Our new sermon series begins today by looking 1 Samuel 16, and the nation of Israel is looking for a new leader. The year is approximately 1050 BC, and the prophet Samuel has been given the task by God of finding Israel’s next king. The current king, Saul, has been a huge disappointment. Like so many politicians before and since, King Saul had taken office to huge popular acclaim, but quickly disappointed. A catalogue of sins and errors had tarnished his reputation and blotted his copybook – much as recent events in Afghanistan seem to have taken the shine off Joe Biden’s presidency, perhaps?
Worst of all, Saul had developed a serious heart problem. Not a medical condition, but a moral defect. Saul’s power had produced pride in his heart, created an inner attitude of rebellion against God, and led him to disobey divine commands.
Consequently, as we are told in verse 1 of our passage today, Saul was “rejected” by the Lord. Like a ‘lame duck’ president or prime minister, Saul temporarily remained in office, but now lacked a God given right to rule. So the search was on for a replacement ruler – for a new king whose heart would be in the right place.
Samuel’s search for a king
As we join our passage today, we are told that God has found his man. Because “the Lord said 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.’”
And so Samuel set off for Bethlehem, carrying a horn of oil to anoint a new king. The horn symbolised power, and the oil represented God’s blessing. The man chosen to be king would be literally God’s anointed ruler. In Greek the word for an anointed ruler is a ‘Christ’. You see, christ is not a surname – it’s a job description. It’s a description of someone personally chosen by God to rule.
So in verse 4 today Samuel travels to Bethlehem to anoint a son of Jesse as king, as a christ. But which one? Samuel is confronted with a line-up of seven candidates. Seven of Jesse’s sons who look to be the leading contenders for the crown – “surely the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD”, thought Samuel.
But none of them quite fits the bill. Starting with impressive Eliab, Samuel is repeatedly told that the Lord has rejected each of the seven sons. No doubt with some desperation in his voice, Samuel asks Jesse in verse 11 “‘Are these all the sons you have?’. ‘There is still the youngest,’ Jesse replies. ‘He is tending the sheep.’”
After an anxious wait, David arrives and Samuel is told by God that he’s found his man. “Rise and anoint him” says the Lord in verse 12. “This is the one!” Saul’s successor had been found! So without further ado “Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed David in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David.”
How to spot a Saviour! The characteristics of a Christ
But why David? Why was he so special in the eyes of the Lord? What qualified David to be God’s chosen king, an Old Testament christ?
After all, from a human perspective, David was a very surprising choice. He was the youngest son of an insignificant family living in an insignificant place. Surely someone owith royal blood living in a capital city would have been preferable to a little shepherd boy from Bethlehem?
But what swung the decision in David’s favour was his heart. Verse 7 tells us that “the LORD looks on the heart”. And when God saw David’s heart he liked what he saw – “this is the one” he said to Samuel. In contrast to king Saul, David was a man God could do business with. A humble man who loved the Lord. A man with sufficient qualities to shepherd God’s people – not just sheep!
And so Samuel poured the anointing oil on David, and God poured his Holy Spirit upon David too. The Spirit who would empower David for all the royal responsibilities that lay ahead of him.
Jesus the Christ
‘All very interesting’ you might say. A good story from one thousand BC. But what relevance does it have for today? The answer is that it should increase our confidence in Jesus Christ. As we look at the details of Jesus’ life, we should be reassured that he too fulfills all the credentials of a christ.
• Firstly, like David, Jesus was an unlikely king in the eyes of the world. He too was born in Bethlehem and then brought up in Nazareth. Neither of them were places of significance. Neither of them could compare to the grandeur of Jerusalem or any other capital city.
• And like David, Jesus also considered himself a shepherd – indeed, as THE Good Shepherd -the good shepherd who had come to seek and save the lost, by laying down his life as a sacrifice for their salvation.
• And thirdly, like David, Jesus had a heart for God – a love and loyalty to his Father whatever the cost. Jesus’ expressed desire was always to do his Father’s will – even when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on the eve of his death.
Given these three parallels between Jesus and David, its no surprise that Jesus’ ministry began just like David’s did in 1 Samuel 16 today. Like David, Jesus was publicly chosen by God and anointed by his Spirit. You may remember that when Jesus was baptised by John in the Jordan, the heavens opened, the Holy Spirit descended, and God once again declared – “this is the one”. David was the son of Jesse, who would be a king for a time. But Jesus is the Son of God, who is our rightful king and christ for ever.
The heart counts! What the Lord looks for in us
Before we finish today, I want us to think a little about that key sentence in verse 7. Let’s look again at what it says. “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’
That sentence is as counter-cultural today as it was three thousand years ago. As human beings we invariably judge other people on appearances. We even judge ourselves that way too. But that is not how God views us. When God looks at people he looks at our heart, not our clothes, our car, or our career. He is far more concerned with the state of our soul than the state of our bank balance.
And what is it that the Lord looks for? What qualities of the heart please God? What beliefs and attitudes does the Lord want to see in his people? David can help us here. You will know that David wrote many of the most famous Psalms in the Bible. And these Psalms provide a window into David’s heart. A window into some of the qualities that the Lord admired in him.
• Firstly, David’s faith is clear to see. In Psalm 23 David says “the Lord’s my shepherd”. Unlike so many people today, David recognised his utter dependence on God for everything good in his life. And David acknowledged God as the only person who could give him sure guidance in life, real comfort in tough times, and certain hope for the future. In faith, David could write that the Lord “guides me in paths of righteousness…your rod and your staff comfort me…and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Ps 23:3-6).
• Secondly, David’s humility was also attractive in the sight of God. Apart from Psalm 23, one of the most famous Psalms David wrote is Psalm 51. A psalm in which David freely & fully confesses his sins. David’s plea is that God will pardon him so he can wholeheartedly serve the Lord going forward. Psalm 51 shows us that David’s heart’s desire was to “teach transgressors God’s ways”, to “sing of his righteousness” & “declare God’s praise”.
The psalms show us that David’s heart was full of faith. And his heart was humble, not proud. May we aspire to the same qualities ourselves, and pray that the Holy Spirit will produce them within us today.