1 SAMUEL 16:1-13
Today’s story is about the selection of David as Israel’s king. As we join the story, Saul is the king of Israel. But Saul has fallen from favor with God. Usually, kings are kings for life. But God doesn’t care about that. He has plans for Samuel, his prophet.
- Apparently Samuel doesn’t like Saul any more than God does. But God is not going to take Saul’s disobedience sitting down. He tells Samuel to prepare some oil for the anointing of a new king. God is basically telling Samuel to perform an act of treason! (v. 1)
- Samuel knows that if Saul finds out about this mission, Samuel will be executed. But God has a sneaky plan cooked up. Samuel is going to pretend that he’s going to Jesse’s house merely to perform a sacrifice. (vv. 2-3)
- Samuel did what he was told. The elders meet Samuel on the road. They were worried what it meant that God’s number one man was coming to their town. He invited them along. They did indeed perform a sacrifice, after everyone did some ritual cleansing first (sanctifying). (vv. 4-5)
- Spotting Jesse’s eldest son, Samuel thought he must be the one. God says “no”. Samuel was basing his opinion on appearance. God has a different selection criterion in mind. He knows what’s in their heart, and that’s what is important to God. (vv. 6-7)
- Next, we have the short “interview process” for the kingship. All but one of Jesse’s sons pass before Samuel, and all are rejected. “Are there any more?” he asks. “Oh, just the youngest, and he’s out in the field with the sheep.” David is summoned from the fields and anointed on the spot, right in front of all his rejected brothers. (vv. 8-13)
The key verse comes in verse 7. “…the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
Many will focus on the last part of this quote, and that is a good thing. God does indeed look beyond outward appearances, and into our hearts. But more important for understanding today’s lesson is that God “sees” differently that we humans “see”. In addition to seeing, I suggest that God also thinks differently than we do. Take, for example, the beatitudes that Jesus spoke on the Sermon on the Mount. The very human attributes that mortals think are shameful are the ones that Jesus calls “blessed”. We will talk more about sight and blindness in the gospel lesson for today.
In recent weeks, we have been studying about the tension that existed in the early church between Gentile believers and Jewish Christians. Many scholars believe that this letter was written after that conflict had passed. Now, the writer can focus on building the faith and actions of the church without worrying about petty cultural differences.
- We are reminded that we are all children of the light. We used to live our lives in darkness, before we believed in Jesus. But now, we are “children of the light”. The good things we do (the “fruit”) should reflect the fact that we are children of the light. This fruit is everything that is good, right, and true. (vv. 8-9)
- Things that are not good, right, and true should not only be avoided; they should be exposed! Secrecy is shameful. Unfruitful works should be brought to the light of day. Exposed. (vv. 10-13)
- This section ends with the words of encouragement that doing this will cause the light of Christ to shine on them. (v. 14)
All too often we are told to keep our mouth shut, when we see something happening that is not right. This passage tells us that we need to rethink our inaction, and do the right thing.
In my bible, this very long story is entitled “A Man Born Blind Receives Sight”. If I could, I would change the title to “The Story of the Blind Pharisees”. By the time you’re done reading these reflections, I hope that you will agree with me. But first, I need to make something clear. I’ve said this before, but it is critical to understand who the Jews and the Pharisees were before we start.
The Jews—this term is often used in the New Testament to refer to a group of religious people where opposed to Jesus and his teachings. We must not forget that Jesus’ human family was Jewish. When they took Jesus to the temple for naming, for example, they were following the tenets of the Jewish faith. All of Jesus’ apostles and disciples were Jewish. The fact is that while some Jews hated Jesus, many more Jews loved their Jewish brother (Jesus).
Pharisees-- There were several Jewish sects during this time. These sects intended to live their lives in a more devout, God-pleasing way than your average Jewish person. Pharisees were one of these strict and conservative sects. They did their very best to obey all of God’s commandments, not just the ten. But all 613 of God’s laws. They studied and discussed Holy Scripture constantly. They had everything figured out—they had all the answers about God, because they knew the bible (the Old Testament) inside and out. When Jesus came along, he didn’t fit into their image of the Messiah.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s break this story down into some big chunks.
- The first paragraph sets the stage. A man born blind comes to Jesus for healing. The disciples ask a strange (to us) question. They want to know who sinned for this man to be born blind! First, it was thought that all sickness came upon people because of sin. Second, the Old Testament states that some sins are punishable to the offspring of the sinner, for several generations. Jesus says that it is not applicable in this case, but that the man is here so Jesus can do what he’s about to do. And then he heals the man with some spit-mud (!) (vv. 1-7 )
- Now the confusion begins. People are so used to seeing this man blind, they think he must be someone else! Besides that, Jesus has disappeared from the scene. He will return later. (vv. 8-12)
- When you are healed from a profound disease, you are supposed to go to the temple to be examined. This is what the crowd does. There, the confusion gets even worse. Some are hung up about Jesus healing on the Sabbath. Others want to deny that it happened at all. There was denial and confusion all over the place. The parents are even brought in. It gets so comical that the formerly blind man asks the Pharisees in verse 17 if they want to be Jesus’ disciples! This is not winning him any awards with this crowd. Finally, in verse 34, they call him a sinner (not pure and holy like them), yell at him for having the nerve to teach them, and throw him out. (vv. 13-34)
- Jesus reappears, and has a discussion with the man he had healed. The man states that he believes in Jesus, and worships him. (vv. 35-38)
- Here is the key verse, and the whole reason for the healing in the first place. Jesus healed the man to tell people to open their eyes to see who Jesus really was. Furthermore, Jesus claims that many who think they see are actually blind. (v. 39)
- Some Pharisees hear this and say “Who do you think you’re talking about—surely not us?” [my translation] Jesus answers with a little word play/banter to say yes, I’m talking about you. (vv. 40-41)
We want to have answers for everything. The last thing we want to hear from our pastor is “I don’t know” or “It is a mystery”. We scour Holy Scripture for answers, and figure out answers to life’s questions. Because we have found the answer in the bible, we know that the answer is the right one. When the chips are down, we stick to our guns, knowing that we have found the answer in God’s Word.
This is exactly what the Pharisees had done! They had everything so figured out, that they did not recognize God when he was staring them in the face! Instead of sending them a Messiah that met their expectations, God sent the Messiah to be the son of a Nazarene carpenter, born in a barn. God’s Messiah did not lead a political revolution. God’s Messiah led a spiritual revolution. Jesus challenged the Pharisees’ thinking, and they did not like it. God sent them a curve ball, and they struck out.
I wonder what surprises God has in store for us. As I go through life studying scripture, I plan to keep my eyes open. I will remember that God sees things differently than I. We should all keep our eyes open, and be prepared for a couple of God-surprises along the way.