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Online Text Sermon - God Looking on the Heart, 1 Samuel ch.16 v.7

PreacherRev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness
Sermon TitleGod Looking on the Heart
Text1 Samuel ch.16 v.7
Sermon ID468

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"But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance but the Lord looketh on the heart" (1 Samuel 16, 7).

Especially those words at the end of the verse: "the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance but the Lord looketh on the heart" (text).

If you are at all aware of what is being discussed just now by international politicians you will have become familiar with the expression 'regime change'. I suppose it has been coined by the politicians in America. They appear to believe that the time has come to topple the power of Mr. Saddam Hussein who is the President of Iraq. That country is, of course, the same country as the ancient Babylon or Babylonia. Mr. Bush in America and others are talking about 'regime change' and all the political debate just now is about how to do it, and whether we should do it - whether it is moral to proceed with force to bring about a 'regime change'. It is not my place to comment. You can think as you wish on the matter but I raise that subject because it is precisely what we have here in this chapter - regime change. The difference in this case is that it is God who brings about the change. Let me explain.

We are talking here about God's people - Israel. They, at this time, had a king. He was their very first king. They never had a king until they got him. His name was Saul. Saul was a very handsome man, taller by a head and shoulders than most of his contemporaries. He was a very gifted and courageous man but God was removing him. He was rejected by God from being king. Not because he lacked courage as I said, nor because he lacked intelligence or leadership or appeal of many kinds. The reason for God's rejection of Saul was that he had disobeyed God. The Lord is not as interested in the details of our lives as in whether we will obey Him or not.

Saul was commissioned to fight against the Amalekites. They were a barbarous tribe or little nation which had troubled Israel in its history. God had told Saul to wipe them out. Saul had done so with this exception, he had spared the king and the best of the sheep and of the cattle. So, although he had ninety-nine percent obeyed God, he had in one percent disobeyed. That was very displeasing to God. God doesn't ask for us to do some of what He says but He requires us to do all of what He says. Samuel therefore was commanded to confront the king with his disobedience. Saul, like you and me, was fertile in excuses. He said it was the people who wanted to spare the best of the sheep and oxen to sacrifice, as he said, to the Lord. The motive behind the disobedience, in other words, was a good one, said Saul. How like him we are at times. But it did not wear with Samuel and he announced to the king a great principal, which we would do well to remember all the days of our lives. Samuel said to the king - "Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft" (1 Samuel 15, 22-23). From that moment God was looking for a replacement for Saul.

The replacement as you would have noticed in the reading was to be David, although God did not yet announce it in that bold and clear way. What He did do was He told the prophet Samuel, whose duty it was to see to such matters, to go to this little village called Bethlehem. What a name that is in history! Bethlehem - where our Lord was born. There he was told to make a visit to the family of Jesse. God said He would point out one of Jesse's sons and Samuel was to anoint him with oil which would be poured on the head of the prospective king. It was a symbol and a sign of the anointing of special grace given to him for his work. You would have noticed that when this happened to David, the Spirit of the Lord came upon him. The oil was a symbol of divine provision, divine enabling by the Holy Spirit.

As we look at this wonderful and interesting passage of Scripture, we see Jesse and his sons lined up. None of them at this stage knew who the future king would be, not even Samuel because Samuel only knew what the Lord spoke into his ear. The Lord would whisper things into the ears of the old prophets which other people didn't know and couldn't hear. Jesse and, I presume, his wife, with their sons - these grown, handsome, vigorous men - waited to hear who would be the next king. All had to be done somewhat quietly in case king Saul, hearing of it, would kill Samuel and the others. It was done at God's command in this quiet way in Bethlehem, Saul not having yet heard. Along comes the eldest son - Eliab. Samuel is impressed with him - a tall, broad, handsome, vigorous, gifted, personable young man! "Surely the Lord's anointed is before him" (v. 6). But God rejected Eliab because "man looketh on the outward appearance but the Lord looketh on the heart" (text). The next son comes along and again Samuel thinks it must surely be the chosen man. Not so, says God, for the same reason. The third one comes along, and then all seven of the sons pass by and none of them - not one - is chosen by God. Then Samuel said to the father, Jesse, "Are here all thy children?" (v.11). Jesse replied, "There remaineth yet the youngest, and, behold, he keepeth the sheep" (v.11). "Send and fetch him: for we will not sit down till he come hither" (v.11), said Samuel. David - a good looking, well-favoured, talented young man with a ruddy complexion - is introduced to Samuel. God whispers in the ear of the prophet, "Arise, anoint him: for this is he" (v.11). It is done and David, eventually, by divine providence, enters into the court service of the king (although the king did not know at this time what was to be the future of all this). David was launched on his preparatory years for being king of Israel. Regime change - gradually, divinely accomplished.

My concern is with this text: "the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance but the Lord looketh on the heart" (text). There are three things there. First of all notice, we are told that God's judgement is entirely different from the judgements of men. The next thing we are told is that men judge by outward things. Then, most important of all, we are told that God judges, not at all by outward things, but by the heart.



In Bible language the word 'heart' means the soul. We know that the Bible's description of a human being is that we are not simply body but also soul. This is the difference between angels, human beings and animals. There is a sort of gradation - God has made these three different forms of created beings. Angels have a soul but no body; they are non-physical. Animals have a body but no soul; they are purely physical. When they are dead they are finished. Human beings are intermediate between angels and animals. We have both a body and a soul. The soul, of course, cannot be seen but it lives in the body and it operates on all the faculties of the mind, emotions, memory. If you want a somewhat crude illustration you could think of a person sitting at a Word Processor or keyboard with monitor. The soul is all day long sitting in front of the computer which is our brain and all the faculties that we have; the soul is, as it were, touching the keys and telling you what to do. If I want to go to the door, it's my soul telling the brain to move in that direction. If I want to write a letter it's the soul telling the computer in the brain that you must get paper and pen, an envelope and a stamp. It's the soul that is doing all these things. The body doesn't do all these things in and of itself; it is the soul which is doing it. The heart is the real you.

I would like to put it another way for the young people so they can understand too. When you go into somebody's house as a visitor or a stranger, you knock on the door. The door is opened and you are taken into the front room or the guest room. This is a room with a nice carpet and curtains where the family sit when they have visitors. It is not an every day room - they don't sit there very often. When there are visitors you all sit on the edge of your seat with a cup of tea and talk politely. The children are well-mannered. But when the guests and the visitors eventually leave, you don't go back to the guest room; the family goes into the family room. Everybody there relaxes. I use that illustration because the heart is the centre of the real personality. We can all put on appearances for one another - what we sometimes call a public face. We are all good-mannered when we have to be but the heart is the real you, the person you really are, not the person that you pretend to be in the company of other people. It is not the public face but the private face which is the real you. That is what the Bible means by the 'heart'.

If you want to change the illustration, you can think of an onion with its multiple skins. When you peel all the skins off, you get to the heart. There are all sorts of things we judge by as men. As human beings we ask how much money people have - we can judge people by that, or, how popular a person is or what kind of job he has. Is he a professional or has he had university training? We are impressed if someone has gone to Eton or Cambridge and think we had better be careful what we say to them. We judge according to outward things because we can't read men's hearts.

Another way of putting it is to think of the Temple of Jerusalem. It had an outer court, a court for the priests and then a holy of holies. The real centre of it was the holy of holies; you couldn't go any further than that. The heart is, as to say, the holy of holies of the human being: the human being as he or she truly is in their real character. You and I are very clever at concealing our real character when we are in the company of others. Some are better at doing this than others. Up to a point I suppose it's only legitimate we should. You can't immediately give yourself away; with strangers you must hold something back until you have assessed what sort of people you are dealing with. But real friendship and real fellowship means you share the innermost things of your heart with one another - you introduce people into your innermost closet as it were, into your soul. So we are being told here what the heart is. I give you some texts to show you how important the heart is in the thinking of the Bible. Christ said, "For from within, out of the heart of men" that sin comes (Mark 7, 21). "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life" (Proverbs 4, 23): the way you are going to live your life, the one you will marry, the job you will do, the style of your life, the way you will die - it all comes out of the heart; that's the fountain of life. "Give me thine heart" (Proverbs 23, 26), says God.

The difference between one human being and another, as God sees us, has little or nothing to do with the size of our house, the kind of car we drive, how much money we have in our pockets, the job we do, or any of these outward things. It is not these things that God is looking at; He is looking at something else - the heart. The supreme issue with God is - What sort of a heart have you got? Because human beings cannot see the heart as God can - but only go to the heart in a measure through outward things - human beings are very good at disguising their hearts. We can disguise what is in our hearts with our clothes, accent, jewellery or whatever. God goes straight to the centre, right to the closet of the soul which is the thing He calls here the 'heart'. This is why it is so important for men and women to come to church. It is only as we come to the presence of God that we learn the difference between the outward things of life and our heart. Nobody else will tell you that. The world is only interested in the peripheral things, the externals of life: how much money, how good looking, what perfume, and what hairstyle. That's all the world is interest in but God is interested in the real you. In a sense that is profoundly disturbing because you can't hide yourself from God as you can from men.

He knows what we are without being confused by those disguises we are apt to put on. In another way this is profoundly comforting because it means that before the Almighty's gaze, all men are level. Whether they be rich or poor God cares nothing. Whether they be clever or dull, He cares nothing. Whether they have had an exquisite education at Eton, Harrow, Oxford or Cambridge - He cares nothing. What He wants to know is what you are like in your soul and in your heart. You may be a sweeper of streets or a cleaner of rooms or a ploughboy, but if your heart is right God is satisfied. If you have all the other things and your heart is not right then God is not satisfied, and that was the trouble with Saul. Saul was very handsome, very impressive, very personable, very talented in many ways - brave, courageous, intelligent - but his heart was wrong. This is why we must keep on coming to church and reading the Bible because only this Book tells us these things in plain language which we can understand.


What is God looking for when He looks at our heart? What is He searching for? Let me come back to David for a moment. It is very surprising, isn't it, that God should have chosen David. He was the very youngest. Each of the seven sons was paraded before Samuel. One-by-one God said they were not the one He had chosen. One by one these very choice young men were set aside. This young boy who was doing nothing more than looking after the sheep in the fields - an insignificant job you might say - he was brought in. Immediately God said that he was the one - "Get out your oil and pour it on his head; he is the one." It just goes to show how true it is - as appears in my text - that God doesn't judge according to the outward appearance but according to the heart.

There was something God saw in David that He didn't see in these others and we know what it was, don't we. It was David's love for Jesus Christ, David's love for the Lord, David's attachment to the truth of God's Word. If you want an exquisite commentary on this point read again Psalm 119 where David is telling us what he thinks of the Bible. "O how love I thy law! It is my meditation all the day. Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation" (Psalm 119, 97-99). Psalm 119 is the longest Psalm with one hundred and seventy-six verses in it and they are all to do with one subject - the Bible: David's love of the Bible.

God saw that. He saw that David, though very young and with only experience of looking after sheep, was right in His sight. We call that spiritual character. My dear friends, that is what God is looking for in you and in me - spiritual character. We sometimes give it other names - holiness, godliness; it is that disposition of soul whereby God is all we want and other things are very subordinate. You know that that is not at all the way people are by nature. When David came to the camp and heard this Philistine shouting and challenging the armies of Israel he referred to him as "this uncircumcised Philistine" (1 Samuel 17, 36). David's brothers very much resented him coming in and they snubbed him. David said, "What have I now done? Is there not a cause?" (1 Samuel 17, 29). They were jealous of the honour that God put upon this young boy. If you are a true Christian you must be prepared for that. Those who are not spiritual, who are not godly, they are jealous of spiritual character in the Lord's people and they resent the obvious fellowship which spiritual people have with God. They don't have it and they sense that by instinct and they know that you do have it and they don't like that. This runs all the way through the Bible. Take for instance the case of Cain and Abel; they were brothers. You might have thought that God would treat them exactly the same but you know that Cain offered his sacrifice and God rejected it; Abel offered his sacrifice and God was delighted with it (Genesis 4). Why? What was the difference? One man had a heart which was right with God, the other didn't.

When you come down a little later to Moses you have the same thing in principal. He could have been prince to the Pharaoh of his day. He had a fabulous education. He had the opportunity to become, probably, even the Pharaoh of Egypt with all the power and wealth that that entailed upon him. We are told about Moses that he refused to be the son of Pharaoh's daughter: "Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season" (Hebrews 11, 25). His heart was set upon God, upon Christ and upon heaven. His heart was set upon truth and holiness. He wanted to be associated with the slaves who he saw being killed every day as they were beaten by their taskmasters. Moses said they were his people and that he was one of them. That is how the Lord's people are with one another. They may come from different nations, they may look a little different in their faces, the colour of their skin may vary a little, their national background may be very different from our own, but when they are the Lord's people they recognise one another. They see this spiritual character in one another and they immediately know they belong together. On the other hand, people may be born in the same house and go to the same church but if one of them is a Christian and the other isn't they will never have fellowship one with another, no matter how familiar they are with all the forms, styles and procedures which they have known from childhood. No, it is a spiritual thing; it is of the heart, the soul and of what the Bible calls the 'inner man'.

I say again my dear friends, what the Lord is looking for in you and me is spiritual character. What sort of a man, woman or child are you? It is true also of children. Even from childhood Timothy knew the holy Scriptures. From childhood Samuel had loved God. It is possible for young children to have this disposition of love for God. Many, many young people in the Bible are notable for their spiritual character and godliness.

May I ask what sort of a heart you have? I am not asking you to tell me what degrees or qualifications you have; I am not asking if you are capable of inventing some grand machine - I am asking what sort of a heart you have? Do you love God or do you come to church to fill some time on the Lord's Day? Will you be going back home to switch on the television and enjoy the world or is the Bible your life, is Christ your ambition, is heaven your desire? What sort of a heart do you have dear friend?

Listen to my text again: "the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance but the Lord looketh on the heart" (text). That is what He is looking at and upon when you and I come to this place to worship Him. Out come the Psalm books. When we sing are we singing as unto God? Then we pray. Are we concentrating on God - or are we, in our heads, making the dinner and thinking of tomorrow's duties? God forgive us - we have all done that, myself as well. But those who worship God acceptably must do it in spirit and in truth.


In the light of what we are here told we must watch and look after our own heart. If God looks on the heart then how diligently we must look after it. If someone gave you a gold coin worth two thousand pounds you would hold it tightly. You are not likely to drop it on the floor or forget it. If you were given a cheque worth a million pounds you would hold it tightly; you wouldn't let a gust of wind blow it down the street. Do you realise the most precious thing you possess is your soul, your heart. It is more precious than anything else you will ever have. All you possess or ever will possess is as nothing by comparison with the preciousness of your heart and of your soul. The text I am hinting at is, "What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (Mark 8, 36). God is looking at the soul, at the heart, at the real you. Therefore, my dear friends, it stands to reason by the most elementary mathematics that we therefore must treat the soul as the best thing we've got. It's not the bicycle that I have which is so important, it's not the car, house or garden, the fruit trees, bank balance or insurance - it's my heart! That is what really matters: is my heart right with God? If it is, then all these other things are as nothing - like bubbles blown by a child from a pipe. But if we know the value of our soul then we should look after our soul supremely and pre-eminently all the days we live.

There are three things I have to say about the soul.

The first thing is this. Our soul must be put right by God. I don't think I need to labour the point here that the soul by birth is not right; we are all wicked, we are all sinners, we are all undone, we are all lost. As a man who buys a new car - gleaming and beautiful - but the manufacturer has failed to put proper brakes in it. A number of accidents occur with this particular model. It goes very fast and is very economical but the braking system is not good enough. The manufacturer makes a public announcement - "All these particular cars have to be returned to the manufacturer." He has to put them right. So it is with our soul and that is what we call conversion: we have to go back to our Maker to have our soul put right. The heart needs to be put right and only the Maker can do it. You can't do it yourself. The minister can't do it. A priest can't do it. The bishop can't do it. The General Assembly can't do it. Nobody can do it but God. That is called conversion, the new birth or regeneration. All these terms amount to much the same thing in general speech.

The second thing I say about the soul is that we need to look after it with great care. Watch your Bible reading, watch your prayer time. Tell me, did you read your Bible this morning? Were you on your knees in prayer this morning? If not on your knees were you at least praying to God? Did He see you waiting upon Him in prayer or, was it just one of these terrible hurried occasions between tidying up and washing clothes. That is not to look after the soul; that is not to keep our heart with all diligence. There is no simple solution for these things, even in the twenty-first century with all our wonderful gadgetry. The old-fashioned method is the only one: day-by-day in prayer and Bible reading, watching ourselves, what we see, what we read and what we say. If we have some bad friends, don't let them spoil us. All of these things the Bible requires us to do: "Keep thy heart with all diligence" (Proverbs 4, 23). If you discover in yourself you have sin on your conscience then confess it to God. If you feel yourself backsliding away from God, come back to Him.

The third thing, of course, is to cultivate our love for one another - to cultivate our fellowship with the Lord's people. Don't make yourself a stranger to the Lord's people - love them, they are His; they are your brothers and sisters. Very soon we shall spend eternity together in the world of spirits above. Let us therefore, "love one another with a pure heart fervently" (1 Peter 1, 22).

I have to point out that David, whose heart was so right before God, was soon persecuted by Saul. The remaining chapters of 1 Samuel deal with the persecution of David by Saul. You must expect that; spiritual people whose hearts are right are going to be hated by those who hearts are not.

So, my dear friends, be of good cheer and rejoice that if your heart is right with God He knows and His blessing will be upon you, not only for your lifetime but for all eternity.

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