Look Closer

By Rev. Heidi L. Barham |  March 19, 2023

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Read 1 Samuel 16:1 – 13
Before we look at our text for the morning, I want to tell you about a story that I came across the other day.  It was written by Max Lucado, who some of you may know is one of my favorite authors and teachers. 
In the story, Max talks about a sweater that hung in his closet that he seldom wore.  He said that the sweater was too small, the sleeves were too short, the shoulders were too tight… and went on to say that some of the buttons were missing and the thread was frazzled.
By all rights, he should have thrown the sweater away.  After all, he had no real use for it… he was not likely to ever wear it again.  That is what conventional logic would say.  But he said that it is love that wouldn’t let him part with that ratty old sweater.
You see the sweater didn’t have any designer labels inside… no tags that read “made in Taiwan” or “wash in cold water or dry clean only.”  It wasn’t made in a factory or even on an assembly line.  It was not the product of some nameless worker earning a living… it was the creation of a devoted mother… expressing her love.
The sweater is one of a kind and cannot be replaced.  And although the sweater has lost all of its use… it has lost none of its value.  That’s because the sweater is not valuable because of its function… but because of its maker.  (Story adapted from “The Applause of Heaven” by Max Lucado as cited in The Inspirational Bible, 1995, p.305-306)
I am going out on a limb here… but just maybe that is what the Psalmist David had in mind when he wrote, “You knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13b).
And that brings us to our second Old Testament reading for the morning, where we find the story of how the Psalmist David came to be chosen as Israel’s king. 
The text starts out with God asking Samuel just how long he was going to mope around grieving over the fact that God had rejected Saul as the king of Israel. 
Just to put things into a little perspective… Saul was the first God-appointed king of Israel… and by all accounts, he was a man with a very striking appearance who was known for his personal courage and generosity. 
However, Saul did not quite measure up when it came to the leadership department.  That is because he was impulsive by nature and had a habit of disobeying God… which ultimately led to the Lord rejecting him as king… and ensuring that none of his descendants would take the throne after Saul’s death.
Just before our text for the morning… at the end of chapter 15 of 1 Samuel, we learn that Saul did acknowledge his sin and ask for forgiveness… however, it would seem that his motives were not exactly pure.  He still seemed more concerned with appearances and holding onto favor in the eyes of the people.  And that is why the Lord rejected Saul and why his counselor and spiritual leader, Samuel, parted company with him.
But according to the text, the Lord did not allow Samuel to wallow around having his pity party over Saul’s rejection as king for long.  He told Samuel to get over it and to go down to see a man named Jesse… because the Lord had chosen one of Jesse’s sons to become king.
However, Samuel was afraid that Saul would find out the real reason why he was going to Bethlehem and try to kill him… after all, Saul was known for having a temper.  But the Lord gave Samuel very detailed instructions on what he needed to do to avoid the rath of Saul. 
And so, Samuel set out to do just what the Lord had commanded.
Now, when Samuel arrived in Bethlehem, he initially encountered the elders of the town who were fearful themselves… thinking that Samuel  had come to do them harm.  But the text says that when they asked Samuel if he had come in peace… he gave them his assurance that he had indeed come in peace… explaining that he was there to make a sacrifice to the Lord… and he invited them to consecrate themselves and join him in the sacrifice, just as the Lord had instructed him to do.
Now, it would seem that Jesse may have been one of the elders that Samuel encountered, because as we keep reading in the text… Samuel then consecrated Jesse as well as his sons and invited them to the sacrifice also.  This act of consecration was necessary in order to prepare them to come before the Lord to offer their sacrifice. 
Now, when Samuel met Jesse’s first son, Eliab, he took one look at him and thought to himself, “Surely this must be the one God has anointed to be king.”  But the Lord wanted him to LOOK CLOSER… because the fact of the matter is that looks can be deceiving.
Saul was a tall, handsome, and impressive looking man… so, it is conceivable that Samuel thought he should be looking for someone like that to become Saul’s replacement… but clearly God had something else in mind.
That is why God told Samuel, “Looks aren’t everything. Don’t be impressed with his looks and stature. I’ve already eliminated him. God judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart” (MSG).
So, Jesse called six more of his sons to come before Samuel… and six more times Samuel discerned that the Lord had not chosen any of them. 
But not to be deterred from the task that God had called him there to do… Samuel asked Jesse if he had any more sons.  And Jesse told him that his youngest son was still out tending to the sheep.  Samuel directed Jesse to send for him… encouraging him that they would not sit down until he came.
And according to the text, once David came in, the youngest of Jesse’s eight sons… the sheep-herder… the one described as being the picture of health with a fine appearance… that is when the Lord told Samuel, “…anoint him; he is the one.”
So, Samuel anointed David with oil… and as the last verse of the text tells us, “…from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David.”
And while Samuel anointed David for the express purpose of becoming Israel’s next king… that did not happen right away.  Saul remained king until his death… and if we keep reading in 1 Samuel 16, we find out that Saul was tormented by an evil spirit.
His servants [apparently having heard that “music has charms to soothe the savage breast”] suggested finding someone to play the harp to help calm Saul down when the evil spirit came upon him.  One of them recommended that Saul call for David to come play for him during those particularly distressing times… which is how David came to be in service to Saul and became one of his armor-bearers. 
And while it seemed like everything was hunky dory between Saul and his anointed successor… we need to LOOK CLOSER… because looks really can be deceiving.
And if we keep reading… we will see how glaringly obvious it is that Saul was a very bitter and jealous man… which leads to the extremely contentious relationship between Saul and David.  But in due time… in accordance with God’s divine plan… we see that David was elevated to his rightful place as king while Saul found himself on the wrong end of his own sword.
Now it would seem that David must have been a much better man than Saul… however, when we LOOK CLOSER… we find out that David was far from perfect. 
David not only committed adultery with Bathsheba… he arranged for the murder of her husband, Uriah, the Hittite... all in attempt to hide the fact that he had had an affair with Bathsheba and gotten her pregnant. 
But that was not all… David also directly disobeyed God and took a census of the people… and he failed to deal with the sins of his own children effectively. 
Some people might think that would have been enough to cast him out of favor with God… and he might have been labeled as a failure in the eyes of the rest of the world.
But if we LOOK CLOSER at the Word of God and turn to Acts 13:22, we find this description of David:  After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’
At the end of the day… some might look at David’s track record and decide he was of little use to anyone… but remember what I said earlier about Max Lucado’s sweater… it had lost its use but none of its value because its ultimate value was not because of its function but because of its maker.
And that is the same thing we might say about David… he was a disobedient, murderous, adulterous man who some would say was of no real use… however, that same man will forever be memorialized in the Scriptures as a man after his Maker’s own heart. 
David’s value was not based on his function as the king or even as a shepherd… his value is all because of his Maker.  In spite of the many mistakes David made… God still was still able to use him… and even inspired him to write nearly half of the Book of Psalms.
So, what might we take from this scripture and apply to our lives today? 
First and foremost, we need to remember that God judges by faith and character and not by appearances. 
God is the only One who has the ability to LOOK CLOSER and see what is inside of us… and God is the only One who can accurately judge any of us. 
So instead of spending so much time attending to our outward appearance… our focus really ought to be on spending time in cultivating our character. 
While everyone else can see what we look like on the outside… God is the One who truly knows what our hearts look like.  And despite all of the flaws and failures that others want to use against us to say we are not qualified to serve the Lord… God will always LOOK CLOSER. 
God looks through the window of our souls directly into our hearts… to the part of us that makes us uniquely who we are… the beloved children of God. 
And this is the best part… God’s love for us is unconditional… He loves us and invites us to be in relationship with Him… just the way we are.
He doesn’t wait for us to clean up our acts and get our lives in order before opening His loving arms to us.  Just remember what Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans… that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
That means even when it looks like our lives can’t possibly be of any use to God [or anyone else for that matter] … when we think that there is nothing that we have to offer… no matter what others may think or say to the contrary… God loves us and wants to use us for His glory just the way we are… flaws and all.
And we need to keep that in mind not only for ourselves… but also when we look at and consider others.
We need to make it a point to LOOK CLOSER to see past their outer appearance… to look beyond their faults and shortcomings… and look for what God sees… that precious child that God loves just as unconditionally as God loves us.
But sadly, we are living in a day and time when there are some people who believe that they have been given special privileges and put into positions of power to do what the Lord says we should not do…
It is over in Matthew 7 (1-2) that we read, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
We have not been called to be the judge, the jury nor executioner of God’s children.  It is not up to us to determine who has value or worth based on what people do or what they look like. 
Keep in mind, Moses was a murder... Rahab was a prostitute... Noah had problems with drunkenness... Jacob was a cheater... Thomas was a doubter... Paul, known as Saul, was a persecutor of Christians... and Peter was a hothead who actually denied Jesus three different times. 
But in spite of all of their shortcomings... God used each of them in mighty ways.
And God has a desire to use each of us in mighty ways as well... but we must be willing to LOOK CLOSER and open our eyes to see what God sees when He looks at each of us… not wretched sinners who are beyond all hope and have no value… but beloved children of God… and reflectors of God’s glory.