READ : 1 Samuel 16:7
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
1 Samuel 16:7 rsv
In these next few times together, I want to think with you about David, Israel’s greatest king. I’m thinking especially about God’s dealings with this man and what we can learn from them. Today my theme is: “What God Looks For.” Listen to these words from 1 Samuel 16:7 in the Old Testament: “The Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
We need a little background to understand what is happening here. The people of Israel, for the first time in their history, are being ruled by a king. His name is Saul. He’s a man of imposing stature, from the shoulders upward taller than anyone else in the land. At the time of his coronation, Saul seemed humble and full of promise. But he soon forgets that it’s God who has raised him up. Impatient in waiting for Samuel, the spiritual leader of the people, Saul oversteps the bounds of his authority, presuming to offer sacrifices like a priest. Later he disobeys God’s clear command in his dealings with the defeated Amalakites. Saul has forgotten that the Lord is Israel’s true ruler. Royalty has gone to his head. His career and his character are now in sad decline. God has rejected him from being king.
Samuel, the large-hearted man of God, is troubled over what’s happening to Saul. He weeps for him. But in the midst of his grieving, God speaks. Listen. I’m reading from 1 Samuel 16:
The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul, seeing I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” And Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, `I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ And invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me him whom I name to you.” Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” And he said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; consecrate yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he consecrated Jesse and his sons, and invited them to the sacrifice.
When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” And Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen these.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and fetch him; for we will not sit down till he comes here.” And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him; for this is he.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward (vv. 1-13).
WHAT WE SEE
Man looks on the outward appearance. That’s what old Samuel did. He looked on Eliab, first of Jesse’s sons, and felt sure that he must be the chosen one. Eliab was tall. He had a kingly look about him. And he was, after all, the first born. By ordinary human calculations, he was clearly the prime candidate.
It was quite natural for Samuel to assume this. He was simply going on the basis of the evidence before him. The outward signs surely pointed Eliab’s way. If Samuel had been making the choice, he would have looked no further.
During most of history, rulers have been chosen on the basis of what appears to the human eye. The king is usually the man who is bigger, stronger, more imposing than the rest. He is the one of demonstrated prowess on the battlefield, of evident power to command. In modern democracies, most citizens never see their president or prime minister except perhaps through television. Today it isn’t stature or strength that wins the day so much as personal appeal and persuasive speech. For most voters, it’s the image projected on the screen that determines the choice. In every age, man looks on the outward appearance, doesn’t he?
This human tendency to judge by appearances often has tragic results. We discriminate against those whose color is different from ours. Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda despise and fear each other on the basis of relative physical stature. The Tutsis are tall, and the Hutus short. In enemy territory, therefore, a man’s height may mark him out for death. All of us make negative judgments of others on the basis of appearance, and then proceed to treat them accordingly. That’s how man sees.
God’s perspective is notably different. He says through His prophet Isaiah, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord” (Isa. 55:8). Nor are His evaluations like ours. The Lord looks on the heart.
One of the things that impresses me as I read this remarkable account is the way in which God has made His choice long before Samuel becomes involved. His word to the prophet is: “Fill your horn with oil and go . . . I will send you to Jesse, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” Note: “I have provided.” The decision has already been made. A certain person is God’s choice, antedating any human search. When Samuel pleads with God, afraid of Saul’s reaction, he is given this assurance: “I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me him whom I name to you.” Samuel won’t do the choosing – He will simply anoint the one whom God will identify as king. It’s not the odds-on favorite Eliab, nor Abinadab nor Shammah, nor any of the other sons gathered at the sacrifice. All have been weighed and found wanting. They’re not in consideration at all. God’s choice is not the oldest or the biggest or the strongest, but the slim young lad who looks after the sheep.
Jesus put it like this: “What is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). And, on the other hand, what is often thought insignificant and valueless among men is priceless to God. The perspectives are notably different, aren’t they? We see that supremely in the Lord Himself. He is the One who is despised and rejected of men. He’s the king no one wants, for whose blood the crowds cry out. He’s declared not fit to live, subjected to torture and death. He’s the stone which the builders rejected. But God sees Jesus differently. He makes Him the chief cornerstone. Men crucify Jesus – God raises Him from death. They shame Him – God exalts Him. They spurn Jesus – God welcomes Him. The Lord sees not as man sees.
The difference appears also in those whom the risen Lord calls to Himself. Remember how the apostle Paul puts it:
Consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God (1 Cor. 1:26-29).
God’s way of seeing, evaluating, choosing always has an element of surprise for us. He doesn’t select those whom others judge “most likely to succeed.” The best names, the brightest minds, the biggest portfolios are sometimes passed by for nobodies with little formal education, poor folks, lightly regarded ones. God certainly sizes up people differently, doesn’t He?
I wonder what it was that He saw in David. Surely it was more than the ruddy countenance, the glowing eyes, the youthful good looks. God saw here a young man with a zeal for God and His kingdom. When the Philistine giant Goliath had been taunting Israel, young David was incensed. “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine,” he asked, “that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam. 17:26).
God found in David also the courage that comes from a living faith. Listen to the shepherd boy, facing a deadly challenger: “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Sam. 17:37). David knew he was up against it. He realized that in himself he was no match for this mountain of a man, Goliath. But he had experienced God’s help before and knew that the Lord would be with him in the battle. Remembrance of God’s faithfulness made him exceedingly bold.
And God saw in David also a becoming modesty. This youth never took the attitude that everything was his by right. When others talked to him about marrying the king’s daughter, David said, “Does it seem to you a little thing to become the king’s son-in-law, seeing that I am a poor man and of no repute? . . . Who am I, and who are my kinsfolk, my father’s family in Israel, that I should be son-in-law to the king?” (1 Sam. 18:23,18).
God had not only seen this young David; He had heard him. The Lord had listened to his psalms of praise, his songs on star-lit hillsides, his prayers of reverent trust. From what He saw in David’s heart and what He heard from his lips, God’s choice was clear. His command to Samuel was: “When the youngest boy arrives, anoint him, for this is the one.”
We can’t help but notice the contrast between David and Saul, Saul the tall one, the stately, the regal in bearing. He seems to have little concern for God’s cause: He wants only to build a monument for himself. No real faith here – Saul trembles with the fear that comes from unbelief. So far from modesty has he drifted that he thinks himself above God’s command. David remembers God. Saul forgets. That’s the difference. God looks upon each heart and sees the presence or absence of a godly fear, of personal trust, of glad commitment.
LEARNINGS FOR US
So I ask myself: What difference will it make to me that I know this, that the Lord sees not as man sees, that man looks on the outward appearance but the Lord looks on the heart? For one thing, it makes me want increasingly to see other people as God sees them, valuing character above credentials, judging people, as Martin Luther King pleaded in his “I have a dream” speech, not by the color of their skin but the quality of their conscience. I want to be slower to judge by appearances. I want to be less and less impressed by image and more and more by reverence, courage and humility. I don’t want my models to be the heroes and heroines of an unbelieving world. I want to admire those whose lives are full of faith and love.
And if those are qualities precious to God, if He loves trust and fidelity but hates pride and pretense, I want to learn what it is to renounce my disobedience, my vanity, my cowardice. I want to value in my own life the things God prizes and seek always the things that honor Him.
But as I do that, I want to remember where those good things come from. Let me not try to produce goodness and godliness out of my tiny pool of ego strength. I want to look away from myself to God and what He has done. I want to put my trust in Jesus Christ who died for me and rose again. I want to praise God, both with David’s psalms and with songs of worship to the risen Lord. And I want to make David’s great prayer my own. Will you join me in it? “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10). That is what God looks for.