Saul was very unhappy. He had lately felt a great emptiness, as though the future held only disappointment for him. Nothing pleased him. A distrust of his friends and acquaintances grew in his restless mind. He kept remembering Samuel’s remark about God rejecting him as king of Israel, and that made him more depressed (I Sam. 16:14).
Saul didn’t fully realize that God had withdrawn from him that wonderful peace and soundness of mind that God imparts to people who humbly and earnestly seek their Creator’s mercy and help, and who obey His laws. Such pursuits had been Saul’s in his early years as king. But later disobedience changed his character. As a result, God had not only deprived him of a peaceful state of mind, but had allowed an evil spirit to trouble and disrupt his way of thinking.
Saul’s servants were so concerned over their master’s behavior that they diplomatically suggested that he use music to bring him out of his periods of depression.
“Perhaps if good music were available when you’re not feeling well,” some of the servants told Saul, “it might work wonders for you. Harp music can be very melodic and soothing. Would you like us to find a good harpist for you” (I Sam. 16:15-16)?
“Suit yourself!” Saul growled. “I’ll try anything to relieve me when I feel worst – and that’s when I feel as though invisible hands are wrapped around my neck and trying to choke me!”
The servants were startled at this disclosure. It was something Saul hadn’t told them about before. They decided that something should be done as soon as possible.
“I know of a young lad who plays the harp exceptionally well,” one servant spoke up. “I heard him perform at Bethlehem, and happened to overhear that he is the son of Jesse, a livestock owner whose land borders the city. This youngster is a sheepherder who has become adept as a musician because he carries his harp with him, and spends much of his time playing as he watches his flock. He is also valiant, handsome and intelligent, and a fine soldier because of his ability to protect his flock of wild animals by unusually skillful use of a sling (I Sam. 16:17-18).
“Don’t waste time by running on any more about this fellow!” Saul commanded impatiently. “Just find him and bring him back with you!”
Saul’s servants later confronted Jesse to tell him that Saul wanted David to go back with them to Gibeah to play his harp for him. David’s father was troubled. He realized that his youngest son, having been named the next king of Israel, could run into great difficulty with Saul, who didn’t want to give up being king. On the other hand, there might be trouble if he refused to let David go with Saul’s men. Much as he disliked doing it, Jesse sent for David to come in from the pastures.
When David heard why Saul’s servants were in his father’s home he obediently agreed to go with them willingly. Jesse loaded a burro with provisions of wine and bread, and sent a young goat to Saul as a gift (I Sam. 16:19-20).
Saul saw David coming into his residence. He was a little surprised to learn that he was yet in his teens. He had expected an older person. After he had talked to him a while, he was gratified by the lads’ alertness and friendliness.
“You are my guest here,” he told David. “My servants will show you where you’re to stay, so that you may refresh yourself. I might call for you at any time, night or day. When I do, be prepared to play your harp for me.”
It was only a few hours later that a servant came to David’s quarters to tell him that Saul wanted to see him right away. When the young man was brought to Saul, he saw that Saul was having trouble breathing, and looked very uncomfortable as he sat stiffly in his chair.
“Play your harp!” Saul muttered. “If your music can give me any relief, I need it now!”
David began strumming his harp. It was a light, easily handled instrument fashioned somewhat like a lyre. Everyone in the room was pleased with the soothing music of the skillfully fingered strings. After a few minutes Saul started to relax and stretch out comfortably in his chair.
David continued playing for quite a while, carefully confining his performance to the kind that would be restfully cheerful. Finally Saul stood up. David assumed that this meant that he should stop playing.
“Your music has caused me to feel much better,” Saul smilingly told David. “Now I shall be able to sleep. Do whatever you want to do, but be close at hand if I should need you again.”
During the next few days David was sent for several times, whenever Saul’s miserable malady recurred. Happily for Saul, his trouble gradually went away every time David played for him.
“You have been a great help to me,” Saul told David. “I wish you could stay with me for a long time, but if the Philistines stir up another war, I’ll have to leave here and suffer through my ill spells without your music.”
“Why couldn’t I join your army and go with you?” David asked.
“My soldiers must be older men who are experienced in battle,” Saul replied. “You are a fine musician – not a trained fighter.”
“Why couldn’t I go along as your armor-bearer?” David eagerly inquired. “If you think I would be afraid when the enemy approaches, I promise to always hand you your armor before I start running.”
“A great idea!” Saul laughed. “From now on you’re my official armor-bearer!”
Saul had developed such a need and liking for the boy that he sent a message to David’s father. He requested that David stay indefinitely with Saul. Jesse preferred that his son return home, but he agreed to Saul’s wishes. He would have agreed more willingly if he could have known that it was God’s plan to keep David for a time where he could learn directly from King Saul something of the government of Israel. It was an odd circumstance that the real king of Israel (n God’s eyes) was serving the one who was actually no longer king, but who still considered himself as such (I Sam. 16:21-23).
In the weeks that followed, there was no cause for the army of Israel to go into battle. David’s function as Saul’s armor-bearer was carried out only in army training maneuvers. But David learned much during this military practice. Saul’s mental and physical condition improved so much that David was seldom called on to play. Saul more or less forgot about David. Realizing that his use to Saul had greatly diminished, David asked to return to his family. The officer in charge let him go with the understanding that David should return any time Saul should send for him.
David was glad to return home and his family was happy to have him back. David went back to herding sheep, and months went by without any word from Saul (I Sam. 17:15). In fact, Saul never again sent for David, who spent the next several months in the wilderness watching over his father’s growing flock of sheep. Meanwhile, he spent much time thinking about Israel’s welfare, and about what could be done to improve it. His stay with Saul had made him very conscious of his nation’s government, just as God had planned.
As time went by, his skill with his harp increased. So did his ability with his sling. Any animals that tried to attack his sheep almost always lost their lives by well-aimed stones that were catapulted out of David’s sling with almost the speed of a bullet.
On at least two occasions the young shepherd came close to losing his life for his sheep. At one time a lion leaped from behind nearby rocks to seize between its teeth a lamb that had strayed away a short distance. The lions of that land weren’t as large and powerful as mature African lions but they could easily kill a person with one ferocious thrust of a clawed paw, and David knew it. Nevertheless, he leaped after the lion as it tried to scramble over steep boulders. David fiercely struck the beast on its spine with the staff he carried at all times. The dazed animal dropped the lamb and stumbled to the ground. The young shepherd seized the lion by it long chin hair and snapped its head backward with such force that its neck was broken.
At another time a bear dashed into the startled flock to snatch up a lamb. When the bear saw David rushing toward him with upraised staff, it dropped the lamb and came growling to meet him. A swift blow of the staff across the delicate nose sent the bear on its back, howling with pain. David moved in quickly for the kill, while the animal was still flustered. Within a few minutes the bear was dead (I Sam. 17:34-35).
Not long after David had grown out of his teens, the Philistine army moved against Israel in the greatest number since the battle at Michmash a few years previously. Saul was informed of what was happening, and gathered his troops to confront the enemy at a lofty point a few miles west of Bethlehem. The Philistine army, having arrived from the west, set up camp at another high area not far from the Israelites. All that separated them was a rather narrow valley dotted with a few trees (I Sam. 17:1-3).
For several days neither side took any action except to keep their spies busy. Then on morning two men came down from the Philistine camp and boldly crossed the valley till they were near the slopes leading up to the Israelite camp.
When the Israelites saw the men coming, they wondered at their difference in height. One seemed to be nothing more than a boy, but when the two came closer, it could be seen that the smaller one was a powerful man over six feet tall, and that the other towered about twice as high.
This giant’s head was encased in a huge brass helmet that resembled a caldron. His coat of mail weighted more than a hundred and fifty pounds. Heavy brass semi-cylinders enclosed his lower legs, and a wide brass plate protected his chest. His entire armor weighed about three hundred pounds, but it wasn’t too much of a burden for him, inasmuch as his weight must have been close to five times as much as that of his armor. Added to all this were a large sword and spear. The spear shaft was like a pole, and the head on it was of sharpened iron weighting more than eighteen pounds. The armored man with the giant walked a few feet ahead with a large shield. It was his task to protect the larger man from arrows, stones and spears (I Sam. 17:4-7).
“I am Goliath, a Philistine from the city of Gath!” the giant shouted to the Israelites in a powerful, hoarse voice that echoed from one side of the valley to the other. “I have come with a plan to make this war a simple and quick one! Instead of our two armies clashing with a loss of many lives, why not settle matters by using just one man from each side? I’ll fight Saul or any man who is sent down to me! If he is able to kill me, the Philistine army will surrender to you, but if I kill him, we expect you to surrender to us! Who can say that this plan isn’t fair?”
Saul and his officers, who had been anxiously watching and listening, glanced at each other in dismay. Here was a miserable situation that surely wasn’t fair to the Israelites. It was embarrassing to Saul, who knew he was no match for the giant, although Israel’s leader was a very tall, strong and skillful soldier. There was no one else among Saul’s troops who could possibly stand up to the challenger (I Sam. 17:8-11).
It would have been easy for the Israelites to storm down the sloops and do away with Goliath by surrounding and attacking him, but such action would bring the Philistine army charging down into the valley. The Israelites were ready to defend their country in the event of an attack. But they didn’t intend to provoke a battle that might mean their defeat.
“Is the mighty Saul afraid of me?” roared Goliath, after he had stood waiting for a few minutes. “Or is he busy combing his ranks for one who will fight for him? I’ll come back later to meet the man who has the courage to stand up to me!”
Saul glumly watched the giant stomp back across the valley with his shield-bearer.
“We’ll just have to wait and see what happens,” he muttered to his discouraged officers.
They didn’t have to wait long. Late that afternoon Goliath and his man returned from the enemy camp to a point below the Israelite’s tents.
“Is the great king of Israel ready to fight me yet?” the giant bellowed. “Or has he fled across the Jordan River by now?”
There was agonizing silence from Saul and his men as the laughing Goliath lumbered back to his camp. Next morning, to their continued dismay, he was back again with his shield-bearer to taunt his enemies. He returned in the afternoon, and again the following morning. This kept up day after day (I Sam. 17:16).
Every time it happened Saul became more disturbed. More than once he was driven to the brink of commanding his men to charge the obnoxious Goliath. But he was restrained at the last moment by the sobering judgment that a furious and bloody battle would result. On the other hand, it was unthinkable that this ridiculous challenge would go on and on. Saul was trapped between two unfavorable choices.
Meanwhile, David had continued the peaceful pursuit of herding sheep. His three oldest brothers were in Saul’s army, and inasmuch as the camping troops depended to some extent on food from their families, David’s father prepared to send some special provisions to his sons (I Sam. 17:12-14).
“I’m sending you to the army camp with some things for your brothers and to see how they are faring,” Jesse told David when he came home that evening. “I’ll hire a neighbor to take care of your flock tomorrow. If you get started very early, you can make the 15 miles to the camp before the day becomes too warm for the food you’ll be carrying.”
Next morning before sunrise David set out with a burro loaded with a bushel of roasted grain, ten large flat loaves of bread and ten tasty cheeses. The sun wasn’t very high in the sky when he arrived at the Israelite camp to present the provisions to the man in charge of kitchen supplies (I Sam. 17:17-20).
David came to the camp at a time when the soldiers were shouting battle cries and singing songs that were meant to inspire them to battle and impress the enemy.
There wasn’t much, however, to look forward to except another day of waiting for the Philistines to make a move. David moved among the noisy troops until he found his three brothers, who were happy to see him.
After visiting for a while, it seemed to David that his brothers weren’t too anxious for him to stay very long. They kept suggesting that he get started back early so that he could reach home before dark (I Sam. 17:21-22).
Suddenly the battle songs of the Israelites ceased. Word was spreading that Goliath was approaching again; this time for the 14th day. David’s brothers tried to hustle him out of the camp, but the young man refused to leave after he had caught sight of the giant and his shield-bearer coming across the valley. David could hardly believe his ears and eyes when Goliath challenged the Israelites and added his usual insults. He was dismayed to see some of the men furtively moving back from their front line positons because they obviously feared that the giant might suddenly hurl the massive spear he balanced on his shoulder.
On making inquiries, David learned that this had been going on for weeks, and that Saul had offered various rewards to Goliath’s slayer, including money, jewels, cattle, freedom from taxes and army duty – and his daughter (I Sam. 17:23-25).
“Why should anyone need a reward as a reason to do away with this infidel who has defied the army of our God?” David shouted to those about him.
Embarrassed at David’s conduct, Eliab, his oldest brother, accused him of coming just to see a battle, and told him to go back home to his sheep. As David was answering him, soldiers came to escort the shepherd to Saul, who had been informed that a civilian was trying to stir up his troops. Saul failed to recognize him as the lad who had played a harp for him in the past (I Sam. 17:26-32).
“Why are you troubling my men with your opinions?” Saul asked.
“Because everyone is afraid of that boastful giant, “David answered. “But there’s no more reason for fear. I’ll go down and fight him now!”
Be watching for the next installment. Read how David defeats Goliath.