Bible readings for Sunday, June 17 (based on the Revised Common Lectionary)
1 Samuel 15:34-16:13 – In God’s order, character trumps appearance
• Samuel anoints David saying that the Lord looks on the heart, not appearance
Mark 4:26-34 – God’s realm grows unseen where it is planted
• Jesus teaches that the Kingdom of God is a hidden influence like seed that sprouts from the soil
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17 – New life brings vision of the kingdom of God
• Living as a spiritual person will always be in tension with living the human life
1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13 » In God’s order, character trumps appearance
Samuel anoints David saying that the Lord looks on the heart, not appearance
34-35 Then Samuel left for Ramah, but Saul went up to his home in Gibeah of Saul. Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. And the Lord regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel.
“Ramah… Gibeah” – it was a separation but archaeology has revealed that Ramah and Gibeah were only a few miles apart.
“The Lord regretted…” – echoes 15:11 and God’s regret at the time of the flood, Genesis 6:7. This is not a conflict with 1 Sam. 15:29 where ‘will not regret’ in some versions means will not ‘relent’ or ‘change His mind’. Saul’s call to kingship had started well, 1 Sam. 9-10, but his character was to self-justify and on this test of how he had followed a very specific command he lied twice, 1 Sam. 15:3, 13, 20-22.
For further study, see 2 Sam. 11:27, 12:7-12, Hebrews 13:7
1 Sam. 16:1 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”
Jesse was the grandson of Boaz and Ruth, of Bethlehem.
2 But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”
Samuel had reason to be cautious – he had told Saul that God had rejected his kingship.
The Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’
3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.”
Bringing a sacrifice gave Samuel a pretext for going to Bethlehem and following what the Lord would show him next.
4 Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”
5 Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”
7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
“The Lord looks at the heart” – a much-quoted verse, which headlines a principle. The Lord is concerned with what is on the inside, i.e. character and spiritual disposition, whereas we are swayed by more evident attributes including appearance. Saul stood out in appearance and height, 1 Sam. 9:2, but in character he turned out to lack stature.
8-11 Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”
“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”
Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”
12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.
Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”
13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.
With v. 14 this is the pivotal moment when by this physical anointing there is a transfer of the spiritual anointing of God’s Spirit from Saul to David (which he recalled in worship, Psalm 51:11). It is the beginning of a long process over seven years in which Saul’s hold on the kingship is displaced by David’s growing influence.
It is hard for us to grasp how, with foreknowledge, God can allow something to happen which then turns to failure. This makes a powerful statement about the principle of man’s free will, but also the seriousness with which God regards a failure of leadership through the wrong exercise of free will.
In the O.T. the Holy Spirit comes on a person of God’s choice for a purpose, for them to step up to an anointed role e.g. as prophet or king or leader. In the NT the Spirit was given at Pentecost and all believers can ask and receive, and are later instructed to “be being filled”, Ephesians 5:18, in an ongoing way for an empowered ministry.
The principle of “trust and test” applies to us as it did to Saul and David. Saul’s arrogant and self-justifying personality meant that he lacked the honesty to know his need of God and need to put right with God his mistakes. David made mistakes, but God had his heart – a crucial difference.
We have free will to obey (or to take God at His word) or not. How have you grown through being tested on this?
Ezekiel 17:22-24 (additional reading)
22 “ ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain.
“A shoot… and plant it” – one of David’s line, Isaiah 11:1, Zech. 3:8, made king. A parable of a messianic future in sharp contrast to the destruction foretold in the preceding prophecies.
“High and lofty mountain” – Jerusalem, Isaiah 2:2-4
23 On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches.
“Birds of every kind” – people of every nation.
The Lord Himself plants this shoot from the very top growth
24 All the trees of the forest will know that I the Lord bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish.
“Bring down the tall tree” – 1 Samuel 2:1-10, Isaiah 2:12-18.
Trees represent the royal line. The pride and failure of David’s descendants would not stop God’s purpose for the dynasty of David, which was fulfilled in Jesus.
“ ‘I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it.’ ”
Ezekiel was a later prophet who became one of the exiles and a contemporary of Jeremiah, Daniel and Obadiah. He had seen how king after king, and generation after generation, had rejected God’s ways – with disastrous consequences. He also caught a higher perspective: God’s purpose would be fulfilled by God’s action overruling man’s failure. When all around us appears hopeless, in the higher, heavenly perspective God is already bringing His good purposes about.
Mark 4:26-34 » God’s realm grows unseen where it is planted
- Jesus teaches that the Kingdom of God is a hidden influence, like seed that sprouts from the soil
26-29 [Jesus] also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like.
The disciples thought the kingdom of God was a righteous political rule – looking back to David. Not so. All of Jesus’ teaching sought to demonstrate and explain how the kingdom of God, God’s rule and purpose, impacts man’s freewill existence. God’s kingdom exists and grows and produces its good effect in ways that are largely unseen and unrecognised – in our hearts, and through us as changed people, bringing God’s order in righteous, beneficial change to our world.
A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain – first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
“He also said” – Mark recounts some further seed parables which are about the hidden life of the kingdom of God which will appear. The kingdom of God is hidden, 4:21, but will certainly become established like a crop, and grow.
30-32 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”
“Like a mustard seed – the contrast between a very small beginning – the mustard seed was proverbially small – and spectacular growth.
33-34 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when He was alone with His own disciples, he explained everything.
Mark shows that he is including a compilation of these parables, not a chronological account.
This teaching reminds us that God’s kingdom does come and does grow whether or not we can see the impact of praying ‘Your kingdom come’. The change and growth keeps on happening “all by itself” as God’s will is done with the patchy support and partnership of His people. This teaching emphasises God’s sovereignty in fulfilling His purpose, but the witness of the Bible as a whole is on the way God chooses us to be His ‘executive partners’ through our lives and relationships.
Heroes of faith like William Wilberforce and John Wesley whose hearts were changed by the Holy Spirit were passionate in their mission and persevering in setbacks and opposition and lack of progress. Centuries later, we see with more clarity what their prayer and persistence achieved for eternity.
Can you recall something you have prayed for persistently without seeing change at the time – and then, looking back, you could see the shift?
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17 » New life brings a vision of the kingdom of God
Living as a spiritual person will always be in tension with living the human life
6-7 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight.
“At home in the body” – spiritual life is constrained by human existence.
This is not an exhortation to be super-spiritual and believing the unbelievable, but rather living one’s whole life with God in a trust relationship which believes His promises and takes an eternal view, not just the immediate one. This looks back to 2 Cor. 4:18-5:1.
8-10 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please Him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
“Appear before the judgment seat” – in our courtroom language we speak of being ‘called to appear before the bench’. This was the bēma, where the Roman governor sat to deliver judicial verdicts.
“Receive what is due” – there is judgment in heaven and we will have to give account for what we have done “in the body”, our here-and-now lives. Where we fall short of “living for Him” we should keep short accounts with God and others.
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14-15 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.
“Christ’s love compels us” – Paul’s motivation is the strong awareness of the price paid for him by Jesus, and the relationship of love which holds him. The revelation of how Jesus loves us through His sacrificial death compels us to live for Him, not for ourselves.
16-17 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
This is a change of identity, from the old unregenerate person to the new, spiritual person. New creation also brings new perspective – we see things differently and the old, worldly point of view seems narrow and inadequate. The worldly view of Christ as a historical figure and perhaps a model to follow is radically overturned by the experience of the Holy Spirit Christ in us – and a growing understanding of who we are “in Christ”, our heavenly identity.
There’s a tension in living for Christ and in the tension of the world’s ways, in being made a new creation person, but with a lot of old creation habits and attitudes hanging on. The life of the Spirit which is the context of this letter and others written to early church believers demands that we see ourselves as heaven sees us, and live up to this new identity. Too easily we slide back into responding to the world around us as we see it with our eyes rather than as we perceive it, drawing on the spiritual awareness given by the Holy Spirit. People let us down – that is what humans do. The worldly view will be condemning and judgmental; as those in Christ we are equipped to perceive what is going on in a person that impact us unhelpfully, and as those compelled by Christ’s love, we can choose to return to them the grace and forgiveness we ourselves have received from God.
What excites you about the new life, in Christ as a new creation? What holds you back from experiencing it fully?
Also published on Medium.