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Eliab was the firstborn of the eight sons of Jesse of Bethlehem. After Jesse's youngest son, David, was anointed to replace Saul as king of Israel (see King David), Eliab experienced much resentment toward The Lord's choice, his brother David. Although the physical contrast between tall Eliab and short David may have been a natural factor that would have favored Eliab being made king, it was just such a lesson of man's way of doing things that caused Eliab to be passed over.

"The Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but The Lord looks on the heart"

Saul was "taller than any of the people" (1 Samuel 9:2 RSV), but his height did not make him wise; Saul was rejected as king over Israel because of his poor judgment. Eliab was also a physically impressive man (i.e. "When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, "Surely The Lord's anointed is before him," see below) but with Saul's failure so obvious, The Lord declared that wisdom is what makes a good leader, not being tall or short, "for The Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but The Lord looks on the heart." There was nothing wrong with tall Eliab; he may have been chosen as king by The Lord if not for the lesson of "man's politics" made evident from the example of Saul.

David and Goliath

"The Lord said to Samuel, "How long will you grieve over Saul, seeing I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons."

And Samuel said, "How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me."

And The Lord said, "Take a heifer with you, and say, 'I have come to sacrifice to The Lord.' And invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me him whom I name to you."

Samuel did what The Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, "Do you come peaceably?"

And he said, "Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to The Lord; consecrate yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice." And he consecrated Jesse and his sons, and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, "Surely The Lord's anointed is before him."

But The Lord said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for The Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but The Lord looks on the heart." (1 Samuel 16:1-7 RSV)

It wasn't just Eliab who was passed over; all of Jesse's sons were deliberately not chosen - except for the youngest, shortest one - who despite his size, had more battle courage, and faithfulness and obedience to God, than his brothers.

"Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, "Neither has The Lord chosen this one." Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, "Neither has The Lord chosen this one." And Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, "The Lord has not chosen these." And Samuel said to Jesse, "Are all your sons here?"

And he said, "There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep."

And Samuel said to Jesse, "Send and fetch him; for we will not sit down till he comes here."

And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome.

And The Lord said, "Arise, anoint him; for this is he."

Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of The Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward." (1 Samuel 16:8-13 RSV)

Eliab was among the Israeli troops who failed to meet the battle challenge of Goliath. When young David was sent by Jesse to deliver supplies to his brothers, he heard Goliath's challenge.

"Now David was the son of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah, named Jesse, who had eight sons. In the days of Saul the man was already old and advanced in years. The three eldest sons of Jesse had followed Saul to the battle; and the names of his three sons who went to the battle were Eliab the first-born, and next to him Abinadab, and the third Shammah. David was the youngest; the three eldest followed Saul, but David went back and forth from Saul to feed his father's sheep at Bethlehem.

For forty days the Philistine came forward and took his stand, morning and evening.

And Jesse said to David his son, "Take for your brothers an ephah of this parched grain, and these ten loaves, and carry them quickly to the camp to your brothers; also take these ten cheeses to the commander of their thousand. See how your brothers fare, and bring some token from them." (1 Samuel 17:12-18 RSV)

Eliab's resentment toward David boiled over again when David asked why someone, including his "big brother," didn't go out and fight the Philistine. When the answer became obvious, David went out and did it himself (see Shochoh).

"And David said to the men who stood by him, "What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine, and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?"

And the people answered him in the same way, "So shall it be done to the man who kills him."

Now Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spoke to the men; and Eliab's anger was kindled against David, and he said, "Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption, and the evil of your heart; for you have come down to see the battle."

And David said, "What have I done now? Was it not but a word?" (1 Samuel 17:26-29 RSV)

Fact Finder: Which of Eliab's daughters (i.e. a niece of King David) married King Rehoboam (i.e. a grandson of King David) of Judah?
2 Chronicles 11:17-19; see also Israelite Dynasties and Israelite Monarchy - The Division Of Israel

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