Never was a shepherd more content with his life than when young David returned to the pasturelands and to his innocents.
In those days he strummed his lyre for himself and for the Lord. Barely aware of the hot sun beating down on him, David entered a cooling world of tones deep as a canyon and sharp as broken crystal. The harmonies that he was creating joined fingered-strings to his ears and to his invisible heart, the triumvirate communicating purely with its Creator. There was no dissonance there, no haughtiness, no rancor, not even pride in his talent.
The moment when he spotted a stray sheep David spun out of that ethereal place and gently set down the lyre to guide the lamb back to the fold. From the contrast of sudden silence David understood how and why the sounds of the lyre were medicine for the king.
How Satan must flee from pure beauty and harmony. How offensive it must be for the tormentor to be rendered impotent.
Quickly David re-focused on his duty to his sheep. His own thirst reminded him to drive the flock to a pond, and for himself to find a shade tree. He knew just the spot and skillfully drove his party to relief from the hot sun.
The young keeper of the sheep was oblivious to the battles taking place furlongs past the sounds of them for the Lord being David’s shepherd fed him in still pastures. Here David was maturing from within as the grape evolves into a tawny port slowly and imperceptibly except to the angels.
When the blistering sun descended gently behind the mountains David gathered his satchel and lyre, picked up his staff, and called to his lambs that it was time to go home.
Oh how he loved Bethlehem. Would that he never had to leave it. Yet, the arrangement his father made with the king was that he could go back and forth from palace to pasture to tend their sheep. The next day, was to be a day of return to Saul.
After David had placed his sheep safely in their corral he rushed inside for supper. His mother appeared distressed as she was stirring the stew that she had spent her day preparing. Her hands trembled and her head bowed low in silent prayer.
“What is it mother? Where is father and my brothers? Have I returned too soon?” David respectfully did not question the trembling hands or trickling tears that moistened her cheeks.
“No my love, your father will be present shortly, but I cannot say if or when your brothers will return. The Philistine are on the rampage. Morning and evening since you left they come to take their stand. They would have us destroyed or become their slaves. Your brothers are on the field of battle now. I am troubled lest I loose one of my precious sons to Sheol.
Cheerfully David responded, “This means I don’t have to go to the palace tomorrow!”
David hugged his mother tightly and with increased solemnity added, “Mother, trust in God and do not fret. Shall we pray together as we did when I was a boy? How often you soothed me as I listened to you speaking with Yahweh as you would speak to your father.” David did not realize that comparing Yahweh to a father had never been uttered, or even thought of before that moment. It was a concept born of the Spirit deep within David’s innocent core. Even his grieving mother did not notice.
At that moment Jesse entered the room and the conversation quickly turned to the more pragmatic condition of the sheep and if they had had enough food and water. Father and son gravitated to the table for supper where mother was setting down bowls of her aromatic lamb stew. Together the family gave thanks and then dined in silence, solemnly awaiting the brothers return.
While chewing bread Jesse said, “If Eliab and your other brothers do not return by daybreak, I want you to take for them an ephah of parched grain and ten loaves, and carry them quickly to the camp to your brothers; also take those ten cheeses over there to the commander of their thousand. See how your brothers fare, and bring some token from them.” Jesse said that to soothe his wife as well as to feed his sons.
“But where will I find them?” asked David.
“I will go into the village and inquire.”
That evening Jesse learned that Saul and all the men of Israel, were encamped in the valley of Elah.
David rose at first light, gathered the provisions into his satchel, and went as his father had commanded him. As he drew near Elah he first heard, then followed the shouts of the war cry to find the army going forth to the battle line between Elah and Ephes-dammin where the Philistines camped. The opposing armies thrust themselves at each other in the valley between two mountains.
Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. David left his satchel in charge of the keeper of the baggage, ran to the ranks, and went to find and greet his brothers.
Just as he spotted a brother and was approaching him, David looked up to see a giant of a man who had emerged into the front from the camp of the Philistines. Everyone stopped what they were doing and stared at this monster in awe.
His height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat looked to be five thousand shekels of bronze. He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head looked to weigh six hundred shekels of iron.
Jaws of the Jews dropped at the site of this giant.
At the front, the giant stood like a greater than life-size statue. Sound of voices, even of heavy breathing suddenly stopped. The giant’s voice moved into the opening his form made for him and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “I am Goliath! Why have you come out to draw for battle? Am I not a Philistine and are you not servants of Saul?” The sound of his bellows wafted loud and clear for yards around so that every Jew and every Philistine knew exactly what he said. This giant and enemy was about to disarm them with the threat of his words before he crushed them like ants.
“Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me,” he bellowed like thunder. Then the lightening of his words struck, “If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him, then you shall be our servants and serve us. Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together.” The eyes of the giant scanned the ranks of Israel’s piercing wide eyes under furrowed brows and stabbed repeatedly at their hearts.
Saul and all Israel heard the words of the Philistine with dismay and great fear.
Full of self satisfaction, Goliath turned around to leave, stomping through the crowd of cheerful Philistines back to his camp to rest-up.
Israel watched with relief this head above heads drift farther away from them. Goliath left his pathetic enemy to fret and to plan their response.
Once they saw the giant leave, Israel turned and fled back to the shelter of their own home base. Brothers in battle yielded to brothers in terror. All of their fighting was as nothing if just one man could lose the war for their entire nation. They had no giant to match this monster. Some men wondered what slavery would be like. Would they take their wives and children? No one spoke of these fears, they quietly chewed them over and over, like tough tasteless meat, in their anxious hearts.
A commander of Saul’s army passed through the camp loudly proclaiming, “The king will greatly enrich the man who kills Goliath and will give him his daughter and make his family free in Israel. Which one of you will fight for our freedom?”
Aminadab snickered and said to his brother, “As if anyone could. What good is a reward that is impossible to win? Why does he not offer us his whole kingdom?” Eliab nodded nervously.
David, who was looking for his brothers heard the offer and said to the men standing by him, “What did he say shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine, and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”
Two men shrugged and answered David in unison, “His daughter, and freedom shall be given for the man who kills him.”
His eldest brother Eliab spotted David and heard him. Eliab’s anger was kindled against David. He said, “Why have you come down? With who have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart; for you have come down just to see the battle.”
David replied, “What have I done now? It was only a question?” He turned away from Eliab toward another and spoke in the same way; and the people answered him again as before.
When the words of faith in God that David spoke were heard, the relieved commander went directly before Saul to let him know that they had a volunteer. Saul immediately sent for him. David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.”
Saul looked at his young shepherd and lyre-player, smiled and said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”
David answered Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, I took a lamb from the flock, I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them since he has defied the armies of the living God.” David added, “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will save me from the hand of this Philistine.”
Saul carefully considered David’s argument and wondered if it could be true. Then he weighed his options. David or immediate surrender. Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you!”
To this day no one knows whether Saul had faith that the living God could prevail through David, or if rather Saul figured that either he would surrender immediately and be enslaved, or that he could buy some time by sacrificing the shepherd, since no one, especially himself, the king, was willing to die at the hands of Goliath. For either reason, Saul put all of his chips on the child.
Let us believe the best, that by allowing the boy to fight Goliath, Saul showed as much faith in God as David did. Saul knew how high the stakes were because, if David was wrong and lost, all of them, even the king, would become slaves of the Philistines, their women defiled, their children made to worship idols.
With his own hands Saul carefully covered David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor and tried to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.” So David removed them. Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch. When done he picked up the sling and said, “Where is that giant Philistine?”
Eliazer ran ahead to the camp of the Philistine and told them that Israel was ready.
Goliath reappeared out of the mass of Philistines and drew near to David with his shield bearer in front of him. Goliath looked at David with disdain for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog that you come to me with sticks?” And Goliath cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, “ Come to me and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.”
But David replied, “You come to me with sword and spear, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head, and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by the sword and spear, for the battle is the Lord’s and He will give you into my hand.”
Goliath ejaculated a hearty laugh. Then he drew near to meet David; in turn David bravely plunged toward the battle line to meet Goliath. David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead, and he immediately fell face down on the ground.
So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, striking Goliath and killing him. There was no sword in David’s hand. Then David ran and stood over Goliath, he grasped his sword, and drew it out of its sheath, and killed him, then he cut off his head with it.
When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled. The troops of Israel and Judah rose up with a shout and pursued the Philistines as far as Gath.