1 Samuel 16:1-13 – March 22, 2020
What does a hero look like? Can we describe them? Are they good-looking? Strong or attractive? How much does their image and appearance affect us? How much does what someone looks like cause us to judge that person—positively or negatively? These are all great questions, and questions I’d like us to explore today.
Let’s get right to our Scripture reading. We look at King Saul. Saul had done some really unwise things. We see the prophet Samuel directed by God to anoint a new king of Israel. Samuel is hesitant…because Saul is still king! However, Samuel is instructed to go to the town of Bethlehem under cover of deception, to the house of Jesse, supposedly to make an animal sacrifice to God. That is the background of the story thus far.
But what about the deeper meaning of this narrative from the Hebrew Scriptures? For that, we need to go back a few chapters in 1 Samuel. At first, Samuel and the people of Israel were very glad that Saul was their king. He was tall and broad-shouldered, and pleasing in appearance. Saul looked like a king! He was the very image of what people thought a king ought to be. Everyone said so!
But, after some time, Saul’s true nature—on the inside—became evident. He was not all he appeared to be on the outside. He made some very unwise choices, acted foolishly, and God finally rejected him as the king of Israel.
When Samuel met with Jesse and his sons, Samuel looked them up and down. He thought he knew which one God had chosen. The one who appeared big, and tall, broad-shouldered and good-looking. That was the one the Lord wanted, wasn’t it? Or—was it? Did Samuel have discerning eyes? Could he see what God sees?
The writer of 1 Samuel particularly highlights the words “see” and “appearance.” “In the Hebrew, the verb ‘to see’ occurs three times in v. 7 while the noun ‘appearance’ is related to the verb ‘see’. The focus is on how one sees when choosing leaders, and especially on how the Lord ‘sees’ as compared to how humans see. The Lord ‘sees the heart.’” 
It was just as true when King Saul was chosen as it is today. Just think of the superhero movies—and television shows, and comic books—that are so popular in recent years. We just do not see any skinny, scrawny runts as superheroes. No, it’s all about the outward appearance. That is the all-important factor for human beings today. Plus, add some handsome or beautiful attributes, and we have a definite winner.
What is important to God? What kinds of attitudes and ways of thinking are pleasing to the Lord? Are we “looking” but not really “seeing” as God sees?
All of Jesse’s older sons were presented to the prophet Samuel, but God was silent. Samuel needed to ask whether Jesse had any more sons. “Yes, I do. But, he’s the youngest. He’s out watching the sheep,” said Jesse. Sure enough, God chose David, the youngest of eight brothers. God sees differently from human beings.
We settle for the outward appearance, for what we think the “image” of a king ought to be. However, the Lord looks on the heart. The heart has to do with our will, our attributes, and our internal character. God chose David because David had shown he was a person after God’s own heart. God chose David because David had bright possibilities even when others could not see them.
This bible reading from 1 Samuel is a great source of encouragement for children and young people, who feel left out and left behind by the big and powerful. We see that God finds possibilities in the most unexpected places and through the most unlikely persons. We see the Lord lift up Jesse’s youngest son David to be the anointed king of Israel. In a similar way, God can lift up the marginalized, the downtrodden and the rejected ones today to a place of prominence. God can, and God does just that.
Many people are still fooled by appearances. What kinds of possibilities are there in your life and heart today? Are you a person after God’s own heart? Be comforted and encouraged that God does not see us as the world sees, but God sees past all that. God sees our very hearts.
It’s amazing to know that the Lord sees inside each of us, down to the “real person” inside. Let us pray that our hearts become like God’s heart, more and more, each day.
(I would like to thank Dr. Bruce Birch. For this sermon, I have borrowed several extended ideas from his commentary on 1 Samuel 16:1-13 from The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol 2. Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1998.)
The Old Testament Readings: Weekly Comments on the Revised Common Lectionary, Theological Hall of the Uniting Church, Melbourne, Australia.