God is Looking at Your Heart, I Samuel 16:1-13

Let’s start with some interesting Bible trivia.

Aside from Jesus, who is the human being most often mentioned in the Bible?  He also has, by far, more written about his life in the Old Testament than anyone else.  It’s David, the son of Jesse.  He’s mentioned over a thousand times in Scripture.  According to my count, in the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, there are 61 chapters about the life of David and God’s interaction with Him and what God was doing in His day.  That’s rather striking to me.  Abraham, the great patriarch of God’s chosen nation of Israel and the one called “the father of the faithful”, has only 14 chapters dedicated to his life.  Jacob has only 11 chapters.  Elijah has 10.  But David, 61, not counting half of the Psalms that David wrote.

David is also the one person in all of Scripture to be called “a man after God’s own heart”.  And yet it’s arguable that he is the character who found God’s forgiveness of the most severe sins.  Well that is debatable, for some would argue Paul being the apostle who was the chief of forgiven sinners.  But some would also argue it was David.

Obviously God has wanted to communicate much to us through this man.  Through my studies recently I’ve come to see some enlightening things in the story of David that have helped me to understand more about the way God is and the way He works; the sort of  heart He’s looking for in us.  And I’d like to look further into David’s story and see more of what God wanted us to learn from it.

As we begin I wanted to share with you some indications among many that…

We are not studying a fictional character when we study David in the Scriptures.







These two stones that archaeology has uncovered date to the 9th century B.C.  The inscriptions on both of these stones were inscribed by neighbors of ancient Israel and Judah.  The Tel Dan Stone is from the Aramaeans and the Moabite stone from the Moabites.  Both stones talk about confrontations with the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, events that are also talked about in the books of Kings and Chronicles in the Bible.  There are a number of names and events that the Bible talks about that these ancient stones also talk about.  But what I want you to notice is how both stones refer to the ruling dynasty of Judah.  They both say, “the house of David”.  At least we’re pretty sure the Moabite stone does.  The first letter of “David” in Moabite is missing because of damage to the stone, but most scholars believe that’s what it said.  And it’s clear it says it on the Tel Dan Stone.  Scripture often refers to the line of kings over Judah as “the house of David”.  And this is from the 9th century B.C. as well.  So there’s plain confirmation that David was a real, historical, and famous king of the Israelites and he was the beginning of a dynasty of kings that reigned over the southern kingdom of Judah after the nation divided.

Then, here’s another little indication that what we read about David and the others in scripture is honest writing telling us just what has happened.  I want to give you just a sample of the typical sort of writing that we find on monuments and literature from ancient nations that makes a striking contrast with the OT Scriptures (this literature we have from the ancient Israelites).  The inscription on this stone comes from a 9th century B.C. Phoenician king.  Here are some excerpts from it: “’I am Kilamuwa, the son of King Haya’.  King Gabar reigned over Ya’diya but achieved nothing.  Then came Bamah, and he achieved nothing.  My own father, Haya’, did nothing with his reign.  My brother, Sha’il, also did nothing.  It was I, Kilamuwa… who managed to do what none of my ancestors had….  Under their previous kings, the [people] had howled like dogs.  But I was a father, a mother and a brother to them.  I gave gold, silver and cattle to men who had never so much as seen the face of a sheep before.  Those who had never even seen linen all their lives I clothed in byssus-cloth from head to foot.  I took the [people] by the hand and in their souls they looked to me just as the orphan looks to his mother…”  Probably, you can detect a bit of an ego issue there with king Kilamuwa, a little self-biased.  That kind of thing is very common among ancient monuments and literature.  It’s called royal propaganda.  If you go to Egypt and look at the inscriptions by Ramses, guess what you read about?  How great Ramses is.  The monuments put up by Amenhotep, guess what they tell you?  They tell you how great Amenhotep is.  You go to the Assyrian monuments or those of the Persians and they’re all telling you how great they are.

But if you’re just a little familiar with the OT (this literature we have from ancient Israel), you find a huge difference.  In this literature (the OT) most of what’s said about the kings of Israel and Judah is about how bad they were, how they did evil in the sight of the Lord and led the people into greater evil.  And even the best of their kings, who it’s said, for the most part, did right in the sight of the Lord, even the heroes in these writings, almost all have some embarrassing stuff said about them.  The portraits the Scripture writers paint of their heroes are ‘warts and all’.  And David is certainly no exception.  This central character of the OT, the greatest of their kings, the man after God’s own heart, we read of him doing some really horrible things in his life.  This is no royal propaganda.  It has no appearance of bias for anybody, except maybe for God.  This literature does not seek to promote any person or people group.  It really appears to just state what happened.  It really appears to be honest about its kings and its people.

And these are just little confirmations among many others that we could talk about that we’re studying real stuff here, honest stuff.

Now, I’d like us to look at the first event of David’s life that we have recorded in Scripture.  But first we’re going to get a little context.

The first event of David’s life

It was the time of the new monarchy in Israel.  For the first few centuries after God settled the Israelites in the land of Canaan, they had no king.  They were supposed to live with simply the Lord as their king, abide by His law and do things His way, and God promised that they would be very blessed if they lived with Him as their king.  But more so than not, over those centuries the people rejected the Lord as their king and rejected His law.  The book of Judges describes for us that period of time and how morally corrupt and messed up and pitiful the nation became as a result.  The book of Judges ends with a summary statement that serves essentially as an introduction to the book of I Samuel.  It says, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes”.  They would not just accept the invisible God as their king.  They needed a visible king who would lead them away from what was right in their own eyes to what was right in God’s eyes.

Well, in the book of I Samuel the people decided it was time they had a king.  The elders, the leaders of Israel, came to the old prophet Samuel, that everybody knew was a true prophet of God, and they asked him to appoint for them a king.  And you might think that was a good request, because their history had demonstrated they needed a good king.  But their motives in wanting a king were sinful.  They didn’t want a king to help them to be faithful to the Lord.  They wanted a king, they said, “that we may be like all the nations” (I Sam 8:20; 8:5).  They had the same problem as most people today.  They did not want to be different.  They didn’t like the idea of being a holy, special, and the light of the world ‘nation’ (as they were called to be).  They wanted to be like everybody else, so they wanted a king like all the other nations had.  Though their motives were sinful in asking for a king, they did need one, a good one, who would lead them in the ways of God.  So God told His prophet Samuel, “Give them what they want”.  And interestingly, for their first king God decided to give them the kind of king that they wanted.  Out of all the men of Israel, God picked out the most kingly looking fella of them all; He picked out the tallest and most handsome man in all of Israel.  He found ancient Israel’s Dwayne Johnson, you know, “the Rock” sort of man, who they’d think would be a good image for Israel.  His name was Saul, the son of Kish.  God told Samuel where to find him and how to go about appointing him as king.  So Saul became Israel’s first king.  But though he looked very kingly, he didn’t turn out well.  He started out fine, started out humbly, but soon became conceited, hot-tempered, impulsive, jealous, selfishly ambitious, etc.  And on multiple occasions during the first few years of his reign, he did what was right in his own eyes instead of obeying the voice the Lord.  And when Samuel would confront him about his disobedience, he’d rationalized it and excuse himself, confess to sin only reluctantly when Samuel coerced him, and was never really sincerely repentant.  In I Samuel 13:13-14 after an occasion of disobedience, “Samuel said to Saul, “You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you, for now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever.  14 “But now your kingdom shall not endure.  The Lord has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you”.  And then in 15:28, after another occasion of disobedience, Samuel was walking away from Saul, Saul reached out grabbed the edge of his rob, and it tore in his hand.  Samuel turned and said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to your neighbor, who is better than you”.

Now you may wonder, why didn’t God just tell Samuel to tell the people to wait a few more years and then God would give them the king they needed, the better man (the man after His own heart) to begin with?  Why first appoint Saul who wasn’t really fit for the task?  I suspect, probably for several reasons.  But one of those reasons, I think, was to impress upon the people that the outward appearance of a man is not what’s important and it can be deceiving.  We tend to be so easily impressed by the outward appearance, the superficial, by brains and brawn and beauty.  We’re tempted to see as role models those who are beautiful, brilliant, strong, and talented.  I think God wanted use Saul to teach his people that that’s not the important stuff.

Another reason it appears that God first appointed Saul was so that He could use Saul.  We’ll find He did use Saul as a rough instrument for several years to mold and shape David more into who God wanted him to be and the kind of king that the people needed.  God may put a Saul in your life or maybe you have a Saul in your life (like He did in David’s life); somebody who doesn’t like you, who doesn’t want you to succeed, and makes your life difficult.  And maybe God is using that “Saul” in your life to shape you more into whom He wants you to be.

Probably for other reasons too God first gave them Saul, but when we come to I Samuel 16 it was time for Samuel to anoint the man after God’s own heart, the man the people needed.  Let’s turn there and look at the text for a bit and then notice what I think is the main lesson God wants us to get from it.

The Anointing of David

Anointing with oil, the pouring of oil on the head of a person, was a symbolic ritual and part of consecrating men to a special position of leadership, whether it was to be a king or priest or a prophet.  The ritual was done by a person authorized by God and it indicated that God had selected this individual for the position.  It promised (symbolically) that the Spirit of God, like the oil flowing on his head, was coming upon this man to empower and guide and help him for this special role.

I Samuel 16:1 says, “Now 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 selected a king for Myself among his sons”. 

Now, Samuel knew that king Saul was not going to just allow his throne be taken from him and his sons.  So anointing someone else to be king was dangerous business.  So verse 2 says, “But Samuel said, “How can I go?  When Saul hears of 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 You shall invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for Me the one whom I designate to you”.  In other words, “Samuel, we’re not going to announce to everybody what all we’re doing so Saul finds out.  Just tell the people of Bethlehem that you’ve come to lead a worship service and then I’ll tell you what to do from there and it will all be fine.  Don’t fret”.

Verse 4, “So Samuel did what the Lord said, and came to Bethlehem.  And the elders of the city came trembling to meet him and said, “Do you come in peace?” [Because Samuel was not known for being Mr. Milquetoast].  Back when Saul was appointed king, Samuel rebuked the nation for their sinful motives in asking for a king and called down from the Lord thunder and rain during the wheat harvest when they were never supposed to get storms like that.  And then not too long ago Samuel had hacked evil king Agag of the Amalekites to pieces because Saul had failed to do it when he was supposed to.  So when the people of Bethlehem heard that Samuel was coming down the road, they were terrified that they’d done something wrong and Samuel was coming to deal with it.  So the elders came out of the city trembling to meet him and asked him, “Do you come in peace?”.

To their everlasting relief, in verse 5 Samuel said, “In peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.  Consecrate yourselves [meaning something like get yourselves washed up and ready for worship] and come with me to the sacrifice”.  He also consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.”. 

Verse 6, “When they entered…”.  It seems to me like the elders of the city and Jesse and his sons all met in some room of a house or building of some sort.  Perhaps outside was the altar for the sacrifice, but they all first met at this house.  And when they were all gathered, Samuel reached into his robe, or his pack, and pulled out this horn of oil that was used a few years earlier for anointing Saul to be king.  Everybody’s eyes got as wide as saucers I imagine.  And perhaps Samuel said, “Jesse, why don’t you introduce me to your sons?”.  Eliab the firstborn was the first to stand before him.  And it says Samuel “looked at Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him.’“.  He must have looked like Stryder, a rather impressive looking fella.

Verse 7, “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature [a statement that I’ve always appreciated, ‘Don’t look at the height of his stature’.], because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”.  Good looks and height are just a couple of the many different gifts and privileges that God disperses among people unconditionally, not on the basis of any good they’ve done.  So that stuff has nothing to do with the measure of the person in God’s sight.  God looks at that central part of our being that we’re more responsible for, where we think, will and choose and make our decisions.  God sees that part of us and that’s the part that matters to God

Verse 8, “Then Jesse called Abinadab and made him pass before Samuel.  And he said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either”.  9 Next Jesse made Shammah pass by.  And he said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either”.  10 Thus Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel.  But Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen these””.  So all these sons of Jesse were paraded before Samuel and Samuel heard from the Lord about each one, “Nope, that’s not the one either”.  And he’s perplexed and scratching his head and turns up his hearing aid.  “Lord, did I miss something?  I thought you’d picked a son of Jesse?”

Then he thinks to ask Jesse, verse 11, “Are these all the children?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, and behold, he is tending the sheep”.  This youngest son, David, probably a teenager at the time, wasn’t considered important enough to bring to this worship service with the great prophet Samuel.  “Then Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” 

Verse 12, “So he sent and brought him in.  [A brother goes out, “David hey, you’re wanted back at the house”.  And he comes in huffing and puffing to see what’s up.  And then we have the only physical description given of young David.  It says…] Now he was ruddy [which means reddish, and it could mean he was a red head, or it could mean he was reddened or bronzed from spending so much time out in the sun and the wind with sheep.], with beautiful eyes and a handsome appearance”.  So it’s alright to have good looks.  That’s not a problem.  It’s just that that’s clearly not what matters to God.  “And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him; for this is he.” 

Verse 13, “Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.  And Samuel arose and went to Ramah”.

I find when I study the Bible that it can be very enlightening to ask “why” questions; like, “Why did God do it this way?  Why not do it this other way?  Wouldn’t this other way have been easier?  Why this way?”.  And I think those are good questions to ask here.  Why didn’t God just say to Samuel in the first place, “Look, go over to Bethlehem.  There’s a teenager over there.  His name is David.  He’s the youngest son of Jesse.  He’s taking care of his father’s sheep in the fields.  He’s the one I’ve chosen.  Gather the elders of the city and the family together to witness it and anoint young David in their presence”.  Instead, we go through this drama where God doesn’t tell Samuel which son it is.  And they have to go through this process of parading each one of the more significant appearing sons before Samuel and God saying, “Not him…  Not him…  Not him…”.  Why?  I think God wanted to teach His people something, don’t you?  I think God wanted to emphasize a point, impress a very important truth upon people’s hearts.  And what is that point that God wanted to make with this?  Is it not that memorable statement at the end of verse 7?  “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.

God looks at the heart and wants to impress that truth upon us

It’s clear, not only in this passage, but all throughout Scripture that God wants to impress that truth upon us.  That not only does He see our hearts, our inner thoughts and motives and intentions and who we are inside, but it’s what He sees in our hearts that He cares about more than anything else and that determines more than anything else what He does with us.

Later in his old age David would say to his son Solomon, I Chronicles 28:9, “As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for the Lord searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts.  If you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever”.  Think about that.  Your heart and my heart are not going unnoticed as we might think.  Our hearts are being watched by the One who made us and the one who rules over all things.  And what He decides to do in relation to each of us depends on what He sees in our hearts.

II Chronicles 16:9, “For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His”.  The Lord is looking at every heart of every human being on earth and He’s looking for hearts that are completely devoted to Him, those sort of hearts that hunger and thirst for righteousness, hearts that long, more than anything, to do the will of God, that long to please God, to be right with God.  Is that your heart?  Is that the desire of your soul, to do the will of God, to be pleasing to Him, to be right with Him?

Jesus said , “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God”.

When I think of I Corinthians 13:1-3, this passage always makes me stop and do some self-evaluation.  Here, Paul says if you’re a very gifted Christian, if you can even speak in tongues, even speak in the language of the angels, but you don’t have love, you’re just a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If you have the gift of prophecy and the gift of faith where you can move mountains, and you’ve got the whole Bible memorized and knowledge like no one else, but you don’t have love, you are nothing.  If you were to do the greatest sacrificial deeds imaginable, if you were to give all your possessions to feed the poor and surrender your body to be burned, but if it wasn’t love motivating you to do that, if you had some other motive, like recognition or to make a name for yourself, then it would profit you nothing.  God is looking at your heart.  And there is nothing else about us that is more important to Him.

Why does God want to impress that upon us?  I really don’t think it’s just for our information or to satisfy our curiosity.  And I don’t think it’s to give us an excuse or comfort when our actions aren’t right.  Sometimes when our behavior is bad, we use this concept as an excuse saying, “Whatever my actions say… well God knows my heart so it’s okay”.  I think, usually, our actions and deeds reflect our heart.  Jesus talked about that good fruit comes from good trees and bad fruit comes from bad trees.  He’s talking about our words and deeds and they are a reflection of what’s inside.  And so, I don’t think God told us this to comfort us when our actions aren’t right, but to tell us that we need to work on our hearts.

We find in Scripture often that God does a lot though many different means to change people’s hearts.  But we also find that the condition of our hearts, God somewhat leaves up to us.  That’s why the prophet Ezekiel preached, “Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit!  For why will you die, O house of Israel?  For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord God.  “Therefore, repent and live.” (Ezekiel 18:31-32).

I think we should look deep inside ourselves often.  II Corinthians 13:5, “Examine yourselves…”.  What’s in there, what’s in your heart?  Is there pride in there?  Is there greed, jealousy?  Is there a tendency to entertain immoral thoughts?  Is there bitterness, are you holding a grudge against someone?  Is there selfish ambition; is the driving, motivating, desire of your heart to exalt self?  Is there something in your heart that you love more than the one who made us, who sustains us, and wants to lead us to eternal life?  Scripture says when we see those things in our heart, we don’t just accept them and say, “well, that’s just the way that I am”, but scripture says make yourself a new heart; get rid of that, fight that with all that you have.

And God can help us, we read about God changing hearts.  I want to encourage you this week to pray the kind of prayers that David prayed.  David says at the end of Psalms 139, 23 Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! 24 And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”.  In other words, “God look into my and see if there be any way in my heart that is not the way You want it to be and help me to see it, correct it, and help me to be who You want me to be on the inside”.

In Psalm 51 when David’s heart had gone astray, he prayed, 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

And at the end of Psalm 19, 14 Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.”.  In other words, “God please help me to have a pure heart, please help me to love You more than anything that you’ve created, and please help the ambition of my heart not to be for my glory or to make a name for myself, or my comfort or ease, but help the desire of my heart to be what it should be, to honor You and bring souls and glory to You, because You made me, and You want to lead us to eternal life, and You’ve shown how much You love us in Christ”.  I think those are good prayers for us to be praying.

Lastly, Proverbs 4:23, 23 Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life”.  More than we watch over many other things, like our health, our home, our physical appearance, our cars, etc., we need to watch over our hearts with all diligence; watching over our thoughts and our attitudes and our intentions, because God is looking at our hearts.  And our hearts matter more than anything else to Him.

-James Williams