“When they came, [Samuel] looked on Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the LORD’s anointed is now before the LORD.’ 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.’ Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, ‘Neither has the Lord chosen this one.’ Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, ‘Neither has the Lord chosen this one.’ Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, ‘The LORD has not chosen any of these.’ 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.’ 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.” – 1 Sam 16.6-13a NRSV
When Samuel sees Eliab, the firstborn son of Jesse, he is sure that he is looking into the eyes of the one God has chosen as king over Israel. It just makes sense—he is the firstborn, and after all, he looks like a king!
But God says, “Nah. Not this one.” Jesse parades his other sons before Samuel, and over and over again, God gives Samuel the same answer. One strapping young man after another, yet “the LORD has not chosen any of these” (16.10).
Finally, Samuel gets desperate and asks Jesse if these are all of his sons. Jesse seems surprised, but says, “No, there’s one more, but he’s the youngest and he couldn’t possibly be your guy.” But Samuel asks to see him anyway.
When little David shows up, something extraordinary happens. The voice of the LORD proclaims, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one” (16.12). With those words, God says, “The one you never expected to be king, the one you didn’t even give a chance, the youngest and weakest—this is the one, this is my chosen.”
God is full of surprises here. By choosing David as the king of Israel, God subverts every cultural norm and expectation. The people of Israel might be “like the other nations” (1 Sam 8.5) insofar as they have a king; however, God’s choice to appoint David the next king over Israel is a reminder that they are still God’s peculiar people—a people led by a king who is last but first, weak in stature but strong in the LORD, unexpected but chosen. And little David grows up to be mighty king David, the exemplar of kingship in the history of Israel.
This story is not an isolated incident in the history of God’s people. In fact, I think this story is a valuable glimpse into the reality of God’s election, the way in which God chooses and calls God’s people. Election is a complex issue with great social and theological implications, but in this story we are reminded that God chooses and calls those who we least expect. God chooses and calls the young, the weak, the marginalized—the ones we most often overlook and disregard.
Let me leave you with this thought that has been echoing in my mind as I have been reflecting on this passage: if God chooses the most unexpected and unlikely candidate to be king, how much more does God choose each and every one of us to be God’s people?
Hear the voice of God, saying to you and to all people, “this is the one.”