Formations 12.05.2021: The Lord Looks on the Heart

1 Samuel 16:4-13; Micah 5:2

Two verses strike me when I read the story of David’s choosing and anointing:

• But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on [Eliab’s] appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7)

• Now [David, Jesse’s youngest son,] was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” (1 Sam 16:12)

What is God doing here? God has sent the prophet Samuel to anoint the new king of Israel. The king will be a son of Jesse from Bethlehem. When Samuel sees Jesse’s son Eliab, he’s ready to call off the search and bring out the oil. All it takes is one look at this fine, strapping man, and Samuel is certain he’s the one. But no, God says, there’s more to being king than looking the part. God tells Samuel to consider what’s below the surface appearance.

The other sons pass by, and Samuel keeps shaking his head. He asks Jesse if he has any other sons, so Jesse calls in the youngest, a mere shepherd boy. And does Scripture say, “Now David was intelligent, and had great kindness, and was a born leader”? Nope. The only descriptions of David here, besides his being a young keeper of sheep, relate to his looks: “ruddy,” “beautiful eyes,” “handsome.” God tells Samuel, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one” (v. 12). What is God doing here?

How can God claim not to judge people by outward appearances, to look at their hearts instead, and then seem to choose David because he’s gorgeous? Maybe the idea of kingliness was different then. Perhaps Eliab was tall, strong, and commanding, while David was just pretty. Or possibly the biblical writer is trying to express that God saw much more in David than his beauty. God looked beneath the surface and saw someone capable of charming an errant king, slaying a giant, defeating oppressors, and leading a people—in spite of many flaws.

When we read that “the LORD looks on the heart,” we can know that God sees beyond our business suits, salon hair, fit bodies, and made-up faces. God sees beyond our secondhand wardrobes, unkempt hair, neglected bodies, and scarred faces. God sees beneath it all to the people we truly are. So when it comes to working on ourselves, appearance only goes so far—in fact, it sits right on the surface. We should put more effort into cultivating our hearts so we can be the people God wants us to be.


• How do you reconcile the contrast in verses 7 and 12? Does God care about appearances or not?
• How much work do you put into your appearance each day? What is your routine for taking care of your body?
• Does the fact that God looks at the heart mean we should ignore the way we look? Why or why not?
• What can you do to put more work into your heart—your attitudes, passions, thoughts, causes, and motivations?
• Considering what you know about the life of David, what do you think the Lord saw in his heart? What does the Lord see in yours?

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. In addition to this work, she is a freelance editor for other publishers and authors. She also regularly volunteers for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her teenage daughters, Samantha and Natalie, her husband John, and the family’s two dachshund mix pups, Luke and Leia. She likes supporting community theater productions and is often found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who. And she writes middle grade and young adult fiction for the pure joy of it.


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