Summary: Two things we need most are found in Jesus: real security and deep satisfaction.
King Saul was a major disappointment. As you know, he was the first king of Israel, and he was everything you would want a king to be. When we first meet him in the pages of Scripture, we are told that he was “a handsome young man.” In fact, “there was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he; he stood head and shoulders above everyone else” (1 Sam. 9:2). He was handpicked by God to deliver his people from oppression. He was humble and fit and faithful – at least, at first. But something went wrong. Over time, he became jealous and suspicious – even paranoid. He isolated himself and became sullen and morose. Worse than that, he strayed from the Lord, and he so strayed that God rejected him as king and determined to replace him. He told Samuel the prophet to go to the home of Jesse in Bethlehem, because it was from Jesse’s line that the Lord’s anointed would come.
This put Samuel in a jam. God may have been through with Saul, but Saul was still king. And he had a great deal of power. What if he found out that Samuel had gone to Jesse’s house and anointed another man to be king? What would he do? Samuel could barely stand to think about it. And he said to God, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it he will kill me” (1 Sam. 16:2).
You’ve been there. You know the right thing to do, but the risks are high. And to do the right thing will be costly. You stand to lose something if you take the step you think God wants you to take. Maybe it’s a friendship, or a job, or your standing with certain people, people who can look favorably upon you or unfavorably – depending on what you decide to do.
So, what do you do? Samuel is one of those people in the biblical story that ordinarily sets a good example. Most of the time, he acts with courage and single-mindedness, faithfully and responsibly. But here, in 1 Samuel 16, he hesitates. He ends up doing the right thing, despite the risks, but he doesn’t do it immediately – not the way he usually does. He thinks about it. He almost lets his fear paralyze him. He is exposed here as a frail human being – just like you and me. And just like us, he is spiritually vulnerable. I want you to notice in the space of these thirteen verses two spiritual hazards that beset not only Samuel but you and me as well. Both of them have to do with judging by outward appearance. One is to be intimidated by a threatening possibility, which, in Samuel’s case, is represented by Saul, the unpredictable and dangerously jealous king.
The other is represented by Eliab, the oldest son of Jesse. When Samuel actually did do what God told him to do – when he went to Bethlehem and entered Jesse’s home, he was looking for a king. He knew that one of Jesse’s sons would be the next ruler of Israel. And when he saw Eliab, the oldest, he thought immediately, “This is the one!” After all, the current king, King Saul, was a man of stature, and he had looks. And Eliab reminded Samuel of Saul in these respects. He was tall. He was handsome. Surely, he was the Lord’s chosen!
Samuel was seduced, wasn’t he? He was enticed by Eliab’s charm. Can we say that we are any less susceptible to such things? Isn’t it just like us to be persuaded by appearance?
So, in this account, we see these two dangers: on the one hand, there is the fear of man, and, on the other, there is the allure of beauty. In the first instance, Samuel hesitated to do what the Lord commanded because of his fear of Saul. Why? Because Saul posed a threat to his safety. In the second instance, Samuel rushed ahead with good intentions, but, no matter how well meaning his motives, he was actually enticed by Eliab’s stature. “Saul is king. Saul is big. Kings are big. The bigger, the better.”
So, what does this say about Samuel? What does it say about us? We want to be safe. Right? And we want to be comfortable. At least, we don’t want to be uncomfortable. Safety and ease – self-protection and self-indulgence: These are two enemies of the spirit, and Saul almost falls prey to them. And we do, too, don’t we? We are sinful human beings, and we are always seeking refuge in something other than God. We are always trying to satisfy ourselves with things less than God.
God zeroed in on our problem in verse 7, when he told Samuel that Eliab was not the one. He said – remember? – “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.”