God Looks at the Outward Appearance

beautyThe Word of God is alive. And one of the ways that this comes out clearly is in how new lessons are often caught from passages that you have read more than a dozen times and have never seen them before. I am tempted to think that this is also one of the evidences of the timelessness, and therefore the uniqueness, of the Word of God. I am not necessarily saying that we discover new truths from the traditional passage, but rather, we find old truths – truths clearly stated in other passages – being confirmed in this traditional passage.

The account of David’s anointing is one such passage. 1 Samuel 16:6-7

Samuel 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.”

This is a familiar passage. One that, I bet, you have quoted a dozen times. The passage is however often quoted in an attempt to downplay outward appearances, “looks” and other external marks of “perfection.” Sadly, the passage has been stretched to the extent of demonizing external appearances. In our attempts to preach the inclusion of the disabled and the disfigured in the society, we have used this passage to make it seem as if a wholesome body was inconsequential.

No wonder Plato’s body/spirit dichotomy became so popular in the first century Christianity. A popular group known as the “gnostics” perpetuated the teaching that the whole body was evil and only the spirit was good. This was actually “biblically” justified using verses such as Galatians 5:16-17

“Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”

So, what is the danger in upholding this distorted view of God’s creation? We will end up demonizing what God approves; dismissing what God ordains as good, pleasing and praiseworthy. We end up having a low view of beauty, and as a result, a low view of God’s glory.  David tells us, in Psalm 19 that

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.

Speaking of David, the revelation that stood out as I read his anointing passage for the umpteenth time was this: God does not create an antithesis between the HEART and the OUTWARD appearance. The passage DOES NOT say “God does not look at the outward appearance, God looks at the heart.” What the passage actually says is “the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

The difference is in HOW we look, not in WHAT is seen. The antithesis is between what God looks at as the basis for His choice, and what men look at as the basis for their choices. God looks at the heart, man looks at the outward appearance.

The lesson here is clear (or, at least it ought to be): outward appearances, or “looks” are important to God. Looks matter. But they are differently important. They are secondary, but not irrelevant.

Looks point to something, they are not the REAL thing. The heavens DECLARE the glory of God; the heavens are not the glory of God. We don’t worship the heavens. The outward appearances are only indicators, pointers, pictures… not the definitive thing.

No wonder, a few verses later in the 1 Samuel account, David finally shows up and the Bible records this about him:

He was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.” (1 Samuel 16:12)

If one was to read this verse without the earlier information in verse 7, we could easily assume that David was chosen on the basis of his looks. In fact, if verse 7 wasn’t there, I bet we would currently have two denominations divided over the interpretation of verse 12.

So, we cannot dismiss the fact that David was handsome. We cannot say that God does not look at the outward appearance. The only freedom we have, from reading this passage, is that God looks at the outward appearance differently. Not the way we do.

David was a handsome man. His beauty was not an irrelevant detail thrown into the passage. It pointed to a greater beauty. The beauty of his heart. And his heart’s beauty pointed to an even greater beauty; the beauty of the heart’s creator. God’s beauty.

Could such an attitude permeate our attitude towards Christian art?

Could we learn not to tolerate bad Christian art (read Christian music) “just because” the message is orthodox and biblical?

Yes, we are to aim for more than outward looks. But this is not a license to settle for bad looks.

For the fame of His name,


Note: My reference to the disabled and the disfigured above should not be misconstrued as implying that a person’s heart is necessarily evil because of their outward appearance. I am well aware that these are the effects of the fall, and are in no way indicative of one’s standing before God. If anything, we are all Differently Disabled.

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