Listen and You Will See
Sermon preached by Jeanne E. Gay
March 2, 2008
1 Samuel 16:1-13 Ephesians 5:8-14
This story was a source of great embarrassment for me at one time in my life When I was in high school, I helped out with the Sunday School class at my church, and one week our lesson was on Samuel’s anointing of David. Wanting to make sure my young students understood what anointing was, I impulsively picked up what I thought was an empty flower vase and upended it over one young boy’s head. Unfortunately, it wasn’t empty. There had been flowers in it some unknown weeks—or maybe even months—before, and what came spilling out over this child was the nasty green water left over from those flowers. My lesson did make an impression, but boy, did that kid stink!
There was drama in the original story, too, and though I doubt that David jumped and shrieked when Samuel anointed him—like my student did—there were certainly a lot of surprised people. After all, as we see so many times in the Bible, God chose the youngest brother, the “least of these.”
The people of
At the beginning of this passage, Samuel is grieving about Saul, but God has other plans. “How long will you grieve over Saul?” God says. God is ready to move on. “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.” That sounds pretty straightforward, but I want to stop and look at the Hebrew for a moment. That “I have provided”? That’s rā’îhî—I have seen. God has seen; God has discerned—out of the thousands of available people—one young man who is to be king.
After quibbling a bit about just how safe it might not be to go anoint a new king with Saul still on the throne, and being assured that God will be with him every step along the way, Samuel gets to Jesse’s home and asks him to bring all of his sons together on the pretence of having a ritual sacrifice. In comes Eliab, and Samuel immediately figures that this is the one. Samuel looks at him, and what does he see? A tall, good-looking young man, just like Saul had been. Samuel thinks, “Surely the Lord’s anointed (his māsîah) is now before the Lord.”
But God has other ideas, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him.” God rejects Eliab the same way God rejected Saul. “For the Lord does not see as mortals see; they see the outward appearance, but the Lord sees the heart.” This is the key to the passage, folks: The Lord does not see as people see.
We’re back to seeing. Remember that Hebrew word that was used when God “saw” a king?—same one here. But when God tells Samuel not to look on the “outward” Eliab, it’s a different verb. Samuel’s “looking” is different from “seeing.” It’s as if God is saying, “Samuel, you’re looking but not seeing.”
Samuel is not seeing what God is seeing, for “the Lord looks on the heart.” For the Hebrews, the heart was not the seat of the emotions but of the whole character. God sees the inner person—the person inside, good and bad, healthy and unhealthy, righteous and sinful. In fact, the Hebrew word that we translate as heart—lēvāv—can also be translated as the inner person. God looks to the heart. God sees who we are.
And how is it that people see? We see the same way Samuel did, by looking at the outward appearance. We can do no more. We look, but we don’t necessarily see.
Now, some of us like to think that, although we’re limited to a person’s outward appearance, we can tell a lot about him or her by what we see; we can look in that person’s eyes and know what kind of a person he or she is. The Hebrews thought so, too. In fact, the word we translate as “outward appearance” is actually eyes—(hā’ādām yire’eh la‘ênayim) Humans look to the eyes.
We can debate just how well one can know people by looking at their eyes (and you may be remembering with me George W. Bush assuring us that President Putin of
But how is it that Samuel knew that the Lord had not chosen any of the first seven? Samuel listened to God. All through this story, Samuel listens to God. In fact, God tells him what to do, every step of the way. It’s not that Samuel is incapable of acting on his own—just as none of us is incapable of acting on our own—but what he would have done on his own was radically different from what he did following God’s directions.
At the beginning of this passage, Samuel would have been perfectly happy to sit around and grieve about Saul’s failure as a king, but the Lord was having none of that. The last thing Samuel would have done under his own initiative was to traipse off to
No, what God told Samuel to do made no human sense. We can imagine Samuel saying, “Lord, I just can’t see it.” But God could see it. God could see the need to move
It’s a good question to ask ourselves, isn’t it. Do we listen to discern what God sees—praying, reading the Bible, talking with other Christians? Or do we go by what we can see on our own? Do we let our fears—for safety, for security, for looking good—get in the way of hearing God tell us to strike out through “enemy territory” and discover something wonderful?
Sometimes, what God sees is so radically different from what we see that we have a hard time believing it. The Bible is full of these stories. Didn’t God give Sarah and Abraham a son when they were well past childbearing age? Didn’t God see Jesse’s youngest son, the one they all saw as being the most worthless, as King David? Didn’t God allow his only son to be sacrificed in order to save all of us?
No rational human being would have done those things! No, only God.
Friends, what blessings are there for you in your life that no rational human being could ever discern, that you cannot see? In what “illogical” directions is God calling you?
As the Pastoral Nominating Committee begins phone interviews, we pray that they will be able to listen to God’s direction so they can see the candidate God would have them choose.
Today is Communion Sunday. As we come to the table, I pray that we will be able to hear God’s voice and see what God would have us see.
Listen, my friends, and you will see.