Looking for a leader…
David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg, Nigel Farage, Natalie Bennett, Nicola Sturgeon and Leanne Wood. Seven people who will be vying for our votes in three month’s time. Seven people who want to wield power in Parliament. Seven leaders from seven different parties who (it now seems) will all share a platform in May for the General Election TV debates. The nation is looking for a leader and (like it or not!) these seven are the leading candidates.
In our Bible passage today from 1 Samuel 16, the nation of Israel is also looking for a leader. The year is approximately 1050 BC, and God’s prophet Samuel has the task 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. Worst of all, Saul succumbed to pride, rebelled against God and disobeyed to his commands.
Consequently, as we are told in verse 1 of our passage today, Saul was “rejected” by the Lord. Saul temporarily remained in office, but a new king was needed. The search was on for a replacement ruler. Israel required a new royal - chosen by God.
Samuel’s search for a king
As we join our passage today, we are told that God has found his man. Look with me at what verse 1 says: “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 sets off on his search for a king. And as we follow Samuel’s search today, I hope we will learn two things:
- Firstly, we will discover the characteristics of God’s chosen king. We will look at the attributes of David, the king that God chose for his people three thousand years ago. And we will see how Jesus, God’s chosen king for us today, possesses and surpasses those same characteristics.
- Secondly, we’ll discover what God looks for in his servants. We’ll be seeing what qualities the Lord wants to see in every person’s heart - including in yours and mine. So let’s get started!
Having heard God’s command, Samuel sets off for Bethlehem, armed with a horn of oil and a heifer. The heifer he takes to offer as a sacrifice, as his albi in case Saul gets wind of what Samuel is up to. But the horn of oil Samuel takes is to anoint a 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. And a Christ was about to become Israel’s new king.
So in verse 4 today Samuel travels to Bethlehem to anoint a son of Jesse as king. But which one? Which of Jesse’s sons has God chosen? Like our TV election debates, Samuel faces a line-up of seven candidates. Seven sons of Jesse who look to him be the leading contenders to be king. Not Dave, Ed, Nick and Nigel - but Eliab, Abinadab and Shammah, plus four other offspring of Jesse. In verse 6 we are told what Samuel thought: “surely the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD”. But despite every expectation, none of them fits the bill. Starting with impressive Eliab, Samuel is repeatedly told that the Lord has rejected each son. 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
I don’t know when you last wrote a CV. When did you last write a curriculum vitae for a job or a place at college perhaps? It’s always a challenge to decide what to put in it. How much information do you really want your prospective employer to know about your hobbies, interests and private life? Does your potential boss really need to know about your childhood spelling test results or your cycling proficiency badge? Probably not! We need to show some discernment, and only include information that is relevant to the role you want. As we look at 1 Samuel 16 today, we can see the key facts that qualified David to be God’s chosen king. We see the CV of a Christ:
- The first thing to note is that, 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 of royal blood living in a capital city would have been preferable to a shepherd boy from Bethlehem?
- Even amongst his brothers David was an unlikely choice. Verse 12 tells us that he had “a fine appearance and handsome features”, but so did his brother Eliab. And Eliab was both taller and older than David.
- 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. In contrast to king Saul, David was a man God could do business with. A humble man who loved the Lord. A man who was suitable to shepherd God’s people, not just sheep!
God ratified his decision by telling Samuel that David was “the one”. And as Samuel poured oil on David, God poured his Holy Spirit upon David too. The Holy Spirit who would empower David for all that lay ahead.
‘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 fills all the credentials of a Christ. Jesus is more than just a biological descendant of David, he is also God’s full and final king. A risen king who reigns today and deserves our allegiance.
- 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.
- Like David, Jesus also saw himself as a shepherd. Jesus famously called himself the Good Shepherd, the shepherd who had come to seek and save the lost. The shepherd who would lay down his life for his sheep, when he died on the Cross for our salvation.
- And like David, Jesus had a heart for God, for God’s people and God’s word. Jesus’ only desire was to do God’s will, the will of his Father - even when it took him to the Cross.
Given these 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. Because 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”. This is the son – my Son – whom I have chosen. David was the son of Jesse, who would be king for a time. But Jesus is the Son of God, who is king for eternity.
The heart of the matter! 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. We are easily impressed by people with the nicest appearance, the most money, the fastest cars, the most prestigious jobs, the biggest houses and the best qualifications. And we often judge ourselves by the same standards. Our self-esteem is so often tied to how we look or what we have. But that is not how God views us. When God looks at us 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 may know that David wrote many of the most famous Psalms in the Bible. Psalms like “The Lord’s My Shepherd” and many more. 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 and fully confesses his sins. In that psalm David humbly repents before God and asks for forgiveness and the joy of salvation. David’s plea is that God will pardon him so he can wholeheartedly serve the Lord with his life and his lips. Psalm 51 shows us that David’s heart’s desire was to “teach transgressors God’s ways”, to “sing of his righteousness” and to “declare God’s praise”.
The psalms show us that David’s heart was full of faith. And his heart was humble, not proud. The Lord Jesus is looking for the same things in us today. He calls us all to repent and believe. To put our whole trust in him, God’s Son, for forgiveness, for guidance and for hope.
If you are a non-Christian here this morning, then humble repentance and faith in Jesus are the way you can receive God’s forgiveness and friendship today. And if we are already Christians, then humility, repentance and faith are the way to go on pleasing God. They are the attitudes that the Lord is looking for if we are to be fruitful and effective in his service. Best of all, they are the qualities that the Holy Spirit will grow in our hearts if we ask him. So let’s do that now as we close:
Heavenly Father, thank you for the example of David, a man after your own heart. Like David, help us by your Spirit to have humble hearts - hearts full of repentance and faith. And we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.