The Power of Choice

Lesson Focus:  You will realize that God will choose you for service because of what He sees inside you.

My Choices: 1 Samuel 13:8-14.

[8]  He waited seven days, the time appointed by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the people were scattering from him. [9]  So Saul said, "Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the peace offerings." And he offered the burnt offering. [10]  As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came. And Saul went out to meet him and greet him.

[11]  Samuel said, "What have you done?" And Saul said, "When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, [12]  I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the LORD.’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering." [13]  And Samuel said to Saul, "You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the LORD your God, with which he commanded you. For then the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. [14]  But now your kingdom shall not continue. The LORD has sought out a man after his own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you."

From a secular standpoint Saul was ideally equipped to be king; he was regal in appearance, had a demonstrated capacity to protect Israel’s material interests by devising and executing successful military strategies, and enjoyed popular support. However, Saul and his kingship were fatally flawed and doomed to failure. From the standpoint of Samuel and the biblical narrator, the reason for Saul’s failure is simple: the king was a spiritual rebel against the Lord’s word. Saul is portrayed in chapters 13 and 14 as committing two of the most serious types of sin that are possible in a religious system grounded in revelation: rejection of the divine word, expressed here through active disobedience, and supplementation of the divine word with additional authoritative instruction. The former is manifested in his disobedience to the Lord’s command issued in 10:8; the latter, in the imposition of foolish additional requirements on Israelite soldiers beyond those prescribed by the Torah. Through these early actions Saul established a pattern of disobedience and poor judgment from which he would not deviate. As a result, his dynasty would cease upon his death.

In accordance with the Lord’s word, Saul was in Gilgal, where he anxiously awaited the passage of the seven days and the prophet Samuel’s arrival. The king’s timely obedience to Samuel’s directive to go to Gilgal had likely saved his life since to have remained at Michmash would have meant certain defeat at the hand of the Philistines. However, Saul’s obedience was only partial; he had also been directed to wait until Samuel arrived and administrated over the prescribed sacrifices. Since sacrifices were normally offered up twice a day, in the early morning and at twilight, Samuel could have arrived at any time on the seventh day and still fulfilled his role in the process. Unfortunately Saul did not give Samuel an opportunity to do so but offered the burnt offering himself. Before the king could offer up the fellowship offerings, however, he was interrupted by Samuel’s arrival. Saul went out to greet Samuel. But Samuel’s curt response in the form of a question – What have you done? – makes clear that the prophet was not interested in social niceties at this time. Saul responded to the question defensively, blaming three other parties for his act of disobedience: his soldiers, who were scattering; Samuel, who did not come at the set time; and the Philistines, who were assembling at Michmash. Thus Saul forced himself to perform the sacrifice because he feared that the Philistines would attack him before he had sought the favor of the Lord. It is ironic – and symptomatic of Saul’s spiritual dullness – that the king believed he could obtain the Lord’s favor through an act of disobedience. Brushing aside Saul’s excuses, Samuel condemned the king’s actions as those of a fool. No line of reasoning, however compelling, could ever justify disobedience to the Lord. Saul had disobeyed the Lord’s command and had to suffer the penalties. The employment of the term “command”, used elsewhere to refer to Torah mandates, places Samuel’s words spoken in his role as a prophet of Yahweh on the same plane as the laws given through Moses at Sinai. The prophet mentioned two consequences resulting from Saul’s disobedience, one with long-range implications and one with immediate implications. First, the Lord voided plans to prosper Saul’s future dynasty [13-14]. As in the case of the dynastic promises made to David, there was a conditional dimension to the agreement that required obedience to the Lord for covenant fulfillment. Second and more immediately, the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart … to be prince over his people. The term translated “prince” is the same one used earlier to describe Saul’s present position as king [9:16; 10:1]. Unlike Saul, this new leader would be a man after the Lord’s heart, a phrase that may refer (1) to the person’s profound commitment to the Lord or (2) to the fact that the Lord had selected that person. In light of 1 Samuel 16:7, it appears that the phrase here refers to one who is committed to God’s will and purposes.

Their Choices:  1 Samuel 16:6-10.

[6]  When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, "Surely the LORD’s anointed is before him." [7]  But 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: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart." [8]  Then Jesse called Abinadab and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, "Neither has the LORD chosen this one." [9]  Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, "Neither has the LORD chosen this one." [10]  And Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, "The LORD has not chosen these."  [ESV]

Saul’s work for God had ended, but God’s work would go on. The Lord had already sought out a man after his own heart [13:14] and appointed him to be the leader of His people. Chapter 16 portrays the unfolding of God’s plan as it centered in the person of David. At one level this chapter presents an interesting historical narrative about how one of Saul’s adversaries outwitted the king to anoint a royal rival. But the writer’s intention was clearly to present more than historical fact. Chapter 16 is not so much about Samuel and David as it is about God. It portrays the Lord’s infinite and effortless superiority to all things human. The ways of the Lord confound even the greatest spiritual intellects and frustrate all earthly forces that would stand in His way. This chapter provides one of the most fascinating examples of the Lord’s inclination to choose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are [1 Cor. 1:28]. When this story concludes, an unlettered rural shepherd boy has become the Lord’s anointed.

[6-10]  God gave Samuel a divine mission spelled out in specific terms. Samuel was first to fill an animal horn flask with specially prepared olive oil. Then he was to take it along on a journey to Jesse of Bethlehem for a specific reason: Samuel was to anoint one of his sons to be king. Samuel’s task was simple yet dangerous. As Israel’s kingmaker and most esteemed servant of the Lord, Samuel’s actions were of great interest to Saul. If Samuel were to make an unexpected journey, especially one to a location outside of his normal judicial circuit, it would likely be reported to the King. Saul would then certainly view Samuel’s actions for what they were – a threat to Saul’s own claim to the throne. Consequently, the Lord gave Samuel an additional task that would help mask the central purpose of his trip to Bethlehem. Samuel was to make a sacrifice in that region and would take a heifer along for that purpose. As a Levitical judge, Samuel was authorized to sacrifice such an animal as part of a ritual that atoned for an unsolved murder committed in a rural region. Thus Samuel’s journey to a rural region with a sacrificial animal accompanying him would not have raised undue suspicions. When Samuel arrived at Bethlehem, he personally invited Jesse and his sons to the sacrifice and oversaw their consecration. At a later time, Samuel began the anointing ceremony, the central purpose of his trek to Bethlehem. However, as this event began, the prophet was portrayed not knowing the Lord’s will. This is the only time in biblical narrative when Samuel was shown in this uncomfortable position. Samuel was forced, therefore, to initiate the search for the man after the Lord’s heart with only the use of his own insight. When he saw Eliab, Jessie’s firstborn son, he was impressed by his appearance or his height [7] and concluded that the Lord’s anointed stood before him. But before Samuel could uncork the horn and pour oil on Eliab’s head, the Lord ended His silence. First, He informed Samuel that Eliab had been rejected as Israel’s next king. Then, in a particularly memorable statement the Lord uttered one of the most important statements in all of Scripture regarding divine concerns and human capacities. God first affirmed his fundamental otherness: the Lord sees not as man sees [7]. Neither the Lord’s considerations nor his abilities are the same as those of humans; whereas man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. The Lord alone has the capacity to observe and judge a person’s heart, that is, one’s thoughts, emotions, and intents. On God’s scales these matters outweigh all other aspects of a human life. After seven of Jesse’s sons had passed in front of Samuel, the Lord had still not indicated to Samuel His choice for Israel’s next king. What a crucial moment this is. In 1 Samuel so much hangs on choices. Israel chose the ark in chapter 4 – and disaster followed. Israel chose (in that they desired) a king in chapter 8 – another disaster. But now the godly Samuel is on the scene; surely we can trust the faithful prophet of God with the fortunes of God’s kingdom? No, the kingdom is safe only with the Lord. Now we can see what would have happened had Samuel been left to himself. Samuel looks at Eliab and is sure he sees the Lord’s anointed. Only the Lord’s I have rejected him saves Israel from ruin. The text contains a warning to prophets and others among God’s people; it provides a revelation of our need; it shows us the discernment we lack. Only the Lord’s wisdom is adequate for directing His kingdom. There is at least one thing we can seek to do: beware of the impressiveness of external appearances. Look beyond the external appearances to a heart that seeks to be pleasing to the Lord.

His Choices:  1 Samuel 16:11-13.

[11]  Then Samuel said to Jesse, "Are all your sons here?" And he said, "There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep." And Samuel said to Jesse, "Send and get him, for we will not sit down till he comes here." [12]  And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the LORD said, "Arise, anoint him, for this is he." [13]  Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah.  [ESV]

Samuel’s experience with Jesse’s sons seemed to contradict his revelation from God and it resulted in a perplexing situation. On the one hand, the Lord revealed that He had chosen a son of Jesse to be king; on the other hand, he had rejected every son paraded before Samuel. In an effort to resolve the confusion, Samuel asked Jesse if he had any other sons. As it turned out, Jesse’s youngest son had been excluded from the event because he was out tending the sheep. With urgency Samuel requested that Jesse’s remaining son be brought in. When David was brought in from the field, his favorable physical traits were immediately obvious: he was first of all ruddy, either possessing red-tinted hair or a bronze complexion; he possessed beautiful eyes and was handsome. However, especially in light of verse 7, these physical assets were no proof that David was God’s choice; at best they were irrelevant. What mattered was the young man’s heart, and only God could judge that. The Lord removed all suspense from the situation with His word to Samuel: Arise, anoint him, for this is he [12]. Obediently, Samuel opened the horn of oil and poured its contents on David’s head before his brothers and the elders of Bethlehem. The shapeless, invasive fluid used in the ceremony served fittingly as a symbol of the mystical presence of God. As the oil worked its way into the individual’s hair and pores, it symbolized the divine presence entering into the one being anointed. When David, the youngest of the sons in Jesse’s family, was selected as the Lord’s anointed, he joined a venerable crowd of Torah patriarchs selected by God in a way that confounded social norms. Other men who were not firstborn but who were selected by the Lord over their more socially powerful older brothers include Seth, Noah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Ephraim and Moses. It seems that the biblical record deliberately creates the impression that Yahweh prefers to use disenfranchised members of society – earlier in 1 Samuel the barren woman Hannah and the child Samuel – to do His most significant work.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         In chapters 13 and 14, Saul is portrayed as committing two serious types of sins: rejection of the divine word through active disobedience and supplementing the divine word with additional instruction. Often we overlook the serious nature of the second sin listed here. If we accept Scripture as God’s authoritative word, then to add any requirement or instruction to that word, in effect, says that God’s word is not sufficient but must be supplemented by human thought. We have the responsibility to interpret God’s word but we must not add anything to that word [see John’s warning in Revelation 22:18]. Ask God to convict you whenever you are supplementing His word with your own requirements or teaching.

2.         How does Saul react when he is confronted with his sin by Samuel? How should he have reacted? What were the two consequences of Saul’s disobedience?

3.         Saul sought to obtain the Lord’s favor through an act of disobedience. He was doing a good thing (offering a sacrifice to God) but he did not follow God’s instructions given in His word. No spiritual act of worship or service to God is pleasing to Him unless it is done according to His word. Think about times when you have done the same thing as Saul. Ask God to protect you from seeking to do things for Him without following His instruction.

4.         What do we learn about God from the choosing and anointing of David by Samuel? What does 1 Samuel 16:7 teach us about how we are to choose our church leaders? What are some ways we can seek to look upon a person’s heart? What does a man after God’s own heart mean? How can we become such a person?


1, 2 Samuel, Robert Bergen, NAC, Broadman.

The Message of Samuel, Mary Evans, Intervarsity Press.

Get Founders
in Your Inbox
A weekly brief of our new teaching resources.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Teaching BY TYPE
Teaching BY Author
Founders Podcasts