“When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord ‘s anointed is before him.’ 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.'” (ESV – Read the chapter)
When God had Samuel anoint Saul as king of Israel, He gave them someone who absolutely looked the part of king. He was handsome and tall—a full head taller than anyone else around him. Now that Samuel had been sent to anoint another young man to be Israel’s king, the first potential candidate Samuel sees looks the part as well. But, far from having learned his lesson the first time, Samuel is ready to anoint Eliab on the spot. Just before he does, though, God whispers in his ear that this is not the guy.
That fact wouldn’t be terribly striking or even important by itself. But, the Lord doesn’t simply say to Samuel, “That’s not the guy.” He gives him an explanation as to why that reveals a few important things about God’s character and teaches us a thing or two about how to think about the people around us.
From the context, it seems God tells Samuel not to anoint Eliab because he doesn’t have the character for the job. Specifically, He tells him that He doesn’t just look on the externals when passing judgment on a person. He looks deeper to the heart of the matter. He looks at our metaphorical hearts to see what kind of a person we are and judges us based on that.
What this says for us is that He can see through all the walls we put up for the people around us, all of the masks we wear, to the person we are inside. He knows if we are kind or cruel. He can see whether we are driven by love or jealousy. He watches and sees if our hearts are full of grace or unforgiveness. He knows all of that and more. We can’t hide from Him. As the young man Samuel would soon anoint would later write, even if we go to the highest mountain or the bottom of the sea, our God still knows us and sees us.
And even though God’s knowledge of us is so complete, He loves us anyway. He may not have chosen Eliab to be the next king of Israel, but that didn’t mean He didn’t still love him. God loves us so much that He sent His Son to die for us so that we could be in a relationship with Him when we were still living in a state of open rebellion against Him.
In a culture that judges only a person’s outer image and weighs that very heavily in assessing their worth, this is a reminder that people are more than we can see and take in with a glance. Just because a person looks one way on the outside does not mean their heart is good or bad. We have to assess a person’s character by examining carefully their whole lives. This isn’t easy to do and means we’ve got to be careful in our judgments.
It also means we’ve got to work on our own character. In a culture that is sometimes obsessed with exercise and weight management, it is easy to get so caught up in changing what we look like on the outside that we forget to spend time developing our character as well. Ultimately, that’s what matters most and we need to give it the attention it deserves.