“God Looks at the Heart”

KASUMIGAOKA 2017/05/28
SERMON: “God Looks at the Heart” 「人はうわべを見るが、主は心を見る」
TEXT: I Sam. 16: 1-13    


I want to begin today’s sermon with a question. What do you know about these 3 characters in the Bible: Eliab, Abinadab, and Shammah? Do you know what these 3 men have in common with each other? Of course, we read their names in today’s Scripture text. (But if you had not just heard these names, would you even remember them?) They are the three older brothers of a man that you all certainly remember: David, son of Jesse, who became king of Israel. All these men were sons of Jesse, but only David accomplished truly great things. Only David, the youngest and least impressive of Jesse’s 8 sons, became known as the king through whom God would send His Messiah into the world. In fact, in the genealogy of Jesus Christ, only two of His ancestors stand out for special notice. Matthew’s Gospel begins with these words: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” In the last chapter of the New Testament, Revelation 22:16, Jesus Christ says about Himself, “I am the root and the offspring of David.” But why was David so special? As we look at some of the events in David’s life during the next few weeks, I want to examine this question. In particular, I want to think about the qualities we see in David’s life that reveal the character of God’s promised Messiah. Many Jews looked forward to the coming of a Savior who would be “the Son of David.” In the Hebrew language, the expression “son of” often means more than just a biological relationship. It means there is a strong similarity between two different people or things that are being compared. When people in the New Testament called Christ “Son of David,” what were they thinking? What were they hoping? In what way is Christ like David? And what is God teaching us about Christ as we read the stories about David’s life? In the Hebrew Bible, the life of David is included in what is called “the Former Prophets.” That means that the life of David itself is a prophetic story. Through the historical events of David’s life, God is teaching His people what they should believe and how they should live. The apostle Peter wrote in 2 Peter 1:20, “No prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things.” In other words, God Himself told His prophets how to interpret the events happening around them. As we read the stories of David as not only history, but as “prophecy,” we who are not prophets must be especially careful that we do not rely on our own “interpretation of things.” Instead, let’s look for what God is clearly teaching us in the stories that we read. Usually, the correct interpretation is supplied by the story itself. Let’s think more about this as we consider the details of today’s Scripture passage.

II. Man Looks at the Outward Appearance, but God Looks at the Heart

A. Samuel Called to Anoint a New King

The main point presented in this passage is the contrast between two ways of thinking: there is man’s “common sense” way of thinking, and there is God’s way. How do we make important decisions? Do we automatically take a pragmatic approach and ask, “What will be most efficient?” or “What will be most likely to succeed?” Or do we ask, “What is most important to God?” Do we consider only superficial aspects of a problem, or do we inquire more deeply, asking about ultimate purposes and motives? The fundamental contrast between these two approaches to life is expressed in the Lord’s explanation to Samuel in today’s passage (verse 7 b). He says, “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

This passage opens with the Lord’s call to the prophet Samuel to go and anoint one of the sons of “Jesse the Bethlehemite” to become the next king of Israel. Though anointed earlier by Samuel to be Israel’s king, Saul has failed to carry out his kingly duties. Saul’s failure grew from his determination to rule the people of Israel according to his own personal opinions and judgments, rather than by carefully following the commandments of the Lord God. Twice Saul had been admonished by the prophet. One the first occasion, Saul had grown impatient for Samuel’s arrival, so he had himself taken on the priest’s duty of offering a sacrifice to the Lord. King Saul thought that offering a sacrifice was necessary to encourage his army, before facing the enemy on the battlefield. But Samuel was the priest (as well as being a prophet). Saul had no right to assume the priest’s role. Saul had been told to wait until Samuel arrived to offer the sacrifice. Sometimes waiting is the most faithful “action” to take! By offering the sacrifice himself, Saul had demonstrated a disregard for the sanctity of God’s holy worship. For that disregard of God’s law, Samuel said to Saul, “You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you” (13:13). If Saul had obeyed God, instead of following his own personal judgment, God would have established his kingdom over Israel. “But now your kingdom shall not endure,” Samuel says in 13:14. Instead, “The Lord has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” Therefore, God says, “I have rejected him from being king over Israel” (16:1).

Samuel seems to be concerned for two reasons about this new task God has given him. The first reason is that he is sad that Saul has failed as king. Perhaps Samuel is mourning over Saul, because Samuel himself had anointed Saul to be king. Maybe Samuel thought that he was somehow personally responsible for Saul’s failure. Anyway, Samuel was mourning for Saul, when God called him to anoint a different man to rule Israel. The second reason Samuel was concerned about this new mission from God is that he knows it is a dangerous mission. Saul has not been a good king, but he is still recognized as king by the people of Israel. There is the risk of a terrible civil war. Few men who hold the power of a king will voluntarily give it up! Saul will fight to keep his kingly power and prestige. If Samuel anoints a new king, Saul will consider Samuel’s action a betrayal. So Samuel must take a great personal risk to oppose Saul and choose a new king. Nevertheless, in spite of his grief over Saul and his fear of Saul’s anger, Samuel does not hesitate to do exactly as the Lord has commanded him. The Lord sends him to Bethlehem on a special priestly mission: to offer a sacrifice to the Lord in the town where Jesse and his family lived. The vast difference between Samuel and Saul is shown by Samuel’s response to the Lord’s command in v. 4. “So Samuel did what the Lord said, and came to Bethlehem.” Samuel obeyed the Lord’s commands, in spite of his fears and his sorrow.

B. God Chooses Israel’s King

1. God Guides Samuel to the New King. Samuel obeyed God’s call and soon arrived safely in Bethlehem to carry out his priestly duties. However, his arrival was evidently not expected by the leaders of that town. Samuel was not only a priest; he was also a prophet of the Lord who had often called Israel to battle against the Lord’s enemies. Samuel was also a “judge” in Israel; his last act as judge was to condemn to death Agag, the king of the Amalekites. In 15:33 it says that Samuel called for Agag, whom Saul had taken prisoner, and he “cut him to pieces before the Lord.” It should not surprise us that the elders of Bethlehem were apprehensive about this “unpredictable” prophet and judge who had suddenly arrived in their town. It must have given them great relief when he told them he had come as priest to lead in a religious ceremony. In fact, he invited the elders, together with the family of Jesse, to join him in feasting on the roasted meat of the sacrifice.
Samuel knew that following the Lord often required him to “walk by faith,” trusting God to lead him step by step. He had come to Bethlehem because God had told him to choose and anoint one of Jesse’s sons as the next king. But how was he to choose the king? Jesse had not one son or two, but many sons! Furthermore, when Samuel had anointed Saul to be king, the people of Israel had demanded that he give them a king. They trusted his judgment to choose wisely, because he was a prophet of the Lord. But the people of Israel were not asking him to choose a new king now! They were satisfied with King Saul, even if God were not satisfied. How would Samuel persuade the people to accept another king? It was a difficult moment for Samuel as he welcomed the leaders of Bethlehem, together with Jesse and his seven sons to the feast. First, Samuel had to trust God to lead him to the right man to rule His people Israel. Afterwards, they must figure out how the “Anointed One” would gain the people’s trust and persuade Saul to give up his throne.

From the beginning of the “selection process,” Samuel was tempted to follow his own human judgment and choose a “likely candidate” for the role of king. Perhaps, like Saul, the should be very tall—an impressive man physically. People liked tall kings! Saul was “taller than any of the people from the shoulders upward” when he was chosen to be king (10:23). But “tall Saul” had been a terrible failure in God’s eyes. Nevertheless, the temptation to judge a man by his appearance was strong. When the first of Jesse’s sons entered the room where the feast was held, Samuel was deeply impressed by the man. “He looked at Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him.’” But God did not allow Samuel to make a decision based on his own “common sense” judgment. Instead, God gave Samuel the advice that we frequently need to hear when we have to make important choices. (v. 7) He said, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, 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.” More important than any physical attributes is the condition of a man’s heart.

Six more sons of Jesse—in fact all of the sons who had been invited to Samuel’s feast—entered the room, one by one. But the Lord gave the same answer about each one. “Do not look at the appearance. The Lord has not chosen this one either.” Samuel may have been a little confused by this time. The Lord had clearly told him to anoint “one of the sons of Jesse” to be the next king. But the Lord had also told him, each time a son entered, “This is not the one.” So Samuel said to Jesse, “Are these all the children?” And Jesse answered, “There’s the little one, but we didn’t even call him to the feast. He’s out in the pasture watching the sheep.” According to most translations Jesse refers to David as the “youngest one,” but what the Hebrew says is literally, “little one.” Even in the eyes of his own family, David was completely overlooked. He was so insignificant that he was not even invited to the party! Yet, this “little one” was “the one” God had chosen. This physically unimpressive, modest young man loved music and poetry—but most of all he loved God. This is the man God had chosen to become leader of Israel, because his heart was turned toward God! Samuel sent for David immediately, saying, “We will not sit down until he comes here” (v. 11). His brothers, no doubt, were amazed. Possibly they thought the old priest had made a terrible mistake! Later, we will see that his own family was persuaded only with great difficulty to accept the leadership of their little brother. But in response to the prophet’s command, everyone finally notices “little David!” When David arrives, Samuel observes that he is “sun-tanned, with beautiful eyes, and a fine appearance” (v. 12). But Samuel did not choose David because of these features. He chose David because God who sees the heart said to him, “Arise, anoint him; for this is he” (v. 12).


Why is this story from the life of David important for us? The Lord Himself answers this question for us in verse 7: “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, . . . for God sees not as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” The big difference between a leader whom God will bless and a leader whom God will reject is found in the condition of a man’s heart. Even though David was far from perfect, he was “a man after God’s own heart” (13:14). Whenever we choose a leader, whether it is the president of our nation, or an elder for our congregation, we should also look for such a person. Only God can “see” the heart, but we can look for evidence of one’s spiritual condition in many ways. That is the main point of this story, I think. A second point is that we should never be satisfied with the world’s wisdom. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:21, “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” The wisdom of the world tends to make men arrogant and self-satisfied. God’s wisdom makes men humble and dependent upon God’s help. Were any of us brought into the safety and the peace of God’s kingdom through our own wisdom? Paul writes in 1 Cor. 1:30-31: “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, that, just as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” So, dear friends, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Prov. 3:5). That is the way of wisdom.

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