Eliab—A Judean Unqualified for Kingship
A DEATHBED prophecy of the patriarch Jacob made clear that rulership would one day be exercised by descendants of Judah, his fourth son. Jacob said: “The scepter [regal sovereignty] will not turn aside from Judah, neither the commander’s staff [authority to command] from between his feet, until Shiloh [the Messiah] comes; and to him the obedience of the peoples will belong.” (Gen. 49:10) But who would be the first Judean to exercise kingly authority and power?
This question was answered over 600 years after Jacob made his prophetic pronouncement. The prophet Samuel was sent to Bethlehem, there to anoint as king one of the sons of the Judean Jesse. From a human standpoint, the logical choice would have been Jesse’s firstborn, Eliab. He was a man of striking appearance, tall and handsome. On seeing him, Samuel said to himself: “Surely his anointed one is before Jehovah.” (1 Sam. 16:6) But this was not the case. The word of Jehovah was: “Do not look at his appearance and at the height of his stature, for I have rejected him. For not the way man sees is the way God sees, because mere man sees what appears to the eyes; but as for Jehovah, he sees what the heart is.” (1 Sam. 16:7) A later incident in the life of Eliab well demonstrates why he was unsuitable for the kingship.
When warfare broke out between the Philistines and the Israelites, Eliab was in King Saul’s army. He, along with the rest of the men, heard the Philistine champion Goliath’s challenge: “ . . . I myself do taunt the battle lines of Israel this day. Give me a man, and let us fight together!”—1 Sam. 17:8-10.
How did Eliab react? Did he display faith in Jehovah’s ability to make him successful in the fight against Goliath? No, Eliab made no effort to take a courageous stand. He evidently shared in the reaction of the rest of the Israelites. The Bible reports: “When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, then they became terrified and were greatly afraid.”—1 Sam. 17:11.
The Philistine Goliath kept on taunting Israel every morning and evening for 40 days. (1 Sam. 17:16) During this time Jesse sent his youngest son David, Jehovah’s choice for the kingship, to the Israelite encampment with food supplies for Eliab and his two other brothers as well as for the chief over a thousand men. Jesse instructed David: “You should look after your own brothers as regards their welfare, and a token from them you should take.” (1 Sam. 17:18) So, Jesse evidently wanted to know how his three sons were getting along and desired some “token” or evidence of their being alive and well.
Upon arriving on the scene, David heard a war cry. Leaving the supplies with the keeper of the baggage, he quickly ran to the battle line so as to speak with his brothers. While asking about their welfare, Goliath took his position and raised his voice to taunt the Israelite army. When David expressed interest in this, asking men standing by about the matter, Eliab flared up in anger.—1 Sam. 17:20-28.
Directing his words to David, Eliab said: “Why is it that you have come down? And in whose charge did you leave those few sheep behind in the wilderness? I myself well know your presumptuousness and the badness of your heart, because you have come down for the purpose of seeing the battle.” (1 Sam. 17:28) Eliab did not try to ascertain the facts but jumped to a rash conclusion respecting his brother. He implied that David did not care about the few sheep, the loss of even one of which would have been a serious blow to the family. But nothing could have been farther from the truth. In defense of his father’s flock, David had previously killed both a bear and a lion. (1 Sam. 17:34, 35) In expressing this concern about sheep, Eliab also manifested an unbalanced attitude. He was getting heated up about a minor matter when compared with the far greater issue that Goliath had raised. The Philistine was actually reproaching Jehovah, the God of Israel—something that David clearly recognized.
Based on mere assumption, Eliab went even farther. He accused David of being presumptuous, of arrogantly taking it upon himself to come to the scene of battle. He also judged David as being wrongly motivated, as having a bad heart. The reason Eliab presented for this was: “Because you have come down for the purpose of seeing the battle.” This implies that Eliab felt that his young brother wanted to run off from his work in order to see something exciting.
Defending himself against the false accusations, David replied: “What have I done now? Was it not just a word?” In effect, David said: ‘What basis is there for your accusations? What really have I done? Am I not entitled to ask questions, to find out what is going on?’ This ended the matter. David made further inquiry and eventually went on to show deep faith in Jehovah, gaining the victory over Goliath.—1 Sam. 17:29, 36-51.
How forcefully the aforementioned incident illustrates why Eliab was not the best choice for the kingship! Without any real evidence, he quickly imputed wrong motives to his brother David. He lacked full faith in Jehovah, doing nothing about the taunt of the Philistine Goliath. He failed to see the vital importance of having Jehovah’s name cleared from the Philistine’s reproach, seemingly being more concerned about a few sheep. Certainly, a man who showed such deficiency in faith, courage and balanced judgment would not be Jehovah’s choice for the kingship. The Examiner of hearts, Jehovah, had not made a mistake in choosing the youngest son of Jesse, David, instead of the firstborn.—1 Sam. 13:14.