|Volume 23 Number 1 January 2021
T. Pierce Brown
The account in 1 Samuel 16 reveals some great lessons about success and failure. Saul’s rejection and failure because of his turning aside from obedient faith is a warning to each of us. None of us can get so high on the scale of righteousness that we cannot fall.
In verse 1, the Lord said to Samuel, “How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel?” There is a proper season and reason for mourning, and there is a time to stop. Even when Jesus said in Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn,” He indicated a time to be comforted. We should mourn for our sins, failures and mistakes, but when we repent and are forgiven, we should stop mourning. This does not mean we should forget them in the sense of pretending they were not so. Yet, there are those who cannot seem to stop mourning over sins that have been forgiven.
It is proper to mourn for the dead. When they are gone and other tasks that need doing confront us, we should stop mourning. We do not stop missing them, but we should not continue to mourn.
We should mourn for the loss of another’s soul. There comes a time when we should stop mourning. This does not mean that we stop being sorry for them, but we ought to stop spending time grieving about it as if we could do something about it. This relates to what Jesus said in Matthew 7:6, “Cast not your pearls before swine,” and in Matthew 10:14, “Shake off the dust of your feet against them.” That is, although we must never cease to be concerned about any person who is lost, the time may come when our attention should be turned to others.
As we look at God’s choice of David after He rejected Saul, we find some helpful lessons. We need to emphasize, especially to the young, that the way to greater blessing and honor is always to do your job faithfully. In Luke 16:10, Jesus said, “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much.” If a boy has not learned to take care of his bicycle, the chances are that he would be careless with a sports sedan. There are two great principles that need to be stressed. First, do what you can, where you are, with what you have and God will always make it possible for you to do more than you thought. Second, there is the principle I call, “And then some.” Jesus said in Matthew 5:41, “If whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.” The principle behind this admonition is, “Do what you are required to do, and then some.” By the grace of God, I learned this principle in high school. Because I felt so mediocre and inferior, when a teacher assigned 10 problems, I would do those for him and five more for me.
As far as I can discover in the Bible, there is no record of God choosing one for honor who has not been busy doing what he thought he should be doing. David had been trained to seek the welfare of his sheep and depend on the help of God. If Paul had not been concerned enough to try to put Christians to death when he thought that was the will of God, there is no reason to assume that he would have been concerned enough to try to help save them when he learned better.
There is an interesting lesson in Samuel’s response and God’s answer. He raised a question, “How can I go? If Saul hears, he will try to kill me” (1 Samuel 16:2). This is not necessarily distrust but could simply be an inquiry about what to do and how to do it. God’s answer may need some study to understand the principles involved. He said, “Take a heifer and say, ‘I am come to sacrifice to the Lord.’” Contrary to some, this does not condone lying under some difficult circumstances. It does indicate that one is not required to tell a person the whole truth on every occasion.
I once appeared in court as a witness against a young man who had been arrested for robbery. I was asked, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” I replied, “I will attempt to tell the truth insofar as I know it, if I am asked.” I was not trying to be a smart aleck. That may have come naturally. I knew that I did not know the whole truth about anything, and if I had known it, neither the lawyer nor the judge would have allowed me to tell it. Those who teach that withholding part of the truth is the same as lying are not accurate in their diagnosis. A lie should be defined as “Telling an untruth with intent to deceive.” Not every time one tells an untruth is it a lie. Writers of fiction are not lying when they write their stories. When one keeps back a part of the truth from a person, he may be guilty of criminal negligence or of not doing unto others as he would have them do unto him, or he may simply be refusing to tell a person something that is none of his business. God authorizes that but does not authorize lying.
We can get some important lessons from Samuel’s assumption that God would choose another son of Jesse instead of David. First, God does not look on social rank in fixing judgment of any person, either for any task or for a reward. He does not look on family history. We tend to form judgments on that. It is true that one’s family may help to mold him into a certain path, but the judgment is in terms of how he walks in the path, not in the family. God’s judgment about the worth of a man does not depend on the wealth that may be under his control. There are men who are even put in the position of a bishop over the house of God because they are good businessmen. There is no valid justification for that.
The hardest thing for us to assimilate is the fact that we should not judge on appearances. How can we keep from doing that? If I see a man staggering down the street with a bottle in his hand, smelling of alcohol, do I not have a right to assume he is probably drunk? Notice something very important. I have a right to assume he is probably drunk, as long as I realize that I am assuming a probability but not evaluating a fact.
We need to recognize the following facts. First, some of our actions have no real intentions at their root but start with a sudden impulse. Therefore, if we see the act and assume we know the intent, we may be wrong. Second, there are actions that are bad but start with good intentions. If we had seen Saul of Tarsus putting Christians to death and assumed that he was an ungodly rascal, we would have been judging by appearances and have been wrong. Third, we should know that many things that appear so real are not. Stars may appear to be little sparks. The sun appears to travel around the earth. The earth may appear to be flat. The solution is not to close our eyes to what we see and stop making judgments as best we can in terms of facts as we understand them. The solution is fourfold: 1. To make more tentative judgments, realizing that what we see is not all there is to see. 2. Know that what we think we see is not always what is. 3. Realize that our assumptions about the meaning of what we see, and what we think we see are not necessarily accurate assumptions. 4. A lot less arrogance and a lot more humility would be greatly helpful.
There are many other lessons we may learn from this situation, but among them are: 1. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8). When God reveals His thoughts and His ways, and we conform ours to them, we are wise. 2. Appearances are often deceiving. When Jesus stood up to read, they said, “Is not this the carpenter?” (Mark 6:3) and were offended in Him. 3. We should be satisfied with our station in life, whether humble or great, and use it for the glory of God. Do your job, whether as a slave or free (1 Corinthians 7:21-22). However, satisfaction with our station does not mean that we do not need to improve it but that we are not frustrated or unhappy in it. 4. David was not chosen because he was despised by his brothers, looked on as a second-class citizen but because his heart was right with God. 5. God never chooses a person for a task without giving him the necessary ability to do the task. King Saul had the ability, but he did not choose to use it, and God removed him.
Sometimes we pray for more faith, ability, wisdom, etc. when our real problem is that we do not use what little we have. Let us do what we can, where we are, with what we have, and God will enable us to do what we cannot, where we are not, with what we do not have. He will “multiply our seed for sowing and increase the fruits of our righteousness” (2 Corinthians 9:10). He will do for us “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us” (Ephesians 3:20). His power will work in us if we practice the principles suggested in this article.
T. Pierce Brown (1923-2008) lived and preached in Cookeville, Tennessee, USA. I have learned as much or more from this brother in Christ as I have from any other man.