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I have provided for myself a king. (1 Sam. 16:1)

Last week we met the first king–Saul. Saul believed in God and he offered service to God, but in his heart he was in rebellion against God. Saul is a man that none of us want to be like. He was a disaster to himself and to the people around him.

Putting a human face on biblical teaching

Saul is a very important figure in the Bible, because he puts a human face on a strand of teaching that runs throughout the Bible. He is the worthless servant who dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s treasure (Matt. 25:26-30). He is described as a wicked and lazy servant.

Saul is the self-righteous Pharisee who stood in the temple to pray but did not go home justified (Luke 18:9-14). He is the one who calls Jesus, “Lord, lord” but does not do the will of the Father and who fails to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 7:21-23).

Going further into the New Testament, Saul puts a human face on the person in the book of Hebrews, who has tasted the heavenly gift and the power of the age to come, and then falls away (Hebrews 6:4-6). He is like those in Paul’s letter to Timothy who have rejected a good conscience and have made shipwreck of their faith (1 Tim. 1:19).

Saul is like those in the letter of John who “went out from us because they were not of us” (1 John 2:19). He is, in the words of the Apostle Peter, like the dog that returns to its vomit, or the pig that returns to wallow in the mire (2 Peter 2:22).

These are not flattering analogies. But they stand in a long line of biblical pictures that flash like a red warning light for us. Saul is, as we saw last week, the one to whom Christ will say on the last day, “Depart from me, I never knew you” (Matt. 7:23). Saul is a tragic figure. None of us wants to be like him.

The Difference Between a Religious Man
and a Regenerate Man

Today I want to introduce you to a second king, whose name is David. This man is different from Saul. His life is different, and its outcome is different. In this series, we will follow the tale of these two kings, and we will see the difference between them.

In a nutshell, it boils down to this: Saul was a religious man. David was a regenerated man, a man with a new heart, a man with a different spirit. There is all the difference in the world between the two. No Christian should expect to see Saul in heaven. Every Christian will see David in heaven. The good news is that God is able to turn a Saul into a David.

The reason you will see David in heaven is not that he was without sin. Most of you know David’s story well. His sins were great and they were many, but the evidence that David belonged to God is that he could not live with them.

David could cover up for a while, but when a person has a heart for God, they cannot live at a distance from God for long. That’s the difference between the religious person and the regenerated person.

Some of you know the name of Alan Redpath. He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, and then of my home church, Charlotte Chapel in Edinburgh.

Alan Redpath grew up in the north of England, where he played rugby.  For those who don’t know, rugby is like football, without the helmets and the pads! It’s not for the fainthearted, and it often has a hard drinking culture that goes along with it.

I will never forget, as a teenager, hearing Alan Redpath give his testimony. He told of how, in early adult life, he had come to faith in Christ, and then for a time he returned to his old sins and went back to his old ways. He said, “I knew I was a Christian at that time, because when I went back to my old ways, I was absolutely miserable.”

What had brought him pleasure before no longer yielded what it had promised: “I was miserable!” Why was he miserable? Because he knew that he was grieving the Spirit: “In the end, I had to come back to Christ. That was how I knew I was really a Christian: I could not continue in sin. Whereas it had been quite easy and quite enjoyable before.”

Listen to how the Apostle John describes our relationship with Jesus: “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; No one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him” (1 John 3:6).

David abides in him and, though he sins, he cannot keep on sinning. He comes back to repentance. Why? Because he has the Spirit in him. Saul keeps on sinning, and so gives evidence that he has neither seen God nor known him. Though, of course, he was a very religious man.

“I knew I was a Christian,” says Redpath, “because I could not keep on sinning. When I went back to my old ways, I knew I could not stay there. I knew that I was a Christian, because when I sinned I was miserable.” That was the evidence of God’s grace in his life.

David is not in heaven today because he was without sin. David is in heaven because he looked in faith and repentance to his greater Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The great difference between Saul and David is that their lives and their eternities were set on different paths. Saul was a religious man, and David was a regenerated man. Today we are going to see the difference.

Rejected by God

1 Samuel 16 opens with Samuel at an all-time low as he grieves over Saul (verse 1). Samuel has loved Saul, prayed for him, counselled him, supported him, and served him. Now that Saul has been revealed for the empty shell that he was, it was devastating for Samuel.

You may have had an experience like this, and if you have, you will know how painful it is. Samuel spent his later years building the monarchy. Now the king has been rejected by God, and it seems all of Samuel’s work has been for nothing. All this work and sacrifice, all this investment, for what?

You give your heart and years of your life to a relationship, and it turns sour. You pour your life into a son or daughter who rebels against you and doesn’t want to know you. You build up a business or a ministry, only to find that someone else takes it in a completely different direction with a completely different set of values, and you grieve over what’s been lost.

Samuel was grieving over Saul. He was consumed with sadness and disappointment, and some anger too (1 Samuel 15:11). He turns over the endless questions in his mind: “What could I have done? What could I have said? How could I have stopped this from happening?” Samuel is consumed with grieving and he is at an all-time low.

Anointed by God

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” (1 Sam. 16:1)

Samuel was afraid (1 Sam. 16:2). If he were to openly anoint someone else as king, he would create a civil war and Saul would be after his life. But God was sending Samuel on a secret mission. David was anointed, but Samuel never said for what. From the moment that Samuel arrives in Bethlehem to the moment he leaves, he never once uses the word “king.”

This raises the question: Did David know, when Samuel poured the oil on his head, that he would become king? My guess is that he did not. There had only been one king and he was still on the throne. There was no vacancy. Only gradually did David realize what God had in store for him. God was preparing in private what one day would be revealed in public.

When Samuel arrived at Bethlehem, the people were afraid (1 Sam. 16:4). Maybe they felt that Samuel, a judge, had come on account of some sin in their town. But Samuel says he’s come peaceably, to sacrifice to the Lord (1 Sam. 16:5). Samuel offered the sacrifice, and then invited this man Jesse and his sons to join him in the feast that would follow.

The first son of Jesse was Eliab, and he was really impressive: “When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the LORD’s anointed is before him.’ 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’” (1 Sam. 16:6-7).

There’s an important lesson here about what to look for in people you will walk with, people who you will place your trust in, and people you will follow. It’s easy to be deceived by the sheer impressiveness of a person who sucks the air out of the room.

Eliab was like that. This guy was a rock star! Dale Ralph Davis says, “Perhaps he’d starred as wide receiver for Bethlehem High School football. Maybe he made the Judean all-stars” (p. 137)! That was Eliab.

To be fair to rock stars and to wide receivers, it’s not appearance, personality, or style that qualifies or disqualifies a person from usefulness to God. David had beautiful eyes, and he was handsome (1 Sam. 16:12). That would have made an impression on people, but that is not what made him useful to God.

Saul stood head and shoulders above others, and if you saw him, you’d be impressed (1 Sam. 9:2). Davis says, “External appearance neither qualifies nor disqualifies; it simply does not matter.” Why not? Because that is not what God is looking at; God looks on the heart.

When it comes to choosing spiritual leaders, Davis says, “What we seem to want are the movers and shakers, the aggressive extroverts, the pushers who meet people well and sell the church in the community, who are smooth in the pulpit. Do we ever ask, ‘How does he pray? Does he enjoy being with his wife? Can he weep?’”[1]

God looks on the heart, and Eliab, for all his impressiveness, did not have a heart for God. Samuel meets Jesse’s sons, seven in all, and each time the Lord tells the prophet, “Not this one… Not this one…” Then Samuel says to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” Jesse said, “There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep” (1 Sam. 16:11). There is a whole world in Jessie’s view of David in these words.

C. H. Spurgeon says, “It is painful to notice that David’s father had no idea of David’s excellence… Jesse calls him the least, and… there is something more implied than his being the youngest; he was the least in the estimation of the ill-judging parent.”[2]

Here is David, the guy who does not get an invitation when his brothers are invited to a feast. He is not highly regarded by his father, who seems eager to parade the other sons before Samuel: “He has a narrow share of his father’s affection” (Spurgeon). In the mind of Jesse, the other boys will be something, but David will never be much.

Man looks on the outward appearance, but here’s the good news: God looks on the heart. Samuel the prophet, speaking the Word into this undiscerning father’s life, says to Jesse, “We are not going to sit down for the meal until your youngest son is here. Send someone to get him!”

When David came, “The Lord said, ‘Arise, anoint him, for this is he’” (1 Sam. 16:12). God finds his choice servants in strange places. Joseph was called from a prison, and David was working as a night watchman for sheep out in the hills.

God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise;
God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;
God chose what is low and despised in the world…
to bring to nothing things that are,
so that no human being might boast in the presence of God (1 Cor. 1:27-29).

Now I want you to notice what made David such an outstanding servant of the Lord, what distinguished him from his brothers. There are three marks of a godly person that are very clear from this story. Let’s measure ourselves against these and remember that these are the things that Christ holds in his hands and he offers them to us.

1. The Profile of a Person God Uses: A New Heart

The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart.  (1 Sam. 13:14)

Where did David get this heart? Certainly he was not born with it! David was born with the same heart as all his brothers: “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5). David was saying, “I was born with a sinful heart.”

So how did he get a heart after God? There’s only one possible answer: God gave it to him! That is why God says, “I have provided for myself a king” (1 Sam. 16:1). God provided the new heart that he was seeking.

This new heart that God gave to David is central to God’s new covenant promise in Jesus Christ: “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you” (Eze. 36:26). A heart after God is what Christ seeks, and it is also what Christ provides. God looked for this new heart, and he found it because he gave it!

God gave David a new heart early in life. God can begin a work of grace early in your life. Here’s what it looks like: You used to giggle and fidget in church, but now you find that you want to listen. You don’t understand everything, but you want to learn more. What is happening?

God is doing this! He is changing you from a Saul to a David. He is giving you a new heart for worshipping him. He is regenerating you. He is putting a new spirit in you.

When God gives you a new heart, you will still sin and fail in many ways.  But the trajectory of your life is different. The desire of your heart has changed, because you are coming to love Christ. You want to please him. It hurts you when you grieve the Spirit, and that leads you to repentance.

God has written his law in your heart (Jer. 31:33), so when Jesus says, “If you love me you will obey my commandments,” your new heart says, “That’s what I want to do, so help me God! I don’t want to go back to the person I used to be.” There’s nothing of that in Saul! He follows the Word of God when it suits him, and when it is costly he goes his own way.

Saul was a religious man who tried to use God for his own ends. David was a regenerated man who loved God from a renewed heart. There’s all the difference in the world. But God can turn a Saul into a David.

God can give you a new heart. He can give you new desires and new affections, so you’re not trying to somehow be someone that you’re not. Because you have a new heart, you’re becoming who you really are.

You can come to him today and say, “God, take away this heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh. Give me a new heart, according to your promise in Jesus Christ. Move me to live a new life, according to your laws.” Do you see the evidence of this in your own life?

2. The Equipping of a Person God Uses: A New Power

The Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward. (1 Sam. 16:13)

The Holy Spirit came on David like a mighty rushing wind. After the day that he was anointed by Samuel, David had a new power that had not been in him before. In this strength, he was able to see off a lion and a bear (1 Sam. 17:34-36). In the power of the Spirit, David was able to face Goliath, that great tormentor of the people of God.

This new heart and new spirit is the promise of God’s new covenant in Jesus Christ: “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you” (Eze. 36:26). Are you beginning to see the great difference between the religious person, represented by Saul, and the regenerated person, represented by David?

Religious people have no power beyond their own strength. That’s why the religious person is always defeated. They do not have the new heart or the new Spirit. They do not know what it is to be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might (Eph. 6:10).

Goliath mocks them and, like Saul, they are powerless to do anything about it. They are trapped by their own wounds year after year after year, driven by their own compulsions, and unable to rise above them.

But the Spirit of God is with David, and he says, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Sam. 17:37).

The Gospel is more than good news to be believed; it is power to be deployed. If you have not grasped that, if you have not experienced that, then you have missed the very heart of what it means to be a Christian: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).

When God makes you a new creation in Christ, you not only have a new heart, you have a new power. The Spirit of the Lord lives within you. He makes it possible for you to do what God is calling you to do.

You will be able to forgive that wound that hurt you so deeply. You will be able to stand against the power of that temptation. You will be able to face the pressures of life that overcame you before. You will be able to persevere in the face of difficulty.

You will say with Paul, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Phil.4:13). Paul knew all about what it means to be a religious man. Then he gets a new heart.

3. The Experience of a Person God Uses: A New Struggle

When God gives you the gift of a new heart and he indwells you by his Holy Spirit, don’t expect the road ahead to be an easy one. God gave his Spirit, which was immediately followed by intense struggles.  That’s what we learn from the story of David, and from the story of Jesus.

David was anointed, and then for years he had to put up with Saul, who hated him and hunted him. Jesus was anointed for ministry: He was born without sin from the virgin, Mary, and the Spirit descended on him like a dove at his baptism. What happens next?

The Spirit drives Jesus out into the wilderness, where he is tempted by the devil. He launches into public ministry where he faces intense opposition and the relentless demands of crowds of people. Then he goes to a cross when he suffers and dies in agony—no crown yet.

There was a great struggle between the day of Christ’s anointing and the day when he rose from the dead and ascended in power and glory to take his seat on the throne. The pattern for David was the pattern for Jesus, and the pattern for Jesus will be the pattern for you and me!

Christ gives his people a new heart and a new Spirit, but then he gives us something else—a new struggle: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

Christ gives you a new heart. He fills you with his Spirit. Then it’s back into the world with all its pressures and relentless demands. Back to that difficult marriage, back to that secular school, back to that hostile environment. Why? To honor Christ there!

So here is what Christ offers: A new heart, a new spirit, and a new struggle. Saul had none of them. David had all of them.  And here’s the difference: Saul lived with a crown, and in the end he lost it; David lived without a crown, but in the end he gained it. There’s no doubt in my mind which of these two I want to be.


[1] Dale Ralph Davis, “1 Samuel: Looking on the Heart,” (Fearn: Christian Focus), p. 138, 2001

[2] C. H. Spurgeon, from the sermon, “Who Are Elected?” Sermon No. 638, July 9, 1865


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