16:1 The LORD said to Samuel, "How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. 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." 16:2 Samuel said, "How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me." And the LORD said, "Take a heifer with you, and say, 'I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.' 16:3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you."
16:4 Samuel did what the LORD commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, "Do you come peaceably?" 16:5 He said, "Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice." And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. 16:6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, "Surely the Lord's anointed is now before the LORD." 16:7 But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart." 16:8 Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, "Neither has the LORD chosen this one." 16:9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, "Neither has the LORD chosen this one."
6:10 Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, "The LORD has not chosen any of these." 6:11 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." 16:12 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." 16:13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.
To quote Yogi Berra, more or less, in the presence of the Aflac duck,“If you don’t have it, you need it.” But not insurance, heart. That is the message I take from the episode of the prophet Samuel anointing the young shepherd harpist, David, as king elect.
The prophet, trying to figure out which of Jesse’s boys would be the monarch is cautioned that “the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”
Which is good news for most of us, who would never win a beauty contest, or make it to the big leagues, or be accepted by Mensa, or try to advance our position in the scheme of things by any of the superficial measures by which we normally try to advance ourselves. God is not fooled by appearances. God sees right to the heart.
Of course, David has plenty to commend him on the basis of superficial scoring too. His brothers may consider him a smart aleck, and from the record I would conclude he is; but he is also charming, athletic, and resourceful, a companion fit for a prince (think Jonathan) and beloved by paupers. He cultivates a mischievous streak, taunting neurotic King Saul to wit’s end. He turns out to be an adulterous husband and a lousy father. Notwithstanding all that, his name is linked with Jesus in every Hosanna at Christmas and Easter. Because... well, because his heart is right.
Right? What is the Lord looking for in the heart?
Of course, the mind informed by Scripture turns reflexively to the sixth Beatitude: “Blessed are the pure in heart, they will see God.” That declaration may have inspired the legend of Sir Galahad, the knight of King Arthur’s court granted, because of his purity of heart, to succeed in the quest of the Holy Grail. Galahad may not have seen God face to face, but he won the next best thing, to hold in his hands the cup from which Jesus (the Son of God?!) drank at his last supper.
Being this far removed from a reading of Tennyson’s epic, I needed to refresh my mind about Sir Galahad. That repository of all human knowledge, now available on the internet, Google/Wikipedia, reports a disturbing (to me, at least) theme to the pure knight’s purity: that it (his purity of heart) is to be found in his sexual abstinence. Leave it to the Romantic imagination to invest chastity with eternal virtue!
That certainly leaves David out of the equation.
Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish theologian of the 19th century, one of my favorites, claimed: “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” Not just anything, it is the Good that is to be willed. In his treatise on the subject Kierkegaard considers the transmutations, deceptions, and excuses the soul conceives to avoid doing just that, willing the Good with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength. The question is raised (in my mind anyway) whether or not such purity of heart is possible, what with the fear and trembling (!) it visits on our consciousness; it leads to an inability to do much of anything.
That certainly leaves impetuous David out of the equation.
But I think the Dane is on to something… something that David exemplifies. I mean an authenticity of faith, a heart purely open toward eternity. Directness: the Lord to David is not an hypothesis, not a First Cause, not a last resort, not a beautiful fantasy. The Lord God, Yahweh, is the One who is always a step ahead of him, always his companion, always his minder and corrector, closer to him than his own breath. Intimacy, yes. Let others sing “In the Garden,” David can sing “In the Battlefield,” or “At the Throne,” no less than “With the Ark.” Are souls ever transparent to heaven? David’s comes as close to any to whom the Scriptures pay witness. In his triumphs and in his lechery and villainy this shepherd boy made king knows and never forgets his accountability before the throne of another king whose realm is the universe and whose dictates are certain. Direct, intimate, and transparent, David is toward transcendence. That is, toward the Lord (YaHWeH), in whose name Samuel anoints the shepherd boy.
Which makes purity of heart a possibility for the rest of us, sinful though we too not only may be but are. That we are not expected by heaven to go through our days nimbly picking the safest or the least tempting of routes. Like David (and like the one whom we name the Son of David) we are to plunge ahead not always knowing whether or not we are up to it or whether or not it is the right way. Mortal failure isn’t life’s worst outcome. Not trying is. And doing the trying with our hearts wide open to the one who called us into being, the same one to whom we shall some day, sooner or later, account. Yes, be generous to all who come your way. Yes, love deeply, passionately, neighbors no less than God. Yes, sing for joy, weep with sorrow, and wrestle with the angels/devils of our nature that circumstance throws across our way. We only go this way once (my regrets to those enamored of reincarnation), so, as they, whoever they are, say carpe diem, seize the day.
And you too will feel the warm anointing oil of blessing on your crown.