We are often guilty of judging people by their outward appearance. But what God sees is our hearts. Rev Rose uses the story of Samuel seeking a King to replace Saul, who God had become displeased with because of his disobedience. The story reminds us that God desires people who seek after him. God is more concerned with our character – our integrity and spiritual formation than with our possessions or personal legacy. May it be said of us as it was said of David “he served the purpose of God in his own generation”.
What God Sees
Scripture: 1 Samuel 16:1-13
Sermon by Rev. Dale Rose – Lake Joseph Church – July 23, 2023
Back in 2006, the Canadian journalist Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. In the book he talks about our tendency to jump to conclusions about other people – or as he puts it, “to listen with our eyes.” He tells a story to illustrate his point. It’s a story about auditions for classical musicians at the famous Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. For over thirty years prospective musicians have auditioned behind a screen which has resulted in some musicians being admitted to the orchestra who might have been rejected because of an unconscious bias with regard to appearance. On one occasion, a woman auditioned for the role of principal French horn. Up to that point, no woman had been admitted to the brass section. She wowed the judges, and they declared her the winner. When she came out from behind the screen, the judges were shocked – not because she was a woman but because they knew her. She was a substitute player, who had filled in for the main horn player a few times. But it was not until they listened to her with their ears that they realized how outstanding a musician she really was. All those years they had an amazing musician in their brass section, but never realized it.
There is a popular show on television these days that follows a similar theme as this story. It’s a show called The Voice. A panel of celebrity musicians judges up and coming singers as they perform. But what’s unique about the judges is that at the beginning of each audition, their chairs are turned so their backs are to the singers. They can’t see the singer, but only hear him or her. So they cannot judge on the basis of physical appearance or what the singer is wearing. They can only hear the voice, so their initial impression is all about the music. If they like what they hear, they hit a button which turns their chair around so they can face the singer. It’s an interesting concept, and a fair one because it places all the contestants on the same level playing field.
The truth is, we love to compare ourselves to others – but especially to those who we believe are inferior in some way to ourselves. Some people find high school or college reunions difficult for this very reason – too many comparisons that sound like a competition. Perhaps you have heard the story about three elementary school boys. They were talking about their fathers one day, and the subject came up about how much each father made. The first boy bragged and said: “My dad is a corporate attorney and he makes $700 an hour.” The second boy was unfazed by this. He said: “Well, my dad is a brain surgeon and he makes $1000 an hour.” The third boy didn’t even bat an eye. He looked at the other two and said: “My dad is a minister. I don’t know how much he makes, but every week he prays for two minutes and six people are needed to carry all the money up front to him!” Sometimes comparisons can go a little too far, don’t you think?
When we compare ourselves to others, our tendency is to label people. Now, we like labels on lots of things, because it makes life easier. If a jar is labelled as poison, it can save my life. If it says gluten-free, then it is safe for certain people. The problem is when we label people in certain ways. Some labels are useful. If you are a teacher, you will teach my children. If you are a doctor, you will treat my illness. If you are a police officer, you will protect me. Some labels have ulterior motives. You are popular, so you can make me look good. You are powerful, so you can help me get what I want. And some labels are exclusive. You are lazy, you don’t deserve help. You are different, so you should be cast out. You are the enemy, so you should be eliminated. The problem with labels is that they are fixed, while people are constantly in progress.
Our Old Testament lesson for today is one of the great stories in the saga of King David. In fact, it is our introduction to David in the scriptures. And it is a passage that relates to first impressions, outward appearances and even labels. God speaks to the prophet Samuel, telling him he has rejected Saul as king because of his disobedience. He tells Samuel to go to Bethlehem and anoint one of the sons of Jesse as the new king. Samuel is rightfully afraid. To anoint a new king while another is still in power would be an act of sedition. Saul would consider him a traitor and seek to kill him. But God insists, and tells Samuel that he will reveal which son to anoint in good time.
So the prophet arrives in Bethlehem. The town elders are just as afraid as Samuel, sensing what his task is. But the prophet comes in peace, and sets out to meet Jesse’s sons. One by one they are paraded before Samuel, from the eldest to the youngest. It almost has the air of a beauty or popularity contest. The sons all look impressive. Seven of them come forward, but God rejects them all. And he gives an important piece of advice to Samuel: “Do not consider his appearance or his height. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Samuel is disappointed, as is Jesse. Almost as an afterthought, Samuel says to Jesse: “You don’t happen to have any more sons, so you?” “Well, there is one more – but he is out in the fields, tending the sheep.” Translation – “He’s the runt of the litter. You wouldn’t be interested in him. He isn’t king material.” But Samuel insists: “Send for him. We will not sit down until he arrives.” And the moment David comes, Samuel knows he is the one and anoints him.
“People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Those words were written for outcasts and misfits, don’t you think? The scriptures would seem to bear this truth out. God chooses and uses the most unlikely of people. Moses ran from justice after killing an Egyptian. Rahab ran a brothel. Lot ran with the wrong crowd. Jonah literally ran from God. David was a young teenager with no leadership experience. Paul was a persecutor of Christians. Yet God used all of these people. And God saw what no one else saw in David – a heart for God. Mark Twain once said that he could live for a whole month on a good compliment. As a Christian, I can think of no greater compliment than to be described as a man or woman with a heart after God’s own heart. When that compliment comes from God himself, then it is even more impressive. Such was David’s future and legacy with God.
Why did God choose David over his older brothers? What was it about this young man that appealed to God’s own heart? Today’s Old Testament story offers us some valuable lessons in leadership. It describes the kind of heart God is looking for in his people.
1)When we are looking for leaders, we are not to judge according to outward appearance, or even first impressions. Verse 7: “Do not consider his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” I think most of us know this instinctively. We have expressions like: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Or: “Beauty is only skin deep.” Or: “Appearances can be deceiving.” “Or: “All that glitters is not gold.” But we still fall into the trap of making quick judgments based only on what we can see outwardly. Unfortunately there are a lot of people who are more concerned about looking good than pleasing God.
We make these judgments in a very arbitrary manner. Sometimes we even overlook potential leaders because we cannot see beyond an outward appearance or weakness. Sometimes snap judgments based on first impressions do work out. But not always – and the exceptions can be costly. One reason not to judge outwardly is that we do not know people’s thoughts or intentions. It is important to treat all people with dignity and respect because we are all made in the image of God. Perhaps the apostle Paul had this very story of Samuel and David in mind when he wrote to the Corinthians: “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”
2) Another truth this story teaches us is that we should not confuse ambition with leadership. Jesse wanted one of his elder sons as king. These sons were no doubt also ambitious for the job. But David did not seek it. He had instead a servant’s heart – the heart he revealed in writing the 23rd Psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” David was a young man who was contented with who he was – he was comfortable in his own skin. It’s important to remember that David did not have a speedy route to the halls of power. He was anointed by Samuel, but not appointed king until years later.
There were many challenges and life experiences yet to come for David before he would become king. He needed to evolve from humble beginnings and grow into his role. He also needed to avoid the trap of pride, which can adversely affect any anointing or calling by God. Leaders in the church have to resist the route of ambition, and maintain a servant’s heart. Yet they must also remain confident – not confident in themselves but confident in God’s faithfulness to equip them for the work to which they are called.
David himself wrote those beautiful words in Psalm 51: “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” David knew that keeping a humble spirit and acknowledging his brokenness before God were key elements to becoming a leader in God’s kingdom.
3) David became a leader because of his heart for others. Later in 1 Samuel, we have a verse which speaks about his character: “Everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to David; and he became captain over them. Those who were with him numbered about four hundred.” (1 Samuel 22:2) The wounded sheep of Israel flocked to David, because in him they saw a shepherd who would listen to them, guide them, heal them and protect them.
In 2 Chronicles 16:9 we read: “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the entire earth, to strengthen those whose heart is completely his.” The Hebrew word for complete refers to “wholeness, innocence, being unimpaired.” The closest English word we have is the word “integrity.” It’s what you are when no one else is looking. We live in a world that says: “If you just make a good impression, that’s all the matters.” But God’s people cannot live that way. You cannot fake it with the Almighty. He is not impressed with the externals of our lives. God searches and knows our hearts. Things like honesty, integrity, and character cannot be developed overnight. They take time and discipline to cultivate.
David was considered a man after God’s own heart because he gave himself completely to the Lord. In the end, that is what God desires. Others may measure our stature or wallet or fame. But not God. He examines hearts, and when he finds one that is devoted to him, he calls and claims it.
4) Finally, Samuel had to trust God to guide him in this journey to Bethlehem to anoint a king. Verses 12-13: “ He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The LORD said, ‘Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.’ Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward.”
Recognizing God’s presence or absence is not easy. Samuel came to Bethlehem, but he had no idea which son would be anointed king. He had to wait for the Lord to indicate his choice – no matter how unexpected that choice might be. One day – centuries later – others called by God would come to Bethlehem searching for a king. What the wise men found was a helpless baby in a manger – a baby who would become a king nailed to a cross. But the Magi and the prophets of old knew that appearances can be deceiving. God is often where we least expect him to be.
So often God’s guidance is not as apparent as it is in hindsight. We may not sense what God is doing at a particular moment, but it becomes clear to us later. Even the great prophet Samuel wasn’t sure what God was up to. He had to trust God, and wait upon him for the answer. And the answer surprised him. God doesn’t look at outward appearances, but he looks at the heart. Two centuries ago in 1809, a little French man by the name of Napoleon was marching through Europe and it looked like much of the world would be under his control. Napoleon was the talk of people everywhere. Yet many thousands of children were being born that year of 1809 all around the world. Charles Darwin, Edgar Allan Poe, Alfred Tennyson, Abraham Lincoln – all born that year. No one cared about these obscure babies while Napoleon was moving through Europe. The irony is that more people have been touched by these obscure babies than by Napoleon himself.
We are called to be people after God’s own heart. The story of Samuel anointing David reminds us that God desires people who seek after him. God is more concerned with our character than our outward appearance. He is more concerned with our integrity and spiritual formation than with our possessions or personal legacy. May it be said of us as it was said of David in the Book of Acts: “For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, died and was laid beside his ancestors.” (Acts 13:36) I can think of no greater legacy than for it to be said of us at Lake Joseph church: “We served the purpose of God in our generation.”