But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Eliab was Jesse’s eldest son [1 Chronicles 2:13]. There wasn’t much about him in the Bible, and it didn’t even specifically say why Samuel thought he was the chosen one when he saw him [1 Samuel 16:6] – When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.” – but this verse gives us a clue, and we can infer that Eliab was a tall and good looking man, likely with the imposing aura of a warrior as well. We know that he had followed Saul to war – Jesse’s three oldest sons had followed Saul to the war: The firstborn was Eliab; the second, Abinadab; and the third, Shammah [1 Sam 17:13]. These three were all named in Samuel 16. Perhaps the most we see of Eliab in the Bible was when he reproached David for his speech and conduct prior to David’s battle with Goliath [1 Sam 17:28] – and that gives us a little insight into his character, and what’s in his heart. In this study, through the example of Eliab, we will examine the age-old topic about the outside versus the inside, and how God sees these things.
Do not consider his appearance or his height – The first king that Samuel had personally anointed, chosen by God, was Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else [1 Sam 9:2]. That was the first king he had appointed, and what were his most significant traits? His exterior height and beauty. Hence, when he saw Eliab, the eldest son of Jesse, and also a tall and good-looking man (we assume, inferring from how the Lord disagreed with Samuel), the boxes in his mental checklist seemed to tick. I believe that should Saul not have been such a handsome and tall man, Samuel wouldn’t have so readily assumed that the next king would have similar traits. We are men, and as men, we are very much affected by what’s outside – People look at the outward appearance – even if it has nothing to do with what we are looking for.
This applies not only to looking at people, although that is a very good analogy. In a lot of situations, men tends to only consider the outward appearance. On the surface, our circumstances may seem purely meaningless and not beneficial. Superficially, it may be a complete waste of time and energy. But if we think deeper and consider the inside of a problem or a situation, we may find that there are more benefits to it for us than what first meets the eye. Often, in retrospect, we can look back and realise that a certain circumstance that we had suffered has actually done us much good. But in the midst of it, we are often unable to look beyond the surface and into the heart of the problem.
the Lord looks at the heart – The Lord said clearly that he had rejected Eliab. Why? This phrase tells us why – because God looks at the heart and not at the outward appearance. If a king had to be chosen from Jesse’s sons on the criteria of outward appearance, Eliab would probably be the one. But no, God looks at the heart. This verse doesn’t tell us that Eliab was a bad or evil man. That the Lord looks at the heart may just mean that Eliab didn’t have a suitable disposition for governance. The only evidence I can turn to in the Bible is when Eliab reproached David prior to David’s battle with Goliath – When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.” [1 Sam 17:28] – perhaps there is a hint of affection in his reproach, out of the fear that his young, inexperienced little brother would certainly perish if faced with the great Goliath. But even if there exists a hint of his affection, perhaps there was more envy and genuine rage. This happened after Samuel had anointed David in the presence of his brothers [1 Sam 16:13] – after rejecting the eldest, Eliab, and even the others, Samuel had anointed David. At first glance Eliab might have been justified in his anger, out of concern for David, for he had indeed stepped out of his place by speaking so boldly in the battlefield. But God sees beyond the superficial and into our hearts. All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD [Proverbs 16:2].
David was not a bad-looking man – He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features [1 Samuel 16:12]. Yet the description of his appearance was nowhere as astounding as that of Saul, who had incomparable looks and height. Eliab was likely bigger, taller, and better-looking. But God alone knows every human heart [1 Kings 8:39]. He searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought [1 Chron 28:9].
Ultimately, David became the most renowned king ever in the history of Israel. He was perhaps also the best king Israel ever had. During his reign he achieved a lot, but most importantly, he had always sought after God. That was an attribute of David that was already present when Samuel anointed him. It was an attribute not of the appearance, but of the heart. This verse doesn’t mean that we can be unkempt and expect to be appreciated in society. David was not unkempt – he might not have the features of Saul, but he was still a fine young man. It simply means that a heart that follows God is the most important. The inside is the key. No matter whether we are looking at a person or a situation, let us not judge, because we’re often unable to see past the superficial. The inside is key.