Man looks at the outward appearance, but God ... 1 Sam. 16:7

“Why do you have a class that addresses trivial external matters like modesty, gender-distinct clothing, or 1 Cor. 11:2-16? Don’t you know that ‘man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart?’” ~student

1 Samuel 16:7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7 is often used to silence substantive discussion about externals in the life of a Christian and ranks among the most misunderstood and misused texts in Scripture.

The context of this verse is Samuel's mission to anoint a replacement for King Saul. When Samuel observed the excellent physical characteristics of Jesse's first son, Eliab, he assumed wrongly that he was God's choice.

God corrects Samuel's impression by informing him that whereas Samuel can see only the outside, God can see the inside and His choices are based upon the heart.

There are several reasons why this text does not imply that God is concerned only with heart issues and does not care about externals.
1. God does not say he cares only about the heart. He says that He can see the heart; whereas man cannot.
2. Both the Old and New Testaments give ample evidence that God does care about externals.

Old Testament
For example, God required Israelites to wear tassels on their outer garments to remind them of His commandments (Num. 15:38-39; Deut. 22:12). He required Israelite men not to cut their beards (Lev. 19:7; 21:5). This requirement made Israelite men standout significantly from their upper class ANE counterparts’ highly stylized beards (e.g., here or here). God designed garments for His priests to wear “for glory and beauty” (Exod. 28:2, 40).

New Testament
In Matt. 6:17 Jesus commands us to wash our faces and anoint our heads when fasting. In other words, make the outside look nice so that the discomfort of fasting does not appear.
In 1 Cor. 11:2-16 God clearly addresses men and women’s hair: long hair on a man is a shame; shorn or shaven hair on a woman is a shame, whereas long hair is a woman’s glory.
In 1 Tim. 2:9-10, the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write about how women are and are not to adorn their outside.

The idea that teaching about outward appearances is necessarily unspiritual and legalistic flies in the face of Scripture itself. If we teach the whole counsel of God’s word, then we will teach the parts that address, whether explicitly or implicitly (e.g., Rom. 12:2), our “outward appearance.”

The whole counsel of God teaches that our outward appearance should be a consciously designed reflection of our inward love for God and passion for His glory. God looks upon both the heart and the outward appearance. Since man can see only the outward appearance, how much more zealous should we be to live out love’s obedience to our Father’s external commands, that men may see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven!


Dr. Rod Decker said…
Sounds to me like your interlocutor could also have problems with texts such as Hosea 6:6. Same principle involved.

The discussion of such issues isn't (or at least shouldn't be) simplistic or artificial, but you are quite right that they are part of our authoritative text and we have no right to ignore them. The challenge is to communicate the "heart" for them [pun intended! :) ] to (esp.) younger folks who are growing up in a very different cultural milieu than we did. A lot of established standards have been challenged--some perhaps rightly so, but others are just "unwelcome" these days.
Philip Brown said…
I couldn't agree more. When I was asked to design a course that dealt with modesty, gender-distinct clothing, adornment, 1 Cor. 11:2-16, I responded that it would be futile to address such issues unless the students first understood that all of life must be the outflow of love for God and others. So I spend a whole semester developing what it means to love God and others before dealing with these issues. Then as I deal with each issue, I explicitly show how it relates to the two commands upon which all God's will for us hangs.
Anonymous said…
I'd love to see that course taught as an extension course online or something like that. Even a sylabus or the course notes would be helpful to give people answers. It seems like Focus on the Family with their view that Dr. Dobson's father's external standards were legalism have a stronger influence on some of our younger people.

A resource like that would be very useful for those of us who live in locations remote from any Holiness enclaves. Even some good bible school graduates get eroded pretty quickly out here.
Philip Brown said…
The course is available as MP3 or DVD, for-credit or not-for-credit. Prices vary depending on the option.

I'll be happy to make any of the lecture notes available. Just email me.
Anonymous said…
Modesty, gender-distinct clothing and adornment, are not the only outward signs that people are judged by. Physical beauty and even mannerisms, voice, speech, etc, are too often the standard that people's intelligence and or worth are judged by.
Even intelligence is not a factor in the heart.
I am going through something, now where a sweet, industrious teen is being rejected by his peers because he is considered a nerd. They don't like him, and won't include him in a big event coming up. Why? He wears his pants belted tightly at the waist. He has a strange laugh. He isn't cool. This is so common. It isn't Christ like behavior.
bishhhh said…
keep spreading truth.
Sharon Autry said…
At what school is the course offered? I would love to have notes from your course.
Philip Brown said…
Hi, Sharon Autry,

I teach at God's Bible School & College ( You can contact me at pbrown at gbs dot edu for notes.


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