The reign of Saul began with such hope for Israel. The king of Israel was supposed to lead the people in righteousness and turn the hearts of the people away from wickedness. However, Saul, the king of Israel, has been refusing to do the will of the Lord even though he thinks he is obeying. Saul did not wait for Samuel for the sacrifices to be offered which is what the Lord commanded. Samuel declared that the kingdom would not continue through Saul’s descendants because of his disobedience. Saul is given a second chance because God is a God of forgiveness and second chances. Saul is told to utterly destroy the Amalekites for their wickedness against Israel. However, rather than destroying everything as the Lord commanded, Saul captures the king and keeps the best of the flocks and animals of the Amalekites. For this disobedience God declares that he has rejected Saul from being king and took the kingdom away from Saul at that very moment (15:28). The scene ends with Samuel grieving over Saul and the Lord regretting that he made Saul king over Israel (15:35). The whole thing seems like a catastrophic failure. So we are left with a tension in the account. This is a time of great wickedness in Israel and in the world. How is God going to rescue his people and turn the people back to him? What is God going to do now that his king has completely failed him?
God Provides A King (16:1-3)
Chapter 16 opens with the Lord telling Samuel to stop grieving over Saul. “How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him form being king over Israel?” It is easy to understand why Samuel is grieving over Saul. First, Samuel has invested much of his time in teaching Saul and preparing him to be the king of Israel that the people need and that the Lord wants. However, Saul has failed in his purpose. Second, Saul was supposed to be the one who solve Israel’s spiritual problems. Remember that the book of Judges ends with the words that there was no king in Israel and everyone was doing what was right in their own eyes. A king over Israel was to change this problem of everyone doing what is right in their own eyes. Further, the book of 1 Samuel has shown the expectation of a king who will reverse the fortunes of Israel and bring salvation to them (cf. 1 Samuel 2:10; 2:35; 9:17). But the hope for Israel is not over. God declares that he has provided for himself a king among Jesse’s sons (16:1). This is the first messianic picture. God will provide for himself a king that he desires who will lead his people.
The Lord is telling Samuel to go and select the new king. There is a problem with this which Samuel notes in verse 2. If Samuel goes and chooses the new king and Saul hears about this, Saul is going to kill him. Samuel understands the character of Saul. Even though we have not seen this in Saul yet, Samuel knows that this will be the outcome. Saul is not humble any longer. Saul is concerned about maintaining his kingship and about maintaining his honor before the people. The Lord tells Samuel to take a heifer with him and, if asked, he can say that he is going to sacrifice to the Lord (16:2). Go to the house of Jesse and invite him to sacrifice to the Lord. Then God will show Samuel whom to anoint as the Lord’s king.
God’s Choice For King (16:4-13)
Samuel goes to Bethlehem because that is where Jesse lives. This is our second messianic picture. God’s king will come from Bethlehem. God will provide his own king and his king will come from Bethlehem. Samuel comes to Bethlehem and enters Jesse’s house. Samuel consecrates Jesse and his sons and invites them to sacrifice. Notice verse 6. Samuel looked at Eliab, one of Jesse’s sons, and thinks that he must be the Lord’s anointed. Eliab hits all the checkmarks of what we think a king for the Lord would look like. But look at what God tells Samuel in verse 7.
“Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” The Lord does not look at what humans look at. Humans look at the outward appearance but God does not. God looks upon the heart. This is the third messianic picture in this text. God is not going to select someone as his anointed who looks the part. Be mindful that this is exactly what Isaiah prophesied about the coming Messiah.
He didn’t have an impressive form or majesty that we should look at him, no appearance that we should desire him. (Isaiah 53:2 CSB)
A successful commercial campaign in the 1990s featured a popular tennis player, Andre Agassi, who declared, “Image is everything.” But image is not everything with God. I believe we must consider that this is what God is trying to prevent with his qualifications for elders and deacons. Do not look if they are successful at business. Do not look at if he is a wealthy man or a popular man. Look for things that show the fruit of his heart. Those qualifications show the fruit of the person’s heart. Churches can suffer from bad leaders in elderships and bad servants as deacons because we become too enamored with externals and image rather than looking at what God wants us to look at. The Lord tells Samuel to ignore the appearance because that is not the way God is going to make his selection.
So Samuel begins to have each of Jesse’s sons pass before him. Eliab is not selected. Abinadab is not selected. Shammah is not selected. Seven sons pass before Samuel and the Lord does not choose any of them. Samuel asks if these are all the sons. Jesse says that he has the youngest but he is tending the sheep. I want us to think about this picture. Jesse gathers all his sons to see who Samuel selects as the next king and he does not even bother bringing David to this event. David is left tending the sheep while the sacrifice to the Lord is made, the consecration is made, and the selecting of the next king is performed. Jesse does not see his youngest as possibly being the next king. This is the fourth messianic picture. God is going to choose a nobody to be the next king. God is going to choose a king that even his own family will reject. Jesse sends for David and, as he comes, the Lord tells Samuel to arise and anoint him for this is the one he is choosing. Samuel arises and anoints him in the presence of his brothers. The Spirit of the Lord rushes upon David and remains with him from that day forward.
God Torments Saul (16:14-23)
Meanwhile, now that the Spirit of the Lord has come upon David as the anointed, the Spirit of the Lord has left Saul. Instead, Saul now has a harmful spirit from the Lord afflicting him. Saul’s servants even tell Saul that an harmful spirit from God is tormenting him. Now we can struggle with this because we are all about science. We have to explain everything by science. So we try to look for a natural explanation for what is happening. But I think we can see what the text is saying. Saul has turned from the Lord and God is going to make his life difficult and miserable to make a point to him. God is plaguing him for his rebellion. We see God do this in Judges 9:23 against Abimelech for his wickedness and rebellion. Perhaps God is provoking repentance from Saul for his sins. God can wreck your life to cause you to look for repentance. Whatever the case, we see God actively working against Saul for his rebellious choices.
The servants suggest find someone who can play music for Saul to help him feel better. One of the young men says that he has seen a son of Jesse who is skillful in playing. He is a man of valor, a warrior, prudent in speech, a man with a good presence, and the Lord is with him. So they send for David who is still with the sheep. No promotion for David after being selected as the Lord’s king. He is still tending the sheep. David comes and brings relief to Saul, driving out the evil spirit as he would play music for him. This is the fifth messianic picture in the text. David is pictured as the one who brings relief because he has the Spirit of the Lord. He is able to make the harmful spirit leave. We have seen five pictures of the person God chooses to be his anointed. God will provide a king for himself who will come from Bethlehem that will not have the appearance of a king and will be rejected by his own family. Yet he will drive out evil spirits and bring relief to those who are in his presence.
The powerful message of chapter 16 is understanding that the Lord looks at the heart. The Lord does not look at outward appearances. The Lord is not interested in your image. The Lord is not looking for how we look before others. It is interesting how we can be so concerned about our appearance before others. Yet this was the downfall of Saul who was so concerned about what others thought about him that he did not care what the Lord thought of him. The Lord was not fooled by the externals that Saul presented. Saul claimed obedience when he did not obey. He claimed repentance when he was not truly repentant. He declared that he desired forgiveness when all he wanted was to be honored before the people. God was not fooled by Saul’s words nor by Saul’s appearance. The Lord looks at the heart.
This is an important characteristic about God. The Lord looks at the heart. God does not judge books by their covers. This is a wonderful, praiseworthy characteristic of God. How tired do we get from being judged by our appearance? We live in a culture that is all about appearances. Image is everything. But we do not have a God who cares about such things. But more importantly, God does not look at spiritual appearances. Remember that when Jesus comes to Israel in the first century there were groups of religious people who were all about spiritual appearances. The Pharisees really had a problem with this to such an extent that Jesus directly addressed this problem.
While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also?“ (Luke 11:37–40 ESV)
You see have the tendency to want to make sure that the part everyone can see looks spiritually good. We can do this in a number of ways. We can do this by having wonderful church and bible class attendance. We can do this by teaching bible classes. We can do this by leading in worship in various ways. We can do this by sounding pious and righteous. There are lots of things we can do so that we look like we are really spiritual and holy. This is called washing the outside of the cup. But the things no else sees we allow to remain unclean. So we continue in our hidden sins because no one can see those. We do not act like a Christian before our family because no one else can see our wicked, selfish behavior. We do not act like a Christian when at work because no other Christian will see this. So we think we can just make the outside clean in front of people who have an opinion of our spirituality. We have encountered these problems. People will tell me that they cannot handle how their husband, wife, parents, children, or friends are so fake when it comes to the Lord. They put on a show but they know what that person is really like. This is where the charge comes that there are hypocrites in the church. But here is God’s answer. God sees to the heart. Your hope in that situation is to know that the person you are concerned about is not fooling God. They can participate in every external act of worship and look like a Christian but God knows the truth.
Since God looks at the heart we must realize that our cleaning of our lives must work inside out. Do not focus on what people see. Focus on what God sees. Focus on the sins in your heart that God sees happening that no one else sees. We have to allow the word of God to be the sharp sword piercing into our hearts. Do not worry about other people being false. We must worry about ourselves being false. Clean the inside of the cup. Cleaning the inside will begin the transformation of the outside. But cleaning the outside does not transform the inside. Rather, cleaning the outside deludes the inside into thinking that you are clean when you are not.
But now the message of hope. When we are cleaning the inside of the cup, God sees that. When we are fighting for our souls in our hearts, God sees that. God knows when you love him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. God knows your heart’s desire. This is the functional difference between Saul and David that 1 & 2 Samuel will show us. The difference is not that Saul sins but David does not. We know that they both sin and sin deeply before God. The functional difference is the heart of David desires God while the heart of Saul does not desire God. We are going to fail. We are going to sin. The difference will not be the actions. The difference will be the heart and the Lord looks on the heart. Jesus made this point himself as he proclaimed the message of the kingdom in the Sermon on the Mount.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Matthew 5:8)
Remember that the promise of the new covenant was that the Lord would put his laws into their minds and write them on their hearts (Hebrews 8:10; 10:16). Therefore, we must come to the Lord with a sincere heart (Hebrews 10:22) because that is what the Lord is looking at.