This morning, I want us to pick back up with the study which we began back in January, going through the books of the Old Testament one by one, getting an overview of each book, and then looking at one of the key themes in that book. We’ve been using videos from The Bible Project to assist us with this and we’ll be doing that this morning as well as we come to the book of I Samuel.
Some of you can remember being in school when it was time for student government elections. And, for a few weeks, you would see signs up all over school – “Vote for Nancy”, “Steve can get the job done”, “Mary is the best person for the job”. I never was much into school politics, but it seemed to me that the key to getting elected was either having the most signs, or the best signs, or simply being the most popular. I don’t know that any of us in high school really spent a whole lot of time asking ourselves the question, “What kind of qualities do we want in our school leaders?”
But, as we get older, we find ourselves asking that question more often, “What kind of people do we want leading our country? What kind of people do we want leading in the church? What kind of leader do I want as my supervisor at work? And sometimes we get a choice as to who is going to lead us, other times we don’t. But we all have an idea of what kind of leader we want to follow.
This morning, I want to talk with you about two leaders, two kings of Israel that are mentioned in the book of I Samuel, and I’d like for us to think about which of these two men we would rather have leading us. But, even more importantly — which of these two leaders would we rather be like?
Let’s take a look at this video from The Bible Project which will give us an overview of I Samuel, and then I’ll be back to talk about these two men.
The two men I want us to look at this morning are Saul and David. They were the first two kings of the united nation of Israel. And, in many respects, they were a lot alike. Both of them were chosen by God to lead the people of Israel. Both of them reigned for 40 years over a country that was one of the most powerful in the world at that time. And both of them were great warriors.
But there the similarities end. They certainly didn’t look alike. Saul apparently looked like the kind of person you would want leading your country. I think the best word to describe him would have to be “powerful”. Saul was one of the most powerful figures in human history. He grew up on a farm so he was probably strong and muscular. He was tall, good-looking and well-liked by the people.
I Samuel 10:23 (NIV) tells us that “as he stood among the people, he was a head taller than any of the others.” The next verse tells us that “Samuel said to all the people, ‘Do you see him whom the Lord has chosen? There is none like him among all the people.’” (I Samuel 10:24).
Saul had the potential to be a great leader. He took a scattered people and brought them together into a united kingdom. He created an army out of nothing. He won battles with the power of God, and defeated the enemy time and time again. As I said, the best word to describe Saul would have to be “powerful”. He was a powerful leader.
David was different, though. You wouldn’t really expect him to have a lot of leadership qualities because he was the youngest of eight boys. And it’s hard for the youngest of any family to attain the characteristics of leadership because there’s no one younger on whom they can practice leadership.
The scriptures tell us that David was good-looking, but he probably wasn’t very tall. Because when Samuel was sent to his house to anoint him, God said, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature.” (I Samuel 16:7).
God seemed to be saying, “David may not look much like a leader because he’s short, but that’s OK.” Now, there may be some of you here this morning who are – how shall I say this – “height challenged” – and you may take offense at this, but most people prefer a leader who is tall. As an example, over the history of our country, the taller presidential candidate has gotten the most votes 67% of the time.
So, God seemed to be saying, “David may not be the tallest guy around, but that’s okay. He’s the one I’ve chosen.” And David eventually gained a reputation for being a great warrior, but he didn’t start out that way. In fact, the only weapons he carried with him as a young man were a staff and a sling.
David spent a lot of time with the sheep out in the fields, singing and playing his songs and practicing with his sling. Occasionally, he used that sling to protect his sheep from wild animals.
When war broke out with the Philistines, all the sons of Jesse, except for one, went to fight in the war. David probably wasn’t even old enough to be a soldier, so he was given the responsibility of carrying food to his brothers on the front line. And it was there that he met the giant named Goliath.
I have some guests here with me this morning to help tell the story of David and Goliath. Audrey and Ellie, daughters of Brady and McCall, have very graciously agreed to tell this story for you. So, girls, let’s hear the story of David and Goliath.
Thank you, girls, for sharing that story. But there may be some of you who didn’t quite get all the details, so I’ve asked some other guests to tell the story as well. Josiah and Zachary, sons of Chris and Amber, (and they just happen to be our grandkids) have also agreed to tell you the story of David and Goliath. Boys…
Thank you, boys. And the moral of the story is…..boys and girls tend to tell Bible stories very differently! No, the moral of the story is just how important it is to have faith in God. And David’s faith began to shape who he was into God’s image.
As a result of his victory over Goliath, young David found himself a folk hero. The people of Israel all sang songs about David and his accomplishments.
And David soon found himself inside the king’s palace. He was first brought in to soothe King Saul by playing music when an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him. Saul liked David so much that he put him in charge of carrying his weapons for him during battles. Eventually, David was put in charge of all of Saul’s armies. And David was a great warrior, more successful than any of Saul’s other soldiers.
And so, you would think that King Saul would have loved David. But David was so popular that Saul became jealous, and that jealousy led to hatred. Saul felt threatened by David, as kings often do when there is a popular, promising young man making his way up the ladder. King Saul knew that this boy just might have his job one day. And that became even more obvious as David was coming home from war.
Everyone went out into the streets to celebrate, “and the women sang to one another as they celebrated, ‘Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands.’”
“This made Saul very angry. ‘What’s this?’ he said. ‘They credit David with ten thousands and me with only thousands. Next they’ll be making him their king!’ So from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David.” (I Samuel 18:7-9, NLT).
King Saul saw David as a threat to his kingdom. It would appear that he didn’t understand that it is God who gets to decide which kingdoms survive and which ones don’t. Not knowing this, Saul did what most kings in that situation would do. He threw spears at David. And he could do that. He was king. And so, “while David was playing the lyre, as he did day by day. Saul had his spear in his hand. And Saul hurled the spear, for he thought, ‘I will pin David to the wall.’” (I Samuel 18:10-11).
While he was in the king’s palace, David learned a lot of things, but sometimes the lessons were difficult and painful. One of David’s first lessons involved the question: What do you do when someone throws a spear at you? And it seems rather strange that David didn’t seem to know the answer to that question. After all, everyone else in the world knows what to do when a spear is thrown at you. You pick the spear up and you throw it right back!
And in doing so, you will prove many things: You’ll prove that you are courageous. You’ll prove that you stand for what’s right. You’ll prove that you’re tough and can’t be pushed around. That you’ll not stand for being treated unfairly. And all of these attributes combined will prove that you are ready to be a leader – a leader just like King Saul.
But David didn’t want to be a leader like King Saul, so he didn’t throw Saul’s spears back at him. Nor did he make spears of his own and throw them. Something was different about David.
And, although he lived hundreds of years before the words were written, David was a living example of what Paul would teach us in Romans chapter 12: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance in mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19).
Now, I share this story about Saul and David with you this morning because some of you may find yourselves in a situation similar to that of David. It may be that, like David, you’re in a situation where spears are being thrown at you from all sides. Now, I’m not talking about war. I know that some of you have first-hand experience in what it’s like to be shot at, what it’s like to have a grenade lobbed in your direction. But I’m not talking about war this morning.
Just because you come home from war safely doesn’t mean that people aren’t still taking potshots at you. And just because you’ve never been in a war zone doesn’t mean that you don’t know what it’s like to have spears thrown at you, to have people around you saying and doing things with the intent of hurting you, of taking you down and making you suffer.
And the temptation is for us to want throw spears back. If someone is mean to us, we feel the desire to be mean in return. If someone makes a hurtful comment on Facebook, we want to lash out in response. If someone makes life difficult for us, they’d better watch their back. We’ve all been there. And so, it’s important that we pay careful attention to David and learn from his experience.
King Saul tried to destroy David, but the only thing he succeeded in doing was to shape David into a man after God’s own heart. This was a painful process for David, but his experiences brought him closer to God. While Saul’s experiences led him to be more and more proud, David’s experiences taught him humility and submission.
Eventually, David was chased out of the king’s palace. He ran away and hid from King Saul. He spent a lot of time in cave, which are not comfortable places to live. They’re dark, wet, and cold. A cave is even worse if, in the distance, you can hear the dogs barking as they chase after you.
But I’m sure, during this time, that David sang a lot. He didn’t have much. In fact, he had less now than when he was a shepherd. His time in the king’s palace was now a distant memory. David’s greatest ambition was just to stay alive. Everything was being crushed out of him.
And so, David sang. And as he sang, he cried. And there, as he was being hunted, David wrote some of his most beautiful psalms. Psalms of lament. Psalms that give comfort and hope to those of us who are going through the same thing today.
In Psalm 13, he sang, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?” (Psalm 13:1-2).
These were David’s darkest hours. You and I know them as his pre-king days, but David wasn’t so sure. He may have assumed that this is what the rest of his life was going to look like — a lifetime of suffering. But, through it all, humility was being developed.
In time, about 400 men joined with David, and they all ran together, trying to get away from King Saul. During this time, David had two opportunities to kill the king. And twice he refused to do so.
And I’m sure that didn’t make any sense to those men who followed David. I can just hear them saying, “David, there have been so many times Saul almost speared you to death in his palace. He chased you out and now for years you’ve been nothing but a rabbit for Saul to chase after. He comes after you with 3,000 men, hunting everywhere to find you and kill you like a dog. But tonight, you had him at your mercy and you did nothing! You could have ended it all. David, why didn’t you end these years of misery?”
But David’s response was simply, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the Lord’s anointed.” (I Samuel 24:6). David may have thought to himself, “It would be better for him to kill me than for me to imitate his evil ways. It would be better for him to kill me than for me to become what he is. I will not throw spears, nor will I allow hatred to grow in my heart. I will not avenge. Not now. Not ever!”
I doubt if David’s friends could handle what seemed to be such a foolish answer. And so, that night, his men probably went to bed on a cold, wet stone floor and muttered about their leader’s distorted views of leadership.
King Saul was, in many respects, a man to be envied. He was the anointed one of God. The deliverer of Israel. He was everything men today are seeking to be, full of power and authority. And yet he is remembered mostly for his madness, a man eaten up with jealousy, living in spiritual darkness.
Jesus once said to his disciples, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave.” (Matthew 20:25-27).
What does our world really need more of — men of power and pride, or men of humility and submission? When David finally took the throne, he refused to be a king like Saul. And so, years later, when David was threatened by a rebellion led by his own son Absalom, he refused to crush the rebellion. Once again, he ran.
Because, in the eyes of David, it was better that he be defeated — or even killed — than to become like Saul or like Absalom. David trusted that if God wanted to keep him as king, then God would take care of him. But he refused to throw spears. David was more interested in seeking the will of God than he was in seeking the power of God. He desired God’s will more than he desired a position of leadership.
And, in the process, he set an example for those around him. Not so much in what he did, but in what he refused to do. He was a man who refused to throw spears, a man who refused to rebel against God’s anointed, a man who refused to take advantage of a man who was in authority when he was vulnerable. Rather, David was a man who was willing to suffer, willing to lose everything, a man who was willing to give God the freedom to destroy his kingdom, if that’s what God wanted.
So, I ask you this morning, which would you rather be – someone like Saul, who had a habit of throwing spears, or someone like David, a man after God’s own heart? Saul had the power of God. But David had the heart of God. Which one would you rather have?
You may say, “I’d rather be like David, I’d rather have the heart of God.” But you need to be careful, because the path that leads in that direction is not an easy one. Like with David, it may involve pain. It may involve spears being thrown at you. It may involve hiding in caves for years. It may involve going through a lot of suffering. But it is the path that will bring us closer to the heart of God and eventually to an eternal home with him.
That was the path that David traveled, and it was also the path that Jesus Christ traveled. Peter, when he wrote to a group of Christians who were being persecuted for their faith, encouraged them to hold fast by looking to Jesus. In I Peter 2, he said:
“If when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” (I Peter 2:20-23)
So, this morning, would you rather have the heart of Saul or the heart of David and Jesus? Are you going spend your life trying to be in control, or humbly submitting yourself to God’s will, whatever that may be?
It is important that we lay our pride down daily before God. We all have a tendency to focus on ourselves, to trust in ourselves, to exalt ourselves, to think more about what others think about us than what God thinks about us, to look for opportunities to advance ourselves. And that’s why we need to lay our pride down every day before God, to pray that he would help to make us humble.
Would you pray together with me?
“Father, we want to confess to you that our pride rears its ugly head in so many ways and we ask your forgiveness. I want to pray for humility for myself. I pray for humility for others who are listening right now. God, help us to see ourselves as we truly are, in need of you. Please keep us from rising up in pride and a desire for self-advancement, keep us from having confidence based on those things that we can do on our own. And especially keep us from rising up in defiance against your word.
Father, help us to humble ourselves under your word every day, to live every day for your glory, to live every day in humble obedience to you. May we be faithful to love others, to care for others, to put others’ interest above our own, ultimately to put you and your glory above all, just like David did, and just like Jesus did. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.