William M. (William Mackergo) Taylor.

David, king of Israel: his life and its lessons online

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Arrived at Gibeah, David was at once presented to Saul,
upon whom he made such a favorable impression that he
was taken forthwith into his regard, and appointed as one
of his armor-bearers ; nay more, the king desired his con-
stant presence at the court, and sent to Jesse, saying, " Let
David, I pray thee, stand before me ; for he hath found fa-
vor in my sight." And ever as some new attack of his mal-
ady seized him, David was there with' his harp and holy
hymns to soothe his soul, and " Saul was refreshed, and was
well, and the evil spirit departed from him." To borrow
the lines of James Montgomery,! in his " World before the
Flood," and substituting in them the name of David for that
of Jubal, we may thus describe the scene :

" David with eager hope beheld the chase
Of strange emotions hurrying o'er his face,
And waked his noblest numbers to control
The tide and tempest of the maniac's soul.
Through many a maze of melody he flew ;
They rose like incense, they distilled like dew,
Passed through the sufferer's breast delicious balm,
And soothed remembrance till remorse grew cairn."

But it was only a temporary relief after all. A more won-
drous triumph Was yet destined to be wrought by that same
harp when, tuned to words by God's own inspiration given,
it should not only soothe the soul of the singer himself, but
also give forth notes that would reach through all time, and

* Psa. xxxi., 19-21.

t For this application of Montgomery's lines, I am indebted to Blaikie's
" David, King of Israel," p. 37.


lift the devout spirit above all evil influences. How often
have these holy lyrics done for men a grander work than
that wrought by this music on the mind of Saul ! Luther
felt their influence when, inspirited by their strains, he went
forth to his great reforming work ; and the souls of many
anxious ones have been quieted by their trustful utterances
when their hearts, like Eli's, "trembled for the ark of God."
The lone widow has dried her tears as she has listened to
the music of the words, " God lives ! blessed be my rock,
and let the God of my salvation be exalted." The helpless
orphan has been directed to a friend above, as this soft strain
has fallen on his ear, "When my father and my mother for-
sake me, then the Lord will take me up." The desponding
saint has seen the heavens grow bright above him while he
heard these trustful notes : "Why art thou cast down, O my
soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou
in God : for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my
countenance, and my God." The dying one has felt as if the
glory-gate was already opening to him while the melody of
these words has distilled like the dew over his spirit : "As
for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness : I shall be
satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness." Yea, mightiest
achievement of all, it was a strain from David's harp which
upheld the Redeemer's soul when from the depths of his in-
finite agony he cried, " My God, my God, why hast thou for-
saken me ?" Truly, as well as eloquently, has one said, "The
temporary calm which the soft notes of David's harp spread
over the stormy soul of Saul was but a superficial emotion
compared with the holy rest on the bosom of their God to
which the Psalms have guided many an anxious and weary
sinner. The one was like the passing emotion of an orato-
rio, the other is the deep peace of the Gospel."*

* Blaikie's " David, King of Israel," p. 38.


Pausing here for the present, let us bring together a few
inferences from our subject which may be profitable for doc-
trine and practice. We can not help observing, then, in the
first place, how God works out his purposes through the agen-
cy of men who are acting according to their own free choice.
Evermore, as we read history, or look back upon our own ex-
perience, we see distinctly marked these two things, the plan
of God, and the liberty of man. We can not get rid of either,
nor can we see how they can be perfectly harmonized ; yet
there they are, constantly running parallel to each other,
and forming, so to say, the two lines of rail on which the
chariot of human progress rolls along. It was the design
of the Lord that David should sit upon the throne of his
people, and it was needful thereto that the young shepherd
should, in some way or other, be introduced to the court
of Saul, while, at the same time, it was essential that the
circumstances of his introduction should excite no suspi-
cion as to his future career. Now, see how all this was
brought about. David, in his devotion to his harp, had no
thought of thereby rising to the royal favor ; the servant who
mentioned his name to Saul had no idea of the fact that he
was already anointed to be Saul's successor ; yet each, in his
own way, and by working out the choice of his own free-will,
was helping on the fulfillment of the purpose of God. So it
is still, the only difference being that, in ordinary history, we
are not always thus permitted to see the different agencies at
work. Usually we are like men looking on the watch-dial
and reading off results, according as the fingers indicate.
Here, however, we are privileged to look within, and to see
how the various instrumentalities work together to bring
about the outward and visible effect. But we must not for-
get that in every thing, as really as in this history, God's
providence is working itself out through the free agency of
men, though at the moment they may not be thinking of


him at all. Oh, matchless mystery, whereby these two ap-
parent opposites are held in harmony ! Oh, most consoling
truth, whereby in all circumstances we are reminded that
" all things work together for good to them that love God,
to them who are the called according to his purpose."

But passing from this mysterious theme, let me hold up
before the young people of my audience the example of Da-
vid here, that they may be stimulated to improve their leisure
time in acquiring some useful information, or in learning some
useful art. While David followed the sheep, he had ample
time at his disposal, but instead of letting it go by in idle-
ness, or frittering it away in spasmodic study, now of this
thing and now of that, he specially concentrated his atten-
tion on the art of music, until he acquired rare skill and ex-
cellence in playing upon the harp ; and it was through this
self-taught attainment that he was first called forth into pub-
lic life. Now it is of immense consequence, that the young
people of these days should clearly see the necessity under
which they are laid, of acting in a similar manner. I speak,
observe, of leisure time, and any thing which I may say is
not to be misconstrued into an admonition to neglect busi-
ness for other pursuits. By no means. David did not neg-
lect his sheep for his harp. He was as ready to encounter
the lion and the bear as he was to play upon his lyre ; but
with his work he combined the cultivation of music in his
spare moments. And I earnestly exhort you, my youthful
hearers, to have some one study or pursuit on hand to which
you devote your leisure hours.

I advocate this on the ground of economy. As things are
with most of you, your spare moments go you can not tell
how. To-day they are given to one thing, to-morrow to an-
other ; so that with this continual social and mental dissipa-
tion, it would be difficult for most to tell, either what they
have done or what they have learned, out of business hours


last week. And yet they have been occupied all the while.
" As they were busy here and there," at one thing or anoth-
er, the week " was gone," and they have nothing to show for
it ; whereas, if they had systematically devoted their hours
of leisure to the prosecution of some plan in some depart-
ment of self- culture, they would have acquired something
which would remain with them, and be of signal service to
them in after-life. Bind together your spare hours, therefore,
by the cord of some definite purpose, and you know not how
much you may accomplish. Gather up the fragments of
your time, that nothing may be lost.

I advocate this on the ground of recreation. Some, indeed,
may be apt to say that they have no strength for the pros-
ecution, after the labors of the day, of such a work as that
to which I would incite them. But not to say that there is
nothing more wearisome than idleness, unless it be the dis-
sipation of pleasure, I would remind you that the truest re-
laxation is a change of employment.

" A want of occupation is not rest,
A mind quite vacant is a mind distressed."

No doubt there must be some physical recreation, but for
rest to the mind we need something else than exercise for
the body ; we need occupation for the mind itself in some
other sphere of thought, and this can be best obtained by the
systematic prosecution of some favorite pursuit. Try it,
young men, and you will acquire from it buoyant elasticity
of mind, while at the same time you will obtain substantial
information, or proficiency in some elegant art.

I advocate this on the ground of self-protection. Idleness
is the mother of vice, and it is a sadly suggestive fact that a
man is commonly either made or marred for life by the use
which he makes of his leisure time. It is not at business, or
at work, that temptation first assails a youth ; it is when he


is at leisure ; and commonly when he falls into iniquity in
business it is in order that he may procure the means of
indulging in the vicious habits which he has learned dur-
ing his leisure. If, therefore, you would keep temptation
ajt a distance from you, and deprive the haunts of iniquity
of the power to attract you, seek to give yourself to some
favorite study in your spare hours, with all the ardor and
energy of your nature ; and when one comes to entice you
into sin, you will be able to say, " I am doing something bet-
ter, and I can not go with you."

I advocate this use of your spare time, lastly, as a prepar-
ative for future eminence. It is interesting to observe
how many have passed through this very gate to usefulness
and honor. Hugh Miller raised himself from the position
of a working mason by his devotion, first to geology, and af-
terward to literature, in his leisure moments ; and Michael
Faraday, while a book - binder's apprentice, was reading
chemical books, and making electrical machines in his
evening hours thereby laying the foundations of that great
work which as a man of science he was afterward to accom-
plish. You can not all become Millers or Faradays indeed,
but, by following their example, you will attain to something
nobler than you otherwise could reach, and make the best
of yourselves for God and for the world.

It may seem to many as if in speaking thus I were draw-
ing a merely secular lesson from a sacred theme ; but to the
Christian there is nothing secular. He wants to make the
most of himself and of his opportunities for Christ, and he
must learn this lesson, else when occasions come he will not
be able to avail himself of them. The men who have been
unsuccessful on the earth have failed, not for want of op-
portunities of succeeding, but because they were never ready
to avail themselves of the opportunities which did come to
them ; and this unreadiness may be traced to the frittering


away by them of their leisure hours in strenuous idleness, or
in frivolous amusement, or in vicious indulgence.

Again, as we see David setting out from Bethlehem, we
are reminded of the feelings, the difficulties, and the dangers
which are usually attendant upon the first leaving of the fa-
ther's house. I have not attempted to describe to you what
David's emotions were as he parted from father and mother,
and looked forward to the delicate position which he was
to occupy; but I can not help employing this incident to
remind the young people who may have come to this great
commercial centre from a distant home, that there are parents
looking after them with longing solicitude, arid earnestly be-
seeching God to bless them. It may be, indeed, that in some
instances the parents from whom they have parted are now
in glory ; yet I am sure that they all look back to their early
abode with the tenderest feelings, and regard it as surround-
ed with the holiest associations. Are you living now, my
young friends, as those parents would have you? Would
you care to have your mother perfectly acquainted with all
you did last week ? How does your present life look when
you think of your father now in heaven ?

It may be, too, that there are some here preparing to leave
their father's house, and go like Abraham, hardly knowing
whither, save only that duty calls them. Let me entreat them
to go in Abraham's faith, and above all to secure that, as in
the case of David here, the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon
them, making them prudent in matters. With this posses-
sion, no matter where we go, all will be well. Without it, no
matter what worldly prosperity may attend us, we shall be
poor indeed. They are never far from home who take God
with them, for he is himself their dwelling-place.

Finally, we may learn, from Saul's experience, how tran-
sient is the relief which mere earthly influences can give in
the case of a moral and spiritual disease. David's music


went so far,' but it did not touch the root of the evil. Only
when Saul returned to God would God return to him. He
needed a new heart ; and no earthly music, even from Da-
vid's harp, could give him that. So let us be admonished by
his folly. Vain are all merely worldly prescriptions for the
sin-burdened and depraved soul. Well-meaning friends may
say to the anxious sinner, "Go to the opera, come to the
theatre, visit this and the other place of amusement ;" but it
is all to no purpose. These may give temporary relief, but
in the silence of the solitary chamber the agony of heart
comes back more violently than before. There is but one
who can hush its troubled perturbations into peace, and that
is He "who stilled the rolling lake of Galilee." To Him,
therefore, O anxious one, betake thyself, and He will give
thee a new heart, which will be itself like a well-tuned harp,
whose strings will vibrate evermore with holy harmony in
thy secret ear ! He will make thee independent of all out-
ward influences, by giving thee quietude and holiness within.
To Him, then, make thy way; for has He not said, " Come
unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will
give you rest ?"


i SAMUEL xvii.

AFTER David's music had produced such a beneficial
effect upon Saul, the young shepherd seems to have
returned to his former charge upon the slopes of Bethlehem.
This may appear strange, especially after the statement that
"the king loved^him greatly," and made him his armor-bearer.
But if we take a correct view of the character of Saul, and
consider how at a later date he vibrated between the two
extremes of inordinate admiration and spiteful persecution
of David, our surprise will cease, and we shall have in Da-
vid's departure from Gibeah at this time only another illus-
tration of that fickleness and instability for which Saul was
so remarkable. With his restoration to health, his love for
David cooled ; or, perhaps, he did not care to be constantly
reminded of his malady by the continuous presence of the
young minstrel, and so he sent him to his home again.

How long David remained at Bethlehem before the occur-
rence of the events narrated in this seventeenth chapter, we
are not informed, and it is vain to make any attempt at con-
jecture. All we know is that he was brought again into
prominence in connection with the renewal of hostilities be-
tween Saul and the Philistines : and as this is the first occa-
sion on which we come into contact with that ancient and
warlike people, we may pause a few moments to gather into
one brief paragraph the main features of their history and


Coming, as the ablest critics have generally agreed, from
Egypt,* they occupied the strip of country lying along the
south-east coast of Palestine, and comprising a confederacy
of five united yet independent towns Gaza, Ashdod, Ash-
kelon, Gath, and Ekron. When the children of Israel took
possession of the land, this territory was given, by lot, to the
tribe of Judah ; but it was not until the days of David that
they could be said actually to possess it ; and, indeed, all
through the history of the Jews, there was danger of collision
between them and this fierce nation. They had early attain-
ed to great skill in the arts alike of war and peace ; they
probably possessed a navy, for they had harbors at Gath and
Ashkelon ; they were eminent as smiths and armorers ; and
their images of golden mice and emerods, referred to in one
of the early chapters of the first book of Samuel, imply an ac-
quaintance with the work of the founder and the goldsmith.
We are told, in the first chapter of the book of Judges, that
Judah took Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ekron, with their coasts ;
but the resources of the Philistines were such that they
speedily regained their territory and asserted their suprem-
acy. In the days of Shamgar, Jephthah, and Samson, they
held the Jews in hard and cruel bondage ; and it was only
under Samuel that the chosen people had been able in
any serious degree to break their power. Even after that,
however, they re -asserted their dominion, and were able
successfully to dispute with Saul the ownership of the soil,
and so to cripple the tribes, that there was no proper imple-
ment of war to be found among them, save only in the hands
of Saul and Jonathan. The mode of warfare pursued by
them was of the guerrilla description. They made a series
of sudden raids on unprotected places for purposes of plun-

* See the article PHILISTINES, in Smith's " Dictionary of the Bible ;"
and also that on the same subject in Fairbairn's " Imperial Bible Dic-


der. They seized some commanding position, which they
strongly fortified, and from that they sent out bands of ma-
rauders to spoil the surrounding district. This system of
incursions kept the Israelites in constant anxiety ; and when
the alarm of the approach of their oppressors was given, the
people betook themselves to hiding-places, or fled across the
Jordan. It was in the storming of such a fortress as I have
described that Jonathan won his first laurels as a warrior,
and though, as a result of his success at that time, the nation
had enjoyed a brief season of repose, the chapter before us
represents the land as ringing once again with the alarm of

The Philistines, hearing perhaps of Samuel's separation
from Saul, and encouraged by that circumstance, and by their
possession of a famous champion, had taken the field again.
They encamped at Shochoh, which belonged to Judah, be-
tween Shochoh and Azekah, in Ephes - dammim ; and the
children of Israel, in response to the summons of Saul, made
their rallying-point in the Valley of Elah literally, the valley
of the terebinth-tree, the name having been probably given to
it because of the plentifulness of such trees in the vicinity.
"The valley," says Dr. Porter, " is now called Wady-es-sumpt,
because it abounds in acacias. It is a remarkable fact, and
tends to throw light on the origin of the ancient name, that
one of the largest terebinths in Palestine may be seen in a
branch of the valley, only a few miles distant from the scene
of the battle." The valley itself, according to the same au-
thority, " runs in a north-westerly direction, from the mount-
ains of Judah, through the low hills at their base, into the
plain of Philistia, which it enters a little north of the site of
Gaza. The ruins of Shochoh, now called Sh'uweikeh, cover
a natural terrace on the left bank of the valley ; and Azekah
appears to have stood on a conical hill some two miles dis-
tant on the same bank. Between them, on the slope of the


ridge, the Philistines encamped ; and opposite them, on the
right bank, were the Israelites. The distance between the

O '

armies was about a mile ; and the vale beneath is flat and
rich. Through the centre winds a torrent-bed, the banks
fringed with shrubbery of acacia, and the bottom covered
with ' smooth stones.' The ridges on each side rise to the
height of about five hundred feet, and have a uniform slope,
so that the armies ranged along them could see the combat
in the valley."* The place was about twelve miles south-
west of Jerusalem, and therefore probably not more than
seven or eight miles from Bethlehem.

In the army with Saul were the three eldest sons of Jesse:
Eliab, Aminadab, and Shammah. It was the law of Israel,
that in times of war each able-bodied man between certain
ages was to carry arms ; and so, whenever a summons was
given, suspense would reign in every home. On the present
occasion, however, as the war was defensive, and as the lives
and property of the people depended on the character of the
resistance that was offered to their enemies, there would
probably be no great difficulty in securing a large army ; yet
the parents of such as went to the front would naturally feel
much solicitude concerning their safety. We do not wonder,
therefore, that Jesse was anxious to know how things went
with his sons. Indeed, considering his comparative proxim-
ity to the two encampments, it was the most natural thing in
the world that he and his wife should desire to send some
' home comforts to their sons. Accordingly he took David
from his sheep, and dispatched him to Elah, with an ephah
of parched corn, and ten loaves for his brothers, and ten
cheeses for the officer of their company. He instructed him
also " to take their pledge," that is, as I suppose, to bring
with him in his hand some token or pledge of their safety in

* Kitto's " Cyclopaedia," by Alexander, article ELAH.


the camp. So, leaving his sheep with a keeper, David has-
tened to Elah, and arrived just as the battle-cry was being
raised in both armies, and the ranks of each stood in formal
array against the other. Seeing this state of matters, the
eager youth left his baggage at the wagon-line by which the
camp was surrounded, and ran to look for his brothers.
Scarcely had he found them, and asked them of their wel-
fare, when there stalked forth from the front of the Philistian
line the tall champion of Gath named Goliath. This man,
probably a descendant of the Anakim, is described as six cu-
bits and a span in height. The cubit was originally the length
from the elbow to the point of the middle finger, and is com-
monly taken as about eighteen or nineteen inches. Accepting
the smaller of these as correct, the stature of Goliath would
be about nine feet nine inches. Josephus and the Septuagint,
however, read four cubits and a span, and this would reduce
his height to six feet nine inches.* This enormous height
apparently did not interfere with the development of his
strength, for the weight of his armor was such as could
have been borne only by one of Herculean might. Taking
the shekel at half an ounce avoirdupois, his coat of mail
must have been one hundred and fifty-six pounds in weight,
and the head of his spear must have been eighteen pounds
twelve ounces.

It is not surprising, therefore, that when he came forth into
the space between the armies and defied Israel, consternation
and dismay took hold upon the soldiers of Saul. Nor was
this the first occasion, on which he had made his appearance
thus. For forty days he had come repeating his boastful and

* Keil on i Samuel, p. 173, says: "His height was six cubits and
a span, ;'. e., according to a calculation made by Thenius, about nine feet
two inches Parisian measure a great height, no doubt, though not alto-
gether unparalleled, and hardly greater than that of the great-uncle of
Iren, who came to Berlin in the year 1857."


insulting words : " Why are ye come out to set your battle in
array ? Am not I a Philistine, and ye servants to Saul ? 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 serv-
ants : 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

Online LibraryWilliam M. (William Mackergo) TaylorDavid, king of Israel: his life and its lessons → online text (page 3 of 36)