Lessons in Leadership: #3 David Anointed as King, 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13
Sermon by Rev. Dr. Rolf Svanoe
On this Father’s Day many of us have memories of our fathers. My father was a school teacher and principal, and so much of our everyday lives were filled with life lessons. Dad was always teaching no matter what he was doing. He had favorite sayings. One day as we were painting the outside of the house, he was showing me how to scrape the old paint. He wanted me to do a good job and so he said to me, “If you’re going to do a job, do it right!”
My father grew up in Norway. Norwegian was his mother tongue. My father tried in vain to teach his kids Norwegian. Dad was proud of his heritage, but that didn’t stop him from embracing people from other traditions. We lived in a house that had two small apartments upstairs that we rented out. My father was the first in our neighborhood to rent out to a young black couple. Some of the neighbors were not very happy with my father. But he didn’t care. Another of his sayings was, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
Our story today is all about judging a book by its cover. King Saul had been chosen to be Israel’s first King because he was tall and good looking. People thought he would be an effective leader. Talk about judging a book by its cover! Saul proved to be a terrible king, to the point that people began to look for ways to replace him. It was then that God called Samuel the prophet to go to Bethlehem and anoint a new king. Now you have to understand- that was a dangerous thing to do. If King Saul heard about it, he would have them all killed. Samuel was afraid, but he went anyway. God told him to go to the house of Jesse and anoint one of his sons king. So, Jesse presented his sons to Samuel one at a time. First, was the oldest son, Eliab. He must have been tall and manly, because when Samuel saw him, he immediately thought, “Surely this is the one.” Again, Samuel was judging the book by its cover. And that’s when Samuel got a message from God. “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature…for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” God does not judge the book by its cover. God judges the book by its contents. It’s what’s inside that counts with God. It’s what is in your heart that God sees.
Seven of Jesse’s sons were presented to Samuel, but they were all rejected. When Samuel asked Jesse if all of his sons were there, Jesse said that there was one more, the youngest who was out watching the sheep. But why would Samuel want him? He was the runt of the litter. There was nothing special about him. Even his own father didn’t have much regard for David which is probably why he wasn’t invited to this party. But Samuel insisted that they get him. And when Samuel saw David, the Lord said to Samuel, “This is the one.” David is described as ruddy, with beautiful eyes and handsome. Beautiful eyes aren’t usually thought of as a good qualification for a king. But God wasn’t looking at David’s eyes; God was looking at David’s heart.
Have you ever judged someone based on their appearance? It’s unavoidable. We all do it all the time. We are conditioned by the advertising industry to prefer people who are young, who are strong and good looking, who have white teeth and shiny hair, who are sexy and trim. We can look at someone’s physical appearance and make snap judgments about what’s inside.
Those of you who are married, think about what it was that attracted you first to your partner. Initially, it might have been their physical appearance that got your juices flowing. That certainly is a part of any relationship. But successful relationships are built around shared core values. If you don’t go beyond the physical appearance in exploring what’s inside the heart, those core values, then you are more likely to have an unsuccessful relationship in the long run. Part of the pre-marriage counseling that I do with couples is to explore those core values. Physical attraction may sustain a relationship for a few years, but it’s not a good basis for a long-term marriage. Again, don’t judge a book by its cover.
Let me give you another example and tell you about Randy. He was a student at the Seminary in St. Paul. Randy rode his Harley to school every day. He wore a black leather vest with tattoos covering his arms. He was bald with a long beard that he braided. I remember the first time I saw him, I thought to myself, “What is he doing here?” I was judging the book by its cover. But over time, I got to know Randy and his story. He was a kind and compassionate man who loved the Lord and felt the call to ministry. I felt embarrassed about my initial judgment of Randy. I was looking on his outward appearance, but God was calling me to look on his heart.
Do you remember the famous “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King Jr? There is a line in that speech that has always stood out to me. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” We haven’t gotten there yet, have we? Racism is something that infects all of us to one degree or another. And for many of us, we don’t even know it. Men are starting to learn about male privilege in a society that for too long has preferred men over women. We are also learning about white privilege in a society that has for too long preferred whites over minorities. Much of it happens because we have chosen to judge the book by its cover.
Listen again to God’s word to Samuel. “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature…for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” The Lord looks on the heart. Sometimes, I don’t want God to see what’s in my heart because I’m ashamed of it. But God sees it all- all the pride, all the suspicion and fear, all the prejudice and judgment. It’s not pretty.
There is good news, however. And the good news is that even though God knows what is in our hearts, God still loves us. In Jesus Christ, God forgives us our sins of prejudice and nails them to the cross. God invites us now to follow Jesus. God invites us to see our neighbor as a child of God and someone that Jesus died for. God invites us not to judge our neighbor by the outside, but by what’s inside, in the heart.
God chose David to be the next king of Israel. But even David was a flawed and broken man. Eventually God sent us another king, his own son, Jesus our Messiah, to show us what it means to be a real king, a servant king. We follow a king who gives his life for us and invites us to do the same for others regardless of their appearance.