Lesson Helps

Old Testament Lesson 22: "The Lord Looketh on the Heart"


I was reading the Book of Mormon once when a familiar passage was clarified. The passage from Mormon 7 teaches:

“For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing.
“For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness.
“For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God.
“And likewise also is it counted evil unto a man, if he shall pray and not with real intent of heart; yea, and it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such.
“Wherefore, a man being evil cannot do that which is good; neither will he give a good gift” (Moroni 7:6–10).

The message here is the message of this lesson. Our attitude is more important than our actions. Why we do a thing has more significance than the thing we do. The text of Moroni 7 makes it perfectly clear that an evil man could do a really good thing, and even though others might be blessed or benefitted by that thing, he himself would not be—the act would not be a righteous act. 

People might be deceived by such actions. We are trained to look only at the surfaces of people. We judge them by their body odor and their clothes and their friends and their employment and their families and their homes. But we hardly ever judge them by their hearts.

Saul Seeks Guidance from Samuel and Is Anointed King

If our own children sought an opportunity from us to which we were openly and deeply opposed, and if we expressed our opposition and they persisted still in demanding their own way, we might be inclined to offer them their desires in such a way that failure would quickly follow. All right, I’ll buy you a car. Here is a 1974 Ford Pinto with a cracked windshield and a cracked block. Good luck! But the Lord, even though he had unmistakably declared is opposition to an earthly king for Israel, still offered them the best man he could find. Saul 

What lesson can we learn about the Lord and about ourselves from this event? If serving others is like serving God, and if the second great commandment to love our neighbors is “like unto” the first to love God, how should we serve others? What should we be willing to do for those whose interests do not exactly coincide with our own?
There is evidence that the Lord will condemn us for withholding our best efforts because of the sins or weaknesses in others.

“Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—
“But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God” (Mosiah 4:17–18).

Saul Offers a Burnt Offering without Proper Authority

The Philistines had “gathered themselves together to fight with Israel.” Look at 1 Samuel 13:5. How large was the army that had come to battle? How did the soldiers of Israel respond? In 1 Samuel 13:6, we learn that they hid in caves and thickets and high places and rocks. In 1 Samuel 13:7, they fled across the Jordan River to less dangerous country.

Saul watched his army diminish as “he tarried seven days” waiting for Samuel to come as he had indicated he would. During that time, “the people were scattered from him” (1 Samuel 13:8). It was then, in a moment of fear, that Saul made a great mistake. 

“And Saul said, Bring hither a burnt offering to me, and peace offerings. And he offered the burnt offering” (1 Samuel 13:9).

Saul had no authority to offer sacrifice. The Aaronic priesthood was for the tribe of Levi and Saul was a son of Benjamin (1 Samuel 9:1–2). He certainly did not have the Melchizedek Priesthood like Samuel. But he acted anyway. In his efforts to explain himself to a disappointed Samuel, he offered four excuses:

  1. “The people were scattered” (1 Samuel 13:11)
  2. “Thou camest not”(1 Samuel 13:11)
  3. “The Philistines gathered themselves together (1 Samuel 13:11)
  4. “I forced myself” (1 Samuel 13:12)

The fourth excuse may open a window and give us a useful glimpse into the soul of this man.
What did Saul mean when he told Samuel that he had to “force himself” to offer a sacrifice? Does it sound to you like he is saying this? “I did not want to be disobedient, but I had to do what I had to do because the Prophet and the Lord clearly weren’t ready to deal with the Philistine invasion.”

I think this may be a fairly common excuse for disobedience. “I did what God would have wanted me to do if he had all the facts.” A son of mine told me once that he would have attended Stake Priesthood Meeting, but a girl friend needed help moving out of an apartment. Well, maybe she did. But it is hard to imagine that the packing and moving could only happen during a gathering of priesthood holders.

Samuel, who arrived on the scene “as soon as [Saul] had made an end of offering the burnt offering” (1 Samuel 13:10), said, “What hast thou done?” (1 Samuel 13:11). 

“Saul prepared the burnt offering himself, forgetting that though he occupied the throne, wore the crown, and bore the scepter, these insignias of kingly power gave him no right to officiate even as a deacon in the Priesthood of God” (James E. Talmage, Articles of Faith, pp. 184–185).

Saul knew what he was doing was wrong, but he did it anyway. What did it cost Saul for being disobedient?

“And Samuel said to Saul, Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God, which he commanded thee: for now would the Lord have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever.
“But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the Lord hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the Lord hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the Lord commanded thee” (1 Samuel 13:13–14).

Disobedience might likewise make it impossible for us to inherit a throne. In fact, losing a throne is the standard price for disobedience. The Lord said,

“To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne” (Revelation 3:21).

The account of this tragic error by Saul is followed at once by the story of what Saul ought to have done. Saul, fearful of the decreasing size of his forces, relied on his own wisdom and power to solve the problem. But in 1 Samuel 14, Jonathan, the son of Saul, armed with faith and the power of God, defeats a Philistine army with only one other soldier to aid him.

Jonathan, observing the enemy garrison 

"Said to the young man that bare his armour, Come, and let us go over unto the garrison of these uncircumcised: it may be that the Lord will work for us: for there is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few" (1 Samuel 14:6).

Jonathan did not yet know the Lord’s will. He said, “It may be that the Lord will work for us.”

What he did know was that if the Lord worked with them, the two of them could defeat the entire Philistine army, for “there is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few.” Why didn’t Saul know that? Or did he know it and ignore the knowledge?

I really like Jonathan’s armor bearer. His master had just suggested to him that the two of them make plans to attack and rout the Philistine army. How would you have responded? How many reasons can you think of not to go along with such an endeavor? But this young man, who certainly knew the goodness of Jonathan and the rectitude of his heart, said, “Do all that is in thine heart: turn thee; behold, I am with thee according to thy heart” (1 Samuel 14:7). Wow!

Saul’s son devised a plan to ascertain whether or not the Lord would assist them. Here it is:

“Then said Jonathan, Behold, we will pass over unto these men, and we will discover ourselves unto them.
“If they say thus unto us, Tarry until we come to you; then we will stand still in our place, and will not go up unto them.
“But if they say thus, Come up unto us; then we will go up: for the Lord hath delivered them into our hand: and this shall be a sign unto us” (1 Samuel 14:8–10).

How do you like that plan? From the safety of a rocking chair in Riverton, Utah, it might seem all right, but how would it sound if you were out in the rocks creeping up on the Philistine outposts?

You know how this story will end. Even if you have never read it, you know. The Philistines called to the two young me to “Come up to us, and we will shew you a thing” or two. And Jonathan turned to his companion and said, “Charge!”

"Come up after me: for the Lord hath delivered them into the hand of Israel" (1 Sam 14:12).

They attacked and before they had finished, “the multitude [of Philistines] melted away, and the went on beating down one another” (1 Samuel 14:16).

Some lessons from this story:

  • A. Be like the armor bearer;  follow righteous men even when the desired outcome seems impossible. 
  • B. There is no restraint in the Lord. He does not need an army to defeat an army. How many missionaries did he send to the land of the Lamanites? How many men did Gideon take with him? 
  • C. You may not always know what the Lord wants you to do, but when you do know, do it! It is unfortunate that Saul did not learn this lesson.

Saul Disobeys the Lord in the Battle with the Amalekites and is Rejected from Being King

Meanwhile, back at the story of Saul: the unauthorized sacrifice was not his only problem. In 1 Samuel 15, he was sent on a mission by Samuel to destroy the Amalekites. There was no ambiguity in the direction given to Saul.

“Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass” (1 Samuel 15:3).

But something had happened to Saul since those days when he first met the prophet and was anointed king. There had been a time when Saul “was little in [his] own sight” (1 Samuel 15:17), but not now. Now Saul was a great, victorious king and was no longer as willing to follow counsel. He had become proud.

“But Saul and the people spared Agag [the king], and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but every thing that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly” (1 Samuel 15:9).

The Lord told Samuel what had happened, and the prophet went out to meet the king, who said, “Blessed be thou of the Lord: I have performed the commandment of the Lord” (1 Samuel 15:13).

Samuel pointed out that he had not. They could both hear the bleating of sheep and the lowing of oxen. Saul offered another excuse. “We kept the best of the animals for sacrifice,” he said, “and the rest we have utterly destroyed” (1 Samuel 15:17). 

“We almost kept the commandment,” Saul claimed. What a frightening idea. What will it mean if we say to the Lord or to his servants, “My spouse and I almost served a mission when we retired.” Or “I was almost morally clean.” Or “I almost got to the temple when I was married.” Or “I almost fulfilled my calling.”

You probably remember the language of Paul and Agrippa at Caesarea:

“Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.
“And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds” (Acts 26: 28–29).

Saul tried to blame the people: “The people took of the spoil,” he protested (1 Samuel 15:21). And he let them “because [he] feared the people and obeyed their voice” (1 Samuel 15:24). 

But Samuel (and Saul) knew who was really responsible:

“For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king” (1 Samuel 15:23).

The Lord Chooses David as King

Samuel gave us another a rather frightening look at the heart of Saul when the Lord told him to go anoint a new king. “And Samuel said, How can I go? if Saul hear it, he will kill me” (1 Samuel 16:2). Samuel had grieved and prayed all night for Saul (1 Samuel 15:11), and he had mourned for him in his wickedness (1 Samuel 15:35; 16:1). But Saul was nearly beyond redemption. He was willing to kill the prophet to assure his family’s continuity on the throne of Israel.

When Samuel got to Bethlehem and began to meet the sons of Jesse, he thought he could select the new king on his own.

“And it came to pass, when they were come, that he looked on Eliab, and said, Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him” (1 Samuel 16:6).

But even the prophet Samuel could not see all the things God could see.

“But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

What lesson do you think we ought to learn from this declaration? What would the Lord like us to do in our interpersonal relationships that we are not doing? In what ways can we enable ourselves to better see the hearts of people? The Lord has given us some hints:

“Wherefore, I would speak unto you that are of the church, that are the peaceable followers of Christ, and that have obtained a sufficient hope by which ye can enter into the rest of the Lord, from this time henceforth until ye shall rest with him in heaven.
“And now my brethren, I judge these things of you because of your peaceable walk with the children of men.
“For I remember the word of God, which saith by their works ye shall know them; for if their works be good, then they are good also” (Moroni 7:3–5).

It fascinates me that Mormon is able to determine that these people will “enter into the rest of the Lord” only because he has observed their “peaceable walk with the children of men.” 

Exaltation is promised to those who endure to the end, but blessings accrue for all those who do good in any circumstance. The Lord said, “And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward (Doctrine and Covenants 58:28). He also declared to his missionaries, “And he who feeds you, or clothes you, or gives you money, shall in nowise lose his reward” (Doctrine and Covenants 84:90).

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