William M. (William Mackergo) Taylor.

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

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day ; give me a man, that we may fight together." To this
challenge there was not spirit enough among the Israelites to
make response. Saul was probably restrained from person-
ally accepting it by motives of dignity ; but we can not read
the record without contrasting his silence, and the utter hope-
lessness of his army, on this occasion, with the enthusiasm
which he displayed, and the bravery which they manifested
that day at Jabesh-gilead, when they drove their enemies be-
fore them like chaff before the wind. We read, indeed, of
the royal promise to enrich the man who should slay his en-
emy, and to give him his daughter in marriage, and to make
his father's house free in Israel ; but there is no word of any
calling upon God, or any application to the high-priest, that
with his Urim and Thummim he might give direction from
on high. Suggestive silence this ! Saul was still self-reliant
and defiant ; and so this was to be the occasion of bringing
his successor forth before the people's eyes.

David, young as he was, was astonished at what he saw
and heard. Apparently he had no fear of the giant, but he
did wonder at the craven-heartedness of his fellow-country-
men. He asked again and again into the particulars, and
was so specially minute in his inquiries about what Saul had
promised to the victor, that his eldest brother began to sur-
mise that he was himself purposing to accept the challenge,
and said to him, in a sneering, cynical, elder-brotherly fash-
io,n, "Why earnest 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


clown that thou mightest see the battle." But David did not
allow himself to be provoked ; he ruled his spirit for the
time a harder task and a yet nobler achievement even than
the conquest of the giant, and he simply said, "What have I
now done ? Is there not a cause ?" At length, however, as
he talked with one and another, the report spread out that
there was one who would fight the giant, and finally it was
told to Saul, who sent for him, and sought to dissuade him
from his purpose, saying, " Thou art not able to go against
this Philistine to fight with him ; for thou art but a youth,
and he a man of war from his youth." But the young shep-
herd was not to be daunted thus. Rehearsing his deeds of
valor in the defense of his flock, and tracing his successes on
these occasions to the help of God, he said, " 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 Philis-
tine." This was precisely the spirit that was needed for the
stern encounter ; and Saul, recognizing in it that in which he
was himself so deficient, at once made answer, "Go, and the
Lord be with thee !" At first the king proposed that he
should array himself in the royal armor ; but David was not
at home in that, and, with a true stroke of military genius, he
determined to go forth with the weapons with which he was
most familiar. He took his shepherd's staff in his left hand,
and his sling in his right, and having his sachel suspended
from his neck, he went out in front of the lines. As he cross-
ed the dry bed of the brook, he selected some smooth stones,
one of which he fixed in his sling, and the others he dropped
into his bag. It has been commonly supposed that, in lay-
ing aside Saul's armor and preferring his own sling, David
was giving up every advantage, and that the chances of his
success were materially lessened by the fact that he was thus,
comparatively speaking, defenseless. But that is a mistake.
The genius of David was made manifest in the choice of his


weapons, and so soon as he had determined to use the sling
the issue was not doubtful. The giant was open to attack
only on the forehead ; but then he was cased in such heavy
armor that he could not move with swiftness, and so he could
prove a formidable foe only when he was fighting at close
quarters. David, on the other hand, was free, and could run
with swiftness and agility; while using the sling he could be-
gin the attack from a distance, and out of the range of his ad-
versary's weapons. So far, therefore, as weapons were con-
cerned, the advantage was clearly on David's side, provided
only he could preserve his precision of aim and steadiness
of hand. He was like one armed with a rifle, while his ene-
my had only a spear and a sword ; and if only he could take
sure aim, the result was absolutely certain. Goliath, howev-
er, despised his simple weapons, and in spiteful indignation
cursed him by his gods, saying also, " Come to me, and I will
give thy flesh unto the fowls of the air, and to the beasts of
the field." Nothing daunted, David made reply : " Thou
comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a
shield : but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of
hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast de-
fied. This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand ;
and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee ; and I
will give the carcasses of the host of the Philistines this day
unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth
that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.
And all this assembly shall know that the Lord saveth not
with sword and spear : for the battle is the Lord's, and he
will give you into our hands." As modern warfare is con-
ducted, such a colloquy as this between two combatants
seems to be ridiculous ; but every one who is familiar with
Homer's "Iliad," either in the original, or in one of its spir-
ited translations, will see a wonderful similarity between the
speeches of Goliath and David, and those which the father


of poetry puts into the mouths of his heroes in similar cir-

But now the time for parley is at an end, Goliath is ad-
vancing to meet his antagonist, and David, seeing that his
only opportunity is to strike him while yet he is at a dis-
tance, makes haste and runs.. As he runs, he re-adjusts the
stone in his sling and taking unerring aim, he sends it
whizzing to its mark in the forehead of the giant, who forth-
with fell with his face to the ground. Then rushing forward,
he took the sword of his adversary and cut off his head,
which he carried with him as a trophy of victory. When
the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they turn-
ed and fled ; but the Israelites pursued them hotly even to
the gates of Ekron, and the victory was complete.

Two things mentioned as consequent upon this encounter
are apt to perplex the general reader. The first is, that
David took the Philistine's head to Jerusalem, and put his
armor in his tent. Now it is said by some that Jerusalem
was not yet in the hands of the Israelites, but only came
into their possession years afterward, when David conquered
the Jebusites. But, as obviating this difficulty, we may re-
mind you that it was not Jerusalem that David took from
the Jebusites, but rather the stronghold of Zion, which was
only a part of Jerusalem ; and it is quite likely that before
it was taken by David the other portions of the city were
occupied by the Jews. Or perhaps the reference may sim-
ply be to Nob, the site of the Tabernacle, which, though in
the territory of the tribe of Benjamin, was yet so near to Je-
rusalem as to be within sight of it. Then, as to the putting
of the armor in his tent by David, we are not to suppose
that this was meant by him as its ultimate destination, but

* See, in particular, the speeches of Glaucus and Diomede, in the sixth
book of the " Iliad :" " Come hither," says Glaucus, " that you may
quickly reach the goal of death."



we may well enough understand that it was put there for
safety until he should have an opportunity of laying it up
before the Lord in the Tabernacle ; while, if any should be
surprised that he should have a tent in the camp, considering
that he had only come casually from Bethlehem, we may re-
move their astonishment by suggesting that, after so signal
a victory as that which he had been honored to achieve, ev-
ery thing would be done to show him gratitude, and we may
be sure that a tent would be put at his disposal. The sec-
ond and more formidable difficulty is in connection with
Saul's inquiry after David. We read that he said to Abner,
" Whose son is this youth ? And Abner said, As thy soul
liveth, O king, I can not tell. And the king said, Inquire
thou whose son the stripling is. And as David returned
from the slaughter of the Philistine, Abner took him, and
brought him before Saul with the head of the Philistine
in his hand. And Saul said to him, Whose son art thou,
thou young man? And David answered, I am the son of
thy servant Jesse the Bethlehemite." Now how shall we
account for Saul's non-recognition of David after having had
him formerly at his court, and numbered among his armor-
bearers ? Some would get rid of the difficulty by alleging
that there has been a transposition of the narrative here, and
that the account of David's minstrel visit to Gibeah should
come in after the record of the incidents which have been
before us now; but for the reasons which I formerly ad-
vanced, I can not accept this theory. Others think that in
the state of mind in which Saul was when David played be-
fore him on the harp, he would not be able to take any par-
ticular notice of him, and therefore when he saw him again
might not recognize him. While others still suppose that
the purpose of Saul's question was not to know who David
was, but to inquire into the character and condition of his
family, that he might make good the promise which he had


made to the man that should slay the Philistine, to the effect
that he would give him his daughter in marriage, and make
his father's house free in Israel. This is the solution pro-
posed by Keil, who says : " It was not the name of David's
father alone that he wanted to discover, but what kind of a
man he really was ; and the question was put not merely in
order that he might grant him exemption from taxes, but
also that he might attach such a man to his court, since he
inferred, from the courage and bravery of the son, the exist-
ence of similar qualities in the father. It is true that David
merely replied, " The son of thy servant Jesse the Bethle-
hemite ;" but it is evident from the expression in chapter
xviii., i : "When he had made an end of speaking unto Saul,"
that Saul conversed with him still further about his family af-
fairs, since the very words imply a lengthened conversation.*
Dr. Kitto, however, is perhaps nearer the truth when he sug-
gests that in the interval between David's appearance at
court and his fighting with the giant, he had passed from
early youth into manhood, and so grown, as it were, out of
Saul's recognition. Here are his words : " You would scarce-
ly know him for the same person that you saw some three
years ago ; he was then a growing youth, but he has now
attained to greater fullness of stature, and to more firmly
knit limbs ; above all, his beard has grown, and to those
who, like us, remove the beard as soon as it appears, the
great difference produced by the presence of this appendage
on the face of one who a year or two ago was a beardless
youth, is scarcely conceivable."! That was written by the
good doctor twenty-three years ago. I imagine that in the
interval we have had a good deal of experience in the mat-

* Kiel on i Samuel, p. 178, note.

t Kitto's " Daily Bible Illustrations," vol. iii., p. 240. See, also, this
whole subject very fairly argued, though there is a leaning to the trans-
position theory, in " The Land and the Book," p. 568. English edition.


ter to which he refers, and may therefore be the better pre-
pared to accept his explanation as the correct one.

In the Greek version of the Old Testament made by the
Seventy, there is an apocryphal Psalm, numbered the i5ist,
which purports to have been written by David on the occa-
sion of this victory ; but it has nothing in it either of the
beauty or the grandeur of David's odes, and is probably a
mythical production made by some ordinary person on read-
ing the history, and attempted by him to be palmed off as
the work of the young hero.* Yet, though there was no spe-
cial ode composed by David on this occasion, we can see in
many of his lyrics traces of the influence which this, his first
great victory, produced upon him. Thus I can not doubt
that he remembered the whole incidents of this eventful clay,
when he sang these words : " I will not trust in my bow,
neither shall my sword save me. In God we boast all the
day long, and praise thy name forever."f And again, " There
is no king saved by the multitude of a host : a mighty man
is not delivered by much strength. Our soul waiteth for
the Lord : he is our help and our shield. "J Nor can I help
remarking that in this recognition of God, and confidence in
him, with which David entered upon public life, we have the
root of the difference between him and Saul. You never
hear Saul expressing his trust in God, as David did when he
went forth to meet Goliath ; whereas, as we proceed in the
history, we shall find that with David it was habitual. The
tendency of Saul's life was toward himself: any thing incon-
sistent with that in him, or about him, was but fitful and spas-
modic. But it was just the reverse with David. The lean-
ing of his soul was toward God, and though at times self and
sin sadly and terribly asserted their power, yet these times

* See, for a translation of this Psalm, Stanley's " Jewish Church," vol.

t Psalm xliv., 6, 8. t Psalm xxxiii., 16, 20.


were only occasional, and out of keeping with the usual
course and current of his character. His sins, like Saul's
impulses toward good things, were but occasional eruptions
of that which it was the habit of his soul to repress ; his pie-
ty, like Saul's impiety, was the principle of his life. And
herein we account for the acceptance of the one, and the re-
jection of the other, as the occupant of the throne of Israel.

But it is time now that we should seek for some practical
guidance from this subject for our daily lives, and for the
better understanding of the Gospel of Christ. Every reader
of the narrative will see many points in which it both touches
and illustrates New Testament themes. Thus, without going
the length of adopting the view that David was in all this a
type of Christ, we can not see him confronting the giant with
his sling and stone, and consummating his destruction with
his own sword, without being reminded of a greater than He
who foiled the prince of darkness with a triple thrust of the
sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God, and who
" through death destroyed him that had the power of death,
and delivered them who through fear of death were all their
lifetime subject to bondage."

Again : when we think of the tribal inheritance of Judah,
still in a large degree retained by the Philistines, who ever
and anon arose to reclaim it all, and sometimes nearly suc-
ceeded, we have a striking analogy to the heart of the be-
liever, wherein, though he has given himself to Jesus, and has
been renewed by the Holy Spirit, divers sins and lusts do
still contend for the mastery ; and sometimes one of them,
attaining Goliath-like proportions, threatens to enslave him
altogether. Who has not felt himself thus menaced by some
fierce passion ? Each of us has his own giant to fight, and
here, too, it must be single combat, with no one to help us
but Him who went forth with the stripling David. With
some of us it is temper ; with some avarice ; with some ap-


petite ; with some ambition ; but whatever it be, let us learn
to resist it courageously, relying on the might of the Lord
Jesus Christ, and the victory will be ours.

Or, yet again, in contending with external evils, we may
sometimes feel that they have assumed such magnitude as
to appall us. Thus, which of us is not brought almost to a
stand-still, when he surveys the ignorance, infidelity, intem-
perance, and licentiousness by which we are surrounded ?
It seems to us sometimes, in moments of depression, as if
these evils, and perhaps the last of them the worst, were
stalking forth defiantly before the armies of the living God,
and laughing them, Goliath-like, to scorn ; and our courage
is apt to cool as we contemplate this show of force. But
we must not allow these feelings to prevail. The God of
David liveth, and he will still give us success. The great
danger that besets the Christian at such times is that of at-
tempting to fight with the world's weapons. The worldling
will always overcome him when he does so, because the
Christian in such armor is not at home. He can not use it
unscrupulously as the worldling does ; and the moment he
undertakes to employ it, he seals his own defeat. Let him
go forth with the cross of Christ in his hand, and by that he
will conquer ; but if he seek a lower weapon, and try to fight
with force of law, or with earthly philosophy, or with mere so-
cial expedients, he will inevitably fail. What David's sling
and stone were in the Valley of Elah, that is the cross of
Christ in the theological controversies, and social wranglings,
and moral antagonisms of our age ; and so long as we preach
Christ crucified, it matters not though men ridicule it as fool-
ishness, it shall prove to be "the power of God and the
wisdom of God." "The weapons of our warfare are not
carnal, but" (though they are not carnal nay, just because
they are not carnal) " mighty, through God, to the pulling
down of strongholds." Arrayed in the armor of the world,


the Christian will be weaker than the weakest of his adversa-
ries ; but let him be but panoplied from the spiritual armory
of God, and he will be mightier than the mightiest of his foes.

But leaving these general applications of this many-sided
story, we may learn from the bearing of David all through,
two or three valuable lessons, with the enumeration of which
I shall for the present conclude. There is, first, an exam-
ple of meekness. When the haughty and scornful Eliab
assailed him with taunting words, the young shepherd kept
his temper, and we feel how difficult that must have been for
him, when, as we read the story, our own hearts rise in burn-
ing indignation at the spirit which the elder brother evinced.
Probably this was not the first time that Eliab attempted to
lord it over him, for unhappily it is only too common for the
seniors in a family to tyrannize over and torment the jun-
iors ; but David kept himself calm, and like Another, in a
yet more trying hour, " when he was reviled, he reviled not
again." " He that ruleth his spirit is greater than he that
taketh a city ;" and to my thinking this calmness of soul un-
der Eliab's taunt was a greater thing in David than his bold-
ness before the giant. I do not, of course, in thus emphasiz-
ing David's meekness, extenuate the rudeness of Eliab. On
the contrary, it was worthy of all reprobation, but David felt
that he was called not to fight with Eliab in this matter, but
with himself, and so he held his peace. Let us try to imi-
tate his example, and when we are assailed in our home, or
beyond it, with scorn and derision, let us remember that our
real conflict in such a case is not with the scorner, but with
ourselves. Let our effort be put forth not to silence him, but
to control ourselves, and then we shall succeed in obtaining
a victory over both.

But we have here again an example of faith. David believed
God, and his name might fitly have been included by Paul in
that illustrious catalogue which he has given us in the elev-


enth chapter of the Hebrews. He was not afraid of Goliath,
because he saw God beside himself. And one great reason
why his faith was now so strong was that he remembered
God's former kindness to him. He thought of the day when
he prevailed over the lion and the bear, and he reasoned that
the God who had heard his prayer and helped him then, would
assist him now. Similarly, in all difficult enterprises, let us
Christians realize that God is with us ; and to this end let us
recall those former occasions when he has strengthened and
delivered us. We have all had former deliverances of some
kind, and particularly we have all been redeemed by the
great price of the blood of Christ. Let us think of that when
we have dangerous work to do, and we shall be nerved to do
it bravely. " He that spared not his own Son, but deliver-
ed him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely
give us all things ?" " This is the victory that overcometh
the world, even our faith."

Finally, we have here an example of humility. David's
purpose, in all he did (and this shows how thoroughly Eliab
had misunderstood him), was not to display himself, but to
honor God. Mark these words : " That all the earth may
know that there is a God in Israel. And all this assembly
shall know that the Lord saveth not with sword and spear :
for the battle is the Lord's." Here was the secret of David's
victory. He went to do God's will. He sought not to glo-
rify himself, but to serve Jehovah ; and by this trait in his
character he takes his place in the noblest brotherhood of
heroes of whom sacred history makes mention. As we read
these words we think of Elijah, on the brow of Carmel, con-
fronting the hosts of Baal, and saying, in his fervent prayer,
" Let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel hear
me that this people may know that thou art the Lord God."
We think of John the Baptist turning away from the tempta-
tion that was set before him to proclaim himself Messiah,


saying, " He must increase, but I must decrease." We think
of Peter calling to the wondering crowd that thronged around
the lame man who had been cured, " Why marvel ye at this,
or why look ye so earnestly at us, as though by our own pow-
er or holiness we had made this man to walk?" We think
of Paul writing from Rome, with his chained hand, to the
Philippians, and saying, "According to my earnest expecta-
tion, and my hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but
that with all boldness as always so now also Christ shall
be magnified in my body, whether it be by life or by death."
David, Elijah, John, Peter, Paul where are the men who
have done more valiantly in the world than they? and yet
they did it by putting God uppermost, and seeking his glory
first. That was the secret of their success, and that we are
not like them in that is the explanation of our failure. We
succeed in little, because we are aiming after our own honor,
and not after the honor of the Lord. This keeps us from en-
tering at all on many fields of usefulness, and prevents us
from working with a right loyal, hearty, and self-sacrificing
spirit, even in the best directions. And yet how little we se-
cure honor to ourselves after all ! The men who are always
grasping after greatness and distinction never get them
they only degrade and belittle themselves by their efforts ;
while they who put the Lord Jesus first, and seek his glory,
become at length sharers in his divine renown. " Them that
honor me, I will honor." This is the great law. Let us,
therefore, merge self in him ; let us, whether in pulpit, or
pew, or home, or counting-house, or senate-chamber, or hall
of judgment, hide ourselves behind the Lord Jesus ; and
then, working from love to him, we too shall do valiantly :
and though our weapons be no more than a sling and a
stone, the spiritual adversaries with whom we may contend,
gigantic though they be, shall fall before us, for "we shall be
more than conquerors through Him that loved us."




i SAMUEL xviii., 1-30.

AVID'S interview with Saul after the slaughter of the
giant must have lasted a considerable time, and must
have embraced other subjects than his parentage ; for its re-
sult was that Jonathan, the king's son, was so favorably im-
pressed by him, that he took him to his special regard, and
formed with him a league of friendship, which for sincerity,
constancy, and romantic pathos is unrivaled in the annals
of history, whether sacred or profane. As we have already
seen, there were in David both physical and moral qualities,

Online LibraryWilliam M. (William Mackergo) TaylorDavid, king of Israel: his life and its lessons → online text (page 4 of 36)