Tuesday 19 January 2010

Bible Book:
1 Samuel

"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.' 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.'" (v.11-12)

1 Samuel 16:1-13 Tuesday 19 January 2010


The suggestion that yesterday's passage was a stage in thecreation of the 'king-cult' of David is perhaps borne out bytoday's passage. Samuel, it appears, had a soft spot for Saul,despite everything that had gone wrong. After all, he had been hismentor. But now Samuel must go and find another king.

God, despite an earlier reluctance to give Israel a king, was keento find a replacement. And the legend of 'Good King David' startsto unfold, in best folk-tale style (including the specialcow!)

Bethlehem was significant as the burial place of Rachel, Jacob'swife, who died giving birth to Benjamin, Jacob's favourite son (Genesis 35:16-20). So it was already closelylinked to the founding story of Israel as a nation. And out ofBethlehem comes the new ideal king of Israel. David was adescendent of Judah (another of Jacob's sons), which was importantfor his status as king - he reunited the northern kingdom of Israelwith the southern kingdom of Judah for the following few hundredyears.

It's not difficult to see why this story appealed to the earlyChristians who saw Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah ofIsrael.

So Samuel arrived at Bethlehem, much to the alarm of its residents,who obviously knew of Samuel's somewhat fierce reputation asking-maker and king-breaker. And demanding that Jesse's sons paradebefore him probably did little to allay their fears! The storycontinues in traditional folk tale style with seven sons (arepeated motif in classic folktales) being scrutinised - all big,strong men, of course - but none of them being chosen. So finallythe youngest son David was brought to Samuel and he was the chosenone - as we might have anticipated, because we know how suchstories work. And as God's chosen one he was anointed by Samuel,which made him the 'messiah' - literally 'anointed one'. Divineanointing brought with it the gift of 'the spirit of the Lord'which would enable David to perform the mighty wonders that onewould expect from the ideal king (think of King Arthur).

'Legendary' stories like this need to be seen as essentiallytheological, because we cannot be sure of their historical basis.But that, if anything, makes them even more significant, both forJews in the later turbulent centuries before Christ and forChristians who later found in them the building blocks for theirunderstanding of Jesus.

To Ponder

Does it help you, or worry you, to suggest thatthis story is best understood as a classic folk tale. Why?

What, for you, is the most important theologicalaspect of this story?

In his new book - Christianity: The First ThreeThousand Years, Diarmaid McCulloch suggests that Christianity beganwith the story of King David. What do you think?

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