1 Sam. 16:6-7, “So it was, when they came, that he looked at Eliab and said, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him!’ But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for a man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
These are words spoken by the Lord to the prophet Samuel on the occasion of the anointing of the shepherd boy David to be the next king of Israel. Samuel was certain that Eliab must be the chosen one as he was so impressive to behold. David was the last of Jesse’s eight sons that anyone, including his father, had thought of and yet he was the one that God had chosen. There are several lessons that we can learn from this event.
First of all, we are reminded that the ways of God’s are often contrary to our conventional ways of thinking or of doing things. We’ve all heard the little saying, “God works in mysterious ways.” We see that here in this account. God’s ways are often mysterious and surprising, but they are always wonderful and good for his people and for his glory. For example, He often chooses very unlikely instruments to be the means of his blessing. Here is David the shepherd boy, from the little country village of Bethlehem. The one his father never even considered when Samuel asked to see his sons. Though he was ruddy of complexion and goodly to look at it, he was too young, too boyish, too melancholy and meditative, and too inexperienced in the ways of the world. Who would have ever thought? But there are qualities in that young man, qualities that God had put there and that only God could see. How astonished Jesse and his other sons must have been to see Samuel pouring the holy oil upon this young stripling. But this is often God’s way. He often chooses very unlikely instruments to be the means of his blessing.
There is Ruth the widowed Moabitess. She who must beg from Boaz’s servants becomes their master and his wife. This woman from the pagan race of Moab becomes the honored great grandmother of the one God had chosen to rule his people. Our Lord’s apostles are taken from common fisherman and hated tax gatherers. The great reformer of the sixteenth century Martin Luther, is found in a poor miner’s cottage. Whitefield is taken from his mother’s Tavern. Then, of course, we see this in the life experience of our blessed Lord himself. His mother Mary is a young virgin from a despised little town of Nazareth. Her husband is a common carpenter. Jesus is born in a lowly manger, despised and rejected of men. He is crucified on a Roman cross, but from that cross he is exalted to the right hand of the Father, where he rules and reigns until all of his enemies are made his footstool.
Secondly, we learn from this passage the danger of relying upon human wisdom when it comes to the work of God. Here we see how easily even a man of God like Samuel can be fooled by appearances, by impressions. Israel had made many foolish choices in the past. But here at this crucial moment in the nation’s history, when so much hangs in the balance, the godly Samuel is on the scene. Surely the future of God’s kingdom can be trusted to this faithful prophet of God. But even Samuel came within a hair’s breadth of making a terrible mistake; a mistake that would have brought an even worse disaster to the nation. Here we are reminded that God’s kingdom is only safe with Him. Only God’s wisdom is adequate for directing the work of His kingdom. Human wisdom is not to be trusted, when it comes to the things of God. We must always with much prayer look to God in a humble spirit of dependence and let His word alone be our guide.
Thirdly, here in this passage we are reminded that it is the state of our hearts that is the real measure of our true character. “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” The state of our hearts is the real measure of our true character. This doesn’t mean that our actions and words don’t matter. However, actions and words can deceive. What matters most is the state of our hearts.
Now if God looks at our hearts we need to look at our hearts. Your true character and mine is not what other people see. It’s what God sees and knows us to be in our hearts. So let us be reminded that in our pursuit of holiness and likeness to our Savior we must not be content with that which is merely outward. We must be concerned with the inward man. We must be concerned with the realm of our affections and desires, our attitudes and feelings, our likes and our dislikes. In the work of mortifying remaining sin we must not be content with lopping off the limbs and the fruits that break forth. We must go down to the roots. In the cultivation of positive Christ-like virtues we must not be content with a mere outward conformity to the will of our Father. We must seek to cultivate those inward graces of love, kindness, gentleness, patience, joy, and all of those inward fruits of the Spirit. We must make it our practice to regularly examine our hearts. Acquaint yourself with your heart. Cry to God about your heart. “Lord, you say that you look not only upon the outward appearance, but upon the heart. Therefore I too will look at my heart.”
However, as one the Puritans has put it so well, remember that as you keep one eye on your heart, keep the other eye on Christ. We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. If we confess our sins, including the sins of our hearts, He is faithful and just to forgive. And as we look to Him, and apply ourselves to the means of grace, He is able, by the Spirit, to give us grace to be more and more like Him, not merely on the outside but on the inside.