Those familiar with the story of 1 Samuel know King David as “a man after God’s own heart.” Alistair Begg helps us consider how this description speaks more to God’s character than to David’s. David was not anointed as king because of his personal qualities. Rather, God chose him according to His electing love and perfect will. Many years later, God would choose another King to come from Bethlehem—one even greater, who would be the Savior of His people.
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Well, I invite you to turn with me to 1 Samuel and to 16, and we’ll read the passage that we read this morning, from the first verse to the thirteenth verse:
“The Lord said to Samuel, ‘How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.’ And Samuel said, ‘How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me.’ And the Lord said, ‘Take a heifer with you and say, “I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.” And invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do. And you shall anoint for me him whom I declare to you.’ Samuel did what the Lord commanded and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling and said, ‘Do you come peaceably?’ And he said, ‘Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice.’ And he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
“When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him.’ 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 sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’ Then Jesse called Abinadab and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, ‘Neither has the Lord chosen this one.’ Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, ‘Neither has the Lord chosen this one.’ And Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, ‘The Lord has not chosen these.’ Then Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Are all your sons here?’ And he said, ‘There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep.’ And Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Send and get him, for we will not sit down till he comes here.’ And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the Lord said, ‘Arise, anoint him, for this is he.’ Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah.”
Now, Lord, as we come to your Word, help us, we pray, that we might listen and understand and believe and obey. For Jesus’ sake we ask it. Amen.
Well, I welcome those of you who were other places this morning and now have joined us. We resumed our studies in 1 Samuel at the beginning of chapter 16, and we made our way, partway along, until we came to verse 7, and particularly to the very familiar statement that is contained in that verse. And we began by recognizing the fact that unlike human beings, unlike us, God is not impressed, nor is God deceived, by outward appearances. In fact, we can say quite categorically that external appearance neither qualifies a person or disqualifies a person; in the perspective of God, it simply doesn’t matter. It doesn’t mean that it is irrelevant, because God has fashioned our bodies and given us an appearance. But in terms of his calling and of his purposes, it really is of little impact at all.
We then went on to say of that verse that the way in which it is translated variously takes us beyond that straightforward understanding of things. And I was honest enough to tell you that I was influenced in this in my study as a result of the particular work of a professor from Australia who has been invited and accepted an invitation to come to Basics in May of this coming year. And I have asked if he would give three addresses from the Old Testament, because he’s absolutely masterful in his study of the Old Testament.
And as I thought about this, I had a sort of minor recurring chill up my back and a little bit of a tremor, because it made me think again of an event that happened years and years ago now, when, as with the influence of Woodhouse in this talk, there had been the influence of James Packer in another talk. And I was preparing during the week to speak on the whole question of man’s responsibility in faith and God’s sovereignty in electing people to salvation. And I worked pretty hard on it, and part of what I did in the process of that was to read a book by Jim Packer called Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God.
Well, I got back here in the afternoon, in the late afternoon, and took time to prepare for the service, and was going through my notes, and the more I went through my notes, the more I just had this creeping paralysis, because I realized, “This is Jim Packer. This is not me! I should just read the book!” And so, I was having a panic in my study, and then I thought, “Well, I could phone him up and confess. That would help, you know; it would make it a little easier.” So, I’d never spoken to him before, never spoken to him since. But I got him on the telephone. And I said, “Dr. Packer,” I said, “you won’t know me; my name is Alistair Begg. I’ve got to give a talk this evening on evangelism and the place of God and his electing purposes, and I was reading your book during the week. And goodness, your book is so good that I’m pretty well doing it verbatim. I might as well read the book. What in the world am I going to do?” He’s very English, and he said, “It is all yours. None of it is really mine. We cast our bread on the waters, and we see how it returns. Preach with freedom, brother,” he said. “Go ahead.”
Well, I confess that because I thought, “Golly, I’m gonna have to get Woodhouse on the phone as well, you know. And before long, I’m just gonna spend the afternoons phoning people up, confessing.” So, if that goes down in history as the Packer talk, this is now officially the Woodhouse talk. Okay? Any part of this that you can’t understand, blame on him, and all of the parts that make perfect sense, you can assume that that is my ability to parse it, all right? You can reverse that, and you’ll be on track. All right.
So, what Woodhouse has done is provided a more literal translation of the closing part of verse 7. And this is how he translates it directly from the Hebrew: “For the Lord sees not as man sees, for man sees according to the eyes, but the Lord sees according to the heart.” Now, you’ll notice that that is different from the way in which it is here in your English text: “The Lord sees not as [a] man sees,” looking on the outward, “but the Lord looks on the heart.” And the paraphrase or the translation that is provided is different, saying that God sees “according to the heart.” In other words, we see things with the eyes (which, of course, inevitably we do), and God sees things “according to the heart”—that is, according to his heart. Which means that God views everything according to his own intentions, according to his own purposes. In fact, if you like, the point of view of God is determined by his will. That’s why I began in Ephesians chapter 1: that God has had a purpose from all of eternity, and everything that is taking place and unfolding in the world is ultimately according to the eternal counsel of his will.
And so, when it comes to this matter of setting apart this new king, he sees, then, the situation as it unfolds in light of these matters. And “the fact of the matter is,” the bottom line of the matter is, “that Eliab—for all of his good looks—was not the one” that God, according to his heart, “intended to make king.” He wasn’t. And that’s why he was set aside. In other words, “God did not [then] see Eliab in the same way that Samuel … saw [Eliab],” because Samuel saw Eliab “with his eyes.” God looked on Eliab according to his heart.
Now, that helps to explain—at least it helps me to understand—the concluding phrase in verse 1, which I mentioned again this morning as we went along, where the verb here that is translated “provided” in the ESV—“for I have provided for myself a king among his sons”—is actually, in Hebrew, the verb “to see.” All right? So that the translation would then read, “I have seen for myself a king among” these men, or among Jesse’s sons. All right?
This, then, is actually in accord with… And you need to turn back a couple of pages to what we considered when we were in chapter 13 and the memorable verse—namely, verse 14: “The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people.” All right? So, that statement “a man after his own heart.” If you’ve been around the Bible any length of time at all and heard this verse expounded any time at all, you will know that it is usually expounded in such a way as to suggest that what is described there is “a particularly godly man, a man with a heart like God’s.” But in actual fact, what it means is that the man is “a man of God’s own choosing.” He is a man after God’s heart. In other words, it’s not that the man’s heart is full of God, but that it is God’s heart is focused on the man.
Now, those of you who want to just press a button here for a moment can do so, because I gotta just mention one other thing—and we have linguists here who can check me and help me. But Woodhouse makes the point that, in actual fact, in relationship to that verse, what he’s saying is that the notion of being after God’s own heart, after God’s heart, or according to his own heart—Woodhouse says that he reckons that “after” or “according to” qualifies the verb “sought out” rather than qualifying the noun “man.” Now, for those of you who pressed the button, don’t worry; we’ll be coming back in a moment. All right?
What would that sound like, then, in English? How would it differ? This is how it would read: “According to his own heart, the Lord has sought out a man”—thereby radically altering the notion. Because the notion is, again, that somehow or another, God is looking for a very special man in whose heart there is a particular affection for God. But actually, “‘A man after God’s own heart’ is … talking”—I don’t want to be redundant with repetition—but “is … talking about the place the man has in God’s heart rather than the place God has in … man’s heart.” You get that? Okay?
Now, it changes things dramatically, doesn’t it? Because what it means is that God’s choice is not on account of any peculiar fondness that he has for this individual—not because he has a particular liking to David, a liking that he doesn’t share for the other brothers, or that David has a peculiar and special quality which makes him attractive to God. It doesn’t emphasize that. What it emphasizes is the fact that God, because he is God and because he is sovereign, is able to divinely select the one who is to be the king. And what it has to deal with is the fact of God’s electing love rather than some notion of the suitability of a particular individual.
After one of the services this morning, somebody came to me and asked if I had paid attention to another verse which fits with this, and that is in 2 Samuel and in chapter 7. And you may like just to turn there and look at it, because it was a good reminder to me, and I went and checked again afterwards. In 2 Samuel 7:21, David, reflecting on all of God’s goodness and kindness and provision and so on, he reflects on all that God has done for him. And then, in verse 21, he says, “Because of your promise, and according to your own heart, you have brought about all this greatness, to make your servant know it.”
Now, I think that is wonderfully helpful, because I know that it sounds like special pleading back here in chapter 16; and it’s not something that I’m fond of, and it’s not something that I’m naturally drawn to. I don’t feel particularly comfortable going with Woodhouse, except that his argument is compelling. The fact is that every other commentary, nobody touches it. And that’s a little disconcerting!
But nevertheless, as you think this out—and I think that some of you are nodding at least in the right direction—you realize, then, that this phrase here “‘according’”—in 21—“‘according to your own heart’ … is [actually] the same expression as ‘after his own heart’ in … 13:14.” Right? The preposition is the same. Whether it is “after” or whether it is “according to,” whether it is translated either way, it’s the same. So the only difference in that expression in this verse here, 2 Samuel 7:21, and back in 1 Samuel 13:14, the only difference is in the pronouns, so that in 2 Samuel, “according to your own heart,” and in 1 Samuel 13, “according to his heart.” But both pronouns refer to God.
And in both cases, they are making the point that it is on account of the heart of God. And because the heart of God contains the purposes and the plans of God which are grounded in his being from all eternity, it is inconceivable that anything would unfold in any other way than this way, even though it is true at one level to say, “God sees the heart of man”—of course he does—“and we are unable to see that, because we make superficial judgments.” That is without question. The real question is, is there validity in the point that is being made here? And obviously, I believe there is; otherwise I wouldn’t come back to it again this evening.
So, what we’re discovering is that the new king was going to be one whom God had sought out according to his own heart. And so, God is able to guide his servant Samuel in this way. He sees with his heart, and he sees that David is his man who will fulfill his intentions and his purposes. The brothers? I don’t know. It would be interesting to get a chance to talk to them and see what they made of this little encounter—how, for a brief moment, they thought they were just about to have a very noble journey in life, and then, “No, thank you, you can sit down for a moment, and so can you, and so can the other five of you as well; you can all sit down.”
But you see, they weren’t rejected because they looked too good or because they didn’t look bad enough. Because there’s a really perverse way of understanding this, and that is, “God does not look on the outward appearances; he doesn’t like tall, handsome people. So try and be as ugly and as short as you possibly can, and there’s a good chance that you have a place in the economy of God.” That is incredible, that kind of reasoning, isn’t it? In fact, you couldn’t even call it reasoning. No, the brothers weren’t rejected because they looked too good or because they didn’t look bad enough. It was because none of them was the one the Lord had seen. Back in verse 1: “And the Lord has seen for himself a king among the sons.”
So, God’s electing love is, as I say, grounded in himself, in his perfect and sovereign will.
I alluded to this verse this morning. It’s always been a great verse. I can remember going to bed of a night on a Sunday evening and hearing people that have come home after church starting to discuss theology, and this is the first time I ever remember hearing this verse. Because somebody said, “Well, what are you going to do with Deuteronomy 7:7?” I was listening from upstairs in my bedroom, and the person was quoting this: “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all the peoples, but it [was] because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord … brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery,” and so on. In other words, it was according to his heart. It was according to his purpose.
This is why, you see, we have an explanation for the choosing of Israel: according to God’s heart. He chose Israel to be his people. He chose David to be his king. He chose Jerusalem to be his city. And all that is represented in that is fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ, who is his chosen servant. If you ever wonder how the bits of the Bible fit together, it’s impossible to understand it unless you step back far enough from it, unless we step back far enough from it, and say to ourselves, “Isn’t this amazing, that from the very ground of eternity, God was at work in this way?” All of his purposes find their fulfillment in him.
Do you remember they said from below the cross, “Come down from there if you are the chosen one of God”? Nobody looked less like the chosen one of God than that mangled body hanging on that cross. How could it ever be? What purpose was there in this? Well, the purpose of salvation for men and women.
Now, we really have only just got to verse 11, haven’t we? I’m just thinking about the text. Because we don’t even get a mention of David yet. He comes in a moment or two. There he is in verse 13. The first time the name David appears in the Bible is right here in 1 Samuel 16:13. There’s one for you when you’re next playing Trivial Pursuit—except that there’s nothing trivial about it at all. It’s quite wonderful.
God did not choose this new king because of his personal qualities. He is, as we see from this, not the obvious choice. The obvious choice was made immediately, spontaneously, and incorrectly by Samuel back up in verse 6. And now, having run through the entire retinue, they’ve all come down the runway, as it were—they’ve all stepped forward and given him a chance to look at them all—and they’ve all been rejected, and so he’s up a bit of a gum tree. Because the Lord has given him the instruction to go down, to bring together the sons of Jesse, because the Lord has seen a king among the sons of Jesse. And all the sons of Jesse have shown up, apparently, and we ain’t got no king.
And so he says, “Well, can I just ask you…” Can you imagine him feeling a little hot under his collar? And he said, “Are all your sons here?” See, maybe with a rising inflection, you know, with his voice getting a little higher: “Are all your sons here?” And then you got that amazing response, don’t you? “Well, we’ve got a wee guy. He keeps the sheep, but I didn’t even think to have him. There didn’t seem to be any point at all in making him a part of this.” See, he sees with his eyes; God sees according to his heart.
So Samuel says, “No, I think it’s very important that you bring him here. In fact, we won’t wrap things up until he gets here.” And he sent and brought him in. And there’s something of an irony in this, isn’t there, that we even have a description of him in this way? Doesn’t say anything about his height. The stature of Eliab was there. The stature of Saul was there. There’s nothing about his height, but we do have a picture of him. It’s almost ironic: “Appearance is irrelevant—but let me tell you, he’s pretty good-looking!” It’s sort of funny, almost, isn’t it? And “he was ruddy.” That says something, I think, about his complexion; he was light complected, and so, when he’d got out with his sheep, then his face took on a hue. And he “had beautiful eyes and [he] was handsome. And the Lord said, ‘Arise, [and] anoint him, for this is he.’”
One of my friends in Scotland is a photographer, and I asked for a picture of a little boy. There he is. Now, you just let him sit there and think. They go out and they get him. He wouldn’t be wearing that coat, of course, but he might have looked just a little bit like this. He’s got nice eyes. Attractive looking. He’s good in his appearance. Attractive-looking boy. But hardly someone you would think of for a king. That’s exactly the point. He’s God’s choice.
And so, the anointing takes place. And the Spirit of God comes to empower David. And there in Bethlehem, away from the milieu of life, in relative obscurity, in the company of, essentially, a select group and largely his own family, what has taken place—although hidden from understanding to the physical eye—what has taken place is an event that, although now unreported, will one day spread far and wide, forcing us to say, “Who would have imagined that such an unlikely boy in relative obscurity would have such a role?” Until you fast-forward a thousand years, and still in Bethlehem. And two hundred years before the thousand years have elapsed, Micah writes, “But you, … Bethlehem …, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,” to even be included in the group, “from you shall come forth for me one who is to be [the] ruler in Israel”—not because of the quality of David but because of the sovereignty of God.
This, you see, provides security for us. And this, when understood, should produce within us such a genuine, palpable sense of humility that would allow us never, then, to adopt a posture anything other than
And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died he for me …?
That’s the point. That’s the point.
 John Woodhouse, 1 Samuel: Looking for a Leader, Preaching the Word, ed. R. Kent Hughes (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 286.
 Woodhouse, 286–87.
 See Ephesians 1:11.
 Woodhouse, 1 Samuel, 287.
 Woodhouse, 287.
 Woodhouse, 287.
 Woodhouse, 287.
 Woodhouse, 287.
 Also referenced in Woodhouse, 287.
 Woodhouse, 287, quoting 2 Samuel 7:21 (ESV).
 Matthew 27:40; Mark 15:29–30; Luke 23:37, 39 (paraphrased).
 Micah 5:2 (ESV).
 Charles Wesley, “And Can It Be, That I Should Gain?” (1738).
Copyright © 2022, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.