The King's heart - 1 Samuel 16

This is a sermon by Peter Birnie from 9th January 2022.

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1 Sam 16 “The King’s heart

Intro: (Slide 1) There is a day coming for all of God’s people, every sinner who has come to Jesus Christ for forgiveness of their sins and the new life of following him that he gives by the Spirit, a day coming when we will see God face to face. Whether that is the day we die or perhaps before that happens the day when Jesus returns, that day is coming. And the bible teaches us that when we see him we will be changed. Utterly changed. Completely changed forever. (Slide 2) 1 John 3 v 2 says “we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” Now that is very interesting. Because normally when we think about changing our hard hearts, whether that is getting rid of sinful habits that cause destruction and dishonour God or starting holy habits that glorify God and bless others we immediately think about effort and work and discipline. Our first response is what are we going to do to change?

Now those sort of thoughts can be very helpful – of course we need to do some things by the strength that God gives us, of course we should put effort and discipline and work into real practical daily obedience to God. But, 1 John 3 v 2 should make us stop and think for a minute. There is an amazing link between seeing Jesus and becoming like Jesus. And so one of the main jobs of a preacher trying to faithfully unpack God’s living word to the church family, more than just setting out a list of things we must do, is to get people feasting their eyes on their saviour. The more we see of Jesus now, the more we will be becoming like Jesus now.

(Slide 3) And so it is right to begin 2022 with a sermon series on king David in 1 and 2 Samuel. Jesus is King David’s greater son, and so as we study the life, actions and mostly the heart of David, we will be able to move from the lesser king to the greater King. There is so much to be admired in the life of David, so many details to be savoured and enjoyed, so much that is God-honouring and commendable but whatever is good in David’s life, we will be able to see made perfect in Jesus. Through Israel’s best and most important king in the Old Testament, we will be able to feast our eyes on THE King of kings in the New. And the more we do that together as a church family, the more our hearts will be transformed so that we live differently, so that we live more and more as loyal subjects of the King in the middle of a rebellious world.

(Slide 4) Today in 1 Samuel 16 we see that God is interested in the heart of the king. But in verses 1-5 it is the problems caused by the human heart with which we must begin. “The LORD said to Samuel, ‘How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel.” Only a short sentence but it covers a lot of pride, sin and sadness. The people of Israel, though chosen by God and given rich promises and generous provision, they could never settle for God alone. They were always full of grumblings, idolatry and rebellion. They could never see clearly that the problems they faced were problems they brought on themselves each time they rejected God as their king and followed their own paths instead.

(Slide 5) Were you ever the sort of child who when your parents disciplined you by sending you to your room, you sat and stewed and grumbled so that when the time came when you should say sorry and you could start afresh you instead argued and sulked and got yourself in more trouble? That was Israel. Instead of repenting from their sin and choosing life and blessing by living God’s way, they stewed and grumbled and then came up with their own solution to all their problems.


(Slide 6) You can read about it in 1 Samuel 8; “We need a king like the nations around us have.” This, of course, was nonsense. The nations around them were a disgrace and so what Israel needed was anything but a king like the nations around had. However, they demanded a king and even when Samuel the prophet, the man tasked with speaking God’s words to the people, warned them about what a king would do to them they still said “No! We want a king over us. Then we shall be like all the other nations.” The people of Israel revealed their hearts to be just like the people all around them. Rotten because of sin.


Now it was said centuries ago that people in a democracy get the leaders they deserve. The people of Israel weren’t in a democracy, but the saying still described them perfectly. Because they got a King with a rotten heart just like theirs. Saul looked the part and started well but soon he was stewing, sulking and going his own way just like all of the people.

His pride and rebellion, the pride and rebellion of the people, and indeed our pride and rebellion today are so sad because of who God is. God is glorious and deserves our worship and God is generous and longs to bless people who will have him as their King.

This is what we must learn and accept about sin (Slide 7). Sin often seems so much more attractive than submitting to God’s rule, taking our own shortcuts often seems so much easier than walking the bumpy path God has for us, giving in to being just like the people around us rather than living differently seems like it might bring us peace for a while but when we do those things we are forgetting that sin leads to death and submission to God leads to life. That is a fact. God guarantees it by his faithful word. (This makes decisions in life very simple nearly all of the time – God’s way; truth and light not shiftiness and shadows, kindness and love not selfishness and apathy, sacrifice and service rather than pride and grumbling).

(Slide 8) Look what sin has led to in these first few verses of 1 Sam 16. Samuel is mourning himself because Saul’s Kingship has been declared dead in judgement by God, and then when he, the speaker of God’s words, obediently arrives at Bethlehem, the people nearly jump out of their skin; the elders are trembling when they ask him “Do you come in peace?” 3 terrible consequences of sin here; God’s judgement on Saul, Samuel’s grief, and then the people are afraid of God’s word rather than welcoming it with open arms.


And is that not the same for us in our Christian lives? When we know we are sinning and are continuing to live with that sin in our lives it wrecks our joy in the Lord. Judgement, sorrow, trembling replace the peace, assurance and confidence that God wants us to have in Him, that Jesus Christ won for you on the cross. If even right now you know that is you, you know that you are putting up with going your own way in life, you know that you can hardly face praying and reading the bible and being with God’s people because you have sin that you aren’t dealing with, then this morning bring it to God, say sorry, and determine to repent, decide with God’s help to turn your back on that sin and walk once more with God.


Sin leads to death but living with God as King leads to life and he is the God whose glory it is to forgive sin and transform sinners, he is the redeemer. The human heart causes such terrible problems for humans but these are problems that God can solve.


                      2) Problems solved by the heart of God (v6-23)


(Slide 9) And we see his glorious solution in the rest of the chapter, verses 6-23. Samuel is sent to Bethlehem (where else would he go to find a king) with his horn full of king-anointing oil and soon Saul mark 2 is standing in front of him. Eliab, strong and impressive, surely the man for the job.

V7 “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 people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

(Slide 10) Samuel is surprised that Eliab isn’t the new king but that is only because even though us little creatures see some of the problems sin has got us into, we still stupidly think we can somehow sort those problems out ourselves. God, though, knows better. As he looks at Eliab, he sees past the human strength and impressiveness and sees exactly what Eliab’s heart is like – he sees the real person rather than the good impression we all try to give others so much of the time. God sees you as you really are and me as I really am. And if any of us are foolish enough to imagine that God is impressed with what he sees in us then we don’t know ourselves very well and we certainly don’t know God.  

But rather than cringing at this truth, rather than trying to hide away from God because of the detailed knowledge he has of all of our thoughts and muttered words and dodgy actions, we can actually take great comfort from this reality. And that is because of what God’s heart is like. (Slide 11) The bible teaches again and again that God opposes the proud and shows favour to the humble. God’s heart is for people who know they have nothing to offer God and instead know they need what God offers them. The Sauls and Eliabs and Abinidabs and Shammahs of this world don’t impress God at all – they wouldn’t shudder when you told them that God knows their hearts because they are confident in how impressive they are.

But the David’s of this world are different. Not because they have all of these noble attributes to offer God, detailed knowledge of scripture, a store of pious good works sitting in a display cabinet, testimonies from people all around about their selflessness and courage and wisdom. No. Who was David? He was of such little importance in his own family’s eyes that even though 7 of his brothers got to line up in front of Samuel, he didn’t. But when God saw David’s heart he saw a heart that needed God. A heart that depended upon God. A heart that would set God as king.


This is not mere speculation – we have a whole songbook revealing David’s heart called the Psalms. (Slide 12) And in the Psalms again and again, with raw honesty, David cries out for help to God. He praises God for God’s strength and the refuge God is to his people and he admits when he himself is downcast and depressed and miserable and sinful. He prays for help in loving God’s law and following his sweet commands. God’s heart is so disposed towards broken sinful needy people, that the greatest human king in Israel’s history was someone who simply realised how broken, sinful and needy he really was. The greatest king made sure that God was king of his life.

If you shudder a bit when you realise that God knows your heart intimately, that he sees everything about you as clearly as we can see words on a page, then you are actually in a very good position indeed, you are in a David-like position. Why? Because of God’s heart. And because of the King of kings that the newly anointed David points to.   


In verse 13, as Samuel pours oil over the head of humble, ignored, shepherd David, God is putting in capitals and bold and highlighting and enlarging a message he has for all of humanity. God doesn’t need or respond to hearts that think they don’t need him, but God takes hearts that are ready to depend upon him and make him their king and he makes people like that into royalty. The passage finishes today with David being a blessing to the person who deserved it least, hard-hearted Saul. Read verse 23 “David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better and the evil spirit would leave him.” What a king David is going to be, a humble king ready to be a blessing to many.


(Slide 13) King Jesus was exactly that sort of King. Prepared to leave his father in heaven and be born in a grubby stable on earth. Prepared to live in the scorned North and put up with rumours and taunts about his birth and parentage. Prepared to work as a carpenter in obscurity. Prepared to shun the shortcuts Satan offered and instead keep walking into the storm of temptation.  Prepared to sweat drops of blood in Gethsemane and still say “Not my will but yours be done.” Prepared to stay on the cross and drink every drop of the cup until he could declare “It is finished.”





Let us as a church family respond properly to such a king. Let our hearts prepare him room. Let us make a habit of admitting our sin and need to him and to each other, of humbling ourselves and lifting high the name of Jesus. Stop trying to impress God and instead start living lives that accept his forgiveness and discipline and authority, accept that his ways are best full stop. Life is hard and sin is a tough battle but let us fix our eyes on Jesus and be changed now as we submit willingly to the sin-defeating, death-destroying King of kings. Amen.


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