1 Samuel

God Looks at the Heart of a Potential Leader, Not the Skills

Most people in America and the world are familiar with the Bible story of David and Goliath.

David is one of my favorite biblical characters to study and for the next few weeks I am going to share a series of blog posts about the leadership and followership characteristics we can observe David during the 15 years he served under King Saul in Israel.

I am very excited about this series of blog posts because many people think of David as the King of Israel who had mighty power and influence. However, it is easy to forget that before David became King of Israel he was born into a little known family and served under King Saul for 15 years.

This study of the young life of David is special for me because at times I feel limited in the difference I can make in my current work position. I feel that God has given me strengths and abilities to lead and teach but I often am not able to do that in the job I work at from 8 AM to 5 PM every day. So, when I read the story of David in his younger years when he had been anointed to become king, yet he had to serve a terrible king for 15 years before becoming King, it speaks to me.

Let’s start in chapter 16 of 1 Samuel where we are first introduced to David. 

The setting for 1 Samuel is a time of Israel’s history that is mediocre. The people are living lives where they sometimes honor God and at other times they do not. In most of 1 Samuel the prophet Samuel is the judge over Israel and is its unofficial leader. An important part of Israel’s history is in 1 Samuel 8:4-5 which tells us, “Finally, all the elders of Israel met at Ramah to discuss the matter with Samuel. ‘Look,’ they told him, ‘you are now old, and your sons are not like you. Give us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.'” The people express they want a king to rule them so Samuel appoints Saul to rule over them, but Saul quickly sins not once, not twice, but three times, and God is very displeased with Saul. This causes God to decide that He is going to take away Saul’s kingship and give it to a man who has a heart focused on God (1 Samuel 13:14).

And that’s where we find ourselves in 1 Samuel 16 with Samuel mourning because he knows Saul will no longer be King.

You can follow this link to 1 Samuel 16 and read it for free. 

Before we dig into a few principles from this chapter, there are three observations we can make to help us see the significant part of this story.

  1. David probably knew that when Samuel anointed him with oil it meant he was going to be King. (Previously Saul and Aaron had been anointed with oil as a sign they were designed for a significant leadership role.)
  2. Even though David knows he will become king, it is clear he is not the king right now.
  3. David was not what Samuel was looking for–in fact–David was forgotten by his father when Samuel asked to see each of Jesse’s sons. 

In The Maxwell Leadership Bible, John Maxwell makes a great observation on this passage of scripture:

“This young leader [David] first began to surface in 1 Samuel 16—but only God and Samuel recognized his leadership at first. Only after his great and unexpected victory over Goliath did everyone else recognize his special abilities. David’s example shows that true leaders always declare themselves without making any announcements.”[1]  

There are several leadership principles we can learn from this passage.   Heart


1. Outward appearance has nothing to do with a potential leader. 

I am sure that Eliab (Jesse’s oldest son who was the first to be introduced to Samuel as a potential king) was a tall, strong man who looked like a great candidate for king. And I am sure that Abinadab and Shimea both looked like worthy people of being king. But in the end, the least likely of all of Jesse’s sons, David was the one God had chosen to be king. 

2. God does not look at the outward skills of a potential leader, He looks at the heart. 

As we see in 1 Samuel 16, God tells Samuel that God looks at people differently. God does not look at the outward appearance, He looks at the heart. He looks at the intentions, the thoughts, and the motives of that person.

3. Good looks most of all for someone with a heart focused on Him. 

Question: What do you look for in a potential leader?

[1] John C. Maxwell, The Maxwell Leadership Bible, 2nd ed. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007), 346.

By Christopher L. Scott

Christopher L. Scott serves as senior pastor at Lakeview Missionary Church in Moses Lake, Washington. Through his writing ministry more than 250,000 copies of his articles, devotions, and tracts are distributed each month through Christian publishers. Learn more at