Shaquile O’Neil felt like an outsider and a freak for most of his childhood.
Thomas Edison daydreamed so much in school that his first teacher called him addled (or air-headed) and said he could never learn.
Benjamin Franklin failed math twice. After that his father took him out of school and put him to work in the family candle shop at age 10.
Albert Einstein was so slow in learning to speak that his parents went to a doctor to see if his brain was OK. As a teenager, he was so rebellious that one of his teachers said he would never amount to much. Then, Einstein failed his university entrance exam and had to go to trade school instead.
The small become great. The fool becomes the genius. The ugly duckling becomes the swan. Cinderella becomes the princess. Even though we have heard these stories a thousand times in a thousand ways, we still hear each story with awe and wonder. Even though we know from history that people surprise us, we are still surprised. Even though we know from experience that outward appearances can be deceiving, we are still deceived.
Again and again, we return to one profound truth which is so easy to forget: “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them” (1 Samuel 16:7). Reality is different from what we see. Let’s go now to the story that explains this life-shaping truth: 1 Samuel 16:1-13.
1 Now the Lord said to Samuel, “You have mourned long enough for Saul. I have rejected him as king of Israel, so fill your flask with olive oil and go to Bethlehem. Find a man named Jesse who lives there, for I have selected one of his sons to be my king.”
2 But Samuel asked, “How can I do that? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”
“Take a heifer with you,” the Lord replied, “and say that you have come to make a sacrifice to the Lord. 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you which of his sons to anoint for me.”
4 So Samuel did as the Lord instructed. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town came trembling to meet him. “What’s wrong?” they asked. “Do you come in peace?”
5 “Yes,” Samuel replied. “I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Purify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” Then Samuel performed the purification rite for Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice, too. 6 When they arrived, Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, “Surely this is the Lord’s anointed!”
7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 8 Then Jesse told his son Abinadab to step forward and walk in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “This is not the one the Lord has chosen.” 9 Next Jesse summoned Shimea, but Samuel said, “Neither is this the one the Lord has chosen.” 10 In the same way all seven of Jesse’s sons were presented to Samuel. But Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 11 Then Samuel asked, “Are these all the sons you have?”
“There is still the youngest,” Jesse replied. “But he’s out in the fields watching the sheep and goats.”
“Send for him at once,” Samuel said. “We will not sit down to eat until he arrives.”
12 So Jesse sent for him. He was dark and handsome, with beautiful eyes.
And the Lord said, “This is the one; anoint him.” 13 So as David stood there among his brothers, Samuel took the flask of olive oil he had brought and anointed David with the oil. And the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David from that day on. Then Samuel returned to Ramah.
We shouldn’t be that surprised. God always has a habit of choosing the lesser, weaker, unexpected people. The Bible is filled with stories of God choosing the younger son instead of the older son (Able instead of Cain, Isaac instead of Ishmael, Jacob instead of Esau, Joseph instead of the eleven older brothers), Moses instead of Aaron. God works through Gideon - the weakest man in the weakest clan in the weakest tribe in Israel (Judges 6). In an overwhelmingly male dominated society, God raises up a woman named Deborah to serve as prophet, judge, and general (Judges 4-5). Again and again, God chooses “things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful” (1 Corinthians 1:27). Why are we still surprised?
Yet we are. Our expectations are strong. Our judgments are consistently made on outward appearance and social custom. Israel did it, and we do it.
In our story, Samuel has just shamed Saul in front of the entire nation. He has just said that God has rejected Saul as king. And just to prove he was no sissy old man, he took his sword and - the Bible says - “cut [the Amelekite king] Agag to pieces before the Lord” in the midst of a religious sacrifice service(1 Samuel 15:33)
So when Samuel comes to Bethlehem, the people know something is up. When he says, come to a sacrifice, they immediately obey. When Samuel tells Jesse to bring his sons, he brings all seven. Samuel looks over Jesse’s sons one by one. Samuel likes what he sees, but God doesn’t. Samuel is looking at the outside - height, beauty, strength - but God is looking at the inside. God is looking deep into the heart where Samuel cannot see.
After the last one goes by and gets the “No” vote from God, Samuel realizes something is wrong. “Are you sure you don’t have any more sons?”
Jesse says, “Well, yes, actually I do have one more boy, but he’s so little we just left him out in the fields to watch the sheep while the real men came to the worship service.” In many developing nations, shepherding is the task given to the weakest member of the family. It doesn’t require much work. You just show the sheep or goats where to go and make sure none of them wander off. Jesse’s last son, the nameless, faceless, least of the family is out in the bush with the animals.
Samuel says, “Go get him. No one will sit until he arrives.” So all the big important men of the village stand around waiting for one nobody child to be hunted up from the sheep hills. Maybe 30 minutes. Maybe a few hours. The village elders wait for a boy who hasn’t even had his bar mitzvah.
Then, the boy arrives, and despite the fact that the point of this whole story is that the outside is not important, the story teller can’t help but point out that the boy was “dark and handsome, with beautiful eyes.” Old habits die hard. But God says, “This is the one.”
Immediately, Samuel takes out his flask of olive oil - the same flask he had used to anoint Saul as king of Israel - and he poured it over David’s head. There, finally, we get his name - David. For twelve verses the boy is this nameless, least-of-all, youngest son. Finally, in the thirteenth verse, when Samuel anoints him as king, we learn his name. In a sense, he was a nobody that God transformed into somebody. And God’s Spirit was powerfully on and in David from that day forward.
If we unpack this story, we find the reminder once again that our God is full of surprises. And if we want in on these surprises, then we need to learn to see in new ways. This passage uses the word for “see” over and over again - five times just in verse 7: “Do not see his appearance ... for God sees not as people see, for people see the outward appearance, but God sees the heart.”
Seeing correctly is the main point of this passage. To see our world and ourselves correctly we have to see with our hearts and not with our eyes. When we learn to see with our hearts, we will learn to see God’s surprises.
The first surprise is God’s estimation of value. Everyone in this story sees with their eyes first. Even Samuel, “the Seer,” sees wrongly. He sees Eliab as “the one.” He’s tall, good looking, and the firstborn son - looks like a natural leader. No one saw David’s value. He wasn’t even there. David wasn’t even worth the invitation. But God sees value where we don’t. God sees potential where we see problems. God sees power where we see weakness. God sees world-changers where we see insignificant children.
Many of us here today are teachers. Most teachers can’t remember all their students. The only ones you remember are the really good ones and the really bad ones. You remember those who excel and those who drive you crazy.
Teachers, allow God to adjust your vision. Allow God to reshape how you see your students. Maybe those troublesome students are actually your students with the most potential. Maybe they’re bored. Maybe they’re having problems at home. Maybe they need some extra attention or some extra love.
Parents, maybe your kid is struggling in school now. Maybe her test scores are disappointing to you. Maybe his behavior is turning your hair gray. I hesitate to say this, but my Mom could tell you plenty of stories about me! Remember, Einstein and Franklin and Edison. Remember that beauty and genius take time to develop. Remember that what this world values is not what God values most.
Remember: That child is supremely important and valuable to God. That child is loved by God and is deeply worth of your love and acceptance. That child can change our world. See him as a world-changer. See her as a royal princess, for she is a daughter of the King of Kings.
But it’s not enough for us to think only about others here. We must also adjust our vision about ourselves. In last week’s text, Samuel chided Saul: “Although you may think little of yourself, are you not the leader of the tribes of Israel? The Lord has anointed you king of Israel” (15:17). We are more than we think we are. We see a small seed. God sees a tree that becomes a shelter for others (Mark 4:30-32). We may think we are not very smart, not very powerful, and not very important, but “God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important” (1 Corinthians 1:28).
Do not allow other people’s estimation of your value to shrink your self-worth. Don’t allow other people’s short-sighted comments or complaints to shrink your vision. Don’t allow your own doubts and awareness of your failures to lesson God’s great vision for your life.
You are a chosen child of God. “You belong to Christ Jesus. Through him, God has enriched [you] in every way ... You have every spiritual gift that you need ... he will keep you strong to the end ... God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:5-9).
That is your eternal value. That is what really matters. Live united with Christ, and let everything else fall into its proper place.
The second surprise is God’s timing. Samuel anoints David as king. God’s Spirit fills David in a powerful way. Then, Samuel leaves. Samuel goes home. David and the rest of his family go home. David doesn’t march into a palace. He goes back to his sheep. God starts something and then ... waits.
When God told Samuel to anoint David, Saul was still king. And Saul would continue as king for a long time - somewhere between 7 and 25 years. So David has to go about his normal life with this mysterious anointing in his history. A prophet said he would become God’s chosen king, but here he is pulling a sheep out of the mud. A prophet said he would be king, but here he is singing alone in the hills with the night crickets. A prophet said he would change the world, but here he is running for his life and hiding in caves.
Jesus said the Kingdom of God is like a seed planted in the ground. It takes time. The farmer plants the seed and then waits ... and waits ... and waits. Changes are happening, but sometimes they are underground where you can’t even see them at all. Sometimes, you can only see the changes over long periods of time. If the farmer tries to rush the harvest, he will ruin everything. He has to give the ground and rain and sun time to do their work.
David was ready to be anointed but not ready to be king. David was ready to receive God’s calling, but not yet ready to actually do the work of his calling. David needed time to mature, time to become ripe.
God’s timing is mysterious. God’s timing is usually not our timing. We usually want things to happen faster. But God usually moves things along slowly, like a plant growing little by little toward the harvest.
How is God working in your life? Are you patient enough to wait for God’s harvest? Do you expect results immediately? Are you giving your life time to mature?
Are you giving your kids time to grow? Are you giving them space to expand and to move forward at their own pace and in their own way? Are you allowing God the space to mature them for the Kingdom, or are you rushing them for worldly results?
Has God given you a vision for your life? Sometimes it feels like it’s taking forever. Sometimes it feels like nothing is happening. Maybe that seed is growing down there under the surface. Maybe there are new buds coming out that you can’t even see. Maybe you’re ready to receive the calling, but not yet ready to live the calling. “So,” in the words of Paul, “let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up” (Galatians 6:9).
If you want to see well, listen well. Listen to the voice of God in your heart. God does not see as we see. Let God adjust your vision of what is valuable in our world and valuable in you. Let God adjust your vision of timing. You are more than you think you are, and God is doing more than you think he is. God has big surprises in store for you. Learn to see with your heart, and what you see will surprise you.