whomever He leads us to?
Somewhere in the midst of the occasional delay, when our journey slows down, there is a homeless man looking for food.
God, As we keep our eyes on you, help us to be aware of those travelling with us. Amen
The Rev’d Angela Rigby is minister at Christ Church URC Tonbridge and St Johns Hill URC Sevenoaks.
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.
Outward appearances make their impressions upon us – however hard we try to resist. We live in a culture dominated by the cult of outward appearance: where looking ‘beautiful’ or having the ‘perfect’ physique is a major concern and a source of lucrative business. (If you doubt that assertion, be honest: do you never look in the mirror and think, “I wish I didn’t look like that” or at someone else and think, “I wish I looked more like them”?)
Today’s passage is a strong rebuke to judging by outward appearance. The word addressed to Samuel as he undertook the task of identifying a king to succeed Saul reminds us that the Lord looks on the heart not the body. Samuel had to consider what might be described as a talent show line-up: the seven sons of Jesse. Even then the successful candidate is not found until Samuel asks if all the sons were present. Jesse concedes that David, the youngest, is out keeping the sheep. (There is a rich irony in that David’s outward appearance is described as “handsome”!) God affirms this good-looker as his choice – a choice that would not have been made had Samuel not looked wider than what was at first paraded before him. (There is a further irony in that the heart of this David will, later, be discovered to be far from perfect as he sends Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, to his death so that she can become his wife!)
May we embrace the challenge: It is only through looking beyond outward appearance – and wider than what is first paraded before us – that we discover the potential beauty of another’s heart.
May we be embraced by the reassurance: Despite what we may feel about our own outward appearance we can dare to believe in God’s love of us and his power to change our hearts and give us an inner beauty.
God, who looks not on outward appearance but on the heart, enable me to see beyond what others look like and to discern their true inner beauty and worth. Save me from regarding as ugly what you see as beautiful and help me to look broader and wider and find you in the kindness of the unexpected. Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me that your love might be known and grace seen as my heart-beat. Amen
The Rev’d Geoffrey Clarke, Minister, The Crossing (Methodist & United Reformed) Church, Worksop and Wales Kiveton Methodist Church
Samuel said to Saul, ‘The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, “I will punish the Amalekites for what they did in opposing the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”’
…Saul took King Agag of the Amalekites alive, but utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep and of the cattle and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was valuable, and would not utterly destroy them; all that was despised and worthless they utterly destroyed.
The word of the Lord came to Samuel: ‘I regret that I made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me, and has not carried out my commands.’ Samuel was angry; and he cried out to the Lord all night. Samuel rose early in the morning to meet Saul…Samuel said, ‘Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. And the Lord sent you on a mission, and said, “Go, utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.” Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?’ Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me, I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But from the spoil the people took sheep and cattle, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.’
…Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have sinned; for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. Now therefore, I pray, pardon my sin, and return with me, so that I may worship the Lord.’ Samuel said to Saul, ‘I will not return with you; for you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.’ As Samuel turned to go away, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore. And Samuel said to him, ‘The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this very day, and has given it to a neighbour of yours, who is better than you. Moreover, the Glory of Israel will not recant or change his mind; for he is not a mortal, that he should change his mind.’
So Saul has done some of what the Lord commanded but not all of it; and it is not his first offence. God gives Samuel full rein to speak unequivocally, condemning the anointed King and letting him know that God has rejected him. A United Reformed Church General Assembly would applaud the fearless speaking of truth to power. A world of goodies (including us) and baddies (including people not like us) is so tidy and easy to grasp.
Samuel does his job before the King but we get an insight into his private thoughts. He had a sleepless night because he was deeply troubled by God’s anger. Samuel knew Saul well by this point. Perhaps he even liked him at some level. Perhaps he had some sympathy with Saul’s view that he had done what the people he was supposed to lead and motivate wanted: when we like that sort of behaviour we call it democracy. Perhaps he saw in Saul one more imperfect human being like the rest of us, struggling to know what is right when life’s crises pummel us.
It is not very difficult to condemn leaders who do wrong. Social media mean we do not need to go near them to do so. Perhaps a distinctively Christian element is to still see them, through it all, as human beings made in the image of God, always with potential for redemption; and even more in need of our prayers given their burdens of responsibility. It may then be harder to see the world simply as goodies and baddies, but we were warned that if we think we can separate the wheat and the tares we have misunderstood how God works.
Almighty Father When I see wrong today, give me the courage to condemn it. And when I see the person who has done wrong, give me the love to see them as another human being, to long for their wellbeing with a heart like yours, to ask what I can do to restore them to the right path. And if I do wrong today, please inspire someone to be merciful to me. In Jesus’ name Amen.
John Ellis, former Moderator of the General Assembly and Secretary of Capel United Church in Kent
Now Saul committed a very rash act on that day. He had laid an oath on the troops, saying, ‘Cursed be anyone who eats food before it is evening and I have been avenged on my enemies.’ So none of the troops tasted food. All the troops came upon a honeycomb; and there was honey on the ground. When the troops came upon the honeycomb, the honey was dripping out; but they did not put their hands to their mouths, for they feared the oath. But Jonathan had not heard his father charge the troops with the oath; so he extended the staff that was in his hand, and dipped the tip of it in the honeycomb, and put his hand to his mouth; and his eyes brightened. Then one of the soldiers said, ‘Your father strictly charged the troops with an oath, saying, “Cursed be anyone who eats food this day.” And so the troops are faint.’ Then Jonathan said, ‘My father has troubled the land; see how my eyes have brightened because I tasted a little of this honey. How much better if today the troops had eaten freely of the spoil taken from their enemies; for now the slaughter among the Philistines has not been great.’
… Then Saul said, ‘Let us go down after the Philistines by night and despoil them until the morning light; let us not leave one of them.’ They said, ‘Do whatever seems good to you.’ But the priest said, ‘Let us draw near to God here.’ So Saul inquired of God, ‘Shall I go down after the Philistines? Will you give them into the hand of Israel?’ But he did not answer him that day. Saul said, ‘Come here, all you leaders of the people; and let us find out how this sin has arisen today. For as the Lord lives who saves Israel, even if it is in my son Jonathan, he shall surely die!’ But there was no one among all the people who answered him. He said to all Israel, ‘You shall be on one side, and I and my son Jonathan will be on the other side.’ The people said to Saul, ‘Do what seems good to you.’ Then Saul said, ‘O Lord God of Israel, why have you not answered your servant today? If this guilt is in me or in my son Jonathan, O Lord God of Israel, give Urim; but if this guilt is in your people Israel, give Thummim.’ And Jonathan and Saul were indicated by the lot, but the people were cleared. Then Saul said, ‘Cast the lot between me and my son Jonathan.’ And Jonathan was taken.
Then Saul said to Jonathan, ‘Tell me what you have done.’ Jonathan told him, ‘I tasted a little honey with the tip of the staff that was in my hand; here I am, I will die.’ Saul said, ‘God do so to me and more also; you shall surely die, Jonathan!’ Then the people said to Saul, ‘Shall Jonathan die, who has accomplished this great victory in Israel? Perish the thought! As the Lord lives, not one hair of his head shall fall to the ground; for he has worked with God today.’ So the people ransomed Jonathan, and he did not die. Then Saul withdrew from pursuing the Philistines; and the Philistines went to their own place.
For Saul, not putting God as his first priority was a major error. Like many of today’s leaders, he was more concerned about his own image rather than following God’s guidance. We are told that he was of striking appearance which in the long term only served to enhance his vanity. Not only that, he was impulsive and perhaps opened his mouth before he had put his brain into gear. As a consequence, his whole approach to leading Israel was based on momentary instincts. For him, his priority was the defeat of the Philistines at all cost. As part of his ill thought plan, he orders his army to take an oath not to eat before the conflict with their enemy. In verse 27 we are told that Jonathan had not heard the order to take his father’s oath, so did that make any difference?
The most common usage of oaths today relates to legal matters, usually in the form of “telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” By today’s standards, had Johnathan been asked whether or not he had heard his father’s order at the outset, then by answering in the negative he had no case to answer.
Oaths are promises of varying kinds, often made with good intention, although for some an oath has little or no real significance, it appears to be yet another hoop to jump through. Historically, in this country, a gentleman’s word was his bond. But on occasions even this was open to question. Unlike Saul we need to ask ourselves “What would God want us to do in respect of the circumstances we find ourselves in? Do we listen for His call, or do we carry on doing our own thing?
Dear Lord and Father of mankind, forgive our foolish ways! Reclothe us in our rightful mind; in purer lives thy service find, in deeper reverence praise.
Breathe through the heats of our desire thy coolness and thy balm; let sense be dumb, let flesh retire; speak through the earthquake, wind and fire, O still, small voice of calm!
J. G Whitter (1807 – 92) R&S 492
The Rev’d Colin Hunt is a retired Minister worshipping at Hutton & Shenfield Union Church, Essex