Why God Looks On the Heart

As I mentioned in my post on the nature of reciprocal honor, I’ve been teaching through First Samuel recently. Today, I’d like to share a thought about a familiar verse—man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.

Chapter 15 of First Samuel concluded with Samuel pronouncing God’s judgment on Saul, and then mourning over Saul’s downfall. Chapter 16 then begins with God telling Samuel to get up and move on. God tells him to fill his horn with oil and go to Bethlehem, because the Lord has chosen one of the sons of a Bethlehemite, named Jesse, to be king.

When Samuel arrives in Bethlehem, he invites Jesse and his sons to a sacrifice; and when Jesse’s sons arrive, Samuel begins looking for the one who would be the next king. He sees Jesse’s son, Eliab, who is physically imposing, and Samuel thinks that surely this is the one. But then we get that familiar statement in verse seven. The Lord says 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: for man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” A more literal, or formal, translation, would be something like this: “man sees as far as the eyes, but the Lord sees to the heart.” In other words, all we are able to see is the outside, but the Lord is able to see the inner thoughts and motives of the person’s character.

When God gave Saul as Israel’s king, he gave the people the kind of physically, outwardly impressive individual that they, like other nations, would find desirable—someone whose outward stature is striking, with no specific regard for the stature of his soul. The Lord, on the other hand, knows the thoughts of man, as Psalm 94 says, and he is after a man whose inward character is upright, who will thus lead the people righteously.

Humans always tend to look on the outward appearance when evaluating someone’s suitability for a task, but God is more concerned about what is in a man’s soul. However, the point of verse seven in fact isn’t simply that man looks only at the outside but ought to look at the heart. The point is that the outside is all that we can see, but God is able to see the heart.

We don’t have the ability to see a man’s thoughts and motives; we have to make judgments based on people’s words and actions. Even so, we should be able to discern their character to a certain degree by their actions. We should be able to watch the actions of Saul as he repeatedly sloughed off responsibility, and was reluctant to follow the instruction of the Lord, and be able to say that man’s character isn’t what it should be. But the point here is that that’s all we have to go on, whereas the Lord has the ability to see a man’s soul. And while he accommodated himself to the people’s wishes and standards when he selected Saul, he’s going to choose Saul’s replacement in accordance with his own standards. This will be a man after God’s heart, rather than a man after the people’s heart. 

That’s what’s going on with this selection process. The contrast is between men choosing someone whose appearance looks like someone they want as king, and God now choosing a man whose heart looks like someone God wants as king. It’s introducing David as the paradigmatic, archetypal model of a righteous and godly king. Unlike man, who only has the ability to see as far as the outward appearance, God can look to the deepest parts of our soul, and evaluate us accordingly.

Proverbs16:2; Ecclesiastes 12:14; Jeremiah 17:10

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Ages Are Important for Timelines [or: How Old Was Terah When Abram Was Born?]

Constructing a chronology of biblical events is fairly simple—but not always easy. One of the most important aspects of developing a timeline is discovering the anchor dates, but this can be easily thwarted by failing to read the text carefully.

For example, most people assume (and teach) that Abram’s father, Terah, was 70 years old when he fathered Abram (based on a careless reading of Genesis 11:26). However, it’s best to understand Terah as at least 130 years old at the birth of Abram! That interpretation will offset all of the other dates, from the birth of Abram back to creation, by about 60 years.

We arrive at this conclusion for several reasons…

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Devote Yourself to the Public Reading

When it comes to reading the Scriptures, another thing we commonly do today is say “okay, okay, reading the Scripture is important… so let’s all do that—each of us on our own time, by ourselves. Just get alone with God, and have this wonderful personal experience, just you and God.”

What we often don’t remember (or sometimes were never taught), is that the Scriptures were actually written to be read aloud, in community. From Moses, to King Josiah, to Ezra and Nehemiah reading and teaching the word of God to the people, to Jesus reading the scroll in the synagogue, to the apostles sending out letters to various churches to be read aloud before the assembled congregations, the Scriptures were written to be read aloud together with other believers. And we see in Acts 2 that the early church devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, reading the Scriptures together daily.

In 1 Timothy 4:13, Paul calls Timothy to keep this practice going. “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, and teaching.” Sometimes we can be all for that teaching part, but actually then fail to give ourselves, in any meaningful way, to the public reading of Scripture. But what would happen if we actually began to devote ourselves to reading the Scriptures together with our brothers and sisters? What would it look like for our church to be unified in our commitment to come together to hear the Word of God read aloud?

Our church is doing just that on Wednesday evenings. We’re coming together to read the Scripture together—several chapters at a time, sometimes letters in their entirety—and then talk about what we just heard. It’s a little new and different for us, but I’m looking forward to this time of fellowship and growth as we follow Paul’s instruction and devote ourselves to the public reading of Scripture.

The grass withers, and the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever. — Isaiah 40:8

 


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Learning to Follow Christ

Sitting at the feet of Christ, learning from His teaching, is of ultimate and lasting value. But it’s also the only way to pursue a life of holiness that truly honors Christ. We often think of the Great Commission as primarily about evangelism, but that’s only the first part. After we have proclaimed the gospel, and baptized those whom Christ has saved, we then are to begin the task of teaching believers to observe everything Christ has commanded.

And it’s not just a matter of head knowledge. Learning from the Scriptures isn’t merely about gaining understanding; it’s about living fruitful and holy lives. As Psalm 119 says, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to Your word… I have stored up Your Word in my heart, that I might not sin against You.”

This one thing is necessary.

On The Reading of Scripture

One thing have I asked of the Lord, that I will seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple. — Psalm 27:4

I think we’ve lost that fervor for time spent simply inquiring of the Lord, gazing upon his glory, contemplating who He is and what He’s done—learning from our Savior.

Remember the account of Mary and Martha in Luke 10? Jesus and his disciples stop at the house of Martha in the village of Bethany. And we see Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to his teaching, but Martha, Luke says, “was distracted with much serving.” She was preparing and tending to the meal, she gets frustrated with her sister for not helping, and she actually tells Jesus to rebuke Mary.

“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” — Luke 10:40-42

In our churches today, I think we pay lip service to the devotion of Mary, but in reality have too many Marthas, anxious and flustered about so many other things in life. We often feel the need to stay busy, as though if we’re not doing something all the time then we’re not being useful; and then we can start to look down on others who do take the time to just sit at the feet of Christ and hear his instruction. People say “the times have changed; it’s different now; we don’t have time to just stop, and spend time in the Scriptures. There’s too much to be accomplished!”

But Jesus says this one thing is of lasting value—what Mary’s doing.

How can we then justify keeping ourselves so busy, and fretting over temporal matters so much, that we neglect the one thing that Jesus says is necessary—to sit at his feet and hear his instruction?

All throughout Scripture, this is the ultimate priority of the follower of God—to learn His Word. But we’ve lost that. We’ve left that commitment. Now, people are all about what we think, and what we feel about something. But what we think and feel just doesn’t matter if our thoughts and feelings and affections are not aligned with God’s thoughts and affections. So doesn’t it make sense then that we would want to turn to his Word—His revelation of Himself—that we might begin to better understand His thoughts, and His ways, knowing they are far superior to our own, and to allow Him then to mold us and conform us to His likeness by His Word working in us, as Paul says, to bring us to glorify God in our lives more and more?

It’s no wonder that we are easily overwhelmed by the worries of the world and the needs of our every-day life when we’ve unmoored ourselves from the unwavering truth of the Word of God. The psalmist says in Psalm 119:

The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.” And, likewise, Solomon says, “The Lord gives wisdom; and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

See, the way to gain stability, wisdom, peace, contentment, and joy, is to devote yourself to the instruction of the Word of God. Psalm 1 says that to meditate on the instruction of the Lord makes someone like a tree planted by streams of water that produces abundant fruit, and whose leaf doesn’t wither, because it is rooted at a constant, consistent, source of life. And if we are planted at the life-giving water of the Word of God, we can then be fruitful, and we won’t have to fear the times of drought, as Jeremiah says, because we have sent out our roots to that living water—the Lord Himself. How can we neglect that? How did we drift so far from the commitment of God’s people throughout history—the overwhelming passion for this one thing: to listen to the teaching of the Lord!

 


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1 John’s Purpose Statement [conclusion]

I’ve been arguing that the purpose of the book of 1 John is not to give tests by which believers may be assured of their genuine salvation, but rather that the readers may enjoy intimate fellowship with God just as John does (as well as the other apostles), thus completing the apostles’ joy in the fellowship they have with the readers in the common salvation they share (cf. 1 John 1:3)…

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