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A Midweek Devotional - Appearances

From Unfolding Grace:

“Israel receives what they ask for: a king ‘to judge us like all the nations.’ Yet, while he embodies the world’s values, he lacks fundamental inward realities, the virtues that matter to God: humility, trust, and resolute obedience. Saul’s failures teach us to long for a better king.

The prophet Samuel privately anoints David as the next and future king. Although Israel prefers Saul, God looks on the heart. And so he chooses a humble shepherd.”

Wednesday, May 5th

Larger Portion of Scripture - 1 Samuel 15-17

Focused Passage for Reflection - 1 Samuel 16:1-13

Reflecting on the Text:

Saul looked so good in the beginning. He seemed to fit the bill perfectly. He was tall and handsome, and then he began his reign by leading the people to victory over the Ammonites. But the picture quickly changed. In chapter 13 we read of Saul’s unlawful sacrifice as he sinfully took on the role of priest. In chapter 14 we read of his unwise vow, nearly costing his son Jonathan his life over a matter of food. And then in chapter 15, he neglected the Lord’s instructions and did not devote his enemy to destruction. By that point, the Lord was done with him.

Samuel was upset over Saul’s failure, but the Lord simply told him to go and anoint the next king. Perhaps Samuel thought he had missed some character flaw in Saul, so he went out to find a better version. He saw Jesse’s oldest son Eliab and thought surely this must be the one. But this story is the story of contrasts. In fact, the rest of Saul’s life will highlight the contrasts between him and David, as summarized in v. 7 — “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.”

Eliab was the oldest. He looked the part, as no doubt did his younger brothers. But the Lord anointed the youngest. David was out in the field working as a shepherd. Contrary to the way of the world, the Lord chose a young boy to lead His people.

I feel certain that Samuel would have been surprised by this choice. We would have been had we been there. The whole scene seems to beg the question: Are we looking at the world through a worldly lens? Do we choose leaders based merely on outward measures, or do we look to the content of their character? Do we choose our friends based on what we think they can do for us? Are we blinded by the glitter of externals?

David seems to have been a young man of depth. The text affirms his appearance but contrasts him with Saul by pointing to his heart. But as important as his character was, v. 13 points us to the true source of David’s power. “The Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward.”

Beyond the externals we see in others, what are we looking to for our own personal strength? Are we trusting in our gifting as we seek to serve the Lord by serving others, or are we appropriating the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives?

It’s a helpful question, but it may leave you asking “how”. In David, we see a life shaped by the Word and dependent upon prayer. His life was not perfect, but even in his imperfection, we see the continued contrast with Saul. Saul was hardened in his sin while David was repentant. So maybe there we see some clue as to how to live by the power of the Holy Spirit. We allow the Word to shape us. We live dependently upon prayer. And we live with a lifestyle of repentance. And when we do, we will not only be able to see that God is the hero of chapter 17 (David and Goliath), but we will live as if He is the hero of our own lives.

Questions for personal reflection:

  • Where are you tempted to look at the world through a worldly lens?

  • How are you trying to make your way in life with your gifting rather than through dependent prayer?

  • What might it look like, both near term and long, to depend less on appearances?

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