“16 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.

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.”[a] 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.” 10 Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 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.” 12 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.” 13 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.”

-1 Samuel 16:1-13


1 Samuel 16: 1-13

The Reverend Tasha Blackburn

October 25, 1015

As we humans are able to grow older and older, some have asked: What can Jesus teach me about aging? Perhaps it is a good question to ask of a Savior whose earthly life ended at 33. Of all that he experienced, Jesus did not have much to do with arthritis or Alzheimer’s.  He does not often speak about how to grow old faithfully. He teaches about life in its fullness, but he does not specifically teach about that last 1/3 of life. This doesn’t mean we have no guidance though. We can learn a great deal from the people we meet in scripture: from Sarah in her old age, to Abraham, to Simeon, and Anna. And we can learn a ton from the judge Samuel.

Because this passage in Chapter 16 is about him. Even though it is the anointing of young David, the boy is not even mentioned by name until the very end. He never speaks. Nor is he spoken to. David is the passive vessel in this story. The main character, really, is old Samuel. It is from him we learn how to age in faith. I stand here with a bit of trembling, because, although I am now 40, many of you have let me know that that is not old. So I do not stand here and speak to you of aging touting my own credentials. But I will tout Samuel’s.

You might remember more about his birth than his life. Samuel was the much-prayed-for child of Hannah who was barren. When he was born, Hannah gave him to God by leaving him at the Temple. Early in his life, Samuel heard the voice of God calling him, and his younger years were filled with promise and with God’s Spirit. Everyone praised Samuel for being a faithful judge who was wise and holy.

As the years went by though, the bloom was off the rose. Samuel fathered several sons and desperately hoped that they would follow in his footsteps. They did not. His faith was not their own and so they went their own way. Then the people rejected his sons, refusing to have them as their leaders and wanting a king instead. This was like a rejection of Samuel himself. With that, the ground shifted under his feet and he wondered if his leadership was even useful any more.

Then God gave him work to do and having that work was a blessing. Samuel was in his 60s when God told him to anoint Saul as king. Samuel did that and then he poured himself into that man. He mentored and led him. He rooted for him and partnered with him. But, now, several decades later, Samuel’s life’s work has failed. His other would-be-son, Saul, has been rejected and Samuel has to cut ties with him. Even Samuel’s relationship with God has encountered trouble, what the narrator in Chapter 15 describes as Samuel “in anger crying out to the Lord all night.”

That is just a portion of what we know has happened to Samuel up to our passage today. Now, this judge and holy man is in his 90s and what is there left for him? He is sitting on a stack of disappointments and grief with his best days behind him.

Except then comes Chapter 16. In this short passage we get a primer of how to age faithfully. We see it in what God asks of Samuel and we see it in how Samuel responds. The primer offers four lessons. First: Come out of your past. God demands this one by asking that haunting question, “Samuel, how long will you mourn Saul?”

All of us have regrets. All of us have things in our past that could hang us up, but, for those in the last 1/3 of life, presumably, having lived longer means also having more that could ensnare. There are children who have been difficult. There is work that never did come to fruition. There are relationships that have broken our hearts. And God wants to know, “How long will you mourn Saul?” How long will you mourn that person, that experience, that regret? How long will you mourn a past you cannot change? God calls Samuel out of a “Miss Havesham” life that is no life at all. Remember her? The character in Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations who was left at the altar and who, decades later, still wears her raggedy bridal gown as she sits in the squalor of her mansion where the banquet table remains set with the wedding cake that has become nothing but mold.

How do we age faithfully? Lesson One from Samuel: Come out of your past. Do not live a life of cobwebs with the mold of regret growing all around you.

Secondly, set aside fear. Samuel is afraid to take this new step God is describing. And rightly so. It is a fearful thing because God is asking something brand new of a man in his 90s. And it is also fearful because his actions really could get him into conflict. But when Samuel tells God he is scared, God says, “Then grab a heifer for cover and your horn of oil for purpose and let’s go.” With all the angels and prophets in scripture who admonish us to not fear, it is clear that the last 1/3 of life does not absolve us of frightening experiences. In fact, it would seem there is no better time to heed their admonishment than in our later years.

A third lesson in the primer of aging is this: trust God more than you trust yourself. Samuel has to learn this over and over again in his life and he is taught the lesson again here. When he sees Jesse’s eldest son Eliab, he is certain that this must be the new king, for Eliab is tall and strong. But God tells him, “The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Samuel is asked to trust God’s vision more than he trusts his own.

It is like the little cat our King Speaker, Lillian Daniel, describes in her book some of you just read. Lil’ Boots is a blind kitten who was a left behind stray in the street, but, even out of that, Lil’ Boots never feared what she could not see. Instead, she acted like she was surrounded by love and she lived like it was a love she could trust. As we age, we can become so jaded by our experiences. We decide no one is to be trusted and we can only get by on our own wits. But the way to age is to learn to trust God more than you ever trusted yourself. Live like you know you are surrounded by love and like it is a love on which you can rely.

How do we age faithfully? Samuel shows us: First, come out of your past. Second, set aside fear. Third, trust God more than you trust yourself. And, finally, have the openness and courage to do it all again. You know what that means? Your disappointments do not get to win. Samuel had a whole pile of them, and yet, when he set eyes on this young buck of a shepherd, this not–too-impressive-seeming runt of Jesse’s family, he poured the oil again. What courage and openness does that take to be willing to begin again and again and again?

THIS is the way to experience the promise God has waiting for you. Because promises don’t run out as the years pass…But they can pass you by. Do not miss them because of fear, or because of your past, or because of a closed heart. God has called each of us—God has called you—to more than a Miss Havesham life. Whatever stage of life you are in, God’s promises are still true and they are still for you.

This anointing is the last thing we know that Samuel did before he died. Well into his 90s, he was breaking free of his past, setting aside his fear, trusting God more than he trusted himself, and open and courageous enough to try it all again. So while we will delve deeply into the person of David in the coming weeks, what is essential about David here in his teens is that an old man continued to seek out the Promise God promised to show him. And God has not stopped there. He promises to show you promise as well. And your age doesn’t matter. Or, maybe it does. When we think of old Samuel leaving his stack of disappointments behind with his horn of oil in his arthritic hand and beginning again, maybe age does matter. In seeing promises through to the very end, maybe it really does. Amen.