“…but God looks at the heart!”

1 Samuel 16:4-13,

Today’s text comes from the lectionary reading, and it is about David being anointed by God through Samuel as king. As you all know, King David was not the first king of Israel, but Saul was, and he was also anointed by Samuel, but not as a king but as leader (1 Sam. 9:16), in Hebrew, Saul was anointed as “prince”, not as “king”, but David was anointed as “king” and his kingship was inherited by his descendants until Israel as a nation came to an end.

King Saul was “rejected” by God because he did not obey God’s commands. He was rejected because his heart became proud and treated God’s commands lightly and not obeyed.  So he was “rejected” by God.

Today’s text starts with Samuel going to Bethlehem to anoint one of the sons of Jesse as a king. As you all know the story, Samuel consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. We have to note a couple of things here: 1) Jesse was an elder of the town; as an elder, he was a prominent landholder and owned cattle, 2) Samuel was feared by people as a man of God and was considered as someone who has power either to bless them or to curse them. In verse 4, when he appeared in Bethlehem, the elders of the town were “trembled” and asked Samuel whether he came in peace. 3) As they were invited, all of Jesse’s sons came, except for his youngest son, David.

We might question why he did not appear there. Was it his choice not to appear or was he not allowed to be there?

Let’s move on to verses 6 to 10 to get the clear picture. There was a parade of presenting Jesse’s sons who were there, one by one, from the first to the last, in front of Samuel, but God did not approve anyone of them although Samuel thought the firstborn, Eliab, might be the one surely God would want to anoint as king. But God said in verse 7, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him.” We have to note an important thing here in verse 7. The mentioning of Eliab’s appearance or his height was not referring literally to his looks, –his face, body or his height–. Strangely, there was no description of how handsome features and/or fine appearance Eliab had if it were about his physical looks, as it did in verse 12 about David’s appearances. We can see that when it comes to outer appearances, his physical looks, David was very handsome and very well built: “He was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features.”

There is another hint that Eliab’s “appearance or height” does not refer to his actual looks, but to his social status and his wealth. Verse 11, when Samuel realized that God did not approve any of Jesse’s sons who were presented to him, he asked whether there was any other son Jesse had. To that, he responded, “There is still the youngest.” Let’s note how he said after that. Jesse said, “but he is tending the sheep”. Do you all know what is being said here? Jesse said he has the youngest son but he is a shepherd so he is not allowed to be there with other sons. Do you know that in ancient times one does not become a shepherd just because his father has sheep? Especially when one’s father is a prominent leader of a town owning considerable lands and cattle, one does not become a shepherd but hires shepherd(s) to tend their cattle. In Jesus’ time as well as in King David’s time, shepherds were treated as outcasts; they were despised and downtrodden. People of social standing did not associate with shepherds. At this point, you might ask,’well, David was a son of a prominent leader of their town. How could he become a shepherd then?’ ‘How come his other brothers did not become shepherds but he did only?’

Many biblical scholars do not think that David and his other brothers shared the same mother. Perhaps, David’s mother was a prostitute. The rationale behind this assumption is that, in oriental society, family pedigree is important. My family has our family pedigree book tracing back to the very first ancestor who started our family five or six centuries ago. Parental lineage is important in a Jewish setting. When describing someone, they give their parents’ name, whose family their mother is from, so on and so forth. If you read Chronicles and Kings in the Bible, you will find that yourself. When mentioning of a certain king, it gives his mother’s name and whose daughter she was. But in the Bible, there is nowhere mentioning of King David’s mother.  It was a common practice in the ancient time that if any son was born to a prostitute with whom they had a relationship, the father of the boy would take him into his own household, as we can see in Jephthah’s case. As you know, Jephthah was one of the Judges in Israel when they had no kings, but his mother was a prostitute, so his brothers drove him out from his father’s house before he became a judge. Also, Psalms 51: 5, if we translate it closely to the original meaning, David himself confessed, “Indeed, I was born in waywardness, and my mother conceived me in sin.” Psalms 69: 8, “I am a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my own mother’s sons”, in which David implied that he had not been accepted as one in his brothers’ circle, if not he meant that he had two sets of brothers, –one from his father and the others from his own mother.

All things considered, we know that David was a shepherd, treated as an outcast and despised by his other brothers. He was not allowed to be present before Samuel. In short, Eliab was the legitimate firstborn who will inherit his father’s wealth and social status as an elder of his town, whereas David was an outcast, a shepherd whose social status was at the bottom lung of the social ladder, the avoided class in the society.

So, Samuel when he saw Eliab as the firstborn of a prominent leader of their town thought, ‘with his social status and wealth he could make a good king’. But God said, ‘what people think is important is not important to me. Humans evaluate people based on their wealth, their social status, their race, and class, but I look at their hearts. I have “rejected him”,’ The word “rejected” was used here is the same word used in, “Saul was rejected by God”. When we consider that Saul was rejected because he became proud of himself and was being disobedient to God, we know that Eliab was rejected for the same reason, –being proud and no heart to obey God’s commands in him.

David knew his place before God; he was a man of humility. He learned from very early on in his life that he was nothing, having no status in life. He learned that while being a shepherd there were things in the natural world that humans could not overcome on their own strength, –thunder, hail, storms and wild beasts. He learned that God is the source of his strength and the fountain of blessings. He learned to trust God in his harsh and hostile environment depending on God in all he did. He knew at least that he was not the center of his own life, but God was.

If we do not have hardships, trials, and difficulties in life, it is very difficult not to be proud of ourselves and becoming our own god in our lives. Our wealth and social privileges are our own accomplishments and our own achievements, we can easily think. Our opinions and our ways of doing things are more important than to listen to God. We want to limit God’s power in our lives since God’s way of doing things are not compatible or are not making us comfortable. We do not care much about obeying what God wants in our lives. We easily disregard God’s commands or God’s words in the bible by saying that we no longer do things like that. Time has changed! We want to limit God, God’s power, God’s way of doing things with our limited knowledge and understanding. Does it make sense if finite people trying to limit infinite God?

By the same token, we want to control what other people do and how they do. There was a Christian college in a small town, predominantly made up of the Caucasian student body. An Afro-American student attended a chapel service at that college, and he was making a joyful noises singing before God in the service while other students were singing quietly. At that moment, he was tapped on his shoulder by a Caucasian professor who told him that, “This is a white school, and we don’t sing here like as you do.”

God looks at people’s heart, not outer appearances. God does not care whether we have all the good things people might want in their lives. What God looks at is our hearts, whether we are humble, whether we obey God’s commands, whether we want to change ourselves according to God’s words, not the other way around.

David was a humble man before God. His heart was after God; he wanted to please God with all he had. He was hungry for God not claiming to have anything on his own. That was why he was anointed with the oil. Oil is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. He received Holy Spirit because he was a humble man, obeying God’s commands. we have to receive the Holy Spirit so that we can please God because the scripture says without the Holy Spirit we cannot please God. We have to know that we are nothing, having no status, no power, no wisdom apart from God. When we realize our finite reality as human and depend on God, that is when Holy Spirit can come into our heart and being in control of our lives. Being filled with the Holy Spirit, David danced like a crazy man not even realizing his bottom was being naked. How I wish and pray that we could offer up pleasing sacrifices to our Good and love God like David!!


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