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Fourth Sunday in Lent // 1 Samuel 16:1-13

God’s Vision

1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

We continue our series “When God Provides” with another familiar story: the anointing of David as king. This story is about vision and seeing things as God sees them.

David wasn’t supposed to be the king. He wasn’t the son of the reigning king, Saul. But Saul wasn’t supposed to be the king, either. God was supposed to be Israel’s king, but the people complained that they needed something more. Israel asked for a king because they wanted to be like the other nations around them. They wanted a figure they could point to that would lead them into battle. They wanted someone who was tall and handsome and looked good on a horse. After a some stern admonition, God relents and gives them the king that they want. Saul fits their list of criteria and things go well initially. Soon, however, Saul turns from a benevolent leader into a paranoid, conspiracy obsessed, tyrannical demagogue. 1 Samuel 15 closes with on an ominous note: “And the Lord was grieved that he had made Saul king over Israel” (v. 35).

It wasn’t like God didn’t see this coming. God had warned them through his prophet Samuel that if they wanted a king like their neighboring countries had, they’d get a king like their neighboring countries had. Israel didn’t have the vision that God had. Theirs was shortsighted and self-focused. Even still, God would not leave them to bear the consequences of their demands forever. God still had a plan and he could work with a king if it was the right kind of king.

1 Samuel 16 opens with God telling Samuel that it was time to get moving, there is a new king to anoint. Samuel immediately protests. What God is asking Samuel to do amounts to open rebellion. One does not anoint a king while the existing king still reigns. Saul could have Samuel killed!

God gives Samuel a plausible excuse to go to Bethlehem and tells him to get on with it. Once there, the anointing process plays out similarly to how it did for Saul with one key difference: this time all of the criteria are God’s.

He directs Samuel to the household of Jesse. All of Jesse’s sons are presented before Samuel in birth order. When the oldest appears before him, Samuel assumes this is the guy: he’s tall, he’s handsome, he looks the part. God rejects him and tells Saul to move to the next one, because God doesn’t see things the same way humans do. Humans look at outward appearances, but God looks at inward things. God looks at the heart.

One by one God rejects the sons of Jesse. After seeing and rejecting the last one, Samuel asks Jesse if he’s sure that’s all his sons. Jesse tells him it is, except for the one out minding the sheep. Samuel has that boy fetched and brought before him. God tells Samuel that this boy, the sheep herder with the sun-darkened skin, is the next king. He commands Samuel to anoint the boy with the horn of oil he’s brought. Samuel does and the Spirit of the Lord comes upon David “in power.”

Why can’t we see things like God does? Just like the Israelites, our vision is too nearsighted. We look around at our current circumstances and think we know what to demand from God. If we insist too much, God sometimes gives us exactly what we are asking for and it’s rarely what we need. In times of trial or transition, we need to ask God to refocus our vision. God wants to provide us with more than enough to meet our needs. The first thing we need to do is see our needs clearly, as God sees them.

All of the lectionary passages for today have something to do with seeing things God’s way or trusting God’s perspective. Psalm 23 asks us to trust God to lead us down the best path. It reminds us to rely on God when we can’t see the way, when all we can do is feel the gentle nudge of his staff to keep us from stepping into danger.

In the New Testament readings we are presented with literal and metaphorical blindness. In John 9, Jesus heals a man who was blind from birth. As the disciples stand in slack-jawed amazement and the Pharisees squabble over the whether it was a true miracle or just a trick, Jesus uses the whole thing to teach a bigger lesson. If people will look to him, they will see. Literally and figuratively, Jesus has come to give sight. Similarly, the writer of Ephesians reminds the church that those who follow Jesus are “children of the light.” Formerly in darkness, we all have been wakened from the sleep of death because the light of Christ shines on (and through!) us. That light produces the “fruit of light” which is goodness, righteousness, and truth.

Light and darkness, sight and blindness, the only way to really see is as God sees. That means we must give up our stranglehold on what we “need” and trust that God knows better than we do. We must surrender our needs and wants and hopes and dreams and fears and anxieties and all the other things that bind us and blind us. We must give those over to God in exchange for receiving Light and Sight.

Some questions to consider:
• What are the things that you have been telling God he must provide for you?
• What would it mean to surrender those things back to God?
• Take a moment to close your eyes and in physical darkness ask God to give you spiritual sight. What do you “see”?

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