Today’s Chocolate: Green & Black’s Organic Milk Chocolate with Almonds
Today’s Passage: 1 Samuel 16:1-13
Welcome to the second installment of our new interstitial study, God’s Little Deconstruction Book. The verse from God’s Little Instruction Book for today is 1 Samuel 16:7b, “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” It’s part of a larger story that you’re likely familiar with, in which God, having rejected Saul as Israel’s king, leads Samuel to look for a new king to anoint from among Jesse the Bethlehemite’s sons. So as not to draw Saul’s ire, Samuel has a cover story: he comes together with Jesse and his sons to sacrifice a cow to God. And by the end of the tale, of course, Samuel has anointed Jesse’s youngest son, David.
I’ve frequently seen this story and verse used in Sunday school to teach children that God has big plans for even the youngest and most unassuming among us, those that most people would reject by human standards. It’s a lesson with a valid basis, a lesson also seen in other Bible stories such as the call of Gideon the Lord of Nobody and his three-hundred-man army, and it’s healthy for the kids’ self-esteem. But, humorously, the text doesn’t remark on the older brothers’ physical appearance. Despite God’s admonition, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature” (7), we know nothing about Eliab’s appearance, or Abinadab’s, or Shammah’s, or that of any of the other sons. And I suppose that’s fitting enough; the text doesn’t care what they look like, and neither should we.
But get this: the text cares what David looks like. It tells us, “Now he was ruddy, with beautiful eyes and a handsome appearance” (12). God may have made his selection based on inward character rather than physical characteristics, but David was a good-looking dude! Truth be told, the irony of God’s telling Samuel not to judge on appearances and then turning around and picking a son who happens to have “beautiful eyes and a handsome appearance” gets a smirk out of me.
The narrative doesn’t undermine its own point, though. Remember that when Samuel jumps to the conclusion that Eliab, Jesse’s oldest son (1 Chronicles 2:13), is God’s chosen, God corrects him: “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature” (still 7). The important thing is not to assume based on how tall or strong-looking he is. A warrior’s build may be advantageous for a king in the ancient world, but in God’s book, it’s hardly a priority. God’s about the inner man: the heart.
And God’s correction to Samuel takes on added depth when you consider David’s stature. He’s the youngest son, which got me wondering: how young was he? Based on vocabulary and context clues, this study from Neverthirsty.org posits that he was probably between ten and fifteen years old. He may well not have hit his growth spurt! Parents of sixth-graders: imagine if the major prophet of Israel secretly anointed your sixth-grader to be the future king of Israel. It’s bonkers, yet that’s exactly what happens here.
God doesn’t care how tall you are. God is looking for king material at heart. God looks inside.