ALIVE: Chapter 79 The Littlest Shepherd

Little did David’s mother know that the gift from God who was her son was not only for her, but through her to all of Israel, and from his seed, buried layers deep within his body, like a shimmering pearl of great price, the Son of God, the Light of light, would walk the earth as a man. But this writer must quickly put down the binoculars or go blind.

This cherished child David grew up closer to the mother than any of his much older siblings. Like a spring rain in the desert her songs and poetry percolated in his heart and landed on the broad surface of its hidden depth. But as time will have its unyielding way, it forced upon her the child’s growth until at twelve Jesse declared that the boy must be sent out into the fields to shepherd the sheep and goats with his brothers. To her dismay, there was no logical argument the mother could make to keep him home with her any longer so she humbly acquiesced to her husband’s will and with deep sorrow she let go, commending David to the Lord lest he and his sheep become fodder for the lions.

On the first morning, teary-eyed mama packed extra food in the lunch basket for her own little lamb. The boy David being oblivious to his mother’s grief cheerfully joined his big brothers taking his lyre along to entertain them.

Jesse accompanied his sons to make sure that David was taught proper shepherding skills. He left behind the blacksmith sons to make the swords, spears and javelin for battle, and the woodworking sons to mend corrals, build furniture and make arrows. With enemies surrounding them the necessity to be vigilant and ready to defend the land was paramount to agriculture.

Jesse and his pack of sheep and sons ventured through the wilderness to the pastures where nourishing grass blanketed the earth and where the woolen animals could meander from here to there to eat and sniff the living soil. Their herds of sheep, brown ones, black ones and white, lambs and ewes ate and frolicked all day long. Jesse taught David that with far-sight and knowledge shepherds steer their flocks to watering holes and fresh pastures; leaving barren fields behind for Mother Nature to refill, and he told David where and how to find water with his divining rod.

Jesse stayed close to David to teach the boy what predators to look for and how to be firm as only a man can be with an animal. While the older trained-brothers took their positions with the various flocks vigilant for their care and safety, the father taught his youngest son the secrets of healing and when to apply them. Each lamb was counted head by head, eyes by eyes, and watched lest one strayed. “Not every man is made to be a shepherd,” said Jesse to David, “It is a vacuous life rich with subtle lessons for the alert and the wise.” David smiled and stored the thought to ponder later.

From time to time Jesse left David alone to absorb the lessons and practice applying them while the father watched from afar. The lambs frolicked and grazed unaware of the skillful care that was given to them by their shepherds. Meanwhile, Jesse and his older sons trained for war while overseeing their own herds. Target practice, running races, and calisthenics filled the hours. It was a precious time for Jesse to be nearer these sons than usual. They laughed and joked, and came to know David, mother’s pet, to be a gregarious fascinating child.

In the evenings, because they were so far from home, the shepherd sons gathered their herds and camped under the stars. David foraged for wood and brought it back to camp to help build the fire. His father and brothers sat around the campfire lulling themselves to sleep with war stories.

David listened intently, never having seen a man killed. The words frightened him and attracted him at the same time. What would cause him to kill? Could he kill a man? David often fell asleep while his brothers were still talking. The nights were bitter cold. The sheep and the shepherds gathered close to each other surrounded by a wall of sheep to give them a few degrees of relief.

After a fortnight Jesse and his shepherd sons decided that it was time to head home to replenish their sacks. Jesse decided that David had learned enough from him and on the next trip would leave it up to the brothers to ready him to shepherd on his own.

The following morning Jesse and his three sons and his herds of sheep and goats and dogs started the journey back to Bethlehem. David was anxious to see his mother again. It seemed to have been a lifetime since he was with her. He felt that he had changed into a real man in the company of his big brothers and his father. Nevertheless, he was overjoyed to return to his beloved first companion.

David’s mother was out in the garden weeding and tilling when she suddenly heard the braying of the sheep. She looked up and squinted her eyes to find her precious baby David. Was he safe?

David spotted his mother looking for him and ran to hug her. The love they had for each other reignited in that hug and warmed them both. Mother and son could sense their heart beating in syncopated rhythm.

“Come and see the sweater I made for you!”

To celebrate this first homecoming Aminadab, David’s brother, surprised him with a slingshot that he had made for the boy so he could practice shooting to ward off predators.

David was thrilled with the gift and hugged his big muscular brother tightly. Aminadab took him into the yard to teach him how to use the toy-weapon. Even though at first he was very clumsy, David was determined to perfect his skill to show his gratitude to Aminadab for the fun and for the usefulness of it.

Between the lyre and the slingshot, David thought that he was the happiest most luckiest boy he knew. The following hours and days passed at home and in the nearby pastures practicing with his slingshot, focusing on the goal. At first, when his aim was bad, David had to force himself to be patient and to persevere. He knew there was a trick to aiming properly and he had to figure it out. Once in a while he hit the spot! Then he had to think hard about what he did right, and try again. Gradually he hit the goal more and more often, until the key for doing so became ingrained in a move that joined both his mind and his muscles in a single purpose. From sunrise to sunset, when he had the lambs under control, growing David worked to perfect his aim; he was especially proud of himself for being able to shoot moving targets.

David became so adept at using his slingshot that one day he challenged Aminadab to a contest. Aminadab hit the target with an arrow, and David’s job was to hit the same spot with his stone. David carefully picked out the right stone and positioned it properly. Aim. Shoot. Both brothers knew that these games could save their lives some day.

The day that David had been waiting and hoping for, but also feared, finally arrived. Jesse conferred with his older shepherd sons who determined that young David could handle a flock on his own in the outer pastures. There wasn’t sufficient nourishment for all the herds to be together as they had been during the training of David. They needed to split up. He was ready. He was twelve years old, a man, and he was ready to accept the responsibilities of a man.

David received the news with joy and some trepidation. He had never in his young life been alone. Jesse told David that he was to take the white herd of sheep and head south towards Hebron where he could find green pastures. He was to stay there until the full moon and then return home. David, feeling that he was about to enter a passageway into a new life, nodded in obedience to his father. He was to depart after the third sunrise. His mother sensed David’s feelings and asked him to go with her to fetch water. David hadn’t fetched water with his mother since he was a child as if that was decades instead of a month ago. Now it was her turn to give him advice. She led him to an isolated boulder on the way, and signaled for him to sit beside her.

“My son, my precious son, you are never alone. You have the holy angels of God as your companions. Obey the law. Guard your mind and your heart. As you hear the sheeps bleating, so listen to the voice of the Lord speak to you. Above all, rest on the Sabbath, no games, no practice shooting or lyre playing! All you should do on the Sabbath is to pray, speak to the Lord as you speak to me. Pour out your heart. Befriend the Creator of the earth and heaven, and He will bless you richly.”

David had heard all of this before, but he kindly let his mother repeat herself even if for the hundredth time. After a long pause, David noticed that a tear was trickling down her cheeks, and he hugged her tightly. She loved David’s bear hugs. He was so strong for being the smallest of her brood.

Mother and son fetched their water and walked home solemnly each trying to savor the final moments of his childhood.

The next day was busy, preparing and packing for his new role as lone shepherd. David woke up before sunrise on the morning of his departure. He dressed quickly and grabbed a chunk of breaded and headed out without waking anyone. The full moon gave off enough light for him to go to the coral for his sheep and dogs and lead them to Hebron. There was no reason to wait for the others to wake up.