The Heart of A Champion
I Samuel 16:1-13We are beginning a brand-new series of sermons called Journey to the Throne: Meeting God in the Turning Points of Life. Over the next few weeks we will follow the early years of David as he rises from obscurity to become the king of Israel. As he moves from one crisis to another, we will trace the hand of God behind the scenes, preparing a shepherd boy to become a king. If you want a theme passage for the entire series, you can find it in Psalm 78:70-72, “He chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens; from tending the sheep he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance. And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.”
It may interest you to know that David is mentioned in the Bible more than any other person. His name occurs three times more often than either Abraham or Moses. He is mentioned more even than the Lord Jesus Christ. Over 1100 times his name is mentioned in the Bible, including 58 times in the New Testament. Four books (and 61 chapters) of the Old Testament tell his life story. He wrote at least 73 psalms. In the 30 centuries since his death, he has been painted, sculpted, idealized and immortalized. To this day parents name their children after him.
His resume was very full: Jesse’s youngest son. Teenaged shepherd. Saul’s court musician. The giant-slayer. A fugitive on the run. Jonathan’s closest friend. A hero to thousands. A man of blood. Israel’s greatest king. A poet of exceptional skill. A gifted architect. Handsome. Powerful. Charismatic. Loved by multitudes. Adulterer. Murderer. Father to a son who turned against him. He rose from obscurity to lead his nation. Through his own foolish choices, he destroyed his family and ended his reign amid trouble and intrigue. A glorious triumph and a very human tragedy. Called and gifted, human to the core. A paradox. Strong in battle, weak at home. He danced before the Lord, he had trouble with his kids. He wept, laughed, cried, and poured out his heart in worship before the Lord. He is not like Michelangelo’s polished marble statue in Florence, Italy. He is one of us, entirely human, made of flesh and blood.
What did God think of this man? God said of him—and of no one else—here is a man after my own heart.
And yet that is only one side of the story. The Bible never flatters its heroes. It tells the raw truth about each one. If a man is a liar, it says so. If he is a crook, it says so. The Bible always tells the truth about men so that, against the backdrop of human frailty and failure, we can magnify the grace of God at work upon the platform of human weakness. David’s life stretches out before us like some massive canvas—a mural of a life so vast you can hardly take it in. Over it all is the title: David, King of Israel. We start the journey today.
Our goal in this series is simple. We want to know how an obscure young shepherd became king over Israel. By what path did God lead him from the pasture to the throne?
Along the way we’re going to survey 13 episodes in his life, some of them very strange indeed. In each one of them, God was teaching his man a lesson. Until David learned the lessons God was trying to teach him, he wasn’t ready to be king. Through victories and defeats, good times and bad, sorrow and joy, God was at work building godly principles into David’s life. In the School of Hard Knocks, David was enrolled in Kingship 101.
If you want a theme, call it: The Making of a Man of God. In learning about David we are really learning about ourselves, for in learning how God worked with him, we are really learning how God works with us. And in learning about his struggles, we are really learning about ours.
As the story begins David is tending sheep on the rocky hills near Bethlehem. The point of our passage is to teach us that David was entirely God’s choice. He was the least likely person (from a human point of view) to become king. From this we discover the principle of Sovereign Grace. God chooses those whom the world overlooks to do his will.
I. God and Samuel
“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’” (I Samuel 16:1).
To understand these verses we need a bit of biblical background. Saul had been the people’s choice. If Israel had been a car lot, Saul was the Rolls Royce. They wanted a king so they could be like the other nations. They had pestered Samuel until he finally said, “Lord, these people really want a king,” and the Lord said, “Fine, I’ll give them a king.”
No man ever had a better start. He was an impressive young man—tall, handsome, a born leader. For a while, it was all wine and roses until something happened inside Saul. There was an impulsive streak that made him act without thinking. Not minor things, big things—like deliberate disregard for the word of the Lord. The day came when God said, “I’m going to tear your kingdom from you and give it to a man after my own heart.”
No wonder Samuel weeps for Saul. Weeps for himself. Weeps for Israel. Who would take his place? There’s no one on the horizon that could do the job. And God said, “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.” Literally, “I have seen one of his sons.”
There is a time to mourn and then there is a time to get up and move forward. Eventually we have to dry our tears because life moves on. Samuel did well to mourn for Saul but the time had come to anoint the next king.
When Samuel goes to Bethlehem, he doesn’t know how God’s choice will be revealed. “Just go to Bethlehem to the house of Jesse and the rest will be made clear to you.” Here is a great key to discovering God’s will. If you want to know God’s will for tomorrow, get up, wash your face, brush your teeth, have a good breakfast, and then go out the door and do God’s will today. And in the doing of God’s will today, you will discover God’s will for tomorrow.
While Saul was flaming out, God has already chosen his man. It’s a great thought and one we need to cling to: When a man of God fails, nothing of God fails. If one man will not do God’s will, another will be found. While we tremble, God is at work behind the scenes. After World War II had been won, someone asked Winston Churchill what he was doing during the dark days of the Blitz when the Nazis were raining bombs on London. “I was in the basement,” he replied, “planning the invasion of Europe.” What was God doing while Saul was self-destructing? He was preparing David to be king. No one knew it but God. Samuel didn’t know, Saul certainly didn’t know, Jesse didn’t know, and David himself had no clue.
Are you uncertain and worried about the future? In a state of panic? Fearful over what might happen next? Rest in these two words: God knows. And while you worry, he is up ahead of you arranging the details of your future. Let that thought lift your spirits. Wait on the Lord. Listen for his voice. Rest in him. And take the next step in front of you.
Be encouraged, child of God. We know not what the future holds but we know who holds the future.
II. Samuel and Jesse’s Sons
“When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.’ 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 man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’ Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, ‘The Lord has not chosen this one either.’ Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, ‘Nor has the Lord chosen this one.’ Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, ‘The Lord has not chosen these’” (I Samuel 16:6-10).
In due course Samuel makes his way to the house of Jesse and asks to see his sons. The Bible doesn’t say if he told Jesse what was on his mind but it doesn’t matter because Samuel was well-known throughout Israel. It would be a great honor to have the prophet visit in your home. So Jesse gladly calls his sons.
They line up and the first one is introduced. His name is Eliab. Evidently he is a bit like Saul—tall and handsome. He must have impressed Samuel because when he sees him, he thinks, “All right, Lord, good choice. He even looks like a king.” And the Lord says to Samuel, “What are you talking about? That’s not the one. In fact, I’ve rejected him.” So in comes the next son. His name is Abinadab. This time Samuel doesn’t do anything. And God says, “Nope.” Go to the next one. “Nope.” Next one. “Nope.” Next one. “Nope.” Next one. “Nope.” Next one. “Nope.” Pretty soon Samuel is 0 for 7 in picking the next king of Israel. He is utterly bewildered. He has come to anoint the new king but the new king is nowhere to be found.
Samuel assumed in advance that he knew God’s will but he was dead wrong. He was repeating the same mistake the nation had made earlier. He wanted someone who “looked” like a king. When he saw Eliab, he assumed he must be the man God had in mind.
There is something very human about this whole scene. One by one the brothers anxiously parade in front of the prophet. One by one the answer comes back: “No, not him.” Samuel should have learned from his experience with Saul. We all have the tendency to flirt with Eliab even when we’ve been burned by Saul. We never seem to learn. We make the same dumb mistakes over and over again. We’re impressed by outward success, looks, appearance, money, power, names, titles, connections, clothes, cars, and degrees. But God cares not a whit for any of this.
By the way, we should ask what was wrong with the seven brothers? Nothing, really. The text doesn’t say anything negative about them. Eliab and the others were no doubt fine fellows who could qualify for any job in the world except one: King of Israel. God had already filled that position.
This being the political season in America, I should note that we often choose leaders solely on the basis of how they look to us. It is said that Kennedy beat Nixon in 1960 in part because he appeared more youthful and vigorous on television. This week I read that in most elections, the taller candidate usually wins. Maybe we’re not so different from ancient Israel after all. And yet the man many people consider our greatest president was homely and gawky. Almost no one considered Abraham Lincoln a handsome man and even his friends made fun of his appearance. But there he is—on our coins, our currency, and enshrined on the National Mall.
Even in church we like to pay attention to how people look on the outside. We notice who drives the nice cars and how people dress and where they work and that sort of thing. Occasionally someone will tell me about a certain person they have invited to church. And they will say, “I hope he starts attending here. He could do us a lot of good,” meaning he has money and influence. That’s never said about a homeless person or the unemployed.
III. Samuel and David
“So he asked Jesse, ‘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.’ 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.’ So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power. Samuel then went to Ramah” (I Samuel 16:11-13).
Finally Samuel says, “By the way, you don’t happen to have any other sons, do you?” Just an afterthought, really. A shot in the dark. Jesse says a strange thing. “Yes I do, but he’s the youngest and he’s out tending the sheep.” Meaning, he’s just a kid and he really doesn’t count for much. You wouldn’t want him anyway. It was Jesse’s way of saying, “He doesn’t have the gravitas to be king.”
Every youngest child knows exactly what’s going on here. The firstborn comes along and gets everything he wants. All the privileges start with him. Then it goes, second, third, fourth, right on down to the baby. Good luck, kid, because you’re gonna need it. And be sure and wear your nametag so we won’t forget who you are. If you have a photo album, the first 200 pictures are about the oldest child, then the next 50 are for the second, then maybe 10 for the third child. After that, it’s all group pictures. If you are a fifth child, your first picture comes the day you graduate from college.
While all his brothers are with Samuel, David is out with the sheep. He doesn’t know anything is even going on. His father didn’t even think enough of him to call him in from the field. But Samuel said, “Go get him.” No doubt Jesse shrugged his shoulders and said, “Whatever you say but he’s just a kid and I don’t think he’s what you’re looking for.” In comes David straight from the pasture. He hasn’t had time to wash up or change clothes. Do you know what you smell like after working with sheep all day? It’s not exactly English Leather. It’s more like organic fertilizer.
There stands the future king of Israel. He’s maybe 16 years old. A shepherd. A poet. A dreamer. He doesn’t look like a king. No matter. God has found his man.
God says to Samuel, “Anoint him.” And he does. That didn’t make him king. In fact, I’m not sure that David had any idea what it meant. It’s not clear that Samuel even told Jesse what it was all about. No matter. The anointing was God’s way of saying, “This is my man. When the time comes, he will be king.”
Only one detail is left. The Bible tells us that at that moment the Spirit of God came on David with power. Again, we don’t know all that it means but we do know this much. The anointing was God’s way of saying, “You now have my power.” A day will come in the not-too-distant future when David will walk down into the Valley of Elah to face the giant Goliath. It will not be his wisdom that saves him or his education or his strategy. It will be God himself fighting on David’s side. That’s what the anointing and the coming of the Spirit really means. God has found his man and he is going to make him successful.
Perhaps David was thinking about this whole scene years later when he wrote in Psalm 27:10, “Though my father and my mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.” When God wanted to pick a leader for the nation, he didn’t choose the MVP (Most Valuable Player). He chose the LVP (Least Valuable Player). I imagine that when the boys chose sides to play stickball, David was always picked last.
And yet the truth remains. When God wanted to raise up a king whose name would last 3,000 years, he went out in a pasture and found a shepherd whose heart was open to him. Today in Israel the national flag is called the “Star of David,” and when presidents visit Jerusalem, they stay in the “King David Hotel.” And what about Saul? He has been almost forgotten.
Three Enduring Lessons
There is much to instruct us and much to encourage us in this story.
1) There is a message for those who feel confined, passed over, and trapped in a menial place. Be encouraged by David’s example. When God wants to prepare us for bigger things, he first teaches us to be faithful in small things. Those who are called to be kings will not stay with the sheep forever. The world may be wrong in its estimation but the voice of God still calls men and women today. When God wants a man to be king, he first puts him with the sheep. But he will not stay there forever. Sooner or later, he will be called to the throne. If you find yourself forgotten and overlooked, remember David on the hillside. Be faithful. Do what God has given you to do. Keep your eyes facing forward. Who knows what tomorrow may bring?
2) There is hope for those who are confused about the future. Samuel had no idea which son would be king. But he got up and journeyed to Bethlehem anyway. And David certainly didn’t have a clue about what life would hold for him. He simply came to the house when instructed and stood silent while Samuel anointed him. God’s will is like a sunrise, not a sunburst. It reveals itself to us a little bit at a time. Our job is to take the next step and trust God for the future. I love the words of Woody Allen: “How to make God laugh. Tell him your future plans.” He’s right. And the reason you don’t know right now is because you don’t need to know. If you needed to know, you would know and when you do need to know, you will know. So if you don’t know the future, fear not. In due time, God will make the way plain. He always does. You can count on him.
3) There is encouragement for those who wonder what God is doing. Israel’s future seemed bleak once God rejected Saul. But this passage teaches us that man’s disobedience cannot stop God’s plans. God will have his way in the end. Beware of prejudging God based on what you see. You see this little bit and another detail and this tiny string and maybe a little piece over there and something else over here and you think, “Aha! I’ve got the big picture.” No, you don’t. You barely see the ragged edge of God’s plan. Don’t judge God by what you can see.
Verse 7 reminds us that man looks on the outside but God looks on the heart. Saul looked the part, David had the heart. One was rejected, the other selected. One blew his chance, the other became a leader for the ages. In the end, what others think of you doesn’t matter. What God thinks makes all the difference. When God looks at your heart, what does he see?
Didn’t God Know?
When we study David’s life in its total perspective, considering the bad with the good, we may fairly ask, “But didn’t God know the trouble David was going to get into? How could God call a man like that to be king?
Didn’t God know about all the political maneuvering? Yes.
Didn’t God know about the marriages of convenience? Yes.
Didn’t God know about the affair with Bathsheba? Yes.
Didn’t God know about the murder of Uriah? Yes.
Didn’t God know how Absalom would turn out? Yes.
Didn’t God know David was prone to depression and discouragement? Yes.
Didn’t God know how David’s own family would disintegrate? Yes.
God knew all those things and a lot more besides. That’s what grace is all about. He knew what David would do. And he called him anyway. All those things are trumped by one prior fact: God chose David to be king and he was going to stand by his man!
“David, you murderer.”
“David, you adulterer.”
“David, you bandit.”
“David, you poor excuse for a father.”
“How can you claim to be a man after God’s own heart?”
And the answer comes back: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” That’s God’s grace in action. Aren’t you glad that it was a man like David who wrote Psalm 23? The man who wrote those words had experienced the grace of God.
We study David’s life so that couples whose children rebel, and believers who have squandered one opportunity after another, and Christians who make the same stupid mistakes over and over again, and teenagers who feel forgotten and lonely, and everyone whose life has been less than perfect will know that God can be their shepherd, too.
Generations to come will say they don’t want David’s failures but they do want David’s God. That’s why he chose an unlikely shepherd to be Israel’s greatest king. That’s why his name appears in the Bible more than any other person. That’s why after 3,000 years parents still name their children after him.
He was a man who thoroughly learned the most basic lesson in God’s curriculum—all of life is lived by grace. And that, I think, is the meaning of the phrase “a man after God’s heart.” It can’t mean sinless perfection or anything close to it or else David would never qualify. It can’t mean “above reproach” or “spotless reputation” because those words don’t fit David, either. To be a man after God’s heart means that because you understand that God never gives up on you, you never give up on God.
The bottom line on David is not his sin. The bottom line is God’s grace. David was God’s man. His heart belonged to God and that’s why God used him. King David is exhibit A in the museum of God’s grace.
In the beginning of his story, no one believes in David but God. Not Jesse, not Samuel. Only God. In the end, his family broken, his nation troubled, his closest friends mostly gone, he discovers that God is still there. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” God never gave up on David. That’s grace. David never gave up on God. That’s what it means to be a man after God’s heart.
During his acceptance speech at the Republican Convention last Thursday night, George W. Bush uttered one transcendent sentence that rose far above politics. “I believe in grace because I’ve seen it, and peace because I’ve felt it, and forgiveness because I’ve needed it.” David could have uttered those words. For that matter, so could Al Gore and Bill Clinton and every other politician. In the end they apply to all of us because we all need forgiveness and we all need grace, and when we find that grace and forgiveness, then and only then do we discover the peace that comes from a heart at rest in the Lord. Amen.
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