"The Lord Looks at the Heart"

The Bible mentions literally hundreds of individual people. It tells us a great deal about some of them. But you might be surprised to know that it says almost nothing about what they looked like. Oh, some men are described as handsome, like Saul, David, and Absalom. Some women are described as beautiful, like Sarah, Rebekah, Abigail, Bathsheba, and Esther. But details are extremely limited.

We do know a few things. Esau was very hairy, while his brother Jacob was smooth-skinned (Genesis 27:11). Jacob’s wife Rachel was “beautiful of form and face,” while her sister Leah had “weak eyes” (delicate? beautiful? homely? the exact sense of the Hebrew is uncertain; Genesis 29:17). The judge Ehud was left-handed, and the Moabite king he killed was very fat (Judges 3:15-22). King Saul was the tallest man in Israel; Zacchaeus the tax collector was quite short (1 Samuel 9:2; Luke 19:3). David was “ruddy” — liter­ally, “red,” referring to either his complexion or his hair (1 Samuel 16:12). Goliath was “six cubits and a span” (over 9 feet) in height; another Philistine giant had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot (1 Sam­uel 17:4; 2 Samuel 21:19). Samson had long hair styled in seven locks; the prophet Elisha, on the other hand, was bald (Judges 16:13-14; 2 Kings 2:23). Meanwhile, the only physical description of John the Baptist is his clothing: a camel-hair garment with a leather belt (Mark 1:6).

Not a lot of information, is it? Certainly not like the detailed, colorful descriptions we’re used to in modern literature. In fact, folks are sometimes disappointed that the Bible says so little about anyone’s physical appear­ance. That’s especially true when it comes to the Son of God. The gospels don’t give us a clue about what Jesus looked like. Was he tall? short? thin? heavy-set? It seems likely that he had dark hair and dark eyes (being ethnically Jewish), but in first-century Palestine that would have been quite unremarkable. As author Philip Yancey has observed, our portrayals of Jesus in paintings, sculp­tures, and films are based on perceptions which reveal more about us than about him. Isaiah’s prophecy said there would be nothing about Jesus’ appearance that would draw people to him (Isaiah 53:2). Certainly, nothing about his appearance made it into the inspired accounts of his life.

I think there’s a valuable reminder in all this: God puts no premium on our looks; His attention is on what is within. Samuel was reminded of this when he went to anoint a new king for Israel. Impressed with the appearance of Jesse’s oldest son, Samuel thought surely this must be the man he was looking for. But God had rejected him. He told Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature…; 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).

In a culture that is virtually obsessed with physical image, we need to remember that God’s concern is for each person to be “renewed to a true knowledge ac­cording to the image of the One who created him” (Colossians 3:10).