But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” [1 Samuel 16:7 (ESV)]
Yesterday, when writing about the lack of physical descriptions of Jesus, I realized how rarely Scripture describes anyone. Granted, we know that Goliath was huge, Saul was tall, Ehud was left-handed, Samson had long hair, Esau was hairy, Zacchaeus was short, that Sarah, Esther, and Rachel were beautiful, and that Leah was not. Those brief descriptions, however, were necessary to explain the narrative. Other than their ages, for example, we know nothing about the appearance of Noah, Abraham, or Moses and we don’t even know the ages of any of the disciples! Appearance, however, isn’t important to God.
1 Samuel 9:2 describes Saul as “the most handsome man in Israel—head and shoulders taller than anyone else in the land.” Looking kingly, however, isn’t qualification enough to be a king. After removing Saul’s kingship because of his disloyalty and disobedience, God sent Samuel to Jesse’s house to find and anoint Israel’s new king. Once there, the prophet took one look at Jesse’s impressive-looking eldest son Eliab and was sure he found the new monarch. When God rejected Eliab, Jesse lined up the rest of his sons and Samuel continued on down the line. Going about this selection process as would a casting director—by choosing someone who looked regal—Samuel seemed to have forgotten that Israel already had a king who looked the part. What they needed was someone worthy of the role.
When God rejected all seven of Jesse’s boys, Samuel asked if there were any more. He learned of the young David out herding animals in the fields. This youngest son was so far down the family’s pecking order that his father hadn’t even summoned him to the feast but Samuel insisted on sending for him. Although David is described as being pleasant looking, with beautiful eyes and a ruddy complexion, a young shepherd boy (no matter how handsome) doesn’t sound much like king material, but God told Samuel, “This is the one.”
God explained to Samuel that He doesn’t look at a man’s appearance; He looks at a man’s heart. With his pink-cheeks and beautiful eyes David may not have looked the part, but he had the makings of a king because he was what God wanted: a man after God’s heart. [13:14] While people see what a person appears to be, God sees who that person actually is!
In spite of our best efforts not to do so, like Samuel, we tend to categorize people by their looks and often allow age, physique, beauty, ethnicity, clothing, wealth, grooming, or style to outweigh substance. If God doesn’t judge people by appearance, I wonder why we so often do. Unlike God, we can’t immediately see what’s in a person’s heart but, when we estimate a person’s worth by his exterior, we often miss the opportunity to ever see into his interior! God calls us to live by faith rather than sight; perhaps we should apply those words to the way we view our fellow travelers on this planet. Let us remember Isaiah’s description of Jesus—the Messiah who had “nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him.” [53:2] That man was God’s son! If we saw Him on the streets today, would we write Him off as readily Jesse did his own son?