Looking on the Heart is a commentary on 1 Samuel (a book in the Old Testament) by Dale Ralph Davis. I don’t think I’ve ever written a review on a commentary, but I’ve never read a commentary that so impressed and blessed me. Several reviews on goodreads mentioned how accessible and “easy to read” they found this commentary which is true but it is so much more.
1 Samuel is a book of history and prophecy, telling the stories of Samuel, a prophet and the last judge; of Israel’s first king, Saul; and the beginnings of their second king, David. Quite an important part of history for both Christians and Jews, but what does it have to do with us as Christians living in the 21st century?
From the beginning, Davis teaches that though we learn from all three main characters, we must be careful not to try and fit our own lives into what God was doing with them. What is important in reading any scripture is to learn what we can about God. “Once we see what scripture reveals about God we usually will see how it applies to us.” (p. 45) We are not prophets or kings, but in every story or happening, we can learn something about God in the way He interacted with His specially chosen people.
For example, in 1 Samuel 4 we read the story of the Israelites preparing to go to battle with the Philistines. Since the Philistines had just soundly beaten them (killing four thousand men), the Israelites decide to bring the Ark (a sacred artifact that represented God’s presence) into battle with them. The Israelites were not only beaten again, but they lost the Ark to the Philistines as well. So, what does this teach us about God? Mainly, that we can’t perform certain rituals or say the right words and expect God to perform for us. The Israelites didn’t seek God, and they demeaned the Ark by using it as a good-luck charm when going into battle.
“This is not faith but superstition. It is what I call rabbit-foot theology. When we, whether Israelites or Christians, operate this way, our concern is not to seek God but to control him, not to submit to God but to use him. So we prefer religious magic to spiritual holiness; we are interested in success not repentance.” (p.54)
We might read this story and think it doesn’t really apply to us because we don’t have an Ark to bring into battle, but if that’s all we see we will be missing the point. Do we not think if we ask God in a certain way or use just the right words or if we perform certain religious tasks (going to Sunday School, giving a tithe, etc), then surely He will respond to us and rescue us out of any situation?
Throughout this commentary, Davis points us to what God is doing–whether in the lives of Samuel, Saul, and David or in the nation of Israel. Learning more about God and His character is all we need from a commentary. Highly recommended.