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Sermon preached on 1 Samuel 16:13-23 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 5/24/2015 in Novato, CA.
1 Samuel 16:13-23
“But the Spirit of the LORD”
Spiritual realities and heavenly realities. By definition, they are both real. They are both realities. Or maybe to say it in a more technical way, the spiritual and the physical both together make up what is our reality. And yet the physical sometimes can seem more real to us. It involves our senses: we can see it, touch it, hear it, smell it, even taste it. We can’t do that with the spiritual. The spiritual is not material, and therefore we can’t perceive it in a physical way. And yet humans have long acknowledged the existence of the spiritual. And the Bible also confirms this truth. There is both a spiritual and a physical aspect to our reality.
And what I love about the Bible is we are often given a glimpse of how the spiritual and the physical connect and interact. We see that especially in today’s passage. And so our outline for today’s message will be simple. We’ll look first at some of the spiritual realities in this passage. Then we’ll look at some of the physical realities. Then lastly we’ll see the interaction of the spiritual and the physical.
And so let’s begin with the spiritual realities that we see in this passage. As we return today to the book of 1 Samuel we remember that we left off with a bit of a transition in the government of Israel. God’s people had been under the reign of King Saul, but God had rejected King Saul and his kingdom. We saw then how in the first half of this chapter God anointed David to be the next king, so that David’s kingdom would replace Saul’s kingdom. And so with that reminder of the context we come to the first spiritual reality in verse 13. In our last sermon on 1 Samuel we ended with verse 13. But we started with it again today because it is a verse that clearly ties the two halves of this chapter together. As David is physically anointed as king, we are told of a spiritual reality. As he is anointed, the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward.
And so this is the first spiritual reality I want you to observe today. The Spirit of God has come upon David. This is the Holy Spirit being poured upon him especially to equip him in this task of serving as king. God gave this Spirit to David as his kingship is inaugurated when he is anointed with oil. You might recall that up to this point, we’ve seen God preparing us for this. Back in chapter 13, God said he wanted to replace Saul with a man after his own heart. And in chapter 15, God said he was going to give Saul’s kingdom to a neighbor who was better than Saul. And in the first half of this chapter, when God goes to select David as king, the emphasis is on his inner qualities. God was not going to pick David based on his outward appearances, per verse 7. No, God would look to the heart. In other words it was primarily spiritual factors that are dealt with in terms of David being selected as king. God’s choice of David was based on the spiritual condition of his heart. And so then in confirming God’s choice of David in this regard, God sends forth his Holy Spirit upon David. So by the time you get to verse 14 of our passage, you see that David’s selection as king was a spiritual matter. And his being equipped to serve as King was a spiritual matter.
And so then when we get to verse 14 we continue to learn about spiritual realities, but this one is much different. In verse 14 we see that in great contrast to verse 13, the Spirit of God is departing from King Saul. And so in verse 13 we are told of the Spirit coming upon David as he in anointed King, and then in the very next verse we are told about how the Spirit is removed from King Saul. This obviously is the result of what took place in last chapter. In chapter 15, God had rejected Saul as king because Saul had rejected the word of God. And so now in verse 14 we learn that this rejection of Saul includes God’s withdrawal of his Spirit from Saul. But not only that. It goes further. The spiritual state with Saul is not only that the Holy Spirit is removed from him, but God sent something in its place. Instead Saul now has some distressing spirit that is from the LORD. So, not only does he not have the Holy Spirit to equip him for his work as King. Now, instead, he has this distressing spirit that will hinder his work as a king. And so when God told Saul that he was being rejected as king, it was more than just lip service. God put his words into action by effecting this change of spiritual realities for Saul.
And so these are the two spiritual realities I wanted us to observe from this passage. On the one hand, David was given of the Holy Spirit to equip him in serving as the Lord’s anointed king. On the other hand, Saul loses the Holy Spirit’s presence that had in the past been given for that same purpose, and instead he has this distressing spirit that is hindering his work. These are some of the main spiritual realities that we see in this passage. Let’s turn now to think about some of the main physical realities we see in this passage. I have again two main things to notice. The first is to notice that at this point, Saul is still reigning as king. This is the physical reality at that time. Outwardly and externally, he was still in control of Israel. He was still ruling as king.
We see this in many ways in this passage. For example, in verses 15-17 we see Saul still has servants who attend to him in his kingship. They look after him and obey him. And notice that when he decides to call for David, he doesn’t go himself to get David. Of course not. A king wouldn’t do that. So, instead he sends a messenger on his behalf. And then when that messenger makes contact with Jesse, David’s father, look at what Jesse does in verse 20. He doesn’t just send his son David to the king; no, he sends him with a generous gift fit for a king. (You wouldn’t go to see the king empty handed!) And then even when you get to verse 22, and see Saul ask Jesse for permission for David to remain in his service, the sense you get is that this was more of a polite formality than anything. In other words, it’d be highly surprising for Jesse to try to turn down the king’s request. My point in all this is simple. I want us to observe that physically and outwardly we see that Saul is still reigning as the king over Israel at this point.
So then, the second physical reality to observe here is the opposite. In other words, David is not yet king in terms of the physical reality. We see this for example in verse 19. When they call for him, they have to call him from tending the sheep. That’s what he was doing earlier in the chapter before he was anointed king. And yet now even after being anointed king, after receiving the Holy Spirit for that purpose, he is yet back tending the sheep again. Instead, King Saul calls for young David to come and serve him with his playing. And so outwardly, David is serving King Saul, not the other way around. We see this again in verse 21. After Saul is pleased with David’s playing, he loved David and so he made David his armorbearer. To point out the obvious, being king is the position of authority, and being the armorbearer is not. It’s quite an honor to be the king’s armorbearer, but it’s a long ways off from being king yourself. In verse 22, this is yet further brought out in a double way. There in verse 22, Saul asks Jesse for David to stand before him. It implies David’s subjection to King Saul. But it even implies that David in his youth is still a subject even to Jesse. Saul doesn’t ask David to serve, he asks Jesse for David to serve. Saul’s messenger didn’t call directly for David, they called Jesse to send David. Jesse himself instructs David to bring the gift to King Saul, etc. And so David’s been anointed king and yet he’s still in submission both to king Saul and even still his own father.
And so put points one and two together. In point one we saw the spiritual reality that the Holy Spirit was given to David while being removed from Saul. This was in light of God choosing David to be the next king. And yet even with this spiritual reality, in terms of physical realities the opposite is the case. Outwardly, Saul is still king, David is not. And even though we could look at this passage in an optimistic light for David, that he is moving up in society by coming into such a privileged place of service and the honor of being armorbearer, it still says that David is in submission to Saul, and not the other way around. There seems to be quite a contrast to the spiritual reality and the physical reality.
I’m sure that was difficult for David. He knew the spiritual reality. But he also saw and experienced the physical reality. You could have imagined that he might have expected the physical reality to be dictated by the spiritual reality in a more immediate way. Yes, in the long term it would. But in the immediate, there was quite a contrast. This can be the difficulty for us. We have been assured that as Christians we have some wonderful spiritual realities. For example, we have been redeemed from sin and death. We have the joy and peace from the Holy Spirit. Right now we are spiritually adopted into God’s family, part of the royal family of God, and co-heirs with Christ of his kingdom which is over all. In terms of our spiritual reality, we are royalty of the highest kingdom. And so many wonderful and amazing things can be said of our spiritual state here and now. Yet, we look around and see that the outward, physical, reality so often doesn’t match up with the spiritual reality. We can be left sometimes thinking that our spiritual realities only have some distant and future significance and bearing on our current reality. But that is simply not true. We see that even here in our passage. These spiritual realities do have a bearing and an influence on the physical realities. We see that this is true with regard to Saul and David. And it is also true for us now as Christians.
So this leads us to our third point for today. Let’s observe next how we see some of the interaction between the spiritual and the physical. In other words, it’s not like the things happening the spiritual realm are completely disconnected from things that are happening in the physical realm. There is a connection; yet a mystical connection, but a real connection. There are a number of small but significant ways we see that in our passage for today. I’ll mention five examples.
First, the Spirit’s coming upon David happened in conjunction with the physical anointing of David with oil. Now, surely, God could have had that Spirit come upon David whenever and however he wanted. And yet God chose to give the Spirit in conjunction with the anointing. God was helping us to see the connection between the calling for David to be king with the equipping God would bring through the Spirit. And so that’s one example here of an interaction between the physical and the spiritual. The physical anointing leads to a spiritual anointing.
Second, Saul’s distressing spirit is said twice here, verses 14 and 15, that it was troubling Saul. In verse 16, the implication is that he was not well because of this. Now we don’t know the exact nature of this affliction. And yet it afflicted Saul in such a way that people were able to notice it. Again, we’re not told how this outwardly manifested itself, but we know that when people’ souls are troubled, there are often physical manifestations of their inner struggles. Well, Saul’s servants in verse 15 are somehow able to see Saul’s troubles and diagnose Saul’s problem and attribute it correctly to some distressing spirit from God. So, in this negative way, the spiritual condition of Saul was observed and addressed in the physical world around him.
A third example here of the interaction between the physical and the spiritual is seen in the recommendation of David in verse 18. Now presumably the servant who speaks up and recommends David for this newly approved music job did not know that David had been privately anointed king. And yet look at the description that the servant gives of David in verse 18. It’s a wonderful description, particularly how it ends. It says that the LORD is with David. Surely this description of David, particularly that last part reflects this reality that the Holy Spirit had come upon David. In other words, people are able in this physical realm to outwardly look at the life of David and observe this spiritual reality. That God has been at work in a wonderful spiritual way in the heart of David. The point is simply the same, that there is some real connection and interplay between the physical and the spiritual.
A fourth example is that David’s playing helps King Saul. Look at verse 23. David’s playing of the harp has some therapeutic effect on Saul’s spiritual condition. In other words, David’s physical playing of a musical instrument is able to provide some benefit to Saul amidst his spiritual dilemma of having this distressing spirit. This is of course according to the theory of the servants. Back in verse 16 the servants believed that a skilled harp player could help Saul in his episodes with this disturbing spirit, and they were right. And so the servants believed there could be a connection between the physical and the spiritual. And in fact verse 23 shows there was. David’s physical playing provided some spiritual benefit to Saul. But this makes sense. David’s skill and ability to play so well, was a gift from God; I think we could even dare call it a spiritual gift. And this is all so amazing; almost mysterious to think about. What I mean is that it is God who sent the distressing spirit to Saul, presumably to distress him. And yet in God’s mercy he allows David to be a source of comfort to Saul spiritually, using gifts and abilities that he’s received from God as well. But the point is to again see the connection between the physical and the spiritual.
A fifth example I’ll mention here of this connection and interaction is that this is all a part of God’s providential rise of David to power. In other words, in light of the spiritual realities, God is providentially using all these physical circumstances to slowly but surely bring the physical circumstances to match the spiritual ones. We mentioned this in our last sermon that there would be quite a lot of providential time and events pass by before Saul is no longer king and David becomes king. Yet, clearly this passage is advancing the cause for David to become king. Because it’s here that David goes in a physical way from caring for sheep to caring for the king. Here he goes from being unknown to the king to being loved by the king. Here he goes from serving his father in the fields to serving the king in the palace. Here he goes from bearing gifts for the king to bearing the armor of the king. As it says in verse 21, King Saul begins to love David greatly. And in verse 22, David falls in favor with King Saul. These are physical realities now for David. They represent great change in David’s physical circumstances. What could possibly have changed it all? Do we just chalk it up to one lucky recommendation David received by a servant of Saul who knew of him? No. We can’t help but recognize that the spiritual realities that we discussed are already beginning to shape the course of the future history. The spiritual realities are breaking into and effecting the physical realities. And so don’t miss the connections here between the physical and the spiritual. They are very real. They surely don’t tend to happen the way and in the timing that we want. But they are real and a deliberate part of God’s good and wise plan in our lives.
So then, saints of God, be encouraged by the truths we see in today’s passage. You see, we live as pilgrims in this world. And at this part of God’s plan of salvation, we live in an era that greatly, greatly, emphasizes the spiritual realities over the physical realities. That wasn’t nearly as much in the Old Testament. Under the old covenant, God would very often use physical realities to teach the people about spiritual realities. Yet, under the new covenant, many of those physical realities of the old covenant have been shown to look forward to greater spiritual realities we would receive under the new covenant. And then those spiritual realities we have already under the new covenant now, themselves look forward to even greater physical realities yet to come in glory when Christ returns. The temptation then is to think that being a Christian only has spiritual ramifications at this point, and any physical benefit will only come later, at Christ’s return. In other words, the temptation is to think our Christianity has little or no tangible benefits to our life here and now; that its benefits lie only in the future, except for spiritual ones here and now.
Well, I can appreciate the inclination to think like that, because there is a degree of truth in that way of thinking. Our blessings now are chiefly spiritual. Physical blessings for us ultimately come in glory. But I hope this passage shows you that our circumstances are a little more complex than that. I hope you see that the spiritual does have some real effect on the physical. Yes, we live in a kingdom that’s been inaugurated in Christ, but not consummated yet in glory. Yet, the inauguration of that kingdom, and the spiritual realities that come with that, are bearing down on the physical world around us. God’s plan to bring about the consummation of this kingdom is still moving forward providentially. It’s not always clear to see how this is happening; actually stepping back we see that how God is working out human history is rather exciting, though often it is very suspenseful. And yet, that makes sense. As an example, have you ever read a really good book where the plot line just works itself out without any challenges to the main characters? As you read the book, you might start talking to the main actors in your head, “Wait, don’t open that door!” Or, you might lament for them the trials they are going through and just want them to arrive at their goals. And yet, if that happened, if the characters never went through all those things, you probably wouldn’t buy the book. There probably wouldn’t even be a book! There’s something exciting about the journey. Well, God is working out his master story in human history. Yes, at any moment, he could say the word and we could arrive immediately into glory. But in God’s good plan he is spreading out the story. And we know that it will ultimately make for a better story, and therefore to his greater glory.
And so my point of application here is to see that right now, though we have many spiritual benefits, and so often seem to have so little physical benefits unique to us as Christians, don’t miss how God is at work in this physical world and in our everyday lives. Our spiritual realities do make a real difference to us and this physical world around us. The spiritual does have an impact on the physical. Let me give just two examples. First, when someone becomes a Christian, we know from Scripture that they experience a new birth. That is a spiritual reality. The Holy Spirit has worked in their heart something new and wonderful. Well, that immediately has physical ramifications in this world. For starters, the visible church will then have another person to labor together with, in this world. And think of how their new birth will affect their actions in this world, which will have physical and spiritual effects in this world. A second example is the spiritual gifts that we receive from the Holy Spirit. We each have various types of spiritual gifts that enable us to serve or speak in different ways. These spiritual gifts are to be used then in blessing other believers and in reaching out to the lost with the gospel. Those spiritual gifts get used in a way that has many physical manifestations. This is very obvious, say, when God spiritually gifts deacons to help them be able to give mercy and aid to someone’s physical needs. Or when you have a spiritual gift of encouragement and are used by God to comfort someone it can have tremendous effects on someone, even physically. You might be used to keep someone from suicide. Or when moved by the spiritual gifting of God you generously give of your money for some important thing, that again is an example of the spiritual affecting the physical. Do you see the point?
And so we are not Pentecostals that might see virtually everything as some supernatural breaking in of the Spirit in every ordinary moment of life. Nor do we advocate prosperity theology that thinks our spiritual realities will guarantee physical blessings here and now. And yet neither are we those who think our religion is just something only spiritual with no bearing on the physical. Rather as those who believe in God’s sovereignty we expect him to work powerfully by his Spirit in this world. We expect that what we’ve become in Christ will be used by God in a way that will have an impact on this world. We look to see how the Spirit will lead us and use and support us in our service to God. We are both body and soul in this world, and so we cannot completely disconnect the spiritual from the physical. And so we can expect to see how all our awesome spiritual realities in Christ do interact with the physical world around us in a real way.
So then brothers and sisters, may that pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost greatly encourage us. In a world that outwardly is so pagan and lost, he has placed us here in this world and given us his Spirit. Let us trust that he will use us and sustain us; and be encouraged as we see the final outcome approaching: the return of Christ in glory and us spending eternity with him in the new heavens and the new earth. Amen!
Copyright © 2015 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.