Reflecting on 1 Samuel 16 1-13

What perspective seems most helpful to take on the story of Samuel’s anointing of David at Bethlehem? This seems like one potentially fruitful line of thinking about the story told in 1 Samuel 16:1-13, which we’re studying this week.

There are a lot of characters; each has a slightly different relationship to the central events and so, a slightly or greatly different appreciation for their significance. Which of these many characters might teach us some lessons for our own lives, like about what to do and not to do, and about how to approach our own role in potentially significant events, as God’s story works itself out in our world?

Samuel’s? He is arguably the main actor in this story, and the one in most immediate contact with God throughout the entire episode. Does that make Samuel someone we would do well to identify with, or at least to pay close attention to? Why? Or, alternatively, is he someone most different from us, so, not that relevant?

What about the perspective of the elders of Bethlehem? They are, in an important sense, bystanders – but then, many of us are, too, often, in lots of circumstances. Can we learn anything from their brief appearance in this text?

What about Jesse’s, the perspective of someone closely involved in something momentous, which he may or may not understand, or even imagine, at this time? What about the perspective of David’s older brothers, who may or may not be aware that they’re being passed over for something? What about David’s? Not that we get any insight into David’s thoughts or feelings from this text. What about God’s?

What do we learn from this story if we explore what we can tell from the text about what each of these characters knows about what’s going on, and how each of the characters responds to the event? Who, if anyone, seems to model faithfulness? Or some other positive character traits? How? Who, if anyone, seems to serve as a negative example? Again, how?

This line of questioning assumes that God is always doing things in our world and in our lives, and that it’s entirely possible we might find ourselves in the middle of an event that down the road will have long term consequences, not just for us, but for many others. Just reflecting on that, and on the thoughts and feelings it raises for us, might be worth our while.

Some notes on the text are here. Here are a couple of additional questions that would take our reflections in some different directions:

Last week we looked at part of the story of the choice of Saul as first king of Israel. This week, we look at the story of the anointing of David as second king of Israel. We could ask: what are the similarities between the divine choices in these two stories? What are the differences? What do we notice about those similarities and differences, and what do we learn from them? What are the implications of that learning for us – what do we think we need to do with that?

[maybe more abstract …] In particular, we might have been thinking last week that God was working out a “long term plan” to “teach the people” something about kingship. How does this story support that idea, or call it into question and prompt us to revise it?

Would we call this a story about leadership? Why, or why not?

If this is a story about leadership, what does it say about leadership? What does it tell us about the job of a leader? Or, about the requirements or desirable qualities of a leader? What in the text leads us to say this?

If this isn’t a story about leadership, but about something else – what else? Why do we say that?

What does this story tell us about God? Why do we say that? [e.g., something in the text; something we’ve read about the text; something we know or think already … ]

What thoughts or feelings does that raise for us? Why?

One thing I sense in reading some of the things people, including our lesson commentary, say about this story: that we as readers seem to look for “the thing” about David, “the good quality,” that clinches God’s choice of David as the next king. But … there’s nothing at all in this story that tells us anything about David – except that he’s handsome, and little, and that God has chosen him after being sorry that God chose Saul. [And we might notice, that if we are among those who believe that God never changes God’s mind, that Biblical statement will challenge us.] So whether or not we think the Bible actually answers the question, of why God is so partial to David here, we might ask ourselves – is it important for us to believe that God has a “good reason” for that partiality? Why?

If we couldn’t believe that God had a “good reason,” in our eyes, for that choice – what then? Would that be a problem for us? Why?

This is an interesting question to me. Maybe not a comfortable one, though.

Image: “Figures in Conversation – Étaples,” Leslie Hunter, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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