Lectionary Reflection for the Third Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from 1 Samuel (BTCB) by Francesca Aran Murphy, commenting on 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13:

On God’s instruction, Samuel anoints David, and his name is then shared out too: “Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward” (16:13 NKJV). No ugly duckling, David is the jolt to the system that the all-knowing God had selected. The Psalms speak of the striking innovation of this election, which overturns the traditional familial hierarchy known to all tribal cultures:

I made a lad ruler in preference to a warrior, I exalted a youth above a hero.

I found David my servant, with my holy oil I anointed him. (Ps. 89:19– 20, trans. Flanagan 1988: 201)

A transition is occurring within Israel’s religious self-understanding, bound up with its cultural self-understanding and with the self-understanding of all peoples after Christ.

To modern Western readers, instructed by countless fairy tales, bypassing of the elder sons for the youngest is about as surprising as the appearance of an unlikely hero in a Disney movie. Our culture has been steeped in the Christ event for so long that it takes an imaginative effort to see that, because Samuel’s culture was one in which “the elders were an important component of the social stratum” and the “gods of the progenitors,” their own “ancestors influenced the Israelites to structure themselves hierarchically according to age. To be a gibbor (‘firstborn’) accorded a son special status, not because the firstborn was stronger, wiser, or more experienced, but because he was the closest one in line to the ancestors.”

What we, no less than the “African and Israelite communities . . . organized along family hierarchical structures,” have to learn from the upheaval and transformation represented by the anointing of the youngest son is that Christ, and like him his forefather David, creates a change in the register of God’s action. In the world of the patriarchs and the tribal cultures of the judges, where God acted in the seen (the naturally beautiful), the order and beauty of the family and tribe, henceforth God will often act in the unseen (the invisible and yet providential gesture). There are no miracles in 1 Sam. 16–31. God’s working has gone underground, and hence a signature theme must be the contrast of the heart and the externals that mortal family members can see.

©2010 by Francesca Aran Murphy. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.