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Lutheran Aardvark

Confessional Lutheran theology, hagiography, philosophy, music, culture, sports, education, and whatever else is on the fevered mind of Orycteropus Afer

20 August 2005
A Series of Deceiving Appearances.

As I was preparing a bit of information to commemorate Samuel, the last of the judges and the first in a series of prophets who would anoint, counsel, and rebuke the kings of Israel, I started thinking about how so much of his life also involved mistaken assumptions. These include his mother's encounter with Eli, Samuel's call from Yahweh, Israel's desire for a king, and Samuel's initial encounters with Saul and David. Before that, however, let's summarize his life.

Samuel lived during the 11th century B.C. Hannah, wife of Elkanah, an Ephraimite, was childless, so she went to the Shiloh to pray for a son. The Lord heard her prayer, opened her womb, and granted her a son. His parents dedicated Samuel for sacred service and Eli the priest trained him in the house of the Lord at Shiloh. The Lord's blessings overflowed, as Hannah then conceived three more sons and two daughters. Thus Hannah and Elkanah received five-fold from the Lord to replace the child they gave to Him. (1 Samuel 1)

Samuel received a call through the Word of the Lord while sleeping. Thinking at first the voice he heard was Eli, he ran to the old priest. Eli finally realized it was Yahweh and told the boy to respond to Him. As he grew, the Lord established Samuel's prophetic authority. (1 Samuel 3).

As an adult, Samuel anointed Saul to be Israel's first king (10:1). Saul's wickedness led God to reject his kingship and took the inheritance out of Saul's household.

The Lord led Samuel to anoint David, son of Jesse, to be king in place of Saul (16:13). Samuel lived for some time afterwards, dying near the end of Saul's reign (25:1).

Now a few comments on assumptions and partiality. James warns us to eschew judgments made upon appearances (2:1-13). Samuel's life is filled with occasions where this happened in one way or another.

We begin before his conception. Hannah evidently judged herself much more harshly than did Elkanah. While she was distraught over having no children, Elkanah sought to console her by asking, "Am I not more to you than ten sons? (1 Sam 1:8)." When Hannah sat outside praying at Shiloh, Eli judged her to be drunk (1:12-14).

At that time, Israel was unaccustomed to hearing new utterances from the Lord. Thus, as Samuel was growing up in the household of Eli, he judged the call of Yahweh to be that of Eli. At least Eli finally figured out who must be calling and prepared his young charge to properly respond (3:1-10).

As Samuel grew older, his own sons followed the wicked path taken earlier by those of Eli (3:11-14; 8:1-3). This gave Israel the excuse to start "comparison shopping" with the surrounding nations. They judged themselves to be an inferior nation because they had no king and complained bitterly to Samuel about it (8:4-5). The Lord assured Samuel that this was not an attack on the prophet but upon the one true King of Israel, Yahweh Himself. However, He did command Samuel to give them what they desired. Thus, God would Israel that that which looked attractive often lost its appeal once one possessed it.

Samuel's encounter with Saul provides another case of deceiving appearances. Scripture shows him to be a striking young man, handsome and tall (9:2). He looked every inch the king he would become. Yet at the time, he felt not at all kingly, but unfit for the job. Later, this most attractive man made himself completely unattractive to the Lord through a series of evil events, culminating his iniquity by using a conjurer to call the spirit of now-departed Samuel (28:3-25).

This leads us to a final glaring instance of misjudging based upon appearances.

Samuel and David
Put yourself in Samuel's place in this narrative. The Lord told Samuel to go to to the home of Jesse of Bethlehem, out of which He had already chosen Israel's next king (16:1-3). As the events unfolded, Samuel made the logical (in his eyes) guess as to whom the Lord had chosen. Imagine how his thoughts changed as the events unfolded:
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?" And he said, "Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice." And he consecrated 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 before him." 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 sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." Jesse called Abinadab and made him pass before Samuel. And 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." And Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, "The Lord has not chosen these."

Then Samuel said to Jesse, "Are all your sons here?" And he said, "There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep." And Samuel said to Jesse, "Send and get him, for we will not sit down till he comes here." And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the Lord said, "Arise, anoint him, for this is he." Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah. (16:4-13 ESV)
Through the life of Samuel, we gain illustrations about the folly of granting favor based on human rather than divine standards. Showing preference for wealth or strength, desiring the gaudy, rich, or powerful things of our neighbor — all of these are forms of judging. All of them stand condemned by Yahweh's words to Samuel, by James' epistle, and by the words of Christ which begin, "Judge not...." Of course, these passages do not mean that we shouldn't exercise discernment and discretion; rather, we should make certain that we judge according to God's Word and not our own criteria.

Note on the art: The illustration comes from a series of frescoes commissioned by Pope Julius II in 1508 for his apartment and executed by Raphael Sanzio. They were part of a remodeling project which included work by Bramante. The project construction wasn't completed until 1517, during the rule of Leo X and the painting continued for a time after that. This fresco of Samuel anointing King David is part of what is collectively known as the Stanze e Loggia di Raffaello.
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