In order to talk about this story, I feel like we need a little background. Kind of like when they give a recap at the beginning of the show…saying “previously on Day of our Israeli Lives” So with that in mind…you might remember that a few weeks ago, we talked about how Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt into the desert wilderness of Sinai where they hung out for about 40 years. Then, from there, they made their way into Canaan, the promised land. But establishing themselves in Canaan, a land that was already occupied, was a bloody and violent process and after Moses died, they had a series of leaders who led them in battle and served as judges over the Israeli tribe. Those stories are told in the book of Judges. They do finally become well established in Canaan…but after they do, the people decide they want to be a nation like other nations and have a king who rules the nation, instead of simply judges. So Samuel, the last judge, is tasked with anointing the king, and Samuel anoints Saul the first king over Israel as a nation.
Saul is everything a leader should be — he is physically powerful, tall and handsome as well — courageous and never shirking from leading his armies into battle. His first act, after establishing himself as king is to offer mercy to those who opposed him. It seems like he is a just and fair leader. But then…he loses favor with God after a battle with the Amekalites when he destroys everyone and everything except the best livestock, that he keeps for himself…and the king, an ally whose life Saul spares. It seems that the power Saul wields has deteriorated into greed and cronyism…and God becomes angry. The tall, dark and handsome warrior and born leader Saul is out of favor and Samuel is sent to find a replacement among the sons of a man named Jesse from Bethlehem.
And that’s where today’s story begins. But this time, when Samuel is looking for a new king… he finds that all the obvious choices…Jesse’s impressive older sons…are not what God wants. Rather, God chooses the youngest, the smallest — the one who shepherds the family’s flocks. God chooses the musician and artist, not the warrior. God chooses David.
David is anointed to be Israel’s next king. God sees David’s heart….and finds in David ‘a man after God’s own heart”. David is not a fearsome and mighty warrior. He will be brought to Saul’s court not to serve in his armies but to play music to soothe Saul when he is tense from battles and the stress of leading the nation. But David trusts God…so much so that this young musician and shepherd takes on the massive warrior Goliath with his shepherd’s slingshot believing God will prevail. And his small stone knocks Goliath dead. When Saul seeks to kill David, jealous when he becomes more popular than Saul among the people – David does not retaliate and preserves Saul’s life instead. He is merciful…not full of hatred and vengeance.
For David…God is not just a warrior leading his people into battle and slaughtering their enemies…but God is also a shepherd, watching over his people, tenderly providing for them, and leading them home when they go astray. David does not only fear God…but loves God. And trusts in God’s love for him. Now…David is not perfect, by any means. He will abuse his power, forcing himself on Bathsheba and having her husband killed so he can have her for himself. He will agonize over God’s seeming absence at times…but he never loses faith. He acknowledges his sin and his need for forgiveness and trusts in God’s mercy. He doesn’t fall into arrogance and self-righteousness. David is sensitive — he feels deeply his own pain and the pain of his people…but he ultimately trusts in God’s goodness. In God’s faithfulness. Even when how he’s feeling and what’s going on around him is frankly, a mess.
The truth is that David is not the kind of person that nations usually look to for someone in power. Mortals look upon appearances…but God looks upon the heart. God knows David’s heart. And David’s heart is, as they say, in the right place.
We began our worship this morning, acknowledging God “who knows us better than we know ourselves.” God knows our hearts. God doesn’t care about all the stuff the world cares about — how successful you are, how good you look or how smart you are or your resume or what anyone thinks of you. God sees your heart, beloved child of God. Your heart. Which, if it’s anything like mine…is sometimes angry and sometimes hurting and sometimes afraid and sometimes petty….Right? That’s how it is…but since you’re here…I can assume it also wants to trust God. Wants to do the right thing. Wants to love your neighbor, even when we sometimes totally blow it. God cares about our hearts. And we can lay them bare before God. We don’t have to try to be something we’re not.
Many of the Psalms are attributed to David, the poet and musician. And I love the Psalms, because like all good music and poetry …they honestly reflect our hearts. They are real. In them, David grieves and rages…he doubts and questions…he wishes for vengeance and cries out for rescue — when he is in the depths of depression…or fearing for his life…or so deeply ashamed of himself and his own sin. But in his psalms, he also rejoices in the wonders of creation…in the miraculous gift of life. He stands in awe of the majesty of God displayed in the seas and skies and gives thanks for the goodness he has known. And he trusts in God’s forgiveness and mercy and love …he trusts in God as a shepherd, whose goodness follows him all the days of his life.
We get to do the same, friends. We get to come before God as we are – however we are feeling, whatever we are facing…on our glorious days and on our not even anywhere near glorious, our lumpy and ugly and awful days. And we can trust God’s love for us. God’s forgiveness. God’s goodness. Whatever is going on inside of us…whatever is going on around us. God sees our hearts. And all God asks is that we offer them up. Trust God with everything in us…even the things we are ashamed of. And trust that God can do beautiful things in us, imperfect as we are. Trust that God wins, even when we feel small…even when we feel like we have failed. The reality is…we cannot trust ourselves…we are weak. But we can always trust God. Always. Amen.