Seeing as God sees

Chatswood Baptist Church

1 Samuel 16


Three years ago, this picture became extremely famous around the world. Let me show it to you.

(photo: wikipedia)

Now tell me, is this dress black and blue, or white and gold? What do you see? Who here sees this as black and blue? And who sees this is white and gold?

When this picture became famous, family members were fighting over who was right, who was seeing the colour of the dress correctly. When Seiko and I first saw it, I saw it as black and blue, and Seiko my wife saw it as white and gold. Who was correct? Who was seeing the colour of the dress correctly? I’ll tell you the dress’ true colour at the end of the talk.

This dress is a funny example of how we can all see the same thing, and yet understand and see it differently. I see it as one way, Seiko sees it as another. Of course, this works for more important things too. I was sick at home recently, and I got to watch the meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un live, minute by minute at home. I know I’m a nerd for wanting to watch this on my day off, but it was probably the most interesting thing on TV at 9am in the morning.

It was interesting watching it. Some people saw the meeting as historic, a world-changing moment. Some people saw it as just another meeting where nothing will get done after it. Who was right? Who could see the situation correctly? Could anyone be 100% confident they had the right point of view?

Small things and big things happen to us and the world everyday. We try to understand what it means for us, but often we’re limited in what we know. We can’t see every single detail. How do we live in a world where we don’t know everything? Do we just say: “Everyone has their own point of view, and my point of view is true, and your point of view is true too”? What do we do? Our passage from 1 Samuel 16 will begin to help us answer this question.

Let me summarise what’s happened so far up until 1 Samuel 16. God’s people in the Old Testament, Israel, had been ruled by judges. During that time, Israel would worship other gods, and God would allow Israel to be oppressed by their enemies. A judge was someone chosen by God to save Israel from those enemies. At that time, Israel had no king like the nations around them. As we come to 1 Samuel, the last judge we see here is Samuel. One day, the Israelites demanded Samuel to appoint a king, so that they can be like the nations around them. They forgot and rejected God as their king. So God asked Samuel to anoint this man, Saul, to be the first king of Israel. Now Saul was an impressive young man, and he was taller than anyone else. He looked like a king. Samuel then says to the Israelites: “Here is the king you have chosen, the one you asked for; see the LORD has set a king over you. This was a king that Israel chose for themselves, rather than for God’s purposes.

How’s Saul as a king? At first, he seems like a good king, obeying God, rescuing Israel from their enemies. But he begins to disobey God. He does things his way, rather than God’s. When Samuel challenges Saul, Saul doesn’t say sorry to God but blames other people for his disobedience. When he finally does say sorry, Samuel tells him that God has rejected him as king over Israel. What’s going to happen next?

The story continues here in 1 Samuel 16. In verse 1, God says 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.” God says to Samuel: “I know you’re sad about what’s happening with Saul, but I’ve rejected him as king. I want you to anoint (to anoint means to pour oil on someone’s head) the next king.” Literally, God says: “I have seen (or provided) for myself one of Jesse’s sons to be king”. This new chosen king is one which God has seen and chosen for His purposes, rather than for Israel’s purposes. But Samuel is worried. If Saul finds out, he’ll be in big trouble. But God tells Samuel to perform a sacrifice and to invite Jesse’s family along, and he will show Samuel the one he has chosen to be king.

So Samuel goes to Bethlehem and invites Jesse’s family to the sacrifice. When Jesse’s eldest son, Eliab, arrives, Samuel is impressed. Eliab is handsome and tall. “Surely this is the one God has chosen, he looks like a king!” But what does God say to Samuel? Verse 7: “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” Samuel seems to have forgotten what happened with the last handsome, tall man he anointed as king, Saul. His good looks and height didn’t stop him from disobeying God. Samuel has forgotten that lesson.

Jesse calls his next 6 sons to walk past Samuel, but Samuel keeps saying that God hasn’t chosen them. Things are getting awkward. But Jesse says: “I still have my youngest son, but he’s looking after the sheep”. Jesse must be thinking: “He’s the youngest, and he’s a shepherd, surely he can’t be the chosen one, right?” But Samuel gets Jesse to get his youngest son, and when he arrives, we see a good looking young man. Then God says: “Rise and anoint him; he is the one.” 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.

Aha! We finally learn the name of Jesse’s youngest son and the next king, David! But just as this happens, in verse 14, we learn that: “Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him.” Saul’s servants suggest finding someone who can play the harp to make him feel better. One of the servants said: “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.”

So Saul invites David to serve him, and Saul likes him very much. David even became one of Saul’s close servants. And that’s where we end our story today.

What can we learn from this story today? I think we can learn 2 things: Firstly, God works in ways we often cannot see. God works in ways we often cannot see. In this story, when Samuel sees Jesse’s eldest son, Eliab, he does something that we would often do as well: we make a judgment based on what we see. Eliab looks like a king – he looks handsome and tall to Samuel. He looks like someone who could lead. We do this ourselves: when we see someone who’s tall, good-looking, charismatic, speaks well, we think of them as someone who can lead. Or if we see someone who’s dressed badly and poorly, we might think that they’re poor and probably not worth talking to. Like Julia Roberts in ‘Pretty Woman’ where all the shop assistants ignored her based on her looks. But God works in ways we cannot see, and he sees things we cannot see. The important verse in this passage is verse 7: The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outwards appearance, but God looks at the heart. We mustn’t pretend that we can know and see and understand everything that happens in our world, in our lives. Things that seem impressive on the outside may not be impressive to God, and things that seem unimpressive on the outside may be the very thing that’s impressive to God. The only way we can know is when God gives us His point of view.

Remember the dress I showed you at the beginning? When I first saw it, I really thought it was black and blue, but Seiko told me it was white and gold. Could I be sure that it was black and blue? Could Seiko be sure it was white and gold? Neither of us could be 100% sure. How can we actually confirm the real colour of the dress? Only by the person who took the picture of the dress, and by the people who made the dress. So when I Google-d the answer, I found out that the real dress colour was actually …. black and blue! Only once the true colour of the dress is revealed can I say with certainty that it’s black and blue. This is similar with God. I can only know the truth of how significant or important something is to God when He reveals it to me, to us.

God works in ways we cannot see, and this leads to the 2nd thing we can learn from this passage, which is that God uses the humble. God uses the humble.

David was Jesse’s youngest son. Usually, the youngest son wouldn’t be considered significant. Jesse thought: “Surely Samuel wouldn’t need to see the youngest. I mean, he’s the youngest! He’s just a boy. He’s looking after the sheep so he doesn’t need to be here.” Ironically, when David arrives, he’s described as being good looking, which is the same as Saul, and Jesse’ other sons. So having good looks is not a good or a bad thing in God’s eyes. What’s important, is that this insignificant youngest son, is the one God has chosen to be his king, for his purposes. He’s not like Saul, the one that Israel chose as their king, for their purposes.

And for this young insignificant boy, from the insignificant town of Bethlehem, God chose for His Spirit to come over David in power from that day onwards. David will eventually become king, but on that very day when he was anointed in front of his family and Samuel, it’s hard to see how significant that event was, unless God had revealed it. 1000 years after David, his descendent was born, again in the insignificant town of Bethlehem. An angel appeared to shepherds and said: “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger”. Really, a baby? But this little baby, Jesus, will become the saviour of the world. And as Jesus grew up, he looked like an ordinary man. There was nothing impressive about his looks. In Isaiah 53:2, it says: He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. And yet, the Spirit of God descended on Jesus in Mark 1, just as it descended on David. And Jesus is the one anointed, chosen by God to be the king of this whole world, forever. His seemingly insignificant death on the cross is how he will save us from our sin.

Do we see as God sees? Different people will have different point of views about Jesus. In our modern world, Jesus seems insignificant, outdated, irrelevant. That’s how many people see him. But that’s not how God sees him. And it’s God’s point of view that really matters and is true. Jesus is significant, he is relevant for today. Don’t forget that, don’t see as the world sees, but see as God sees.

And God can use us humble people, just as he did with David and ultimately with Jesus. As we pray for someone who’s sick or struggling in their faith, as we share the gospel with a work colleague who just doesn’t seem interested in God, as you teach young children about God, as you have a gospel conversation with someone at dinner after evening service, remember that God can use our humble efforts for his purposes. Pray that God would do so. Don’t be disheartened when it seems that nothing significant is happening. Our story ends with David, knowing that he’s been anointed by God, in Saul’s humble service as a harp player, as his armour-bearer. David could’ve thought: “Is this it? Is this what I’ve been anointed by God for?” David didn’t know exactly what was going to happen to him next. For us, we know what will happen to us when we trust in the seemingly insignificant death of Jesus. We know we will be saved from our sins. As we see the death of Jesus, remember that God works in ways we often cannot see. And God uses the humble.