St Barnabas, February 8th 2012
Readings – 1 Samuel 16:1-23 Matthew 2: 1-12
Today we begin a series from 1 Samuel and at the end we will creep into 2 Samuel, all looking at the life of David. I find it is always interesting to read and learn again about these great men in the Old Testament isn’t it and in our Gift Groups we are going to learn about Joseph in Genesis. All great stuff and I hope we will enjoy learning again about their lives and learn something new which will enrich our Christian lives and build up the kingdom here in this place. Can I suggest that perhaps you start reading the books of 1 and 2 Samuel and get a taste of the lives of Samuel, Saul and David.
Let’s just start with a bit of background before we come to our reading today.
The events recorded in 1 Samuel cover a period of about one hundred and fifteen years from the childhood of Samuel through the troubled times of Saul to the beginning of the reign of the king whom God chose, David. In the personal lives of these three men, this book gives us an exceedingly graphic picture of these times.
Samuel was the last of the judges; Saul was the first of the kings. The records bring us up to the time when David is ready permanently to establish the monarchy and God is ready permanently to establish David’s throne. The history of this book is presented to us in the attractive cloak of biography. Everyone loves a true story. We have all probably known the stories in 1 Samuel since we were children. Who does not know the story of the boy Samuel when God called him when he was in bed and staying with Eli the chief priest or the story of David and Goliath, and the friendship of David and Jonathan? Well we can look forward to some of these in the coming weeks and as I said before try and read the book to familiarise yourselves with the history and let’s talk about it to one another.
So back to today and our reading from ch 16. We see in this chapter God reminding Samuel of the fact that He has rejected Saul as king of Israel. Saul was chosen as king because the people wanted to be like the other nations around them. Up to that point, God had ruled the nation, raising up leaders as they were needed. This was how things operated all way from the time of Moses through the days of the Judges. They were warned that elevating a man to the throne would bring political corruption and trouble. When Saul was chosen to be their king, the people were elated. He was fine physical specimen, standing head and shoulders taller than anyone else in Israel. While he may have been a giant among men, he was a spiritually a very tiny figure! 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. As a result, the Lord proved to Israel the dangers of a human king and God rejected Saul as the king of His people. The very last verse of I Samuel 15 says that “The Lord was grieved that he had made Saul king over Israel.” God literally regretted his choice.
So the final point as we set the stage is that…God chose a replacement. That’s where our story picks up today. We’re told that God spoke to Samuel, the very prophet who had anointed Saul as King and told him to get up and go to the house of Jesse in the town of Bethlehem. If you’re listening you’ll immediately recognize the name of that town because it’s where Jesus was born. Later on in the Bible we discover that Jesus was a descendant of David. Imagine Samuel’s fear. What if Saul heard that he was anointing the next King? So God works out a plan whereby it will appear that the reason for his visit is to worship and offer a sacrifice. Samuel gets up and fills his horn with oil which he would use to anoint the new king (the same thing the prophet had done for King Saul) and heads to Bethlehem where he’s greeted by the elders of the town who are worried because the visit of the prophet often brought a word of rebuke or punishment from the Lord. But Samuel assures them that he’s come in peace, and invites Jesse and his sons to worship with him. The text tells us that Samuel was sure that the first boy that was presented, Eliab, was the one. But God said, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart”.
I’ll never forget the feeling and I wonder if you remember and can relate to it too. You’re standing on the sideline of the sports field or the playground as teams are chosen. You never get the chance to be the captain and so you try to play it cool as you stand in line with the rest of your peers. But today is no different than any other day. This game is no different than the last. You know who will be chosen first. He or she is the biggest boy or girl there, not to mention the fact that their team always wins! As the teams are chosen, members are picked according to their appearance and ability. The biggest and fastest kids are chosen first and then come the kids that no one really wants but someone will take. Somewhere down the line you know you’ll be picked, you just hope it won’t be last… again.
It’s this childhood practice of choosing teams that implants within our minds the idea that appearance and ability are everything! And while it would certainly be nice to grow up and realize how false that notion is, the reality is our culture does everything to reinforce that image. Why is it that British icons, those who are superstars, those who are the wealthiest and most well known, are almost exclusively those with the best appearance or most ability?
Gone are the days when character and lifestyle were valued above all else. Heroism today is all about who others think we are and has very little to do with who we really are. You may remember Britain’s Got Talent, well you may say I don’t watch that rubbish. Well some of it is, but it is the few people who you don’t think will do well who surprise you and have outstanding talent which makes it worth watching in my opinion. Just think of Susan Boyle, she came on that stage dressed in an old fashioned way, very nervous with a silly giggle but when she opened her mouth to sing, it made the hairs on the back of your head stand up, well it did mine anyway. I would guarantee that no-one would have thought she had a voice that was so stunning. Everyone judged by her appearance including me.
So one by one Jesse presented his other six sons and somehow God communicates the same message to Samuel about every one. I can only imagine Samuel’s confusion as the last was presented and God said “No”. ”What am I going to do now?” he must have asked himself. He turned to Jesse and said, “Is this all?” There was one more, he was out in the fields taking care of the sheep. Notice that Jesse hadn’t even thought to bring him in. He certainly wasn’t king material. His dad and brothers knew that. But Samuel was insistent and so he was brought into the house and suddenly this young nobody became somebody.
Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers. The young man is filled with God’s spirit for the task of leadership. As the Spirit of the Lord comes upon David so the Spirit leaves Saul. It is almost as if there is not enough Spirit to go around. But one day there will be as Joel prophesies:
“And afterwards, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days”.
Joel looks forward to the era of Jesus. There will come a Day of Pentecost when God’s Spirit will no longer be rationed to an occasional priest or prophet or king, but freely given to all people in Acts 2 1-11. From now on Saul is rejected by God. He suffers fits of depression. Young David is summoned to court to play the harp and ease the king’s black moods.
God chose a young peasant girl Mary to give birth to His beloved Son. Who would have thought that? God chose Jesus to come into this world as a tiny baby not as a conquering King. Who would have thought that? Those three maji followed the star to Bethlehem despite opposition from Herod and found this King Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger. Not the sort of place you would expect to find a King with a young mother still in her young years. But God chose to do it that way.
The story of David is a story of right seeing. It’s a story which challenges us to look beyond outward appearances to a person’s heart and character. God saw something in David that no one else had seen. The Hebrew word that is used when the text tells us that Samuel looked at Jesse’s sons implies that he looked but didn’t really see. There’s a difference you know? Samuel, Jesse, and Saul all missed what was ultimately important to God. Unlike the qualifications we look for when we choose teams in the playground or on the sports field, God looks for something completely different. Thankfully!!
God looks at character not appearance. The text tells us that God doesn’t see as we do but God looks right through our façades and our pretence to see our heart. That should both inspire and frighten us. It should inspire us when we feel that we are judged by others according to our abilities or our appearance to remember that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. And it should frighten those of us who have survived by pretence when we know that what’s on the inside doesn’t match what we claim to be.
The truth is, God delights in choosing those who have the will, but lack the ability in and of themselves, and using them to bring about the miraculous because, finally…God sees possibilities when others do not. The sad reality is we confuse appearance with reality. We don’t see what really counts because we don’t take the time to look beyond the beauty or lack of that is skin deep.
But we serve a God who sees possibility in us when everyone around us tells us we can’t!
As David was in the fields tending the sheep I’m sure he had no idea what his future would bring. The reality is the same for us: The future is seldom clear to us. If it were, life wouldn’t be any fun, would it? If I knew what next month would bring then I’d have to worry about it today, and I have enough to worry about today.
The story of David, I believe, points to the truth that God has a plan for our life no matter what our circumstances are. You know what it is that is preventing you from being the person that God wants you to be or fulfilling the dream that God has given you. It may be your family. Perhaps it’s your past or maybe it’s the way you’re living now. He has chosen you already and if you place yourself in God’s hands, God can and will do great things through you.
The Key to fulfilment and contentment in life is being who God wants you to be. The key to fulfilment is not money or possessions or good looks. It’s what’s on the inside that counts. When we realize that and open ourselves to what God wants to do in and through us we can find the abundant life that Jesus promised us. What did Jesus say in John 10:10 – “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full”.
David was a young shepherd boy, God chose him to do great things. God has chosen you, what is He going to do through you in this New Year if you trust and obey Him.