War had broken out. The fierce Philistines had come up with their great armies to try and conquer the land. Every man in Israel who could fight was called up to protect his country. Already David‘s three elder brothers had joined Saul’s army, which was preparing to fight the enemy.
On either side of a narrow valley, divided by a stream which ran along over smooth stones, the two armies faced each other. There they were encamped, like wild beasts ready to fly at each other’s throats. At any moment the fight might begin, and that stream be stained red with blood. Only the Philistines were far the strongest, and the Israelites had but little chance of victory.
This valley was seven or eight miles distant from the little town of Bethlehem, and Jesse waited anxiously, day after day, for news of his three sons. At last he could bear the anxiety no longer, and he determined to send David to the camp to carry food to his brothers and bring back news how they fared.
So, very early one morning, David set out on his errand. He had carefully put his sheep under the care of another shepherd, and he took with him parched corn and loaves of bread for his brothers, as well as ten cheeses which his father was sending to the officers under whom they served.
It was not long before the boy came within sight of the valley, and his heart began to beat with excitement, for he saw that he had arrived just as something was about to happen. The armies were drawn up in battle array, and suddenly a great shout went up from both sides. It was the battle-cry of the two armies which sounded in his ears.
There was no time now to carry food and gifts, so David quickly left his load at the entrance to the camp and hurried on to search for his brothers. He had learned to find his way about a camp, where for a short time he had been Saul’s armour-bearer. So now he went swiftly among the soldiers, until at last he found his brothers. “Were they well?” he eagerly asked them; “and what were they doing?”
But even while he spoke there was a stir among the Philistines, and all eyes were turned to watch, all ears were strained to hear the enemy’s challenge, which rang out clearly across the narrow valley.
Out of the rank of the Philistines there had stepped a man so tall and strong that he appeared to be a giant. He was more than nine feet high, and the armour which he wore was so solid and heavy that it would have crushed any ordinary man to the earth.
This was Goliath, the great champion of the Philistines. Every morning and every evening he strode proudly out and defied the Israelites, bidding them find a champion who would come and fight with him. Once again his challenge rang out on the clear air,–
“Choose you a man for you, and let him come down to me. If he be able to fight with me and to kill me, then will we be your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then shall ye be our servants and serve us. I defy the armies of Israel this day. Give me a man that we may fight together.”
A great silence fell after the champion had shouted his last words of defiance. There was no answer from the Israelites. No man had courage enough to dream of accepting the challenge.
David looked round him in amazement, and his cheeks burned with shame. What were the people doing to allow this boasting heathen Philistine to defy the armies of the living God? Eagerly he turned to the men around him and began to ask them what it meant. The soldiers answered him shortly. No, there was no one who dared to go forth and fight Goliath. The king had promised great rewards to any man who would kill the giant. But no one had dared to try.
David’s elder brothers heard his questions, and seeing how amazed he was, they began to grow angry. Did he mean to reproach them? Perhaps he thought of offering himself to fight the champion. It was time that this shepherd boy should be put in his proper place. So his eldest brother turned to him with a sneer.
“Why camest thou hither?” he asked. “And with whom hast thou left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know thy pride and the naughtiness of thy heart, for thou hast come down that thou mightest see the battle.”
It could not have been very easy to bear this taunt. But David had learned to conquer himself before he set out to conquer giants. So he answered quietly instead of flashing back an angry reply.
“What have I done?” he asked. “May I not ask a harmless question?”
There were many questions he still wished to ask, and presently the soldiers began to repeat his words one to another, until at last the report was spread that some one had been found ready and willing to answer the challenge of the giant Philistine. And of course the news soon reached the king’s ear. Saul sent immediately and ordered that the shepherd lad should be brought to him. He had quite forgotten about the boy who had charmed away his black moods with the magic music of his harp. And David had grown and changed since those days.
So now, when David stood before the king, Saul had no idea who he was, and his one thought, as he looked at the slender youth, was that it was madness to think of such a mere boy going out to give battle to the great giant.
“Thou art not able to go against this Philistine,” he said; “for thou art but a youth, and he a man of war from his youth.”
But David answered eagerly. He did not boast, but spoke steadily and wisely. True, he had not been trained as a soldier, but his courage and his strength had both been already proved. And he went on to tell the king that while he kept his father’s sheep he had often to defend them from wild beasts. Once he had fought with a lion and a bear single-handed and had killed them both.
It was not in his own strength that he trusted. “The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion and out of the paw of the bear, He will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine,” he ended triumphantly.
Faith in God was David’s sure defence; and Saul as he listened bowed his head in shame, for it was the faith which he himself had lost. It was this faith, he knew, which might win the victory. It was an echo of the confidence he had once felt when his whole trust had been in God, and he recognized the true ring of the boy’s courage.
“Go,” he said, “and the Lord be with thee.”
Then the king was eager to put his own armour on David, and he bade the soldiers arm him with the royal sword and put a brass helmet on his head. But David was not accustomed to wear heavy armour, and had never been trained to use a sword. No, he would do his best with the only weapon he thoroughly understood.
So putting on once more his shepherd’s coat, he took his sling in his hand, and as he crossed the brook at the foot of the valley he filled his shepherd’s bag with smooth stones and fitted one of them to his sling. Then with springing steps he began to climb the opposite side.
The rage of Goliath was great when he saw the slender, fair-haired boy, without either armour or sword, coming so boldly to meet him.
“Am I a dog,” he shouted, “that thou comest to me with staves?”
“I come to thee in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied,” rang out the clear answer. “The Lord saveth not with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give you into our hands.”
The great giant lifted his spear, ready with one blow to end this unequal fight. But David did not wait to come within reach of the spear. Before Goliath came near, the boy stopped suddenly and sent a stone whizzing through the air straight at the giant’s head. The stone sank into Goliath’s forehead, and the great figure reeled and fell with a mighty crash to the earth. Instantly David seized his sword and cut off his head.
So God’s people were saved, and so again God made use of the shepherd boy’s training and skill, this time to win a great victory for His people. The fair-haired shepherd boy had done his duty faithfully in the fields on the hillside at home, where he was but little thought of. He had always tried to do his best, whether he was keeping the sheep or practising with his sling or learning to play the harp. And now, suddenly, the great opportunity had come and found him ready.
He had entered the camp an unnoticed country lad, carrying provisions to his brothers. Now every soldier in the camp was shouting his name; the king was ready to shower rewards and honors upon him. He was the hero of the hour.
The pleasant days in the Bethlehem fields were now over for David. There was no thought of allowing him to return to his work. No, the king declared he must remain as a soldier in the army, ready to defend his king and country. Though he was still a mere boy he was placed in command and set over the men of war.
It was much more difficult work than looking after sheep, and as time went on and dangers and difficulties beset him on every side, David must often have longed for the old quiet days on the hillside. His path was rough and dangerous now, and sad to say his feet often slipped and he wandered far astray, but always he held fast to his faith in God, and found his way back to the straight path.
As the years went by Samuel’s promise was at last fulfilled, and David was made king over God’s chosen people. David had often forgotten God, but God had never forgotten him.
What a change it was from the days when he wandered about the fields in his sheepskin coat, often sleeping out under the stars, possessing only his harp and his shepherd’s sling.
Now he wore royal robes, and there was a crown of pure gold upon his head. Instead of the starry sky for a roof, he now lived in a palace of cedar wood.
And he knew surely that it was God who had taken care of him; that it was God who had set the crown of gold upon his head, the seal to the promise made in that long ago day when the old prophet had poured the anointing oil upon the head of the wandering shepherd boy.
Looking back, he saw that he had made many mistakes, that his soul was stained with many sins; but he knew, too, that God would listen when he prayed, “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”
As a little shepherd lad he had cared far more for his sheep than his own safety. He had always been ready to risk his life for them. So now, when he became king, his people were just as precious to him as his sheep had been. He cared for them with all his heart. He was prepared to suffer himself rather than any hurt should come near them.
So perhaps he was, after all, not unworthy to stand as a type of the great King, “great David’s greater Son,” the little Baby who was to be born in the town of Bethlehem, the Good Shepherd who was to lay down His life for His sheep.