I admit it; I’m totally screwed up! You should just call me “Pastor Syndrome.” But, how could I not be messed up? Through adoption by older parents, I am at the same time both the youngest child (with three older sisters I never remember living at home), and an only child (which is how I grew up experientially).
It was in 1927 that psychologist Alfred Adler first wrote about birth order and what it predicted for behavior. This groundwork study has been the foundation for much additional writing and analysis in the psychological field ever since.
First-born, middle-child, last-born, and only-born children all have a “syndrome” attached to them of strengths and (more often) inherent weaknesses.
And I certainly groove with some only-child characteristics …
- This child generally talks to an imaginary friend and talks to himself. (I did this as a kid big-time and still carry on an inner conversation at all times. It even happens while I’m speaking publically.)
- He is very comfortable being alone and not mingling with others.
- He is not quick to share problems and tends to be introspective.
- He likes to solve problems by himself and is slow to seek outside assistance. (And I thought that was just a male problem!)
BUT, freeing me from “exhibit A” status within this syndrome was this identifier: “There is a lack of competitive attitude, and the child may be hostile or jealous.” What?? You’ve got to be kidding! Yes, I’m hostile and jealous, but only when I’m not bludgeoning an opponent, or I have to reluctantly admit that someone else has the better team and higher score!
And then there is “Youngest Child Syndrome.” According to research, “Last-borns generally aren’t the strongest or the smartest in the room, so they develop their own ways of winning attention. They’re natural charmers with an outgoing, social personality; no surprise then that many famous actors and comedians are the baby of their family, or that they score higher in ‘agreeableness’ on personality tests than firstborns.” It is also said that youngest children are more open to unconventional experiences and taking physical risks than their siblings. I guess this is because everyone was always looking out for them to prevent them from harm when they were little.
Youngest kids are also known to have the feeling that “nothing I do is important.” Their accomplishments don’t seem terribly original. After all, their older siblings had already learned to talk, read, and ride a bike. So, parents react less euphorically and may even speculate as to why this final child didn’t get up to speed even faster.
In our holiday series that looks at the lives of a variety of biblical characters as babies and children (ending with the birth of Christ), we consider now both an only child – Samuel – and a youngest child – David. Each accomplished great things, foreshadowing the coming of the ultimate child – Jesus. And neither of these Old Testament characters was bound by any sort of “syndrome” or low expectations. Though imperfect, they gave the bulk of their lives and service to be God’s people in their place and time.
- Samuel was known as one who would hear and obey the voice of God (even when he did not always find it to be personally pleasing to do this).
- David would be known, in spite of multiple personal failures, as having a core-level heart that was for God and His sovereign plans.
And these are lessons for us to take away, as we review some of the elements of their lives.
Samuel was born later in life to his parents of Levite heritage, Elkanah and Hannah. His mother had prayed to have a son, vowing to dedicate him to the Lord as a Nazarite. And after he was weaned, she brought him to Shiloh (the center of worship at that time) and to the high priest, Eli. And there in the tabernacle Samuel grew up, his parents visiting him annually from the hill country of Ephraim, bringing supplies of clothing, etc. (Though Hannah would have other children, I’m speaking of Samuel as an “only child” in terms of the way he grew up without siblings.)
You might think this was a godly environment for the boy, but it was not. It was corrupt, and in today’s language we might even call it a “swamp that needed to be drained.” Eli, personally not a bad guy, had failed to raise his sons to honor God. Their sins were numerous, as well as very public. This ultimately brought down God’s wrath and judgment upon the nation.
1 Samuel 3:1-5 – The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.
2 One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. 3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the Lord called Samuel.
Samuel answered, “Here I am.” 5 And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.
This happened a total of 3 times. And recognizing the divine nature of it, Eli tells Samuel to say, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
Samuel does this, and God gives him a revelation of the disaster that is to come upon Eli’s family and the nation for their disobedience. Eli asked. “Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.”
This then is the calling of Samuel, and a summary paragraph immediately follows …
19 – The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. 21 The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.
After a time, there is war between the Philistines and Israel. The people take the Ark of the Covenant out to the battlefield as if it is a good-luck charm, but they are defeated and the Ark is captured. Eli’s two sons – Hophni and Phineas – die in the battle. And when a messenger comes to Shiloh bearing the bad news, Eli hears of the disasters (especially of the Ark) and being age 98 and very heavy, he falls over, breaking his neck and dies. Shiloh was likely also pillaged.
The Ark brings disasters to the Philistines; twice their God named Dagon is found to have fallen down face-first before it. Moving it from town to town, it causes disease and distress everywhere. Finally, after seven months, the Philistines ship it back to Israel.
After 20 years, there is a revival in Israel under Samuel. They remove their foreign gods and assemble together in unity. The Philistines hear of this and decide to make an attack, and they are wiped out in battle miraculously. 1 Sam. 7:13-15 – So the Philistines were subdued and they stopped invading Israel’s territory. Throughout Samuel’s lifetime, the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines … Samuel continued as Israel’s leader all the days of his life.
The way to always think of the life of Samuel is that he was the last of the Judges, and the first of the Prophets … ushering in the many years of kings in Israel – the United Kingdom under Saul / David / Solomon for the first 120 years.
Let’s think about three kings. Israel’s first king was chosen because of his outward appearance – that is Saul. This morphed into failure. David—though the unlucky 8th son of Jesse, a mere shepherd boy—becomes Israel’s true king, a man judged not by outward appearance, but by being a man after God’s own heart. And then we’ll look forward in this season to the great king – and that is Jesus.
As time went by, the elders of Israel saw Samuel aging, and they did not see a worthy successor. His sons did not honor God, took bribes, and acted like politicians inside the beltway.
The people also looked around at the other nearby nations and saw that everyone had a king. Israel was now moving from theocracy to monarchy. Israel was unique in not having a king; all the neighboring nations had kings. The elders were probably thinking: “If our neighbors have a king, and they’re achieving victories and prosperity, couldn’t we also get a king?”
In 1 Sam. 8:6ff. – But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. 7 And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”
So Samuel tells them, “This king stuff ain’t all what you think it’s gonna be.” He said to them, “Don’t you know what British historian Lord Acton famously said… “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” ??…… They said, “never heard of the guy!”
19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us.20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”
21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. 22 The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”
The First King (Saul) became the first of what would be 23 kings of Israel. He was head and shoulders above the rest – literally! (In fact, a shampoo would be named after him!) He would be king for 40 years.
The Christian author and theologian Richard Foster once wrote that “superficiality is the curse of our age.” We are a society focused on outward appearance and the idolatry of performance. Our greatest measuring stick is what we see in the mirror, what we have in the bank (or driveway), or our latest job performance review or social media status. And it was outward appearance that gave the nation Saul, whose failures were many …
Impatient/Disrespectful of God’s authority (1 Samuel 13)—The war with the Philistines was to commence only after offering a sacrifice. Samuel had agreed to meet Saul in Gilgal after seven days to perform the sacrifice. When Samuel does not immediately arrive—and with the Philistine army closing in—Saul impetuously offers the sacrifice himself. This also marks the first time that Samuel predicts the rise of Saul’s successor, David (1 Sam 13:13-14).
Self-serving (1 Samuel 14)—He was self-serving and foolish in a whole variety of ways.
Disobedient (1 Samuel 15)—Saul was commanded to wipe out the Philistine threat, but keeps some animals back “for sacrifice.” One might suspect him of keeping these as “trophies”—not uncommon in ancient (or even modern) warfare. He tries to deny this disobedience when confronted by Samuel, but in the narrative, this becomes the last straw before the eventual selection of David.
10 Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: 11 “I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” Samuel was angry, and he cried out to the Lord all that night.”
Here is where the story of Saul wrongly offering sacrifices fits in … but reading on …
35 Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.
And then we turn the page to the next chapter and it says …
16:1 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”
2 But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”
The Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.”
So now we begin to talk about the True King (David—1 Samuel 16).
Renaissance paintings of David’s home area of Bethlehem have typically depicted him as living in a setting characterized by rolling hills and green grass. This is not accurate, as it was very dry and rocky; and it was there that shepherds would tend their sheep. Lambs from here were especially raised for sacrifice in Jerusalem, and this too looks forward pictorially to the work of Christ as the Lamb of God.
In terms of birth order, David was born to Jesse before 1000 B.C. as the youngest of eight children. In most ancient literature, the seventh son is generally looked upon as favored. As number eight, even David’s own family would not have looked upon him favorably – almost more as a hired servant than a son.
It is certainly for this reason that he was out tending sheep when Samuel arrived, and Jesse retrieved his son only when prompted by Samuel. David was not the “ideal” choice (by resume) for a King. A best estimate is that he was maybe about 12 years old when Samuel arrived.
Here is the story itself …
4 Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”
5 Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”
7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
8 Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” 9 Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” 11 So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”
“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”
Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”
12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.
Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”
13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.
Comparing the to the Great King (Jesus), who is the true and better David, here are some similarities …
Both came from Bethlehem
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)
Both anointed with the Spirit
David—1 Samuel 16:13
Jesus—John 1:32-34 … Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”
Both despised by their brothers
1 Sam. 17:28 … When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.”
John 7:3-5—Jesus’ own brothers did not believe … 3 Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. 4 No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 For even his own brothers did not believe in him.
Both had a heart for God and obedience (Jesus perfectly)
Of David – in Acts 13:35 – David had served God’s purpose in his own generation
Hebrews 4:15— “…we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”
By way of summary and application, we can say three things …
In our natural state, we are like Saul – oriented toward self, and independent of God’s direction.
In our regenerate state, we are like David – finding success when we yield to the Holy Spirit rather than our natural desires.
In our positional state, we are like Christ – for we stand in his perfect righteousness.
- Because Jesus obeyed God perfectly, His righteous record is imputed to our account (Romans 4).
- Therefore, when God looks at us, He doesn’t see the tainted record of Saul and our failed human efforts, but the spotless record of the true King, Jesus.
Understanding this nature of our relationship with God helps us to not be the victim of a culture where, as was said earlier, “superficiality is the curse of our age.” This gives perspective in a society focused on outward appearance and the idolatry of performance.
These realities help us to not be ashamed of our humble beginnings, our past failures, or even our present mistrust and struggle, because the present work of the Holy Spirit through our faith is the guarantor that we are ultimately judged not by our performance, but by the performance of Jesus.
And that is the reason to celebrate at this season of the year.
In what sense were you likening Samuel to an only child?
Yes, not my clearest communication. Hannah had other children later. But I’m speaking of him as an only child in the way he grew up without siblings. I added an extra sentence to address this. The Samuel stuff was material here to really get us to David.
Awe Tom got you?
Sorry, I beat a dead horse.
I dont like this phrase either
You are amazing!
Reading this was like experiencing a close second to yesterdays sermon…
Did you ever wonder why Eli the priest saw Hannah praying and her lips moved so fast he accused her of being drunk? But then he correctly prophesied that she would give birth. Then he couldnt see the motes lodged in Hophni, Phineas, and as a result his very own eyes. It even took him a few times to recognize who was actually calling Samuel! Crazy!
By the way Ive seen ‘Eli and his fat neck’ fall off the chair in cartoon form. Really just terrible….