One passage that always amuses me is the one where Samuel anoints David as next king over Israel (1 Samuel 16:1-17). Samuel is presented with all of Jesse’s sons, one of whom the Lord has chosen as king to succeed Saul. The oldest, Eliab, comes before Samuel, who thinks that surely this must be the Lord’s anointed. No, says the Lord, don’t look at his height or his appearance, he has been rejected, for while human beings look at outward appearance, the Lord looks at the heart. One by one all Jesse’s sons are rejected, until finally the youngest is called from looking after the sheep. When David appears, he is handsome. He is the one the Lord has chosen. I always think it might have made the point better if David had been a bit on the ugly side….
However, skip forward a chapter and it is clear that the Lord looked at the heart as well. In the lead up to David’s fight with Goliath, Jesse sends David off to find his brothers in Saul’s army, to take them and their commanders some food. Off David goes, and is talking with his brothers when Goliath appears to give his daily challenge to the Israelites. None of the Israelites respond, as they are all are scared and dismayed by Goliath. David inquires of some of the men what the king would give to the person who kills Goliath. Eliab overhears, and gives him a thorough telling off ‘what are you doing here? I know your wicked and conceited heart. You’re only here to see the battle’. David seems offended in his reply: ‘What have I done? Can’t I even speak?’. Sibling tensions abound. David ignores Eliab and continues speaking to the men, until eventually he is brought before Saul and the famous fight with Goliath takes place. It is clear from his conversations both with Saul and Goliath that David isn’t trusting in his own strength to kill Goliath, but in the strength of the Lord, the living God. This puts an interesting slant on Eliab’s words to David. David’s words and actions make it quite clear that he is neither wicked or conceited, but rather that he has a full-hearted trust in the Lord. One rather wonders whether Eliab’s anger and his words speak more about himself than his youngest brother. The Lord had indeed looked at the heart. 1 and 2 Samuel make it clear that David wasn’t perfect: there is his behaviour over Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11 and 12), and, it seems, a rather lax attitude to his children. Nevertheless, David’s relationship with his Lord stands firm.
So if the Lord could see into the hearts of Eliab and David, does that mean that God can also see into our hearts? and what will he find there? It can be an uncomfortable thought. We all get angry with little reason, as Eliab did (well, maybe you don’t, but I do); we are all capable of putting ourselves first, made more complicated that sometimes we are putting ourselves first when we think we are putting other people, and sometimes we do actually need to put ourselves first. Yet I think what the story of David tells us is that the Lord isn’t looking at our hearts expecting perfection or plaster sainthood. I suspect that the main difference between David and Eliab was the inclination of their hearts. David had learnt to trust in his Lord, and his heart was inclined towards God, even on those occasions when it went in the wrong direction. That may not have been so true of Eliab. It is also clear from the story of Saul’s kingship (found in 1 Samuel) that what God was looking for in a king was one who would put God first. Reading through the books of Kings gives the same impression. Each King is weighed by how much he followed God, and whether he encouraged or forbade the worship of false idols.
So what can God see in our hearts? What can God see in yours? I’m not sure that it is something we should focus on. If you’re reading this blog, you are likely to be concerned with your relationship with God, and that focus is what we should encourage. The faith in God that can see off lions, bears and giants is only developed by practice in trusting God. For it strikes me that it didn’t have to be David who killed Goliath. Any of the frightened men who made up Saul’s army could have done it, had they gathered up their faith in God, and gone ahead with that as their shield, however much they were trembling. It is quite possible that David himself was scared; but he knew that his Lord had stood by him before, and would again; the living God, whom he knew and worshipped. For our God is a living God, a God who loves, a God who cares. Not a God who rids us of all and any problems, mind you. But a God who will be with us through them. A God whom we can choose to believe loves us. Did David feel the living God with him as he faced Goliath? Possibly. But equally possibly not. Maybe he was as terrified as the rest of the army, aware mostly of his youth and inexperience; but he chose to believe in the love God had for his people, in the living God who had saved him before. if you don’t find it easy to believe in God’s love for you, if you are too aware of the evidence of your frailty and unworthiness, if the giants you face regularly seem to beat you, take heart. You don’t have to feel that God loves you. Just know somehow that God DOES love you: tell yourself that you believe this, whatever the evidence of your feelings. Remember, too, that this love is as true for you as for the people you meet. We worship a living God, the God of heaven and earth, who is alive and moving in our lives today, however many giants we face.