Hallel In History Part Two
Pesachim 117a: David said, “I thank You because You have answered me and become my salvation.” Yishai said, “The stone that the builders despised has become the cornerstone,” “This comes from God, it is a wonder in our eyes,” was said by David’s brothers. Samuel the prophet said, “This is the day God has made, let us rejoice and be glad on it.”
Samuel was devastated by King’s Saul’s downfall. Saul was one of the most beautiful and righteous people in the Bible. God had chosen him as the first king of Israel. Samuel had accomplished appointing a righteous king for Israel. Everything was in place for Saul to succeed. Samuel commanded Saul to wipe out Amalek, the final step before constructing a Temple for God. Saul almost succeeded. Almost, but not completely. He failed to kill the animals and Agag the king of Amalek. Saul could not stand up to the pressure of the people. He failed to raise himself and act as a king. God told Samuel that He despised having Saul as king and would appoint someone greater as the new king.
Samuel’s great accomplishment disappeared. He had to begin again.
He was intrigued: Who was the person greater than Saul that God wanted as the new king. God instructed Samuel to go to the house of Yishai in Bethlehem and there Samuel would find the new king. Samuel arrived, and Yishai was greatly honored to host the prophet. Samuel asked to meet Yishai’s children, and Yishai was proud to present most of his sons. He kept one, David, hidden. David was a shepherd. Yishai even had doubts whether he was the father of David. He was not prepared to introduce this son to the great prophet.
Samuel was presented with Yishai’s oldest son, Avinadav, and was immediately taken with his stature and presence. “Surely this is the one God desires as the new king!”
God quickly corrected and rebuked Samuel: “I do not look at the outside but the heart. This is not the king.”
It is difficult to believe that Samuel, one of the greatest prophets, could be so mistaken by someone’s externals. It is even harder to believe that after the failure of the great Saul as king, that Samuel would assume just anyone was the one who could guide Israel better than did Saul. When Samuel thought that Avinadav was the new king, he must have been looking at an extraordinary person. The prophet of God saw someone he considered even greater than Saul, and yet, still, God said, that Samuel’s perspective was limited. The son who was to be king would be greater than Saul, greater than Avinadav who was so great that Samuel believed he would be the new king.
One by one, Yishai presented his seven sons to Samuel. All his sons were great people, but none was the one who would be the new king, greater than Saul. “Do you not have any other sons?” the prophet asked Yishai. “I do, but he is not so presentable. He is a simple shepherd.” Samuel insisted and David was brought before him. “This is the one who will be king,” said God.
Imagine everyone’s shock. They are searching for the new king, a person greater than Saul, and all of Yishai’s other sons. The son, Yishai was embarrassed to introduce to Samuel was chosen as the king. Yishai did not understand. The brothers certainly did not understand.
David was the first to speak: “I thank You because You have answered me and become my salvation.” When David said, “You have answered me,” he is saying that he had been praying for this. David had been praying for this opportunity. David had prayed to be king. The son who was sent out to be the family shepherd, the son who was the object of his family’s disdain, had been praying, not just for something good or even great, he had prayed to become the next king.
David, who was waiting for salvation, was a dreamer of greatness. He was a person who prayed for his dreams. He leapt at the opportunity and immediately expressed his gratitude to God. David’s first sentence upon being chosen as king was to say that despite needing salvation he had been praying for greatness. His first statement as king was to say that he dreamt as a king.
For what do we pray when we need salvation? Do we limit our prayers to salvation, or do we dream for greatness. Do we pray as kings? “I thank You because You have answered me and become my salvation.” David always dreamt and prayed as a king.
Yishai was shocked. His youngest son, of whom he was ashamed, had just been anointed by Samuel as the next king of Israel. At that moment he realized that the son he despised, “The stone that the builders despised,” had just been anointed as the cornerstone of Israel and its future. He had never appreciated his son who was now officially declared as greater than Saul. Yishai had made an error similar to Samuel’s: He had judged someone incorrectly. He had not appreciated the glory of his son. Yishai expressed the lesson he learned as praise for God: “The stone that the builders despised has become the cornerstone.” We have no way of knowing what to expect. A person we perceive as unworthy may very well become the “cornerstone of Israel.” Our understanding of the world and other people is limited. The world is pregnant with the most unbelievable possibilities.
Samuel had rejected all the brothers. The prophet had seen them and appreciated each one’s greatness and yet, they were not chosen as king. The brother they perceived as the least among them was now officially the leader of all Israel. “This comes from God, it is a wonder in our eyes.” They understood that God was in charge of all. They were astounded by His plan. They were able to rise above their disappointment and shock to praise God’s control of history.
Samuel listened carefully to David, Yishai and the brothers. He understood that his life’s work had not failed. He had new possibilities. His life’s work had meaning. Samuel had anointed the king who would lift all of Israel. Samuel understood that everything that happened with Saul, which he perceived as tragedy and failure, had actually been a step toward this moment when he was able to anoint David as king. He absorbed all the praises of David, Yishai and the brothers, and declared, “This is the day God has made, let us rejoice and be glad on it.” Samuel celebrated the possibilities of life and the meaning in his life. Even when all seems to have failed, God will turn it around and transform the moment into an even greater beginning.
The brothers were frightened. They feared a future with David as king. “Please God, Save us!” They asked that the same God that had chosen David continue to guide David and Israel in the future. Their plea comes from the same source as their earlier declaration. They acknowledged God as the Guider of History and begged His continued involvment in their future.
David continued to pray as he always had, “Please God, help us succeed!”
These two verses, “Please God, Save us!” and “Please God, help us succeed!” must develop directly from the earlier verses. We are calling out to God Who answers a prayer, Who saves us, Who can transform the despised stone into the cornerstone, Who can shock us by challenging all our perceptions, and Who will guide us so that each day is potentially the beginning of future greatness.
Everyone involved wanted to take their insights further and use them to reach new heights in praising God: Yishai has to reconsider his original greeting to Samuel. He had no idea what to expect when the prophet arrived. He believed that Samuel was simply coming to make an offering together with Yishai and his family. Instead, Samuel came to turn Yishai’ world upside down and to anoint David as king. “Blessed be the one who comes in the Name of God.” The future of Israel was set into motion with Samuel’s arrival. They were taking the first steps toward building the House of God. Samuel responded by saying, “may you be blessed from the House of God.”
They all joined together in singing “God is the Power. He illuminated us.” God had added an entirely new perspective to the way all of them understood God’s role in history.
Samuel wanted the sacrifice to express the joy over all that happened. He wanted it to become a Celebration Offering: “Bind the holiday offering with ropes, and bring it close to the horns of the altar.”
David realized that his role as king has already begun. Everyone involved in this short story has been changed and has achieved greater clarity: You are my Power, My Lord, and I will exalt You.”
They concluded their praises by singing: “Give thanks to God for his kindness is forever!”
1. We sing with the joy of realizing that we never know what to expect from life.
2. The only way to sing Hallel is with the awareness that we do not know what to expect from life. That is why we sing Hallel over miracles that cannot possibly be expressed by the course of nature.
3. Even in the moments when we are desperate for salvation we should dream and pray as kings.
4. We sing with the joy that our perceptions of life and others are limited. Life is pregnant with possibility.
5. We celebrate God’s control of history.
6. In a single moment, God will transform our most devastating failures into the beginning of great accomplishment.
7. We use all of the above to continue to pray for God to save us and help us succeed.
8. Once we achieve and celebrate one insight we should immediately strive to develop it further.