God’s selection of the shepherd boy David to replace Saul and to become King of Israel seems to have surprised his father Jesse. He had, after all, neglected to consider David initially as he paraded his other sons before Samuel. Even after the prophet had determined “The Lord has not chosen these,” Jesse apparently gave no thought to David. Samuel had to ask, “Are all your sons here?”
The blatant oversight seems a strange exclusion to me, but it must have reflected the way the other members of his family saw the youngest – or, more accurately, failed to see him. From this short passage in the text, we cannot determine exactly how they viewed him. But we can be fairly certain that their perceptions were not consistent with God’s. Earlier in this same chapter we hear God saying to his prophet (1 Samuel 16:7) “The Lord sees not as man sees: a man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart,” (ESV) as he sends him to select and anoint David.
That declaration makes what follows even more curious – or perhaps significant. Just five verses later we are given a description of David (1 Samuel 16:12): “Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome” (ESV). Don’t make judgments based on outward appearance, God has just said; and then we are led to turn our attention to aspects of David’s. Or are we? Not if we seek to find in what seems a strictly physical description something more, pardon the pun, than meets the eye. That something would be David’s “beautiful eyes.” Like “man after His own heart” the words “beautiful eyes” appear only this once in Holy Scripture– in reference to David.
Doubtless, had we seen him as his contemporaries did, we would have been drawn to David’s astonishingly handsome eyes. But the image here is unquestionably metaphorical as well as literal. To emphasize David’s “beautiful eyes” was to signal that his way of seeing would be different from that of other men. Native Hebrew speakers would have grasped the concept right away and known that the man with those eyes surely possessed a special kind of insight, of spiritual vision. Such a man was a seer (see-er). As though to ensure that the critical meaning of that term not be dismissed, 1 Samuel 9:9 spells it out explicitly, ” . . .for today’s ‘prophet’ was formerly called a seer.”
This theme of seeing and vision threads through these several chapters of 1 Samuel and stitches together as whole cloth what otherwise might seem like a patchwork of randomly recounted episodes. It is no coincidence, I believe, that this passage focusing on David’s eyes appears immediately before the story of David and Goliath. The giant was no threat to the anointed shepherd boy on whom “the Spirit of the Lord rushed” (1 Samuel 16:14) and who saw His power and envisioned His victory beforehand.
Regrettably, the importance of this whole concept of David as visionary, a seer after God’s own sight, if you will, is entirely lost in the King James Version and the New International Versions. Both take significant liberties with the Hebrew and the word “eyes” does not appears in either rendering of 1 Samuel 16:12.
Having carefully examined the text, we know better. As we proceed to study the psalms together, we will give attention to the manner in which David regards the matters of the heart and how he envisions the works and laws of a holy God who chose him to lead His people, and us, in the ways of righteousness.