A heart for God is more than skin deep (1 Samuel 16:1-13)

One of my mother’s favorite sayings was that “beauty is only skin deep.”  I don’t really recall when she would use that phrase – perhaps when she thought I should be interested in some girl that I was not finding interesting? I remember that happening a lot. Haha! Or maybe she was just quoting the lyrics of a 1966 song of this title by The Temptations? Nah… had to be the former!

The phrase actually dates back to literature from the 1600s. But the truth of its meaning dates back essentially to the beginning of human history.

There is no doubt that we live in an age of external appearance. Name a couple of musical stars who are ugly. When is the last time you saw an unattractive female news anchor?

Without doubt, the natural proclivity we have is to judge a book by its cover – to make evaluations about people by external appearance over inner character and quality. God is not given toward this malady however.

And today as we begin our readings that introduce the character of David, we have one of the great verses in all of Scripture – a quote of God himself speaking and saying that “people look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Samuel Anoints David

16:1 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.”

2 But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will 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.”

Have you ever heard of someone described as “loyal to a fault?”  That was Samuel. Even while fully faithful to God, he so very much longed to see Saul be a successful king with a desire to obey God. But it was not in Saul’s character to ever be that person. God wanted Samuel to move on, sending him to a tiny place called Bethlehem and to the family of a man named Jesse.

Samuel’s concern, given the broken relationship he now had with Saul, was that the King would eliminate him for anointing the next king. But God directs that the purpose need not be identified … that going as the spiritual leader in Israel for the purpose of sacrifice and worship was sufficient reason for the occasion.

4 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.

Perhaps some of you have worked for very large companies with multiple sites. And then a day came when the CEO arrived unannounced at your little location. What would you think? Why is he there? Is it good news or bad news? Did your facility perform something extraordinary, or is he there to consider shutting it down?

Bethlehem was not a place a person of Samuel’s importance came without some reason. But there he was to sacrifice and to invite, among others, the family of Jesse.

As with all the greatest of families, the home of Jesse consisted of a household full of boys.

6 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 people look at. People look 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.” 11 So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”

As a father of five boys, I’ve always laughed at this point of the text. What? Seven boys aren’t enough?

The outward appearance criteria of judging by size had certainly not worked well in Israel with King Saul – who was head and shoulders taller than anyone else. And Jesse had one hunk after another of sons to present. And when the parade stopped, Samuel presumed there had to be another.

“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”

Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”

And the final son was called in from the fields to stand before Samuel. We can clearly infer from this passage that he was almost an after-thought – not much more than a servant kid in his own household. Literature from the time would seem to indicate that a seventh son was highly favored; but add one more, and you were really into extra innings.

12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.

Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”

13 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 powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.

It is not at all certain what the brothers, or even David himself, thought or understood about this anointing. I don’t think it was perceived at the moment to be for the role of the king of the nation. Perhaps he was seen as being randomly selected to be set aside for training and education by Samuel at varied intervals – a sort of college scholarship. Whatever, we later see that his oldest brother was not impressed with the youngest boy when he shows up where Goliath is threatening the Israelites.

Timeless lessons – This passage today at once gives us both a challenge and an encouragement.

The challenge is to be reminded about what it is that God really values and to make our lives disciplined toward the cultivation of an inner heart for God – to know him and to value that which he values, having an eternal values system. Rather, our natural tendency is to be consumed with the things of this world in terms of material assets and places of prestige. We work hard at maintaining an outer image, while too often neglecting the more important inner character of knowing God and walking in truth with him.

The encouragement is that though we are all pretty much mostly plain and ordinary people, we can be extraordinary by virtue of relationship with the creator of the universe. That is pretty amazing. Probably most of us don’t know practically anyone important – like congressmen or governors or the President … or anyone else of fame and prominence in the news and culture. But we can know God intimately – which is better than anything else we could imagine. That is pretty awesome, and it is more than skin deep.