(1 Samuel 15:34–16:13)
For those of you who missed last week’s service (or find it a little “fuzzy”), I’m going to summarize a little background of the story that took place earlier in the book of Samuel – and fill in some gaps – before we get into the section of the text for today.
The Israelite people at first were governed directly by God. They had judges defending the people, prophets who served as God’s mouth piece to the people and priests who made sacrifices for the people. They were warned that elevating a man to the throne would bring political corruption and trouble.
But as they looked around at neighboring countries, they became envious of them because they all had kings that they could see and approach, and the Israelites’ king was in the heavens. So in spite of the prophet Samuel’s warnings about all the problems a king would cause them, the people insisted and so God gave them Saul as their king. He was an obvious choice and the people were excited to have him
The Bible tells us that part of Saul’s attraction for the position of Israel’s first king was that he was a magnificent physical specimen. Saul was what you would expect in a king. He was a handsome man and very strong. He was the kind of person who demanded your attention and your respect. He was young, and stood head and shoulders taller than anyone else in Israel.
While Saul may have been a giant among men, he was a spiritual pygmy! He made a good public image and seemed to have the charisma to rally the people. But those characteristics don’t ensure quality leadership. He was significant to men, but he was disobedient to God.
Saul was a jealous man, who lived for the praises of the people. He tended to overstep his boundaries and was guilty of gross disobedience to the commands of the Lord. It didn’t take long for him to stop seeking God’s direction and begin taking things into his own hands. He began his reign as a humble servant but it wasn’t long until his real character was revealed. Basically, Saul was a proud man who turned out to be stubborn and impetuous, with a strong self-will. These character flaws lead to his downfall. Because of his deliberate disregard for the God’s Word and his inability to place himself completely under divine control, the Lord ended up taking the royal monarchy from Saul.
When Samuel confronted Saul for not destroying everything among the Amalekites both man and beast, Saul tried to worm his way out of it by saying that the only reason he didn’t destroy everything was so he would have something left to sacrifice to the Lord. It sounds good, but the Lord didn’t tell Saul to spare anything for a sacrifice. That is why Samuel responded to this weak excuse by asking “What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice?”
That’ where our story picks up as we read that “The Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king.” Samuel is upset that this first king has failed so miserably and he is grieving, having his own pity party. That’s why in our text, we see God saying 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.”
This time it is Samuel who is hesitant to follow instructions. He says, you know Lord if I do that and Saul hears about it he will kill me! Then God does something that on the surface seems very strange. He seems to tell Samuel to be deceptive as to his real agenda. He says take a heifer with you and say that you have come to sacrifice. (What a cover story!) Why else would you bring a heifer?
God says He will indicate which son of Jesse is to be anointed. But Samuel couldn’t help but be dazzled by the physical stature of the eldest son. As was mentioned, when God chose Saul as king, He gave the people the kind of physically imposing individual that they, like other nations, would find desirable. Now, Samuel falls into this superficial way of thinking. “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord,” he excitedly whispered to himself. He thinks it is Eliab, since he is such a fine-looking man and the obvious choice as the eldest son in the family. Of course, we know God’s response: “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.’”
Samuel was surprised to go down the entire line of Jesse’s sons, only to find that none of them was God’s chosen. Doesn’t age matter? Doesn’t brawn matter? Doesn’t intelligence matter? But God knows what really matters. When David was finally brought in from the lowliest of jobs, keeping the sheep in pasture, I imagine the flabbergasted look on each son’s face as they watched Samuel take the horn of oil and cover David’s head with the precious and sacred liquid. What an unexpected, unorthodox, unusual choice!
Here is a boy nobody seemed to notice, but God did, because God looked on his heart. And we know that at the time there was not a bit of pride in David’s heart. In fact, after he was anointed as Israel’s next king do you know what he did? He went right back to tending those sheep.
God had a training program ahead for David. He had to practice killing bears and lions in the field before he could stand up to the giant, Goliath and slay him with his now practiced aim with a slingshot. Gradually he was growing into the strong and able man whom everyone would admire as king. Meanwhile David possessed the heart of a servant.
Psalm 78:70 says, “He chose David his servant, from tending the sheep and he brought him to be the shepherd of his people. And David shepherded them with integrity of heart.”
Man looks at the “cover” and God looks at the “core.” We want a handsome hunk, and God wants a holy heart. There were nearly 18.4 million cosmetic surgeries and procedures in the United States in 2019 totaling 17.4 billion dollars. Does that show that we look on “outward appearances” rather than the heart. When you go for a job interview you know they want someone who can not only do the job but who also looks the part. They want qualifications plus attractiveness.
I Cor 1:27 says “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise…..that no flesh should glory in his presence.” You see, the issue as far as God is concerned is not stature, status or smarts. It is spirituality. God’s choices may be contrary to human reason but they are conditioned on heart response and characterized by heavenly recognition.
That brings us to consider our Gospel lesson from Mark 4:26-34. When Jesus spoke in parables, He often compared the kingdom of God to a seed. This parable is comparing the smallness of the seed to the greatness of the results produced. Jesus said the mustard seed produced a plant that became greater than all herbs. Truly the small beginning of one man and His disciples has become “largest of all garden plants.” Jesus + 12 + 70 + 500 + 3000 at Pentecost. Then we see the gospel spread all over the world.
Which would you take in a thirty-day period? Billy Graham preaching and 30,000 people giving their lives to Christ each night? Or one Christian winning one soul the first day and then those two winning two and then those four winning four and so forth and so on for thirty days?
Well at the end of 30 days, Billy Graham would have seen 900,000 people come to Christ. The one-to-one method, which started small like the mustard seed would end with 536,870,912!
From small beginnings, the kingdom of God has grown and it has room in it for every nation and people of all socio-economic backgrounds. It has room in it for people who wear suits as well as people who wear torn jeans and t-shirts. There are no barriers in God’s church except those that human beings create. God does not care what we wear on the outside. He is more concerned with what He sees on the inside, in our hearts. It does not matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done. Jesus is only concerned with where you are going and what you will do.
Imagine pondering the power of the zucchini or the tomato. The seeds are small; a person can carry one hundred of them in his or her hand. Yet those small seeds can produce enough fruit to feed a family – and in the case of zucchini, an entire town. Certainly, the seed contains some power within it, which enables it to accomplish this great feat.
Like the planted seed, God’s word has great power when it is planted in our lives. It grows within us, changing us into God’s image, and producing within us the fruit of the Spirit – the characteristics of God. That seed of faith, that seed of grace, that seed of salvation is sprouting and growing.
And just as when we see a plant every day, we can’t see its growth taking place… …when we look at our lives from one day to the next we may not be able to see any Christian growth or maturity. But that doesn’t mean that growth is not taking place. Because in the same way that nature’s growth is constant, so is the growth of the Christian.
God takes little shepherd boys and prepares them to be kings. He took Moses from a cradle and made him a mighty leader of Israel. He took Joseph the younger brother from the pit to a palace. He often disregards natural ability so that we can see His super natural enabling within individuals whom He chooses.
What God sees is what ultimately matters. When we make the effort to see what God sees, we will encounter the anointed in the most remarkable places and, most definitely, in the most astonishing people: “the least of these,” whether children, homeless, foreigner or immigrant, the stranger. And that is world changing.