The Killer King sermon series – #1: From Pasture to Palace

This week I’m starting a sermon series on King David called “The Killer King.” We’ll be looking at all the high and low points in the life of this biblical icon. Because many of the stories are longer, I’ll be interspersing the scripture in the midst of the text, rather than providing it all at the beginning. I hope this will help the sermon flow better, and will also let us discover the story together as we go along. God bless!

The Killer King sermon Series
#1 – From Palace to Pasture
June 15, 2014

There are a lot of big dogs in the Hebrew Scriptures. A hall of fame would include folks like Abraham and Joseph and Moses. But of all the Great Danes and Saint Bernards we read about in the Hebrew scriptures, David stands head and shoulders above the rest. Consider this: In that section of the Bible, there are 14 chapters about Abraham, 13 about Joseph, 11 about Jacob, and 40 about Moses. But there are 66 chapters dedicated to the life of David. His influence and stature grew so big that the Old Testament couldn’t hold him; there are 57 references to David in the New Testament. And he is credited with writing many of the beautiful psalms we have. Aside from Jesus, David is truly the big dog of the Bible.

But he didn’t start out that way. During this sermon series, we’ll be taking a look at the life of David, from his humble beginnings, through his rise to the throne, to his up-and-down rule as king. David has been called “the greatest saint and sinner in the Bible.” Since I believe we all have a little bit of both in us, David might have something to teach us about having faith.

To understand David’s story, we have to understand a bit about the history of Israel leading up to his appearance in 1 Samuel. The nation of Israel was governed for a long time by a series of judges. These judges served as God’s representatives and provided leadership for the people. But the only true ruler of the Israelites needed was God.

Unfortunately, they didn’t believe that. Once they got settled in the Promised Land, the Israelites looked around at other nations and saw they had earthly kings. All of a sudden, an invisible God as your ruler didn’t seem so cool. So the Israelites decided they also wanted a king they could see and touch and complain about on Facebook. God didn’t like this idea, but God let them have their way. So the Israelites named Saul the first king of Israel. His coronation a story includes runaway donkeys, a sacred cooked thigh bone, and Saul hiding behind someone’s luggage. Obviously, the Israelites are making up this monarchy thing as they go. Now, Saul was what you would expect a king to be: handsome, strong, well-spoken. His hair was well-coifed and his suits were Armani. As the tallest person in the kingdom, he commanded attention and respect. He was an obvious choice and the people were thrilled to have him.

The only problem was that Saul wasn’t a good king. He stopped seeking God’s direction and tried to take matters into his own hands. In fact, the last verse of I Samuel 15 says, “The Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king.” So that brings us to our text today. Let’s read v. 1-5:

The Lord said to Samuel, ‘How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. 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.’ Samuel said, ‘How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.’ And the Lord said, ‘Take a heifer with you, and say, “I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.” Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.’ Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, ‘Do you come peaceably?’ He said, ‘Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.’ And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

God sends the prophet Samuel to see a man named Jesse, because from his sons will come the new king. Samuel is a little concerned about this mission on which God has sent him. Samuel has no hesitation anointing a new king – he hasn’t been thrilled with Saul, either – but the problem is that appointing a new king to replace the old king can be hazardous to your health when the old king isn’t gone yet. Despite all his failings, Saul is still king, and probably won’t be too thrilled with Samuel to find out Samuel is going around anointing Saul’s successors. But Samuel’s loyalty is to God, not Saul, so he goes.

Samuel is not the only one concerned about this trip. Great prophets like Samuel didn’t just show up in backwater villages like Bethlehem. It’s like in elementary school when the principal would make a surprise visit to the classroom and the hair would stand up on the back of everyone’s necks. “Why is SHE here? Who’s in trouble?” But Samuel assures the elders he has come in peace to make a sacrifice. Let’s read a little more…

v. 6 – When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.’ But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’ Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, ‘Neither has the Lord chosen this one.’ Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, ‘Neither has the Lord chosen this one.’ Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, ‘The Lord has not chosen any of these.’ 

Samuel meets with Jesse and sees his oldest son, Eliab. Eliab was a wonderful physical specimen: tall, handsome, confident. Samuel says to himself, “There he is! He just looks like a king.” But God says, “No.” Then Samuel sees son #2, Abinadab. While not quite as impressive as son #1, Abinadab certainly met all the kingly requirements. But God says, “No.” The Samuel meets the third son, Shammah. OK, maybe not the top of the line model, his suits may be from Sears instead of Armani, but not a clunker either. “He’ll do,” says Samuel. “No he won’t,” says God. And then it turns into a version of “America’s Got Talent” called “Israel’s Got Royalty.” Will anyone make the cut? Son #4. No. Son #5. No. Son #6. No. Son #7. No.

That’s it. That’s all the sons that Samuel sees. Any of them would have been just fine as kings; they all looked the part. But as God reminded Samuel, God doesn’t look at our characteristics, but our character. God doesn’t consider the color of our eyes; God considers the capacity of our hearts. Like the Disney story, Samuel tries the glass slipper on all the brothers, but it won’t quite fit. None of these seven sons fit the bill.

There’s some interesting symbolism here. All you biblical numerologists out there – you know who you are – realize the significance of the number seven. It means completeness, perfection. Think of the seven days of creation. The seven sons represented all that is good and right and worthy in a worldly sense. They are the perfect pool from which to select a king. On the contrary the number eight doesn’t have that kind of meaning. We’re not told what God did on the eighth day of creation, because it doesn’t matter. In a sense, the number eight is meaningless. It’s extra baggage. It’s the leftovers. So what happens after God rejects the seven sons?

v. 11 – Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Are all your sons here?’ And he said, ‘There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.’ And Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.’ He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, ‘Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.’ Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

After seeing the first seven, Samuel says, “Is that all there is?” And Jesse says, “Yeah…Oh, wait! There’s one more, little What’s-His-Name, out with the sheep. Do you really want to see him?” We all know of the last born children in families who have been labeled “accidents.” You get the impression here from Jesse that David is an accident. But Samuel, to his credit, says, “Look, God told me to see all your sons, and I’m not leaving here until I do.” So in comes the runt of the litter. We’re not even told his name. We are told that he was good-looking, but probably in an eighth-son sort of way. And God says, “There he is! Rise and anoint him; he is the one.” David is a true Cinderella story, rising from the dregs of the sheep pen to become the next king. God chooses the leftovers.

I’m not sure we can understand just how absurd this decision must seem. Samuel’s just seen seven fine, hardy, upstanding young men, and he’s been told to anoint the short one wearing stained clothes and smelling like sheep. It’s as if the Coach Calipari needed someone to shoot a game-winning free throw, and instead of picking one of his star players, he chooses the ball boy.

So God’s chosen king is David. He’s not an accident; he’s a divine intervention. Should we really be surprised? Haven’t we learned by now that God’s criteria are much, much different than ours? We’ve seen time and time again how God chooses the younger, the weaker, the less popular to do God’s work. The world has a pecking order: elder son over younger, Pharaohs over slaves, religious authority figures over common peasants. But God pays no attention to that order.

God often chooses those whom we overlook. So much of a person’s value is determined by worldly criteria: their looks, their wealth, their age. We naturally place our trust and authority in people who look like they deserve it and who look like they are worthy of being entrusted with it. There was a TV commercial on recently where a man dressed in a sharp suit and tie convinces people to hire him as their investment banker. He then reveals he’s actually a DJ at a local dance club. Looks can be deceiving, can’t they? The road of history is littered with fallen leaders like Saul, people who looked the part but didn’t have the heart to be faithful to God.

God doesn’t want people who make good impressions. He wants people who make good servants. We often overlook people because they don’t appear to be gifted or valuable. But that’s because we’re seeing them through the world’s eyes, and not God’s. God chooses people that others dismiss and devalue, even when we feel that way about ourselves. If you’re the shepherd boy, if you’re the eighth son, if you are the one who’s been on the outside looking in, God is saying that you are valuable. People may have told you otherwise, but they aren’t seeing what God is seeing. God sees our hearts, and God chooses us and anoints us to do God’s work in this world. No one is too small or too insignificant for that job.

That’s true for everyone, not just those of us sitting here today. There are people right now out working in the fields and in the streets and in the factories who probably smell like sheep or worse and who probably don’t fit our preconceptions of God’s chosen ones. As Christians, it’s our responsibility to make sure that these folks have a place at the table. The world looks at them and only sees what it wants to see; we are called to see what God sees. We are all valuable, we all matter, and we are all called to serve. If we want to get a sense of who God is calling to do great things, we might want to look around and see who doesn’t have a voice, to see who is being pushed to the side. Because it’s the very people most consider human accidents that are actually divine interventions.

You matter to God. And the people you think don’t matter, they matter to God, too. We are called to treat everyone as they deserve, to extend to them God’s hospitality and grace, not just the ones who look like the deserve it. Because you never know when your investment banker is only a club DJ, and you never know when the people around you who look like accidents and smell like sheep are actually God’s chosen. Just ask the eighth son of Jesse.

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