…but YWWH likes him too.
by Christian Walther
Old Testament Reading: 1 Samuel 15:34—16:13
For Sunday, June 17, 2012: Year B – Ordinary 11
Size doesn’t matter—or maybe it really does. Beauty is only skin deep, or not. You can’t judge a king by his appearance, right? Right?
Clearly Saul was king material: “He had a son whose name was Saul, a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he; he stood head and shoulders above everyone else (1 Samuel 9:2).”
But YHWH’s about to punk Israel, so it would seem. They so desperately wanted to be part of the geo-political “in crowd,” that Samuel anoints Saul given said qualities for kingship, even though they sound like a shill for dandruff shampoo. Saul might as well be the Old Spice guy, but God certainly knew better, God had to, I would hope. If not, I’m confused. The trouble is that this Sunday’s Old Testament reading only adds to that confusion.
Straight to the Heart
All that stuff about the spotless lamb and the priests of Israel being “unblemished” (Leviticus 21) has always been a sore spot for me.
Is God really that superficial?
But then, thankfully, we have Old Testament passages that temper what would otherwise be a ridiculous obsession with beauty—something that I personally find very unbecoming of God. Passages like God’s selection of Israel in Deuteronomy 7, the adoption of Mephiboseth in 2 Samuel 9, and even the treatment of Isaiah’s unclean lips with heavenly hot coals in Isaiah 6 all give hope to us less-than-flawless folks.
But the mother-of-all such hope for me comes from 1 Samuel 16:
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.
Some king Saul turned out to be! Supermodels may turn heads, but supermodels turned heads of state—I don’t think so. Admittedly that’s my blemishedness talking, because I’d like to think that plainer people have worked harder, studied longer and experienced life–without it merely being handed to us on a silver platter–in ways that make us much more capable of handling serious responsibilities with wisdom and grace.
What happened to Saul only goes to show you.
As for David? A hands down superior selection. Why? Because God looks on the heart. In this I imagine a divine envisioning that encompasses the past, present and future. I sense a gracious probing of the deepest places of David’s heart, an infusion of holy wisdom that seeps into the folds of the future king’s brain. A melding of God and man in a way that approximates incarnation. A God/king intimacy that’s truly fitting for a theocracy.
David’s care and courage in protecting Jesse’s flocks. David’s youthful, but faith fortified boasts before Goliath. David’s artistic soul. David’s warrior spirit. David’s lineage, David’s destiny, yes even David’s blemished legacy, all adding up invisibly to a golden age monarch who would give the world an eternal Messiah. Whoa.
Shwaffling over Appearances
I love 1 Samuel 16:7. I cling to 1 Samuel 16:7. If it wasn’t for 1 Samuel 16:7, I’d live in fear of beauty and perfection. OK, a bit of an over statement. But still…
Now passages like 1 Corinthians 13:12 (“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”) and 1 John 3:19,20 (“And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.”) are sweet, sweet, gospel to me.
So what’s up with the concluding allusion to David’s exterior qualities: “Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one?” Did I really just read this immediately after basking in the deep down, knowing, yet gracious acceptance of 1 Samuel 16:7?
The Hardest Question
Was the selection of Saul, some kind of divine punk? Does the writer of 1 Samuel 16:12 not get the joke or is God really concerned about appearances after all?
Christian Walther – now there’s a name and a face only mother could love. But I’d be amiss not to quote my namesake regarding the Word and Sacraments: “They contain my treasure. Whoever does not go to these places to lift the treasure will not fetch any gold. What he gets may look like gold, but it is mere tinsel” ( C.F.W. Walther, The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel, Sixteenth Evening Lecture).