1 Samuel 16:7

‘“I see not as man sees;
for man looks at the outward appearance,
but Yahweh looks at the heart.”’

Appearances can be deceptive, but nothing deceives God. His gaze penetrates even to our deepest core. He knows everything about us, even better than we know ourselves. How should we respond to this unsettling truth?

Here God is talking to Samuel (the judge/prophet of Israel) who He’d tasked with anointing a new King for Israel, to replace the failed King Saul. God had already indicated that a son of ‘“Jesse”’(1 Samuel 16:1) was His chosen replacement. Samuel, influenced by prevailing cultural norms, had wrongly assumed God’s choice to be Eliab the ‘eldest’(1 Samuel 17:28), who apparently looked the part with regards to his ‘“stature”’(1 Samuel 16:7) etc. But we are not to judge by such criteria. Even a judge/prophet can be wrong using such methods. Samuel was open to God’s correction and lead in this though – the first important way in which we should respond to God’s awesome insight. Seek God’s opinion; don’t rely simply on our own superficial biased assessment of things.

However, this verse has something to say about how God sees us too. Obviously He sees through any superficial whitewash we might apply to make ourselves ‘“outwardly appear beautiful”’(Matthew 23:27) either physically or otherwise. He does ‘not judge by the sight of his eyes, neither decide by the hearing of his ears’(Isaiah 11:3). Rather, as David Saul’s replacement knew, ‘you have searched me, and you know me… You perceive my thoughts… You search out my path… and are acquainted with all my ways… This knowledge is beyond me. It’s lofty. I can’t attain it. Where could I go from your Spirit?’(Psalm 139:1-7). Moreover, we’re often self-deceived, not seeing the pathology afflicting even our own hearts/minds, things unknown to others and unknown to ourselves. But God sees these things: ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it? I, Yahweh, search the mind, I try the heart’(Jeremiah 17:9-10).

One way in which God probes us and reveals these insights to us is through His word, when wielded and applied by His Holy Spirit, ‘For the word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing…’(Hebrews 4:12). So what does God’s word reveal about the hearts of Saul and David, which might cut us to the heart, then heal us?

Saul made two mistakes. On one occasion he’d been instructed to wait 7 days for Samuel to return. The 7 days were up and Samuel had timed his return a bit tight. Saul figured things were looking a bit shakey with the divinely instituted plan, so he took matters into his own hands, breaking what God had ‘“commanded”’(1 Samuel 13:13) in an attempt to remedy the situation. Next, thinking he knew better again, and influenced by public opinion rather than God’s will, he disobeyed God’s ‘“commandments”’(1 Samuel 15:11) by only half carrying them out. Are our consciences pricked by these examples?

So God determined to replace Saul with ‘“a man after his own heart”’(1 Samuel 13:14). What does this mean? How can we be like that? Essentially David was receptive to God’s lead: ‘“‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after my heart, who will do all my will’”’(Acts 13:22). Typically, rather than taking matters into his own hands or being swayed by others, David’s approach was, ‘When you said, “Seek my face,” my heart said to you, “I will seek your face, Yahweh.”’(Psalm 27:8). David’s advice to his successor was similar: ‘“Solomon my son, know the God of your father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind; for Yahweh searches all hearts, and understands all the imaginations of the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you”’(1 Chronicles 28:9).

So are we more like Saul or David? Who’s to assess that? Other people might have their ideas, but they might not see though our whitewash. We might think we know, but we don’t know as God knows. How should we respond to this ‘“Counselor, the Holy Spirit”’(John 14:26) Who has such insight?

We mustn’t fear His penetrating gaze, His searching light. Don’t fear being ‘“exposed”’(John 3:20) by the Counsellor. God wants to forgive our ‘hidden’(Psalm 19:12) pathology. He wants to make ‘intercession for us’(Romans 8:26), heal us, and lead us into eternity with Him. So we should pray with David, ‘Search me, God, and know my heart. Try me, and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way’(Psalms 139:23-24).