16:1 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 provided for myself a king among his sons.” 2 And Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears 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 And invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do. And you shall anoint for me him whom I declare to you.” 4 Samuel did what the LORD commanded and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling and said, “Do you come peaceably?” 5 And he said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD. Consecrate yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is before him.” 7 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.” 8 Then Jesse called Abinadab and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.” 9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.” 10 And Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, “The LORD has not chosen these.” 11 Then Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and get him, for we will not sit down till he comes here.” 12 And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the LORD said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.” 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright (c)2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. http://www.esv.org
Notice how the truest person in this scene is God. Samuel is at the brink of despair over the king who is no longer. It seems that his vision for God’s kingdom has been shattered, and there is no hope to replace the destruction. So he grieves. But the Lord meets him in his grief (brinking-on-despair) and tells him He has a plan. But Samuel’s doubt has not ceased; in fact, he blurts it out to the Lord: If Saul hears it, he will kill me. This is fear, the fear we all know when we are faced with the impossible. But the Lord provides even for Samuel’s fear by promising to lead him along the right path. Here we have a prophet who isn’t very courageous, much like Jonah.
The situation is very back and forth: God offers a solution, His servant pushes back in doubt, God offers a solution, etc. And God is very patient with people like that. Samuel has a vision also for the new king, since his vision for the old one didn’t work out. But God has a much better vision for the new king—and this text doesn’t even reveal all of that plan!—and He softly breaks it to Samuel by telling him tenderly, the Lord sees not as a man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.
Now we see a shift in Samuel’s heart: he no longer believes his eyes and the criteria for a king now goes deeper than mere appearance. The Lord is helping him to look on the heart of Jesse’s boys. Good-looking sons are no longer qualified just because of their looks. One by one, Samuel sets them aside. And look how he communicates that: The Lord has not chosen these. Samuel is finally admitting that it is all the Lord’s choice, because it is the Lord’s plan. And yet an odd thing happens: the man the Lord does choose is ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. David is just as visually appealing as the rest. So why was he chosen?
The Lord looked beyond David’s outward appearance and knew that he was “a man after God’s own heart.” What that means and what it doesn’t mean will make more sense as we move through the rest of David’s life. But for now, it’s important to note that, in the Lord’s eyes, outward appearance—whether desirable or not—should not be our primary focus. Like Samuel, we struggle to get beyond the surface in evaluating ourselves and others. How are we distracted by outward appearance? What would it mean for us to learn to look on the heart? It’s worth remembering that Jesus “had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him” (Isaiah 53:2). If we would know and love the Son of David, the true Man after God’s own heart, the Lord must open our eyes. Lord, help us to see as you see!