Here are a couple of back-to-back verses that could potential cause you to squirm in your seat just a bit:
“Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed David in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward…Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the LORD tormented him.” – 1 Samuel 16:13-14
Samuel, the last of the judges in Israel, finished out the final chapter of his assignment from God, functioning more as a prophet than a judge. No longer a young man, Samuel longed to finish his race well, and he overcame each and every challenge as he mediated the transition between the carnal king of Israel and the upcoming king, David, the man who had a heart for God. Samuel had no easy ministry, but he held an unwavering walk with God, completing all that he had been commissioned to do. The two verses above also played out under Samuel’s watch. The anointing with oil of young David resulted in a moment when the Holy Spirit came upon David in some unspecified, but significant way. We long to know what manifestations might have occurred at that moment when the bible testifies that the Spirit “rushed upon David”, but we are simply given the headline without the accompanying details. Something happened in that moment which left the young shepherd with an anointing that characterized him from that day forward. What an awesome event in David’s life: the spiritual leader of Israel, Samuel, sent by the God of Israel, signifies that David is to be set apart as the new king of Israel. Samuel got to see a return of hope for God’s covenant people as God had chosen a loyal servant to become a national leader. This was no small occurrence in Israel that day.
Hauntingly, the very next verse reveals that the same Holy Spirit who came to abide with David, left wicked King Saul to himself. By this account of the Spirit departing from Saul, we are instructed about the danger of choosing to please humans above remaining steadfast as one who has committed to please the Lord. Saul’s kingship came to an end, primarily because he could not bear to be diminished in the sight of man. He was afraid of what people would say about him, or what they might do to him. He had become an approval-addict, which is an inevitable disqualifying element in the life of any spiritual leader if they do not break free from it. This fear of people led to Saul’s compromise, presumption and eventual rebellion against the clear will of God. What was the consequence of this in Saul’s life? The bible says that the Spirit of the Lord withdrew from Saul and, in the absence of the Spirit, Saul was subjected to a tormenting spirit which dominated him until his death. As grand as the moment in David’s life in the previous verse, this verse takes us into the abyss with the rejected king.
R.T. Kendall, theologian, pastor and author, gives Saul the undesirable title of “yesterday’s man”. God was done with Saul, yet Saul would retain his position for several more years while David, the appointed one, would not be allowed to ascend to the throne. How ironic! The one with whom God was finished was allowed to remain for a while. The one whom God had chosen was denied for a while. Saul, operating in his own strength for years, sunk deeper into his torment. David, waiting for his season, and experiencing denial and persecution, became stronger, wiser and much more mature while God kept him in lesser arenas than his destiny would eventually open to him. Saul warred while David waited. Saul groaned while David grew. Saul proved himself carnal while David proved himself consecrated. Eventually, yesterday’s man died on a battlefield in a humiliating fashion. David, conversely, was eventually ushered into the most glorious reign that Israel would obtain under a merely human king.
Let us tread carefully here, knowing that any of us may become yesterday’s man or yesterday’s woman if we choose the way of Saul. The fear of others’ opinions has always been a snare and, in these heated times, God is not looking for those who will vacillate between honoring Him and seeking the honor of others. We cannot have both as our aim. We may sometimes experience the incidental honor from people, but we cannot pursue that fickle facet intentionally. We must doggedly chase the pleasure of the Lord, seeking to know what He desires from us. We make this alone our primary aim. We cause our eye to be single, as Jesus once taught. We refuse to allow our minds, our mouths or our mission to be tainted with a hybrid loyalty. We want the anointing of David to rest upon us. That anointing must not become besmirched with the grubby fingerprints of people as they seek to turn us from our God-given assignment. We desire the One greater than Samuel to pour out His Spirit upon our lives. We want to be crowned with the pleasure of our Sovereign.
Samuel anointed two kings during his lifetime. But he was only able to take pleasure in one. Yesterday’s man died in disgrace. His replacement rose to peerless glory among the kings of Israel. Both Saul and David had choices about how to live out God’s calling upon them. Both Saul and David got to choose how to steward their own anointing. Their destinies swung on the hinge of that choice. What an amazing thought that God allowed them to have the decision of what to do with His touch upon them. They really did get to decide.
So do we.