Near the Throne
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Bible Passage: 1 Samuel 16
Last week, we studied 1 Samuel 15. As we come to the next chapter, some time has passed. We don’t know exactly how long.
Saul has been rejected as king, but it will be about 13 years before God actually takes the throne away from Saul. Now we begin reading in verse 1 of chapter 16.
1 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.”
Let’s pause and appreciate that Samuel is grieving. Samuel never wanted Saul to fail. Remember that Saul had been given everything he needed to succeed as a good king.
God also grieved Saul’s failure. They both did. But now God says, “It’s time to move on.” There is a time to grieve and time to act.
2 And Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3 And invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do. And you shall anoint for me him whom I declare to you.”
Samuel asks a practical question. Saul would see this as treason. God’s solution is to tell everyone you are going to make a sacrifice.
There’s a lot of debate about this. Is God telling Samuel to lie? It certainly sounds deceptive. But something important to remember is this: Saul is not the real king, which means this is not treason. God is the only real king! So, I don’t have a problem with this and neither does Samuel.
4 Samuel did what the Lord commanded and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling and said, “Do you come peaceably?” 5 And he said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him.” 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “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.”
Samuel sees another tall, dark, and handsome man – like Saul – and thinks, “This must be the one.” But God throws a curve ball. He says, you look at the outside. I look at the inside.
This is such a beautiful verse, with so many applications. We live in a world that idolizes outward appearance. We judge people we have never met by what we see when they enter the room.
Clothing brand. Muscle tone. Skin tone. Hair texture. Tattoos and piercings. Height. Weight. We may know nothing about their character. We may know nothing about their story, but we will make judgments about a person purely by what we see.
Even Samuel does it and God calls us on it. Humans (all of us) look at appearance. God looks at the heart.
Another reason this is beautiful is that already in our text we have a reminder of Jesus.
Christ Jesus was not a handsome man. We know this because Isaiah 53 tells us he was a very ordinary looking man. “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”
8 Then Jesse called Abinadab and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 And Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen these.”
11 Then Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and get him, for we will not sit down till he comes here.”
Notice they haven’t even mentioned David’s name yet. He’s just “that boy out tending the sheep”. I can’t help but think that the story of Cinderella is borrowing a bit from this one. Remember how the stepsisters get passed over by the prince? No one expected the shepherd to be the chosen one.
It sounds nice to us because we already know the theology surrounding shepherding in the Bible. Jesus calls Himself the great shepherd. The Bible refers to church leaders as shepherds.
But this is a surprising choice to Jesse and Samuel and everyone else. Why is David keeping the sheep? Because he is the youngest and because no one else wants to do that job. Jesse never dreamed that God would choose David, so he leaves David in the field.
This is not only unexpected – it is embarrassing. Imagine how Jesse felt. Imagine how the older brothers felt!
But God does this kind of thing all the time. He chose Jacob, the youngest, over Esau. He used Joseph, the youngest at the time, to save his family.
So, why does God choose a shepherd? Because shepherding IS the job! At least, if God is going to pick a king – this is the kind of king he wants. Someone who will be more concerned for the sheep than himself.
And why does He pick the youngest? Remember Hannah’s prayer from chapter 2? “The Lord brings low, and He exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust.”
All of this is again pointing us to Jesus of Nazareth, born in David’s hometown – son of a carpenter, not the Messiah the people were looking for. Instead, He was a shepherd willing to lay down his life for the sheep.
12 And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.” 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah.
After verse 7, maybe you were expecting David to be ugly – but he’s not. God just wanted to make sure the people understood that He picked David – not Samuel.
And now we come to the anointing. I learned something recently about anointing that I didn’t realize when we studied Saul. To most of the surrounding cultures, anointing was something a king or pharaoh did to his servants. It was used to commission servants. By anointing a servant, the king was placing the servant under his protection – he was claiming ownership of the servant and changing his status.
But kings and pharaohs were never anointed in other cultures – because they were not servants. This only happened in Israel, symbolic of the fact that even the king was a servant. God anointed his kings to show that they were his vassals – his servants, not superior authorities but under his authority!
Saul pours the oil on David’s head, and it says the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David. But remember, it’s going to be another 13 years before David actually becomes the king.
There’s an important parallel to this in the ministry of Jesus. The baptism of Jesus is a bit like an anointing, because of which some argue that the water was actually poured on Jesus instead of Jesus being immersed. Either way, the Gospels tell us that the Spirit of God descended on Jesus, and he began his earthly ministry.
But here’s the crazy part. Over and over, Jesus kept saying that the kingdom had not yet come. The king was walking among us – but His kingdom would come later. Specifically, His kingdom was not fully inaugurated until after the resurrection.
But the Spirit was a down payment on the kingdom, just as it had been for David. The ministry of Jesus was done entirely in the Spirit, just as the Spirit was with David from the moment of his anointing.
And it gets better. Listen to the words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 1.
“All the promises of God find their Yes in Jesus Christ… And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.”
What is he talking about? God has made promises to his people. They are fulfilled in Jesus – and with Jesus we have been anointed. The kingly seal has been placed on us, which means that God claims us and promises to protect us just as He did King David.
And His Spirit has been given as a guarantee. Everything God promises us has not yet come true, just as David did not yet have the kingdom, nor even Christ fully – but one day it will all come true!
Our union with Christ means that we are anointed – every Christian, sealed with a guarantee. God’s kingdom will come, on earth as it is in heaven.
David didn’t get the kingdom that day, but he got a taste of it. Watch what happens next.
14 Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him. 15 And Saul’s servants said to him, “Behold now, a harmful spirit from God is tormenting you. 16 Let our lord now command your servants who are before you to seek out a man who is skillful in playing the lyre, and when the harmful spirit from God is upon you, he will play it, and you will be well.”
17 So Saul said to his servants, “Provide for me a man who can play well and bring him to me.” 18 One of the young men answered, “Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and the Lord is with him.”
19 Therefore Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me David your son, who is with the sheep.” 20 And Jesse took a donkey laden with bread and a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them by David his son to Saul. 21 And David came to Saul and entered his service. And Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armor-bearer.
22 And Saul sent to Jesse, saying, “Let David remain in my service, for he has found favor in my sight.” 23 And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So, Saul was refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him.
What a crazy story. God puts His chosen king, the man who will one day replace Saul, as close to the throne as He can possibly get without sitting on it.
And David is more than a musician – he becomes Saul’s armor-bearer. There is no way that is a coincidence! Do you remember from two weeks ago, the most powerful expression of faith in the entire book of Samuel came from an unnamed armor-bearer?
“Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul.”
I almost want to jump up and down this gets me so fired up. David, the future king, takes the position of a servant. He becomes a literal means of grace for Saul – a man tormented by an evil spirit, and no longer deserving of God’s favor.
And David takes on this role without argument, without question. He plays music for the king, knowing the whole time that he is actually God’s chosen king.
This is a man after God’s own heart. This is a man to prepare us for Jesus, who would leave a throne in heaven to become God’s means of grace for people tormented by evil, people who don’t deserve such love and sacrifice and service.
And the last thing I will say is this. Brothers, sisters in Christ, you and me – we are not sitting on the throne. Only Jesus is King. But in Christ, we are already as close to the throne as we can ever possibly be. The down payment has been made. The guarantee is given. Christ Jesus is risen. Long live the king.