Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 15. 1 Samuel
1 Sam 16:7 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.”
This is all about spiritual realities and as we look into it, we will see various other verses that appear, I believe, as highlight verses in this book, but they all go together. It is about spiritual vision, about what you see with your eyes and understand in your heart.
Let’s observe the context first of all. This is the first illustration of at least five that we will look at in this book. Saul is king and has failed at the job so God is going to appoint a new king and he sends Samuel, the prophet, down to Bethlehem to the family of Jesse because He has chosen one of his sons to be the new king. The story that follows is quite hilarious. Samuel gets the sons lined up, starting with the eldest who looks big and strong. This must be the one, thinks Samuel, but then the Lord speaks the verse above. No, don’t go on looks. This is not the one. So he works his way along the line and at each of the seven sons before him, he gets a “No!” from heaven. You can imagine him at the last one thinking, “Lord, I’ve run out of sons. What do I do?” Ask if there are any more, is the answer, and David is revealed, the eighth son out on the hillside looking after sheep for his father. He’s the one!
But the principle has been laid down and it’s one that has already been seen earlier in the book. The second illustration comes before Samuel was born, his mother-to-be is crying out to the Lord because she seems unable to conceive. She is in the tabernacle praying, but not out loud. Old man Eli is the chief priest and he sees her lips moving. He jumps to a wrong conclusion: “Eli thought she was drink”. (1 Sam 1:13). No, Eli, she is praying her heart out! Don’t judge by outward appearances.
A third illustration perhaps, as an extension of this, can be seen in some of the most spiritually poignant words which are found in 1 Sam 3: “The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions. One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was.” (v.1-3) Spiritual reality? Prophetic words were rare and there were few visions from God. Physical outworking, if you like? Eli could barely see and was lying down. The physical reality reflected the spiritual reality. The lamp of God had not yet gone out – physical reality in the tabernacle, but reflected the spiritual reality; God has the next carrier of His light also in there, Samuel, who is also lying down at the moment. He’ll get up and into action as soon as he learns to hear God’s voice, so God’s light will shine brightly in Israel again.
The fourth illustration comes many years later, when Israel decide they want a king instead of the judges they have had, “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” (8:19,20) i.e. we can’t see God; we want someone we can see who will go before us to fight, just like the other nations have. But you’re not like the other nations, you’re better off, you have the Lord! But they persist and so the Lord allows them to have just what they want, a big, tough looking guy to be their king, a guy who was head and shoulders (as some older versions put it) above all others (10:23). That was exactly what Israel wanted except he didn’t live up to the job. Possibly the most memorable Bible Week series of teaching I have ever heard was called, I believe, ‘The King and his army’, given by an elderly Canadian, Pentecostal preacher, called Ern Baxter, back in 1975, who spoke of the transition from the head and shoulders man (head referring to human intellect and shoulders referring to human strength) to the heart man, David (a man after God’s own heart – 1 Sam 13:14, Acts 13:22) Israel wanted a big tough man, but human wisdom and human strength aren’t up to the job; it needed a heart man! It’s not looks, it’s the heart!
A fifth illustration that comes to mind, revealing this same principle, is that involving a giant Philistine named Goliath who came with the Philistine army to attack Israel and challenged Israel to put up their best man to fight him, and the winner would designate the victorious nation. This petrified Israel who were cowed into inaction. What always surprises me about this was that Saul didn’t refuse the challenge and send ten of his best men to bring this threat down. But size seemed to hypnotize Saul and his people and so for forty days the two armies just faced each other while Goliath came out and roared out his challenge – the Philistines as an army couldn’t have been feeling too sure of themselves. (see 1 Sam 17:4-16). David turns up and is surprised that size is the criteria that brings Israel to a standstill. As far as he is concerned it is all about relationship: “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (v.26) We’re the people of God, this guy isn’t! He knows God has helped him in the past (see v.34-37) and so He will do so in the present. It’s nothing to do with how big the problem looks! It’s all about relationship with the Lord.
And there is the same lesson, five times over in this book. Will we be a people who look and see only material things, or will we open our hearts to discern the spiritual realities of the world in which we live. Will we look at people’s appearances and write them off, or will we look with Jesus’ eyes and see the spiritually hungry and thirsty and be open to bring his love to them (Zacchaeus was a good example of this – Luke 19). The lovely thing about the New Testament gift of prophecy is that it looks past the outward appearance and sees the inner reality and the future potential. Dare we be a people who give up on ‘outward appearance Christianity’, and cry to the Lord to become heart and Spirit people who discern true spiritual realities?