The Lord Looks at the Heart
1 Samuel 16:1 – 23
The Lord looks at the heart
God’s choice is work of grace
When I was about 12 years old, I was sitting at home one day, and there was a knock on the door. Standing there on the door step were 2 police officers, who flashed their badges, sternly introduced themselves, and said wanted to speak to me.
What goes through your head at that moment? If you’ve been in a similar situation?
Maybe you’ve had the police come knocking,
Maybe it’s when the boss calls you in, and says, “sit down, shut the door.”
Maybe it’s the Principal walking into your classroom, saying something quietly to your teacher and then calling you out!
Or perhaps you’ve heard a knock at the front door, and opened it to find someone standing there, who you think “Uh oh, the fact that you’re here, almost certainly means bad news”.
It’s not a particularly pleasant feeling is it?
Am I in trouble?
Has something gone wrong?
Is my life about to lurch off in an unexpected direction?
Well, if you’ve had that experience, you’re not alone.
Those thoughts that go through your mind,
Perhaps the sense of mild, or not so mild panic,
That worried feeling in your stomach,
The elders of the little town of Bethlehem, were there a long time before you.
And what set the alarm bells ringing for them, was not the police or the principal, but Samuel, the prophet of God, turning gup in their town one day.
The Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3 , verse 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?”
Let me say, just for the record, when the police came knocking on my door, I wasn’t in trouble, OK? They just thought I might have been a witness to something that had happened.
I didn’t want the possibility of a criminal background to distract you as we look at 1 Samuel.
But the prophet of God turning up, quite possibly meant that a crime had been committed and now someone was going to have face justice.
But also, these elders were no doubt among the elders of the nation who, because of their rejection of God, had demanded that Samuel give them a king, and now that things are going badly for the king and for their nation, perhaps they’re a little concerned about retribution, the “I told you so” from Samuel.
But Samuel says, I come in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.”
See despite the sinfulness and, let’s face it, foolishness of the elders and the people in rejecting God and asking for a king to lead them, this is a story about God’s grace.
1 Samuel 16 is a passage, not so much about Samuel and David, as it is about God,
About how God graciously acts for his people, even in the midst of their rebellion against he.
And we see how even the very actions that expressed their rebellion, that call, “we want a king”, God uses those actions to bring blessing.
See the passage opens with things having gone exactly how God said they would, Saul has been a disaster of a king, he was just like the kings of the nations all around, and so God had told Samuel in the previous chapter, Saul is not the one I want, but instead of saying, “I told you so”, I’m going to raise up a new king.
Verse 1, 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.”
You know at the beach they have those signs, “swim, between the flags.”
Not everyone obeys the signs, do they?
Bu if someone’s swimming outside the flagged area, and they get into difficulty, what do the lifeguards do?
Do they ride out on their jetski and sort of circle around the person and say, “you’re swimming outside the flags so I’m not going to rescue you”, and then speed back in to shore?
No. Despite the disobedience, despite the foolish decision, they rescue people.
And it’s what God does here, putting into motion a great rescue plan, in the midst of disobedience and foolishness.
They’re only in this predicament, because they rejected God, and yet God in his kindness acts for the good of his people.
Andy Buchan is taking GiG, our high school youth group through the book of Romans on Friday nights. In a couple of weeks they’ll get to chapter 5, where the Apostle Paul makes the same discovery, he writes God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
God didn’t wait for us to sort our lives our before he put his great plan of salvation into operation.
Christ died for people who had sinned, and who were still sinning. See God loves people and acts for people, because of who he is, not because of what we are.
One of the really interesting things we saw in chapter 8 last week, was this idea of God allowing people to reject him and embrace sin.
And you know people say stuff to me sometimes, “I’ve prayed about this decision, and I have a sense of peace about it”, even though the Scriptures make plain that what they’re planning is sinful and disobedient.
And last Sunday I quoted something I’d heard, “If you are determined to do something stupid, God will let you do it.”
And that’s a fairly frightening, handing over to the consequences of our sinful choices isn’t it?
But see there’s always a way back.
There’s always grace.
Sure, you can run from grace, but you’re never too far, to accept it.
Here in 1 Samuel, if people are willing to submit themselves to God and to his chosen king, then they will be extraordinarily blessed.
And we know that’s what happens, 30 years after this, when David finally gets on the throne, the king who God describes as a man after my own heart, leads his people in obedience to God, and his reign is known even today, as the greatest period in the history of the nation.
God in his grace, reached down into the sin and disobedience of his people, and chooses a king for their good.
That last line of verse 1, if we translated it more literally, it would read, I have seen for myself a king.
Last week: “give us a king”,
But now, God is providing, choosing a king for himself,
God’s choice of David is a work of grace.
God’s choice is contrary to human reasoning
And so Samuel goes off to Bethlehem, to find the man that God has chosen,
It’s a mission, not without danger,
“How can I go? Saul will hear about it and 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.”
When I worked in the Anglican Church, we used to joke that just about the worst possible crime you could commit in Anglicanism, was to consecrate a bishop, make your own bishop.
It happens from time to time around the world, and when someone does it, the rest of the Anglican Communion kind of frowns and wrings their hands.
Consecrating a bishop , anointing a king! Do you think Saul is just going to stand around wringing his hands if he hears there’s a new king in town?
Saul would think this is treason, just forgetting for a moment that his own elevation to the throne was because of people’s treason against God.
But Samuel obeys, and God tells him how to be discreet.
And when he arrives in Bethlehem, he knows he needs to anoint one of these sons of Jesse.
But even Samuel, the great prophet, finds himself following a purely human approach to choosing a king.
See there in verse 6, When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”
He was all ready to take the cork out of his horn and pour the oil over Eliab’s head,
7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him.
Simply being tall isn’t a good enough qualification to be king over God’s people.
Saul was tall, that was his most distinguishing feature,
And it hadn’t been enough to make him a good king.
But see that even Samuel, the one, godly, dependable human character in the story so far,
The one who speaks for God,
The one more than anyone else, knows what God wants, even Samuel, doesn’t know God’s choice, without God speaking to him.
Until God’s Word comes to Samuel, he can’t anoint the right man.
If we skip forward, to where we know this story ends, with another king, a descendant of David, God’s chosen king, not just for Israel, but for the world, the same thing applies to us.
We can’t see God’s chosen king, without God’s help.
We can’t look at the cross of Jesus and say “that is the moment when sin and death were defeated, and when God’s kingdom was established on earth in a new and special way that will never cease,
Jesus’ death and resurrection are the only hope I have to be able to stand before God and be welcomed into his presence,
We can’t say any of that, without God’s help, without God first revealing it to us.
Some of you, not many of you, but some of you were here nearly 2 years ago when we started this church, and on that very first Sunday we opened our Bibles to the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians and we read these words,
God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong
, For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
Without God’s help,
Without God’s enabling,
We cannot see Jesus, and we cannot see in his life and ministry, the fulfilment of God’s purposes for a broken and hurting world.
Which means if you’re not a Christian, don’t think that you need to wait until you have this all figured before you turn to God.
If you want to know Jesus, and understand Jesus, you need to ask God.
You need to ask God to make his chosen king known to you and real to you,
You need to ask God to take the words on the page of your Bible, and bring them alive for you, and you will know Jesus.
And if you are a Christian, of course this all means that you didn’t become a Christian by your own cleverness. There can be no such thing as a smug Christian,
See a Christian by definition, is someone who says “I was rejecting God’s chosen king, and then God made his chosen king known to me.”
Not much room for smugness there!
The swimmer who gets rescued from outside the flags, coughing and spluttering, doesn’t boast about the part he played in his rescue.
And Christian friends, this also shapes the way we seek to share the good news of Jesus with those we care about who don’t know him.
It’s not by clever argument, or by constant badgering, or whatever that someone will come to recognise Jesus as God’s king.
That’s God’s work,
And so we need to be in prayer, asking God to do his work, that people will come to know Jesus.
God’s choice is contrary to human reasoning.
God’s choice is unexpected because no one can see the heart
But from the middle of verse 7, we get told exactly how God makes his choice for a king, The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
And therefore, none of these massive, impressive, sons of Jesse, are God’s choice for king.
And so we witness something that might bring back memories of being chosen, or not chosen, for sporting teams back in school!
One after the other, Rejected.
And finally in verse 11, Samuel asks, “Are these all the sons you have?”
“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered, “but he is tending the sheep.”
Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”
12 So he sent and had him brought in. He was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features.
Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; he is the one.”
God’s choice is unexpected.
David seems such an unlikely choice, that no one even bothered go outside and get him, when the family was assembled.
Whenever you’re expecting a special visitor at your place, I’m sure that you do a bit of a tidy up, don’t you?
You put away all the bits and pieces from your normal everyday life, and get out the nice, neat, presentable, maybe even impressive stuff.
So we’ve got a lunch at our place today, for people who are new to our church.
We’re really looking forward to that, so I’ve been tidying up our house for the last 2 weeks! And one of the things I do is get rid of all the daggy hand-me-down, cups and plates that are chipped and scratched and don’t match anything, and I put them at the back of the cupboard where no one will pick them up, and I put all the matching pieces of crockery out on the kitchen bench for people to use!
And don’t laugh at me, because I know you do the same thing!
But imagine I’ve put all the dodgy crockery away, and then at lunch today, one of our guests looks at the matching plates and cups lined up on the bench, and then turns away, starts going through the cupboards, and pulls out some old, scratched, plastic plate, with kids’ teeth marks in it, and everything else!
What would we think?
Think they’ve lost the plot?
As if you’d turn your back on these, and choose that one!
We’re so familiar with the story of David, that God’s choice of him, doesn’t surprise us.
So even if this is the first time you’ve ever sat in church, you’ve probably heard something of David, even if it’s just David and Goliath.
And if you have been around church longer, well, you know bits of the story.
And it’s interesting to note that Goliath comes after this episode,
I think we tend to think the thing with Goliath comes first,
That he’s just a little kid, plucked from obscurity, and he finds himself on the front line of the battle, and somehow, because of that, he ends up getting famous and becoming king.
Not at all!
God chooses David, an unlikely leader, and having been chosen and raised up by God, David does what God’s king does, he saves God’s people.
One of the things that God’s chosen leader does, is fight for God’s people.
It’s what Samuel had done,
It’s what Saul had done,
It’s what Jesus does, in going to battle against sin and the devil,
But God chooses David, to lead and defend his people, because the Lord looks at the heart.”
It’s amazing to think that this statement Man looks at the outward appearance, comes to us from 3000 years ago, and yet, has there ever been a time and a culture more obsessed with outward appearance than where we stand now?
But God says here, the appearance, is of no value,
What matters is the stuff that nobody else sees.
Even the humanist philosopher Machiavelli could appreciate this. He wrote “Men in general judge more from appearances than from reality.”
What’s particularly ironic is that Machiavelli who thought that Christianity was a sect that weakened people, wrote that in his most famous book, The Prince, which was, as he described it, written for the deliberate purpose of dealing with a new ruler who will need to establish himself in defiance of custom
Sounds just like 1 Samuel 16, doesn’t it?!
But think about what would happen in God only used impressive people,
If God only used people like that, then when he achieves something through that person,
So when David beats Goliath,
Or when today, God uses someone for his purposes,
What would we put it down to?
Oh David, that enormous king,
He’s build like a brick out house,
The earth shakes when we walks,
No wonder he beat Goliath,
If God chose the expected, rather than the unexpected,
We’d see that person at work instead of seeing God at work, wouldn’t we?
We’d say he’s done a great thing, she’s done a great thing, instead of saying, “Hasn’t God been good?”
If Eliab had gone out and beaten Goliath, if hadn’t actually been too chicken, it would have been seen as a great victory for Eliab.
But when David, the small one, goes out there, it’s just so obvious that this is God’s work.
David’s got the wrong background to be king.
He’s got the wrong training,
Imagine applying for a job, and you put on your resume, “I have the wrong training and the wrong background for this job, but I have a good heart!”
You wouldn’t get very far!
But God’s choice is surprising.
That’s not to say that God will never choose someone who is impressive, or capable, but that’s not the reason for them being chosen.
The heart is the reason.
The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
And of course God’s unexpected choice isn’t limited to David, is it?
This book of 1 Samuel started with Hannah, who can’t conceive a child, a woman shamed in society, and God chooses her, as the mother of Samuel.
When the time comes for David’s greatest descendant to be born, the king who comes as the fulfilment to the plans that God is putting into motion right here, he’s not born into a palace, or among the nobles, but born to a faithful, obedient, teenage girl, and laid in an animal’s feeding trough, in none other than this little town of Bethlehem.
And not only is Jesus’ life and ministry contrary to human reasoning like we saw a moment ago, It’s also very surprising.
He was a king, with no army.
A teacher, who mixed with everyone, across the social divides,
And of course, for God to come into the world as a human, and die on a cross,
That was well, not the way people were expecting God to deal with the problem of sin and rebellion.
One of the earliest pictures of the crucifixion of Jesus, is a piece of graffiti unearthed in Rome in 1857. It’s a sketch of a man worshipping a man on a cross, and the man on the cross has a donkey’s head. And scratched into the plaster are the words “Alexamenos worships his god.”
What a foolish choice, a crucified king appeared to be.
And maybe that’s what you think of Christianity,
It’s just, counter-intuitive,
It cuts across everything I would expect about how I can get into a right relationship with God.
And if that’s what you think, you have hit the nail on the head, because a crucified God says nothing else will get you right with God, none of the ways we might think we can get right with God will do us any good,
But trust in the God who comes, and lives, and dies, and is raised to life, that’s your only hope.
God’s choice is unexpected,
An unexpected king for Israel, in David,
An unexpected king for the world, in Jesus.
Cultivate your heart, not your outward appearance
There’s another lesson here for us though, because, very often, we like to be valued because of outward appearance, don’t we?
We like to have our gifts recognised,
We like to be known,
We like it when people appreciate us, and when our abilities are valued,
And yet this episode teaches us that recognition by others is no measure of our value and usefulness to God.
A young man by the name of George Campbell Morgan was a candidate for ordination to the Methodist Church, back in 1888, and one day he discovered his application for ordination had been rejected.
He sent a telegram to his father, just one word “Rejected.”
His dad, immediately sent back a return telegram: , “Rejected on earth. Accepted in heaven. Dad”
What a great dad,
What a great message,
It was a message that Campbell Morgan took to heart, and knowing that he was accepted in heaven,
Knowing that his measure according to others was not the measure of his value in God’s eyes, he went on to be one of the most influential preachers in London, and taught God’s Word to literally thousands of people.
Who are you, when no one is praising you?
Who are you, when no one is looking at you?
Who are you, when no one sees you, except God who sees your heart?
And so we should be seeking to cultivate, not our outward appearance, but our hearts.
That is, growing in our understanding,
And devotion to God.
As we grow to 2 gatherings on Sunday mornings, there’s going to be lots more opportunities for people to serve, and so we’re just in the process of putting together a document for our Welcoming Ministry, that explains to people what Welcoming at Trinity is all about.
And Rory’s done a terrific job of putting this document together to be able to give to people.
But what I like most about it, is that you have to turn to page 6, before you find out what a Welcomer actually does.
The first 5 pages are all about who a Welcomer is.
What kind of heart we want people in this really important ministry area to cultivate.
You’ve got some skills? Excellent.
You want to increase your skills? Great.
Those things come from page 6 onwards. Cultivate your heart before God.
Tune your ear to his Word.
What’s your response to God’s chosen king?
And so we’re left with one final question, and it’s a question about the implications of God’s choice of David here,
In 1 Samuel 25, we find the intriguing story of a husband and wife, Nabal and Abigail.
And the story shows us, importance of a right response to God’s chosen king.
Nabal rejects David, and opposes his leadership, and is judged severely by God. God actually takes his life. That’s how serious rejecting God’s chosen king is.
Abigail though, is determined not to make the same mistake as her husband, and so she honours and serves David as the Lord’s anointed one, and is honoured by God and blessed.
When I read that story, I couldn’t help but think if it was a bit of a case of the elephant in the room. You know that expression? The thing that is so obvious, and needing attention, but it’s easier just not to talk about it.
But if, that’s how important a right response to God’s anointed one was back in the Old Testament,
If that’s how serious the consequences of rejecting God’s anointed king in David were,
Does that raise a question for how we respond to God’s anointed king Jesus?
People were struck dead because they didn’t acknowledge God’s chosen king, and yet are we willing to think about how important a right response to Jesus is?
Let’s not make it the elephant in the room.
God has said, “here is my king.”
That is going to have consequences.
If you’re not sure what your response to Jesus is,
If you’re not sure you’ve got it right,
Please talk to someone.
Talk to me, talk the person who’s brought you along.
We’d love to help you think about that question.