1 Samuel 16:1-13 helps a congregation see a biblical precedent for anointing leaders and encourages people to look beyond the outer appearance to recognize one in whom God is at work.
Setting the Scene
This brief narrative about God's choosing and anointing of David follows God's rejection of Saul. It introduces the cycle of narratives that tell of David's rise to power and his reign as king of Israel. The story involves a three-way conversation in which God speaks through Samuel to Jesse and his sons in order to name and anoint David as king. Samuel's role in anointing David with holy oil illustrates well God's appointing and anointing of leaders—of prophets, and priests, and rulers—to perform holy work in the world.
Preparing for the Service
This text would lend itself well to a service in which congregational leaders or teachers were being recognized, installed, commissioned, or ordained. The use of oil to anoint such leaders might offer the chance to employ an ancient practice in a contemporary setting.
Call to Worship
Listen! God's voice calls to us.
We hear God calling.
Look! God will provide for us.
We see God working in our midst.
Come! God is making us holy.
We welcome the Spirit's power.
God of the prophets, priests, and rulers
who have gone before,
we come into your home having heard your voice.
In every age
you have called your people into community,
welcoming saint and sinner alike
into the household of faith.
Anoint us now with your presence.
Rush into our midst on Spirit wings.
Establish your reign in our hearts.
In the name of the Triune God we pray.
(of Dedication or Ordination for Leaders or Teachers in a Church)
In days of old God called prophets, priests, rulers.
God called them by name, appointing, anointing.
The prophets spoke for God;
they saw things from God's perspective.
The priests served God in worship;
they ministered on behalf of God's people.
Godly rulers provided for the welfare of all;
they led with the common good at heart.
Just so, we appoint and anoint leaders in Christ's
Prophets and preachers and teachers;
Interpreters and sages and visionaries;
Apostles and evangelists and musicians;
[Elders and deacons;
trustees and treasurers;*]
hearing God's call, receiving God's Spirit.
Saints of God, one and all!
*Insert here the offices and titles appropriate to your particular congregation.
Prayer of Confession
you see us as we are, as wayward sheep,
well-meaning yet weak,
valued and loved yet fearful.
All-loving God, we are short-sighted,
shallow in our judgments,
selective in our neighborliness.
All-merciful God, forgive and free us,
for we long to see with your eyes,
to know ourselves and our neighbors
through the eyes of love.
In the name of Christ who sees,
who forgives us all,
we pray. Amen.
Prayers of the People
The prayers, focusing on a theme of wholeness, integration, holiness, and wholeheartedness, could move logically from personal to global concerns. The series might naturally begin with prayers for healing of body and soul and of broken personal relationships. Healing of group relations in our nation, race relations, and religious differences could focus on specific cases from the week's news—church burnings, hate crimes, school shootings, domestic violence. International peace, the healing of creation, and prayers for reconciliation among tribes and nations and enemies would seem a natural progression from prayers for wholeness and healing in personal, interpersonal, and natural spheres. Language of anointing and healing, of shalom, and of a reign of peace would resonate well with the language of the scripture lesson.
Children's Sermon: A New King
by Patricia Hatfield
Can anyone tell me what a king is? (Listen to the children's answers.) Yes, a king is a leader or someone who is in charge of a country. Do you know what a king does? (Makes laws; leads the army; speaks for the people.)
So what do you think a king looks like? (Old or young; tall and strong; wears a purple robe and crown.) Someone who looks like that we expect would surely be a strong and powerful king, able to lead the people in war and in peace.
In our Bible story today, we hear how God chooses a new king for the Hebrew people. God tells the priest, Samuel, to go to Jesse, a father with eight sons. The Lord would tell Samuel which one of the eight boys would be the new king. When Samuel arrived at Jesse's house, he saw the oldest son, Eliab. Eliab was very tall and handsome. Samuel was sure this was the son who would be the new king.
But God said to Samuel, "Don't pay attention to how tall and handsome he is. I have not chosen this son because I do not judge by how a man looks on the outside. I look at the heart."
One by one, Jesse brought seven of his sons before Samuel, but each time Samuel said, "No, the Lord hasn't chosen him. Do you have any more sons?"
Jesse answered, "There is still the youngest, but he is out taking care of the sheep."
"Tell him to come here," Samuel said. So Jesse sent for him. He was a handsome, healthy young man, and his eyes sparkled.
The Lord said to Samuel, "This is the one!"
And right in front of the older brothers, Samuel marked David with special olive oil to show that he would be the new king.
Did you expect God to choose the youngest son to be king? It doesn't matter to God how old we are, or how tall we are, or what we look like. We can still be a king for God if we have a good heart. Do you think there are any kings here today in our congregation? (Children will probably think this is funny. Mention some of the church leaders such as Sunday school teachers, the board moderator, or the elders.) All these people were called by God to be leaders in our church, to make rules for our church, and to speak for the people of the church.
Do any of you think that you will be called by God to be a leader in our church? Probably David didn't expect to be chosen. Perhaps some of our leaders didn't expect to be chosen either. But they are serving God through their good hearts and by what they are willing to do. Let's pray:
[Prayer:] Dear God, we thank you that you choose leaders by the kind of heart that they have. Help us to have good hearts, to learn about you everyday, and to grow to be the kind of person you want us to be. Amen.
Sermon Starter: The Least Likely
In ancient Israel, priests, prophets, and kings were anointed with oil as a holy sign of their call from God. The holy oil sanctified these chosen servants, giving them a special authority. In this story Samuel plays both a priestly and a prophetic role in the anointing of David. Priests used holy oil to set apart people, places, and things for God's purposes. Priests offered sacrifices to God for the people. Samuel does both these things in this story. Yet Samuel is a prophet, speaking on behalf of God. Samuel, a seer who sees with God's eyes, reveals God's election of David as future king.
The fairytale nature of this narrative strikes us. God speaks through Samuel, carrying on a conversation with Jesse through him. The sons of Jesse, beginning with the eldest, are paraded past Samuel and God and one by one are rejected. The repetition sets up a pattern that leads to the story's climax. The youngest, smallest, most insignificant brother is off tending sheep and must be called in for consideration. The surprise ending to the story is that God chooses the least likely brother for the greatest honor. A sermon based on this passage might focus on God's calling of mere mortals for divine work.
Other familiar passages of scripture resonate with this theme and might easily be brought to bear. The shepherd boy David is anointed king of Israel, so passages employing the shepherd motif might help interpret this passage. "The Lord is my shepherd [he] anoint[s] my head with oil" (Ps. 23:1a, 5b). When people question or doubt our leadership, it can be comforting to remember God's holy call in our lives. Jesus' parable of the lost sheep and the shepherd who will go to any lengths to seek the stray (Lk. 15:3-7; Mt. 18:12-14) underlines the faithful love of God that reaches out in ways that surprise us. Gospel themes such as "the first shall be last, the last first" are also supported by this story, in which God chooses not the oldest and tallest, but the youngest and least of the brothers.
Perhaps the parade of brothers reminds us of fairy tales in which some sort of choosing takes place. Cinderella, a young and seemingly insignificant girl, is chosen against all odds. The proud father Jesse and his lineup of sons might remind us of the ambitious stepmother and the stepsisters who try in vain to squeeze their feet into the glass slipper. We are as sure that Cinderella's foot will fit as we are that David's boyish charms will fit with God's plans. A powerful point of this story is that if God can call David, God can call us. God's choosing is often of the unlikely.
David was viewed by the Hebrew people as a great king, though we know he was fallible and flawed. Bethlehem is the birthplace of Perez, Obed, Jesse, and David. Jesus' birth in Bethlehem and his Davidic lineage give credence to his anointing as a ruler. Jesus is often spoken of as "prophet, priest, and king," the three roles that required anointing in Israel. A sermon that wanted to draw comparisons between David and Jesus as God's anointed or as shepherds of God's flock would need to be careful not to fall into anti-Judaism. Common points between the two, which carry forward the theme of "the least likely," include Jesus' humble birth, his coming as a child, his anointing to preach good news to the poor, and the crown of thorns.
Sermon Starter: Now I See
This passage and its narrative structure play upon various ways of "seeing." Samuel is a prophet, a "seer," one who is allowed to see as God sees. The story is framed by Samuel's coming and going, sent by God, carrying his horn of oil, and using it to anoint David as king. In verse 1, God says, "I will provide" a king, but the word translated provide is a form of the word to see, meaning something like "I will look out for a king," "I will see," or "find a king here," among Jesse's sons. The same Hebrew root is used later to speak of both seeing and appearance. In the pivotal verse (v. 7), Samuel is told not to regard Eliab's "looks." "The Lord does not see as mortals see." Humans see the eyes (the appearance), but God sees the heart.
The way God sees and the way humans see are two different things. When David is finally chosen, it does seem that his appearance matters. He is ruddy, earthy (something like Adam), and his eyes (his appearance) look good. The ambiguity and the irony are probably important. David isn't what Samuel or Jesse or any of us might expect in a king, yet he is exactly what God is looking for.
Eyes, or looks, are compared with heart. Often this verse is seen as an argument for a dualistic view of human nature—we look on the "outer," God looks on the "inner." This view is not supported by the language or by a Hebrew view of human nature. The heart and the body are in unity; the eyes and the heart are connected. Human sight is limited compared with God's insight. What humans value in a leader isn't exactly the same as what God values. David's beautiful eyes and his ruddy appearance suggest that God's vision goes deeper than even Jesse's or Samuel's.
The heart is the center of desire and feeling and intent. This wholeness of heart and soul and body explains why the love of God is to be heart, soul, might (Deut. 6:5). This wholeheartedness reminds us of Jesus' words, "there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile" (Mk. 7:15). Holiness, for Jesus the Jew and for Hebrew scripture, is a wholeness, a wholeheartedness, in which the heart is the center of all affections.
Our age wants to reconnect with this wholeness, this wholeheartedness, this holiness. It is easy to think of examples in our culture and in our world in which humans fail to see as God sees, looking upon human beings as appearance only and not as deeper, integrated reality—from the beautiful people of show business to the hard bodies of athletes. We might also think of ways that dualism comes into play, demeaning outward or physical or material reality that is part of our wholeness in God—racism, ageism, sexism, discounting of persons with any kind of disability. It is comforting and central to our faith to know that God sees us and loves us as whole human beings, that our worth as persons is derived ultimately from God's creative love.
The oil of anointing was a precious commodity. It was given to God by the people of God, along with other valuable gifts, for the worship of God. God's people set aside, sanctified, offered to God a portion of their earthly goods so that the service of God, temple worship, and communal caring could be maintained. The holy oil was used to sanctify, to consecrate, to make people, places, and things holy for the service of God.
Just so our income is a precious commodity. It is a valuable gift of God for our health and well-being and pleasure. As God's people have in all times offered their gifts and sanctified a portion of their wealth, setting it aside for holy use, so we bring what is of value to us and give a part of it to God, setting it apart for the service of God, for the building of community, for a holy anointing of God's world. Let us give to God a gift that costs us something; let us give it freely in thanksgiving and gratitude.
God of the ages, you have called us by name; you have made us holy; you have blessed us with gifts both earthly and spiritual. We give to you now of our earthly gifts, and in giving we pledge also our spiritual gifts to your service. As your holy people may we offer your holiness, your wholeness, your healing to a heartbroken world. We pray in the name of the one God: Spirit, Savior, Creator. Amen.
The elders of the city saw Samuel coming and asked, "Do you come in peace?"
"Peacefully, I come," Samuel replied.
Just so, from one clan to another, from one tribe to another, from one nation to another come the negotiators, the reconcilers, the mediators.
"Do you come in peace?"
asks the Indian chief of the settler;
"Do you come in peace?"
asks the Arab of the Jew,
"Do you come in peace?"
asks the Catholic of the Protestant,
the Bosnian of the Serb,
the Tibetan of the Chinese,
the child of the parent, the wife of the husband
Into the midst of enmity, adversity, and mistrust, into the midst of a family's power struggle, the prophet, sent by God, comes with the word Shalom, Peace.
Just so, Jesus came. Just so, Jesus comes now. Jesus—the prophet, the high priest, the savior—comes into a world of fear and strife, of dissension, of broken relations. Jesus comes saying, "Peace, my peace, real peace, God's peace, I bring."
This bread, this cup (the lifeblood, the body broken) become a peace offering from God to put things right, to put us at rest, to put an end to the hostility. This meal is the shalom, the reconciliation of God in Christ.
Do you come in peace? Christ bids you come. Leave behind your animosity, your anxiety, your fears, your strife. Come in peace, make peace with one another, with God, with yourselves. Come in peace, for Christ, our peace, invites us all.
Prayer after Communion
God of peace, at this holy meal
we have tasted your shalom.
Christ's death has put to rest our deepest fears,
healed our deepest rifts.
As those at peace with God and one another,
may we now take part in the restoration,
the reconciliation of the world.
In the power of the Spirit, we pray. Amen.
You are people chosen by God,
a royal priesthood,
holy each and every one.
Go now in the peace of Christ
and the mighty power of the Spirit. Amen.