In a recent post on King David, we saw that (unlike humans) God looks on the heart… because he can. The contrast of that familiar verse (1 Samuel 16:7) is not: man rarely looks at the heart, but he really should more often. The point is that man is only able to look as far as the outward appearance; but God is able to examine the thoughts and intentions and character of the inner man. You may want to read that article before going on.
So then, the prophet Samuel has been sent to anoint Saul’s replacement—to find the man that God had chosen to be king over Israel. Jesse has seven of his sons come before Samuel; and each time, the Lord tells Samuel no, that’s not him. Samuel thus says to Jesse, “the Lord has not chosen these; are these all the sons you have?” Jesse explains that there remains the youngest, but he’s keeping the sheep. So Samuel has him send for David, and verse twelve says that David “was ruddy, had beautiful eyes, and was of good appearance.”
Now, wait a second. Why does it say David was handsome? Why does it draw attention to his appearance? Folks generally react to that revelation for two basic reasons. First: we’ve been taught our entire lives that David was a scrawny, unfortunate looking preteen. And second: we’ve assumed and read right into the text a contrast between his good-looking brothers, and the homely-looking David—who gets a pass only because, although Samuel withdrew in disdain, the Lord was paying attention solely to David’s heart.
We’ve often heard that David was a “redheaded, snot-nosed little kid.” But that’s not the picture Scripture gives at all. He’s a young man. And it doesn’t say, “unlike his brothers, he wasn’t pretty to look at.” He’s much younger—and evidently not as physically imposing as Eliab—but he nevertheless is physically appealing.
“Ruddy,” by the way, doesn’t necessarily mean red-haired. It doesn’t say anything about his hair at all. It’s much more likely that it’s talking about his skin—his complexion. And some of the translations that render it as “healthy” are closer to the idea. It means a glowing, healthy youthfulness—not redheaded.
We tend to assume a contrast between his physical appearance and his heart, but that’s not really what seems to be going on. God has just said that man only looks “to the eyes,” but the Lord looks all the way to the heart; but then it draws attention to David’s “beautiful eyes” (meaning he had bright eyes, he was healthy and vibrant, he was handsome). The point is not that although he was scrawny and ugly, he had a good heart.
“He has a really great personality though.”
The point is that David is the whole package. His youth is a problem—Jesse brings attention to it, and then Saul in the next chapter points it out as a problem for the battle—but his appearance wasn’t anything unfortunate.
And he wasn’t necessarily small and scrawny either. I don’t think that Saul, who was physically impressive, was being a blundering idiot when he offered his armor to David. And when David put Saul’s armor and sword on, the reason he gave for not using it is not that he was tripping and falling because of how oversized it was for him, but rather that David had not tested them—he hadn’t trained in them.
Samuel is introducing David to us as the paradigmatic, archetypal model of a righteous and godly king—with exemplary features, both physical and spiritual. Put aside your preconceived notions about David. We’re learning about the real man—the 11th-century shepherd who became the most powerful military leader in Israel… The king whose descendent will sit on the throne of Israel and rule all nations with a rod of iron, establishing perfect and everlasting justice and peace over all earth—far as the curse is found.
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