Don’t Be Deceived By Appearances

The Big Idea

Things are not always as they seem. The things that seem impressive to people may not be the things that draw God’s attention. If we only pay attention to external appearances then we may miss what God is doing.

Bible Passage

1 Samuel 16:1-13

What’s Happening?

In this story, Samuel has been tasked with anointing the next king of Israel. The current king, Saul, was an impressive individual with an imposing stature. He literally stood head and shoulders above everybody else, and ticked every box of what we would typically look for in a king. He had, however, disobeyed God’s voice and now the hunt was on for his successor.

Samuel knows where to look. God has told him that the person he is after is one of the sons of a man called Jesse. So he went and organised a feast with Jesse and seven of his sons with a view to identifying which of the sons God had chosen.

The most obvious candidate was the eldest son, Eliab. He ticked all of the same boxes as Saul. He was large and physically imposing. At first look he seemed impressive. Surely he would make a great king? But he was not the man who had been chosen. Nor was the second son, Abindab, or the third, Shammah. In fact, all seven sons had been presented and every time the answer was no.

It turns out there was an eighth son, David, working out in the fields with the sheep. He clearly hadn’t even been considered as a possibility, and yet he was sent for and it was declared that he was the one God had chosen.

David had been such an unlikely candidate that it was simply assumed that God wouldn’t choose him. Three reasons for this were:

  • His lack of physical stature. He was smaller than his brothers and wouldn’t be obviously picked out of a crowd.
  • His age. He was only around 15 at the time, and it was assumed that God would choose someone older for his purposes.
  • His lack of qualifications. David knew how to keep sheep and play the lyre, but that was about as far as his CV went. He had no experience in the areas of battle or leadership that would traditionally be required for kingship.

Looking at the outward appearance of the situation, it is understandable why David was not originally considered. But God sees things very differently, and these outward considerations do not carry as much weight with God as they do with people. In verse 6 we are told that ‘man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’ David was later described as a ‘man after God’s own heart’. He may not have looked impressive externally but he truly loved God, and in God’s eyes this was more than enough.

Taking It to Jesus

Just as David was not the one who people expected God to choose, so too with Jesus. He wasn’t born into significance, but came from the backwaters of Galilee (can anything good come from Galilee?). His followers were ordinary untrained people. He didn’t lead a military rebellion against Rome. He submitted himself to the foolishness of the cross. Throughout, people missed what God was doing as they focussed on the outward appearances and ignored the heart of the matter.

Potential Applications:

  • Do not count yourself out if you don’t feel like you tick all of the boxes to be powerfully used by God.
  • Be careful not to be so drawn to what seems impressive by human standards that you miss what God is doing in unnoticed places.