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Eliab's Story

If you want to be used by God, all you need is a heart that trusts him.


My name is Eliab. All my life I wanted to be famous. My ambition was to have my life engraved in the memory of my people. But you don't even remember who I was, do you?

I had my chance. After all, when I was part of the nation of Israel, it was a time of transition. To be sure, when Saul was first made king, we were ecstatic. Saul looked like a king. He was tall. He had a thick mane of hair that was black—it made him look strong. He had muscles. He looked like a leader should look—the kind of person you wanted to look up to.

When he took over as king, he initially did a marvelous job. Oh, it wasn't easy. When he was barely into the position, the people of Jabesh Gilead found themselves in trouble. They were a small town of the tribe of Benjamin, and enemies surrounded them and threatened to do incredible harm. In desperation, they cried out for help, and Saul acted like a king should act. He sent out word to all the tribes, and they responded as one man. Under his direction, they came and liberated the people, and a mighty victory was won.

We knew Saul was the man. He was the king. But on two separate occasions, God's word came to him through the prophet Samuel—a word that was clear, a word that was unambiguous—and on those two occasions, Saul willfully disobeyed. He knew what God wanted and said, "I will not do it." On the second occasion, Samuel confronted him with his sin, and Saul would not repent. Again and again, Samuel stuck his finger in his chest with the authority of a man of God and said, "You must repent." And Saul said, "I will not." Samuel looked at him and spoke with an authority that came directly from heaven. He said, "Because you have rejected the word of God, God has rejected you as king."

Whew. You don't hear those words often.

Samuel anointed a new king.

This was a time of transition. Word got out and people began to think, I wonder who Samuel will anoint next as king? I didn't give it much thought, frankly. Well, maybe a little bit. After all, I was tall. With a little oil, I got my hair looking better. As for the muscle thing, I did some push-ups. But I had little hope until we heard Samuel was on the move.

The prophet had left his home and had with him a horn of anointing oil. We heard he was coming close—to Bethlehem, a little place on the backside of nowhere. Samuel came to the gates, and the elders were afraid. He said, "I'm coming to sacrifice" (wink, wink; nudge, nudge).

Samuel asked to see Jesse, my dad. This was it! Good thing I'd been getting ready because this was my moment. Sometimes you just know the right thing is going to happen. You know it's all going to come together. That day, I knew things were coming together for me. I got my best robe out of the closet and I fluffed up my hair.

The prophet asked to see all of Jesse's sons, and I was there. I was the oldest and tallest. I'd practiced the walk, too. When it was my turn, I was graceful. You would have been impressed. The wind came at just the right moment; it caught my hair and filled out my robe. I made sure he could see the fundamental characteristic of a leader—my profile (it's got to look good on a coin).

Samuel—he was impressed. You could see it written all over his face. You could tell he thought I was the one. He went for the anointing oil. I waited to feel that oil spill down my hair and shoulders. I was about to be famous.

I was this close, but then it was as if somebody whispered into his ear, and he put his arm down. I paused to give him a chance to reconsider, but he wasn't moving.

My other brothers started to come toward Samuel, from the next oldest onward. With each one, I thought to myself, Anoint him? You don't know what he did last Tuesday. I've got stories to tell about him.

All seven of us were there, and no one got chosen. What a bust. I thought Samuel was a man of God, and you could tell Samuel himself was wondering what was going on. He looked puzzled. He said to Jesse, "Is that it?"

"Yeah," my dad replied. "That's all my boys except David, the ruddy kid out in the field, looking after the sheep."

"Bring him to me," Samuel said.

We waited, and David came. Somebody seemed to be whispering in Samuel's ear, and he took out his horn of anointing oil and anointed David.

Later that evening, we had the sacrifice. Over dinner, I asked Samuel, "What happened? You were about to anoint me. Why David? Why him? Why not me?"

Samuel replied: It was an interesting thing. When I was about to anoint you, God said to me that men look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

The Israelite army trusted in appearances rather than God.

Time went on, and it was obvious the anointing was for real. Saul started to go mad. The people thought music would soothe him, so David was asked to play his harp. It was obvious God was drawing David into the palace to groom him to be king.

I wondered to myself, Why him and not me? Samuel said God looks at the heart, but what was it about David's heart that was different from my heart? What made him unique? What made him special?

Then we all saw his heart so clearly. It was when the Philistines had invaded the land. It was an unfair fight whenever they came, because they had the ability to smelt iron, and we did not. They had the ability, to make weapons—to make swords—and we did not. They would come at will, plunder the land, and take what they wanted. They didn't want to plant and farm themselves. They wanted to take our produce and live off it. We were defenseless before them.

One time, they came all the way into the Valley of Succoth. They were so deep in the land that we had to do something. So Saul called on the people to respond.

My two oldest brothers and I came. The three of us were there as part of this army. It was an amazing sight. Thousands and thousands of Israelites gathered on one side of the valley, and the Philistines gathered on the other side. As we were getting ready, pitching the tents and doing the preparations for battle, suddenly the sea of Philistines parted, and out from the center of them strode a giant. 

He was Goliath, and he was immense. He stood over nine feet tall. His legs looked like they were hewn out of marble. His arms looked like tree trunks. He wore a shirt of bronze that weighed 125 pounds. We had guys in our army that didn't weigh 125 pounds! He had a bronze helmet to protect him. He had bronze greaves on his legs in case someone tried to take him out from underneath. He had a bronze javelin strapped to his back. He had a spear the size of a weaver's rod; its iron tip weighed 15 pounds. As if that wasn't enough, everywhere Goliath went, he had a shield bearer in front of him who carried a huge piece of wood so no one could get at him. This fellow's only job was to protect Goliath by moving this picnic table around! 

Goliath walked out from among the Philistines. We held our breath just looking at him. He looked at us with the sneer of a man who knows he has no rivals and never has. He said, "You servants of Saul, why should we all fight? Send me your champion. If he defeats me, then we will all serve you. But if I defeat him, you will serve us. Send me a champion, and we will do battle." 

I didn't volunteer. Look at the size of him! And he was from Gath. When we moved into the Promised Land, God said all the land was ours. He promised it would all belong to us, but Joshua came in and some of the people from Gath escaped. Rumors flew that everyone was afraid of Gath.

The next morning, Saul decided he had to do something. He gathered us together and decided we would get ready for battle. He tried his best to motivate us: Come on, guys! We've done it before! We'll do it again! At least we can give it the old college try! Come on, guys!

We all responded: Yeah! We'll do it!

We started down the hill, but Goliath came up. Our war cry suddenly changed to a whimper, and we decided to break for lunch.

Goliath came out that morning, and we didn't want to take him on. He came out that night, and we still didn't want to take him on. He came out the next day, and we didn't want to take him on. Five days. Ten days. Fifteen days. Twenty days. Twenty-five days. Thirty days. Twice a day for 30 days, Goliath came out and defied the armies of Israel. He taunted us and swore by his gods that he would take us apart any time he wanted. "Where is your champion?" he bellowed. And nobody volunteered.

Saul decided what we needed was more incentive. He came up with a plan. He said, "I'm going to reward the person who decides to take on Goliath. I'm going to make him rich. I'm going to give him my daughter in marriage. He's going to be exempt from taxes his whole life."

It was interesting hearing the conversation around the campfire that night: "I have a sweetheart back home. Besides," people were saying, "taxes are my way of contributing to society. I would feel bad if I didn't have the opportunity to support the king."

Nobody was willing to fight Goliath.

The heart of a king is a heart that trusts God.

Thirty-five days. Forty days. Early in the morning, Goliath came and uttered his taunt and roar. He jeered at us and the God of Israel. He challenged us, and we fled before him.

Then my little brother showed up.

Dad had sent David on a grocery run to bring us some grain, bread, and cheese to help sustain us in the battle. David found that after 40 days of being at battle, we hadn't begun.

I was embarrassed. I didn't know what to do, so I lashed out at him. "What are you doing here, you ruddy little kid? You have a wicked heart! You've come to gaze at the carnage. You've come to look at the spoils of war. Why don't you go back to those sheep you look after?"

I said it loudly to embarrass him. My words hurt him, but he didn't go home. He started to go from soldier to soldier and say, "What's going on here? How come we're not at war?"

"Goliath," they replied.

"Well, is there any other reason?" he asked.

Word got around to Saul that there was one person—and it wasn't the king or the king's son, Jonathan—who had the courage to take on Goliath. It was little David.

Saul invited him to his tent and asked, "Are you willing to take on Goliath?"

"Yes, I am," David said. "That uncircumcised Philistine—why should he defy the armies of God?"

"Look at the size of him," Saul said. "You can't take him on. You don't have a chance. He's a trained army professional; he's a mammoth and you're just a boy."

David looked Saul in the eye and said with certainty, "God has helped me save my sheep from a bear and a lion, and he can help me rescue the people of Israel from Goliath."

Saul said, "You're my best option. In fact, you're my only option."

Saul offered David his armor. It looked silly, actually, him trying to put on armor that was way too big. David was polite and said it wasn't his style. Then he walked out of the king's tent with a determined step I had never seen before. He went to the brook and knelt down. He took out five stones and put four of them in his shepherd's bag. He put the other one in a sling he used to play with out in the field. Then he grabbed his shepherd's staff and started to walk down the side of the valley.

Goliath was standing there. He saw a speck coming down the hill and said, "What is this? Am I a dog that you send a boy with a stick against me?"

When he saw that David was quite determined, Goliath became furious. He said, "Today I will destroy you, and I will feed your flesh to the birds of the air and the animals of the field."

David looked Goliath in the eye and said, "You come against me with sword and spear, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty! Today he will deliver you into my hands, and I will feed you and the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field. And the whole world will know there is a God in Israel and the battle belongs to him!"

This infuriated Goliath even more. You could tell no one had ever talked to him that way. He began to move about (which was a bit of a challenge for the guy with the picnic table). As he moved, David moved. When Goliath began to run toward David, I saw the genius of David's approach. The Philistines didn't fight with bow and arrow but only with javelin and spear. Their range was limited, and David knew that. He stayed far enough away that Goliath couldn't get to him.

I may not like my little brother, but that kid has wings on his feet. He can move. He started running around Goliath as fast as he could. Goliath was big, but he was not fast. It took him a little while to readjust every time he saw David moving around. The guy with the picnic table was having fits. 

It wasn't long before David outflanked him and could get a clean bead on Goliath. Suddenly, David planted his right foot. He swung his sling, pushed off on his foot, and released a stone at the same time.

The sound of thousands of men holding their breath while one stone was whistling through the air was deafening.

And then the stone hit the giant.

Goliath's eyes went wide, his knees buckled, and he was down on his face. Without a moment's hesitation, David moved closer. He pulled Goliath's own sword out of the scabbard, cut off the giant's head, and held it up by the hair!

Realizing he wasn't in the safest of places, the guy with the picnic table beetled up the hill toward his friends. The rest of the Philistines took one look at what happened and started running for home.  

We were standing on the other side of the valley, thinking, If that's what God can do through little David, imagine what he could do through us. For the first time in 40 days, we let out a war cry: "Let's get the Philistines!"

We charged down that hill and up the other side, flying after the enemy. We chased them all the way back to the gates of Gath, and we plundered their camp.


God won a victory that day. And me? I learned a lesson in leadership. I learned being a leader has nothing to do with your hair or your height; being a leader of God's people has everything to do with your heart. David became king because he alone, in all of Israel, had a heart that was willing to trust God's word. When God said he would give all of the land to Israel—even Gath—David alone believed that promise, and acted on it. David had a heart of faith, and that's why David was a leader.

If you want to be used by God, all you need is a heart that trusts him.

Kent Edwards is professor of preaching and leadership, and director of the doctor of ministry program at Biola University in La Mirada, California, and author of Deep Preaching (B&H).

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Sermon Outline:


I. Samuel anointed a new king.

II. The Israelite army trusted in appearances rather than God.

III. The heart of a king is a heart that trusts God.