During Advent, every Monday, we will be featuring the 2022 Advent devotional from Gather magazine written by the Rev. Becca Ehrlich.
by Becca Ehrlich
Week 2: The Appearance Illusion
Read: 1 Samuel 16:1–13
In 1 Samuel, we hear of a young person who was not expected to become much of anything. After King Saul loses favor with God, God tells the prophet Samuel to go to Jesse’s house to anoint the new king God has chosen. Once God has given Samuel a convenient excuse to travel (so that Saul doesn’t find out and kill him), Samuel arrives at Jesse’s house and sees the oldest son. Samuel is sure that this is the one God has chosen—he’s tall, he’s handsome, he’s ready to be king, right?!
God tells Samuel otherwise, basically saying: “Pay no attention to his good looks, winning smile and dashing height. My way of choosing is different than the human way. While people choose based on outside appearance and beauty, I look at the inside, at people’s hearts.”
Clearly this lesson is a tough one. Despite what God says, Jesse parades almost all of his sons in front of Samuel. After each, Samuel has to say that he’s not the chosen one. Then, when all options seem to be exhausted, Samuel asks if Jesse has any other sons. And Jesse says there’s only the youngest son left, and he’s out taking care of the sheep. I mean, really. This son was so unimportant that he was left out there working while the other sons were being considered. Imagine everyone’s surprise when Samuel tells them that the youngest son, the one who took care of the sheep, is the chosen one. He is the one who will be king, who will be anointed with oil as royalty. And when David is anointed by Samuel, the Spirit of God comes upon him and stays with him.
The story of this unimportant, easy-to-forget individual reveals a reality different from what humans see. In David’s time—and still today—we humans judge others based on how they look, what clothes they wear, whether they fit in. But God sees differently than we see. God sees what’s inside, what is in our hearts.
And yes, I know, that sounds very After-School Special. How many times have we been told in school or as children, “It’s what’s inside that counts,” right? But seriously, how often is this something we live out as true? Far too often, we judge others based on how they look, and others judge us based on how we look.
How good it is to know that God sees differently! God doesn’t judge us based on how much our clothes cost, how good-looking we are, how tall or short we are. God sees us for who we are. On my worst bad hair days, I remember to be grateful for this!
More than that, God calls people to act based on what God sees, not what we see. Sometimes the person picked by God to do something is the very last person we’d expect. David, a youngest son not expected to amount to much of anything, except maybe a shepherd, was chosen by God to be king of God’s chosen people—and not just a king, but one of the most beloved kings in the history of the Israelites.
And if all of that weren’t enough to show that appearances aren’t everything, David becomes part of Jesus’ lineage. Jesus, God in human form, the one who redeems the world, is born into the line of David. Not bad for a young guy who was almost forgotten when Samuel was anointing the next king!
Share aloud or reflect:
- In what ways do we typically judge people based on outer appearances?
- What is something about you that people sometimes judge right away?
Activities to try:
- When you next take part in Confession and Forgiveness (in a worship setting or by yourself), silently name someone you recently judged based on outward appearances. Pray for them.
- Journal or write briefly about a time when someone you least expected did something amazing. What did you learn from that experience?