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)
You may remember from beginning grammar that conjunctions are words that connect words or ideas. “But” is the conjunction that joins contrasting ideas. When “but” appears in Scripture, it highlights something God wants us to notice, to learn from. We’re looking at some of these contrasts.
In a familiar story in 1 Samuel 16, the prophet Samuel travels to the home of Jesse in Bethlehem because God has told him to anoint one of Jesse’s sons as the next king over Israel. So, when Jesse’s oldest, Eliab, was presented to the prophet, Samuel thought, “This must be the one!”
God stopped him, though with the words in verse 7. Man looks on the outward appearance BUT the LORD looks on the heart. In that simple statement, the Lord teaches us quite a bit about Himself, and about us. Let’s looks at some of those lessons.
We are limited. God is not.
Our knowledge is limited to what we can tease out with our physical senses. And we are dependent on being able to correctly interpret that data. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen forms during my early morning run that turned out to be trash cans or mailboxes once I got a little closer or got a better perspective. And I’m sure many of us can recall situations where we would have made a different choice if we had all the information available.
God is not limited in any way. His eyes don’t play tricks on Him. He doesn’t get foggy-headed when He lacks sleep. He doesn’t make rash decisions in the heat of the moment. Because of that, we can have complete confidence in Him and His leading.
God sees us for who we really are.
We can fool a lot of people, including ourselves, but God always sees our true selves. In some ways this is unsettling. No excuses. No cover-ups. But it can also be reassuring. He is privy to the absolute worst in us … and that hasn’t caused His love for us to waver the slightest bit.
God also knows our real intentions when someone else might get the wrong idea. He knows the burdens and pain we carry that maybe no one else does. Because of that, we can rest assured of His unfailing love for us and His care of us.
We need to learn from God’s example.
We can’t suddenly become mind-readers (or heart-readers, for that matter) but we can recognize that there is much more to the people we encounter than what we see on the outside. We can treat others with the compassion God demonstrates.
While we may never have to choose a king, we do make decisions about people all the time. (Note, that’s decisions, not judgments.) We choose who we do business with. We choose who to form relationships with. We choose who gets our vote. Like Samuel, we need to depend on the Holy Spirit to guide us when we make those kinds of decisions rather than relying on the ‘eye test’.
In fact, James reminds us, we have that wisdom available to us.
Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God—who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly—and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith without doubting. For the doubter is like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind. James 1:5-6