A Question of Heart - 1 Samuel 8 and 16

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This morning we begin a new series of sermons which I have titled “Living with the Heart of God”.  The title of the series is drawn from Acts 13:22 where David is called a man after God’s own heart.

This phrase, “a man after God’s heart”, has always captivated me.  Why was David considered to be a man after God’s own heart and what can we learn from David so we too could live our lives more with the heart of God?  David had his failures and that fact actually encourages me because it hints that maybe you and I can also be people who are “after God’s own heart”.

Apart from our Lord, David is certainly a central character in the Bible. Abraham and Joseph both have 14 chapters in the Bible devoted to their lives.  Jacob has 11.  Elijah has 10.  But David?  There are well over 50 chapters devoted to the life of David in 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles.  In addition there are 28 Psalms that are attributed to David.  I can only conclude that God made David such a significant figure in the Bible because he wanted us to learn significantly from his life.

Before we can understand David’s story we have to set the stage.  For most of Israel’s history Israel had no king over them.  They were a true theocracy; they were governed by God.  They had God’s Law and when they needed defense, rebuke, or instruction, God raised up a leader (known as a Judge) who would lead the nation through a difficult time.  Gideon, Samson, and Samuel were all Judges.  They had authority but it was truly a God-derived authority.

As Samuel neared the end of his life and time of service he started to work his sons into the family business of serving as the spiritual guide of Israel.  Unfortunately, the sons of Samuel were no prize. In 1 Samuel 8 we read, “his sons did not walk in his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.” (v. 3)

The civic leaders met with Samuel and they were honest: “Your boys do not cut it” and they made their request to have a King of their own.  The people said they wanted a King like the other nations had.  They wanted someone who was recognized as the human authority in Israel. They wanted to mesh with the status quo.

Samuel was stunned.  Why would anyone want a human King when God was willing to guide Israel?  Samuel tried to warn the people that with a King the people would also get taxes, a military draft, corruption, and government bureaucracy.  The people didn’t listen.  They wanted a King so they didn’t hear a thing. God told Samuel to give them the King they asked for. (Be careful what you ask for . . . you may get it.)

God selected a man by the name of Saul to be the King.  Samuel called the nation together for an “Inauguration Ceremony”.  It was quite an elaborate ceremony. One by one representatives of the twelve tribes came forward and somehow (perhaps by casting lots…think drawing straws) the tribe of Benjamin was chosen. Each family in the tribe of Benjamin came forward until Matri’s clan was chosen.  From that clan Saul of Kish was chosen. The whole point of the ceremony was to convey the fact that this was the Lord’s chosen representative. We are told that Saul, who seemed a little shy and perhaps reluctant, was tall dark and handsome and everyone thought he was a good choice.

Saul led adequately for awhile but he did two things that caused God to withdraw his blessing.  First, he was told to wait seven days before going into a battle until Samuel came and made an offering on behalf of the people.  When Saul thought Samuel wasn’t going to show up he offered the sacrifice himself (taking upon himself the role of a priest and defiling the holiness of the sacrifice).

The second transgression happened during a war with the Amalekites.  God instructed Saul to act as his agent in executing judgment on the nation.  The instructions were clear: destroy everything and everyone! This is not the time to debate the ethics of war.  The point is that the instruction was clear.  Saul did not destroy the King or the “good stuff” they gained as bounty.  When Samuel arrived on the scene he was furious.  Saul’s excuse was, “We were saving this for a special offering to give to the Lord.”  Samuel responded with these classic words,

“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.” (1 Samuel 15:22-23)

That was the end of God’s blessing on Saul.  God told Samuel that he was going to choose someone “after his own heart” as a new King.  This raises a question, doesn’t it?  Didn’t God also pick Saul?  Did God think Saul was a man after His own heart too? I think God knew all along the kind of King Saul would become.  However, He was giving the people what they wanted: someone who looked good.  Now God was going to find a man of His own choosing, a man of character and spiritual integrity to show by contrast the kind of King the Lord would honor.

In chapter 16 Samuel was instructed by God to go to Bethlehem and anoint one of the eight sons of Jesse to be the King-elect.  Samuel came under the pretense of having a special religious offering.  He could not announce that he was going to anoint a new King because the current King (who was a little on the paranoid side) wasn’t about to simply stand by as this happened.

God is Concerned About Our Heart

Look at the contrasts in the people.  First, Samuel promotes his sons as leaders in Israel because they are his sons.  He seems to believe the key to serving the Lord is your connections or genetics.  His sons did not share dad’s character or calling.

Next Saul seems to have been chosen to be the first King because of his appearance.  The people wanted someone to be kingly.  Saul seemed to fit the bill. He comes across humble at first and you kind of like him at the beginning.  He rallied the people and seemed to fit the leadership role.  Before long Saul started to make compromises and ignored the way of God.  He became a man who was prone to depression, excuses and had a quick temper.

Next there are David’s brothers. When Samuel came to Bethlehem he knew he was to anoint one of the sons of Jesse.  There were eight boys. Eliab was the oldest and when he came forward Samuel thought he was the Lord’s choice.  We get the impression Samuel was impressed by Eliab’s appearance because God told Samuel not to look at his height, his build, or his attractiveness (all the things the people are drawn to).

God informed Samuel that where man looks at the outward appearance, God looks at the heart.”

Note the contrast with David.  As the youngest son he was not even summoned to the dinner by his dad even though Samuel told him to bring all his sons.  Was David ignored because of his youth?  Was he the oddball of the family?  Maybe it was just that Jesse believed someone had to stay with the sheep”. We don’t know.  Samuel summoned David and when he saw David God confirmed that this was His choice.

We are told David was “ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features.” (1 Sam 16:12) . Many think David not only looked healthy from being outdoors . . . but his ruddy appearance meant he was a red-head . . . maybe he even had freckles!  He was a handsome man, but that was not why God chose him.  Attractiveness and personality do not mean a person can’t have God’s heart . . . the two are unrelated.

Many would say David was too young.  Today he would be dismissed as a common laborer.  Picking him to be King would be like going to one of the steel mills and taking someone off the line and making them President of the country!  We would say such a person was not qualified to be the President.  God would say . . . “They may need some training first, but they are very qualified because I see their heart”.

This principle goes against everything our society seems to affirm.  We exalt those with Intelligence, Charisma, Giftedness, Popularity, and Power.  Look at the way political campaigns are run.  Everything is scripted to make a great impression.  Candidates know that people tend to vote on the basis of appearances and sound bites.  Little is done to discern the heart and character of a candidate.

Back in the 1960 election Richard Nixon and John Kennedy changed the way candidates campaign through their televised debates.  Nixon’s dour expression, five-o’clock shadow and sweat (some say Nixon wasn’t feeling well) versus Kennedy’s warm smile and engaging television persona led most people who watched the debate to conclude Kennedy had won the debate. Most who only listened, believe Nixon won the debate.  Presidential campaigning has focused on image ever since that time.

God’s word to Samuel was apropos. Man looks at the outward appearance but God focuses on the heart. God looks

Not at     your resume, but your character

Not at     what you have done, but why you do it

Not at     your accomplishments, but your potential

Not at     your spirituality, but at our love and devotion to Him

Not     who you know, but how you care

Not at     your public persona, but at who you are in private

If we want to be people with God’s heart we need to start putting our focus on the heart rather than a person’s appearance. What would happen if we became people as focused on developing a solid character (or heart) as they are on losing weight, looking good, and being successful in the eyes of the world?

The Person “After God’s Heart” Waits on God’s Timing

We will hit this subject more extensively as we move forward in our study but let’s touch on the issue now.  One of the reasons Saul lost the kingship was because he did not wait for Samuel.  Saul panicked and offered a sacrifice he wasn’t supposed to offer.

Contrast this with David.  David was anointed King and instead of rushing into the job he waited on God’s timing. After his meeting with Samuel, David went back to caring for the sheep! Many years passed before David was inaugurated as King.  David waited on God’s timing.

There are some people who can tell a joke and some who can’t.  Usually the difference is timing.  Timing is everything in humor.  In the same way, the difference between a person with God’s heart and one without His heart is likewise a question of timing.  The person with God’s heart trusts God completely.  They know that God’s timing is perfect.  They are willing to wait until God opens a door or provides and opportunity.  They are concerned about fulfilling His agenda rather than their own.

Life Lessons

Let’s draw some lessons from this first episode in David’s life. First, we must always remember that the goal is not to “be like David”.  If our goal is simply to make ourselves better, we will become very frustrated and discouraged.  The thought of God examining our heart makes me very uncomfortable.  We know our mixed motives.  We are painfully aware of those things we keep hidden from others. We can and will learn many things from David but even David looked forward to One who would come.  The first thing that made David a man after God’s own heart was his total dependency upon the grace and mercy of God.

The first step to being a person with God’s heart is to put our trust and confidence in the One who provides forgiveness and new life.  We need a “heart transplant” and only Jesus can perform that surgery.  If you want to be a person after God’s heart, you need to first become one of His followers.

Second, we must look beyond the surface in people.  This is hard….we are naturally attracted to the people who look good and have outgoing personalities.  James Dobson wrote a book a number of years ago titled, “Hide and Seek”.  The book points out the natural tendency to give extra attention to those children who are deemed attractive and intelligent.  Studies were done that showed that teachers and even parents gave different kinds of attention to children based on these surface issues.  It’s natural but it is also short-sighted.

David’s story reminds us that the true beauty of a person is on the inside, not the outside.  The challenge to us is to see deeper and look harder.  We must confront our own prejudice and try to see people through the eyes of Jesus.  We should be looking for qualities such as Paul listed in Galatians 5: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.” We should look for those who are sensitive, caring, creative and who live in such a way that we are drawn to love Christ more.

Third, we must strive to be deeper people ourselves.  People know if they want to maintain healthy bodies they need to guard what they put into their bodies.  They need to eat well, exercise, and make good choices.  In order to do this, you have to consciously work at it.  Naturally, we will simply eat what tastes good and is easy.  We will eat a bunch of junk food.

Solomon (David’s son) wrote,

“Above all else, guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.” [Pr 4:23].  We must be careful what we watch, listen to, and give our attention to.  In Philippians 4 Paul told us “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” It must be a deliberate choice; we must make a conscious effort to fill our mind with what is godly.

First, we need to focus our thoughts on the Lord. David developed a heart after God by thinking God’s thoughts, by pondering the nature of God . . . and by letting God’s greatness captivate him. We are always thinking about how we look, what we want, how we feel. There is a place for this.  However, the real key to spiritual life is to learn how to focus on Him.  Listen to Him, learn from Him, and marvel at His greatness.  As you read through the Psalms you will see that this is what David often did.  He reflected on the greatness of God.

Second, we need to learn to try to see everything in through God’s eyes.  We should look at our desires, the economy, politics, controversial issues and even our relationships, and try to see them from God’s perspective. We need to learn to ask, “How does God view this?” and “What does the Bible say about these things?” Our challenge is to learn to let God inform our thinking rather than tailoring God to our thinking. Our challenge is to see things from a heavenly perspective rather than an earthly perspective.

Finally we must not draw conclusions about ourselves based on surface issues. You may be one of those people who feel like you have nothing to offer.  No one seems to notice you.  You may be too young, too old, too plain, or you just don’t seem to be good at the things the world applauds. You may not fit in with those around you. You may be tempted to conclude that you have nothing to offer.  David’s story reminds us that God does not look at us the same way others do!  He knows your heart.

If you remain faithful to Him; if you continue to cultivate a godly heart; God will use you for His glory.  He will put you in a position where you can make a difference.  It may not be something in the public eye.  He may not call you to be in a position of leadership (but then again, He might) but God will use you.  You may never be flashy.  You may never hear the cheer of the crowd, but God will use you to make a real difference.  Your character and your heart will impact the people around you . . . not just for a moment but for a lifetime.  The world cheers the celebrities; but the person of character, the one who often serves Him in the shadows . . . those are the people the Lord applauds.

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