by Jack Palmer, N. Ireland
The anointing of David “king over the house of Judah” at Hebron, 2Sam.2.4, and his being crowned king over the entire nation of Israel, 2Sam.5.3, represented moments of great significance on the historical landscape of the nation. These developments brought to final fulfilment the establishment of Israel as a monarchy under the rule of a God-chosen king. Prior to this, since the birth of the nation, on the basis of redemption through the blood of the sacrificial lamb and sovereign power, it had existed as a Theocracy, that is, a form of government in which God is recognised as the supreme ruler. The only exception to this was during the immediately previous period under the rule of Saul who, while permitted by God and repeatedly referred to as “the Lord’s anointed”, was in reality the choice of the people, confirming the often stated but important principle that the first is associated with the flesh whereas the second is representative of that which is spiritual.
David was a relatively young man when he was publicly acclaimed and recognised as king, with its full range of responsibilities: he was “thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years. In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months: and in Jerusalem he reigned thirty and three years over all Israel and Judah” 2Sam.5.4,5. In spite of his relative youthfulness he was well equipped to shoulder the onerous responsibilities which fell upon him. His experiences in the school of God, while often difficult and demanding, were all absolutely essential preparation, whether the secret years of skilful shepherding, the successful engagement in a soldiering capacity, or a solitary, suffering sojourner as a fugitive. While these were necessary in equipping him for his royal responsibilities, they also provided a reservoir of experience so fully reflected in his many instructive, consoling and encouraging songs and psalms preserved eternally in the volume of Holy Scripture. It is important to observe that God not only makes choice of and calls His servants, but that He also prepares them and equips them meticulously for the arduous tasks ahead.
From the first Biblical mention of David, Ruth 4.17, to the time of his initial coronation, in Hebron, much has been written about him for the benefit of previous and present generations, confirming that “whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” Rom.15.4. The purpose of this chapter is to trace the dealings of God in relation to David long before he was born, how He made choice of him, schooled him, proved him, anointed him and brought him to prominence as Israel’s first rightful king. David is of course a beautiful foreshadowing of the One Who “was made of the seed of David according to the flesh” Rom.1.3, and Who is “the root and the offspring of David” Rev.22.16. He is primarily a representation of the Lord Jesus as the suffering sovereign, whereas Solomon portrays the same blessed Person in anticipation of the splendour of His glorious reign. These typical aspects will only be alluded to in this chapter; its primary focus will be on David’s emergence not only as a choice servant but also as a sovereign ruler.
David was the eighth son of Jesse, a man of humble shepherding occupation. Little is known of his early formative years spent attending to the ongoing needs of sheep and cultivating a profoundly deep insight into the splendour and majestic beauty of the rural world around him. To many, and very likely to his parents and siblings as well, there was little to indicate, during the initial stages of his life, that he had such a significant place in God’s unfailing purpose, and would ultimately fill the lofty heights of monarch over the nation of Israel. We will ever be grateful that sovereign purpose and matchless grace blended to include obscure and unworthy creatures such as we among those blessed “with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” Eph.1.3.
- Chosen not for good in me,
- Wakened up from wrath to flee,
- Hidden in the Saviour’s side,
- By the Spirit sanctified;
- Teach me, Lord, on earth to show
- By my love, how much I owe.
- (Robert Murray McCheyne)
With such lofty thoughts in view, it is entirely appropriate to reflect briefly upon the broader context surrounding the emergence of David from the shadows of youthful obscurity to the relentless demands of public scrutiny associated with high and royal office. A comprehensive record of these circumstances has been preserved for us in the early chapters of 1Samuel. The contextual circumstances were far from encouraging. They coincided with Eli’s tenure as judge and a long, testing period of Philistine domination. Times were dark and depressing and manifested a distinct lack of spiritual fruitfulness. This is clearly illustrated in the home of Elkanah and his two wives: one, Peninnah, whose name means ‘red pearl’ or a ‘string of pearls’, and the other, Hannah, whose name means ‘grace’. The former was more concerned with external appearance, whereas the latter was marked by the inward adorning of “a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price” 1Pet.3.4. While Peninnah, the carnally minded, had children, Hannah, the spiritual, was barren; “the Lord had shut up her womb” 1Sam.1.5. It was a day of unfruitfulness.
The absence of spiritual seed was hardly surprising, given the unhealthy state of lawlessness which characterised the time of the judges, and especially during its later stages, the period under consideration in this chapter, and aptly described as the time when “there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” Judg.21.25. Sadly, similar traits marked Eli, who, as a priest of the Lord, represented the spiritual condition of the nation. C.H. Mackintosh observed that he “failed to walk watchfully, failed toThe Sovereign order his house according to the testimonies of God, failed to restrain his sons.”1 Such an attitude led to Eli turning a blind eye to the filthiness of his sons and this ultimately led to the Lord making it known that He would “judge his [Eli’s] house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not” 1Sam.3.13.
- 1 Mackintosh, C.H. “Miscellaneous Writings.”
In many ways the declining conditions of this particular period are encapsulated in the declaration that “Eli was ninety and eight years old; and his eyes were dim, that he could not see” 1Sam.4.15. Earlier it was recorded that “the lamp of God went out in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was” 1Sam.3.3. These are very searching indications of the darkness that prevailed and, sadly, influenced the times in question. Against such a foreboding backdrop it should not come as a surprise that when it came to engagement with the enemy “Israel was smitten before the Philistines: and they slew of the army in the field about four thousand men” 1Sam.4.2. This revealed Israel’s utter powerlessness in conflict against the enemy and their failure to “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might” Eph.6.10. These conditions represented a most depressing picture and an apparently hopeless situation, but they did not take account of the burden and exercise of the Godly Hannah.
Undaunted by the deeply discouraging conditions nationally, the hurtful derision encountered domestically and the misrepresentation on the part of the priestly Eli, Hannah turned to God; her cry was for a man child. Her request far exceeded the satisfaction of her maternal instincts. She was much more concerned about the glory and honour of her God than her own selfish interests, and earnestly sought God for a son who would lead His and her people to brighter and better days: truly a woman of concern, conviction and confidence. Hannah proved that “it is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man” Ps.118.8, and the Lord graciously granted her request. True to her vow, she sacrificially gave her boy, Samuel, unto the Lord all the days of his life and he became a Nazarite, not for a limited period, as permitted under the Law of the Nazarite, Numbers chapter 6, but for the duration of his entire life, 1Sam.1.11.
It would be inappropriate to trace the emergence of David and his path to the throne without a brief reflection on the vital, indispensable and foundational role played by Samuel. While limitations on the size of this chapter rule out any detailed consideration of his life, it is important that it be covered summarily if we are to have a necessary appreciation of the essential part played by him in bringing David to prominence as God’s chosen king.
The birth of Samuel was much more than an unquestionable but encouraging confirmation that God answers prayer; it represented the beginning of a new, highly significant stage in the unfolding of God’s purpose for His people. While many had functioned previously in prophet capacity, the line of those actually designated as prophets began with and moved onwards from Samuel, Acts 3.24. This introduced a new era of control and leadership and brought to conclusion “the days when the judges ruled” Ruth 1.1. Samuel, with his Levitical background, was qualified to function in a priestly capacity, and together with his role as prophet he was instrumental in bringing the nation of Israel from some of the darkest days in its history to times of celebrated national recovery. Just as Elijah would later gather “all Israel unto mount Carmel” 1Kgs.18.19, so Samuel gathered “all Israel to Mizpeh” 1Sam.7.5; both occasions were marked by moments of notable national restoration. Samuel stands out on the pages of Holy Scripture as one of those who left an indelible mark for God when circumstances were difficult and discouraging.
It would be helpful to reflect briefly on some of the gracious and Godly features which enabled Samuel to accomplish so much and leave for us a wholesome legacy for our edification and instruction. The story of Samuel brings much joy and encouragement. Let us consider his:
Having been lent to the Lord by his mother Hannah all the days of his life, it is recorded that “Samuel ministered before the Lord, being a child, girded with a linen ephod” 1Sam.2.18. From the beginning he was engaged in sanctified service. It must have been a great joy and encouragement to his mother, as she came annually with her little coat, to observe his activity and his maturity in the ways and work of God. Let us never overlook the value of early formative years, and a reflection on Samuel would stir a comparison with Timothy, of whom it was written, “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures” 2Tim.3.15. Likewise, it is helpful to note that our Lord Jesus, at the age of twelve, asked, “How is it that ye have sought Me? Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business?” Lk.2.49.
It is important to observe that during the time when “Samuel ministered unto the Lord before Eli … the word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision” 1Sam.3.1. As a result of increasing darkness and the faltering perception of the ageing priest, communication from heaven was very limited, and if God’s voice was heard it was not only rare but of great value. The fact that God called the sleeping Samuel, in such distressing circumstances, was an unmistakable indication of His perception of the potential He saw in him and of the purposes He had in mind for one so young. It is entirely understandable that Samuel did not realise the identity of the One Who called; after all, he “did not yet know the Lord, neither was the word of the Lord yet revealed unto him’’ 1Sam.3.7. How sad and indicative of Eli’s deteriorating condition, that he did not discern either that it was God Who was calling Samuel. A Divine call is fundamental to the success of every aspect of service, whether it be to the work initially or the engagement in it. Without such guidance, service will be an utter failure. May we learn from the example of Peter, who decided within himself to “go a fishing” and in so doing took others with him; it is hardly surprising that as “they went forth … that night they caught nothing” Jn.21.3. It is always good to be able to say, “I being in the way, the Lord led me” Gen.24.27.
Having realised the identity of the One Who called and having expressed his willingness to listen to what God had to say, Samuel was the recipient of searching and weighty words, predicting the downfall of Eli and his household. Eli’s toleration of iniquity and his failure to restrain his wayward sons provoked the judgment of God. The principle remains that sin will always be judged and we are exhorted not to be deceived, for “God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” Gal.6.7. The fact that such tidings were entrusted to one so young was a clear indication of Samuel’s standing and of his potential in the Divine reckoning. To have been made aware in advance of what was going to happen places Samuel on a par both with Moses, who was given a preview at the burning bush of God’s redemption of His people from Egyptian bondage, Exodus chapter 3; and with the apostle John, who was instructed to write about “things which shall be hereafter” Rev.1.19. It is precious to observe that those in close communion with the Lord will not be surprised or stumbled by unfolding events.
The disclosure of what was to befall Eli and his household placed a heavy burden on youthful shoulders. Samuel’s natural inclination would have been to protect Eli from the harsh reality of impending judgment and it is quite understandable that Samuel “feared to shew Eli the vision” 1Sam.3.15. Nevertheless, when pressed by Eli, Samuel “told him every whit, and hid nothing from him” 1Sam.3.18. This revealed a wholesome degree of faithfulness to God and unwavering courage before men, characteristics which served Samuel well through the course of his ministry in difficult circumstances. All too often we are inclined to opt for a less demanding path but may we constantly be aware of the need to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” 2Tim.2.1, and of the commandment to “be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest” Josh.1.9. How blessed to be able to draw on the inexhaustible resources found in the all-sufficiency of His grace and the consolation of His presence.
Displaying commendable characteristics Samuel made impressive progress. How precious to note that “the Lord was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan even to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord” 1Sam.3.19,20. His spiritual stature was confirmed by the unequivocal declaration that “the Lord revealed himself [again] to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the Lord” 1Sam.3.21. While Samuel developed and matured as an outstanding man of God, the conditions around him deteriorated into alarming depths of decline. His personal consolidation came at the appropriate time as he emerged from the school of God properly equipped for the daunting task entrusted to him.
Against the backdrop of defilement and dreadful defeat “the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain” 1Sam.4.11. The situation deteriorated further with the death of Eli. This was followed by the death of Eli’s daughter-in-law, who too passed away, as she gave birth to a son, but before she died “she named the child Ichabod, saying, ‘The glory is departed from Israel:’ because the ark of God was taken, and because of her father in law and her husband” 1Sam.4.21. How searching to read of departing glory! The ark was an unmistakable symbol of God’s presence and power and both Israel and the Philistines were to learn from bitter experience that the displacement of the ark brought the opposite to blessing; it brought hardship, judgment and suffering. Before the road to recovery could begin, the Philistines had to come to the point where the ark was not welcome in their ranks, and Israel too had to come to appreciate that blessing would not be enjoyed again until steps were initiated to bring back the ark. Let us learn the importance of giving God His rightful place and may we ever realise that we have no resources from a human point of view. The Lord Jesus taught His disciples, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me ye can do nothing” Jn.15.5. Again, before returning back to heaven this same blessed One promised: “Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” Acts 1.8. Without Divine power the cause is hopeless and Samuel felt this ever so keenly. Perhaps we are slow to recognise just how dependent we are upon God!
Chapters 5 and 6 of 1Samuel provide sorry and depressing reading. They trace the movement of the ark from the moment it was removed from Shiloh until “the men of Kirjath-jearim came, and fetched up the ark of the Lord, and brought it into the house of Abinadab in the hill, and sanctified Eleazar his son to keep the ark of the Lord” 1Sam.7.1. It is important to note that neither of these chapters records or makes mention of a single word from the prophet Samuel. He is hidden from view. There is no suggestion that Samuel was idle during this time; rather, he would have been engaged in prayerful exercise and in preparation for times of restoration. What a reminder that there is no short cut to revival and that moments spent in private with God are not wasteful in any sense of the word. This is beautifully endorsed in the life of the Lord Jesus, Who spent around thirty years in almost exclusive privacy compared with over three years in public ministry. Others too, like Moses and Elijah, had lengthy periods in the secrecy of the school of God, learning and proving God before they emerged in the public arena, and were mighty instruments in the hand of God. The same features also marked the ministry of David and these will be the subject of comment later in this chapter.
In this short review of the life of Samuel we must move quickly to the outstanding and highly significant moment when the entire house of Israel responded positively to his challenge to put away their strange gods, and to prepare their hearts and serve the Lord only. In view of their reaction, “Samuel said, ‘Gather all Israel to Mizpeh, and I will pray for you unto the Lord.’ And they gathered together to Mizpeh, and drew water, and poured it out before the Lord, and fasted on that day, and said there, ‘We have sinned against the Lord’” 1Sam.7.5,6. This momentous occasion was marked by unity; a display of their helplessness, as demonstrated by the pouring out of water in the presence of the Lord; a spirit of self-denial; and a clear and collective confession of sin. Such contrition coincided with a stirring of Philistine hostility and produced an increasing sense of dependence on God, as reflected in their pleas to Samuel to “cease not to cry unto the Lord our God for us, that He will save us out of the hand of the Philistines” 1Sam.7.8. At this juncture Samuel “took a sucking lamb, and offered it for a burnt offering wholly unto the Lord: and Samuel cried unto the Lord for Israel; and the Lord heard him” 1Sam7.9. To apply Samuel’s actions and words in a New Testament context, we could say that he drew near in the spirit and atmosphere of the cross. How good it is to get back and appreciate afresh the tenderness of all that was displayed and accomplished at Calvary!
- Jesus, keep me near the cross,
- There a precious fountain,
- Free to all – a healing stream
- Flows from Calvary’s mountain.
- (Fanny J. Crosby)
The Lord graciously granted victory over the Philistines and Samuel “took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Eben-ezer, saying, ‘Hitherto hath the Lord helped us’” 1Sam.7.12. On this occasion cities which had been lost were restored and hostility between Israel and the Amorites gave way to peace. Victories such as these are well worth commemorating; they are a great encouragement. It is worth noting that when Joshua had defeated Amalek, instruction was given to Moses to “write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua” Ex.17.14. We are prone to forget and become discouraged. May we ever be mindful of those times when God graciously drew near and not only preserved us but met our every need and gave victory over the enemy. Our lives are full of ‘Ebenezer’ experiences and how reassuring to remember that God is unaffected by time; what He has done in the past He can do presently and prospectively in the goodness of His will.
From a human point of view Samuel could have been excused if he had relaxed and taken things a little easier in the wake of such a great victory. The man, called and equipped of God for His service, was made of sterner stuff and was fully convinced of the need to continually maintain and fortify what had been established. It was, therefore, his habit, even in old age, to go “year to year in circuit to Beth-el, and Gilgal, and Mizpeh, and [he] judged Israel in all those places” 1Sam.7.16. He was consistent in his movements and in his ministry. He retaught fundamental truths and reaffirmed the importance of Beth-el, the place of the Divine presence, Genesis chapter 28; Gilgal, the place of the pruning of the flesh, Joshua chapter 5; and Mizpeh, the place of power, 1Samuel chapter 7. The apostle Paul was of a similar mind and gave clear instruction to Timothy that “the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” 2Tim.2.2. Truth never needs revision; it ever needs to be restated.
Old age brings its own challenges and in advancing years Samuel “made his sons judges over Israel” 1Sam.8.1. It would appear that in so doing he stepped beyond his approved sphere and was assuming a role reserved for the Lord Himself, according to Judg.2.18. It may be, in view of his age, that Samuel appointed his sons either to support him or succeed him (maybe both), but what is clear is that his sons, in spite of their honourable names, were of a different ilk to their father and “walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment” 1Sam.8.3. Failure in leadership was then, and still is, quickly detected and led to unrest; this along with a desire to be like all the other nations underpinned their desire for a king. While Samuel was naturally upset and displeased, he was guided by the Lord to grant them their request but at the same time to “shew them the manner of the king that shall reign over them” 1Sam.8.9. These developments initiated a chain of events which led to the enthronement of Israel’s first king. The record of Saul lies beyond the remit of this chapter but it is important to note that, regardless of so much in his favour, his reign, in spite of its early promise, was far from distinguished and ended most ignominiously. This is hardly surprising bearing in mind that he was a man of carnality and of Divine rejection.
Long before Saul’s removal he was rejected, and his successor was anointed by God through the instrumentality of the aged Samuel. It is not difficult to see a picture of the first man, Adam, in Saul and of the last Adam in David. It is recorded: “The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven” 1Cor.15.47. David is a beautiful picture of our Lord Jesus, particularly in regard to His suffering and rejection by this world. As previously noted, the exaltation and the glory of this same blessed One are graphically portrayed in the reign of Solomon. It is possible that when Peter wrote of the “sufferings of Christ” he had David in mind but when he wrote of “the glory that should follow” he had Solomon in view, 1Pet.1.11. The introduction of David is a highly significant step in completing the transfer of the direct rule of God to an earthly monarch of His choice. However, before such a transfer became a reality, the nation of Israel must first learn something of the shortcomings of being subject to a king of their preference.
The choice of David is anchored in the rock bed of inexhaustible sovereignty. How interesting and instructive to reflect on the commentary of the apostle Paul: “And when He had removed him [Saul], He raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also He gave testimony, and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after Mine own heart, which shall fulfil all My will’” Acts 13.22. Let us also observe the words of Samuel to Saul: “The Lord hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbour of thine, that is better than thou”; observe also that “the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for He is not a man, that He should repent” 1Sam.15.28,29. What God purposes He performs and with much wonder we reflect upon the sacred record, “He chose David also His servant, and took him from the sheepfolds: from following the ewes great with young He brought him to feed Jacob His people, and Israel His inheritance. So He fed them according to the integrity of His heart; and guided them by the skilfulness of His hands” Ps.78.70-72.
Before pondering in some selective detail how the purpose of God became a reality in the emergence of David, it would be helpful to observe some important underpinning principles. These are:
- God sees the end from the beginning and nothing can prevent or delay what He has planned coming to pass;
- God makes choice of unlikely and undeserving individuals and moulds them for His usefulness and honour;
- A God-chosen path is not easy and calls for the exercise of faith and obedience; David learned this over a long testing period as a fugitive, when he fled repeatedly from the unwarranted attacks of Saul and his followers;
- A call to Divine service does not represent immunity from failure; without going into detail, David’s record is marred by some disappointing, despicable and damaging features which, by their nature, call for total condemnation;
- In spite of human failure, God is a God of recovery, and how often did David prove this to be the case!
1Samuel and 2Samuel trace the establishment of the nation of Israel as a kingdom. Generally speaking the first of these books focuses on David as the one to be king whereas the second covers his actually becoming king and his experience in this royal and responsible office. Chapter 16 of 1Samuel is a defining point in the book; it begins with a sharp challenge to Samuel from the Lord: “How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? Fill thine horn with oil, and go, I will send thee to Jesse the Beth-lehemite: for I have provided Me a king among his sons” 1Sam.16.1. Let us now reflect on what the Scriptures reveal about the chosen of the Lord and in a particular way contemplate some of the features and characteristics which have made him so engaging, and of such keen interest to the people of God of all ensuing generations. The fact that the life of David prefigures the Lord Jesus in so many ways adds to his attractiveness and to the profit of its study, whether it be practically, pictorially or prophetically; a life covered so extensively in the pages of our Bible. Let us reflect upon him as:
David first appears on the Biblical page in a rather remarkable way. The rejection of Saul gave way to his introduction but his identification as the chosen successor required significant thought adjustment on the part of Samuel and of his own family. Natural inclinations pointed toward the eldest and the biggest; however, God revealed that His choice was none of these, but rather a lad out of sight and out of mind, one who “keepeth the sheep” 1Sam.16.11. When David, who “was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to” was brought in “the Lord said, ‘Arise, anoint him: for this is he’” 1Sam.16.12. While there are obvious attractions about the freshness, vitality and beauty of youth, depth of character and compassion were of much greater value; it is hardly surprising that the Divine appointment favoured the one with the shepherd heart. Later, but only when circumstances called for it, in the presence of Saul prior to his engagement with Goliath, David disclosed his willingness to put the protection of the sheep before his own safety, 1Sam.17.34-36. A preview of the lovely features of our Lord Jesus is obvious; let us ever remember that “the good shepherd giveth His life for the sheep” Jn.10.11. Those who exercise care over the people of God should never lose sight of the inestimable cost the Good Shepherd incurred; those who “feed the church of God, which He hath purchased [‘acquired’ R.V. margin] … with His own blood” Acts 20.28, carry a weighty responsibility.
The occasion of David’s private identification and anointing was a momentous moment in his experience; everything from then onward must be viewed in light of the fact that he was king designate and would one day occupy the throne. Nothing could thwart Divine purpose. How important to observe that “the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward” 1Sam.16.13.
Immediately after his anointing David returned home to his normal way of life but was soon, in a rather remarkable way, brought back into the presence of Saul to offer temporary relief to the troubled king through the touch of his skilful hand upon the harp. With grace and dignity, David, again in a Christ-like way, filled the role of a servant and it was most unlikely that Saul had any awareness that the one who played before him had in fact been anointed king. David’s readiness to serve was later displayed in an even greater way when he unhesitatingly obeyed his father’s instruction to “take now for thy brethren an ephah of this parched corn, and these ten loaves, and run to the camp to thy brethren; and carry these ten cheeses unto the captain of their thousand, and look how thy brethren fare” 1Sam.17.17,18. Marked with unswerving and commendable diligence, he made provision for his sheep to be cared for in his absence and undertook this errand of mercy without hesitation.
Having come to his brethren, “as he talked with them, behold, there came up the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, out of the armies of the Philistines, and spake according to the same words [words spoken previously before David’s arrival]: and David heard them” 1Sam.17.23. All the men of Israel, including Saul, were struck by fear and fled from Goliath; for forty days the failure of the flesh had been pitifully exposed but into such a critical situation stepped a lad, as seen in the eyes of men, but in reality he was truly a man of spiritual stature in terms of genuine concern and deep-seated conviction. Undeterred by unjustified misrepresentation by his brethren, and solely interested in the honour and glory of the name of his God, David declared his willingness to “fight with this Philistine” 1Sam.17.32, in dependence on God Whom he had proved by the slaying of a lion and a bear when looking after sheep.
Having been clothed with the full repertoire of Saul’s armoury, David quickly discarded each and every item because he had not proved them. Rather, with his staff in hand and five carefully chosen stones from the brook in his shepherd’s bag, “he drew near to the Philistine” 1Sam.17.40. David was assured that the weapons of his engagement were “not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds” 2Cor.10.4.
Totally unaffected by the disdain of his adversary, David “ran toward the army to meet the Philistine. And David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead, that the stone sunk into his forehead; and he fell upon his face to the earth” 1Sam.17.48,49. What a moment, when the largely unknown victor brought the head of Goliath in his hand to Jerusalem!
It was a rather sad reflection that neither Saul, who ought to have been rising to the challenge thrown out by Goliath, nor Abner, the military captain of the day, was aware of David’s identity. When asked, “Whose son art thou, thou young man?” he responded with admirable humility, “I am the son of thy servant Jesse the Beth-lehemite” 1Sam.17.58. What grace and humility he displayed! It is hardly surprising that this same one, when later subjected to unwarranted provocation, “behaved himself wisely in all his ways; and the Lord was with him” 1Sam.18.14; the following verse adds that “he behaved himself very wisely”.
Whether it was the victory over Goliath or how he conducted himself in the presence of Saul, David won the heart of Jonathan to the extent “that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” 1Sam.18.1. Their love for each other was sealed by a covenant and, stripping himself of his robe, Jonathan sacrificially gave to David his garments, his sword, his bow and his girdle, 1Sam.18.4. After the death of Jonathan, David felt keenly his passing; he proclaimed, “I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women” 2Sam.1.26. Well may we affirm, “We love Him, because He first loved us” 1Jn.4.19.
David’s fame, as the conqueror of the Philistine, spread immediately and widely throughout the beleaguered nation. This was evidenced by the women who “came out of all cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet king Saul, with tabrets, with joy, and with instruments of music” and who “answered one another as they played, and said, ‘Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands’” 1Sam18.6,7. Saul’s response may have been natural but it was hugely disappointing and became an unhealthy defining moment in his long-term attitude to David. David’s acclaim also lingered long in the memories of the Philistines, 1Sam.21.11. It is precious to appreciate that the memory of a far greater victory will never be erased; the accomplishment of our Lord Jesus at Calvary will be celebrated eternally and the anthem of the redeemed shall ever proclaim, “Thou art worthy … for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” Rev.5.9.
Having won a notable, undisputable victory, and having already been anointed king, David, from a human point of view, could have expected an early and straightforward path to the throne. Contrary to human reasoning, he must learn that the ways of God are altogether different; these invariably show that suffering precedes reigning, shame precedes honour, lowliness precedes exaltation and rejection precedes recognition. The fact that David was chosen of God did not offer him the slightest degree of escape from difficulty, dependence, desolation, danger and distress. In God’s infallible purpose these experiences were essential preparation for the impending years of testing sovereign rule and authority. Chapters 19 to 31 of 1Samuel provide a detailed, comprehensive record of the period in David’s life when he was pursued relentlessly by Saul. Space precludes any kind of in-depth consideration of these experiences; it is, however, essential to comment on them, albeit briefly and generically, with a view to our benefitting from at least some of them. Against such a backdrop let us ponder:
The Lifestyle He Encountered
It is most likely that David would have repeatedly questioned why he was required to travel such a discouraging and demanding path. After all, he had been anointed king, he had answered his father’s call to attend to the needs of his brethren, he had been victorious in his battle with Goliath, he was the object of public acclaim and he had with much humility and devotion administered to Saul in his times of unpredictable need. He must learn that God does not ask His own to pass through unnecessary trial for a moment longer than necessary, and that each and every one of these carries a wholesome purpose for the edification of His people and the glorification of His name. How good to be able to “greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” 1Pet.1.6,7. A reflection on these experiences in the life of David stimulates precious thoughts of our Lord Jesus, the One Who “though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered” Heb.5.8. With this in view let us remember that “we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” Heb.4.15.
The Lessons He Embraced
Conflict with the Philistines was one thing but having to flee from Saul was something altogether different. Regardless of Saul’s cruel and hostile attitude, David ever esteemed him as the Lord’s anointed; repeatedly he demonstrated this when he could easily have taken his life, knowing that such actions would have hastened his pathway to the throne. David revealed he had come to understand that moving in the will of God was the paramount regulator of his life and in a Christ-like way he could have said, “Not my will, but Thine, be done” Lk.22.42. Moving in accordance with God’s infallible will taught David a lesson that most find very difficult to learn, that is, the need for patience and willingness to wait for God to work in His time. Those who have moved in advance of God’s time have reaped a harvest of bitterness and tears.
Coupled with the learning of patience David enjoyed again and again much of the provision, protection and preservation of his and our God. Limitations on the size of this chapter exclude any detailed consideration of these vital aspects of preparation for future service; they are worthy of serious contemplation and will bring much edification to a thoughtful reader.
While these essential and formative years revealed much about God and His ways, they also taught David many vital lessons about himself and his vulnerability. Again without going into detail, it is both interesting and instructive to observe that David had an innate capacity to resort to deception, for example, when he hatched a scheme which led to Jonathan lying to his father about David’s absence, 1Sam.20.6,28, and later, when he lied to Ahimelech the priest by claiming to be on the business of Saul, 1Sam.21.2,8. Sadly, before chapter 21 ends David stoops lower and we read that he “changed his behaviour … and feigned himself mad … and scrabbled on the doors of the gate, and let his spittle fall down upon his beard” v.13.
Another unhealthy tendency came to light when David reacted hastily and impulsively to Nabal’s unreasonable refusal to respond favourably to the request from his servants for food supplies, 1Samuel chapter 25, and was saved by the intervention of Nabal’s wife, Abigail, from causing extensive bloodshed and suffering. Observe also how that when David acted independently of God and in a self-willed manner, he was graciously delivered from his defection in his attempt to take sides with Achish against his own people, 1Samuel chapter 27. The purpose in mentioning these shortcomings is not to magnify failure but rather to show that adversity reveals inward capability; David, under Divine probation, had many vital things to learn about himself. In this context, it would be totally inappropriate not to mention the Lord Jesus, the One Who in the face of every trial revealed that there was nothing of a disappointing or defiling nature in Him. He Himself said, “The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me” Jn.14.30.
The Loyalty He Enjoyed
The fugitive years in the life of David were marked by severe suffering and hardship. During this period he availed of the support and steadfastness of those loyal and faithful to him. Of these Jonathan is a notable example. David valued his support and unwavering friendship through many testing situations; he never found Jonathan anything other than true and loyal. A further example was found in the company who gathered to David when he escaped to the cave Adullam; how he must have been encouraged by their identification with him on that particular occasion, 1Samuel chapter 22. Again, the six hundred men who stood true to David during the final stages of his exile should not be overlooked and it is most encouraging to note how all of these were rewarded when the spoils of victory were distributed. What an encouragement to be faithful to our heavenly David as we seek to live for Him in the world where He was “despised and rejected of men” Isa.53.3.
Any meditation on the call of David to the service of the Lord would be incomplete without a brief comment on the legacy he has left through the many precious Psalms attributed to him. He was much more than a skilled musician; he was an accomplished composer inspired by the Holy Spirit. His Psalms communicate an impressive array of understanding and appreciation of the glory, greatness and faithfulness of his God, and the insignificance of himself. Space will only permit one brief reference: “When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained; what is man, that Thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that Thou visitest him?” Ps.8.3,4. In this Psalm there is a clear link to David’s earlier shepherd life, and the reference to “Gittith” in its title likely provides a connection with Gath, where David took refuge from the relentless pursuit of Saul.2 While some of the Davidic Psalms reflect on his experiences subsequent to his coming to the throne, it is equally true that others have been based on those earlier encounters and communications with God during the time of his flight from Saul; these were indispensable in preparing him for all that lay before.
- 2 Flanigan, J.M. “What the Bible Teaches – Psalms” . John Ritchie Ltd., Kilmarnock. See the Introduction to Psalm 8.
The death of Saul was a critical turning point in opening the way for David to be enthroned firstly as king of Judah and then, more than seven years later, as king over the entire nation. To his credit he felt keenly the passing of Saul and three of his sons, including Jonathan; there was no sense of glee or opportunism but rather a waiting upon God. While Saul’s son, Ish-bosheth, was anointed by Abner king over all Israel, “the house of Judah followed David” 2Sam.2.10. Later, as purposed by God, the one who had been anointed king several years previously occupied his rightful place as the sovereign ruler over all the land of Israel. David could have been forgiven had he thought, that having reached the throne, all his problems, difficulties and hardships would be over; whereas in actual fact they were, in many ways, only starting.
The purpose of this chapter is to trace the dealings of God with David, taking him from the obscurity of the sheepfold to the prominence of kingship. In summary, we have addressed his choice, call, course and timely coronation. It was deemed necessary to deal with these matters against the backdrop of the emergence of Samuel and his outstanding restorative ministry and the less encouraging impact of the reign of Saul. The record of these three diverse individuals conveys weighty and searching considerations. It is our sincere desire that we will all have the wisdom to avoid the pitfalls of Saul, and with grace and help from our God, emulate those commendable parts in the life of David which make him such an appropriate foreshadowing of our Lord Jesus Christ.