What Matters Most

  • What Matters Most
  • 1 Samuel 16:1-13
  • Lyndol Loyd
  • March 1, 2020
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In recent years there has been a great deal written about birth order and how it impacts children and the way they grow up. This is nothing new; the birth order was significant in Old Testament times. In the Hebrew language, the term “youngest” meant not merely the last-born, but also the lowest in rank. Those who are not firstborn children sometimes comment on how the firstborn has certain unfair advantages.

 

One example of this often shows up in family photo albums. The first child is born, and Mom and Dad take lots of pictures. “Here is our Conner when he was first born. Here he is two minutes later. Here he is at one hour.” This pattern goes on and on as the oldest child’s life is documented moment by moment – from birth, to rolling over, to crawling, to the first tooth, first steps, first haircut, first Christmas, first bite of solid food, first moments of everything you can imagine.

 

Baby number two comes along, and the parents are equally thrilled to add a new member to the family. But when you open up Emily’s photo album the commentary is slightly different. “Here is Emily when she was born. Here she is when we came home from the hospital. Here she is taking a nap. Here she is eating her first meal.” Her life is documented, but not with the same incredible detail of her older brother’s life.

 

Then it comes time to show the pictures of the last born child. “Here is a picture of little Jake when he was born. Here is a picture of Jake’s 10th birthday party. Wow, we need to start taking more pictures of Jake.”

 

There is a fascinating thread that runs through the Old Testament having to do with a reversal of birth order and the rights that normally came with being the firstborn son among the people of Israel.

  •  Ishmael was the first son born of Abraham, but God chose Issac.
  • Esau, a twin, came out of the womb first, but God decided to continue the line of the patriarchs through his younger twin brother, Jacob.
  • Jacob’s son Joseph had ten older brothers, but God called Joseph to a role of leadership and authority in the family.
  • David was the baby of the family and had seven older brothers, but he became the King of Israel.

 

What is God saying through these significant reversals? That firstborn children are a bunch of spoiled brats, and he likes middle or younger children better? As the oldest child, I sure hope not. I think there is something far more significant going on here.

 

In those days, everything went to the firstborn – all rights, all property, and privileges. That’s the way the power structures worked at that time in history. But God is breaking into the ordinary cultural practices of human life and doing something new.

 

Old limitations and boundaries about who counts and who doesn’t do not necessarily apply anymore. God is not bound or beholden to any human system of power. His kingdom is going to shake some things up. We see this portrayed in the Old Testament story of David found in 1 & 2 Samuel. This morning we start with 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.

 

When Israel first entered the Promised Land, God was the leader of the nation and used judges and prophets to give direction to the people. But the people still wanted a king, so God had Samuel anoint Saul as its first king.

 

Saul was an impressive man, head and shoulders above the rest. But over time, he became increasingly corrupt, violent, and evil. So God said He would appoint a man after His own heart to sit on the throne.

 

At the point our story begins in 1 Samuel 16, Samuel is an old man. God calls him to go to Bethlehem and anoint a new king, one of Jesse’s sons. Samuel replies, “But God, we’ve already got a king, and it’s not good for my health to appoint a new king when there’s still an old one on the throne.” God says, “Trust me.”

 

Samuel invites the elders and Jesse’s family to a gathering. You might imagine the arrival would create quite a stir in this obscure little village. Jesse is so proud he can hardly stand it. Picture this scene for a moment. Jesse introduces his first son, his heir. Remember, birth order is everything back in those days. Jesse has always known that Eliab was destined for greatness. He was class president, quarterback, and an outstanding young CEO. The kid pulls up in a sports car and has a commanding presence. He walks into a room and dominates it. Jesse says, “This is my son Eliab.” Eliab is Hebrew for “You the Man.” (Not really.) Jesse says, “He’s the man.” The elders all nod their heads, “Yeah, he’s the man.” Samuel looks at him and said, “Yeah, he’s the man all right.” But God says, “He’s NOT the man.”

 

Jesses trots in sons 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. None of them are the man. Samuel says to Jesse, “Are these the only sons you have?” Jesse replies, “Well, there is still the youngest, but he’s out with the sheep. He’s not the man.” Samuel says, “Go send for him. We’ll wait.” So they stand there, seven sons lined up like the runner’s up in the Miss America pageant, trying to look like they are okay with what is taking place when the truth is they are all hoping the winner will get disqualified so that they can take his place.

Finally, David pulls up in a beat-up, used farm truck. God looks at David and says, “He’s the man.” Do you see a theme here? It is the classic reversal of birth order. Eliab is the natural for the job, but David, the youngest son, is the chosen one.

As human beings, we tend to obsess over external appearance. We tend to think that charm, attractiveness, and ability are all that matter. What God says over and over is that in His kingdom, everybody matters. In God’s kingdom, everybody has something to offer; everybody’s contribution matters, the last-born as well as the firstborn and everyone in between.

 

The thing that mattered the most to God was the quality of David’s heart. Here are a few of those qualities that God found desirable in David.

 

As a parent, I will never forget the Christmas when my girls received the Barbie dream house as a gift. It was unbelievably complex to put together. Do you know how tiny the pieces of Barbie’s silverware are? There must have been 500 little stickers to peel off and place in just the right spot. But on Christmas morning, when they saw the Barbie dream house, it was all worth it. The minute they saw it, they started jumping up and down, full of excitement.

 

When we become adults, we tend to lose that sort of quality that allows us to jump up and down when we feel passionate about something – not so with David. His heart was unfettered. David was so passionate about God and expressed his praise with such wild abandon that he started jumping up and down. Scripture says that he danced before God. His wife, Michal, tried to rein him in, embarrassed by his excessive enthusiasm.

But David let her, and everyone else know that he was committed to celebrating God’s goodness, with even greater reckless passion.

 

In Psalm 9:1, David states, “ I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all the marvelous things you have done.”  This is a sentiment that he repeats over and over again throughout the Psalms.

 

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a heart like that? None of us want to go to our grave with a heart that was cold, calculating, protected, and always safe. We should all long to be moved to give God unrestrained praise and worship with a sense of abandon and sacrifice.

 

I’m not suggesting that you should be something that you are not, but I am saying we shouldn’t settle for being less than we are.

 

While David’s heart was passionate, it was also characterized by deep reflection. In Psalm 139:23, David writes, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.”

 

It is a rare combination to find a person who is committed to passionate action on the one hand and deep reflection on the other, but David was such a person. David’s heart grew deep and reflective in his years alone with God.

 

David spent much of his life waiting. When he was a kid, he tended sheep; this provided lots of quiet time. Then there came this amazing day when the prophet Samuel arrived and anointed David as king.

 

But David didn’t just march into Jerusalem after this and sit on the throne. Saul was still king, so David went back to the sheep and waited. But the years in the wilderness were not wasted. He was learning to be alone with God. He was growing deep.

 

I think that we can make the case that the years when David’s heart was most vulnerable to sin were after he had reached the top, become king, and had everything he wanted. It was the first time in his life that he felt he no longer had to be alone with God. We need to take care that this doesn’t happen to us. We need to make space to develop a reflective heart.

 

You can’t develop roots fast. Roots don’t work that way. When was the last time you described someone by saying, “That person is hurried, frenzied and deep”? You can be hurried, or you can be deep, but you can’t be both. You have to choose.

 

This doesn’t mean you have to quit your job and become a shepherd. That’s probably not God’s plan. But it does mean you will have to arrange for and guard regular, unhurried times alone with God.

 

At the end of Psalm 23, we see David’s passionate and reflective side of his heart merged together when he states, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” He loved God with a stubborn love that would not relent. He didn’t say, “I hope that I will dwell in the house of the Lord.” He didn’t say, “It may be that I’ll dwell in the house of the Lord.” David had the heart of a thoroughbred. He declared for all to hear, “I’m staying in the house. I know I make a mess sometimes, and I may spill on the rug, and knock down the lamps, and break all the expensive stuff. I know what a pain it is to have me in the house, but you’re going to have to drag me out of here kicking and screaming. I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” That was the heart of David, and it can be our heart as well.

 

Father God, may we be known as people with passionate and reflective hearts. We want to be men and women after your own heart. This morning we thank you for opening your house to us through the life, love, and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Thank you for loving each one of us that much. We love you, and our desire and intent is to joyfully dwell in your house forever. Amen.