“So it was, when they came, that he looked at Eliab and said, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him.’ But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart'” (1 Samuel 16:6-7 NKJV).
In my opinion perhaps the greatest challenge to missionaries is the development of indigenous leadership in areas where the church is young and opportunities for training are limited. How quickly can a new convert develop the spiritual maturity required of elders, deacons, and preachers? How quickly may we begin to trust those of different cultures of which our understanding is imperfect? Just when should we begin to push for independence and self-reliance on the part of mission churches? These are difficult questions with few obvious right answers.
Lawrence J. Peters, an educator and author in the field of leadership, is noted for a principle called by his name (“The Peter Principle”). Simply stated, it is the observation that a person will rise to the level of his incompetence – or in other words promotions usually are based on one’s past performance rather than his proven qualifications for the higher level job which is to be given to him.
Eliab, the eldest son of Jesse, is a biblical example of the importance of recognizing this principle. When Samuel saw him, he was impressed. Surely this was the one whom God had sent him to anoint. But no, it was the youngest son of Jesse, much less physically impressive and experienced, who possessed the qualities which God was seeking.
It would be presumptuous for us to demand that God prove he is right in his judgments. Yet he often provides that truth, possibly to strengthen our faith in him. The story of Eliab may well contain such proof.
We know how David rose to a position of power and influence in the King’s presence, then was banished because of King Saul’s jealousy. David fled to the wilderness areas of Judah where a band of outlaws gathered around him. Included among them were “his brothers and all his father’s house” (1 Samuel 22:1). Eliab and his other brothers became part of David’s band of mercenaries who raided the enemies of Israel.
Still later, after David became King of Israel, we are given lists of his mighty men and officers (2 Samuel 23:8-39; 1 Chronicles 12:1-40; 27:1-34). It is significant that Eliab’s name does not appear on any of these lists. He was with David’s men, but he never rose to a position of power, nor accomplished any feat which would have qualified him as a “mighty man.” Elihu, another of David’s brothers, became an administrative officer over the tribe of Judah (1 Chronicles 27:18) but Eliab and his other brothers are not named in connection with any office or notable accomplishment.
The Peter Principle points out that it is difficult for humans to judge in advance. We may note what one has done, but it is hard for us to know with certainty what one will do, or what one is capable of doing.
God is not so limited. He is all wise and all knowing. He sees our hearts (inner natures and capabilities) and can foretell our futures. When he anointed David, he knew exactly what David’s potential was.
Paul reminds us that every Christian has God-given gifts (Romans 12:6). In a sense we are all “anointed” (chosen by God for certain purposes or tasks). We may not always recognize our gift, or understand why God gave that one to us. But God knows our abilities. He will never fail because of the Peter Principle. He judges truly based on perfect understanding.
This does not mean we will not fail. We are still free moral agents, with the ability to tell even God “No.” But if we fail, it will never be because God required more of us than we can do. It will be because we did not accept the responsibilities he gave us, or because we did not follow his will in the use of our gifts (Ephesians 5:30; Matthew 7:21).