1 Samuel 16:1-13
The prophet Samuel anointed David, son of Jesse, to be king after Saul. This morning we’re going to look at Jesse’s family and the larger role of families in the Bible. Let’s begin, however, by setting the story of Samuel’s anointing of David in its larger context. The Israelites had asked for a king. The prophet Samuel told them that this request reflected on a mistrust of God and would ultimately lead to trouble. The people insisted, however, and God gave them Saul to be their king. Almost immediately after Samuel anointed him, Saul began to make decisions that distrusted and disobeyed God. Saul had several good reasons for his sin, but God regretted making Saul king.
Eventually, God told Samuel to go to Bethlehem and anoint another. Samuel went to Bethlehem as God told him to find the family of a man named Jesse. The townspeople asked, “Do you come in peace?” and for good reason. Chapter 15 concluded with Samuel executing with his own hand the king of the Amalekites. The people in Bethlehem wondered, “Who’s next?”
Samuel replied to the Bethlehemites that he did come in peace to sacrifice to the Lord. He made a special point of inviting Jesse and his sons to the feast that would follow the sacrifice. There, Samuel spotted Jesse’s son Eliab. Samuel thought, “This must be the one,” but God had not chosen Eliab. Jesse started to parade each of his sons in front of Samuel: Aminidab, Shamah, seven sons in all. But God had not chosen any of these young men. All that remained was David, the youngest, who was taking care of the sheep. Samuel insisted that Jesse bring David to the feast. When David arrived, Samuel anointed him and God’s spirit came upon him.
If there is a single take-away nugget here, it’s found in verse 7:
But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or his stature, because I have rejected him. Man does not see what the LORD sees, for man sees what is visible, but the LORD sees the heart.”
The Lord sees the heart, not the appearance. That’s a verse that will stand on its own, even apart from the story. But the Bible doesn’t intend to give us just generalized religious truths. We can’t pull out the moral and throw away the story as if we were shelling peanuts or peeling bananas. The story itself has something more to tell us, especially on this Father’s Day.
There’s not much information about David’s family in the text, but there are hints at Jesse’s influence.
If you use a thesaurus to search on the word “Jesse,” you will find most of the verses are actually references to David. Time and time again he’s referred to as Jesse’s son. While it’s not uncommon for ancient people to use the phrase “son of” when naming others, David son of Jesse seems unusually common when compared to other Biblical characters. It seems that David particularly identified with his father.
David is a man “after God’s own heart” according to 1 Samuel 13:14 and Acts 13:22. How did he get to be that way? By the grace of God, to be sure, but also by his upbringing. We are all the products of the families that produced us. Never underestimate the influence of a father.
There is a crisis of fatherhood in the country today. Research from the social sciences tell us, where children grow up with both parents, married in the home there is:
- Reduced poverty.
- Reduced crime.
- Better physical health.
- Better mental health, less depression, less teen suicide.
- Reduced domestic violence, abuse and neglect.
- Higher grade point averages, lower drop-out rates, greater college attendance.
I know that I’ve just induced feelings of guilt. Broken homes are a reality in this fallen world. Sometimes the brokenness is evident; sometimes, its not so obvious. None of us are perfect parents. Take heart. There are no perfect families in the Bible (No, not even Jesus’ family was perfect. Jesus, yes; his family, no.) God uses even imperfect families.
And perhaps this is the place for a comment on public policy. When Christians act to influence public policy and perceptions on this issue, we’re not telling society that it has to live by our religious values. We think social structures that protect marriage and the family are best for society as a whole, whether people share our religious values or not. We’re for strong marriages for the same reason that we’re for clean air and water, safe streets, healthy foods and medicines and good schools – because they’re good for people.
Coming back to our scripture text, we find that Jesse wasn’t the perfect father to David. Why was David looking after the sheep when the prophet had invited Jesse and his sons to the feast. Could Jesse not see what God saw? Can I see in my children what God sees? I sometimes fret about my poor parenting skills. How much more could my children become if I could only see them as God sees them and treat them accordingly. It’s comforting to know that God is at work for good in not-quite-there families like Jesse’s and like mine. God sees what I can’t.
This story of Samuel and David is a snapshot of a much larger story. Here, Samuel anointed the son of Jesse to be king after Saul’s death. In doing so, he set in motion the events that would lead to the dynasty of king David – a dynasty to which our king – Jesus – belongs.
It’s not surprising that God used a family to further his redeeming work in the world. Families have been a part of his plan from the beginning. In Genesis 2, we learn that it’s not good for a person to be alone.
Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” … Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:18, 24-25 ESV)
Even though God created the family to be a blessing, we’ve messed it up just like everything else. Oh, the fall of humankind – how tragic it is! Even the family structure shares in the curse of fallen humanity. The first sin is mistrusting God and eating forbidden fruit. As a result, the two human beings united in one flesh are now pointing fingers. The unity of the family is broken. Shame becomes part of the family experience. The relationship of mutuality becomes a relationship of dominance and pain.
If the first account of sin is bad, the second account of sin is worse, and it, too, takes place in the context of the family. Perhaps the first sin can be dismissed. Eating forbidden fruit, how bad can that be? Isn’t God overreacting? But then in the second story of sin we see the terrible consequences of humankind’s fall. Two brothers. Jealousy. One lures the other into a trap and murders him in cold blood.
This is the Bible picture of the family – a wonderful gift from God, tragically marred by humanity’s sinfulness. The story of Adam and Eve, of Cain and Abel play themselves out again and again in our homes.
And the world’s problem is the family’s problem on a larger scale. The whole earth is one big family. That’s what all those genealogies are about! Even before science told us that we all share the same DNA, the Bible told us that we all have one set of parents. In Acts 17:26, Paul tells the Athenians that God made all the nations of the earth from one man (or one blood). We are all one family, but the family is divided and doesn’t talk. In Genesis 11, we discover that our pride and ambition drives us away from each other. The tower of Babel narrative portrays a worldwide family torn apart.
If the family is the promise of creation and the curse of the fall, then family is also at the root of our salvation. In Genesis 12, God called a married couple: Abraham and Sarah. He promised them an unbelievably large family that would become a blessing to all the nations of the earth. That’s the way the story of salvation begins – with a family’s story.
Genesis 12-50 is the account of this family called by God. As we read Genesis, however, we find that this chosen family is very curious group indeed. A movie faithful to their story would be rated R, or at least PG-13. A king admired Abraham’s wife, so Abraham pretended that Sarah was his sister, allowing the king to get very friendly with her. Abraham and Sarah didn’t trust God to give them the family God had promised, so Abraham fathered a baby with Sarah’s servant. Then Sarah became so jealous that she drove the servant and her baby away (twice!). Abraham’s son Isaac had twin sons, Jacob and Esau. Esau was daddy’s favorite, but mom liked Jacob best and helped Jacob trick his brother out of his inheritance. That Jacob was a quite character! His name means “Deceiver.” Jacob married his 2 cousins, Rachel and Leah, and had children by them and their two servants – 4 mothers, 12 boys. Those boys! Their sister was molested in Shechem, so they wiped out the entire town. And their violence was not limited to those outside the family. Joseph, one of the youngest, was a gifted young man who never let his brothers forget that he was daddy’s favorite. The other brothers were so angry that they wanted to kill Joseph and wound up throwing him into a pit and selling him into slavery.
In some ways, this family’s life sounds so foreign to us. There are some very strange things in there: multiple wives and not-quite-wives – marrying cousins – marrying your brother in law if your husband dies and leaves you without a son. In other ways, it sounds so familiar. There are probably times that we all think, “My family is the strangest family in the world.” It’s not.
That’s the story of the chosen family in the book of Genesis. As time went on, the family became a related group of tribes. The tribes became a confederation. The confederation became a kingdom. The kingdom became a religion and an ethnicity and a way of life. All of the books of the Old Testament fit somewhere in the record of God’s evolving family and David’s family story is found right in the middle of this larger account. At the culmination of this story, a man named Joseph and a woman named Mary became the parents of a boy named Jesus. Once again a human family is at the heart of God’s story. What happens in families is key to the story of the Bible.
With Jesus, a new kind of family is born: a family based on faith, not on blood. As important as the natural family is, the family of faith is even more important. Jesus used a bit of hyperbole when he said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.: unless you hate your family, you can’t be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). When people spoke to Jesus about his family, he said:
“Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:33-35) .
The church of Jesus Christ is a very realy family, but the natural, human family is important to Jesus, too.
Jesus wasn’t afraid to reinterpret and reprioritize Old Testament laws. Gathering grain on the Sabbath? The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Washing your hands in the proper ceremonial manner? It’s what comes out of a person that defiles him, not what goes in. But when asked about marriage and family, Jesus pointed back to God’s intention in creation – Genesis 2 – and didn’t relax the demands of righteousness one inch. Strong, permanent bonds between a husdband and a wife are part of God’s intention in creation.
Finally, there’s one thing more behind the New Testament’s teaching on the family. Jesus taught a radical kind of love – God’s kind of love – that gives more than it demands, that goes the extra mile, that forgives, that reconciles, that hopes, that rejoices in good. It’s one thing to say, “Love your neighbor” and it’s another to say, “Love your wife, love your son, love your daughter.” The fact that we live in such imperfect, fallen families gives us the chance to really love as Jesus loved! This is behind the family codes in passages such as Ephesians 5:21-33. The Old Testament shows us that God works through imperfect families; the New Testament shows us that God works within them, as well, to bring healing and wholeness as family members follow the Lord.
We started this morning with an account of a father and his sons and wound up taking a grand tour through the role of the family in the Bible. The story of Jesse’s family gives us just a taste of something much larger in the Biblical narrative:
- The place of families in the plan of creation and salvation
- The role of families in shaping lives
- The role of families in blessing their communities
When it comes to families, God doesn’t look at the externals. Fathers (and mothers), it matters not how big the house you provide or how prestigious the school you to which you send your children, how new the car your drive or what brand of clothes you give your children to wear. What matters is this: have you used the opportunity that God has given you to make your children into men and women after God’s own heart. You don’t have to be perfect; you just have to let God work with what you’ve got.
May God find a heart for him in every soul, in every home. Amen.