But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." 1 Samuel (16:7)
Earlier this year, I watched a special news program on TV. The program described a research study that looked at the way people respond to others based on their appearance. In each situation studied, the researchers used a good looking person and one who wasn't as good looking. Some of the situations included job interviews, a woman whose car broke down, and a classroom where the researchers put two different teachers, one attractive, the other not. The researchers found that the attractive person got the job while the not-so-attractive person didn't even when both had the same qualifications, the pretty woman whose car broke down got help from passing cars, and the students paid attention to and learned from the good looking teacher, but not from the other one. This applied to both men and women, so that good looking (particularly tall, good looking) men are at an advantage, it seems, compared to those more ordinary in appearance by the world's standards.
In today's passage, God corrected Samuel for judging the same way. God had just rejected Israel's first king, Saul, despite the fact that he was "an impressive young man, without equal among the Israelites" (1 Samuel 9:2). He definitely looked the part of a king; he stood a head taller than any Israelite. Yet, God rejected him and appointed Samuel to look for a successor. When Samuel went looking for Saul's successor, he saw David's older brother, Eliab, and thought God's anointing rested on him. He must have looked impressive, too, yet God is not impressed by what impresses us. He chose a small boy with ruddy features, a man after God's own heart, David.
When you look at someone, how do you judge him or her? Do you judge as the world judges? Do you look more favorably on someone who is good looking or tall? Or, do you look at other things the world looks at, such as power, respect, or status? If someone went to a good university and works in a highly respected profession, do you esteem that person higher than someone who didn't go to college and works in a 'lowly' profession? If you do, consider God's words here, for he does not consider important the things the world does, but judges the heart, and so he chose the smallest, youngest brother of all Jesse's sons to be his king, a man after His own heart.
Consider also Jesus. Jesus gave up all power and authority when he became born of woman. He who had stood at the right hand of the Father from before the creation of the world gave up all that to grow up in poverty, as a carpenter's son. Jesus didn't go to the best rabbinical school, and he spent his most active years wandering virtually penniless around a desert with "unschooled, ordinary men" (Acts 4:13). As far as appearance, no physical description of Jesus can be found in the Gospels, yet a prophetic description in Isaiah says "he had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him." (Isaiah 53:2) If thinking of Jesus as physically ugly, short, and generally unattractive is difficult to swallow (as it is for me), then perhaps that shows exactly how differently we judge things than God. What do you seek and value above all, the things that impress men, or a Godly character and heart that impresses God?