Stopping and Listening to God Makes All the Difference

A sermon on line based on 1 Samuel 16:1-13
given on-line at Mount Vernon, Ohio on March 22, 2020by Rev. Scott Elliott

During Lent I have been taking the Old Testament Lectionary texts and expanding them to include a macro view of the major figures in the lessons. So far we have covered Sarah and Abraham and Moses and the Exodus. (Those are on line too if you’d like to access see them).
Today we are looking at King David. 1 David’s story is compelling and pretty complicated because so much is going on. Most of us have heard he was a great king and probably recall he defeated a giant named Goliath. We might even know he had an affair with Bathsheba and played music on a lyre and is connected to many Psalms. But the general plot of David’s narrative is probably not in our heads.
While scholars are skeptical that Abraham, Sarah and Moses lived, there is less skepticism about David. He appears to existed about 3,000 years ago. The Bible tells us that David was the youngest of the eight sons of Jesse, of Bethlehem. At the time David was growing up King Saul ruled over Judea. The Bible starts David’s story with our lesson. He is out in a field tending sheep while the prophet Samuel is following God’s orders to find and anoint a replacement for Saul, who has disobeyed and disappointed God. Samuel is specifically sent to Jesse to choose and anoint one of his sons. As we heard in the lesson that Jene’ read so nicely, one by one Jesse brings his sons before Samuel. When none of them make the grade, David is finally sent for, and is chosen and anointed. Although David – as the youngest– is sort of the runt of litter, we are told he is healthy and handsome and that “from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David.” Saul, though, remains king and appears to suffer from what we might call mental health issues, tormenting him. David is engaged to play music to sooth Saul with music, and he has some success.
Besides learning to play music another skill David had is more famous. To ward off predators while shepherding David learned to literally sling rocks with deadly aim. Which comes into play when the Israelite army is at war with the Philistines. A champion named Goliath is sent out to represent the Philistines in a one-on-one winner take all challenge. Goliath was purportedly 10 feet tall, and understandably no Israelite warrior wanted to go toe-to-toe with a fully armed warrior giant. But David offers to take the challenge and King Saul okays it. David refuses to wear armor, chooses five rocks to use in his sling and goes out to bravely face Goliath. Goliath trash talks David’s size and weapon choice. David trash talks back noting that Goliath may be coming at him with a warrior’s weapons, but he (David) comes in God’s name and God will lead him to victory. Goliath furiously charges at David who slings a rock that knocks the giant out. David picks up Goliath’s sword and kills him. That such a small un-armored man defeated their biggest, well-armored, and very best warrior scares the Philistines’ army away. Saul is so impressed he keeps David by his side as an aid.
A shepherd no more David, goes on to have other military successes and is quickly promoted in the ranks. Saul becomes jealous and rages and plots to kill David. He even arranges for his daughter, Michal to marry David to gain easier access as part of the plot. But David’s brother-in-law Jonathan has become David’s best friend and David seeks his help. At first Jonathan doubts his father is after David, but then learns Saul is indeed obsessed with hate for David. Jonathan sides with David and the two pledge loyalty, love and protection to one another.
Saul hunts and tries to capture David. David takes counter-measures with a resistance army, but refuses advice to kill Saul. David actually remains compassionate and caring for his enemy demonstrating what it looks like to do as Jesus later commands: to love your enemy. Saul does not, of course, reciprocate. In fact he kills a number of people trying to get at David to slay him. Even so David sneaks up on Saul and cuts off a piece of his garment and shows it to Saul to prove he could have killed him but never will. This hits home with Saul and he laments and repents and admits David has been righteous. He asks David to not retaliate against his children, David agrees.
But soon Saul’s illness gets the better part of him and he goes after David again. Once more David finds himself in the position to kill Saul but refuses to do so. Around this time Samuel the prophet dies and Israel mourns the loss. Saul has Samuel’s spirit conjured and asks it for help. The spirit of Samuel asks why Saul is seeking his help now when he has made an enemy of God. Saul is torn by this reply. But continues to fight David.
David and his army continue to resist and succeed in battles. Saul and his family are not so fortunate. They have a final battle and most of Saul’s sons are slain including Jonathan. Saul is the last of them to die that day. When news of Jonathan and Saul’s deaths reaches David he grieves and lashes out at the solider who killed Saul for taking the life of God’s anointed. David memorializes Saul in song as a mighty warrior . . . and memorializes Jonathan as a faithful brother.
Even with Saul gone, the civil war continues for seven more years until Saul’s last son died, David finally becomes the undisputed king. He is thirty, and reigns for forty years.
As king David recaptures the ark of the covenant and Zion. He unites the upper and lower regions into one nation, Israel. He also develops plans to build a permanent temple in Jerusalem, but is unable to do so. Despite his accomplishments and plans David’s reign is plagued with constant battles with the Philistines, and others.
David also has domestic battles and issues. His wife Michal gets upset at him. One reason is his dancing before the Lord. She eventually remarries. David also commits adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah one of his warriors. When she becomes pregnant with David’s child David calls Uriah home from battle hoping he will sleep with Bathsheba and think the child is his. But Uriah refuses to take R & R while his men are on the battlefield fighting. So to save his own reputation, David orders Uriah to the front lines of the battle and the orders everyone to retreat except Uriah . . . who is killed. Bathsheba mourns the loss. David marries her before the child is born.
David is disgraced for causing a warrior’s death, and he becomes at least as bad as Saul in the eyes of his officers . . . and hearers of the story. God is not happy about it either and sends the prophet Nathan to deliver a scathing message about David’s conduct and the severe consequences to follow. Because David is an adulterer, a murderer and has abused his power, Nathan warns David there will be constant upheaval and humiliation. David responds humbly, confessing his sins. Nathan tells David that God forgives him. But he also tells him his child with Bathsheba’s will die as a wage of the sin. When the son dies David prays to God and worships God . . . and comforts Bathsheba. Later they have a second child and named him Solomon.
As Nathan warned, David’s household and reign remain and continue in turmoil. Solomon’s half brother Amnon sexually assaults his half sister Tamar, and then bullies and humiliates her. David is furious but does little about the assault. Tamar’s full brother, Absalom goes to Tamar and comforts her. He also seeks vengeance. Biding his time he later lures Amnon to his death. After fleeing and seeking refuge with his mother Michal (who remarried), Absalom plans to seek revenge on David. He starts a revolution aimed at taking the throne enlisting the help of men close to David and Absalom fires up crowds in Israel.
As support for Absalom grows David is forced to flee for this life. David and remnants of his army are at war again, and David again refuses to kill his enemy, his son Absalom. But an Israelite General Joab takes matters in his own hands and kills Absalom. The loss devastates David who famously weeps and cries out
“O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”
General Joab eventually snaps David out of his depression, if not his sorrow, so that David can get back to leading the country that needs him.
David continues on as king, but does not have a reign of peace. Battles continue. Another son attempts a coup. But David does retain the crown and eventually he, Bathsheba, and Nathan proclaim Solomon as heir apparent. David dies of natural causes around 70 years old and is buried in Jerusalem. He is remembered as a great king and warrior who united Israel and despite his flaws and misdeeds listened to God more often than not, and was able to re-aim and redirect his life in positive ways for God’s people.
David’s finals words were a charge to Solomon as a “king-to-be,” but they are words every follower of God, from every walk of life, should follow–especially in this time of the global pandemic crisis. David’s advice was
“Be strong, be courageous, and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn . . .”
David had bigger opportunities and messed up bigger than any of us probably ever have or will. He did not always follow God, and he paid steep prices for that. But unlike King Saul, he did stop in the tracks of his wrong paths and listen and check his course and repent, that is turn around. David tried to get back on track by listening God. David models that even if our mistakes and sins are huge, we can still do right and even prosper when love of God and love of others centers our life. David’s advice to Solomon can be heard to sum up the whole of the Old Testament. So I am going to end this sermon restating it. It sets out the Way God calls every to, and not only in the Hebrew Scriptures but, through Jesus and the New Testament as well.
May we
“Be strong, be courageous, and keep the charge of the Lord [our] God, walking in [God’s] ways and keeping [God’s] statutes, . . . commandments, . . . ordinances, and . . . testimonies . . . so that [we] may prosper in all that [we] do and wherever [we] turn . . .”

1. Summary is based on I and 2 Samuel (NRSV) and “King David,” Ancient History Encyclopedia, by John S. Knox, October 2017, found on line at