God’s choices are better than our choices (1 Samuel 16:1-7)

God’s Choices are Better than Our Choices

1 Samuel 16:1-7

Today, we are in the book of 1 Samuel, and we are looking at the very important account of God choosing David to be the next King of Israel. So grab your Bibles and notes, and turn with me to 1 Samuel 16. Now I want to be upfront and clear about my plan for this morning–I have two goals.

First, as a Bible teacher, I want you to have a really good understanding of the passage before us this morning. I want you to know about Samuel, and Saul, and David and the events that surround their lives–and most importantly, God’s sovereign plan for these men and the nation of Israel as a whole.

But second, as a pastor, as a shepherd, I want you to leave today with a really solid commitment to trust God. I want you to trust God more than you trust yourself. I want you to rely on His plan rather than lean on your own understanding. I want you to be absolutely convinced that He knows what He is doing with your life better than you know what you’re doing with your life. I want you to believe, without a doubt, that God’s choices are better than your choices. So those are my targets–1) Understand the text, and 2) understand its applications for us today in July 2023. Can you believe it? We are already in July. By the way, happy 4th of July to you all this week. As a proud US citizen myself, I am glad to celebrate with you all too.

Okay, let me set the scene for you today. We are talking about events that took place 3,000 years ago–a long time before America. A long time before Jesus. In fact, it was 1,000 years before Jesus Christ came to live on the earth, and the nation of Israel had decided for themselves that they wanted a king to rule over them. And so they chose a man named Saul. Saul was not God’s choice, but Saul was the people’s choice. God did not want Saul to be the king, but the people did. And so the Lord granted their wish, and He let the events run their course for about 40 years.

Now in 1 Samuel, we learn that Saul turned out to be a terrible king. He was not a man who loved God. He was not a man who feared God, and as a result of those two heart-conditions, Saul disobeyed God and dishonored God’s name. So God rejected him as king over Israel. That’s where we pick up the story in 1 Samuel 16. God is giving instructions to the prophet Samuel to go to Bethlehem to find and anoint a new king. Let’s pick up the story in 1 Samuel 16:1 to 7 (my translation).

Now, the Lord said to Samuel, ‘How long are you going to be mourning over Saul? But I myself have rejected him from being King over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and go, I will send you to Jesse, the Bethlehemite, because I have chosen for me a King among his sons.’

2But Samuel said, ‘How can I go? If Saul hears it he will kill me.’ And the Lord said, ‘Take a heifer with you and say, “I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.” 3And invite Jesse to the sacrifice. And I will inform you what you shall do. And you shall anoint for me him whom I say to you.’

4So Samuel did what the Lord said and came to Bethlehem. And trembling, the elders of the city came to meet him and said, ‘Do you come peaceably?’ 5And he said, ‘Peaceably, I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.’ He also consecrated Jesse and his sons and he invited them to the sacrifice.

6And it happened that when they came he looked on Eliab and said, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him.’ 7But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘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. For man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks into the heart.’”

Now we’ll stop there in the reading. If you know the story (maybe you learned it in Sunday School), Jesse brings all seven of his sons to Samuel, one at a time–and in each instance, Samuel passes on all seven candidates. None of them meet the Lord’s criteria. So then go down to verse 11–that’s where we pick up the story again.

And Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Are these all the children?’ And [Jesse] said, ‘There remains yet the youngest, and behold, he is tending the sheep.’ Then Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.’

12So [Jesse] sent and brought him in. Now [David] was ruddy [that means healthy looking], with beautiful eyes and a handsome appearance. And the LORD said, ‘Arise, anoint him; for this is he.’ 13Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward.”

What we have in these verses is the choosing and anointing of a new king for Israel. God is making a course-correction for Israel. He is teaching His people that they have to stop trusting in their own choices and they need to start trusting His choices. They need to give up on their own plans for their future and do things His way instead. I think what we have in this passage is four reasons to trust that God’s choices are always better than ours. God’s people (both then and now) need to learn to stop trusting themselves and start trusting in God.  And He gives four reasons to do this.

And this is true, especially when life is difficult! Listen, when circumstances seem overwhelming, when the world around you seems to be out of control, or when relationships aren’t going the way you planned, or when your health is taking a dive, or when your kids are not turning out the way you hoped and prayed . . . or when finances aren’t providing the security you want, or the future isn’t panning out the way you think it should, or FBC still isn’t on the property and you’re sick of singing, “Three more years.”

Listen, in any of those circumstances, there is one thing that you can hold on to, one fact that will bring peace of mind, and it’s this–“God only makes the best choices.” We don’t need to take over from God. We don’t need to question Him. We do not need to second-guess Him. He is always doing what is best–even when we don’t understand His purposes, He is still in control of all events and He determines what is best. I want us today to learn to trust God even more than we currently do. Let me tell you the first reason why you should do that.

1.  The Lord’s Choices Are Better Than Our Choices Because He is God and We Are Not  Verse 1

Look again at verse 1, “Now, the Lord said to Samuel, ‘How long are you going to be mourning over Saul? But I myself have rejected him from being King over Israel.’” The prophet Samuel is mourning because (at least from a human perspective) Saul should have turned out better than he did. Saul was the man who won the popular vote. He was a natural leader. He was the tallest man in the nation. He was the most handsome. He came from good stock. His fathers were famous warriors. He was a proven winner. Saul was the Tom Brady of Israel.

I mean, from a human perspective, no one could have selected a better leader. Saul was the best. But he turned out so bad. That’s why Samuel is mourning here in chapter 16. The whole situation is just sad. Now the people had selected Saul out of wrong motives. In chapter 8 verse 5, it says the people wanted a king just like all the other nations had a king. And in chapter 8 verse 7, we read that in choosing a human king, the people were actually rejecting God as their king. This revealed a stubborn, prideful heart in the nation as a whole. They didn’t want to trust God–they wanted to take matters into their own hands.

Now Samuel knew this at the time–and he warned the people not to go this route. He told them this was not pleasing to God, but they forced his hand. And God relented also, so that even God gave the nation what they wanted, maybe to teach them a lesson. So for 40 years, Saul was the king of Israel. Now the thing with Saul is this–sometimes you get the feeling like he might turn out alright. Sometimes he does the right things. But at the end of the day, when his true colors are revealed, Saul proved that he was not a man after God’s own heart. He was not fully obedient all the time. Instead, he was partially obedient some of the time. And when you have a king who is not obedient to God, he leads the nation into disobedience too. He was not a godly leader.

And so, in 1 Samuel 13:13 to 14, “Samuel said to Saul, ‘You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which He commanded you, for the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14But now your kingdom shall not endure. The LORD has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the LORD has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you.’

As far as God is concerned, He has already chosen a replacement. He already has His king in mind. And then in 1 Samuel 15:28, “Samuel said to [Saul], ‘The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today, and has given it to your neighbor who is better than you.’” That’s why Samuel is mourning.  He simply couldn’t believe how disappointing Saul turned out to be.

And so God comes to Samuel in verse 1 and rebukes him, and says, “You’ve got to stop crying over this guy–I’ve rejected him, and now we’re going to move on. I’ve got new plans.” And so look again at verse 1. The Lord says to Samuel, “Fill your horn with oil and go, I will send you to Jesse, the Bethlehemite, because I have chosen for me a King among his sons.” Literally, “I have seen a king for me among his sons.”

And let me tell you, FBC–as far as a theme for us today and a theme for this entire passage, it’s this–God’s choice. Notice that God says, “I have chosen a king for Me.” That’s important! This would not be a king for the people–this would not be the people’s choice. This would be a king for YHWH Himself. So the Lord tells Samuel to take a horn (probably cut from a bull’s head and fashioned into a container) and fill it with oil. And this oil would be used to anoint the next king.

Listen, Israel can try all they like to determine their own destiny by choosing their own king–but in the end, God will frustrate the plans of men. Why? Because He has much more in mind than just temporal or immediate issues. He chose a king after His own heart in Bethlehem, of all places. And this king would be the start of a kingly line that would eventually lead to the Messiah-King, Jesus Christ, who would save people from all nations.

Here’s the point–when God rejected Saul and chose David of Bethlehem, He set a string of events in motion that would ultimately lead to the salvation of everyone who would believe on the name of Jesus, the King of all kings. When God chose David, He wasn’t thinking only about immediate events, He had David’s descendant in view. He had Jesus Christ in view. God’s choices are always better than our choices, because He is sovereign. He is God. He is the God of history. And He is accomplishing so much more than we could ever possibly imagine. And so His choices are always for the best.

Listen, when you’re going through a trial, when you’re concerned about the future, when you’re seeing things go south, will you trust Him? Will you allow Him to be God? I’ve seen people go both ways. I’ve seen couples spend their whole life void of God, and when everything falls apart–in desperation, they finally turn to God and acknowledge Him. They choose to repent and trust Him and obey Him. They let God be God and it’s a joy to observe.

But I’ve seen the opposite too–people who have supposedly worshiped Jesus Christ for their whole life, and then suddenly they start making choices that disregard God, disregard His Word, and they’re off making ungodly decisions without any concern for what the Bible says. And it’s so sad. How will you live your life? What are you going to do–submit to God? Submit to His holy Word or do it your own way? You got to choose. Everyone has to choose how they will live their lives. The second reason . . .

2.  The Lord’s Choices Are Better Than Our Choices Because His Instructions Are Always Right  Verses 2 to 3

In other words, whenever God tells us to do something, He never asks us to sin. His instructions are always good, and right, and consistent with His holy character. Look at verse 2, and remember God just told Samuel to go to Bethlehem. But Samuel says in verse 2, “How can I go? If Saul hears it he will kill me.” In other words, “How can I go and anoint a new king right now? Saul isn’t going to like that very much!”

It would be like this–imagine if the Archbishop of Canterbury traveled from London to California, pushed his way through all the paparazzi, and found Megan Markle on her estate in Santa Barbara, and anointed her as Queen of England, while King Charles is back in London, still alive. That’s going to go down like a lead balloon in England.

And in Samuel’s case, when it comes to the incumbent evil King Saul, this could even mean his life. So I think we understand Samuel’s concern. So he asks, “How can I do this?” And by the way, Samuel is not refusing to go–he is simply asking God for further instruction–“How can I pull this off successfully, Lord? Can you please give me some further help?” And so the Lord says in verse 2, “’Take a heifer with you and say, “I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.” 3 And invite Jesse to the sacrifice. And I will inform you what you shall do. And you shall anoint for me him whom I say to you.’”

In practical terms, the Lord says to Samuel, “Now listen, this is how you can pull this off. This is how you get to Bethlehem without setting off all the alarms. Do something that is very normal for you to do, Samuel. Go and make a sacrifice to the Lord and make sure Jesse is there. That is a typical task for a prophet–no one is going to question that.

Now there are some horrible critics of the Bible today who accuse God of coaching Samuel to tell a white lie–that’s their ugly allegation. They point their self-righteous finger at God and accuse Him of sin. But that is not what God is doing here. He’s not sinning. In fact, James 1:13 says, “God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” God never tells us to sin. God never commands deceitfulness. He never wants us to lie. That’s because God’s instructions are always right, holy, perfect, and consistent with His own character. That’s why His choices are better than ours.

Listen, there are times when we foolishly think that God’s instructions just can’t be right. For instance, remember when God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac? That just can’t be right, can it? Remember when God told the Israelites to kill all the Canaanites, including even all the children? That doesn’t seem right, does it? See, sometimes we question God.

Similarly—wives, you might have asked, “Why does God command me to like, and love, and serve my selfish husband who often takes me for granted? That can’t be right. Aren’t I just enabling his sin?” Husbands–you might have asked, “Why does God command me to love and understand my wife, who is a constant complainer and dripping faucet in my life? That can’t be right. Am I not just giving in to her expectations?”

Singles–you might have asked, “Why does God restrict me to marrying only another believer? That seems so narrow.” Employers and employees–you might have complained, “Why does God command me to pay taxes to the governing authorities? They are spending that money on evil things.”

And see what happens is, these kinds of self-justifying thoughts enter our minds, and we start to question whether God’s commandments are right. And we start to argue with ourselves, “Well maybe in my particular case, there’s an exception. Maybe in my case, the Bible doesn’t actually apply? Maybe I’m the exclusion from the norm. My husband is worse that all the other husbands. My wife is harder to live with than any of the other wives. My boss is worse than your boss. You don’t understand . . . my job, my finances, my future, my parents, my need for security, my safety, my kids, my in-laws, my church, my CG–my situation is unique.

But what you need to believe in those weak moments is this–God never tells me to do something that He wouldn’t do Himself, if He was human. And we know that, because Jesus Christ proved it. His instructions, His commandments, His will (as revealed in His Word, the Bible), are always, always, always right. God never asks us to do something that is wrong. That is why His choices are better than our choices. Can you trust Him? Husbands? Wives? Will you trust Him?

You understand, don’t you, that every time you disobey God’s Word, it’s because you don’t trust Him? You don’t believe that what He says is right. You don’t have the faith to believe that He knows what He’s doing when He asks you to do something. You see, that’s where we need to change our thinking. He only ever commands us to do things that are consistent with His character. And when He asks you to do a hard thing, it’s because He is God, and He knows what He’s talking about, and we can trust Him. The third reason . . .

3.  The Lord’s Choices Are Better Than Our Choices Because We Are Blessed When We Obey Him  Verses 4 to 5

When we hear God’s Word, when we read God’s commandments, and when we put them into practice full of faith, then there is blessing. I want you to see this in Samuel–because Samuel obeyed God, and as a result, he was protected from danger. Look at verse 4, “Samuel did what the Lord said and came to Bethlehem.” He didn’t dilly-dally. There was no hesitation. He did what God commanded. Now I want to pause for just a second to show you just how Samuel, in this instance, was the complete opposite to King Saul. Keep your finger in chapter 16, and turn back briefly to the previous chapter.

Let me show you Saul’s supposed obedience, which actually was no obedience at all. In 1 Samuel 15:3, God says to Saul (via the prophet), “’Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.'” You might say, “Boy, is that right? Does God really expect a wholesale slaughter of this neighboring nation?” And the answer is, if God commands it, it must be right–because God only asks us to do that which is holy, and just, and righteous.

Now Saul has a moral dilemma on his hands—he has got to figure out whether he will trust God or not. So look at verse 5, “Saul came to the city of Amalek, and set an ambush in the valley.” And combat takes place, and Saul wins the battle. But look at verse 7, “Saul defeated the Amalekites.” Then go to verses 8 and 9, “And he captured Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. 9But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were not willing to destroy them utterly.”

Saul did not obey God! He rationalized God’s instructions. He decided that his morals were better than God’s morals–his choices were better than God’s choices. And as a result, he left Agag and all the best animals alive. That, folks, is partial-obedience. And we know–partial-obedience is disobedience.

And then look at what Saul says to Samuel in verse 13, “’Blessed are you [Samuel] of the LORD! I [Saul] have carried out the command of the LORD.’” What?! That’s a lie! Saul just told a whopper! Saul didn’t obey God at all–but he convinced himself that he had. And Samuel’s like, “Wait a second–I can hear the sound of sheep. Where did that come from?” And so Saul tries to justify himself–in verses 20 and 21 he says, “’I did obey the voice of the LORD, and went on the mission on which the LORD sent me, and have brought back Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. 21But the people . . .’”

Oh now he’s blame-shifting–like Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the snake. Saul is doing the same thing. He says, “The people took some of the spoil, sheep and oxen–the choicest of the things devoted to destruction. Why? “’To sacrifice to the LORD your God at Gilgal.’” Oh–the people did it because they wanted to honor your God, Samuel. They thought their plans were even better than God’s plans, and so they adjusted them slightly.

In verse 22 Samuel said, “To obey is better than sacrifice.” God doesn’t want our sacrifices. He doesn’t want our religious works. He doesn’t want our money. He wants faith-filled, trusting, non-rationalizing obedience–that’s how you love God. That’s how you show you trust Him. That’s how you show you have genuine faith. Saul and Samuel (at least in these two instances) act so differently from each other. Saul disobeys, and his throne is removed from him. Samuel obeys, and he is protected from danger.

See the story here again in verses 4 and 5, “So Samuel did what the Lord said and came to Bethlehem. And trembling, the elders of the city came to meet him and said, ‘Do you come peaceably?’ 5And he said, ‘Peaceably, I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.’ He also consecrated Jesse and his sons and he invited them to the sacrifice.” Samuel trusted God and was obedient to the letter, and the plan worked just as God promised. The Lord’s choices are always best, because when we obey His commandment, there is blessing.

Listen, which do you prefer–blessing from God, or discipline from God? Who wants a smack when they can get a hug? God’s choices are better than ours, because there is blessing when we obey Him. Let me give you a fourth and final reason why that’s true.

4.  The Lord’s Choices are Better Than Our Choices, Because His Perspective is Better Than Ours  Verses 6 and 7

Look at verse 6, “And it happened that when they came [Samuel] looked on Eliab [that’s Jesse’s eldest son] and said, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him.’” It is just amazing, isn’t it? Samuel is about to make the exact same mistake that Israel made 40 years earlier. He’s looking at Eliab, and he’s tall, and he’s handsome, and he’s got all the attributes you normally look for in a leader. But the Lord says in verse 7, “’Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him.’”

God had already rejected Jesse’s eldest son, just like he had already rejected Saul. And God rejected all the other sons too. Why? Verse 7, “For the Lord sees not as man sees. For man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks into the heart.” God has the ability to see things that we cannot see. He looks into men’s hearts and sees what is really going on. His vista is clearer than ours. His vantage point is higher than ours. His eyesight is better than ours. His focus is more powerful than ours. Will you trust Him? FBC, can you trust God’s choices? His perspective is better than ours.

Now as it turns out–David was a handsome young man too, but that was not what qualified him to be God’s chosen king. He was a man after God’s own heart–and that is what made the difference. Listen, God’s choices are always best, because He can see things clearer than we can see them. He knows things that we can’t know, and He makes decisions based on His omniscience.

You might be feeling that the circumstances of your life are overwhelming you–family problems, siblings, children, marriage, friends, illness, work, finances, injury, personal struggles, persecution, concerns about the future. Maybe there doesn’t seem to be a point to the struggles. And maybe God hasn’t yet revealed what He is trying to accomplish through it all. The trials might seem too difficult and so unnecessary. And maybe you have already questioned whether God knows what He is doing. Maybe you have already wondered whether your choices for your life would be better than His.

Folks, I want you to be encouraged. I want you to walk out of here with full conviction–God only makes good choices regarding our lives. He has a plan. You can trust Him. He is God! He is doing something that is bigger and better than you can imagine right now. So don’t lose heart, friends. He is sovereignly working things to achieve His purposes. He will never ask you to sin in the process of achieving His purpose. He will bless you, if you remain faithfully obedient in the midst of the trial. He sees things far more clearly than you do. He knows what He is doing. We can rest in His arms. We can rest in His will. Let’s pray.

About Nigel Shailer

A pastor and elder at Faith Bible Church and head of the counseling ministry.

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