Binoculars help people see things more clearly. When I sail, binoculars are an essential tool for navigation. When out on the water, I can see marker buoys from a great distance. As I get closer, I can distinguish between red and green markers. When going into a port, red markers should be on the right side of the boat and green markers on the left. The Chesapeake Bay is shallow and shoals pile up around every port. It’s important to correctly identify markers. For instance, at the entrance to Dividing Creek, there’s a flashing green “3” followed by a flashing red “4”. But, if one misses the red “4”, the red “6” is next. Binoculars are vital because miss the red “4” marker would lead to a muddy shoal just behind it.
We need to see clearly. But God doesn’t see the way we see. God doesn’t need binoculars. God doesn’t need any special tools. For God, seeing means something a little different than it means for us. God knows where you are and what you’re going through. God knows if social distancing has been an amazing gift for you and your family. God knows if the time together has been great and you feel, in a strange way, like this has been a blessing to be together.
God also sees if you’re having trouble. New unmitigated time together, without the breaks of school or work, can create problems. It can highlight fractures that were already there or create new ones. It can bring issues that had been comfortably below the surface right up to the top and smack you in the face with them. God sees what you’re going through and longs to be part of making it better.
God sees if you’re struggling from this social isolation because of loneliness. God sees if you are by yourself and this is just too much. God feels your pain and is with you even though no one can be present with you.
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.’ 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.” 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.’ 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?’ 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. When they came, he 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. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.1 Samuel 16.1-13
In 1 Samuel, Saul had been the king. Samuel anointed him. He united Israel and Judah. He led Israel to move from being a tribal society to a nation-state. In 1 Samuel 15, God told King Saul to destroy the Amalekites for opposing the Israelites. Saul decided not to. Instead, he spared the Amalekite king. At the beginning of 1 Samuel 16, God speaks to Samuel and says it’s time to anoint a new king. Saul drifted away from, so God gives Samuel just enough information to get started: Go to Jesse. I’ve picked one of his sons.
Samuel goes. He uses the false pretense of making an offering to gather Jesse and his sons. Samuel looks at the boys—Eliab, Abinadab, Shammah, and the others—and thinks, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is standing here.” But each time one of the sons passes in front of him, God says no. In 16.7, we find a crystal-clear summary of what this passage is about: “Do not look on his appearance … for the Lord does not see as mortals see.” In the end, Jesse anoints the ruddy boy who they left out in the field with the flock. Jesse anoints a deeply flawed human being. He anoints David.
For us, this is great. We are deeply flawed human beings. We need everyday reminders that God can use people like us. Even though we are apart, even though we are practicing social distancing, even though things may change, even though there may be challenges ahead, God can use us. God doesn’t see the way we see. We look at outward appearances and base a tremendous amount of our assessment of other people on what we see. That’s what happened when Samuel asked Jesse about his sons.
We look at outward appearances all the time. We look at a person’s physical appearance and judge them. We want our heroes and friends to look like Eliab, Abinadab, and Shammah, Jesse’s sons. They were what the world defines as what kings and leaders should look like. They were straight out of central casting. They were good looking, tall-dark-and-handsome-types. Samuel used this worldly standard when he looked at Jesse’s sons. This should have been an easy decision. The first one, Eliab, appeared to be perfect.
So how does God see us? It doesn’t matter how successful, good-looking, rich, or well-educated one is. It doesn’t matter how the world sees us. It doesn’t matter what great filter we have on Instagram or TikTok.
God sees us as needing grace. And we do. We need it all the time.
God sees us as needing patience.
God sees us as needing friends and people around, family, to love and to be loved.
We don’t earn a relationship with God. God doesn’t love us because we look like Eliab or Abinadab.
During these days of separation, we can rest in that relationship. We can live knowing the way God sees us. God sees us for who we are and still offers us grace. That’s good news and something we should extend each other. We can take away from this reading not only the wondrous way God sees us but we can try to see one another that way too. We can see others with the same kind of grace God offers to us. When we accept the grace of God and try to live it out, we can see ourselves as a beautiful child of God.