He Sees the Heart (I Samuel 16:1-13)
Topic: I Samuel Passage: 1 Samuel 16:1–16:13
Crying for a King
I. Seeing Inside
On November 8th, 1895, a German physics professor named Wilhelm Rontgen stumbled on new kind of electromagnetic radiation. As he experimented with cathode rays, he noticed that a fluorescent screen that had been painted with a chemical coating was lighting up with a faint glow, even though the radiation emitter was several feet away and wrapped in black cardboard. As he continued to explore this effect, he found these rays could also pass through books and papers on his desk.
It wasn’t long after this initial discovery that Rontgen discovered something else about this radiation. After his wife had assisted him in the lab by holding a photographic plate that was exposed to these rays, Rontgen noticed something remarkable. The developed photograph clearly revealed, not simply her hand on the edge of the plate, but what was inside of his wife’s hand. The picture showed the bones under her skin.
Since Rontgen did not know what type of radiation this was, he simply labeled them with an “X”. So Wilhelm Rontgen became the first person to ever see inside the human body using X-rays. Now if we simply stop and think about all of the broken bones and internal injuries that have been diagnosed and treated through the use of X-rays over the last 100 plus years, I think our appreciation deepens for just how important this discovery was.
Of course today, advanced X-ray CT scans, magnetic resonance imaging or MRI’s, and ultrasound technology have given us an unprecedented ability to do something unthinkable several centuries ago: to look inside the human body without even the smallest incision.
But this morning, when it comes to seeing inside, the word of God is going to remind us of something even more remarkable. So turn with me to I Samuel 16.
II. The Passage: “I Have Provided for Myself a King” (16:1-13)
As we tackle I Samuel 16:1-13 this morning, let’s do three things together. Let’s first do an extremely brief review of what happened before this chapter. Then, second, let’s read through and try to understand what the passage actually says. And finally, third, let’s then talk about how God’s word this morning should affect both our perspective and practice.
So first, let’s set the stage. As we arrive on the doorstep of chapter 16, we come with a troubled heart in light of everything we’ve read about Saul, the first king of the Israelites. The whole nation, including Samuel, had pinned their hopes on Saul. But time and time again Saul proved his inability to lead. Yes, he could rally the people. Yes, he could win battles. But ultimately Saul failed to lead God’s people because he failed to first be led by God.
A. Direction: The Sons of Jesse (16:1-3)
So in light of Saul’s rejection as king, listen to how we begin chapter 16. Look with me at verses 1-3:
The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” 2 And Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3 And invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do. And you shall anoint for me him whom I declare to you.”
So at the beginning of chapter 16, we find Samuel doing the very same thing he was doing in verse 34 of chapter 15: he is grieving over Saul. Remember, Samuel had once led Israel as a judge. He had been their leader. Samuel not only led God's people, but he loved God's people. If he could not lead them, then maybe God's willingness to give the people a king would mean stability and guidance and blessing for Israel. But Saul was not the man Samuel hoped for. He was not what God intended. He was not the leader Israel needed.
So Samuel is grieving.
But grief like this has an expiration date. When God says it's time to stop grieving, we should stop, shouldn't we? God gives Samuel two reasons why his grieving period should come to and end: 1) because God has rejected Saul and is not changing his mind. Samuel's grief will not change anything in regard to Saul. Sometimes our grief persists simply because we will not fact the reality of a situation. When God closes the door, it's closed. And 2) Samuel no longer needs to grieve because God has chosen a new king. Instead of grieving over what was, Samuel needs to be encouraged about what will be.
But notice the language God uses to describe his selection of the new king. Remember, that Saul was God's provision in light of the people's sinful, God-rejecting petition back in chapter 8. But here God says in verse 1: “I have provided for myself a king among Jesse's sons”. So we know from that language that this next king will not be like Saul.
But when Samuel hears about God's command to go and anoint the new king, he is not filled with faith. He is filled with fear. Samuel is probably thinking about how Saul was anointed, which was a very public event. If he strolls into Bethlehem with his horn of oil and facilitates a public anointing, Saul will find him and kill him. Now, obviously some time has elapsed between chapter 15 and chapter 16, enough time for Saul to become embittered and violent, and so much so that Samuel now fears what Saul will do to anyone who threatens his illegitimate kingship.
But God has a different idea about this anointing. This anointing will be more private, than public. This anointing will be part of a smaller sacrificial ritual, rather than a national assembly.
All Samuel needs to do is go, take a cow, and invite Jesse and his family. God will do the rest. God will show him this new king.
B. Inspection: The Sons of Jesse (16:4-10)
Look with me at verses 4-10:
Samuel did what the Lord commanded and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling and said, “Do you come peaceably?” 5 And he said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. 6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord's anointed is before him.” 7 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.” 8 Then Jesse called Abinadab and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 And Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen these.”
So when Samuel finally gets to Bethlehem, we see here that the elders of the city are just as scared of him as he was of Saul. Why they are afraid is not clear. Maybe they think he is coming with a message of divine judgment against them. Maybe what happened back in chapter 15 has become well-known. Maybe the falling out between Samuel and Saul has put everyone on edge. I’m not sure the reason,
So after Samuel assures them that they have no reason to be afraid, he initiates this sacrificial gathering/royal anointing ceremony. Of course, there is only one problem with this idea of an anointing ceremony: who is Samuel supposed to anoint. Jesse has come with seven of his boys. Which of them is the king?
But we read that when Jesse’s family first arrives, Samuel seems convinced that God’s choice is as clear as day. It has to be Eliab, the firstborn. The guy just looks like a king. I like the way one commentator expresses this:
“One can understand Samuel’s thinking. Eliab was doubtless an impressive hunk of manhood. Around 6’ 2’’ perhaps, about 225 pounds, met people well, all man but with social grace, excellent taste in after-shave lotion, and so on. Perhaps he’d starred as wide receiver for Bethlehem High School football. Probably made the All-Judean All-Star team. Samuel was not alone in his estimate of Eliab. Many thought “Future” was Eliab’s middle name.”
But as we see here, God is quick to correct Samuel’s thinking. God tells Samuel in verse in verse 7: “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him.” God knows that for all of Samuel’s virtues, he was just as bad as the rest of the Israelites when it came to prioritizing kingly qualities. Remember back in chapter 10 when Samuel presented Saul to the people? This is what read in 10:23 and 24…
And when he [Saul] stood among the people, he was taller than any of the people from his shoulders upward. 24 And Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see him whom the Lord has chosen? There is none like him among all the people.” And all the people shouted, “Long live the king!”
As is clear from verse 16 of chapter 6, Samuel is still looking for someone who looks the part.
But God corrects Samuel, and reminds him that what is inside is far more important than any physical attributes. My goodness, the last thing the people need right now is another Saul. The last thing they need is someone who merely looks like a king, who will inspire in them confidence for more human solutions rather than confidence in God and His word.
So with this clarification made, Samuel ends up going back to what God originally told him in verse 3: “…invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do. And you shall anoint for me him whom I declare to you.”
But, after all the sons of Jesse pass before Samuel, God is still silent. God’s choice is not present. Has Samuel done something wrong?
C. Selection: The Son of Jesse (16:11-13)
Look with me at verses 11 through 13:
Then Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and get him, for we will not sit down till he comes here.” 12 And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.” 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah.
We come to find out here, along with Samuel, that Jesse has been holding back. He does have one more son. But did you see how he was introduced in verse 11? “Well, yes, there is one more…but he’s the youngest…[or literally in Hebrew, we could read “the smallest”]…and he’s out taking care of the sheep…who knows exactly where he is right now…is it really worth the trouble of locating him?”
Samuel answers is “yes…we’re not doing anything until he comes”. So when the youngest of Jesse’s sons finally arrives, isn’t it interesting that the first thing we’re told about this young man is that “he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome.” Now, why is that important, especially when God himself just said that the outward appearance is not what matters?
Well, I think the point of mentioning David’s good looks is 1) to affirm God’s blessings on him. The Old Testament does seem to say that physical beauty is still a gift from God. But also 2) to affirm that ugliness is not God’s criteria for good leadership. The critical contrast that God wants to make is not between physical impressiveness and physical repulsiveness. It’s between physical impressiveness and inner virtue.
So when Samuel is given the ‘green light’ to anoint this young man, we discover two things. We first read that the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and was with him the rest of his life (in contrast to Saul who seemed to receive the Spirit sporadically, and only later, after being anointed as king). And second, we finally learn the name of Jesse’s youngest son. This is David.
This is the first time the name David appears in the Bible. Do you know the last place the name of David is mentioned in the Bible? Revelation 22, the last chapter of the Bible. From I Samuel 16:13 forward, the name David will appear just a little less than 1000 times in the Scriptures.
Something wonderful is happening here. Something that will change the world forever. The people have been crying for a king, and God has provided his man for the people.
III. Perspective: The God Who Sees
Now, as we think about how this passage should change how we think, how we see things, let me remind of what we have been told and what we have not been told about David. Listen, just listen to how Saul was introduced to us back in chapter 9, verses 1 and 2:
There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish, the son of Abiel, son of Zeror, son of Becorath, son of Aphiah, a Benjaminite, a man of wealth. 2 And he had a son whose name was Saul, a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people.
In contrast to Saul, David is the youngest; he’s the LITTLE brother. His father is not included along with the elders of Bethlehem, and is therefore not a man of status. It is even said that while the town elders consecrate themselves, Samuel must himself consecrate Jesse and his sons. It appears Jesse is not well enough versed in such matters. And where is David when all of this is going on? ‘Mr. Bottom-of-the-totem-pole” is out with the sheep.
The reader has to be asking, why this young man? Why David? Doesn’t he seems like an unlikely choice? From all appearances he…that’s the problem, though, isn’t it? From all “appearances”.
In verses 1-13, the key word in the original Hebrew is the word ra’ah. It appears five times in these verses. Listen again:
[Verse 1] “Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I [ra’ah—seen] for myself a king among his sons.”… [Verse 6] When they came, he [ra’ah—saw] Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord's anointed is before him.” 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not [ra’ah—see] his appearance or the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord [ra’ah—sees] not as man [ra’ah—sees]: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord [ra’ah—sees] the heart.”
The God who is presented to us here is a God who can see inside us. But the way God sees inside us is far more impressive than Wilhelm Rontgen’s X-rays or any other modern imaging device. God sees the heart. Yes, he can see our blood pump, but that’s not the “heart” we’re talking about here.
In the Old Testament, the heart is the very center of our inner life. It is not only the place where we feel, it is also the place where we think and will.
God’s choice for His king will not be based on a man’s appearance or physical strength or military skill or political charisma. God’s choice will be based on that man’s desires,and character, on that man’s sympathies and passions.
Remember how God described Saul’s successor in chapter 13, verse 14: The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart…
God chose David because, by His grace, David was concerned about God’s concerns. God chose David because, by His grace, David was committed to God’s commitments; because David was grieved by that which grieved God; because David loved what God loved; because David’s heart (i.e. what he felt, what he thought, and what he decided), David’s heart was shaped by God’s heart. God could see all of those things.
And this is the God who sees our hearts this morning.
If you ever read comic books when you were a kid, then you know that Superman’s X-ray vision was a definite ‘game changer’, right? When it came to crime, everything was different because Superman could see through walls, and through metal, and through people (it also helped that he could fly and pick up large buildings).
In a far more wonderful and disturbing way, God’s ability to see inside of us is THE ‘game changer’. Everything is different in light of the fact that God sees our hearts.
We might imagine ourselves to be fairly good people, and because we are good citizens and have not killed anyone or robbed a bank, we pat ourselves on the back. But God sees your heart.
We might pacify ourselves with some kind of religious assurance because we don’t look like a “sinner” and do all the things “saints” are supposed to do. But God sees your heart.
We might commend ourselves when our anger does not spill over, when our lust does not act out, when our greed is never tangibly satisfied. But God sees your heart.
The Apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 4, verse 5: Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.
Doesn’t that frighten you? God has seen, now sees, and will see everything you think, feel, and desire; all of your passions, all of your motivations, all of your rationales. All of it. If we are honest with ourselves, we are condemned by our hearts. Beyond all reasonable doubt, we are guilty.
But listen to what the Apostle John says in I John 3:20 and 21: …for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God…
So how can any of us have this kind of confidence before God, in light of what we know about our hearts?
Listen to I John 4, verses 14 through 17:
And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.
The Son of God, the Son of David, the Savior can save us from our hearts. He can give us confidence before God because he died to cleanse our hearts. What does God say to us in light of Jesus and His cross? He says:
“Let not your hearts be troubled…” (John 14:1) Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience… (Hebrews 10:22) For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (II Corinthians 4:6) [God] will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7). …That he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father. (I Thessalonians 3:13) …[That he may] comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. (II Thessalonians 2:17).
You see, because of Jesus, everything is different in regard to fact that God sees our hearts.
We might feel like no one in the world understands our struggles. But God sees your heart.
We might carry with us hurts and fears and scars and regrets that feel like a ball and chain around our necks. But God sees your heart.
We might feel completely inept when it comes to prayer, we might feel completely helpless when it comes to reaching out, we might feel completely unskilled when it comes to worship, we might feel completely powerless when it comes to doing all the things we want to do for God because of our love, because of our gratitude for Jesus.
But God sees your heart.
IV. Practice: It Starts on the Inside
One of the most important things I can remind you of this morning is the fact that when it comes to being transformed, when it comes to living like Jesus, it starts on the inside.
All of us need to be disabused of this idea that we can schedule ourselves, or punish ourselves, or train ourselves, or habituate ourselves, or beautify ourselves, or restrain ourselves in terms of what we DO, and be truly changed.
No, God’s work with us always begins with what we desire and how we think. It begins with what we love. What we worship. This is why Paul prays the way he does for his readers:
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you… (Ephesians 1:16-18)
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family  in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith… (Ephesians 3:14-17)
May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. (II Thessalonians 3:5)
Brothers and sisters, the application this morning is simple: keep praying for God to change your heart. Keep praying every day that God would make your heart more like Jesus. Don’t be satisfied with looking at what’s on the outside, don’t commend yourself because, from “all appearances” you have it together. Keep your nose in God’s word and pray for the heart change that produces the kind of life that is concerned about God’s concerns, that is committed to God’s commitments, that is grieved by that which grieved God; that loves what God loves.
Only by the grace of God, only through the power of God’s spirit within us, can this change take place through the word and prayer.
Let’s pray that we would remember the very lesson the writer of I Samuel wanted his readers to learn from I Samuel 16: what God desires above all else is a man or woman whose heart belongs to Him. Let’s thank God this morning that through Jesus, this can be true of us.