What does God Look For in Human Beings?

The exam season is drawing to a close again. Children, young people and not a few adults will have gone through the roller coaster of nerves and late night last minute revision hoping that the right questions will come up for them on the day; that they will be able to do well enough to achieve the grade and the qualification they need.
Qualifications remain important for people hoping to get a job to support themselves and their families. Getting the right qualifications is the incentive which keeps young people studying. For the more mature, gaining experience in one area of work will qualify you for a better job. Most employers today will want to see a CV (curriculum vitae, the course of my life) which will list all qualifications and experiences gained.
Our old testament reading today continues the story of the kings of Israel. Last week, we heard how determined the Israelites were to have a king, even though it was not God’s plan for them. The theme of Chris’ sermon was: ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ They wished for a king and God gave them King Saul but by the time we pick up the story again today, Saul has gone mad. He does not fully obey the words of the Lord and does evil and so is rejected as king. In our passage this morning, we hear how God is now calling a new king. His identity will be known in Israel even while Saul continues to reign. God leads Samuel, the last judge of Israel, to anoint this second king, David son of Jesse.
This whole process throws light on the question of qualifications in God’s eyes. Not just the qualification to be king of Israel, but also Samuel’s qualification to be the holy man of God who can discern God’s will. Three characters; we will look at their qualifications to serve God in turn.
Firstly, Saul. Saul comes from the tribe of Benjamin and is the son of Kish. The family are wealthy farmers. Saul is described as a ‘hansom young man’. ‘There was not a man among the people of Israel more hansom than he; he stood head and shoulders above everyone else.’ (1 Samuel 9.1-2) Wealth, good looks and tall of stature looking every inch a king. The people wanted a king. Saul looked the part. God allows the people to have their wishes. Saul goes off with some farm hands to look for donkeys that have wandered off. They end up in the town where Samuel lived and went to him, crossing his palm with silver, in the hope that he would use his prophetic powers to tell them where the donkeys had got to. But God had told Samuel that he was sending the future king to him for anointing. So, Saul and his companions are given a slap up meal, a bed for the night and in the morning Samuel secretly anoints Saul. The Israelites have a king that fits the bill, but was it according to God’s will? Was Saul properly qualified to act as king in mind and heart or was it really all about the way he looked? Sometimes, God will give us what we wish for, even if it ends in tears. We need to seek God’s will in our lives accepting that it may not be always what we wish for, but through it we will be blessed.
Next up, we think about Samuel, the holy man of God, and as Chris reminded us last week, the last of the judges. Through this period of political instability, he remains a stabilizing influence in Israel. In contrast to Saul, Samuel’s role is very much in the will of God. We are probably all familiar with the story of the call of Samuel. He is the boy sleeping in the temple at night who hears his name being called and thinks it is the old priest Eli. When Samuel keeps disturbing Eli’s slumbers, he eventually realises that it is God calling him and tells him go and lie down and if he hears the voice again to say, ‘Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.’ (1 Samuel 3.1-9) Samuel has no qualifications of greatness. He is not described as being hansom or strong. He is not known for the originality of his ideas or the initiatives that he took. Samuel’s greatness and what we remember him for lies in his obedience to God.
At the beginning of our reading today, we learn how Samuel is grieved over Saul. He probably felt he was partly to blame, but the Lord said to Samuel, ‘How long will you grieve over Saul?’ I have rejected him from being King over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse, the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.’ (1 Samuel 16.1) Samuel obeys. He moves on with God. At first, he questions it. What if Saul hears that I am to anoint a pretender to his throne? He will kill me. (1 Samuel 16.2) But there is a second chance to get it right. The satnav recalculates, and Samuel follows his Lord despite the potential threat to his life. What a powerful example Samuel is for us! We are called to be obedient, not successful. How much we wish that we had all the answers when it comes to faith and church; that everything we touch would turn to gold and our church be successful. Please may we model ourselves on Samuel. Make time to listen to God and then obey his calling to us whatever the cost.
The third character in this is David, the son of Jesse. In obedience to God, Samuel heads to Bethlehem. He comes to Jesse’s house to make a sacrifice and worship the Lord. All the sons are there, but which one qualifies to be anointed king? Eliab? He’s hansom and tall, but the Lord says to Samuel: ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’ (1 Samuel 16.7) The same mistake will not be made again. God is now choosing a king for Israel after his own heart. The qualification is not external. There is no CV! It is a hear that is in right place.
Samuel looks at all the sons of Jesse, but the Lord had not chosen any of them. Samuel must have been thinking it was very odd. He was sure that God was calling him to anoint one of Jesse’s sons as Israel’s next king. ‘Are all your sons here?’ he asks Jesse. Jesse replies, ‘There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.’ (1 Samuel 16. 11) Being the youngest, possibly not yet of age it was perhaps considered not to be appropriate for him to join in the visit of the holy man. So, it is the junior shepherd that God calls for himself; the one with ‘ruddy’ possibly paler skin than the others with beautiful eyes and yes hansom to boot. But it is clear from the text that David is not chosen for his looks but his heart. The Lord says to Samuel, ‘Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.’ David’s chief qualification is that he is of God’s calling as would be his ‘greater son’ in due course.
Saul qualified as Israel’s king because he looked the part, but something was not right. Samuel qualified as God’s spokesman because he was obedient. David qualified as king not because of way he looked but because of his heart. All that helps us understand what God is looking for if we want to qualify for his kingdom. But you know, that actually, nothing we do or are of ourselves qualifies us for God’s kingdom. Paul puts it well in his letter to the Colossians. He writes that it is the Father ‘…who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1.12-14) In Christ, God calls us into his team, the team of light and pays the transfer fee. While qualifications gained through experience or exams have value for this life, it is only Jesus that matters for eternity, not our CV and we can rest confident in this.
Trinity 3 17.06.2018

Rev Jonathan Smith

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