The Eighth Son
1 Samuel 16: 7, 11-12 (NRSVA)
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 Lordlooks on the heart.’
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.’ 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.’
This week’s key story — the choosing of David to replace Saul — got me wondering about how we train ourselves to recognise and, if we can, to choose good leaders. As a small, weedy child with no aptitude for team sports, I knew what it felt like to be near the bottom of the list when it came to being chosen. At the same time, I also knew what it was to be chosen to read for my ‘clear, carrying voice.’
In both cases someone recognised my aptitude, or lack of aptitude, and made what seemed a logical choice. However if we focus only on those with the obvious qualifications, are we missing those with the potential to develop? This is particularly important if we are thinking about future leaders. What should we be looking for? How important is natural talent?
God tells Samuel to ignore superficial things like appearance or height, and to focus on inward qualities. At the same time, the text makes a point of telling us that David, God’s choice, is ‘glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features’. What’s going on?
I think perhaps we are being told that while God looks at the heart, this doesn’t mean he ignores what we might call ‘leadership qualities’ (which in the context of ancient Israel might have included the ability to look like a king and the physical strength to lead battles). In other words, the right leader might not be who we expect, but wherever they come from, God’s choice will be equipped for the job.
You know how easily we are distracted by a pretty face,
a smooth tongue,
an air of competence or optimism.
Direct us, where needed, towards the ‘eighth son’.
Give us the patience to wait, and the insight to choose
leaders whose foundations shine through the facade.
Foundations of compassion, of strength, of courage, of wisdom.
Foundations upon which your kingdom can be built.