The reading from I Samuel jumps us ahead in the story from Saul’s selection as king of Israel to the anointing of David as his successor. Our reading includes Yahweh telling Samuel that God had rejected Saul as king. Two explanations are given in earlier chapters. In each, Saul disobeyed God. The first time was when he offered sacrifices and went into battle without waiting for Samuel to arrive. The second was when he disobeyed God and did not “utterly destroy” the Amalekites after defeating them, instead he spared their king and the livestock.
On one level, both reasons for the rejection of Saul seem arbitrary. Samuel had promised Saul he would come to the military camp in seven days, and Saul was worried that the troops he had mustered would leave if they didn’t act quickly. In the second, sparing the livestock seems a logical act of war booty. Nonetheless, Saul was rejected, and David was anointed in his place.
David’s qualifications for the job? “Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome.” If that seems arbitrary, too, Saul’s own qualifications seem equally sketchy: “There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he; he stood head and shoulders above everyone else” (I Sam. 9:2).
Last week, we saw the Israelites rejecting God’s direct rule of them. This week we see God, somewhat arbitrarily, rejecting Saul as king and choosing David instead. And given their histories, God’s rejection of Saul for disobeying commands seems lame in comparison to some of the things David did–killing the husband of Bathsheba comes to mind.
On one level, these stories are told in this way to provide legitimacy for the Davidic monarchy (which had its origins in a revolt led by David against Saul). Nations tell such stories about themselves, so do dynasties.
Are there lessons for us here? I’m not sure. Perhaps cautionary tales. We might want to consider the stories we tell ourselves about our nation’s past and present. We might also want to consider in this lengthy election season why we choose the leaders we have. Is our electoral process any more sane and rational than choosing a king on the basis of his height or good looks (Oh, sorry, I forgot).