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Mystery And Wonder: What God Sees
March 17, 1996

1 Samual 16:1-13

They lined up, probably according to age. At Family Camp, we line up according to height so when we count off for teams, we have teams that are somewhat even. But, Jesse lined up his sons according to age. Can't you see Jesse trying so hard to impress the old prophet, Samuel, by showing off his sons-- fluttering about, organizing them: "Stand here. Look sharp. Shoulders back. Comb your hair." It doesn't say that Jesse even knew the reason why Samuel was there to inspect his sons. But, Samuel was one to be reckoned with. When Samuel arrived in Bethlehem, the elders nervously met Samuel and, trembling, asked him if he came peaceably. As one who spoke for God, Samuel was widely known and feared.

So, when Samuel singled out Jesse and his sons, Jesse knew something was in the wind. He obediently lined up his sons, and must have become increasingly agitated as Samuel rejected them one by one. Samuel first thought Eliab was the Lord's anointed, the Lord's chosen one, but the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." One by one they passed by Samuel, and one by one the Lord rejected them. Samuel inspected seven sons and told Jesse, "The Lord has not chosen any of these."

Samuel asked, "Are all your sons here?" Jesse said, "The youngest is not here. He is out in the field watching the sheep." "Bring him here," said Samuel, and when David arrived, the Lord said to Samuel, "Rise and anoint him; for this is the one." I find it interesting that after the lecture from the Lord how Samuel should not look on the outward appearance, but on the heart, David is described by his outward appearance! The author does not tell us what inner qualities led the Lord to choose David, but only that he was handsome in his outward appearance, ruddy with a reddish, healthy, glowing complexion and he had beautiful eyes. But, these are hardly unique qualities of a strong king for a troubled country. Ruddy David was the least likely candidate of Jesse's eight sons to be chosen as king.

Truly, what God sees is not what we see, and the criteria by which God chooses is not always the criteria we use. The divine perception of reality differs significantly from our limited human view. What results is that the playing field is level! Throughout most of history, the firstborn son enjoyed privilege, status, and often an inheritance, simply because he was the oldest. I had an aunt who gave me $3 for Christmas, my brother $2, and my sister $1. Being the firstborn, I thought it was a wonderful system. My brother and sister, oddly enough, did not share my enthusiasm. They never were able to understand it. Perhaps some of you also know firsthand what it's like not to be born first. Books are written about the difficult role of the middle child who is caught between the adored firstborn and the darling baby. Nor, does the baby of the family have it easy. He/she doesn't have nearly the number of pictures in the photo album the older children have, and often doesn't even have a baby book! Hallelujah, what God sees is not the birth order. Birth order doesn't count. Samuel must have really shook up Jesse's family when he violated protocol, and chose the youngest of the family to be anointed king.

Short people, also take heart! Samuel did not choose the tallest. The Lord told Samuel not to give Eliab any extra credit just because he was tall! Why does our culture assume that women prefer men tall, dark, and handsome! I must admit, however, that I was very grateful for my height when I lived in Japan. In Japan-- at least then, I don't know how it is today-- a man was hired to stand on the train and bus platforms, and push people in the door. We were packed in like sardines. How grateful I was for my height because I could look over all the heads, and breathe! The Japanese were very conscious of height. We had an assembly one day in the junior and senior high boys' school where I taught. The speaker was a basketball star from the United States. When he entered the hall, a buzz went through the assembly. During lunch, I asked the basketball player if he noticed the reaction he received when he entered the room. Of course, he had. I said, "I suspect you thought they were reacting because you are black; but, they didn't notice your color. They watched you duck your head to get through the door, and said takai na, which means, `Man, is he tall!'" It's all where you are coming from, isn't it.

God doesn't see short or tall, nor does God see skin color, but we still do. A study done in Philadelphia during the wave of remortgaging a few years ago found that African-American homeowners were able to refinance their mortgages only one-third as often as white homeowners. Women customers will pay more, on average, for auto repairs than male customers. It's still true in these enlightened times that people in the United States are discriminated against because of their color, sex, national origin-- judged on outward appearances.

What do you see? Here is an old poem which I have slightly adapted .

When the other fellow takes a long time to do something, he's slow;

But, when I take a long time to do something, I am thorough.

When the other fellow goes ahead and does something without being told,

he's overstepping his bounds;

But, when I go ahead and do something without being told, that's initiative.

When the other fellow strongly states his side of the question, he's bull-headed;

But, when I strongly state my side of the question, I'm being firm.

When the other fellow overlooks a few rules of etiquette, he's rude;

But, when I skip a few of the rules, I'm uninhibited.

When the other fellow gets ahead, he has advantages like affirmative action;

But, when I manage to get ahead, it's not because I have an advantage by being white and male, it's hard work that did it.

But, what we see is not what God sees. What we see through eyes of prejudice, or our cultural ways of lining up based on birth order or height, or the suspicious method of evaluation we use where we just happen to come out looking better than the other fellow, is not what God sees. God doesn't see birth order, tall or short, big or little. God doesn't see skin color. God doesn't see what we call handsome or ugly. God doesn't look on the outward appearance but on the heart; on what is inside a person, not what is on the outside.

Listen again to the story. A once powerful king Saul is about to be toppled. Older, privileged, firstborn sons are passed over. Little David, out doing menial tasks in the field, is anointed as the new king. God sent Samuel down to Bethlehem to do a job-- find a new king. But the prophet, seeing only surface appearances, trapped in conventional social arrangements, picked Eliab, the firstborn. So, God spoke to Samuel and chose, but not the person our history and experience would lead us to expect. God's pointing finger moved past the firstborn, then to the next son, and the next, and finally out towards the fields, out towards little David.

God chooses the little ones, the marginalized, the disempowered, disestablished, disenfranchised. In the words of Paul, God confounds the wisdom of the wise by choosing those whom the world regards as small and of no account to change the world. (1 Corinthians 1:27) Yes, God's ways are full of mystery and wonder.

Can you see what God sees? Have you misjudged others based on outward appearances, put people in boxes, and evaluated others and yourself as the world sees, not as God sees? The Lord looks on the heart. See what God sees.

© 1996 Douglas I. Norris