What does God look for in a Leader?

‘Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul and the Lord was sorry that he had made him King over Israel.’ (1 Samuel 15.35)

Last week, we saw how God’s people, the tribes of Israel wanted to unite under a king. Samuel, the old prophet, was reluctant, but God told him to anoint a king because it was not Samuel who should feel rejected but God himself. Would monarchy prove a better form of government for Israel than being led by God through judges and prophets?

The King chosen was Saul. Saul was a handsome young man…there was not a young man among the people of Israel more handsome than he.’ (2 Samuel 9.2) He may have been a pin up boy, but was he the right one lead Israel? Could he unite the tribes, win their battles and still keep them close to their God?

Saul’s reign started well, he was able to command the allegiance of the tribes and win notable victories over the Philistines. Yet not all was well. There was an impulsive streak in Saul which at times got the better of him. At Gilgal, when all the troops were ready for battle and the Philistines were gathering menacingly, Samuel was meant to come and do the God bit, to offer a sacrifice to the Lord, but he was a little late arriving and Saul’s patience ran out. He did the sacrifice himself which he was not meant to do as a man of battle.

Later, he made a rash oath before the Lord, that the troops should not eat. This mean that they grew weak. Jonathan, one of his own son’s, did not know about the oath and tasted some honey dripping from a honeycomb on the end of his spear. Saul confronts Jonathan condemning him to death for his action. But Jonathan had been the effective leader in the field and had the respect of the people, so they ransomed him from Saul creating enmity between father and son and causing Saul to be bitterly jealous of Jonathan.

After another battle with the Amalekites, when the word of the Lord to Samuel had clearly said that all the spoil of war should be destroyed, Saul kept the best sheep and cattle ostensibly to make a sacrifice to God. Samuel is not impressed for he sees that Saul has rejected the word of the Lord, his direct instruction. Therefore, he prophesies that the throne will be taken from him.

So, we reach the place of today’s reading. Samuel goes to Ramah and Saul to Gibeah. The two places may have been only 10 miles apart, but it is a much greater distance that separates the voice of God through his prophet and the king that has been reluctantly chosen to rule his people.

Indeed, God makes it clear to Samuel, that he has rejected Saul’s kingship. Samuel should not grieve over Saul. It’s time to move on. God is always on the move. How often are we like Samuel, grieving for a past that has gone, a past that may be did not work out as we intended it? God is looking to do a new thing. As we strain to see what the post covid world looks like, we ought not to be too in awe of what has gone before but rather look forward with excitement to the new things that God may be wanting to do in our lives and in the life of his church. Can you remember that sense of anticipation as you looked forward to the long summer holidays as a child or some special treat or the arrival of a favoured aunt? Can we not rekindle some of that hopeful joy as we look forward to all that God has planned for us?

Samuel is then directed to fill his horn with oil again, just as he had done for Saul, but this time to head for Bethlehem and to the house of Jesse. Jesse was the grandson of Boaz and Ruth. Ruth was the determined Moabite who remained with her mother-in-law, Naomi when she returned as a widow to Judah. Naomi does a bit of match making and sets Ruth up with Boaz. The whole tale is told in the touching and moving short book of Ruth.

God directs Samuel to Jesse’s house because as he puts it: ‘I have provided for myself a king from among his sons’ (1 Samuel 16.1) This time the choice of a king would be the Lords and not left to human choosing. Samuel is understandably diffident. ‘What if Saul hears about this?’ What indeed! Saul was becoming more unstable by the minute. What violence he might turn his hand to was anyone’s guess. The Lord suggests Samuel takes along a heifer to sacrifice. In other words, he goes under the cloak of religion.

Samuel arrives in Bethlehem and meets with Jesse and his family, peaceably, under the guise of a religious ceremony. The sons are brought out one by one. Eliab comes first and Samuel thinks yes…he looks like a king. But God says: ‘Do not look on his appearance, or on the height of his stature because I have rejected him.’ (1 Samuel 16.7) Eliab might look the part, but he fails the divine selection board…as do all the rest and the whole exercise looks like being a waste of time, but there is still one more son except he’s the youngest, the lad who was left to mind the sheep. He is sent for, and he is not bad looking either; ‘ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome.’  (1 Samuel 16.12) The Lord indicates that this is the one. Samuel anoints him and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward.

Last week, we thought about what kind of leadership God wants, but these verses help us to consider what qualities does God look for in a leader. The Church Times is the trade journal for the church. At the back are many advertisements for vicar’s jobs. It’s interesting to see the qualities that are asked for: someone who is collaborative, risk-taking, transformative, will help us achieve our ambition to reorder the church, inclusive, is good with families, children, old people etc etc. Some of those desires are more helpful than others. The calling and choosing of people to lead in the church and in other areas of life is never easy or straightforward. As Christian people, we ought always to be seeking and praying for those of God’s choosing and the story of early kingship in Israel gives some pointers.

  • God does not see as mankind sees. He does look only on the outward appearance (1 Samuel 16.7). God knows the heart of each would be leader and each situation into which she or he is called to lead.
  • God does not reject human attributes. David was handsome as well! Eliab although he did not make it as king is probably the Elihu, David’s brother mentioned in 1 Chronicles 28 as an appointed ruler.
  • God does not and cannot choose perfection when working with human beings. David’s moral behaviour was to fall far short of God’s standards, yet he remained repentant and committed so God could still use him. We must be prepared to work around each other’s short comings.
  • God call does not always match human qualification. David is surely the most Jewish Jew of history, yet, as we have seen his grandmother was a Moabite!
  • God blesses those of his calling with his Spirit to equip them for the task. They must depend ultimately on that Spirit and in the words of the old proverb ‘…lean not unto their own understanding (Proverbs 3.5)

As a nation, as a church, particularly with ordinations approaching and wherever an impending appointment will affect the wellbeing of others, may we keep these points in mind as figuratively, we take the horn of oil to anoint those who lead and must give account.

Trinity 2 13.06.2021

Rev'd Jonathan Smith

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