We see in our text two ways that people expect to meet the Lord.
The first is seen in how the elders of Bethlehem came trembling before the prophet Samuel when he came to visit them. Why would they tremble? Because of what happened immediately before our text. Samuel had come to a prisoner, King Agag of the Amalekites, and hacked him to pieces with a sword. Samuel had acted as the agent of the Lord’s wrath. Now stories of Samuel’s violent action had surely reached far and wide, including Bethlehem.
So the elders saw Samuel coming and asked if this was a peaceful visit. What they did not ask, but was implied, was whether Samuel came to punish the wicked in Bethlehem.
As far as we know, the Bethlehemites were not particularly wicked people. But perhaps there were a few evil people whom Samuel was sent to smite.
Samuel replied to the elders that it was a peaceful visit. In other words, it was not a smiting time, but a Gospel time.
Perhaps we should remember, from time to time, that the Lord coming to smite us should be a very real possibility. We deserve smiting, even though we are not particularly wicked people. We are still wicked enough in our sinful flesh to deserve God’s wrath. But what we deserve is not what we receive, because in Christ the wrath is removed, thanks be to God.
The other way to react to the Lord’s coming is pretty much the opposite. Mankind likes to think that he has an extra special something inside of him. The Lord must look inside me, and because of what He sees, He is surely pleased. Or so goes the common attitude.
This kind of attitude is encouraged by a misunderstanding of what the Lord told Samuel: “The Lord looks on the heart.” Sinful man imagines that his heart is exceptional. After all, when you look around, you see all kinds of people that do not measure up to what you feel is in your heart. So God must see the same thing. I am so special, He must want to choose me for a great purpose.
As is usual with these sorts of things, there is some truth to this. There are indeed many fine qualities in man, since we were created in the image of the Lord. In many ways we are splendid creations, even now that we are disfigured with sin.
But when a person has a very high opinion of what is inside of him, it is because he does not look deep enough. Man looks selectively at his mind and spirit. He easily overlooks what is negative, or discounts it as an unimportant or charming imperfection. But if man looks deep enough and honestly enough, he finds a deep fountain filled with uncleanness.
So the Lord comes with Samuel to look at the family of Jesse. He looks at seven fine sons. They are tall young men. Each was a splendid specimen of what a king ought to be. Samuel thought that one of these must be the Lord’s choice. But the Lord says, “I do not look at the outward appearance, but at the heart.”
Perhaps Samuel forgot that Saul, the first and current king at the time, was a tall and handsome man. God chose Saul, but Saul turned out to be a terrible disappointment as he disobeyed the Lord again and again.
Is the Lord opposed to tall people? No, that is not the point. He saw inside the heart of Jesse’s sons, and did not find there what He was looking for.
What was lacking? Well, if you asked Jesse’s sons, they surely would say, “I am a fine man, not just outside, but inside! Samuel should have chosen me!”
But what were they like? We get a brief glimpse in the next chapter of First Samuel. Eliab, Shammah, and Abinadab, the three sons that are named in our text, meet David as he is bringing them food at the army camp. When David starts asking questions about why no one has challenged this Goliath person, the brothers get indignant. Eliab, presumably as spokesman for all three, said this: “Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.” Here he is questioning David’s motives. Eliab thinks that he sees through David’s good boy act. This is probably motivated by petty jealousy, since Eliab likely thought that he, the eldest son, ought to have been chosen by Samuel. It is as if he said, “I am an exceptional individual, but I got passed up for this pipsqueak! He doesn’t know his place.”
Of course, Eliab, who presumably has many fine qualities, has not stepped up to challenge Goliath. Why not? Because he lacks what David has: trust in the Lord.
This does not mean that David feels that he excels at an inward quality that Eliab lacks. Instead, David reasons that he is the small one, the insignificant brother, and therefore his only hope is in the Lord’s favor. But the Lord’s favor is more than enough. With the Lord, David could face lions and bears and giants.
David has a helpful spirit that humbly accepts lowly tasks. He was out taking care of the sheep when everybody else was attending the important meeting with Samuel. Later he accepts the task to take food to the brothers and inquire on their well-being. He might have said, “I have been anointed to be king in Israel! This task is beneath me!” But he does not.
Again, it is not that David has superior qualities that commend him to the Lord. On the contrary, even asking, “What quality was in David that made the Lord choose him?” is the wrong question. The right question is to ask, “What quality in the Lord prompted Him to choose David?” The answer is free grace.
The Lord said, “I have provided for Myself a king among Jesse’s sons.” This means that the Lord, through His own Word, created a humble and pious heart in David. David trusts the Lord because the Lord made him that way through repentance and faith. This does not negate grace, since it was the Lord’s gracious Word that freely worked in David from start to finish.
We were similarly prepared by the Lord for Himself. But we do not so much see our calling by the Lord in David’s anointing, as if we are “all that” like David was. Instead we see our calling in the end goal for which the Lord chose David. That goal was to raise up Christ for us.
So the Lord made sure that David was a shepherd like the great Shepherd who was to come from his sons. David also was made courageous by the Lord because Christ would also face spiritual bears and lions and giants for us.
At His anointing, the Spirit rushed upon David and remained on Him from that day forward. One day, the Spirit also rushed upon Christ at the Jordan River and remained upon Him.
The Lord was showing how He worked when He chose David. God did not select someone who would seem like much from the outside. Christ seemed to be merely a man. But inside was the perfect image of the holiness of the eternal Lord. So the Lord found His King Shepherd in Bethlehem, a small, humble village.
What happened right after this text? The Lord anoints His king, but then David did not go directly to Jerusalem to rule. Christ like David would have to suffer for a long time before sitting on the throne. David was often hunted and persecuted by the current king, Saul. Christ was also threatened with death several times before they finally handed Him over to Pilate. Thus Christ did not reveal His glory until an extended period of tribulation.
You follow a similar path. You must endure trouble before glory. You are anointed at your baptism to be kings before the Lord, yet you do not immediately sit in glory.
But the Lord does see what is inside. He sees your heart and your struggles that perhaps no one else sees. He sympathizes with the pain that this sinful world inflicts on you. He sympathizes because He also went through the same and worse.
Rest assured that your sympathetic Lord will not let you remain in tribulation and suffering forever. He will lift off of you your cross and seat you with Him in glory. Although He may seem to delay at times, He will accomplish all things for you.
For He is your kindly Shepherd-King. He is the well-Beloved of God, the chosen One, who is pleasing to the Father because He loves His sheep enough lay down His life for them. So He destroys the bears and lions and giants that threaten. The last of them will be defeated on the Last Day, even death and satan.
The Lord keep us until that Day. Amen.
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