Episode 3: Word For The Week & Prayers

Word For The Week

1 Samuel 15:34 - 16:13

I keep thinking back to the night of Pres. Trump’s nomination before the Republican convention, when he made a dramatic backlit entrance into the hall amidst swirling smoke and booming music no doubt lifted from a World Wrestling Federation match.

“Heeeeere’s Eliab!”

America seems to have chosen its leader—with the help of the Russians, and the FBI, and others—not on the contents of his heart, but on looks and height.

For better or worse, I would not want to say that Hillary Clinton was like David. She is not ruddy, she is not short, and I’ll leave it to you to judge her eyes, handsomeness and general judgment. The point of comparison is simply this: Donald Trump looked like a president to many because he was white and tall and a he. Clinton may not have been seventh in line like David, but as a woman, she was the much less obvious choice for anointing as leader of the free world. Trump looked like a star, and he acted like a bully. That was what many people thought a president should be, full stop, never mind the other contestants.

But let’s back up. It helps to understand the backstory to this text. The Israelites demand that God appoint a king, wanting to be like the nations around them. Both the prophet Samuel and God warn the people that this is a bad idea. But they persist.

It goes exactly as predicted. Saul, the first king anointed by Samuel, loses God’s confidence by taking hostages and booty in a war against the Amalekites. He pretends to compassion against his enemy, but really, he just wants to profit from ransoming their leaders. He’s concerned more about himself than the people he serves.

So God looks to the house of Jesse for a replacement.

Choosing the king’s successor before he is even off the throne could easily lead to a prophet’s execution. So God supplies Samuel with a cover story: he is to go to Bethlehem to sacrifice a heifer, inviting Jesse’s brood to join the feast.

The elders of Bethlehem know the score. Trembling, they ask, “Do you come peaceably?” Nobody wants to be the epicenter of a civil war.

Things proceed through Eliab and Abinadab and Shammah and all the rest, until Samuel is forced to ask if there aren’t any more options to select from. Well, there is the one. Jesus calls David in from the back forty, and the rest is scripture.

This entire story concerns a change in national leadership that begins with God’s initiative to improve the lot of the people of God, and results in bloody conflict that only ends with the Saul’s death. It is political, through and through.

It would be easy to equate Pres. Trump with King Saul, but then some might do the same with Pres. Obama, or Bush, or Clinton, or…well, you get the idea. And who is David? The least obvious choice for President of the United States is still someone who has been approved by hundreds of thousands of voters, if not millions, not some obscure shepherd. Even Jimmy Carter the peanut farmer had been governor of Georgia before he ran for the highest office in the nation.

David also turned out to be a disappointment. God sees something in him, but we’re never told what “it” was. He has what we call today a “zipper problem,” and a lust for power for its own sake. I would not want to curse Hilary Clinton or anyone else by naming them a new David. Better for them that they remain bland but wholesome and unsuitable for leadership.

We worry about whether our leaders understand the moral imperative of scripture, whether they are godly or ungodly persons. Truth to tell, all leaders are imperfect in the end. One has to be just this side of a sociopath to want to be president. Inevitably, our national leaders fail God’s standards for tender and compassionate shepherding. They bemoan the ways the office prevents them from taking their preferred moral options. Just as often, they ignore the many other ways they could have chosen differently and elected not to.

We fret over God’s plans for our nation, but we should spend more time paying attention to God’s intentions. God wants the Israelites to have good leadership. As the nation moves through successive generations, God keeps seeking new and better heads of state. When one fails, God pulls the Spirit and moves on to the next.

What God does not do is walk away altogether. Whatever the ups and downs, this God is all in with the people, disappointment after disappointment after disappointment.

Donald Trump is more than just another disappointment, of course. The kakistocracy he has gathered around him poses a unique challenge to the democratic norms and freedoms of the United States. Trump neither knows nor cares about the history or the hard-fought battles that have led us to this place. He wants what’s good for him, and him alone.

That makes him easy to compare to Saul. Like the bad king of history, Trump takes hostages (migrants, asylum seekers, and their families) and he lines his own pockets (too many grifts to mention). It’s all too easy, however, to slip from listening for what seems obviously to be God’s qualifications to looking for own. Even Samuel thought Eliab was the one.

We should ask instead how God is still at work to bring something new even in the midst of disaster. There will always be another David, until he fails. Then another one will come.

Not all our presidents will be even modest Davids. I can’t think of a single thing Donald Trump has made better since he took office. But hopefully, whoever succeeds him will be better, and even if not, God will still be there, trying.

Intercessions

  • God, answer us in our day of trouble. In your mercy, hear our prayer.
  • Remember your people and their offerings to you. Let your face shine on the children needlessly incarcerated in this nation, and give them comfort. Restore their families. In your mercy, hear our prayer.
  • Grant, O God, our hearts’ desires and fulfill our plans, for we look to the justice you intend to bring to us with hope. In your mercy, hear our prayer.
  • Scripture tells us that you help your anointed. Help us as well. Send us victories in our lives, and tend to our wounds, our needs, our failings. In your mercy, hear our prayer.
  • May those who take pride in their own strength collapse and fall. May those who seek only their own good come up short. Let the people of mercy, compassion, and justice rise and stand upright. In your mercy, hear our prayer.

Do you know we’re three episodes and a prequel into this podcast, and nobody’s taken me up on the offer to pray for them? Send your requests to: dan@strangerjesus.com, or leave them for me on Twitter or Facebook. You can find those links on the Stranger Jesus website.

If I could, I’d take in a migrant kid or three. I suspect many of you would as well. In all likelihood, that’s not possible, though. So if you’re looking to do some good, contribute to the ACLU, to church-based organizations, or the many immigrant civil rights groups working to protect those children and their families. Here’s a list of places you can contribute.

If you can do nothing else, pray to the God of David for these children and their families, and for our nation, that we recover our souls.

And with that, Amen.