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The selection of David by Samuel
Approximately one year elapsed between chapters 15 and 16 - plenty of time in which we could learn that Saul had repented in sack-cloth and ashes and sought to appease the Lord's anger but, instead, we learn that the word of the Lord came again to Samuel and instructed him to go to Jesse, the Bethlehemite, because He had selected a king from among his sons. Saul was obviously fully aware, from the earlier judgments announced by Samuel, that God was raising up a king from one of the other tribes, but he did not know where or whom. Saul was literally becoming demented as he responded evilly to the chastisement brought through Samuel and God sent an evil spirit to torment him (ref. 16:14-23) as he became obsessed with the fact that there was a man out there who would take his kingdom from him and keep his son Jonathan from sitting on the throne. Saul was not likely to take his replacement lying down and was expected to take action to prevent it, for we read (v2) that Samuel asked the Lord, "How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me." If Saul learnt of Samuel's intentions in visiting Jesse he would be accused of treason and be executed, for there was already a king on the throne whom Samuel had anointed. The elders of the city of Bethlehem came trembling when Samuel arrived, for they feared that his arrival would not be peaceable. But Samuel put their minds at rest and informed them that he had come to offer a sacrifice, which they are invited to attend. They are told to consecrate themselves and join Samuel in the sacrifice but he also consecrated Jesse and his sons as invited guests.
Years earlier it had not been difficult for Samuel to select Saul, for God had told him in advance that the king-to-be would be coming the following day and He made it clear at the outset that Saul was the one He had chosen (9:15-17). In the case of Saul's replacement, Samuel knew where and whose son the new king would be, but did not know which one of the sons of Jesse would be chosen. We also see that Samuel now had his own criteria for selecting the new king, some of which clearly stemmed from the designation of Saul, a view reinforced by the criteria for kings of that day and which is so rampant in choice of leaders in our own day too! Just what would the criteria be? First, one would expect the first-born to be the choice for king. The first-born was given a double portion of his father's goods. Headship of the family was passed on to the first born. The oldest would be expected to be the most mature, the most experienced, the wisest of the family. In addition to priority in birth order, we see that Samuel expects the king-to-be will be evident by his appearance, for this was the way it was with Saul (see 9:2).
God gave Samuel a plan whereby the sons of Jesse would pass before him and be considered and when Samuel looked at Eliab, the eldest, he thought, "Surely the Lord's anointed". We see that Samuel's mind was just like that of the people - let us choose a king who looked like a king! Eliab evidently had the stature and appearance of a king but (v7), 'The Lord said unto Samuel, "Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart."' What matters to God is David's heart and we should remember that Saul was a man whose heart God had to change: Then it happened when he turned his back to leave Samuel, God changed his heart; and all those signs came about on that day (1 Samuel 10:92). Samuel also had to learn this principle - that it was what was inside that counted. Jesse called in the rest of his sons, and God made it clear that He had not chosen any of them and this thoroughly perplexed Samuel who asked, "Are here all thy children?" None of Jesse's family considers David even a remote possibility for king and he is not even in their minds as a possible candidate until Samuel questions them. It is only later that we realise why David is not even there to be considered - he is a mere lad, still considered a child, and not a man so that he could be the new king? Because of his age he has been given a child's work - keeping the sheep. In Middle-Eastern countries to this day women or children tend small flocks of sheep. This is David's job, which seems to tell all. How can he even be considered as a candidate for Israel's king? It is only later, when he faces the challenge of Goliath, that we realise that even his record as a shepherd is exemplary. When he was told that there was still the youngest, who was out tending the sheep, Samuel had him called in and, when he appeared, the Lord said, "Arise, anoint him, for this is he." David is also a good-looking young man, lacking none of the qualities found in his older brother save his age and position as first-born. We see that God does not disqualify David for his good looks, but neither does He choose him because of them. David's character is pleasing to God, and it is the basis of his election to service, not his physical appearance. His deficiencies will be dealt with by the ministering Holy Spirit and the preparation God had planned for him, and so Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers, "and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward." We read in Psalm 78:70-72:
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.
We know that David began to reign in Hebron in the year 1010 B.C. when he was thirty years old, which means he was born in 1040 B.C. Therefore, we can date chapters 16 and 17 to approximately 1025-1024 B.C. and, using this chronology, recognise that David was fifteen or sixteen years of age at the time he was anointed to be king over Israel.5 Being anointed king and becoming king were two different things and, although David had the right to the throne, an ungodly man occupied it. Only God knew that Saul had fifteen more years to rule Israel as its king and He would provide David with all he needed to be Israel's king. David had been anointed with the Spirit of God to guide and empower him and, in the providence of God, he was going to be strategically placed in the presence of Saul as his armour-bearer (16:21), where he could learn how a king rules. David was not chosen to immediately replace Saul, but first placed in a kind of internship, to be mentally, morally, and spiritually groomed for the kingdom which would not be his for several years. The next fifteen years were years of rivalry between the two, but David patiently waited for God to work out His program so that he could sit on the throne with honour. Saul would attempt on several occasions to kill David, the one whom God had selected to be his successor but, first, an opportunity for Satan to kill the appointed king-in-waiting occurred while David was still a boy.
In spite of the "victories" of Saul and Israel, the Philistines are never destroyed and never finally decisively defeated so that Saul and Israel contend with the Philistines throughout his reign. Since Saul has shown contempt for the Lord's ways it appears that he must depend on the "arm of the flesh," and seek other heroes who will do warfare for him and for Israel. The stage is thus set for David and the role he will play in the battle with the Philistines and with Goliath, their champion. Very often, during the military activities of the time, a champion would be selected to fight the champion of an opposing army. Wars were speeded up in that way; lives were spared, and political and military confrontations were brought to a rapid conclusion. However, once the champions had fought, there was no guarantee that the losing side would live up to the terms of the agreement. This was the situation in chapter 17 as the armies of the Philistines, against whom Saul constantly fought, sent their champion Goliath to challenge a champion from Israel. Since Saul was head and shoulders taller than the rest of the people of Israel, and since he had been selected to lead the people into battle, he should have been the logical choice for Israel to send out against Goliath. In fact, he should have volunteered, but Saul wanted no part of this man. Chapter 17 says his height was six cubits and a span. Since a cubit was eighteen inches, this equalled nine feet. The span was the difference between the little finger and the thumb, which is approximately six inches. Goliath was a trained gladiator, 9 feet 6 inches tall and, clad in armour, a fearsome opponent. In 2 Samuel 21, beginning in verse 16, we learn that there were several giants encountered later on in Scripture: Ishbibenob, Saph, Lahmi, and a huge six-fingered mutant. Goliath came from "large stock" and he was the kind of champion any army would love to have. As he stood in the valley, with his armour glistening in the sunlight, the Israelites were terrified. Day after day he would go out to rebuke and humiliate the armies of Israel. His armour, which was made of scales and woven metal, weighed 125 pounds and his spearhead weighed fifteen pounds. There was not a man in Israel who would dare try to stand up to him - and Saul, the king chosen by the people to champion their cause was no different from their other warriors!
Saul never seems to take the initiative in precipitating a military confrontation with the Philistines, and this is no exception. After their partial defeat and humiliation at the hand of the Israelites in chapter 14, the Philistines seem eager to not only regain the military dominance they once held over Israel (see 4:9), but their sense of pride as well. The two armies come into confrontation approximately 15 miles southwest of Jerusalem (Bethlehem is 5 miles or so south of Jerusalem, and the valley of Elah seems to be 12 miles or so west of Bethlehem, within reach of the home of David and his family) digging in on opposite sides of the Elah valley and setting up camp on the sides of two mountains, each of which slopes down to the valley with a brook running between (cf. 17:40). The armies were about two miles apart, and the champion of the Philistines would shout across the valley that the Israelites were to choose a man who would come down to him. The terminology used in17:8 suggested that the Philistine giant wanted a man to be sent down like a sacrifice because, humanly speaking, anyone who challenged Goliath would end up slaughtered just like a sacrifice. David's older brothers were at the battle site because they were soldiers in Saul's army. David's job, as the youngest brother, was to take provisions to them from home and then go back and tend his father's flock in Bethlehem. The Philistine giant had been taunting the Israelites every day for forty days. On a trip to the battle zone with provisions, David learned that Saul, in desperation, had promised his daughter, riches, and freedom from taxes and conscription to public service, to any man who would kill the giant opponent. As David listened to Goliath's challenge and his cursing of Israel and her God, his blood ran hot and he asked (v26), "Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?" When he heard the insults from this Philistine and what Saul has offered, it was so incredible to him that he asked several people to confirm what he had heard before he believed it. David does not appear motivated by the gifts, but was simply amazed instead that such an offer had been made at all, because he fully expected any true soldier of Saul to jump at the chance, indeed the privilege, of taking on Goliath. After all, this man was cursing the people of God, and thus God Himself. David demonstrated his faith - he was certain that God would give the one who fought Goliath the victory. On top of the great honour and privilege of fighting Goliath, the king was offering all these gifts! It seemed too much to comprehend. David asked over and over to be sure he had heard correctly. Is there some catch? Why is no one accepting Saul's offer to fight?
Eliab, the oldest brother, heard David speak these words. We learnt that Eliab was the first one God rejected in the presence of Samuel and, because of this, he was jealous of David. Scripture says that his anger burned against David, and he asked (v281), "Why camest thou down hither? and with whom hast thou left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know thy pride and the naughtiness of thine heart, for thou art come down that thou mightest see the battle." David asked, "What have I now done?" and continued to speak to others who were around him. Some who heard David's words went and repeated them to Saul, who sent and had David brought to his tent. It is interesting to see Eliab's jealousy. He had been rejected once as his younger brother was chosen of God, and witnessed his anointing as the future king of Israel. Because of these things, his anger burned against him. Yet, David had such a sweet spirit and in many ways was like Joseph (Genesis 45) who could have taken the opportunity to gain revenge on hids brothers after simmering furiously over his treatment at their hands after they sold him into slavery. When David did become king of Israel and Judah he could have taken the same attitude with Eliab, but he did not because David was, in many ways, a type of Christ. He showed the virtues of patience and forgiveness which we should strive for in our Christian lives. In I Chronicles 27:18 we see what happened later when David became monarch over all Israel and Judah. Chapter 26:32 informs us that David made captains over the tribes and over the different sections of the armies and Chapter 27 lists the names of the captains over the different armies and tribes. Finally, verse 18 recounts that David selected Eliab as captain over the tribe of Judah. He was in a position to rebuke Eliab for his jealousy and hatred of him when he was only a boy of sixteen but, in gracious forgiveness, David made him captain over the tribe of Judah. Ironically, we find that, in every area Eliab accused David, his youngest brother was not only innocent but commendable. David came to the battlefield to bring food to his brothers and take back news to their father and in obedience to his father's instructions. David did not forsake his sheep but secured someone to care for them while he was absent (v20). David was not guilty of having a wicked heart and was chosen by God because he was "a man after God's own heart." David should not have been treated with undeserved disrespect, even by his older brother, as he will soon be Israel's king and here, before the confrontation with Goliath, we learn again the difference between Eliab and David - Eliab does not have the "heart" for the Lord, but David does and has received the anointing as God's chosen.
Saul heard the words of the young visitor to the camp and summoned David, whose first words to his king were gracious and encouraging (v32): "Let no man's heart fail on account of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine". The current king was terrified by the foreboding presence of Goliath and the Philistines and David graciously and somewhat indirectly encouraged Saul not to fear. The reason David can say this is because he is willing to do what neither Saul nor any other soldier in Israel is willing to do - fight Goliath. David is a man of courage and, at this point, the only Israelite on the battlefield with courage which has grown out of, first, his theology - his understanding of God. David is "a man after God's own heart" (13:14; 16:7) and he cannot be this unless he knows the heart of God, and this comes through an understanding of God through His Word (e.g. Psalm 119). David knows God, not only historically (the way God delivered Israel in the past), and theologically, but experientially, as he will soon indicate to Saul. David acts like the king of Israel should act. He needs to trust in God, to inspire his fellow-Israelites to do likewise, and to defeat the enemies of God, especially the Philistines. When David was anointed as the coming king over Israel (chapter 16), he must have spent a good deal of time pondering just what he should do as the king-in-waiting? No doubt his actions the day he faced Goliath were the result of his meditations. This young man was not a soldier, and some would say he was too young to fight, but David is providentially placed by his Lord in circumstances where he must trust God and obey His Word or cower in unbelief and disobedience, as do Saul and the rest of the army.
Saul gives David every opportunity to excuse himself and go back home to his father and his sheep without guilt or shame. There is a certain kindness in Saul's words to David when he attempts to talk him out of fighting Goliath. Saul does not say that David is too small to fight Goliath, but that he is too young and therefore inexperienced. Goliath is a seasoned champion with years of combat experience behind him. David is but a youth, with no combat missions at all. At least this is what Saul supposes, but David demonstrates convincingly that he has the experience for the job so that Saul allows him to represent Israel in fighting Goliath. David is young, but his seemingly trivial duty of caring for a small flock of sheep has thoroughly prepared him to fight Goliath. Eliab was never more wrong than he was about David, as David's words to Saul show. David sees and hears what every other Israelite soldier does that morning on the front lines with his brothers. The difference is that David views this circumstance as amazingly similar to situations he has successfully faced as a shepherd boy. If Goliath is strong and mighty, able to destroy a man, so are lions and bears, and David has faced them and killed them. If Goliath is a daunting warrior-figure, then few creatures are more intimidating than the sight of a roaring bear or a lion (cf.1 Peter 5:8) and, in the carrying out of his duties as a shepherd, David has killed both lions and bears (v34-36).
As David risks his life to rescue the sheep under his care, God rescues him. Is David worried about facing Goliath? No, because the God who rescued him, literally, from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue him from the hand of Goliath. Goliath poses no new threat and, since David has destroyed loud-mouthed lions and bears by his hand with the help of God, he can also destroy loud-mouthed Philistines. Goliath's "roaring" may frighten the Israelite forces, but he does not frighten David who has been here before with his God.
Saul gives David permission to fight Goliath and offers him his armour. The armour is a bad idea, which David rejects, but it does strongly imply that David is fighting Goliath in Saul's place as the official representative of the Israelite army. If this is the case, then David's victory should be Israel's victory (which it proves to be) but, on the other hand, David's defeat will appear to be Israel's defeat, at least by the terms Goliath lays down (v8-9). David is not fighting this battle alone. He is fighting for God, for Saul, and for the entire nation of Israel.
When Saul offers his armour to David it might seem, at least from a distance (and to those not advised of this discussion between the king and king-in-waiting), that it is Saul going out against Goliath. After all, who else has armour like Saul's? It also suggests that David cannot be that small in size, or the armour would not even fit. David puts it on and then removes it because he has not learned to fight in such armour - in his words, he has not "proven it" (v39). David will go against Goliath with the same weapons he has used before which God had given him the skill to use and Saul said (v37), "Go, and the Lord be with thee." David picked up five smooth stones, took his shepherd's crook in his hand, along with his sling, and approached the Philistine. The Philistine was insulted by the Israelites choice of adversary and disdainfully declared, "Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks," and cursed David by his gods. Goliath is furious and declares that he will kill David and feed his carcass to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field (v44). This threat does not intimidate David, for the imagery of feeding the dead body of the enemy to the birds and beasts does not originate with Goliath (Deuteronomy 28:25-262):
25 "The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies; you shall go out one way against them, but you shall flee seven ways before them, and you shall be an example of terror to all the kingdoms of the earth. 26 "And your carcasses shall be food to all birds of the sky and to the beasts of the earth, and there shall be no one to frighten them away"
God used this expression to describe the fate of those Israelites who rejected His Word, but this imagery is also employed with regard to the enemies of God, whoever they may be (cf. Jeremiah 7:33; 15:3; 16:4; 19:7; 34:20; Ezekiel 29:5). If Goliath hoped to frighten David by threatening to kill him and feed his body to the birds and the beasts he simply reminded David of a promise God made regarding His enemies and, for this reason, David turned Goliath's curse inside out (1 Samuel 17:462):
"This day the Lord will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike you down and remove your head from you. And I will give the dead bodies of the army of the Philistines this day to the birds of the sky and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel"
It is not David's carcass that will become bird food that day, but Goliath's. David makes it very clear that his contest with Goliath is not merely a personal matter - David is fighting Goliath for the glory of God, and on behalf of the nation Israel. His victory should be a lesson to all that the "battle is the Lord's," as well as the victory (v47).
David did not have a child's slingshot but a weapon of war, albeit not on the level of a gladiator's weapons. A gladiator preferred the spear, the sword, and the broadaxe, in hand-to-hand combat. In the eyes of Goliath, David would be considered as a guerilla fighter and not one who preferred hand-to-hand combat. David rebuked the Philistine and assured him that God would defeat him that day. Verse 48 tells us that David ran quickly toward the battle line and, with one stone from his sling, prevailed over the giant with a divinely inspired missile which stuck in the forehead of the Philistine, and then he used the giant's own sword to decapitate him! I have found this to be a powerful spiritual principle - defeat the warfare, arguments, and pretensions, of the enemy with God's weapons, the Word of God through the leading of the Spirit, and then finish them off with their own weapons.
When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled (v51), reneging on their previous agreement for, in verse 9, Goliath had said, "If he be able to fight with me, and to kill me, then will we be your servants." With the loss of their champion, all courage and will to fight are gone. The Israelite army, their morale miraculously restored by this deliverance brought about by their Saviour God, seized the moment and pursued the fleeing enemy, leaving their bodies all the way to the gates of their cities - "along the way to Shaaraim, even to Gath and Ekron" (v52) and then returned to plunder their deserted camps. David carried Goliath's head to Jerusalem, but temporarily placed the Philistines weapons in his tent and we know (from 1 Samuel 21:8-9) that Goliath's sword eventually was kept in the care of Ahimelech the priest.
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