Judging Outward Appearance

Samuel arrived at Jesse’s house seeking to anoint one of his sons the next king over God’s people. Samuel assumed that this future leader would look a certain way. Surely the anointed king would be the one most appealing to the eye; tall, strong, handsome and perhaps wise in his age.

But the Lord said to Samuel,
“Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him.
The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them.
People judge by outward appearance,
but the Lord looks at the heart.”
– I Samuel 16:7

We live in a densely populated urban neighborhood. Last week my wife was outside of our home playing with our three kids. The youngest two were riding scooters down an incline formed by the construction of a new railroad bridge. Our oldest was in a nearby parking lot throwing a ball again a brick wall.


My wife was standing on the corner by the bridge and the parking lot, keeping an eye on the kids, when she overheard an interesting exchange between two young men and two young women. The women were walking down the street talking about their ride who was going to pick them up. Unbeknownst to these women, one of the young men overheard their conversation and piped up, “I’ll ride you, baby!” This was an obvious reference to his desire to engage in some form of sexual activity with one or both of the women. The young women looked in disgust and continued on their way.

My wife’s justice meter immediately redlined, both for the women who were completely objectified, and for herself as a mother whose kids overheard the comment. She opened her mouth with grace—“Can you watch what you say around my kids?” The young man replied, fear-stricken in the face of an angry mother, “Oh, sorry.” My wife continued, “By the way, do you think you are going to pick up a girl talking like that?” The young man said, “I don’t care, I’m from the city.” His excuse for speaking in such a hurtful manner was simply his place of residence. He was owning the stereotypes that many people believe, including some who make their home in the city, that this type of behavior is expected of urbanites living in impoverished neighborhoods.

He saw my wife, her clothes, our kids, and their mother-child relationships playing out in real time and assumed/judged that my wife must have trucked our kids in from the suburbs in her SUV so they could ride their scooters down one of the busiest streets in the city and throw a ball against an old brick wall with peeling paint. After all, who wants to play on a sprawling lawn or in a cul-de-sac when you can drive into the ‘hood and inhale exhaust, dodge cars, and lose your ball through the chain link fence?

My wife replied to his excuse, “Yeh, well I’m from the city too and I do care. Please don’t talk to women like that.” I tagged on after her comment, “Bam! Eat it!” I then laughed insidiously and concluded with a “She owned you man!” (Actually, I wasn’t there, but in my dreams that is what I imagined myself saying. I also unleash some unstoppable ninja moves after he attacks me. I win that battle, of course!). The fact of the matter was, he was visiting our neighborhood and that isn’t how we treat people in our neighborhood. He had no reply. The two young men walked off together, hopefully pondering the I Samuel 16:7 lesson that my wife had just offered.

Now let me put the shoe on the other foot. My oldest son, who is ten years old and influenced by urban culture and styles (he won’t leave the house without his Nike Air Jordan shoes or his flat-brimmed baseball hat cocked slightly to the side), has noticed a trend among aging suburban men (and some women). After some astute cultural assessment he has concluded that this demographic prefers, over all other types of shoes, bright white New Balance sneakers. This particular shoe appears at first glance to be a large cinder block on each foot. It is economical, matches any outfit, can be purchased in multiple widths for added comfort, is able to be polished to maintain pristine whiteness, and outlasts other sneakers. My son, with his urban perspective, has deemed those who wear these shoes to be unintelligent, somewhat dopey, laughable, and frankly a disgrace to any sort of fashion sense. If I am reading him correctly, he believes such individuals to have internal flaws related to their judgment and perhaps even some moral frailty.

Of course, my son’s beliefs are misguided. There is nothing inherently wrong with an individual who wears clunky, white New Balance sneakers (or with a ten year old whose hat is cocked to the side). Similarly, there is nothing inherently wrong with somebody because of where they live—whether it be in the city or suburbs. Someday I trust that the Lord is going to bring a mentor into my son’s life who wears these shoes. This man will love my son in such a way that my son’s heart will be changed to be more like the Fathers. His I Samuel 16:7 lesson will come. The Lord looks at the heart!

Matt Hershey was born in New Jersey, which may explain some things. Currently he is a pastor in Lebanon, PA with aspirations of becoming a boat captain at Walt Disney World’s Jungle Cruise.  He just purchased his first iPhone and nose hair trimmer in the same week. His wife and 3 children are ecstatic about the changes in his life.

Photo Credit: Jef Safi, ‘pictosophizing via Compfight cc

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