Even the prophet Samuel was fooled. When he looked at Jesse’s oldest son Eliab, he naturally assumed that God must have chosen this noble and sturdy young man to be the Lord’s anointed leader. But the Lord makes it clear in this passage that the people he chooses to do great things for him are called on the basis of inward character, not on the basis of outward impressiveness.
Verses 8–11 tell us that Jesse, David’s father, didn’t even include David in the line-up of his sons. He was an afterthought to Jesse. But qualification for leadership is not measured by inches or pounds or degrees or background. What does God look for? Why is it that when Jesse and Samuel were looking at Eliab, God was looking at David? God’s qualifications for leadership are evident in verse 7; read that verse again. For elaboration on what a leader’s heart should look like, flip over to 1 Kings 3:6 (p. 380) and 1 Kings 11:4–6 (p. 393). Whatever else qualifies people for leadership, no one is qualified for greatness—by God’s standard—until their heart is ready.
The leader’s prayer and focus of effort must center here. Skills, intelligence and hard work are all a part of the package. But God reminds us that, in the final analysis, one thing makes the difference. God looks at the leader’s heart.
1 Samuel 16:1 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul, since 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.” 2 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.’ 3 And invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do. And you shall anoint for me him whom I declare to you.” 4 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?” 5 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. 6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord‘s anointed is before him.” 7 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.“