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Fill Your Horn with Oil, and Go

As our youth staff has a habit of doing together, we were recently studying 1 Samuel 16, one of the many passages we’ll cover with the teens this school year. This passage is well known for many reasons, not the least is that it contains the account of David’s anointing as king. However, before David was set apart and placed on that path, one phrase stuck out to us and inspired a great deal of thought: “Fill your horn with oil, and go.”
In the passages preceding it, we find Samuel at a low point. He’s been rejected by the people, his own sons have betrayed him, the man he felt forced to anoint as king has failed in dramatic fashion to fulfill his duty of office, and so Samuel now sits in his sorrow over lost years and feelings of uselessness. It’s at this juncture in Samuel’s life and ministry that God speaks to him in 16:1, saying, “How long will you grieve over Saul?” But after acknowledging Samuel’s darkened situation—and perhaps offering a soft rebuke—God speaks those words to his saddened heart. “Fill your horn with oil, and go.”
We might be left to wonder why it seems that God doesn’t seek to comfort Samuel in his grief, doesn’t invite Samuel to process his emotions in the way we might want, but instead gives him work to do. God’s intent for Samuel was seemingly to pull him out of his hole by giving him something to do, some sort of service. It was this very idea that got us talking.
Perhaps those of us (and many of our teens) who struggle with anxiety and intrusive thoughts don’t need something to think, say, or take. Perhaps we need something to do. God’s command to Samuel in his own grief was not a callous brushing aside of Samuel’s feelings, nor does its example condone the idea of stuffing down and ignoring those emotions. Rather, part of God’s design for us as his creatures might just be to work out those feelings through action.
God commanded Samuel to do something that would have been hard for him. The last man he anointed was Saul and that didn’t go well. But not only did it challenge Samuel, it forced him to change his perspective from inward-facing to outward-facing. Filling his horn with oil and going was not simply to make Samuel feel useful again. It was so that he could serve his people by anointing David to soon be their king.
To put it very simply, God made us to work and he made us to serve, yet we live in a world filled with inaction disguised as action and one that makes self-service and an inward-facing life more possible than ever. What difference might it make for our hearts and in the lives of others if when we next sought to face our darkness, we did so by seeking to do something productive, specifically for the sake of another?