“God Loves David.” When I first told someone about the title of the sermon I am preaching today they jokingly said “Isn’t that a bit egotistical?!” The statement is true however, and I want to take a look this morning at what God’s love for meant for the young shepherd boy as he was chosen by God to become King of Israel. I want to look at how this love points us forward to the man who will be known as the Son of David. I want also to look at what this love means for us – God’s beloved children – and what this means in terms of how we’re living our lives knowing that we are so loved and so named. I want to talk about how the love of God is foundational for this man called David, whose very name means “beloved” and what this means for us today.
A few words though first of all on the two books of Samuel, which take place historically between two periods in Israel’s history. The first period is the time of the Judges, which witnesses to (as OT scholar Walter Brueggemann describes) “an amorphous and unstable tribal mode of life, easily open to religious idolatry, syncretism, and political and military barbarism.” By 1 Kings, the second period which the books of Samuel are sandwiched between, we have a “centralized political power that pursued an economic monopoly and claimed theological legitimacy for the new institution of monarchy.” In 1 Samuel 16 we meet the man who was key not only in this transition that was part not only of the social and economic transformation of ancient Israel, but key to God’s plan of salvation – the figure of King David. It’s been said that David represents one of the three most important figures in the Old Testament, along with Abraham and Moses. The longest historical narratives are devoted to him – a large part of 1 Samuel, all of 2nd Samuel and the first part of 1 Kings. He’s quoted by the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, and Zechariah. Seventy-three Psalms are attributed to him in their titles.
But before any of this there’s little David the shepherd boy, the eighth son of Jesse, keeping watch over his father Jesse’s flocks.
And Samuel has come to David’s town on what is a bit of a clandestine mission. Saul has been rejected by God as king, and God has chosen another – “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 is scared. He might be the kingmaker – and in Saul’s case the kingbreaker – but Saul still sits on the throne. “Take a heifer with you and say ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’” God tells Samuel. This will be your cover story in other words. The elders of the city are also afraid. Is he on some kind of mission from Saul – or is he hatching a plot against Saul? Either way it might not go well for Bethlehem. “Peaceably I have come to sacrifice to the Lord” Samuel tells them. And Jesse and his sons are invited to the sacrifice.
Samuel must have thought he had found who he had been sent to find. Seven of Jesse’s sons stand before him. Seven – the number of perfection in the Bible. “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord,” thinks Samuel when he sees Eliab, the eldest. Tall, a good looking guy. But the Lord doesn’t look at the outward appearance, as we do. Samuel is reminded of this, and the selection process continues. Abinadab – rejected. Shammah – not him. Then there’s a kind of narrative etcetera here – the other 4 are not named, they pass by just as the three oldest boys had and Samuel tells Jesse “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” “Are there any of your boys who aren’t here?” Samuel asks, and we’re told of one. The youngest boy, the one who didn’t even get into the lineup. The one whose task is the lowliest – taking care of his father’s sheep. And David appears, and despite the fact that we’ve just been told God doesn’t look at outward appearances, we’re told that David is ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. This is going to play a role in his story. Men and women will be drawn to him, which as with most things in life, can be good or not so good. That’s not why he’s chosen though. “Rise and anoint him;” the Lord says in vs 12, “for this is the one.” And history, and salvation history, would never be the same.
I said earlier that the name David means “beloved”. Before David is chosen, before he is anointed he is beloved by God. God loves David. This is not because of David’s piety or his devotion to God. Earlier in 1 Samuel 13:14 Samuel tells Saul “but now your kingdom will not continue; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart.” A man after his own heart. This doesn’t mean what we take it to mean when we agree with someone and say “You’re a man or woman after my own heart!” God’s not saying that David is just like him. It means that God is going to establish a king on the throne of Israel who is a man of God’s choosing – not Israel’s choosing like Saul was. David is a man of God’s choosing, but before being chosen, called , anointed – he is loved.
David reacted to that love – of course he did! Look at the words of Psalm 18: “I love you, O Lord, my strength./The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer,/ my God, my rock in whom I take refuge,/my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” This is how David reacted to God’s love, but before this God loves David. The same song is found in 2 Samuel 22 and in vs 2 it starts out not with “I love you,” but with the words “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer,/my God my rock, in whom I take refuge...” In other words, the foundation of David’s life is not the he loves the Lord so much, but that the Lord loves him!
Do we know this? Are we live our lives, as we’re following Christ are we coming to an understanding of God’s love for us? I ran this sermon title by a friend of mine and they said to me jokingly “Well that’s kind of egotistical isn’t it?” God loves David. “No it’s not,” I said “because it’s true. He loves you too.” I was thinking on this and saying to myself, “Isn’t this Level One Christianity? Isn’t this something we all know – God loves us? Haven’t many of us been singing “Jesus Loves Me” since Sunday school?” Do we know it though? We don’t know it. We know part of it, and as we’re walking with Christ down this journey we call life, and we walk down it together, we’re hopefully coming to understand it more. Paul knew how important this was. How many times did he tell the churches he wrote that that he prayed that they would come to an ever fuller understanding of God’s love. That they would come to grasp the height and depth and length and breadth of God’s love. John in his 1st letter knew it “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God.”
And how can we think of this truth without thinking of the one they called “Son of David.” Do you know who the second person mentioned in the New Testament is? I’ll give you a hint, Matthew 1:1. “An account of Jesus, the Messiah, the son of David...” The son of David. The son of the beloved one. The beloved one himself! Look at the first words that are heard from heaven when Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan River – they’re recorded in all three synoptic Gospels. We can stick with Matthew and take a look at Matthew 3:16-17 – “And when Jesus had been baptized just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending on him like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
These are the first words God has to say about Jesus as Jesus is about to begin his ministry. This is my Son, the Beloved... or as some translations have it, “This is my beloved son.” Before there is anything else there is this wonderful truth. Is it something we’ve gotten used to? Is it something we take for granted sometimes? Are we coming to a deeper understanding of God’s love in our hearts and our souls? Can we say the truth of God’s love is changing us, changing how we see ourselves, changing how we see others also as God’s beloved children?
I pray this may be the case. I pray that as we’re going through this series this summer – “Matters of the Heart” that we’ll remember what is foundational to the David story, foundational to the salvation story, foundational to Christ’s story, and indeed foundational to all our stories – the truth that we are beloved by God. That we are God’s children – “See what love the Father has given us,” John writes in his first letter, “that we should be called children of God, and that is what we are.” Is it self-serving to say “God Loves David”? I admit I was thinking a little tongue in cheek when I chose that title. It is self-serving if we think of God’s love as reflective of how we too often love – we love people based on how lovable they are. Based on how much they are like us maybe. With God’s love we see something different and we try to frame it in words that could never do it justice – unconditional, unfailing, extravagant... Something we’ll never fully get our minds around – but I pray over the course of the coming weeks we’re getting our minds ever more fully around it.
We read about Jesus being anointed by the Holy Spirit in the verses from Matthew we just looked at. David is anointed as well in our story. “Fill your horn with oil,” Samuel had been told, and when he sees young David, ruddy and handsome and with those eyes he puts the oil to use. Verse 13 reads “Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers...” There if of course another anointing that we read about in the latter part of the verse – “...and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that time onwards.” And Samuel leaves Bethlehem and sets out for Ramah.
The spirit of the Lord that had come upon Saul, and that we read in vs 14 departed from him, came on David mightily from that day forward. So not only is David beloved, he is anointed by God’s spirit. Equipped for the work that God has chosen him to do, the work that he has been called to do. One commentator describes it this way, in comparing the gift of the Spirit David receives to the gift of the Holy Spirit that we have received: “In both cases... the indwelling of the Spirit is not a possession to be hugged to oneself with pride but an enabling power for the benefit and service of others.” And listen to this view of what kingship meant to the Israelites: “Kingship was not meant as a gift to the individual, to feed his arrogance and vanity, but as a gift to the nation, to whom the king’s duty was to act as a shepherd.”
How fitting it was then, that this young shepherd boy was chosen to be the one to shepherd Israel. The gift of the Spirit as an enabling power for the benefit and service to others. We see David exercising this gift in the next passage, as Saul calls for him to play music to give him relief from the evil spirit we read is plaguing him. And we read in vs 23 that “...whenever the evil spirit from God came upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand, and Saul would be relieved and the evil spirit would depart from him.”
And it is the same spirit that we read about anointing Jesus at his baptism. The same spirit of God that Jesus promised would come upon his followers. The same spirit that enabled the church that we’ve been reading about and studying week after week. The Spirit that is not a possession to be hugged to oneself with pride but an enabling power for the benefit and service of others. This is the other half of the equation. David is loved by God, just as we are loved by God. And he is also equipped by God to show the same love he has been shown.
How well did David’s job as shepherd equip him to be used by God for the benefit and service of others, just as his job was to act for the benefit and service of the sheep he tended. The fact that we are loved by God is the starting point, and as we come to know more and more what the truth that we are loved by God really means, as we open our hearts to be transformed by this truth, and the Spirit of God works within us – “falls fresh” on us as one song goes – and works through us, people notice. God’s spirit will work through David in the next section of chapter 16 as he plays music for Saul. But note what Saul’s attendant says about the young shepherd in vs 18: “I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite who is skilful in playing, a man of valor, a warrior, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence: and the Lord is with him.”
The Lord is with him. When the Lord is with us, and the Holy Spirit is working in and through us, people will notice. I told a story at our AGM. We’re going to Horizons For Youth every Saturday morning to work and visit with the residents. The first morning we came in, one of the residents asked “Are you movie stars?” A couple of weeks ago, we were sitting around, having just finished eating. A resident came in after having been out and about and came up to the table we were at to introduce himself. He asked “Are you missionaries?” Later on we asked him why he said that, or what gave him that idea. He said that he felt a lot of love around that table and thought that the Spirit of God was involved somehow. The Spirit of God is with them, and when we’re open to the Spirit leading, teaching, and forming us, people will notice!
Over the next couple of weeks, I hope to talk more about how David left himself open to God’s leading in his life, and how we might do the same. Let us remember though that everything that happened within and through David was a response to God’s loving initiative. Little David, the beloved one, who will soon begin to use the gifts he has been given in God’s service. As we look at these stories of King David over the next two months, may we too be transformed by an ever deeper knowledge of God’s great love for us, and challenged and equipped to show this love in the service of our King, Christ Jesus.