God’s Ways Are Not Our Ways
When they arrived, Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, “Here he is. God’s anointed.”
But God told Samuel, “Looks aren’t everything. Don’t be impressed with his looks and stature. I’ve already eliminated him. God judges people differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart.”
Jesse then called up Abinadab and presented him to Samuel. Samuel said, “This man isn’t God’s choice either.”
Next Jesse presented Shammah. Samuel said, “No, this man isn’t either.”
Jesse presented his seven sons to Samuel. Samuel was blunt with Jesse, “God hasn’t chosen any of these.”
Then he asked Jesse, “Is this it? Are there no more sons?”
“Well, yes, there’s the runt. But he’s out tending the sheep.”
Samuel ordered Jesse, “Go get him. We’re not moving from this spot until he’s here.”
Jesse sent for him. He was brought in, the very picture of health - bright-eyed, good-looking.
God said, “Up on your feet. Anoint him. This is the one.”
Samuel took his flask of oil and anointed him, with his brothers standing around watching. The Spirit of God entered David like a rush of wind, God vitally empowering him for the rest of his life.
-1 Samuel 16: 6-13 (MSG)
The anointing of God’s sovereign is a vital memory of ancient Israel. What jumps out in this story is the total longshot God chooses for king. How on earth can David be chosen to lead Israel?
David is the youngest son of Jesse, who belongs to the smallest clan of the smallest tribe of Israel. David wasn’t even allowed to come to the ritual sacrifice that Samuel performed. He was left out in the fields to tend the family’s sheep.
Samuel asks Jesse’s sons to line up, and what a sight. These are the most impressive studs the country can offer. These are starters for the college wrestling team, homecoming kings. When Samuel saw these guys, his reaction was “Wow, now I know why God sent me to Jesse’s sons. These guys have everything it takes: strong, bright, sturdy, and stately. I’m sure to find Israel’s sovereign here.”
Then, one by one they’re all passed over! “Surely, Lord, this must be the one,” Samuel thinks. “No.” “Now, surely Lord this is the one.” “No.” This happens seven times … No, no, and no. “Something must be wrong here,” Samuel says to himself. “How can God pass up each and every one of these studs?” It’s like being a recruiter for the University of Arizona basketball team. You have seven all-Americans in front of you to choose from. And, the owner of the team says, “No, none of them will do”. Then the owner says, “Hey, you see that scrawny kid cleaning out the Gatorade jugs over in the corner - he’s the one I want.”
The recruiter thinks to himself, “The owner is crazy.” Samuel asks Jesse, “Are these in fact all your sons”. “No”, Jesse answers, “My youngest is over on Sheep Dip Road. He’s dipping sheep right now, he’s drenched in chemicals, and he’s been out on the open range for days, so he smells.” Samuel says “Great, please send for him. I’ll wait here for as long as necessary.” So, Samuel waited in stillness and anticipation. He put his agenda on hold and waited.
How can God ignore the outward signs that we rely on and pick someone so unlikely? How could God entrust Israel’s future to a boy, untested, short, awkward, and dirty? How could God choose Moses, an orphan and murderer with a speech impediment (exodus 4:10)? How could God choose Abraham and Sarah to build a nation, when Sarah was beyond child-bearing age (Genesis 18:11)? How can God choose Nazareth to do anything noteworthy (John 1:46)? How can God choose a peasant girl pregnant out of wedlock, to be a part of God’s redemptive acts (Luke 1:31)?
What kind of God is this?
God seems totally irrational. The kid doesn’t have SAT scores. She doesn’t even have a grade point average and you’re going to admit her into the most elite college?
Why did God choose David, a raggedy untried shepherd boy?
The great mystery we call God uses the most unlikely people because it shows us that we can’t do it on our own. It’s not about us, our qualifications, our know-how. When we rely on ourselves we’re limited. We may have the gifts that the world values, but we’re still inept. On the other hand, we may completely lack what the world values, yet God can use even cheap simple clay to make amazing pots. What matters most is the skill of the Potter.
God alone can provide, in spite of our glaring limitations. This is the beginning of mature faith. The Bible tells us over and over - trust God. This is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10 and 1:7, Psalm 111:10). The Bible is riddled with people who trusted in their own abilities and failed (1 Samuel 15, Esther 4). Scripture is also filled with the most unlikely souls, who trust God and succeed.
We tend to put our trust in our own rational minds. We evaluate people based on reason and the world’s standards. We get swayed by a person’s image. But God sees beyond image to the intentions of the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).
God alone knows what’s best. God can bring together numerous factors outside of our control to unlock doors from the inside. When we strive and drive, control, and micro-manage, projects are doomed. On the other hand, when our intentions are genuine and not about self-aggrandizement and personal agenda, things just start to happen, and we’re wise to get out of the way. We do our part, but make no mistake that it’s the Spirit at work here, not the designs and manipulations of my ego.
The Holy Spirit says, “Samuel, get out of the way and trust. My ways are not your ways (Isaiah 55:8). My designs hold together every atom, sparrow, family, and community. And yes, my designs will bring unlikely leadership to these scattered tribes and make them great.”
Why is this a mystical passage? Because Samuel let go of what he knew and submitted to an infinitely more intelligent, albeit unpredictable, higher power. To tune into our higher power, like Samuel, we silence everything we know. Then we can encounter the mystery of God, who blesses the most unlikely characters.
David is unlikely, but God’s pick nonetheless. The cross is an improbable path for the Messiah. We declare that the Messiah should journey to a throne, not a cross. But, Isaiah declares “God’s ways are not our ways” (Isaiah 55:8).
People trust God as long as they’re in control. Then, as soon as they lose control, they lose faith. This kind of faith bullies God to conform to our plans. God becomes the ultimate spotter: “God is on my side.” This statement is the death of humility and the beginning of preparation of armaments for war.
Samuel models mature faith because he lets go of his need to control and simply trusts God against his better judgment. He sets aside his analytical mind’s need to scan every angle. He lets go and enters into a higher mind, a new mind, an intuitive mind. The branch lets go and trusts the Vine (John 15:5).
We want to rely on ourselves, appearances, the world’s standards of success. It’s challenging to trust a God who’s beyond understanding. It’s difficult to trust in a God who picks misfits and oddballs to be emissaries (Judges 7:5-7).
Samuel thought he knew what was best for Israel, but had to let go of his cultural scripting and make way for a counter-intuitive reality. Samuel was prophetic because he courageously leaped into the unknown Mystery.
This scripture isn’t just about trusting God’s selection of an unlikely scrappy shepherd. It’s about trusting God in the unlikely circumstances of our lives. No matter the circumstances, God can use them for good (Romans 8:28). We might think to ourselves, “Even this crap can be used for a higher purpose?” “Yes.”
God can use an untested runt to accomplish God’s purpose. God can use Moses, who could hardly talk (Exodus 4:10). God could use Mary (Luke 2). God can even use unlikely people like you and me. In fact the Bible indicates that the unlikely wildcards are God’s preferred servants. God’s calling of wildcards is a grace. And these wildcards know that grace instinctively, so they effortlessly communicate it to others.