The Heart of the Matter

If we were to try to select the single most significant racial teaching of the OT, what would that be?  There are many possibilities, all of which are covered in detail in the online Racial Peace Bible study:

        --  the division of humanity into Jew and Gentile         --  bestowal of Canaan to Abraham and his descendants         --  racial genocide of the  Canaanites under Joshua         --  Noah's curse on Canaan misapplied to Africans         --  God's judgment on Israel carried out by foreign kings These, and many other incidents, are examples of the variety of racial themes in the OT.  Often, the OT is contrasted with the New -- the former being considered as racially divisive and restrictive, the latter initiating a new international and inter-racial community of faith.  But today I wish to highlight a single verse in the Old Testament, which was spoken 1000 years before the Christian revelation.  This verse is both a forerunner of the new Covenant and also a surprising insight into God's purpose even under the Old Covenant.

The setting of this verse is familiar: the anointing of the boy David by the prophet Samuel as the future king of Israel (1 Sam 16).  God sends Samuel to the house of Jesse of Bethlehem to anoint one of his sons as king, in the place of Saul.  Samuel sees the first son, Eliab, and thinks, "This is the man!"  But God speaks to Samuel, saying,

"The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam 16:7 NIV).

Seven sons of Jesse parade before Samuel, and the Spirit witnesses to none of them.  The youngest son was out with the sheep -- apparently, his father did not consider him of any significance, so had not summoned him.  When David finally arrives, God tells Samuel, "This is the one," so Samuel anoints him.  Immediately the Spirit of God comes upon David in some visible manner, which must have astonished his family.

"People look at the outward appearance" -- this is the hallmark of religion, law, sexism, racism.  Men assign moral worth to physical attributes, ethnicity, genealogy. 

"but God looks at the heart" -- in this short phrase we have both a preview and a summary of the future New Covenant.  True religion, true authority, true personal identity transcend race, gender, nationality.

God spoke this truth in the midst of a racially and sexually segregated society that He Himself established.  Which shows that that society was not the fulfillment of His historic purpose. It was a necessary preliminary, but it was not the Kingdom of God among men.  It was only the seedbed of something different and greater.  There are many hints in the prophetic books of what that later kingdom would look like.  But here, in this verse in 1 Samuel, is the declaration of one of the foundational principles of that New Covenant.

The most important word in the verse is "but," because in this word there is implied an opposition between the two clauses, and a judgment upon the first party.  "Men are like such and such,..."  BUT.  This is a precursor of Jesus' own teaching style in the Sermon on the Mount:  "You have heard that it was said..., BUT".   Again, both the opposition and the judgment are here.  Lastly, comes the new principle, which is what God declares as His will and His way: "but God looks at the heart."   When He says this, He is opening a door into something new, He is raising the bar in man's spirituality.  Before God said this, it was quite possible to be considered a good Jew by focusing on the externals -- observe the Law, offer the prescribed sacrifices, ensure the purity of the family bloodline.  After He said it, the standards changed, as David himself realized:

Create in me a clean heart, O God (Ps 51:10) Jeremiah also foresaw the establishment of a new principle of inward righteousness almost 400 years after David:

      But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people (Jer 31:33).

The implementation of the new standard didn't happen under the Old Covenant.  But God's Word works to bring history into conformity with itself: it took 1000 years from the proclamation of the heart standard to its realization in the sacrifice of Jesus.  This change in the means of salvation was a gift to mankind purchased at the cost of Jesus' suffering and death, because it took the burden off of man's shoulders:  religious law, external obedience, genealogy, ethnicity, play no part in gaining acceptance with God.  Instead -- only a clean heart now suffices, and this is freely given to all who ask Jesus to be their righteousness.

This is why this one verse is so important in the racial teaching of the Old Testament -- even though its immediate context has nothing to do with race.  In it, God changes the criteria of acceptance, so that all who were excluded on the basis of blood or heritage are now "brought near."  All mankind stands in the same relation to God, as Romans later affirms: "for all have sinned" (Rom 3:23).   That is the bad news, but the good news is that no group gets special favors any more.  The favorable judgment that was spoken over David so long ago -- God looks at the heart -- now works in favor of all humanity, who are no longer cut off from God or each other by outward appearances.

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