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The Lord Looks at the Heart

This morning we begin a new chapter in 1 Samuel – both literally and figuratively. Of course, we literally begin a new chapter just about every week, but today the direction of our story really takes a significant turn.

Today we are introduced to David.

Did you know that David is the most mentioned person in the Bible aside from Jesus Himself? David is mentioned by name over 900 times – that’s 3 times as often as Abraham – who is considered to be the Father of Israel! Of the 66 books of the Bible, David is mentioned in 28 of them!

As you go through the Old Testament prophecies, the promised Messiah is constantly connected with David and his kingdom. In the New Testament, that theme continues and Jesus is even referred to as the Son of David. If you remember the story of blind Bartimaeus, that’s how he refers to Jesus. In Mark 10:47….

When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus of Nazareth was nearby, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Mark 10:47

David is obviously a very significant figure not only in the history of Israel, but in God’s overarching plan of Salvation for mankind! So I think it’ll be great to go through his life and perhaps see why God chose David to be such an integral part of the Salvation story.

I think I mentioned back 17 sermons ago when I started this series that the whole reason I wanted to go through the book of Samuel was to study the life of David! He’s such an interesting  and unique character – and of course, David’s life is filled with incredible stories. 

Slaying the giant Goliath, fleeing from the mad King Saul, pretending to be crazy himself to escape from the Philistines, leading his ever growing band of mighty men in great exploits against the enemy, rising from shepherd boy to King of Isreal, committing murder and adultery, but repenting and being called a man after God’s own heart, fleeing from his own son who tries to take his throne, and through it all composing hundreds of songs and poems to God that make up a significant portion of our Bible today.

David’s story is really incredible and I’m super excited to learn from his life as we go through these next chapters together.

To start off this morning, I just want to remind you where we left off last week. King Saul had been chosen by God to be the first King of Israel, and while Saul had been very successful in his military endeavours, he had been an utter failure in his relationship with God. Twice now Saul has been rebuked by the prophet Samuel for his disobedience. And because Saul had not been loyal to God, God has declared that Saul’s Kingdom will be torn away from him and given to another man – a man after God’s own heart!

But we closed the last chapter with both God and Samuel grieving over Saul’s foolish choices. The final verse we read tells us:

35 Samuel never went to meet with Saul again, but he mourned constantly for him. And the Lord was sorry he had ever made Saul king of Israel.

1 Samuel 15:35

It’s certainly not a very positive note and things are not looking very hopeful for the future of Israel. However, God’s purposes would not be thwarted by a disobedient King. God had already planned and accounted for all this and God was prepared to move forward with or without Saul. So we turn now to 1 Samuel chapter 16 to literally and figuratively begin this new chapter in the story of Samuel. Verse 1 begins like this:

Now the Lord said to Samuel, “You have mourned long enough for Saul. I have rejected him as king of Israel, so fill your flask with olive oil and go to Bethlehem. Find a man named Jesse who lives there, for I have selected one of his sons to be my king.” 

1 Samuel 16:1

As we can see, Samuel was still mourning for Saul, and God no doubt, was still grieved by Saul’s disobedience – but the time for mourning had come to an end. Certainly there is a time for mourning, but there is also a time to stop mourning and to carry on with what God has asked us to do. In this case, God had rejected Saul as King of Israel and had already chosen his replacement. Samuel was to find that replacement in the town of Bethlehem among the sons of a man named Jesse and was to anoint him as God’s newly chosen King. verse 2

2 But Samuel asked, “How can I do that? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”

“Take a heifer with you,” the Lord replied, “and say that you have come to make a sacrifice to the Lord. 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you which of his sons to anoint for me.”1 Samuel 16:1-3

Samuel’s hesitation to anoint a new king while the old king was still ruling is understandable. We’ve already seen that Saul was ready to kill his own son Jonathan after Jonathan unknowingly broke his father’s command – and so Samuel has good reason to believe that Saul would be willing to take his life if he thought that Samuel was leading a revolt against him.

And so to keep from arousing Saul’s suspicion, the Lord instructed Samuel to make a sacrifice to the Lord at Bethlehem. Jesse would be invited to the sacrifice and there, God would show Samuel which of Jesse’s sons would be the next king. verse 4

4 So Samuel did as the Lord instructed. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town came trembling to meet him. “What’s wrong?” they asked. “Do you come in peace?”

5 “Yes,” Samuel replied. “I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Purify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” Then Samuel performed the purification rite for Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice, too.

1 Samuel 16:4-5

It’s interesting that the elders of the town are so concerned and fearful when Samuel shows up. It says they came trembling to meet him. And at first, I wondered why they would be so fearful just because a prophet of the Lord came by. But then I remembered how Samuel had blasted King Saul at the last two sacrifices for his disobedience, and had then gone on to cut King Agag to pieces before the Lord!

Samuel was not a man they wanted to trifle with. But thankfully, this time, Samuel had come in peace. It was a joyful occasion. Samuel was going to make a sacrifice to the Lord and everyone was invited – including Jesse and his sons.

And I can imagine that Samuel was watching very intently as Jesse and his sons arrived for the sacrifice. Jesse had several sons – I’m sure Samuel wondered which one had the Lord chosen to be King? It says in verse 6…

6 When they arrived, Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, “Surely this is the Lord’s anointed!” 1 Samuel 16:6

Now of course, we don’t know exactly what Samuel saw when he took that ‘one look’ at Eliab – but it would seem that Eliab came across as being very kingly. We might assume he was very tall and handsome – like King Saul. You’ll remember that Saul stood head and shoulders taller than everyone else and was described as being the most handsome man in all of Israel!

And so of course, in Samuel’s mind, it would make sense that if Eliab was both tall and handsome like Saul, then he would be an ideal candidate for King!

But of course, while good looks and charisma might be qualifying factors for most political leaders, that’s certainly not the criteria that God is most concerned about. Look what God says to Samuel in verse 7.

7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

This is exactly the theme that has been running throughout this entire book. You’ll remember way back at the beginning of the book that Samuel’s mother Hannah was pouring out her heart to the Lord in prayer because she was so grieved over being childless. While she prayed her lips were moving, but she wasn’t praying out loud and so the priest came in and thought that she was drunk! People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

Then as we continued reading, we saw later how the people Israel trot out the Ark of the Covenant as a good luck charm to help them win the battle against the Philistines. Of course, the Israelites had no concern about honouring God at that time – even the priests (Eli’s sons Hophni and Phineas) had utterly disregarded God’s commands and had been abusing their position as priests. They had all the appearance of being religious, but had no interest in a right relationship with God. And so as a result, God allows the Israelites to be defeated and the Ark to be captured by the Philistines. Again, people judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

And of course, this has been the key issue with Saul. All along he’s tried to appear religious and spiritual before the people – offering the sacrifice before the big battle or sparing all the animals to sacrifice to the Lord – but in doing that, he’s been disobedient to God’s commands. His actions, while they looked great on the outside, were merely a cover for his selfish, prideful motives. And while people judge by outward appearance, the Lord looks at the heart.

And this should be a strong warning for us too. We can fool a lot of people with our outward appearance. We can go to church, we can have those Christian bumper stickers, we can attend Bible study and give all the right answers, and do all the things that good Christians do. 

But what is really important is what’s going on in your heart. Do you have a right relationship with God? 

Do you earnestly want to please and honor Him in everything that you think and do? Have you actually surrendered your life – your thoughts, your desires, your ambitions – to Him? People judge by outward appearance, (and frankly, they’re pretty easy to fool) but the Lord looks at the heart. 1 Chronicles 28:9 says…

“…for the LORD searches every heart and understands the intention of every thought.” 1 Chronicles 28:9b CSB

God knows us better than we know ourselves! He knows the intentions of every thought! He knows if your intentions are to honor Him or to serve yourself. The Lord looks at the heart.

In Eliab’s case, God looked at his heart and it wasn’t the heart of the man He wanted to be King. Despite great appearances, Eliab’s heart wasn’t right before God. We don’t know exactly why that was, but God did. And so God said to Samuel – “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Well, since Eliab wasn’t the one God had chosen, they continued down the line. verse 8 says…

8 Then Jesse told his son Abinadab to step forward and walk in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “This is not the one the Lord has chosen.” 9 Next Jesse summoned Shimea, but Samuel said, “Neither is this the one the Lord has chosen.” 10 In the same way all seven of Jesse’s sons were presented to Samuel. But Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 11 Then Samuel asked, “Are these all the sons you have?”

1 Samuel 16:8-10

And you can understand why Samuel seems perplexed. God had said that one of Jesse’s sons would be king. But yet all seven of Jesse’s sons were presented to Samuel, but the Lord had not chosen any of them. And so Samuel asks “Are these all the sons you have?”

And it would be almost comical if it weren’t for the sad reply that is given.

“There is still the youngest,” Jesse replied. “But he’s out in the fields watching the sheep and goats.” 1 Samuel 16:11b

It seems that the youngest of Jesse’s sons had either been overlooked or deliberately left out – and I would be inclined to believe the latter. We don’t know exactly how old David was at this time, but it’s clear that he was still just a kid (most scholars figure between 10 and 15 – maybe 17 at the oldest). The Jewish historian Josephus records that David was just 10 years old at this time. 

And so Jesse obviously didn’t think that David needed to come along to meet the prophet and join in the sacrifice. That kind of stuff was for grow-ups and little David was still just a child. Why bring him along? He might as well stay behind and take care of the sheep.

But you know what – God looks at the heart of children too – and God liked what He saw in the heart of David.

“Send for him at once,” Samuel said. “We will not sit down to eat until he arrives.”

12 So Jesse sent for him. He was dark and handsome, with beautiful eyes.

And the Lord said, “This is the one; anoint him.”

13 So as David stood there among his brothers, Samuel took the flask of olive oil he had brought and anointed David with the oil. And the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David from that day on. Then Samuel returned to Ramah.

1 Samuel 16:11c-13

What a strange moment this would have been for David and his family. Here he was, the youngest of 8 brothers, so young that his father didn’t even think to bring him along to the sacrifice – but now, there in front of all his older brothers and presumable many other leaders of the town as well, Samuel takes out the flask of olive oil, and anoints David as the next King of Israel.

I can only imagine the conversations that were had on the way home that night! Why in the world would God chose this young kid to be King? He had no leadership experience. As the youngest in his family, the only thing he had ever led was a few sheep! What did God see in David that He didn’t see in any of his older brothers?

Well, like we learned earlier – “People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” And in young David, God saw a heart that wanted to please and honor Him. And that was more important than all the leadership experience, military training, or anything else!

As we read in verse 13, the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David from that day on – God would make sure that David had all the skills and abilities that he needed to do the job well. God would take care of all the details for how a lowly shepherd boy would rise to become the King of a nation. God would take care of all of that! All David had to provide was a heart that desired to follow the Lord. 

And of course, that’s the one thing that Saul was missing. Saul had the leadership experience. He had military skills. He had the charisma that all the people loved. But what he was missing was a heart that wanted to honor and obey God.

If you jump to the New Testament and look in the book of Acts, we read this:

22 But God removed Saul and replaced him with David, a man about whom God said, ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart. He will do everything I want him to do.’ Acts 13:22

And I just wonder if God would say that about you or I? When God looks at our heart, does He smile and say “I have found Dave, son of Leonard, a man after my own heart. He will do everything I want him to do.” Does he look at Logan’s heart and say “I have found Logan, son of Mike, a man after my own heart. He will do everything I want him to do.”

And it doesn’t matter if you’re young or old – as you look through the Scriptures you see God chosing and working through the lives of kids, adults, grandmas and grandpas. It doesn’t matter if you’re the youngest in your family or the oldest. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got all kinds of skills or a great education. It doesn’t matter about your family background or your history – The only real qualifications that God looks for is your heart!

Do you have a heart that loves the Lord? Do you have a heart that will do everything that God wants you to do? 

David did. Saul didn’t. How about you?

And I would just encourage you this morning to examine your heart. Even you little kids – you can do this…. Are yourself this question: Do I truly have a heart that really wants to please the Lord? Or do I really just want please myself?

I can’t see in your heart – and I guess sometimes we can even fool ourselves. But we can’t fool God. He knows exactly what’s in our heart. So I guess, really, we should ask him! That’s what David did. One of the psalms that David would eventually write would include this prayer – in Psalm 139:23…

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;

    test me and know my anxious thoughts.

24 Point out anything in me that offends you,

    and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

Psalm 139:34-24

As we go home today thinking about what kind of heart we have – I think this would be a good prayer for us all to pray. 

Ask God to search your heart – to test it and see if it’s a heart that truly wants to honor and obey God – like the heart that God saw in David. Or to see if, perhaps, it’s a bit more like the heart of Saul – a little too wrapped up in itself.

And if God does point out some of those things in our hearts that aren’t right – those things that don’t please him – then ask God to help you make those changes and to lead you along the path of everlasting life. And if we ask Him to do that, I’m sure that God will do what we ask.

God’s in the business of changing hearts and changing lives! He would love nothing more than to work in your life and to transform you into a man or woman after God’s own heart.


  1. KStewart KStewart

    Are you planning to finish the study in 1 Samuel? I’m patiently waiting to finish up chapter 16 and start chapter 17. I am thoroughly enjoying your thoughts and studies!

  2. Dave Dave

    Thanks for your encouragement, KStewart – Yes, that is the long term plan. I’ll probably do another 3 messages and then I’ll be taking a bit of break for a couple months. Likely I’ll continue in 1 Samuel after that.

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