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.’
The people have been led by Moses. They have been led by judges. They have been led by prophets like Eli and Samuel. And they have been led by a king - King Saul. Samuel's first choice. God's first choice. In one of the oddest stories of the Bible, Saul becomes king - a story that includes runaway donkeys and a special, sacred cooked thigh bone, and Saul hiding amidst the luggage. From the beginning of Israel's journey as a monarchy, they are clearly making it up as they go. Reluctance, confusion, mistrust.
God has decided to try again - God is going to take a second chance. The text begins this week with God talking Samuel into trying again. Stop mourning Saul. Let's move on. Let's cut our losses. Let's go with a second choice. Let's give ourselves a second chance.
Seeing himself as a sort of traitor, Samuel sets out in an act of sedition. He is overthrowing the current human government at the instruction of the true leader, God. We see Samuel wrestling with the dual allegiance that a monarchy creates. Samuel has allegiance to King Saul but God has asked for mutiny.
Samuel sets out with his heifer and his anointing oil. He is preparing himself to choose a better king than his first choice. This time he will choose a strong leader, a formidable, God-fearing, trustworthy man.
But God instructs Samuel to ignore outward appearances. God tells Samuel that God looks at the heart. How is Samuel supposed to do that? He doesn't know Jesse. He doesn't know Jesse's sons. And if he does choose one, he's about to ask them to join his revolution. Why would they do that? What if they won't? What if the revolution doesn't work? What if the second choice isn't any better than the first choice?
Second chances come with second guessing.
The psalter that has been combined with this story seems to provide a broader context for second chances. I want to linger with this prayer for forgiveness. My favorite version of the psalm is this one below by Charlie Peacock. It's haunting. The song yearns for God's unfailing love, God's great compassion, God's forgiveness, cleansing and mercy.
I, like Samuel often need to be talked into second chances. I cling to the first choice trying desperately to make it right, to overlook the disasters around me, to give grace in the moment rather than cut my losses and start over. But when David faced the need for a second chance, this psalm doesn't show him clinging to his mistaken path. He yearns for a second chance. And he asks for a second chance from a God who also takes second chances.
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