God is not concerned with your appearance or religious activities. He wants your heart.

1 SAMUEL #14




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I mentioned last time how we need to understand the Old Testament in the light of the New Testament. It contains the first two acts of a three-act play. It won’t make sense until you also see the end. It is all about Jesus. If we just read the Old Testament alone, we get a message that seems to contain a lot about following rules and a mean, incomprehensible God. But every once in a while we get a hint that this is a set up for something more to come – the more that was fully explained and fulfilled in Jesus. In 1 Samuel 16, we get another of these hints.

Saul struggled with insecurity. In his fears he did not turn to God for mercy and grace – instead, he tried to control and manipulate God through religion. He did not want a relationship of trust in the Almighty – he just wanted an Almighty who would do what he (Saul) wanted him to. When it came right down to it, Saul wanted God to serve him, not the reverse. Ultimately, he rejected God, and so God let him go his own way.

The prophet Samuel grieved over this turn of events, and even over Saul personally. This shows us something of the man Samuel was. He knew it was wrong for the people to want a king. He knew that Saul was insecure and not a true follower of the Lord. But Samuel hated to see him fail, hated that he had turned away from God. He knew that because of Saul’s own choices, God could not do anything more with him, but even so, he was sad for Saul.

The Lord told Samuel to go anoint the one who would be the next king of Israel. It is interesting to note that Samuel, for all his care for Saul, had no illusions about what kind of man he was. He thought Saul would have him killed if he found out he was anointing another person to be king. Even so, he obeyed and went to the home of Jesse, a descendant of Judah who lived in Bethlehem.

He had Jesse bring his sons with him to a sacrifice that they offered to the Lord. When Samuel saw Jesse’s oldest son, he was impressed.

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.” (1 Sam 16:6-7, ESV)

This one of those times when the curtain is drawn back, the Old Testament shows plainly what God is after. It may be one of the most important verses in the Old Testament. God looks at the heart. The word for “heart” is a form of the Hebrew word “leb.” This is a word with a rich meaning, just as “heart” is in English. In German leben – a very similar sounding word – means life. In Hebrew this word means innermost being, intellect, the center of a person or thing.

Writer Brent Curtis points out how important the heart is:

We describe a person without compassion as “heartless,” and we urge him or her to “have a heart.” Our deepest hurts we call “heartaches.” Jilted lovers are “brokenhearted.” Courageous soldiers are “bravehearted.” The truly evil are ‘black-hearted” and saints have “hearts of gold.” If we need to speak at the most intimate level we ask for a “heart-to-heart” talk. “Lighthearted” is how we feel on vacation. And when we love someone as truly as we may, we love “with all our heart.” But when we lose our passion for life, when a deadness sets in which we cannot seem to shake, we confess, “My heart’s just not in it.”

Curtis adds, “it is in our heart that we first hear the voice of God and it is in the heart that we come to know him and live in his love…For above all else, the Christian life is a love affair of the heart.”

Brent Curtis & John Eldredge, The Sacred Romance

No wonder Solomon calls the heart “the wellspring of life”(Proverbs 4:23). Both Saul and Jesse’s son Eliab were impressive on the outside. Saul even behaved religiously (though not faith-fully). But God is after our hearts. Saul’s heart was closed to him. Eliab’s also, apparently. What the Lord wanted, was not an impressive looking person. He wasn’t after a great warrior or commander of men. He wanted first and foremost a heart that would belong to him.

Samuel went down the line of Jesse’s sons – seven of them. The Lord did not choose any of them. Finally, they called in the youngest, a boy named David. The fact that David was not at the sacrifice with the others opens up the possibility that at this time he was younger than thirteen years old, and so not a normal adult guest at an audience with the Prophet. We can’t know this for sure, however. At any event, he was quite young, and unimportant enough in his family to be left tending the sheep while the older men held council with Samuel. If I had to guess, I would say that this event was pretty close to David’s thirteenth birthday either just before or after. It brings to mind the history of Samuel himself, who was so young when God began to speak to him.

The text says that David was “reddish” and handsome. “Reddish” usually translated “ruddy” which is not much more helpful. But here is the surprising meaning: there is a real possibility that David had red hair, or at least dark auburn hair, something which would have been worth noting because it was fairly unusual for Jews at the time.

Prompted by the Lord, Samuel anointed David with oil. Up until Saul was anointed by Samuel, anointing usually meant pouring oil on vessels that were dedicated to be used in worshipping God, or pouring oil on a priest to show that he was set apart to serve God. No one except Samuel and Saul had been present when Saul was anointed to serve God as king. Therefore, though the people probably understood that David was being set apart to serve God, most of them would have been fuzzy on exactly how he was meant to serve.

The physical pouring on of oil was a symbol of what the Lord did spiritually. For at that time, the Spirit of the Lord came into David, and left Saul. Remember, before Jesus, the Spirit of God usually worked only in one or two individuals or one small group at a time.

Now I want to stop with text here, and seek some application. I cannot over emphasize the importance of the heart when it comes to our interactions with God. If the Lord has your religious service, but he doesn’t have your heart, he doesn’t have you. If God has your intellectual agreement, but he doesn’t have your heart, he doesn’t have you. I think this was partly what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote this:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 1Cor 13:1-3 (ESV)

We are going to learn more about David. He became a fierce warrior. He turned into the greatest king of Israel in a thousand year period. He was wise. He was a great musician who wrote worship songs that are still being used today, three thousand years later. But ultimately, the legacy of David was this: his heart belonged fully to God (1 Kings 14:8; 1 Kings 15:3; Acts 13:22). Everything that David achieved was merely a result of that.

Listen to David’s heart, expressed in the words he wrote:

1 ​​​​​​​​As a deer pants for flowing streams, ​​​​​​​so pants my soul for you, O God. ​​​ 2 ​​​​​​​​My soul thirsts for God, ​​​​​​​for the living God. ​​​​​​​When shall I come and appear before God? ​​​ Ps 42:1-2 (ESV)

1 God, You are my God; I eagerly seek You. I thirst for You; my body faints for You in a land that is dry, desolate, and without water. 2 So I gaze on You in the sanctuary to see Your strength and Your glory. 3 My lips will glorify You because Your faithful love is better than life. Ps 63:1-3 (HCSB)

Now sometimes, I think we don’t give our hearts to God because we don’t recognize it when he calls to our hearts. We think he wants religious service and self-sacrifice. And in some ways, he does, but he wants that to flow out of hearts that belong fully to him. David heard God calling his heart as he was alone in the wilderness with sheep. That sharp pang of loneliness was God calling to him, and he answered in faith, and wrote songs and poems. He recognized God was romancing his heart through the beauty of the wild lands. He recognized God reaching to his heart through the excitement and fierce rushing joy of protecting his sheep from bears and lions. When he saw beauty and was drawn to it, he recognized that it was ultimately God’s beauty and God seeking his heart.

We can do the same. Maybe there is music that stirs your soul, that wakes you up and makes you yearn for something – you might not even know what. Recognize that that yearning is actually for God. He is reaching out to you through that music (I don’t think it matters if the music is overtly Christian or not). Listen to it more. Let God into your heart through it.

Maybe being in nature causes a stirring in you, a desire. Recognize that the God who made nature is reaching out to you. Don’t mistake nature for God himself. But let him use the beauty of the mountains and fall colors and rushing streams to draw you to Him.

Maybe you long to have a soul mate, another person who really knows you completely and accepts you for who you are. Sometimes the Lord fulfills that desire partially through the person we marry. Often, however, we get disappointed. I don’t know about you, but my wife Kari’s soul mate turned out to be a sinful, flawed human being. I bet if you are married, the same thing has happened to you. We can rejoice at the gift our spouses are. But what our spouses lack is supposed to help us desire God even more. He is calling to your heart with that yearning.

Perhaps you long for adventure, for the rush and thrill of danger or accomplishment. We can get some of that in this world, and there is nothing wrong with it. But recognize, we can only get part of it without God. The true fulfillment of that yearning is found when our hearts belong to the God of adventure.

David was apparently a fine-looking young red-head. That actually didn’t matter. What mattered then and through all history was his heart, that it belonged fully to God. What you look like, what you do for a living, how successful you are – none of those things really matter. What God looks at is your heart. Is it HIS?

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