New Medieval Bible Meditation: 1 Samuel 16:1-13

March 15th, 2014

Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 30, 2014

1 Samuel 16:1-13 (Revised Common & Episcopal); 1 Samuel 16:1, 6-7, 10-13 (Roman Catholic) 

At the literal level, this scripture tells the story of Samuel anointing the second king of Israel, King David, while David is just a boy. The Lord tells Samuel the prophet to stop mourning over King Saul, to take oil and go to the home of Jesse in Bethlehem, for the Lord says: “I have provided for myself” a king among his sons. Samuel is scared of this mission (since Saul will kill him if he learns of it), and the Elders of Jerusalem are themselves scared when Samuel arrives since he is a mighty prophet. He clarifies that he comes “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; consecrate yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice” (v.5). Samuel himself consecrates Jesse and his sons, and invites them to the sacrifice.

7 of Jesse’s 8 sons are present. Samuel looks on the first, Eliab, and thinks that surely this is the “Lord’s anointed” standing before him. But the Lord corrects Samuel: “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (v.7). Samuel, now discerning in the Lord’s way and with the Lord’s help, likewise looks on each of the other 6 present sons, and says of all 7, “The Lord has not chosen these” (v. 10).

Notice that all the initiative in this passage is from the Lord: the Lord sends Samuel, and the Lord will choose a son of Jesse to be king, though the son the Lord will choose is not a son Jesse would have chosen. God chooses, or elects, the son he will.

And so Samuel asks Jesse if all of his sons are present. Jesse answers that the youngest is not present, but is keeping the sheep. Samuel says, “Send and fetch him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” David is brought. He is described as “ruddy” with “beautiful eyes” and “handsome.” The Lord says, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.” It is curious that after saying that the Lord judges not as humans judge but by looking at the heart, the young David is described with words like ruddy, beautiful, and handsome. It seems that just as appearances do not always match the heart, yet sometimes there is both outward and inward beauty at the same time. Why, then, did Jesse not consider David? One possibility is David’s youth. Another could be that Jesse his father did not think David had the kind of strong bearing that would make for a good king, or he thought him too inwardly delicate. Possibly Jesse just had an incorrect appraisal of his son David’s inward goodness and outward potential.

Samuel anoints David, the youngest, in the midst of all his older brothers. And “the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah” (v. 13), having anointed for Israel the Lord’s chosen king.

At the allegorical level this scripture shows us Jesus Christ. Saul was the first king of Israel. Saul is a figure for Adam, for Saul fell from the Lord’s graces. David is the second king of Israel, and is a figure for Christ. Further, David is the 8th son of Jesse, and Samuel comes to him only after going through all of Jesse’s other 7 sons, and then waiting for him to appear. The 7 sons signify the 7 days of creation; the 8th son signifies Christ, for Christ’s resurrection happened on the 1st day of the week, which is the same as the 8th day. Further, Samuel goes in sequence to reach the 8th son David, just as at Christ’s arrival he sums up all creation in himself, redeeming its fallen nature, giving it a “new creation” in himself (2 Cor. 5:17).

Further, David is spoken of as a “shepherd,” and so signifies Christ the “good shepherd” (Jn. 10:14). In Christ, “the Lord is my shepherd” (Ps. 23:1).

After David’s anointing with oil he is filled with the Holy Spirit, and this is connected to Christ’s baptism at which the Spirit is present. (“Christ” means “anointed one.”) Further, it signifies the Church’s sacrament of confirmation or chrismation, at which we are anointed with oil and sent by the Holy Spirit.

At the moral level, Christ teaches us at least two things through this scripture. First, since God looks at the heart of a person rather than the outward appearance, we should strive to do the same. To do this well, we must seek to rely on the Lord, who sees more than us; we must “walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25) and seek to be guided by the Spirit. This is particularly true in picking leaders. For God often chooses one whom the world (signified now by Jesse) would not choose.

Second, in our anointing in Christ in the sacrament of confirmation or chrismation, we are anointed particularly into a participation in Christ’s office of king. We must take responsibility for the world in the measure the Lord appoints us power; our dominion must be just in a way that is merciful, and ordered to peace. We also must share in Christ’s courage, and find the courage to face Goliath with only the strength of the Lord and the few small stones at hand. We must strive to receive the courage by which he offers his body as a living sacrifice on the cross, an offering holy and pleasing to God, his spiritual act of worship which we imitate in the Eucharist and are called to imitate always (cf. Rom. 12:1-2).

At the anagogical level, we begin by noticing a riddle or mystery the Holy Spirit has left in this text to spur us to contemplation. In v. 11 Samuel says that no one will sit down until David arrives; and yet when David arrives, the Lord says, “Arise, anoint him; for this is he” (v. 12). Why does the Lord say “Arise” if all are already standing? Or why did all sit down if the fearful prophet said all must remain standing? It is rather that this is a clue that we are to arise in the presence of Christ the King not only outwardly, but inwardly. Even in Lent, we arise not only with our feet in outward penance, but we lift our hearts up to fellowship with our King, such that his life, his death, and his resurrection are always taking place in our hearts, making us a new creation. As our hearts “arise,” we have fellowship with the humanity of Christ, which the Lord anoints and has made a sheep gate (Jn. 10:7) for us, by which our shepherd leads us up into the presence of “the three divine persons, whose life is eternally one of shared regard, delight, fellowship, feasting, and joy,”* the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

* quotation from David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), viii.


New Medieval Bible Meditations: Scripture Interpretations for Preachers, Nuns, and other Guilty Bystanders is Clifton Stringer’s contribution to the renewal of the Church’s reading and teaching of the Holy Bible. I try to pick a passage from the lectionary for the coming Sunday, ideally one shared by both Roman Catholic and Protestant (both Revised Common & Episcopalian) lectionaries.

The premise of this method of interpretation is that Sacred Scripture, because it is divine revelation, has wondrous depths. That Scripture is ‘divine revelation’ means that Scripture is divine truth and wisdom graciously shown to us by God. Scripture is thus a created participation in the divine Word (Jn. 1:1) who is the second person of the Holy Trinity. Sacred Scripture is thus, and ultimately, a participation in God’s own knowledge, the very joyful eternal life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Scripture is shared with us out of love that we might become wise and good, and be saved.

Since the infinite God is the author of Sacred Scripture, in addition to Scripture’s “literal or historical” sense, many passages of the Bible will have mystical senses (or spiritual senses). The literal sense is, as it were, the fountain and foundation of these mystical senses. These mystical senses are usually reckoned at three: the allegorical sense, the moral sense, and the anagogical sense.

Here is how St. Bonaventure describes these three mystical senses: “Allegory occurs when by one thing is indicated another which is a matter of belief” – like when one thing in Scripture prefigures another later thing, or builds on an earlier prefiguration. “The tropological or moral understanding occurs when, from something done, we learn something else which we should do” – like when Christ or an apostle does something holy that we must imitate. “The anagogical meaning, a kind of ‘lifting upwards,’ occurs when we are shown what it is we should desire, that is, the eternal happiness of the blessed” – that is, when we catch a glimpse of the glory of God.

Aquinas even notes that, since God understands all things through one infinite act of being, God can intend for there to be more than one meaning of a scripture at the literal level.

All four senses (literal, allegorical, moral, anagogical) are effective for preaching, teaching, and training in righteousness, as the Spirit leads.

To reflect further on these senses consider, for example, Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae 1.1.10 or Bonaventure’s Breviloquium, Prologue, section 4.

Also note that, in writing these meditations, I do not do any ‘historical critical’ research into the passages. If you would like to do this, it can add to your understanding of the literal sense, and even sometimes spur your imagination among the other senses. But many modern scholars focus on ‘historical critical’ questions almost exclusively; read their works, insofar as it is helpful for knowing and teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ; there is no need for me to reinvent the wheel.

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