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The Lord Looks at the Heart
by the Rev. David Rienstra
minister of the Swedenborgian Church in St. Louis
In the March, 1995 Issues of Our Daily Bread

We are in the midst of Lent. In a few weeks, our worship will emphasize the Lord's triumphal ride into Jerusalem, which was an outward declaration of His kingship. Choosing kings, or rulers and leaders, was an important thing in the Word. Of course, the Lord is to be our ultimate king, or the ruler in our lives. He is the ruler who should take precedence over all other rules, but as we well know there are many times in which we are not sure what is expected of us, and so we seek direction from the outside. Our lesson for today is about the anointing of one of the great kings of Israel. It is an interesting lesson, because it pointed out a truth that reaches far beyond the act of choosing a king or ruler. It points out the differences between the natural and spiritual levels of our minds.

Appearances can be deceiving. The natural senses are geared to gather information, but they cannot always evaluate the validity of the information. That appearances can be deceiving is essentially the message the Lord was giving to Samuel when He sent him to Bethlehem to choose and anoint a king to succeed Saul. When Samuel came to Bethlehem he called upon Jesse to bring his family to make a sacrifice unto the Lord. In doing so, Samuel commanded Jesse to bring each of his sons before him. Though Jesse was not aware of the reason, Samuel, by command of the Lord, was to pick one of them whom the Lord would reveal to him to anoint, a man after the Lord's own heart.

When the first son passed by, Samuel's first thought was that it was surely the Lord's anointed that stood before him. Perhaps Eliab, the eldest of the sons, was strong and tall, like Saul when he was chosen to be king. But the Lord said, "Do not be deceived by his appearance, for I have refused him." And so also for seven of Jesse's sons it was the same. Samuel himself perhaps never suspected that the one to be chosen would be the youngest, a keep of the sheep, a shepherd boy, not even present. Nevertheless, when David was brought before Samuel, the Lord said, "Arise, anoint him, for this is the one."

The key to the difference in temperament between Saul, who was the present king, and David, who was to be the future king, is described by our text. "The Lord does not see as man sees; the man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."

Saul was the first person ever to be made a king of the Israelites. This does not mean that the people were without leadership or direction before Saul. Through the many years of hard struggle in the wilderness they had leaders like Moses and Joshua, and Samuel was both a prophet and a priest. Also impressed upon the Israelites was their covenant with God, the laws of God, which were laws of order. If they abided by those laws it would go well with them. They were given a beautiful land to live in and they could live and prosper as long as they kept their covenant. In the comfort, the people began to turn more and more away from God. They forgot their promise to God, as humans are so apt to do. As they experienced more and more difficulty, they began to desire a king to rule and protect them.

This demand of the people did not please Samuel, but the Lord said to give them a king, "because they were not rejecting you [meaning Samuel] but they are rejecting me [the Lord]." You see, while keeping the laws of order will not necessarily prevent trials and difficulties from arising in life, these laws do give us the power to cope with them. By turning from the Lord the people often became powerless against their enemies, so in rejecting the Lord, they chose a more external form of leadership.

The Lord allowed Saul to be chosen, not because he would be the best leader for the people, but because in the minds of the people, he would be the only one accepted. Saul gave the appearance of a mighty warrior. He was head and shoulders above all others. Saul actually represents the rule on the lowest plane of our minds. The Lord promised him success if he was careful to obey the voice of the Lord. If we choose external principles to govern our lives they can still be a means of success. If we will remember at the same time that external principles must still serve and not rule the spiritual. This is not the way it turned out. Saul became impatient and chose to lead instead of following the Lord's commands. If was for this reason that Samuel told Saul that the kingdom would be taken from him and the Lord would choose a man after his own heart.

Another clue to our understanding the difference between Saul and David is what they were doing at the time of being chosen. Saul was out looking for his father's donkeys that had gone astray, and David was tending his father's sheep. Donkeys correspond to the natural faculty of reason. They rely on the natural senses to tell what is true and what is not, and they can be deceived because of appearances. Sheep on the other hand correspond to our more innocent and tender affections. In spite of what the mere external senses tell us, they hold on to trust in the Lord, and realizations of higher spiritual principles. It is not our external sense that confirms for us that there is a God, and that there is a higher spiritual life to pursue. It is not our external sense that tells us that there is a heaven or a hell, or a spiritual dimension beyond our external world. This confirmation comes from within, through our tender and innocent affections and trust in the Lord. Saul represents the seeking of natural answers and conclusions. David represents the spiritual. Have you ever wondered why the Lord said that He is the Good Shepherd, and that his sheep hear His voice and follow Him?

Many people in our world do not advance beyond the Saul state. They do not permit themselves to reason beyond what the natural senses can confirm. This concept of the way the Lord sees things and the way we do is one of the most important and yet one of the most difficult truths for us to follow. This is illustrated in Matthew 7: "Enter by the narrow gate," the Lord said, "for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it."

Too often it is thought in our society that the role of religion is to make us feel good, to make us comfortable, to give us peace of mind, in a sense to tell us that all of our problems and difficulties are from causes other than ourselves. That is a partial truth, for through following our religious principles, comfort and inward peace of mind can be the ultimate result. It is a peace which the world cannot give. But that doesn't just happen without some serious considerations about the way we are thinking and living. Who or what is the ruler that governs our mind and thus our actions? Is the purpose in what we do to serve our God, or to serve ourselves? We don't like to hear about our own shortcomings and weaknesses: The wide and broad gate is much more appealing than the narrow way. But we cannot rid ourselves of inherent tendencies of evil by pretending that they are not there. Most often advancement in spiritual growth is painful, but the outcome is spiritual life.

The only reason that the way is difficult and the gate narrow that leads to life is that people are unwilling to trust fully in the Lord's leading. Because we are human, there is always a little skepticism in our minds - are we really sure, or is it just what we would like to believe? The skepticism tugs at our life just as surely as our higher perceptions which are from the Lord. But what does the Lord say? "Ask and it will be given, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened."

We do not always see things the way the Lord does. His concern for us is more than we realize. We look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at our hearts.

In our continuing preparations for Easter, may the Lord strengthen us in our efforts to draw nearer to Him.


The Lord said to Samuel, "How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons." Samuel said, "How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me." And the Lord said, "Take a heifer with you, and say, 'I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.'"...

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, "Surely the Lord's anointed is no before the Lord." But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his statue, 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." Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. 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." Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, "The Lord has not chosen any of these." Samuel said to Jesse, "Are all your sons here?" And he said, "There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep." And Samuel said to Jesse, "Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here." He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, "Rise and anoint him, for this is the one." Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.

I Samuel 16:1-2, 6-13

Reading from Swedenborg:

He that hath the key of David, signifies who has power by means of Divine truth...It is evident also from the representation of "David," as being the Lord in respect to Divine truth. By "David," in the Word the Lord is meant, because by "kings" in the Word the Lord in respect to Divine truth is represented, and by "priests" there the Lord in respect to Divine good. The Lord is represented especially by King David because David had much care of the matters of the church, and also wrote the Psalms. It is said, "He that hath the key of David," because David represented the Lord in respect to Divine truth, and the Lord has all power tin the heavens and on earth from Divine good through Divine truth; for in general good without truth has no power, neither has truth without good any power, for good acts through truth.

Apocalypse Explained #205

Music:  Fragments of My Soul
1999 Bruce DeBoer

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