The Lord said to Samuel, ‘How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.’ Samuel said, ‘How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.’ And the Lord said, ‘Take a heifer with you, and say, “I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.” Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.’ 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?’ He said, ‘Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.’ And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.’ 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 does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’ Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, ‘Neither has the Lord chosen this one.’ Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, ‘Neither has the Lord chosen this one.’ Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, ‘The Lord has not chosen any of these.’ Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Are all your sons here?’ And he said, ‘There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.’ And Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.’ He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, ‘Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.’ Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.
Outward appearances make their impressions upon us – however hard we try to resist. We live in a culture dominated by the cult of outward appearance: where looking ‘beautiful’ or having the ‘perfect’ physique is a major concern and a source of lucrative business. (If you doubt that assertion, be honest: do you never look in the mirror and think, “I wish I didn’t look like that” or at someone else and think, “I wish I looked more like them”?)
Today’s passage is a strong rebuke to judging by outward appearance. The word addressed to Samuel as he undertook the task of identifying a king to succeed Saul reminds us that the Lord looks on the heart not the body. Samuel had to consider what might be described as a talent show line-up: the seven sons of Jesse. Even then the successful candidate is not found until Samuel asks if all the sons were present. Jesse concedes that David, the youngest, is out keeping the sheep. (There is a rich irony in that David’s outward appearance is described as “handsome”!) God affirms this good-looker as his choice – a choice that would not have been made had Samuel not looked wider than what was at first paraded before him. (There is a further irony in that the heart of this David will, later, be discovered to be far from perfect as he sends Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, to his death so that she can become his wife!)
May we embrace the challenge: It is only through looking beyond outward appearance – and wider than what is first paraded before us – that we discover the potential beauty of another’s heart.
May we be embraced by the reassurance: Despite what we may feel about our own outward appearance we can dare to believe in God’s love of us and his power to change our hearts and give us an inner beauty.
God, who looks not on outward appearance but on the heart, enable me to see beyond what others look like and to discern their true inner beauty and worth. Save me from regarding as ugly what you see as beautiful and help me to look broader and wider and find you in the kindness of the unexpected. Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me that your love might be known and grace seen as my heart-beat. Amen
The Rev’d Geoffrey Clarke, Minister, The Crossing (Methodist & United Reformed) Church, Worksop and Wales Kiveton Methodist Church