I remember having a conversation with a bunch of guys at Bible College. We could have been delving into the intricacies of theology. Perhaps it was some incredible passage of scripture that caught our attention. Maybe we complained about the course load or rolled our eyes together when recalling that professor who laughed at his own jokes, especially that ones that weren’t funny. No, we didn’t discuss anything academic or spiritual. Instead, we talked about girls.
My one buddy marvelled at the girl who sat next to him in Old Testament class and another laughed at his choice of infatuations, mentioning someone he thought more suitable for window shopping. Eventually, the topic turned into “what do you first notice about a girl?” One guy said that he loves long legs. Another said that his perfect woman had short red hair and freckles to match the stars on a clear night. Large eyes, tanned skin, fine fingers—the list of spiritual traits went on.
Finally, one guy piped up. “The first thing I notice is her personality.” All was silent for a moment before laughter broke into our ranks. “Come on! You can’t notice her personality first thing unless you keep you eyes closed.”
Different things draw our attention than those that hold it. Perhaps its the paint job that makes you want the car, but what makes you love it is its reliability. Maybe the house you want to buy looks perfect until you find out the foundations are cracked and warped beyond repair. Perhaps it is the good looks of a woman or man that attracts us, but what holds that attraction is their personality, their heart.
God looks at the Heart
When we are being considered for a job, what does our potential employer look at? We are told to dress up for the interview so that we first catch their eye, show up a bit early, and play up our accomplishments. Essentially we want to look as good as we can so that they will have a reason to keep us around.
Last week we looked at Saul and his rise to royalty. He stood head and shoulders above the rest, came from a prominent family, was a strong and good looking man… but he had a pride issue. Everything about him looked good when Israel interviewed him to be their king, but the issues in his heart never made it onto his resume. What they first noticed about him was his good looks and great potential, but once they got to know him, the people weren’t so thrilled any longer, and neither was God. It is time for a new king, a man who doesn’t just look good on the outside, but is good in his heart.
Samuel, directed by God, comes to the house of Jesse a man from the line of Judah, the family of the prophesied king. Even Samuel, knowing the downfall of Saul, looks for someone more promising than he, but it is not his spiritual eyes that see.
1 Samuel 16:6-11
6 When they arrived, Samuel noticed Eliab and said to himself, “Surely, here before the Lord stands his chosen king!” 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t be impressed by his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. God does not view things the way men do. People look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
8 Then Jesse called Abinadab and presented him to Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one, either.” 9 Then Jesse presented Shammah. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.”10 Jesse presented seven of his sons to Samuel. But Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 11 Then Samuel said to Jesse, “Is that all of the young men?” Jesse replied, “There is still the youngest one, but he’s taking care of the flock.” Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and get him, for we cannot turn our attention to other things until he comes here.”
God speaks to Samuel, saying, “remember Saul? Rememer the mess we are in? It is because of a man who looked good on the outside, but did not have a heart that beat after me.” Saul did not turn to God as his Rock, but built the foundations of his life on his own pride. Samuel had to look past the external potential of a man and see the colour of his soul. Samuel first noticed the good looks of these sons of Jesse, but God says, “you need to look at the personality, not their potential.”
The first things that we notice are not what God sees. We fall for beautiful hair, muscled arms, a confident stride, a pleasant smile. God looks deeper, past the external attraction to see what we are really like. When Jesse brought his sons before Samuel he didn’t even think of David. Not that there was anything wrong with David, but he wasn’t looking for a shepherd. Israel needed a new king, not someone to tend their herds. They needed a young man, not a simple boy. This is especially applicable in the ancient culture were we find David. It was the firstborn who carried on the family name, were given the greatest responsibilities, blessed with the inheritance. They became the new “father” of the family once dad joined his ancestors in the clouds. David lived beneath the shadow of seven older brothers. Unless a plague swept away the rest of his family, David had little to no hope of inheriting anything, carrying on any name, leading more than sheep.
So, when looking for a king, Jesse didn’t even consider him. But God did. David had a purer heart than the rest of his brothers. He was humble beyond his years and stronger than all of his brothers combined, because God was his Rock. God’s strength is often more accessible with less strength of their own, those who put themselves aside to make room for God. Our tendency is to look to God once we have nothing left to do it ourselves. But David, recognizing how little he had, looked to God first and conquered in his name.
When picking someone for a king, we look for the one with the most potential, and when looking for an army, we don’t first think of a weak kid. Boot Camp exists for a reason. It gets the recruits in shape so that they can face whatever might come their way on the battlefield. But, no matter how prepared the Israelites were, fighting giants was not in their training program. Goliath shadows fear over them, that same fear that plagues this same people generations before when they came to spy the land of Canaan. They looked at themselves and said, “we can’t face this!” But, just as their ancestors, it was not about their ability to conquer Goliath, but God’s. Instead of looking to God, all they saw was how small they felt, foundations shaking.
David felt small, smaller than most. He wasn’t who you would expect on the battlefield; didn’t belong there. When he arrived, his brothers looked and said, “what are you doing here! This is no place for children to play!” But David had more maturity in his shepherd’s staff than those brothers with their shaking swords.
He stood up to Goliath not because of what he had in himself, but because of what God had in Him. He realized that it wasn’t him, his brothers, or his people that Goliath was fighting against, but God. He stood on God as his rock who was stronger than any giant. This was David’s heart. He didn’t take pride in his own status or stature, in the armor he didn’t wear, in the perfection of the stone he chose to fell the giant, he found strength where he always did: in God.
1 Samuel 17:44-47
41 The Philistine kept coming closer to David, with his shield bearer walking in front of him. 42 When the Philistine looked carefully at David, he despised him, for he was only a ruddy and handsome boy. 43 The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you are coming after me with sticks?” Then the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 The Philistine said to David, “Come here to me, so I can give your flesh to the birds of the sky and the wild animals of the field!”
45 But David replied to the Philistine, “You are coming against me with sword and spear and javelin. But I am coming against you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel’s armies, whom you have defied! 46 This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand! I will strike you down and cut off your head. This day I will give the corpses of the Philistine army to the birds of the sky and the wild animals of the land. Then all the land will realize that Israel has a God 47 and all this assembly will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves! For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will deliver you into our hand.”
David said, I might be a stick compared to you, but you are a twig compared to God. He doesn’t say, “you come at me with sword and spear, but I come at you with sling and stone.” He said, “I come at you in the name of YHWH my God who is ever-present with me.” David didn’t hide from his weakness, but flaunted it. He was proud of the nothing he had because it exposed how much more he had in God.
Saul’s Jealousy vs. David’s faith
This shepherd boy who wasn’t looking for any recognition or fame, but found much. Because of his success, Saul put him in charge of his army, and he went out and won many battles. Saul, in His great pride, thought the people would sing his praises for showing great wisdom in choosing David to lead his army, but instead they sang of David
1 Samuel 18:7-8
7 The women who were playing the music sang,
“Saul has struck down his thousands, but David his tens of thousands!”
8 This made Saul very angry. (Why? Because of his pride) The statement displeased him and he thought, “They have attributed to David tens of thousands, but to me they have attributed only thousands. What does he lack, except the kingdom?”
Saul became afraid that everything he had would be taken away from him. He thought David was after his kingdom. Though David was the promised king, he never let his agenda take the forefront. He first listened to and trusted in God before ever considering himself.
Saul began to chase David, seeking out his life. Even with all of this going on, David still relied on God. He would hide in the belly of cities, cower behind rocks in the fields, always singing songs and writing poems from the deepest depths of his heart. He called God his Rock, fortress, the might of his hands. God was the one who turned this lowly shepherd into a mighty warrior. He conquered Goliath. The song should have gone, “Saul has stuck down his thousands, but YHWH his 10,000s.”
David and Saul in the cave – God’s hand, not David’s will deliver
David’s story continues, and notice how he is such an incredible foil for Saul. Even when it doesn’t make sense, David submits to God’s will and his ways. When fighting Goliath, it was the strength on God that defeated the enemy, so why should it be any different now that Saul sought his life?
Jumping ahead in the story we see that David’s heart continues to beat after God, even when he was no longer nothing, even when he had the upper hand.
1 Samuel 24:2-7
2 So Saul took three thousand select men from all Israel and went to find David and his men in the region of the rocks of the mountain goats. 3 He came to the sheepfolds by the road, where there was a cave. Saul went into it to relieve himself.
Now David and his men were sitting in the recesses of the cave. 4 David’s men said to him, “This is the day about which the Lord said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hand, and you can do to him whatever seems appropriate to you.’” So David got up and quietly cut off an edge of Saul’s robe. 5 Afterward David’s conscience bothered him because he had cut off an edge of Saul’s robe. 6 He said to his men, “May the Lord keep me far away from doing such a thing to my lord, who is the Lord’s chosen one, by extending my hand against him. After all, he is the Lord’s chosen one.” 7 David restrained his men with these words and did not allow them to rise up against Saul. Then Saul left the cave and started down the road.
David had the advantage. He could have put at end to his trouble. His men even encourage him to do so. They say, “what if this is in the LORD’s plan? What if God has given you this opportunity? But David knows differently, not because the situation was somehow different from his perspective, but because he listened to his heart. He listened not to his own ideas, his own thoughts or will, but the heart of God within him.
The text says that his conscience bothered him. God spoke to him, though not directly, that this was not within his will. Why not? Didn’t God want Saul out of the way? Wasn’t David the next king? If David had gone after Saul now, it would have been because of his own opportunistic strength. It would be David and his men performing a political coup against Saul, not God working his ways. The situation was no different now than it was with Goliath, not because of the outward appearance, or the fact that David actually did have the upper hand in this situation, but because the heart of God was still the same.
Saul expresses this incredible truth. David, this man who constantly, in every situation, sought out the will of God, stood on the Rock, the foundation of his life. Instead of raising himself up, he humbled himself. Even when he could have been greater, he submitted to God’s heart. And Saul, recognizing this deficiency in his own life says this…
1 Samuel 24:17
17 He said to David, “You are more righteous than I, for you have treated me well, even though I have tried to harm you!
David, you are better than I ever was. I have been seeking out what is good for me. I look good and want to stay that way. I have shown promise from the start. I have been following after my own heart, but you, David my son, you listen to the heart of God, and as a result he is with you through it all. He gave you strength to face Goliath when I cowered in the tent with the rest. He extended grace to me through you when you could have taken my life. You are a better man than I. Whether found in want or plenty, you rely on God your Rock.
David dances naked – humility, humiliate himself is no issue when it is for God
Saul does end up getting what’s coming to him, and David is set on the throne. Even then, having the highest position possible for a man, he considers himself lowly, humble in the presence of God.
2 Samuel 6:14-15,20-22
14 Now David, wearing a linen ephod, was dancing with all his strength before the Lord. 15 David and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord, shouting and blowing trumpets.
20 Michal, Saul’s daughter, came out to meet him. She said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself this day! He has exposed himself today before his servants’ slave girls the way a vulgar fool might do!”
21 David replied to Michal, “It was before the Lord! I was celebrating before the Lord, who chose me over your father and his entire family and appointed me as leader over the Lord’s people Israel. 22 I am willing to shame and humiliate myself even more than this!
David did not consider his high status. When standing before God, he didn’t think of himself as a king, but recognized the true King. He wore a linen ephod, the clothes that priests would wear. No crown or fancy jewels, just a simply robe: humble attire. The ephod was worn by the most simple servants of the LORD. David took off his kingly garments, those things that would direct attention to him, lowering himself to the level of a common man so that God might be more fully magnified. The star in this scene is the Ark of the Covenant that was coming back into town, the presence of God. David didn’t want to take anything away from that.
Michal, his wife, wasn’t very impressed. She thought he should take pride in his status, let people not see him as a commoner, but as a king. After all… that’s what her father Saul did. He probably slept with his crown on. She is disgusted with David, but notice the words that she uses. She addressed David as the “king of Israel.” She is saying… “remember that you are the king! You should act like one, and not some commoner.
David’s response shows his heart once again. He says, “It was before the LORD. I don’t care about how shameful it is for the king to be seen as a common man, or how humiliating it might me. This celebration is about God, and who am I, his humble servant, to over-shadow his glory with any element of my own?”
Promise of a coming forever kingdom and temple.
Though David had a heart that beat after His Rock, he was not a perfect king. We will look at some of those imperfections next week, but now we see that the true perfect king is yet to come. David wants to build a temple to celebrate the presence of God with the people. He says, “the Ark of the Covenant is here, God’s presence is with us and we should celebrate with more than dancing.” But just because David had a good idea doesn’t mean it is God’s idea. First and foremost, David’s desire is to seek the heart of God. Instead of David lifting God up and making a house for Him, God chooses to bless this man who through his whole life never did anything for himself. He relied on God as his Rock through the good times and the bad, even when it didn’t make sense, and now God rewards him with a promise.
1 Chronicles 17:9-12
9 I will establish a place for my people Israel and settle them there; they will live there and not be disturbed anymore. Violent men will not oppress them again, as they did in the beginning 10 and during the time when I appointed judges to lead my people Israel. I will subdue all your enemies.
“‘“I declare to you that the Lord will build a dynastic house for you!11 When the time comes for you to die, I will raise up your descendant, one of your own sons, to succeed you, and I will establish his kingdom.12 He will build me a house, and I will make his dynasty permanent.
David is overwhelmed by this great promise from the one who deserved far more glory and he did. This is the beginning of the line of David from which Jesus would come. David had a heart that beat for God, but the truly Anointed One is yet to come. Here we don’t just see a simple blessing from a loving God to his people, but a promise that one day Jesus, the King, would come and fulfil all that he has been promised right from Genesis 3. He would come and truly return the people back to himself.
At first glance this passage looks like it is about Solomon, David’s son who built the temple that his father wanted to. But even greater than that it is a picture of Jesus. God doesn’t declare that David’s house would last a long time. He says something that could only be possible for Jesus as the king: that his kingdom will last forever. A permanent dynasty. The imagery is even more incredible as we unpack the next couple verse.
1 Chronicles 17:13-14
13 I will become his father and he will become my son. I will never withhold my loyal love from him, as I withheld it from the one who ruled before you. 14 I will put him in permanent charge of my house and my kingdom; his dynasty will be permanent.”’”
“He will be my son, and I will always love him.”
David’s heart goes on. It is no surprise that the Son of God is born from the line of David, a man who relied on God through all things. Again the Upper Story comes down to meet the Lower Story of David. The serpent crusher is yet to come, the great redeemer who would fully bring the people back into right relationship with God.
Imagine what it must have been like to be David. Imagine such a promise being given to you. Your whole life you have been seeking to lower yourself so that God might shine, getting yourself out of the way to make room for God. His glory is far more important than your own, and yet he raises you up to be higher than you could possibly imagine. From shepherd boy, to mighty warrior, to king, to the forefather of the Son of God whose kingdom will reign forever and ever!
If this was Saul, he would have been pleased. This is really what Saul wanted. He sought to make a name for himself, to raise himself above everyone else, but it is not those who raise themselves up that are blessed, but those who are humble enough to make room for God amidst their weakness.
Have you ever felt like David? Weak. Unimportant. Not even considered by your own father when Samuel comes knocking. Left at home when there a war going on. Rejected by our own father-in-law? Shunned by your wife? Perhaps you have seen Goliath looming before you and cower in the tent thinking, how am I going to get out of this? How am I going to face this sin in my life that chills me with its shadow? How I am going to go to work one more day with that boss who doesn’t notice me, and when he does it is just to complain about my work. How will I get through another day at home with more hate than love floating in the stale air? I feel so small, alone, desperate, crumbling.
It is at these times when we must turn to God and recognize his strength working in and though us. We can face the giants not because of our strength, but his. Our slandered reputation is not the end of us, but instead leaves room for God’s greater glory to shine through. God is our fortress in times of trouble. He is our rock when we feel weak, but only if we recognize him by humbling ourselves first. If we don’t make room for God, he won’t make room for us. If we seek to raise ourselves up, we will fall, but if we fall on him, he will raise us up.
Psalm 59:9-10, 16-17
You are my strength, I watch for you;
You, God, are my fortress,
10 my God on whom I can rely.
God will go before me
and will let me gloat over those who slander me.
16 But I will sing of your strength,
in the morning I will sing of your love;
for you are my fortress,
my refuge in times of trouble.
17 You are my strength, I sing praise to you;
you, God, are my fortress,
my God on whom I can rely.