Friday, May 25, 2007

David, Pt. 1: "The Matter of the Heart " (1 Sam 16)

During the wedding rehearsal, the groom approached the pastor with an unusual offer.
“Look, I’ll give you $100 if you’ll change the wedding vows. When you get to me and the part where I’m to promise to ‘love, honor and obey’ and ‘forsaking all others, be faithful to her forever,’ I’d appreciate it if you’d just leave that part out.” He passed the minister a $100 bill and walked away satisfied.

It is now the day of the wedding, and the bride and groom have moved to that part of the ceremony where the vows are exchanged. When it comes time for the groom’s vows, the pastor looks the young man in the eye and says, “Will you promise to prostrate yourself before her, obey her every command and wish, serve her breakfast in bed every morning of your life and swear eternally before God and your lovely wife that you will not ever even look at another woman, as long as you both shall live?”

The groom gulped and looked around, and said in a tiny voice, “Yes.” The groom leaned toward the pastor and hissed, “I thought we had a deal.” The pastor put the $100 bill into his hand and whispered back, “She made me a much better offer.”

The story of David begins with a visit from the aging prophet Samuel, who finally had something to look forward to. Nothing saddened, pained and grieved Samuel so much in his life as the realization that Saul’s reign was doomed, but nothing comforted, inspired and thrilled him as much as the promise of a better king than Saul (1 Sam 15:28). King Saul’s rebellion and arrogance (1 Sam 15:23) had no limits. Samuel “mourned” non-stop (1 Sam 15:31, 16:1) for Saul like a parent losing a child, the same word describing Jacob mourning for Joseph (Gen 37:34) and David for Absalom (2 Sam 13:37, 19:1), until he heard from God the good news of the promise of a new king.

David was Israel’s greatest king, the great grandson of Ruth and the forefather of Jesus, the promised Messiah. Israel’s second king was an extremely popular person, a very dedicated friend and an incredibly brave warrior, but he was fairly ordinary, easily overlooked and practically anonymous when he was a youth.

What did God see in a person like David that others, including his father and Samuel the prophet, did not? Why is it essential not to judge people by their looks? How does a nobody make a difference and rise above a crowded field of talented people?

Make Your Potential Count
1 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." 2 But Samuel said, "How can I go? Saul will hear about it and kill me." The Lord said, "Take a heifer with you and say, 'I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.' 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate." 4 Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, "Do you come in peace?" 5 Samuel replied, "Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me." Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. 6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD.” 7 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.” 8 Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The LORD has not chosen this one either.” 9 Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the LORD chosen this one.” 10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The LORD has not chosen these.” (1 Sam 16:1-13)

It’s been said that parenting is like a “short sentence” - usually in three words:
- Wash your hands
- Brush your teeth
- Take a bath
- Get a haircut
- Change your clothes
- Button your shirt
- Shut the door
- Clean your room
- Make your bed
- Do your homework
- Flush the toilet
- Do your chores
- Stop the noise
- Save your money
- No more TV

David’s father was harsher on him than most fathers are on their kids. In Jesse’s eyes, David was just a kid, a boy, a minor; he did not see the potential that was in his son. In his father’s eyes David was not strong, capable or gifted; neither was he a leader, a warrior or a hero. The gopher role was David to own. David spent the most part of his youth running errands (1 Sam 17:17), delivering messages (1 Sam 17:18) and doing chores.

Man looks at seniority, status and stature, but God sees the potential in a person. According to the next chapter, Eliab, Abinadab and Shammah were the three oldest sons of Jesse - in that order (1 Sam 17:13). Their names were specifically mentioned because they were soldiers in Saul’s army. They were not necessarily the family’s sole breadwinners, but they were definitely not dependents. The three sons of Jesse were grownups or adults in the eyes of Jesse, Samuel and the Israelites. They were the apple of their father’s eye and the cream of the crop in the army, the best that they could be.

When Samuel laid his eyes on Eliab, he thought Eliab was a God-sent. The excitement of seeing the big and brawny Eliab overcame Samuel, who was so sure and eager that he almost blurted out, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the LORD.” (v 6) He even called Eliab “the Lord’s anointed.” Eliab’s stature also scored points with Samuel. He was a tall, muscular and strapping man, a specimen to behold. Eliab had the perfect build, the perfect posture, the perfect image. Poignantly, Samuel compared Eliab with Saul because of their “height.” The Hebrew text uses the same word for Eliab and Saul’s height (1 Sam 9:2).

Unknown to Samuel, Eliab was an angry, a grouchy and a bossy man and brother (1 Sam 17:28). So God gave Samuel a lesson that would discourage him from repeating the same mistake or exhibiting the same exuberance. The clause “Man looks at the outward appearance” in Hebrew is “Man looks to the eyes.” Maybe Eliab had intelligent eyes or maybe Samuel had sharp eyes, but their eyes deceived them. God looks at the heart (v 7) - deep inside or within man. Nothing escapes or fools His eyes. Man admires ability, but God esteems attitude. Man adores beauty and charisma, but God examines behavior and character.

Make Your Progress Count
11 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.” 12 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.” 13 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. (1 Sam 16:11-13)

When I gave my life for full-time service, I wanted to improve my Chinese language to better serve the Chinese community. Since I had no prior learning in the language, I decided to study Chinese, beginning with Cantonese. My Chinese was so poor then that I had even forgotten how to write my last name. I begin to read the Chinese Bible in my devotions, circle any unfamiliar word and ask others for its meaning.

I often kid that I learned my Mandarin in America, of all places. In 1987, the year I started studies at Dallas Seminary, I had to speak Mandarin in a hurry since most churches in the South then used Mandarin. 18 years after my first Chinese class in 1980, I was invited to teach preaching in Mandarin at the seminary level. I hesitated because of my poor Mandarin. Other pastors encourage me to seize the rare opportunity, which afforded me another ministry breakthrough. As my wife often says, “斬埋有材燒.” (Keep chopping and there’ll be wood to burn).

After Windows XP came out, I learned how to use the embedded Hanyu Pinyin word processing function and began translating my own sermons to Chinese in 2006, leaving the heavy editing to others. All in all, a quarter of a century’s work to this point, not bad for something I thought I could only do upon my retirement 20 years later!

People improve with training, practice and encouragement.

David did not even make his father’s list of possible candidates. He was nameless in his father’s eyes. Jesse called his oldest sons by name but brushed David off as “the youngest.” His father did not even think of presenting David, give him an opportunity to audition for Samuel or see any leadership quality in his youngest son. The older brother Eliab would restrict David’s talking, activities and outings if he could (1 Sam 17:8). When Jesse was asked about the rest of his sons, Jesse stopped short of sending for David. Jesse was ambivalent, pessimistic and resistant. Samuel had to order for David’s presence and imposed a no-sitting and no-leaving policy until he arrived (v 11).

On the outside, David did not look much like a fighter. He did not threaten with his looks. He was a redhead. The word “ruddy” (v 12) means red. The only other person in the Bible describes as such in Hebrew was Esau, who was red and hairy and unpopular (Gen 25:25). Young David was too good-looking for his own good. The word “fine,” or “beautiful” in KJV (v 12) and in Hebrew, posed a headache for David. Except for David and his son Absalom (2 Sam 14:25), this word is used primarily for Israel’s most beautiful women, including Sarai (Gen 12:11), Rachel (Gen 29:17), Abigail (1 Sam 25:3), Tamar (2 Sam 13:1), Abishag (1 Kings 1:3) and, of course, Esther (Est 2:7). David was beautiful to a fault – he was the classic glamour boy! He had the skin, face and looks women would die for.

Nobody except God knew the progress of David. God did not choose David for his looks, but for his heart. What was inside and not what was outside David counted. Inside the shepherd boy was Israel’s greatest king waiting to get out and grow up. He could be groomed, nurtured and tutored to greatness. What mattered was not his paper qualification, but his godly qualities. The Spirit of God transformed, empowered and outfitted him for the work God had for him. God gave him gifts, skills and wisdom he never thought he had for His glory. David’s progress was on track. His transformation was not a moment of inspiration, a spark of intelligence, a flash of potential or an instance of change. From that day on (v 13), the Spirit of God worked in David, worked on and work through him. Self-improvement is a multimillion dollar business, but the benefit of self-improvement is not even close to the power of Spirit-improvement. Not only is Spirit-improvement free, it is lasting and powerful.

Make Your Presence Count
18 One of the servants answered, “I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the harp. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the LORD is with him.” 19 Then Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me your son David, who is with the sheep.” 20 So Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them with his son David to Saul. 21 David came to Saul and entered his service. Saul liked him very much, and David became one of his armor-bearers. 22 Then Saul sent word to Jesse, saying, “Allow David to remain in my service, for I am pleased with him.” 23 Whenever the spirit from God came upon Saul, David would take his harp and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him. (1 Sam 16:18-23)

Shortly after the Los Angeles Angels had won the World Series in the 2001-2002 season, a local newspaper arranged for Angels coach Mike Scioscia to meet with John Wooden so that the two celebrated Southland coaches could freely ask each other questions. Wooden was the greatest coach in college basketball history, leading UCLA to a record 10 national titles and a record 88-game winning streak. Of course, the beneficiary was Scioscia, who took the opportunity to ask Wooden, “Who was the toughest player you ever had to motivate?” The coach answered, “Probably Sidney Wicks.”

According to Wooden, Sidney Wicks was more gifted than Lewis Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabaar) and Bill Walton, the two towering NBA greats. Wicks, billed as the player of the year in college basketball and winner of the NBA rookie of the year, could score at will against any opponent, but Wooden decided to bench the college player instead.

Wooden explained, “He was the best player forward in the country his senior year, but in his first year with me he sat on the bench.” Scioscia asked, “What did you do to get through to him?” Wooden answered, “I used the bench. It was the best ally I had.” (Orange County Register 12/5/02 “Team in Style”)

We all need to show up to move forward. The end of the chapter compares the progress David made with the regress in Saul’s life. Not only Saul had stopped growing and started slipping, he was spiraling out of control. Without the Spirit of God, Saul was like a raving lunatic.

David’s rise illustrates that when the Lord’s presence is with a person (v 18), nothing can be against him or her. David was helped by an unwitting conspiracy. Not only did Samuel anoint him, Saul’s servants and a youth, in particular, highly recommended him. The word attendant (vv 15, 17) is different from the word servant (v 18). The word attendant is the regular Hebrew word for servant, but the word servant in verse 18 is the word for youth, the word describing David (1 Sam 17:33, 42, 55, 58) when he fought Goliath.

David was a kid in his parent’s eye, but a peer and an adult in the eyes of the world. He was nameless in the young servant’s eyes, but with a difference. The young servant knew David was a warrior, but not according to his father, brother, or the rest of the family. The phrase “speaks well” (v 18) is the word for “discerning” used for Joseph (Gen 41:39) and Solomon (1 Kings 3:12). David had eloquence, wisdom and understanding beyond his years.

The accomplished musician in David had the skill of bringing relief (v 23) to Saul, the same feeling Job could only pine for (Job 32:20). David never had a recital, a lesson or an audience, but he never had a more impressive debut. His priorities were simple: to be who God made him to be, to go where God sent him to go and to use what God gave him to use. He wasn’t dying or fishing for greatness or asking for favors. He did not look for opportunity; opportunity found him. He was grounded in thinking, not grandiose in thinking.

Conclusion: The Chinese say that hard work and training pays off: “十年窗下無人問,一舉成名天下知 (10 years under a window no one inquired; once the name is hoisted everyone knows.” Do you have the mental resource, emotional and spiritual resource to serve God? Have you given completely of yourself to God, made strides to improve yourself in ministry, remained humble even as He uses you?


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