By Adam Brown –
Why did God choose David?
Did God choose David to be king because he had a good heart?
In 1 Samuel 16, the prophet Samuel was sent by God to anoint a son of Jesse to be King Saul’s successor. Jesse’s eldest, Eliab, was an impressive physical specimen, just as Saul had been, causing Samuel to remark to himself, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is before me!”
But Samuel was mistaken and God rebuked him: “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” (1 Samuel 16:7).
What are we to make of this statement from God?
It is easy to trip over this verse by concluding that God chose David because, looking on his heart, He saw some goodness. In other words, we can easily conclude that God chose David to be king because he had a good heart.
Man may choose kings by looking for GOODNESS of outward appearance but the LORD chooses kings by looking for GOODNESS of heart.
Here are five problems with this conclusion:
The goodness of David’s heart is not affirmed in 1 Samuel 16. In fact, the only description of David comes in verse 12: “Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome.” It seems, David had a good outward appearance. But, notice, nothing is said about his heart.
The narration of 1 Samuel 17:28 suggests that David might be motivated by a presumptuous and evil heart. Put in the mouth of Eliab, David’s eldest brother, this fraternal rebuke is the sequel to the divine rebuke against Samuel in 1 Samuel 16:7, which had been occasioned by Samuel’s faulty impression of Eliab. Perhaps Eliab is simply a jealous older brother who was still sulking for having been passed over. Or, perhaps, the narrator is using Eliab in both chapters to reveal twin truths. First, God does not look on the outward appearance. Second, though chosen by God, David is as flawed on the inside as the rest of us.
David’s biography in 1 and 2 Samuel does not paint the portrait of a man with a good heart. By his own admission, David is in desperate need of inner-transformation: “Create in me a clean heart O God” (Psalm 51:10).
The Son of David, Jesus the Messiah, denies us the ability to conclude that David was chosen because he was in possession of a good heart: “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked the rich young ruler, “No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18).
If David had a good heart, meriting his selection by God to replace Saul, then we have a serious theological problem. We would be saying that some, like David, are chosen by the merits of their good hearts, while the rest of us are chosen by God’s grace in spite of our wicked hearts. Of course, this works-based option must be ruled out, even for David: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
How, then, are we to make sense of 1 Samuel 16:7?
Let me suggest that we solve the riddle of this verse in the same way that we solve the riddles of 1 Samuel 13:14; 1 Kings 11:4, 6, 33, 38; 15:3, 11; 2 Kings 14:3; 16:2; Acts 13:22. In all of these verses, David is held up as a perfect example of heart-obedience and covenant keeping righteousness. And yet, even the sloppy reader must acknowledge that David’s life, as painted in 1 and 2 Samuel, falls far short of these affirmations.
What, then, is going on here?
David himself gives us the answer, as quoted by Paul in the book of Romans: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin” (Romans 4:7–8).
In 1 Samuel 16:7, and all the other verses that portray David as having been perfectly righteous, God is not looking on David’s heart directly, but through the mediation of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. David was justified. When God looked at David, then, He didn’t see David as he was. Rather, God saw in David the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Let’s return to our original line of query. Why, then, did God choose David? Did God choose David to be king because he had a good heart?
God chose David because God chose David (Romans 9:14–18). We are never told why. But, this much is clear: It is in the choosing, and in the choosing alone, that David’s heart was declared to be good, and this by the imputation of Jesus Christ, David’s own Son.
So it is with all of us who are in Christ. Wicked hearts are declared to be good by the righteousness of David’s own Son, given for us and imputed to us. Praise be to God!