The Lord Looks at the Heart

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1 Samuel 16:1-13 (Samuel anoints David)

INTRODUCTION: We are starting a new message series today, and this is actually the third message series we have had from the book of 1 Samuel. Earlier we looked at the Life of Samuel in chapters 1-8. And then we looked at the Rise and Fall of Saul in chapters 9-15.

Now we come to the section on David and Saul in chapters 16-31. It is the longest of the three sections and is full of some of the most interesting stories in the Bible. Chapter 16 begins a new section in the book of Samuel and a whole new chapter in salvation history.

We are calling this series David and Saul (not Saul and David) because David is really central to these chapters. Of course God is always the main character in every Bible story, but when it comes to the humans in these stories, David is the person of primary importance here. In many ways we could call these chapters the rise of David and the decline of Saul, but that’s just too long! Saul is all over these pages but only as a secondary character, more as an antagonist or foil to David.

David is a forerunner and a type of Christ (i.e. his life forms a picture of Christ’s life). His name means “beloved.” And he foreshadows Jesus in so many ways. Like Jesus, he was born in Bethlehem. Like Jesus, he was a shepherd and a king Like Jesus, he delivered his people from the enemy. Like Jesus, he was anointed by God with the Holy Spirit. He is such a forerunner of Christ that when you get to the New Testament, one of the main titles for Jesus is Son of David.

Today’s passage introduces us to David in the pages of Scripture and history. Although we will be reading verses 1-13 in the course of the message, we will begin by just reading verse 7 right now. (Read 1 Samuel 16:7 and pray)


The Lord looks at the heart, not the outward appearance. This is such an important biblical principle for us to learn, and it is clearly illustrated for us in this story of the anointing of David. We tend to look at the outward appearance. We are easily impressed by the wrong things. But what’s inside is more important than what’s outside. We need to learn to see things the way God sees them.

I. Samuel’s heart for God (1-5)

So first of all, let’s look at Samuel’s heart for God. Samuel was far from perfect, he did a poor job of raising and restraining his own sons, but he did have a heart for God. We see that in three ways in our passage this morning.

   A. Mourning for sin (1)
      – Psalm 119:136

First, we see it in his mourning for sin. Look at verse 1:

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” (1 Samuel 16:1)

Samuel was there when Saul first became king. Samuel was the one who anointed Saul as king. Like all of Israel he had high hopes for Saul, and Saul started out so well. But Saul did not have a heart for God, which began to manifest itself in his pride and disobedience.

Now that God had rejected Saul as king, Saul remained as stubborn and unrepentant as ever. He was still king, and would be for many more years, but his days were marked. The last we heard of Samuel and Saul in chapter 15 is that Samuel departed from Saul and never saw him again until the day that he died.

And so, Samuel was rightly mourning for Saul. He was mourning for Saul’s sin. He was mourning for Saul’s disobedience. He was mourning for Saul’s loss of potential greatness and positive influence for God’s kingdom.

Do you mourn for sin? Do you mourn for your sin and the sin of others? Psalm 119:136 says: “Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed.” (Psalm 119:136) We don’t know who wrote Psalm 119, it could have been David, but whoever wrote it certainly had a heart for God which they showed by mourning for sin.

   B. Trusting God in danger (2-3)
      – Psalm 118:6

We see Samuel’s heart for God in his mourning for sin and in his trusting God in danger. Back to 1 Samuel 16, look at verses 2-3:

But Samuel said, “How can I go? Saul will hear about it and kill me.” The Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.” (1 Samuel 16:2-3)

Samuel knew going to Bethlehem to anoint a new king was a risky proposition. If Saul heard about it, he could have Samuel killed. So, Samuel took his concern to the Lord. He prayed about it, and God gave him a plan. Samuel would bring a heifer along for sacrifice, and so now he had a dual purpose in going to Bethlehem.

Psalm 118:6 says: “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6) The person with a heart for God will trust God in times of danger.

   C. Obeying God’s commands (4-5)
      – Deuteronomy 6:5-6

And then we see Samuel’s heart for God in his obedience to God’s commands. Back to 1 Samuel 16, look at verses 4-5:

Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?” 5 Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. (1 Samuel 16:4-5)

Samuel says what God tells him to say, and he does what God tells him to do. Despite the danger, he goes to Bethlehem as God commanded. The elders of the town tremble when he arrives. An unexpected visit from a prophet was not always a good thing, sort of like when the boss calls you into his office, you’re not sure what’s going on. Samuel consecrates Jesse and his sons and invites them to the sacrifice.

Deuteronomy 6 says: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.” (Deuteronomy 6:5-6) Part of having a heart for God is obedience to God’s commands.

Samuel shows his heart for God in his mourning for sin, his trusting God in danger and his obeying God’s commands.

II. God’s rejection of David’s brothers (6-10)

In the next verses we move from Samuel’s heart for God to God’s rejection of David’s brothers. These next verses are really the heart of the whole passage. Back to 1 Samuel 16, look at verses 6-10:

When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.” 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

8 Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” 9 Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” (1 Samuel 16:6-10)

So, this is a fun scene. Jesse arrives at the sacrifice with his seven sons. One by one they pass before Samuel and each time God tells Samuel, “No, I have not chosen this one. No, not this one either.” Each time Samuel must have thought, “Perhaps this is the one,” especially when he gets to the last son, number seven, process of elimination, right? No, all seven sons pass before Samuel, and God hasn’t chosen any of them!

   A. God does not look at what man looks at
      – Isaiah 55:8-9; Matthew 5:3-10

There are a number of important principles we can learn from this section. First of all, God does not look at what man looks at. Eliab was the oldest, and Samuel was immediately impressed by his physical appearance. Perhaps he was bigger, taller and stronger than the rest. God mentions his height in verse 7.

Either way, Samuel was impressed by him and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.” He certainly looked the part! But you know what? So did Saul! Saul also was bigger, taller and stronger than anyone else. And look how that worked out!

God does not look at what man looks at. God says in Isaiah 55: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

When Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount he began with the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:3-5) We read the Beatitudes, and it seems like Jesus is turning all our attitudes upside down. We don’t naturally think that way. But that’s because God does not think the way we think, and God does not look at what we look at.

   B. Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart
      – 1 Kings 8:39; 2 Chronicles 16:9

The key verse in this whole passage in 1 Samuel 16 is verse 7:

“The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

We read in verse 6 that Samuel “saw Eliab and thought.” That’s the whole problem. Samuel based his judgment on what he saw, on the outward appearance. Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.

I had a pastor friend who had curly hair, wire rim glasses and rode a motorcycle. Someone told him, “You don’t look like a pastor!” He asked them, “Well then, what does a pastor look like?”

2 Chronicles 16:9 says: “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” (2 Chronicles 16:9) Aaah, that’s what God is looking for. God is looking for people whose hearts are fully committed to him

We look at the outside because that’s all we can see. Only God can see the heart. 1 Kings 8:39 says: “For you alone know the hearts of all men.” (1 Kings 8:39). And so, we need to rely on God for discernment. This is why pastors and missionaries in the Bible are always carefully selected with prayer (cf. Acts 13:2-3), and we should do the same today.

When God looks at your heart, what does he see? Remember, God is looking for those whose hearts are fully committed to him. Is your heart fully committed to him?

When Jesse’s sons arrived, Samuel looked at Eliab and immediately thought he must be the one! But God told Samuel not to consider his appearance or height because he had rejected him. God does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.

III. David, the man of God’s choosing (11-13)

We have looked at Samuel’s heart for God. We have looked at God’s rejection of David’s brothers. Now, we finally come to David, the man of God’s choosing. God told Samuel to anoint one of Jesse’s sons, and yet God rejected all seven of Jesse’s sons who passed before him. God doesn’t make mistakes, so there can be only one explanation. Jesse must have another son!

   A. David was the youngest of all his brothers (11)
      – 1 Corinthians 1:27,31

Look at 1 Samuel 16:11:

So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” “There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered, “but he is tending the sheep.” Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.” (1 Samuel 16:11)

So, there was another son! David, the youngest brother. David, the baby brother. David, the runt of the litter! As the youngest son David was probably used to being overlooked, unnoticed, discounted. He was just a teenager at this time, maybe not even a teenager quite yet, perhaps twelve or thirteen years old. Even his own father thought he was too young or insignificant to invite to the feast. He was certainly an unlikely candidate for whatever Samuel was looking for.

It is a common theme in Scripture where God often chooses the younger brother over the older. God chose Abel over Cain, Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Joseph over his brothers, Ephraim over Manasseh, and Moses over Aaron. But God chose David not just over one older brother but seven! He was the eighth son, and the number eight in the Bible is the number of new beginnings. God was going to do something new through David.

We read in 1 Corinthians 1: “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong…. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.’” (1 Corinthians 1:26-27) God chooses the young, the weak, the foolish, the surprising. Why? So that God gets all the glory, and so that we will not boast in our own abilities.

Samuel says, “Do you have another son?” Jesse says, “The youngest is tending sheep.” Samuel says, “Go get him! Nobody eats until he gets here!” That’s a pretty good motivation! So, they send for David.

   B. David was ruddy with a fine appearance (12)
      – Proverbs 15:13

David arrives, and the Bible tells us he was ruddy with a fine appearance. 1 Samuel 16:12 says:

So he sent and had him brought in. He was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; he is the one.” (1 Samuel 16:12)

The word “ruddy” means red. It is the same word that was used to describe Esau earlier in the Bible. It means either David had red hair, or it could just mean that his skin was reddened or bronzed or tanned by the sun.

You might wonder why the Bible gives us a physical description of David when God just told Samuel that he doesn’t judge by outward appearance. A person’s outward appearance neither qualifies nor disqualifies for leadership, but a person’s appearance can still tell you some things about them.

We are told David had a fine appearance, which in the original language literally says he had “beauty of eyes.” In other words, there was something beautiful or shining about David’s eyes. The New Berkeley Version translates it: “He had sparkling eyes.” David had a bright face, a happy countenance. It’s been said that the eyes are the window to the soul. Only God can see the heart, but we can at least peek in the window! Proverbs 15:13 says: “A happy heart makes the face cheerful,” and it would seem David had a happy heart.

   C. David was anointed, then filled with the Spirit (13)
      – Acts 1:8

Next, we read David was anointed by Samuel, and then filled with the Spirit. 1 Samuel 16:13 says:

So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power. Samuel then went to Ramah. (1 Samuel 16:13)

This is the first time David’s name actually appears in the passage. In fact, it’s the first time David’s name appears in the Bible! David is the only person named David in the Bible, and now that his name has appeared, it will appear more than six hundred times in the Old Testament and another sixty times in the New. In other words, David is a big deal in the Bible.

Samuel anoints him with oil in the presence of his brothers, and David is filled with the Spirit. This anointing was a private anointing showing God’s choice of David as king. It would be many years before David actually became king and was publicly anointed, first as king of Judah and then as king of Israel (2 Samuel 2:4; 5:3). In the same way, God has good works of service prepared for you and me, but God often takes years to prepare us for those good works of service.

God chose David for king and gave David the Spirit to equip him as king. In the same way God also calls us to service and equips us with his Spirit. Jesus told his disciples in Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.” (Acts 1:8) The Spirit empowers us to do the things God calls us to do. David was anointed, then filled with the Spirit.

   D. David was a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14)
   – Psalm 78:72

And then finally, David was a man after God’s own heart. Like David, Saul was also anointed and filled with the Spirit. Saul began well, and God gave him everything he needed to succeed. What was the difference? The difference was the heart. Saul’s heart was not right with God. That’s why Samuel told Saul back in 1 Samuel 13:14:

“The LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people.” (1 Samuel 13:14)

What does it mean to be a man or a woman after God’s own heart? It doesn’t mean that you are sinless, but that you are seeking after God, that your heart is open to God, submissive to God, that when you do sin, you are quick to confess your sin and repent. It means that you are a man or woman of integrity, that you have a whole heart before God. We read in Psalm 78:72: “And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.” (Psalm 78:72)

Your heart is vital to your worship of God. Your heart is what really matters. Do you want to be useful to God? Then work on your heart. Work on your character. Focus on your spiritual growth as a believer, and when you are ready and God is ready, he will use you.

David was the man of God’s choosing. David would rule his people well, and his life would point forward to the Messiah – Jesus, the Son of David, who would come to be our Savior and King.

I love this passage because it teaches us so clearly the important biblical principle that God does not look at what we look at. We look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. It is the inward things that matter most to God. God chose David as king over Saul, not based on outward appearance, but because David had a heart after God.

Let me close now with three applications of this principle.

   1) Don’t judge others by their appearance (John 7:24)

First of all, don’t judge others by their appearance. Jesus said in John 7:24: “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.” (John 7:24) When we judge other people by their appearance, we miss so much. We miss out on friendships, we miss the potential in others, we miss the true value in the other person. Don’t judge others by their appearance.

   2) Don’t dismiss your own gifts for service (1 Peter 4:10)

Secondly, don’t dismiss your own gifts for service. David’s family discounted him. Don’t discount yourself. 1 Peter 4:10: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10) Too often we question our own abilities and gifts for service. But when God calls you, he also equips you. Don’t downplay the work God can do through you by his Spirit.

   3) Don’t overlook Christ (John 1:10-12)

And then finally, don’t overlook Christ. John 1 says: “He [Jesus] was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:10-12)

David was in the field tending sheep, and his own family didn’t recognize him as the future king. Jesus came into the world, and the world did not recognize him as Lord. And yet Jesus was the true man of God’s choosing. Jesus was the true man with a heart after God. Don’t overlook Christ. He may have looked like just another man, but he was the Son of God sent into the world to be our Savior.

We need to learn to see things the way God sees them. Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.

© Ray Fowler

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