July 8, 2007

The Unseen Hand

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: 1 Samuel Scripture: 1 Samuel 9:1– 10:27


The Unseen Hand

1 Samuel 9:1-10:27
Sunday, July 8, 2007
Pastor Randy Smith

We live in a very visual age. We would rather see the movie than read the book. Mates are selected primarily on physical attractiveness. Athletes and rock stars have become our latest heroes. Personal success is based on the appearance of our cars and our houses, and spiritual success is based on the look and size of our churches. It is amazing how much a pimple or uncooperative hair can destroy our day! This overwhelming emphasis on the visual has led to a shift in our values.

Those with any degree of wisdom know that evaluating only by what is seen is shallow and superficial. From the time we were young we were told "You can't always judge a book by its cover." The external appearance of an object is only a façade, an outer shell, oftentimes a poor indicator of the internal substance that is usually unseen. I believe we know this, but this proper conclusion drawn in the physical realm is rarely transferred to the spiritual realm. We too often walk not by faith but rather by sight (2 Cor. 5:7).

The Apostle Paul encountered intense suffering in his service for Christ. His writings in 2 Corinthians 11 chronicles the multiple times he danced around death itself-Everything from beatings to shipwrecks to starvation to being stoned (2 Cor. 11:23-29). The one called to be an apostle to the Gentiles received tremendous mistreatment. The one sent to evangelize the outmost regions of the world eventually found himself detained in prison. You would think that Paul had to wonder: "God this doesn't make sense? God this isn't fair? God, are you sure You're in control, because by the sake of appearance, it doesn't seem like You know what You're doing!"

Yet this is not his attitude that we have recorded in Scripture. When in jail, Acts 16 says, "Paul (was) praying and singing hymns of praise to God" (Ac. 16:25). Despite the suffering, he made remarkable statements like "We…exult in our tribulations" (Rom. 5:3) and "I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake" (2 Cor. 12:10).

What kept this man going? What gave Him such extraordinary faith? Well, there are many answers, but there is one that I wish to focus on this morning. One in which I believe will help us in our own walk with the Lord: Paul trusted in the unseen hand of God.

In some of my favorite verses in Scripture, Paul said, "Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:16-18 - emphasis added).

It is not just behind the messy situations in life, but through the sovereignly appointed messy situations in life that God is at work to achieve His perfect goal for each of us. And it was this faith in the goodness of a sovereign God that sustained the Apostle Paul and permitted him to live out the commands he himself penned to "rejoice…always" (Phil. 4:4) and "in everything give thanks" (1 Thes. 5:18).

This attitude, my friends, prevents our circumstances from stealing our peace. Furthermore, it promotes a thankful attitude in the midst of the trials. Remember James? "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials" (Jas. 1:2).

To be victorious in the faith we must have faith in the unseen hand of God!

Two weeks ago we learned that Israel was delivered by the unseen hand of God from her crown enemies, the Philistines. God promised it, and faithful to His word He delivered the goods. Because of her covenant relationship with Yahweh, Israel had it better than any nation on the planet. Only one problem - they, like us today, had an infatuation with the visual.

Following God takes the eyes of faith. Not so assuring when men the size of Goliath are approaching in battle. Not so impressive when their hero is an old prophet dressed in a mantle. You can easily see, as we did last week, what happens when they took their eyes off the Lord. With their stubborn hearts they foolishly declared and then demanded, "We want a king just like all the other nations" (cf. 8:6, 19-20).

Last week we began to see these consequences of what happens from a human perspective when we take our eyes off the Lord. This week I wish to expand that point, but go beyond the visible and observe the unseen hand of God working His will for the good of His people through the minutia of our daily affairs.

It is my desire and prayer that this sermon will bring you greater hope and peace in the struggle of life by understanding what we commonly call the providence of God.

Last week we learned that Israel asked for a king. Their request grieved Samuel (8:6). Moreover, God viewed it as a rejection of Himself (8:7). Nevertheless, God permitted their request.

Now as we begin the ninth chapter, we see that God gave them exactly what they wanted. Since the nation put so much emphasis on the visual, God gave them a king impressive in the sight of the people. Verses 1 and 2 inform us that Saul's father was a "mighty man of valor," and Saul himself was not only the most handsome but also the tallest person among all the sons of Israel (cf. 10:23). The absence of a word about his wisdom or devotion to God is deafening.

When we want it our way, we get Prince Charming, a man after our own heart. How different that will be from Israel's second king, David, who would be chosen as a man after God's own heart (13:14)? Which one would your prefer? Would you rather walk by sight and get what your heart desires or trust in the unseen hand of God and get what God's heart desires? Remember God's words to Samuel on the day of David's inauguration regarding one of David's brothers? "Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature (the two attributes that made Saul "impressive"), because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7 - emphasis added).

When God expressed His displeasure toward the nation in chapter 8, He immediately cited their rebellion during the Exodus. "Like all the deeds which they have done since the day that I brought them up from Egypt even to this day - in that they have forsaken Me and served other gods" (8:8). In Nehemiah 9 we also pick up on this theme: "They refused to listen, and did not remember Your wondrous deeds which You had performed among them; so they became stubborn and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt." But even in the midst of their spiritual failures, the preacher in Nehemiah 9 finds a reason for hope. "But You are a God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness; and You did not forsake them. Even when they made for themselves a calf of molten metal and said, 'This is your God Who brought you up from Egypt,' and committed great blasphemies, You, in Your great compassion, did not forsake them in the wilderness" (Neh. 9:17-19a).

As we dig into chapter 9 of 1 Samuel, we see the unseen hand of God once again taking the failures of His people and using them as an occasion for His grace. Despite their failings, we see the gracious, compassionate and forgiving God in action. As we study this account, we must get our minds off of Saul and look for hidden workings of the main hero of the story, God Himself.

In verse 3 it all starts off with a normal day on the farm. The donkeys had wandered off. In obedience to his father, Saul and his servant agree to go look for the lost animals.

Little did Saul know that his search would take him to the town of Samuel (9:5). Little did he know his servant would suggest visiting Samuel for insight regarding the animals (9:6). Little did he know that he would be honored by the prophet (9:21). Little did he know that that Samuel would anoint him as ruler over the nation Israel (10:1).

These events unfold as inseparable links on God's providential chain. Saul did not pursue any of these on his own initiative. God's unseen hand was behind it all. And in looking for a few lost donkeys, Saul found a kingdom he never dreamed of. How can we say God's hand was not behind all of this? Alexander MacLaren commented, "Behind all (this) and working through them, the will and hand of God, thrusting this man, all unconscious, along the path which he knew not" (Expositions of Holy Scripture: 1 Samuel, p. 301).

There was very little of the spectacular. It was God's invisible hand working through the common, mundane and ordinary events of daily life. We saw it originally in the life of Hannah. Now we see it in the life of Saul.

I can remember thinking my sister was crazy to move from the suburbs to downtown Chicago. Why would she want to commute an hour each way to and from the suburbs for work? Well, within a few months she just "happened" to end up at Moody Church under the preaching of Erwin Lutzer. At Moody she not only got saved but also met her husband. Maybe God had a better plan for her life than me! Moreover, in one of my visits to see her at Moody Church I just "happened" to meet my wife, Julie. I suppose, after all, I'm thankful she moved to the city!

"'For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,' declares the LORD. 'For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts'" (Isa. 55:8-9)

People may call it a matter of fate, but as it is revealed in this account of Saul, it was God's hand moving his servant every step of the way (Pr. 16:9; 20:24) in a direction God not only could see but also one in which He Himself determined.

Specific evidence of this is seen in chapter 10, verses 2-5, when Samuel gives Saul confirming signs by predicting three specific events in the future. We also see it in 10:6 and 10:9 when God sovereignly changed the heart of Saul and prepared him for his newly appointed office under the headship of God. We see it in 10:20 and 10:21 when Saul was chosen from among all of Israel by God's sovereign control over the lot. We also see it in 9:16 when God told Samuel, "About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be prince over My people Israel; and he will deliver My people from the hand of the Philistines. For I have regarded My people, because their cry has come to Me."

It is all about God's providential hand, and in this case, His response to the cry of His stubborn people. He heard their cry for help and moved to deliver them (9:16).

Two weeks ago we saw how our sin brings great consequences and limits God's blessings, but we must not think our sin will eliminate God's love or dry up the fountain of His compassion. We must not trivialize sin, but at the same time we must not minimize His mercy. What a blessing to know that our mistakes do not paralyze God's providential hand! And even though we may be disciplined, God not only "hears our cry" but also works everything together for our ultimate good (Rom. 8:28)!

One pastor said, "As a wise, skilled pharmacist mixes medicine, our heavenly Father wisely mixes exactly the right measure of bitter things and sweet, to do us good. Too much joy would intoxicate us. Too much misery would drive us to despair. Too much sorrow would crush us. Too much suffering would break our spirits. Too much pleasure would ruin us. Too much defeat would discourage us. Too much success would puff us up. Too much failure would keep us from doing anything. Too much criticism would harden us. Too much praise would exalt us. Our great God knows exactly what we need. His Providence is wisely designed and sovereignly sent for our good! (Don Fortner).

I like to think of our life as a giant tapestry. In this life we see the back of the cloth, a faint picture surrounded by loose treads and bulging knots. But the divine Artist is weaving to create a masterpiece whose beauty will exceed our wildest imagination. Although most is unseen to the naked eye today, I believe the day will come when we will see the front of the tapestry, and the glory of God's handiwork revealed.

"Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him" (1 Cor. 2:9).

Listen to Spurgeon: "Providence is wonderfully intricate. Ah! You want always to see through Providence, do you not? You never will, I assure you. You have not eyes good enough. You want to see what good that affliction was to you; you must believe it. You want to see how it can bring good to the soul; you may be enabled in a little time; but you cannot see it now; you must believe it. Honor God by trusting Him" (God's Providence, p. 19).

Though our minds are so often drawn to the temporal and insignificant things of the world, God is continually in the business of achieving His greatest goal for our lives. It is also the goal that achieves our greatest good - making us more like His holy Son, Jesus Christ. Trials are his greatest tool. So though we view our health issues and relational difficulties and unfortunate circumstances as inconveniences, we must remember God is using them as resources to enhance His ultimate goal in us and in the other believers around us. These trials are not the parenthesis in God's blueprint, they are the actual construction process itself-not interruptions to get through, but part of the plan to be endured until they finish their perfect result (Jas. 1:2-4). He ransacks the possibilities of joys and sorrows in order to reproduce in us the character of Jesus. Or put another way, in order to reverse the curse and restore in us His perfect image once lost in the fall.

In the Vatican art collection sits Michelangelo's Pieta, a marble statue of Mary in anguish as she holds her crucified son. It is regarded as a masterpiece. A number of years ago a visitor to the gallery took a sledgehammer and started smashing the statue. By the time the guards got to him the damage was extensive. But it was not irreparable. The Vatican's artists were able to restore the Pieta to near-perfect condition (John Ortberg, The Life You've Always Wanted).

I find it amazing how much had to line up in this account in order for God's purpose for Saul to be achieved. Most of all I find it amazing how God was able to change not only circumstances, but also human hearts to go contrary to their natural inclinations in order to accomplish His goals while they acted within the parameters of their own freewill.

Take Saul for example. In 9:21 he was very uncomfortable when Samuel bestowed upon him great honor. "(He) replied, 'Am I not a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel, and my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? Why then do you speak to me in this way?'" After his public coronation, when Saul was announced as Israel's first king, chapter 10, verse 22 says he was hiding among the baggage. At first Saul cannot find his donkeys, now the nation cannot find her king! He was afraid to take the helm. Possibly it was because he knew the envy it would heap on the people when they saw an unknown country boy in such a prominent role? Or maybe he feared the need to defend the imposing threat of the Philistines? Maybe he saw himself unfit for so great a role? Additionally, he knew he was appointed due to the sin of the people. For instance, look how Samuel began Saul's appointment in 10:19. He told the nation this was all taking place because "you…rejected your God." We see at first that Saul did not want this position, but that was not enough to overrule the will of God.

Or how about Samuel? We must not lose track of the fact that his appointing of Saul was basically a transfer of his leadership. This would cause him to be less important in the eyes of the people. He was called to foreshadow the John the Baptist who said, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (Jn. 3:30). Though the loss of a man's power can bring out the greatest resentment, in Samuel we see no ill-will or hard feelings. On the contrary, Samuel is the first to dignify Saul by honoring him with the best seat at the table (9:22) and the best portion of food (9:23). In 10:1 we see Samuel's humble obedience: "Then Samuel took the flask of oil, poured it on his head, kissed him and said, 'Has not the LORD anointed you a ruler over His inheritance?'"

Don't forget that God micromanages His universe!

According to B.B. Warfield, "In the infinite wisdom of the Lord of all the earth, each event falls with exact precision into its proper place in the unfolding of His divine plan. Nothing, however small, however strange, occurs without His ordering, or without its particular fitness for its place in the working out of His purpose; and the end of all shall be the manifestation of His glory, and the accumulation of His praise."

You might not have all the answers at this time but hasn't God proven Himself faithful and in control of your life? Is there not enough evidence in the past to trust Him in the present as we live in His grace day by day?

Israel made a mistake by rejecting God in asking for a king. But despite their sin, God did not reject the nation. Through His providential hand, He raised up a leader that would eventually be replaced by a better leader, King David, the greatest human king the nation would ever know.

But God's goodness would even extend beyond the gift of David. Listen to how Paul put it in his sermon before the Jewish synagogue in Pisidian Antioch: "After these things He gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. After He had removed him, He raised up David to be their king, concerning whom He also testified and said, 'I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will do all My will.' From the descendants of this man, according to promise, God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus" (Ac. 13:20-23).

Though God may have appeared inactive, He was silently working unknown to the human eye through His good providential will. As a result of Israel's poor decision for a king, God gave them what they wanted to one day give them what they truly needed. Through the kingly tribe of Judah, God provided King Jesus - The One who made the ultimate deliverance available for all who trust in His lordship!

As Paul concluded His sermon he said, "Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses" (Ac. 13:38-39).

All things - the weather, viruses, circumstances, rocky relationships, even the "freewill" of people are working together for God's glory and the ultimate good of His people. May this testimony from Scripture this morning help us to see and trust the unseen hand of God. Will you keep your eyes off the visible and walk by faith? Do you remember what Jesus told Thomas? "Blessed are they who (do) not see, and yet (believe)" (Jn. 20:29).

other sermons in this series

Dec 9


A Contrast Between Two Anointed Ones

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 1 Samuel 30:1– 31:13 Series: 1 Samuel

Dec 2


The Unhappy Medium

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 1 Samuel 27:1– 29:11 Series: 1 Samuel

Nov 25


Turkey or Godly

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 1 Samuel 26:1–25 Series: 1 Samuel